If you love true crime, you know how overwhelming it can be. There are cases that are incredibly vast – many victims, or many details, or an eternity taken to solve the crime. And if you’re just getting into the genre, it’s impossible to know where to start.
There’s a solution, though – you can just read a little about each case. And then, if you’re intrigued, you can go deeper, if you choose.
This list is for exactly that – books filled with true crime short stories that give you a taste of cases that could direct you to further research.
1. The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and The Birth of Forensic Medicine In Jazz Age New York By Deborah Blum
If you’re looking to delve into historical cases or forensic science, this book is for you.
Blum chronicles the huge range of poisoning deaths that were going on in New York City during the early 19th century. It also tells the story of the first forensic toxicology unit.
The cases, though not all murders, range from that of Mary Frances Creighton, the crafty housewife who murdered several relatives with rat poison, to The Radium Girls, factory workers stricken with debilitating cancer and other diseases after working with Marie Curie’s pet element.
Blum brings Jazz Age New York to life, expertly characterizing her main characters, Charles Norris and Alexander Gettler as they forge new paths in forensic science.
Each chapter in this book deals with one notorious poison and contains two or three different true crime short stories, making these tales bite-sized and easy to swallow.
2. A Rose for Her Grave and Other True Cases By Ann Rule
Everyone who’s delved even just a little into the world of true crime knows about Ann Rule – a prolific writer, and is most famous for her book The Stranger Beside Me, which chronicles her journey as she comes to grips with the horrifying crimes committed by her close friend – Ted Bundy.
This book is the first in her Crime Files series, which has 17 volumes. Each book features a few cases that couldn’t be books on their own, and they’re a good introduction to Ann Rule’s work.
This particular volume features the case of Randy Roth, a man who murdered his wives for profit. Other cases included in this series are those of Silas Cool, Roland Pitre Jr., and other murderers that she’s encountered during her career.
If you’re looking for true crime short stories, Ann Rule has them in spades.
3. Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters By Peter Vronsky
Ever wondered what makes a serial killer? if you have, this book is for you.
Peter Vronsky analyzes the lives and crimes of notorious murderers from all parts of history – the Marquis de Sade, Ed Kemper, Ted Bundy, Andrew Cunanan, and so many more.
He offers well-researched theories on how serial killers emerge, and how much of their behavior could be genetic versus how much is created from terrible childhoods.
He also provides a fascinating and informative chapter about how to recognize the signs that someone is attempting to lure you away, using the techniques of the killers he profiles as examples.
This book is truly a must-read for any true crime enthusiast.
4. The Anatomy of Motive: The FBI’s Legendary Mindhunter Explores The Key To Understanding And Catching Violent Criminals By John Douglas
John Douglas is one of those figures in true crime that one can’t ignore. Responsible for establishing the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit and bringing the term “serial killer” into the zeitgeist, he’s also written quite a few books about his experiences in law enforcement and the cases that he’s profiled.
The Anatomy of Motive is filled with Douglas’ insights about the minds of those who kill. He tells the stories of serial killers, poisoners, arsonists, and many other types of violent criminals and identifies what makes them tick.
He identifies classic personality disorders associated with killers, and tracks the escalation of their behaviors. If you’re fascinated by the deviant mind, then this one is definitely for you.
5. Lady Killers: Deadly Women Throughout History by Tori Telfer
Thus far, most of the subjects of the books we’ve talked about have been men. It’s just how it is – male killers get more attention.
So here’s a book all about the women. Tori Telfer offers up a line of 14 devious, horrifying female killers, including such names as Elizabeth Bathory, Mary Ann Cotton, and Nannie Doss.
These women are just as cruel and awful as their male counterparts, and Telfer doesn’t pull any punches when she describes their crimes and the reasons they may have had for doing so.
The book is richly illustrated, and a delight for any true crime nerd that’s also interested in feminist discourse.
6. Popular Crime: Reflections on The Celebration of Violence By Bill James
This beautiful sampler of some of the most explosive crimes of the last century is a wonderful mix of history, media studies, and true crime.
Bill James is interested in how the media has shaped how we see crime, and how this has influenced other aspects of our culture.
From cases like the kidnapping of the Lindbergh Baby to the trial of O.J. Simpson, James covers subjects such as the value of evidence, prison reform, and how crime shapes our society. It’s intersectional true crime short stories at its finest.
7. Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and The Birth of The FBI, 1933-34 By Bryan Burrough
So maybe you’re not into murder. Maybe organized crime is more your thing. We’ve got a book for you, too.
Bryan Burrough wades through decades of myth around the formation of the FBI to bring us the real story – a battle between a young J. Edgar Hoover and criminals that are now national icons: John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd, and more.
If you’re into organized crime and the age gangsters, then this is a must-read.
A Buffet of True Crime Short Stories
And there you are: 7 books to get you started on your true crime journey. All with a good range of cases; murder and other crimes, iconic and the obscure. There should be plenty of true crime short stories here to last you a while. Enjoy.