Someone asked me recently what new music I liked and I completely drew a blank. Because, although I wear headphones or stream sound during most of my waking hours, I’m almost never listening to songs. Whether out for a run or washing dishes or mailing books from our office, I’m always listening to podcasts. And the show I’m constantly hitting play on is My Favorite Murder, the unexpected hit true crime comedy podcast from Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark.
Now a cult phenomenon, the show began as a living-room project between two friends after discovering they shared a hidden passion for true crime, Dateline, and diving into Internet wormholes of serial killers, “I Survived” stories, and psychopathic murderers. It’s more than a macabre fascination with the darker side of humanity—it’s a celebration of survival, friendship, individuality, and mental well-being. So if you’re a murderino like me, here are a few books to read while waiting for their next episode.
Most people spend their whole lives avoiding death, but after witnessing a tragedy as a child, Caitlin Doughty became what she calls “functionally morbid.” Obsessed with mortality and armed with a degree in medieval death rituals, she took a job as a mortician. The result is her refreshing coming-of-age memoir and behind-the-scenes look at funeral practices, cremation, and caring for the deceased, plus a surprisingly hilarious voice demystifying death. She, like the women of My Favorite Murder, wants everyone to confront what makes them uncomfortable and scared. Luckily you don’t need to actually face death in order to get started—just pick up this book.
Why would anyone choose to become a mortician? Caitlin Doughty explains in her hands-on, candid, often-humorous romp through her employment in a crematorium. If you’ve wondered what happens when a body is cremated, Caitlin will set you straight, and also give you myriad macabre conversation-starters for your next cocktail party.
The crimes featured on My Favorite Murder range from the stuff of small-town newspapers, the pages of history, national headlines, and killers of cult status. Erik Larson somehow manages to tick all the boxes in this nonfiction work about the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago and the devious serial killer who used the event to lure victims to their deaths. Intertwining meticulous historical research into the city’s architecture and development, Larson’s capable skills as a storyteller shine in the chilling true tale of con man serial killer H. H. Holmes.
On Elizabeth’s wish list
As days grew shorter and nights colder I (naturally) began listening to more podcasts and watching documentaries about a cheery subject: serial killers. I’m excited to curl up with THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY because of Erik Larson’s fantastic eye for character, storytelling, and impeccable research in his true-crime investigation into the serial killer who haunted the 1893 World’s Fair. Cocoa and killers go well together, right?
One of the best ingredients in My Favorite Murder is the hosts’ unabashed concession that they are not experts. They research cases to highlight in each episode, but they call out the many writers and researchers whose work enables their late-night Internet binges. It’s comforting to indulge in a passion while admitting professionals know better. Jeff Guinn is one of those professionals. His detailed historical analysis of Jim Jones and the tragic story of the Jonestown Massacre, the largest murder-suicide in American history, does more than just recount the catastrophe; it illuminates the socio-political climate in the US during the fanatical preacher’s rise to power and portrays Jones’s followers as three-dimensional people, respecting the victims instead of writing them off as fools.
An unexpected element in My Favorite Murder is how the hosts tackle the sometimes thorny issues of mental illness with heart and honesty, advocating therapy and encouraging listeners never to sacrifice their health and happiness. Jenny Lawson, the comedic genius behind The Blogess, does the same when writing about her lifelong struggle with chronic depression. Her memoir is a battle cry to embrace the happiness in your life, even if you have to face down severe anxiety, personality disorders, or the forest of mental illness to do so.
Karen and Georgia record their show in LA (in Georgia’s house, with her cats providing background entertainment), so including this Hollywood story was a must. But author Carolyn Murnick’s book is much more than a true crime investigation. It’s a gripping memoir of two friends whose lives took drastically different paths: Murnick, bookish and quiet, struggled to find her place, while her friend quickly grew into a “hot girl”—a popular, extroverted, and sexually precocious young woman who later became an exotic dancer in LA. Then she was brutally murdered. In the wake of her friend’s death, Murnick explores the truth behind the murder and the many ways in which the cultural demands of women shape how they navigate the world.