Nothing’s Scarier than Real Life: Meg’s Favorite Murder Books

By: Meg Humphrey

I spent my college years behinds stacks and stacks of books about sociology, criminology, and justice. After I graduated, the habit of reading about crime stuck with me except this time I was able to choose what I was reading. There’s an endless amount of options out there – from pulpy retellings of serial murders to detailed histories of forensic science, but you can never really tell what’s going to be a good read. Below are a handful of my recommendations if you’re looking for some real life scares.


/span> Guilty by Reason of Insanity by Dorothy Otnow Lewis, M.D.

I had a hard time putting this book down once I started. Dr. Otnow Lewis brings a lot of humanity to her clinical and scientific interviews and research. She understands that these are actual people and not just test subjects. With the help of neurologist Jonathan Pincus, she looks for physical signs in the brain that correspond to violence. This is a must read, especially for those who are interested in the more scientific and less sensationalized side of the true crime genre.


Whoever Fights Monsters by Robert K. Ressler and Tom Shachtman

Robert Ressler’s career in the FBI is a long and distinguished one. Responsible for adopting the term “serial killer,” Ressler’s ability to parse evidence, delve into the minds of killers, and make connections others have missed is foundation for the modern behavioral profiling in the FBI. With Tom Shachtman’s help, Ressler details 11 of his toughest cases.


The Evil that Men Do by Stephen G. Michaud with Roy Hazelwood

Roy Hazelwood is another criminology pioneer with a long history in the FBI, specifically in the Behavioral Science Unit. I won’t lie, this book can be hard to read (despite it being very well written by Michaud) because it’s focus is sexual crimes – mostly against women and children. On the other hand, the history and expertise that Hazelwood has brought to the FBI is important and it is comforting to know that there are men like him out there working on these heinous crimes.


Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

Larson tells the shocking story of H. H. Holmes, his murder castle, and the rise and decay of the Chicago World’s Faire. He masterfully weaves together three story lines – H.H. Holmes’ activities, the drama surrounding the architects of the Faire, and the detectives hoping to uncover what’s behind the numerous disappearances of young women in Chicago. This book hardly seems like a work of non-fiction, but that’s Larson’s specialty.


The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston with Mario Spezi

American writer/journalist Douglas Preston fulfills his life long goal of moving to Italy with his family. While there he meets Italian journalist, Mario Spezi, and the two take on the mission of discovering the identity of the “Monster of Florence” – a serial killer who murdered 14 couples and was never apprehended. The partnership between the two writers and Preston’s talent in storytelling makes for an intriguing, fast paced story that unfolds almost like a play. This book stands out because it’s not about law enforcement or related professionals, but journalists who are driven by their need for the truth.