From Netflix's The Keepers to HBO's Mommy Dead and Dearest to NBC's Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders, true crime has had quite a year. But the documentary format isn't the only thing sweeping true crime by storm—true crime books are, for lack of a better term, alive and well. To prove it, we've compiled five of the best true crime books from 2017 for your reading pleasure:
Incediary by Michael Cannell
When Sloan Krause walks in on her husband, Mac, screwing the barmaid, she gives him the boot. Sloan has spent her life in Leavenworth, Washington becoming an expert in brewing craft beer, and she doesn’t have time to be held back by her soon-to-be ex-husband. She decides to strike out on her own, breaking away from the Krause family brewery, and goes to work for Nitro, the hip new nano-brewery in the Bavarian-themed town. Nitro’s owner, brewmaster Garrett Strong, has the brew-world abuzz with his newest recipe, “Pucker-Up IPA.” This place is the new cool place in town, and Mac can’t help but be green with envy at their success.
But just as Sloan is settling into her new gig, she finds one of Nitro’s competitors dead in the fermenting tub, clutching the secret recipe for the IPA. When Mac, is arrested, Sloan knows that her ex might be a cheater, but a murderer? No way. Danger is brewing in Beervaria and suddenly Sloan is on the case.
The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
Before Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich begins a summer job at a law firm in Louisiana, working to help defend men accused of murder, she thinks her position is clear. The child of two lawyers, she is staunchly anti-death penalty. But the moment convicted murderer Ricky Langley’s face flashes on the screen as she reviews old tapes—the moment she hears him speak of his crimes—she is overcome with the feeling of wanting him to die. Shocked by her reaction, she digs deeper and deeper into the case. Despite their vastly different circumstances, something in his story is unsettlingly, uncannily familiar.
Crime, even the darkest and most unsayable acts, can happen to any one of us. As Alexandria pores over the facts of the murder, she finds herself thrust into the complicated narrative of Ricky’s childhood. And by examining the details of Ricky’s case, she is forced to face her own story, to unearth long-buried family secrets, and reckon with a past that colors her view of Ricky's crime.
But another surprise awaits: She wasn’t the only one who saw her life in Ricky’s.
An intellectual and emotional thriller that is also a different kind of murder mystery, The Fact of a Body is a book not only about how the story of one crime was constructed—but about how we grapple with our own personal histories. Along the way it tackles questions about the nature of forgiveness, and if a single narrative can ever really contain something as definitive as the truth. This groundbreaking, heart-stopping work, ten years in the making, shows how the law is more personal than we would like to believe—and the truth more complicated, and powerful, than we could ever imagine.
The New York Times Book of Crime, Edited by Kevin Flynn
For 166 years, The New York Times has been a rich source of information about crime, its reporters racing alongside tabloids to track the shocking incidents that disrupt daily life. This fascinating compilation, edited by seasoned Times crime-beat veteran Kevin Flynn, captures the full sweep of the newspaper’s coverage of the subject—from the assassinations of icons like Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, and Malcolm X to the deadly trails left behind by serial killers like H. H. Holmes (America’s first recognized serial killer), the Son of Sam, and Jeffrey Dahmer.
This comprehensive review examines issues like incarceration, organized crime, and vice—from the Attica riot to the powerful Medellin Cartel—as well as the infamous crimes that riveted the world. The kidnappings of Jaycee Dugard and the Lindbergh baby. The Manson murders. The robberies that exasperated law enforcement, from bank heists by Dillinger to the enduring mystery of the greatest art heist in American history at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. White-collar crimes from Ponzi to Madoff. Crimes of passion, such as Harry Thaw’s dramatic shooting of Stanford White, his rival for the charms of the beautiful Evelyn Nesbit.
Chapters are organized by topic and include explanatory material by Flynn to provide context. The book features more than 70 photographs as well as reproductions of front-page stories. Although the focus is on the US, important international stories are included.
The Spider and the Fly by Claudia Rowe
In September 1998, young reporter Claudia Rowe was working as a stringer for the New York Times in Poughkeepsie, New York, when local police discovered the bodies of eight women stashed in the attic and basement of the small colonial home that Kendall Francois, a painfully polite twenty-seven-year-old community college student, shared with his parents and sister.
Growing up amid the safe, bourgeois affluence of New York City, Rowe had always been secretly fascinated by the darkness, and soon became obsessed with the story and with Francois. She was consumed with the desire to understand just how a man could abduct and strangle eight women—and how a family could live for two years, seemingly unaware, in a house with the victims’ rotting corpses. She also hoped to uncover what humanity, if any, a murderer could maintain in the wake of such monstrous evil.
Reaching out after Francois was arrested, Rowe and the serial killer began a dizzying four-year conversation about cruelty, compassion, and control; an unusual and provocative relationship that would eventually lead her to the abyss, forcing her to clearly see herself and her own past—and why she was drawn to danger.
Convicting Avery by Michael D. Cicchini
The shocking Netflix documentary Making a Murderer left millions of viewers wondering how an apparently innocent man could be wrongfully convicted—not just once, but twice. This book explains, in plain English, the numerous flaws in Wisconsin's criminal justice system that led to the wrongful convictions of Steven Avery and his mentally challenged nephew Brendan Dassey. Equally disturbing, it also reveals that similar flaws exist in other jurisdictions of the country.
The author, himself a criminal defense attorney in Wisconsin, details the egregious procedures that resulted in the Avery and Dassey convictions. Besides the use by law enforcement of suggestive eyewitness-identification methods and interrogation tactics known to produce false confessions, defense lawyers had their hands tied by a truth-suppressing trial rule. Though they had evidence that someone other than Avery murdered Teresa Halbach, Wisconsin courts rarely permit consideration of such evidence. Perhaps most troubling, the burden of proof in this state is actually much lower than the constitutionally-mandated “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard.
The author not only discusses the documentary, but he also quotes from and cites Avery's and Dassey's appellate court decisions, appellate court briefs, numerous trial court documents, other cases, law review articles, and scientific studies.
This unsettling book will give you facts and insights beyond those presented in the documentary and leave you wondering whether the constitutional right to a fair trial is actually guaranteed where you live.