Have you ever had that urge when you’re out on vacation, or home on a cold night, to read a chilling story that will keep you from going to sleep that night?
No, just me? Okay then.
No but seriously, our society tends to have some kind of weird fascination with serial killers, both real and fictional. I don’t know what it is, because while I enjoy a good scary book from time to time, I don’t always enjoy reading about the real people that these horrors are based on.
But that being said, I know a lot of people are. So I did a little research and created this list of the best serial killer books out there. I have read some of them, especially the ones that are completely fictional, but I have tried to include a good mix of fiction and nonfiction here.
So if reading serial killer books is your thing, then keep on reading. Let’s start with this easy to follow list of everything, and then you can read on for my explanation on why I chose to include each book.
If you’re looking for a great true crime story, then this is the serial killer book for you.
This book by Truman Capote is a literary take on the quadruple murder of the Clutter family, when they were killed in their Kansas home in 1959.
The story gets really brutal, especially when you realize that this is a real story. And the author’s ability to craft in personal interviews really helps to bring this chilling tale to life.
This book is a novel based on a true story. It takes place in the 1893 World’s Fair, and it focuses on two characters in particular: Daniel Burnham and H.H. Holmes, the serial killer who would use the World’s Fair as a way of luring his victims to their deaths.
While this book is written as a novel, a ton of research went into it. Erik Larson really tries to help you feel what it would’ve been like in Chicago in 1893. Add to that the fact that Erik Larson is a accomplished writer, with many other books in addition to this one, so if serial killer books are your thing, then you will like this one.
This book is absolutely fascinating. At first glance you might think it’s fiction, but it is actually not. It’s the documented story of what happened to the two authors of this book as they tried to investigate a serial killer in Florence, Italy.
It all started when Douglas Preston moved to Florence and found out that one of the murders had happened in his garden. Intrigued by the story, he worked with Mario Spezi, a local journalist, to try and uncover the true serial killer behind the “monster of Florence”.
But in a stunning reversal of fate, one that could easily be part of an actual fictional book, both Preston and Spezi were later suspected by the local police of having conducted the murders themselves.
This book documents everything that they went through, and the rights to the story have been picked up by Fox, so maybe we’ll see a movie of this sometime soon.
The author of this book, Derf Backderf, happens to be the old high school friend of Jeffrey Dahmer, a notorious serial killer.
So what we get from this nonfiction book is a priceless and unusual look at the mind of a serial killer, as told by someone who called him a friend.
The story digs deep into Jeffrey’s teenage psyche, including struggles with alcoholism and sexuality, as well as problems in the home.
While no one can excuse any of the horrible things done by serial killers, sometimes it’s important to take a deeper look at what made them that way.
Sheriff David Reichert gives us his first-hand account of his pursuit of the Green River Killer, a person whose body count climbed as high as 49 people, and for a time was the biggest unsolved case in the country.
David Reichert set out to solve the case, and pursued it for 21 years. After 10 years, the Sheriff found the man who did it, a truck painter by the name of Gary Ridgway, but it would take another 11 years before he could prove that Ridgway was guilty.
This is a fascinating true story of the relentless pursuit of a serial killer over decades, one that will easily keep you glued to your seat.
You may recognize this one as the source of a Netflix original series, but this is a nonfiction story about John Douglas, one of the authors of this book.
John had a 25 year career working in the FBI in the Investigative Support Unit. Over time, he became a legendary figure, and basically invented what we now call criminal profiling. He would also, eventually serve as the model for the character of Jack Crawford in The Silence of the Lambs.
He worked on such cases like the Atlanta child murderer, the Green River killer, and many others. He has also studied and profiled many famous serial killers, including Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, and Ed Gein.
Chilling stuff, especially when you remember that this is real.
Michelle McNamara is a fascinating name when it comes to true crime stories. She had originally created a popular website called truecrimediary.com, and as part of her journalism she set out to try and find a violent psychopath known as “the Golden State Killer”.
The Golden State Killer was a man who had committed numerous acts of rape, murder, and burglary in the 1970s and 80s. His identity remained a mystery, but as Michelle dug into the research, she was able to dig up some evidence that would eventually lead to his identity.
Unfortunately, the author died in the middle of writing this book. While that might sound sinister, her death was ruled an accidental overdose, and not the result of her investigation or any kind of foul play.
Nevertheless, her research is what led to the case finally being cracked in 2018, when the identity of the Golden State Killer was finally revealed.
If you like serial killers, then you have probably heard of Hannibal Lecter. Unlike many of the other books on our list, this book is completely fictional.
The story follows an FBI agent named Will Graham who is currently trying to capture a different serial killer named the Tooth Fairy. But in order to find the serial killer he has to understand them. And in order to understand him, he has to turn to the last place he wants to: the mind of Dr. Hannibal Lecter.
This is the classic book that first introduced us to the character of Hannibal Lecter, and it remains a classic in the genre to this day.
Charles Manson is a name that comes up a lot when talking about serial killers. He was a charismatic cult leader who also is credited with the murder of several individuals.
This book is written from the perspective of Vincent Bugliosi, who was the prosecuting attorney at Charles Manson’s trial.
The book walks us through all of the evidence, and how the author built his case against the serial killer. It digs into the psychology of the man, what made him so charismatic and appealing to others, everything you need for a true crime classic.
This book is actually a collection of two true-crime novels written by James Patterson.
The first story is about a 61-year-old couple who are enjoying a quiet dinner at home, until a man, claiming to be a SEC agent, knocks on their front door.
The second is about a detective who, after a double homicide in Omaha, Nebraska, promises that he will catch the killer no matter what. He makes a promise to the parents of a young boy, one of the two victims, that he will not stop until the murderers found.
These true crime thrillers were also adapted into a TV series called “Murder Is Forever”. So you should definitely check them out.
You may have heard of the movie by the same name, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr., but that movie was based on a book that in turn was based on a true story.
The book is written by Robert Graysmith, who was an investigative reporter at the time of the Zodiac killer. The Zodiac killer killed several victims, and boasted to the authorities that he would kill more. He claimed to have killed 37 people, and the real death toll may have been higher.
In this account, the author gives us an inside look at what was going on at the time, including the complete text of the letters that the Zodiac killer sent.
It’s a chilling account of these events of 1969.
This is a true crime novel written by James Ellroy, which is actually a murder mystery about his own mother.
His mother, Jean Ellroy, was murdered and dumped on the side of a road in a Los Angeles suburb. Her killer was never found. The author was 10 years old when his mother died, then spent the next few decades dealing with the ghost of his past, partly by writing crime fiction.
In 1994, the author decided to go back to Los Angeles and find out the truth of what happened. This book is part of his documentation.
This book is fantastic because of the personal nature of the story. Seriously, a crime novelist whose own mother was killed. It’s a fantastic look, from a different perspective, at the genre.
Okay, you can’t have a list of novels about anything related to the crime genre and not have something from Agatha Christie.
And Then There Were None is a fantastic whodunit novel, which is rated as one of Agatha Christie’s best.
The story is about 10 people, each of which have something to hide, who are invited by some mysterious host to a mansion, one isolated on an Indian island. But then in a stunning twist, the host fails to appear.
One by one, each of these guests begin to share the secrets of their past. And just like that, they start to die.
It’s a chilling fictional read, one that I definitely recommend for fans of the genre.
American Psycho is a fictional novel by Bret Easton Ellis. It is set in the 1980s, was published in 1991, and a movie starring Christian Bale was released in 2000. So it’s a pretty popular story.
The story follows a man named Patrick Bateman, who is a Manhattan investment banker who also just happens to be a serial killer.
While the author did not originally intend this book to be as gruesome as it is, it has since become one of the most chilling and thrilling serial killer works of fiction. The author researched countless murders from the area, and the research shows.
This one is not for the faint of heart.
Last, but not least, we have The Last Victim by Jason Moss and counseling professor Jeffrey Kottler, which is a nonfiction book about the author’s own fascination and personal correspondence with several known serial killers.
Back in 1994, Jason Moss was a student at UNLV. As part of his honors thesis, he established a correspondence with several serial killers, including John Wayne Gacy, Richard Ramirez, Henry Lee Lucas, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Charles Manson.
Eventually, Moss managed to forge a strong relationship with John Wayne Gacy, considers himself to be the “last victim”, of that serial killer. Between the multiple phone calls, and two face-to-face meetings in prison just two months before the killer was executed, the combined effect would go on to psychologically traumatize Jason Moss, who suffered nightmares from the counter for some time.
Unfortunately, Jason Moss committed suicide in 2006, but his work lives on in this book, which is a fascinating look at the minds of serial killers.
I will admit, having just written all of that, I feel both terrified and intrigued. The life of serial killers is nothing to sneeze at, and yet there is something that draws us to them.
If you are curious, I recommend reading any of the books above. They are an excellent start if you want to learn more about our own serial killers, or simply read some incredible fiction, or true crime novels.
I promise you will not be disappointed.