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8 Thrillers to Feed Your True Crime Addiction

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Megan Collins is the author of Behind the Red DoorThe Winter Sister, and The Family Plot. She has taught creative writing for many years at both the high school and college level and is the managing editor of 3Elements Literary Review. She lives in Connecticut.

True crime is having a moment. Or maybe it’s a movement, with new podcasts and documentaries seeming to pop up each week. Like many people, I am here for it. In fact, my latest thriller, The Family Plot, follows a family so obsessed with true crime that the parents named all their children after famous victims of murder and homeschooled them with a curriculum that featured true crime stories and reenactments—only to find themselves at the center of a true crime themselves.

Mine is certainly not the only book that examines our cultural obsession with murder and mayhem. Suspense authors have been taking their cues from true crime for a while now, which means that once you’ve finished bingeing the latest docuseries, there’s always a juicy book to turn to for those same chills and thrills.

These thrillers either take their inspiration from real-life events, making them the perfect read for die-hard murderinos, or they include excerpts of fictional podcasts that will be sure to entice listeners of heavy hitters like My Favorite MurderSerial, and In the Dark.

The Witch Elm
by Tana French

In 1943, four boys in England discovered the skeletal remains of a woman in the hollow trunk of a tree. Investigators struggled to identify those remains, but received a new lead the next year in the form of a graffitied message: Who put Bella in the Wych Elm? That chilling phrase has kept true crime aficionados speculating about this crime for decades, and the story itself inspired Tana French’s THE WITCH ELM. In that novel, a man returns to his family’s ancestral home to care for his dying uncle, only to find a skull in the trunk of a tree on his property. Long-buried secrets soon unravel, upending everything this family thought they knew about their past.

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The Witch Elm
Tana French

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Darling Rose Gold
by Stephanie Wrobel

Fans of the HBO documentary Mommy Dead and Dearest—about the murder of Dee Dee Blanchard, for which Gypsy Rose, the daughter Dee Dee abused for decades, was accused—will find a familiar story line in Stephanie Wrobel’s debut thriller, DARLING ROSE GOLD. In the novel, Rose Gold’s abusive mother is released from prison, and Rose Gold, who believed she was seriously ill for the first eighteen years of her life, has big plans for their reunion. Those who know the Dee Dee Blanchard case will think they have the story all figured out, but Wrobel throws in plenty of surprises to keep this disturbing page-turner fresh and satisfying.

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Darling Rose Gold
Stephanie Wrobel

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The Girl from Widow Hills
by Megan Miranda

While not a true crime story, the tale of “Baby Jessica”—who, at eighteen months old, fell into a well—captivated the nation in 1987 as rescuers worked to successfully free her. Megan Miranda’s THE GIRL FROM WIDOW HILLS, about a woman who gained fame as a child after she was swept away while sleepwalking during a rainstorm, certainly has echoes of Baby Jessica, but Miranda has given this story a thriller twist. When the woman begins sleepwalking again as an adult, she wakes one night to find at her feet the dead body of a man from her sensationalized past, forcing her to confront the personal history she’s tried so hard to escape. This novel is like the story of Baby Jessica if there’d actually been crime involved—and it is as haunting and suspenseful as all of Miranda’s novels.

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The Girl from Widow Hills
Megan Miranda

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Last House Guest—a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick—comes a “hauntingly atmospheric and gorgeously written page-turner” (Kimberly McCreight, New York Times bestselling author of A Good Marriage) about a young woman plagued by night terrors after a childhood trauma who wakes one evening to find a corpse at her feet.

Everyone knows the story of “the girl from Widow Hills.”

Arden Maynor was just a child when she was swept away while sleepwalking during a terrifying rainstorm and went missing for days. Strangers and friends, neighbors and rescue workers, set up search parties and help vigils, praying for her safe return. Against all odds, she was found, alive, clinging to a storm drain. The girl from Widow Hills was a living miracle. Arden’s mother wrote a book. Fame followed. Fans and fan letters, creeps, and stalkers. And every year, the anniversary. It all became too much. As soon as she was old enough, Arden changed her name and disappeared from the public eye.

Now a young woman living hundreds of miles away, Arden goes by Olivia. She’s managed to stay off the radar for the last few years. But with the twentieth anniversary of her rescue approaching, the media will inevitably renew its interest in Arden. Where is she now? Soon Olivia feels like she’s being watched and begins sleepwalking again, like she did long ago, even waking up outside her home. Until late one night, she jolts awake in her yard. At her feet is the corpse of a man she knows—from her previous life, as Arden Maynor.

The girl from Widow Hills is once again at the center of this story in this “compulsive page-turner” (Booklist).

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The Family Tree
by Steph Mullin and Nicole Mabry

Any fan of true crime can tell you about the Golden State Killer—the man who terrorized California communities in the 1970s and ’80s—and the fact that, in 2018, detectives were finally able to catch him using DNA databases from ancestry kits. In their terrifying debut, THE FAMILY TREE, Steph Mullin and Nicole Mabry give this true crime classic a fictional twist with the story of a woman whose ancestry kit reveals she was adopted—and is related to a serial killer. Zipping back and forth between the perspectives of the Tri-State Killer’s victims and the woman’s own investigation into the dark branches of her family tree, this fast-paced exploration of identity feels ripped from the headlines.

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The Family Tree
Steph Mullin and Nicole Mabry

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Truth Be Told
by Kathleen Barber

True crime fans may have already latched on to the excellent Apple TV+ series adapted from Kathleen Barber’s debut, but as the saying goes, the book is even better. The podcast at the heart of TRUTH BE TOLD is one that revisits the murder of protagonist Josie Burhman’s father. As podcast host Poppy Parnell (props to Barber for creating this amazing name) digs up dirt from the long-closed case and questions whether the wrong person was convicted of the crime, Josie’s entire world, and the promise of her future, is threatened. The podcast excerpts are just as compelling as the chapters narrating Josie’s story—and both intertwine for a riveting journey.

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Truth Be Told
Kathleen Barber

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Sadie
by Courtney Summers

Listen to this one as an audiobook, and you’ll swear you’re enjoying a real podcast. The production value (down to the crackly voice of the 911 dispatcher and background noise during interviews) is excellent, and the story itself is just as good. West McCray, host of the podcast The Girls, tries to track down nineteen-year-old runaway Sadie, who fled town after the horrific murder of her sister. Meanwhile, Sadie’s out for revenge, hunting her sister’s killer, and as McCray gets closer to finding her, he uncovers more darkness than he ever expected. Summers’s stylish, razor-sharp writing makes this an unforgettable thriller that’s both beautiful and brutal.

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Sadie
Courtney Summers

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If I Disappear
by Eliza Jane Brazier

This book masterfully tackles our fascination (okay, obsession) with true crime as Sera, a massive fan of Rachel Bard’s podcast, launches a personal investigation when Rachel disappears, taking her cues—and clues—from previous episodes. Each chapter of this taut and creepy thriller begins with a snippet from Rachel’s podcast that resonates with Sera’s investigation, and the podcast also gets woven into Sera’s first-person narrative in clever and energizing ways. Through her lyrical prose and chilling plot, Brazier brings something new and necessary to the true crime discourse, and isn’t afraid to cast the spotlight on the reader.

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If I Disappear
Eliza Jane Brazier

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MENTIONED IN:

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Girl, 11
by Amy Suiter Clarke

At the start of this electrifying debut, Elle Castillo, host of a successful podcast focusing on cold cases and abducted children, decides to investigate The Countdown Killer. Years ago, TCK ritualistically murdered several girls before abruptly going dormant. Now, the case grows increasingly personal for Elle as new victims emerge that seem to fit TCK’s pattern, and she’ll risk anything—including her own safety—to stop him this time. Fans of I’LL BE GONE IN THE DARK will devour this pulse-pounding story.  

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Girl, 11
Amy Suiter Clarke

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The Family Plot
by Megan Collins

THE FAMILY PLOT comes out on August 17, 2021!

At twenty-six, Dahlia Lighthouse is haunted by her upbringing. Raised in a secluded island mansion deep in the woods and kept isolated by her true crime-obsessed parents, she is unable to move beyond the disappearance of her twin brother, Andy, when they were sixteen. After several years away and following her father’s death, Dahlia returns to the house, where the family makes a gruesome discovery: buried in their father’s plot is another body—Andy’s, his skull split open with an ax. Dahlia is quick to blame Andy’s murder on the serial killer who terrorized the island for decades, while the rest of her family reacts to the revelation in unsettling ways. As Dahlia grapples with her own grief and horror, she realizes that her eccentric family, and the mansion itself, may hold the answers to what happened to her twin.

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The Family Plot
Megan Collins

From the author of The Winter Sister and Behind the Red Door, this “masterpiece of gothic suspense and horror, filled with dark family secrets and stunning twists” (Michele Campbell, author of It’s Always the Husband) follows a family obsessed with true crime as they gather to bury their patriarch—only to find another body already in his grave.

At twenty-six, Dahlia Lighthouse is haunted by her upbringing. Raised in a secluded island mansion deep in the woods and kept isolated by her true crime-obsessed parents, she is unable to move beyond the disappearance of her twin brother, Andy, when they were sixteen.

After several years away and following her father’s death, Dahlia returns to the house, where the family makes a gruesome discovery: buried in their father’s plot is another body—Andy’s, his skull split open with an ax.

Dahlia is quick to blame Andy’s murder on the serial killer who terrorized the island for decades, while the rest of her family reacts to the revelation in unsettling ways. Her brother, Charlie, pours his energy into creating a family memorial museum, highlighting their research into the lives of famous murder victims; her sister, Tate, forges ahead with her popular dioramas portraying crime scenes; and their mother affects a cheerfully domestic facade, becoming unrecognizable as the woman who performed murder reenactments for her children. As Dahlia grapples with her own grief and horror, she realizes that her eccentric family, and the mansion itself, may hold the answers to what happened to her twin.

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