True crime is having its moment in pop culture, with everything from cults to scammers making headlines and capturing pop culture through film, TV, or podcast. Shows like Making a Murderer and podcasts like Serial have popularized the genre, and even had real-life impact on criminal trials. But reality can be scarier than fiction, especially in cases that remain a mystery to this day.
The true crime novel is the true genesis of the genre, with books offering both an escape and an alternative look into frightening subjects. While plenty of true crime has been criticized — and rightfully so — for being overly salacious, we've compiled a list of books that do it right. Several on this list, from The Stranger Beside Me to Judas, are written by those who knew the criminals personally; others verge on memoir. Plenty of the authors have a very real, personal connection to the case, while others are just excellent researchers.
Ahead, the best true crime books of the past few decades, as well as a few hits from this year. Indulge in some guilty pleasure reading — or better yet, don’t feel guilty at all, because these books are worth every page-turning minute.