True Crime

10 Novels Inspired by True Crimes

As true crime stories, documentaries, and podcasts become more mainstream, it only makes sense that it continues to weave its way into fiction as well. Part of what makes true crime so fascinating is the horror and intrigue we feel when trying to wrap our heads around the darkest parts of humanity – and the satisfaction when justice is served. As readers of thrillers and suspense, we often experience the same adrenaline rush when untangling fictional clues as we do when we are sorting through evidence in real-life mysteries. Writers are constantly looking for inspiration in the world around us, and true crimes offer up a buffet of scary and intriguing motivations to draw from. Our debut co-authored thriller, The Family Tree, was very heavily influenced by the capture of The Golden State Killer. After GSK’s identity was discovered using fa milial DNA matching from an ancestry kit, we were glued to the news, soaking in every detail and we knew that criminal investigations were about to change forever. Since that moment, many more cold cases have been solved using similar techniques. In The Family Tree, Liz Catalano’s life is turned upside down after a 23andMe kit reveals she’s adopted…and related to an infamous serial killer whose been on the loose abducting pairs of young women for over 40 years. If you too love fiction inspired by true crime, here are ten other books to check out.

 

 

Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross

 

Mr. Peanut is the story of the Pepins, a couple in the long, boring middle of their marriage. Even though David Pepin loves his wife, Alice, he still dreams of her death almost every day. And then one day, she dies of a peanut allergy and of course, David is the prime suspect. Ross has constructed a complex character in David who is inspired by the real-life Dr. Sam Sheppard, who was convicted of killing his wife, Marilyn in 1954. His conviction was overturned 10 years later. His case also inspired the movie, The Fugitive. In Mr. Peanut, Ross even harkens back to the original case by naming one of the detectives investigating Pepin, Sam Sheppard, who was also exonerated years ago of killing his wife. Mr. Peanut is an unflinching, honest look at the perils of marriage and how it can devolve into dark corners. (Inspired by Dr. Sam Sheppard case, 1954)

 

The Perfect Nanny by Leïla Slimani

 

The horrific murders of Lucia and Leo Krim, ages 6 and 2, in 2012 at the hands of their nanny Yoselyn Ortega, sparked major media attention, and the creative mind of Leila Slimani. Her novel, The Perfect Nanny, is heavily inspired by the Krim murders, delving into the busy, stressful lives of new parents Myriam and Paul who live in Paris. They are on the hunt for a nanny for their son and daughter as Myriam decides to return to the workforce. They find the perfect candidate in Louise who is just too good to be true. As cracks start to appear in the idyllic situation, tension and resentment build in the dynamics of the household until the unthinkable happens. The Perfect Nanny is an intimate look at motherhood and what happens when the delicate balance within a home begins to crumble. (Inspired by the Krim Murders, 2012)

We Can Only Save Ourselves by Alison Wisdom

 

Alice Lange is the golden girl of her suburban neighborhood. Straight A’s, cheerleader, and about to become homecoming queen. But the night before she is crowned, she does something out of character and disappears with an enigmatic man named Wesley who promises she’ll discover her true self and unshackle herself from conformity. Drawn to Wesley, Alice becomes indoctrinated into his doomsday cult as she finds several other women have followed Wesley to his bungalow. As the thrill of Wesley’s presence fades and tensions rise in the house, Wesley then claims to know the serial killer responsible for the death of a teenager from Alice’s hometown. We Can Save Ourselves parallels the journey of the Manson family, and the magnetic, mesmerizing aura Charlie Manson had over his followers. Wisdom has succeeded in a creating a compelling portrait of adolescence and of how the lure of escaping suburban life can go utterly wrong. (Inspired by The Manson Family, 1960s-70’s)

 

Girls Like Us by Cristina Alger

 

Nell Flynn is an FBI agent who returns home to Long Island to scatter her homicide detective father’s ashes. Upon her return, she is thrust into the investigation of the horrific murders of two Latina women. As Nell dives deeper into the case, she begins to suspect the killer may be her own father. And could he have killed her mother years ago? Girls Like Us is inspired by the real-life Gilgo Beach Murders (also known as The Long Island Serial Killer), the still unsolved case of 10-16 bodies that were dismembered and scattered along the South Shore of Long Island. In drawing inspiration from this case, Alger has created a suspenseful and realistic tale, dark and full of twists and turns. (Inspired by The Gilgo Beach Murders, 1996-2010)

 

Never Saw Me Coming by Vera Kurian

 

In Never Saw Me Coming, you’re propelled into the mind of a psychopath in a smart and clever page-turner perfect for fans of true crime. Chloe Sevre is a diagnosed psychopath attending a university for free in exchange for participating in a psychopathy study. Chloe, however, has motivations beyond a free education. She’s there to kill Will, a young man from her childhood for whom she holds a grudge. You can feel the questioning of the ethics behind society’s fascination with true crime through the way the characters interact with one another. The program leader, in fact, famously supported a notorious serial killer who Kurian created with inspiration from Ted Bundy after she studied his interactions with people during and after his trial. When studying the Handbook of Psychopathy, Kurian noticed that many serial killers don’t actually meet the criteria to be labeled a psychopath, leading her to explore the opposite notion: if many killers aren’t psychopaths, then many psychopaths probably aren’t killers. Never Saw Me Coming will have you engrossed from page one, and despite Chloe’s sinister motives, will have you rooting for a psychopath. (Inspired by Ted Bundy, 1974-1978, and the study of serial killers’ motivations)

 

 

The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood

 

While writing The Wicked Girls, Alex Marwood did extensive research on the notorious murder of two-year-old James Bulger by ten-year-old boys Robert Thompson and Jon Venables in 1993. Marwood’s characters, eleven-year-olds Bel and Jade, become involved in the death of a small child on the day they meet for the first time. Brandished as child killers and vilified by the media, they are released from prison years later and given new identities as Kirsty and Amber. As adults they meet again when Kirsty, now a journalist, covers the grisly murders of several women in the town where Amber now resides. They soon realize how they know one another and desperately try to keep the secret of their pasts from their present-day families. The Wicked Girls is a tightly written, chilling tale that will keep you glued to the very last pages. (Inspired by the James Bulger murder, 1993)

 

 

 

The Family Plot by Megan Collins

 

Dahlia Lighthouse, named after The Black Dahlia, is raised in a family obsessed with true crime. They live secluded from the outside world on a small island which has also been home to an infamous serial killer who’s never been caught. Because of the family’s dark interests, their home has been dubbed “Murder Mansion” by the locals. Growing up, Dahlia and her siblings were forced to honor murder victims through reenactments and celebrations of their lives. Eventually Dahlia moves away, but the roots of her upbringing stick with her. After Dahlia returns home to bury her father in the family plot on their property, the body of her long missing brother is found already in the grave. Dahlia’s family unravels in interesting and upsetting ways at the revelation. The Family Plot is beautifully atmospheric, full of interesting characters and complicated family dynamics, and of course…dripping with true crime references. This story is perfect for anyone fascinated by true crime and secrets close to home. (Inspired by many true crimes including The Black Dahlia, Charlie Manson, The Hindenburgh kidnapping and more)

 

 

Little Deaths by Emma Flint

 

Little Deaths takes place in Queens, NY and follows the story of a single mother, Ruth, whose two young children are missing one day when she awakes. After both children’s bodies are found, Ruth’s name and reputation are dragged through the mud as she’s declared the lead suspect in her children’s deaths. A determined reporter becomes entrenched in the case, hoping to gain notoriety for his coverage. Flint’s novel weaves literary fiction with the dark realities of true crime, influenced by a real case: Alice Crimmins in 1965 in Queens, NY. Crimmins’ own small children disappeared from her home and were later discovered dead. After a long period of surveillance and painting Crimmins as a woman with poor morals, they arrested her, and an all-male jury convicted her on very thin circumstantial evidence. Flint’s homage to this case is both sad and evocative. (Inspired by Alice Crimmins, 1965)

 

Our House by Louise Candlish

 

Our House depicts a nightmarish scenario – Fiona arrives home to her beloved South London home only to find another couple moving in, claiming to have bought it. Scrambling to uncover how someone could buy her own house out from under her and leave her with nowhere to go, tangled webs of betrayal and criminal activities come bubbling to the surface. With her estranged husband and two children missing, there are a multitude of secrets waiting to be revealed. This suspenseful, page-turning literary thriller was inspired by a real case of property fraud that Candlish read about in a newspaper revolving around criminals trying to steal someone’s house and imagining how much worse it would be if the victim knew the person behind the crime. With property costs continuing to skyrocket, this is a crime and a story that really strikes close to home. (Inspired by the rise in property related crimes, UK)

 

 

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

 

Crimes committed by women in the Victorian period were viewed as especially horrific not only because of the crimes, but also because this went against ideals of femininity at the time. Women were often deemed insane rather than devious or evil and these crimes captivated the psychological community. But none more so than the murders of Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper and lover, Nancy Montgomery, at the hands of servants James McDermott and Grace Marks in 1843. Atwood drew inspiration from these murders for her novel Alias Grace, but also from Susanna Moodie’s writings about pioneer life in Life in the Clearings Versus the Bush, which has two chapters that cover Moodie’s visits to Grace Marks in prison. While no motive has ever been identified for the crimes, Atwood paints a beautiful and haunting portrait of the original crimes, giving us possible insights into the circumstances and motivations surrounding the grisly murders. (Inspired by the murders of Thomas Kinnear and Nancy Montgomery, 1843)

 

 

Steph Mullin is a creative director for a digital marketing solutions company, and Nicole Mabry works in the photography department for a television network. They met as co-workers in New York City in 2012, discovering a shared passion for writing and true crime. After Steph relocated to Charlotte, NC in 2018, they continued to collaborate. Separated by five states, they spend hours scheming via FaceTime and editing in real-time on Google Docs. The Family Tree is the duo’s first crime novel.

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