No More Daddy-Gift Issues: 5 Books for Your True-Crime-Fan Dad

Jenny Maloney provides a true-crime solution to the age-old question: what do I get Dad for Father’s Day?

It’s that time of year again. Time to find the perfect gift for dad.

Let’s face it, ties are just not that fun anymore. Aftershave doesn’t work that well in the summer months. And we’re all a little old for macaroni art.

Perhaps it’s better to be a little daring, a little bold…and give your dad the gift of true crime.

If you don’t know where to start, have no fear. Here are five true crime titles that are sure to hit the spot for sleuthing paternal figures:

The Killer Across the Table by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker

If your dad has been bingeing Netflix’s run of serial killer shows, like Extremely Violent Shockingly Evil and Vile, Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, I am a Killer, and Inside the Criminal Mind, then it’s time to snag Dad the newest release from the original Mindhunter: John E. Douglas. Teaming with longtime collaborator Mark Olshaker, the former FBI profiler takes a different angle with this book. Rather than digging into the sensational, this book examines four specific interviews and the lessons gleaned from four distinctly different killers.

Douglas began his criminal profiling career by speaking face-to-face with some of the most violent predators to walk the earth. Now, even years after leaving the FBI, Douglas has continued his intense study of killers. Douglas puts the reader in the interview room, and the discerning crime dad will enjoy sitting next to him while he talks to The Killer Across the Table.

We are going to take an in-depth look at four killers I confronted across the table after I had left the bureau, using the same techniques we [Douglas and his collegues] had developed during our extensive study. The killers themselves are all different, each with his own techniques, motivations, and psychic makeup. They range from a single victim to close to a hundred and I have learned from all of them. The contrasts between them are intriguing and compelling. But so are the similarities. They are all predators, and all grew up without forming trusting bonds with other human beings during their formative years. And they are all prime exhibits in one of the central debates of behavioral science: nature versus nurture, whether killers are born or made.


A Serial Killer’s Daughter by Kerri Rawson

If you’re looking for a way to bond with your father this Father’s Day, you could certainly have a parent/child book club conversation about this title. At the very least, you’ll come away relieved that you’re not related to a serial killer. Written by Kerri Rawson, the daughter and, in many ways, victim, of the notorious serial killer Dennis Rader—also known as BTK. Bind, Torture, Kill. BTK terrified Wichita, Kansas for over thirty years. And one oh-so-normal day, an FBI agent knocks on Kerri’s apartment door and knocks her life sideways.

In many ways, the most terrifying aspect of this book is the normalcy that’s represented. When we picture killers in books and movies, we sit there thinking: How could you not know? This nonfiction account answers that question: Because it seems so normal! There are family photos that depict a perfectly normal family. And to Kerri Rawson, her life was Normal with a capital N. With great care, Rawson manages to explain her loving relationship with her father while still condemning the devastation of his actions.

Be sure to hug your dad when you give him this one and thank him for not being a murderous psychopath.

As my father studied justice and worked in security, he stole those very things from the Otero and Bright families. He also grew overprotective of his own family. Dad’s self-induced twisted insanity of overcaution and suspicion permeated my home for the next decades. We never had a security system, but we did have ADT stickers on the doors and thin metallic tape outlining our back door’s window—which Dad told me was enough to fool the bad guys.


I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

If your dad is a more literary-type reader, then you can’t get much more beautifully written than this magnum opus from Michelle McNamara, who spent the last years of her life in a somewhat-obsessive hunt for the Golden State Killer, also known as the East Area Rapist, Original Nightstalker, and EARONS (the awkward moniker-mix of the two latter names). McNamara died before she could finish the book. So her research assistant and editors combined her notes, her rough draft, and her previous articles on the subject into an honest and heartbreaking final product.

There aren’t many killers as prolific or as frightening as the Golden State Killer—recently apprehended thanks in large part to McNamara’s dogged pursuit of the truth. Raping over 50 women and killing 10 people, he moved up and down the state of California. And McNamara, an internet detective of the highest caliber, pursued him.

That summer I hunted the serial killer at night from my daughter’s playroom. For the most part I mimicked the bedtime routine of a normal person. Teeth brushed. Pajamas on. But after my husband and daughter fell asleep, I’d retreat to my makeshift workspace and boot up my laptop, that fifteen-inch-wide hatch of endless possibilities.


The Man from the Train: Discovering America’s Most Elusive Serial Killer by Bill James and Rachel McCarthy James

Perhaps your dad is more interested in crime history? Then this book is for him. Through extensive research, father-and-daughter team Bill James and Rachel McCarthy James, dug through case after case of the incredibly violent deaths of families across the United States at the turn of the twentieth century. Starting in Villisca, Iowa, and moving through several states, including Colorado, Oregon, and Alabama, the authors find case after case that are striking in their similarities.

And they think they’ve found the connection: the railroad. All the crimes—massacres of entire families—happen within shouting distance of a railroad station. By the time the authors have compiled the body count, this killer could be responsible for over 100 murders. James and James take the reader step-by-step through the crimes and their research process, painting a fascinating, disturbing portrait.

A hundred years ago and a little more, there were a series of terrible crimes that took place in the American Midwest (although it actually started in the Northeast and the South, the midwestern portion of the series is the well-known part). The most famous of these crimes are the murders in Villisca, Iowa, but it is apparent to anyone who will take the time to look that the Villisca murders were a part of a series of similar events. I was reading about that series of crimes and I had a thought. “I’ll bet there were others,” I thought, “that the contemporary authorities never linked to the same criminal.”


With modern computers, we can search tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of small-town newspapers, looking for reports of similar events.


And I found one.


And then I found another one, and another one, and another one.


The Devil & Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession by David Grann

While more famous for his blockbuster Killers of the Flower Moon, David Grann’s lesser-known collection of true-crime essays is perfect for the crime-fan dad who only has a few minutes to spare. Covering everything from Sherlock Holmes, to arson, to fraudulent imposters, to out-and-out killers, Grann’s collection has a little bit of everything. It’s lovely to read to boot.

One of the more interesting essays, “Trial by Fire,” explores the question of whether or not Texas executed an innocent man for the possible-arson deaths of his children. Grann presents all the evidence in a clear, concise fashion, and this is representative of all of the stories he tells.

The fire moved quickly through the house, a one-story wood-frame structure in a working-class neighborhood of Corsicana, in northeast Texas. Flames spread along the walls, bursting through doorways, blistering paint and tiles and furniture. Smoke pressed against the ceiling, then banked downward, seeping into each room and through crevices in the windows, staining the morning sky.

See also: Cold Blooded Fiction—We Were Killers Once by Becky Masterman


  1. Laurent L

    Great list, I’ll check it out.

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