Who doesn’t love a good thriller? Whether a tale of murder and mayhem, a page-turning whodunit, dangerous family secrets, or a bit of good old fashioned espionage – there’s nothing quite like a great page-turner. Occasionally, however, life can prove stranger – and more thrilling – than fiction. Some of the best thrillers just happen to lurk in the pages of the nonfiction world. What better way to change up your usual suspenseful binge than to dive into the pages of a larger-than-life, stranger-than-fiction tale? Here are a few of our favorites.
Truman Capote’s true crime masterpiece is a classic for good reason. It is largely credited with igniting the trend of narrative nonfiction, particularly in true crime, and is lifted by Capote’s skillful storytelling. What truly makes In Cold Blood such a compulsive thriller, however, is Capote’s clear fascination with murderer Perry Smith.
Anne Rule has carved out a well-deserved place for herself as the queen of the true crime and it all started here. The Stranger Beside Me is Rule’s page-turning account of unknowing friendship with one of the most infamous serial killers of the twentieth century – Ted Bundy. The book chronicles Rule’s shattering realization that her unassuming and friendly co-worker, Ted, is one of the most prolific serial killers in U.S. history.
Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land
American Fire is a fascinating piece of true crime reportage and unlike much of what the genre has to offer. Over the course of several months, the people of rural Accomack County were left in state of dismay and terror by a string of nightly arson. Vigilante groups patrolled, volunteer firefighters slept in their stations, but the arson continued largely unabated. Journalist Monica Hesse spent years investigating the arson, the fallout, and the lives of the eventually discovered arsonists. American Fire is a page-turning portrait of a bewildered community under siege.
A Family's Story of Courage and Survival on Both Sides of the Berlin Wall
Combining the classic Cold War espionage tale with a moving and often suspenseful family history, Nina Willner’s Forty Autumns is nearly impossible to put down. It is the chronicle of her maternal family in East Germany during the Soviet occupation. Nina’s mother, the family’s eldest daughter, escaped and eventually made her way to America. Forty Autumns is the story of those daring escape attempts, the family’s trials under the thumb of Soviet oppression, and Nina’s own experiences as an Army Intelligence officer during the Cold War.
A Murder and a Memoir
The Fact of a Body is a extraordinary narrative exercise – one part true crime book and one part memoir. Through the case of a convicted murderer, Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich unearthed her own buried history and the haunting secrets of her own childhood. It’s a safe bet: you’ve never read anything quite like The Fact of a Body.
A Writer, a Murderer, and a Story of Obsession
In 1998, young reporter Claudia Rowe found herself playing Clarice Starling to a savage killer’s Hannibal Lecter. When the bodies of eight strangled women were found in Kendall Francois’s attic, Rowe was immediately fascinated by the vicious crime and its unassuming perpetrator. Determined to discover what could lead a person to commit such an act, Rowe began a disturbing four year conversation/correspondence with Francois, one that began with Francois’s chilling quid pro quo, “You want to go into the depths of my mind and into my past. I want to peek into yours. It’s only fair, isn’t?”
One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is the haunting and, at times, terrifying account of the serial rapist-turned-murderer who preyed on women across California in the 70’s and 80’s. For over a decade, a sadistic killer prowled the state, committing fifty sexual assaults before turning to murder, eluding the police, and eventually disappearing. Journalist Michelle McNamara spent years investigating the murderer she dubbed “The Golden State Killer” and the result is her bestselling masterpiece. Tragically, McNamara passed away unexpectedly before both the publication of the book and the apprehension Joseph James DeAngelo – a former police officer – for the crimes.
An Unsolved American Mystery
The Lost Girls is a page-turning whodunit and a meticulous examination of a sadistic string of murders that remain unsolved. Robert Kolker pulls the curtain back on the darker side of the internet and the shadowy world of online escorts as he takes a deep dive into a string of murders that rocked Long Island and the search for a serial killer who remains at large.
Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital
Pulitzer Prize winner Sheri Fink spent six years investigating precisely what went on in a New Orleans hospital ravaged by Hurricane Katrina and the desperate bid for survival amid the chaos within. Following the devastation of the hurricane, hospital power failed, temperatures soared, and floodwaters rose. Caregivers were forced to determine the order of patients for evacuation. Months later, several faced charges of injecting patients with drugs to speed their deaths. With Five Days at Memorial, Sheri Fink reconstructs the events with haunting precision.
Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11
With a narrative spanning five decades, The Looming Tower breaks down the rise of Al-Qaeda and the disturbing failures in U.S. Intelligence in the lead-up to the 9/11 attacks. Lawrence Wright earned a Pulitzer Prize for his work and it remains the most in-depth account of the myriad events that led to the most deadly terrorist attack ever perpetrated on U.S. soil. It is the definitive history.
Set against the backdrops of Edwardian London and the coasts of Cornwall, Cape Cod, and Nova Scotia, Erik Larson interweaves the tales of two men – one is creator of a revolutionary means of wireless communication, the other nearly commits the perfect murder. How their stories intersect is a tragic tale of love and betrayal and a suspenseful chase across the North Atlantic. Thunderstruck is Erik Larson at his best.