The genius of Serial, a new podcast from the creators of This American Life, is right in its name: instead of telling a whole story at once, each episode reveals a little more about the 1999 murder of high-school senior Hae Min Lee and the ex-boyfriend who committed—or maybe didn’t? or maybe did?!—the crime. Naturally, this gets hugely addictive hugely fast, and the week between new installments suddenly takes foooooreeeeever. Help pass the time with these sinister nonfiction picks.
Empty Promises by Ann Rule
For those who like the short format of Serial episodes, Ann Rule—called “America’s Best True Crime Writer” by Kirkus Reviews—delivers this collection of love affairs turned violent, all drawn from her personal crime files. The book covers several accounts of marriages that crumble, lovers who get jealous, and passions that turn deadly.
The Corpse Had a Familiar Face, by Edna Buchanan
That title! This classic work of crime nonfiction is a must-read for anyone who likes a well-written and totally true mystery. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Buchanan has covered over 5000 murders in her years at the Miami Herald, and her spare but unsparing prose brings the most gruesome of those deaths to life. (It was also made into a TV movie in 1994, but you know you’d rather read the book.)
A Deadly Wandering: A Tale of Tragedy and Redemption in the Age of Attention, by Matt Richtel
For a deep and personal investigation into a crime, look no further than this account of one of the first fatalities caused by texting and driving—in which two rocket scientists were killed in a collision with a distracted driver. Novelist and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Richtel weaves together stories of the victims’ families, the driver, the legal and judicial system, the science behind driving while texting, and more, for a harrowing, impossible-to-put-down tale of tragedy.
Silent Witnesses: The Often Gruesome but Always Fascinating History of Forensic Science, by Nigel McCrery
All the CSI-level investigation we take for granted today has a long and intriguing past, and this technically-proficient history of forensic technology by crime novelist and former police officer McCrery is as packed with details as it is engagingly written. Anyone who’s ever wondered how ballistics science evolved or how to discern animal blood from human will find plenty to keep them turning pages.
Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker
Missing and murdered young women have been mainstays of crime journalism since the days of Jack the Ripper. Like Serial, this book—an investigation into the disappearances of five women who worked as escorts in the New York metropolitan area by New York magazine contributor Robert Kolker—digs deep into the backstory of each victim, as well as the anonymous threats that preceded each disappearance; the many, varied theories of parents, friends, and law enforcement; and the confusing twists and inconsistencies that plague the search for a clear answer.
Manifest Injustice: The True Story of a Convicted Murderer and the Lawyers Who Fought For His Freedom by Barry Siegel
Bill Macumber was imprisoned for the 1962 killing of a young couple, but his guilt is anything but certain. Another man confessed to the crime—but was never arrested, and then died. Macumber’s wife insisted he confessed to her—but also maintained romantic affairs with police officers, which she then strongly denied. A string of trials and appeals, late-emerging forensic evidence, and an innocence project determined to clear Macumber’s name make this book by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Siegel a fascinating read.
The Central Park Five: A Chronicle of a City Wilding by Sarah Burns
An examination of the lies, half-truths, ignorance, incompetence, and racism that underpinned the case that has since become synonymous with wrongful conviction: the Central Park jogger murder case, for which a group of innocent young men were tried, convicted, and imprisoned. A must-read for anyone interested in true crime and the American justice system.