Exploring True Crime

Do you love to read true crime? Kath, one of our lovely librarians, has put together this round-up of her true crime picks. Have a read and let us know your favourites in the comments!

It’s no secret that the true crime genre has exploded over the past few years, particularly thanks to a number of podcasts that have not only taken deep dives into significant crime stories, but have even managed to solve a few incredibly intense ones.  Now more than ever, there are many new true crime books to delve into if you’re a fan of the genre.

That said, the genre has been around as long as crime and books have existed, so there are plenty of good books to work your way back through if you’ve caught up with all the recent best sellers.

I’ve selected some that I’ve enjoyed over the years, many of them from my country of origin, Australia.

Murder in Mississippi / Safran, John

This is one of the best true crime books I have ever read.   John Safran, an Australian satirist and documentary maker, played a prank on a white supremacist in Mississippi as part of his TV series John Safran vs God. The footage was canned for legal reasons and he thought that was the last he’d have to do with Richard Barrett.  It came as a shock then to find out a while later that Barrett had been stabbed to death by a black man, one that he owed money to and had allegedly propositioned.  Not content with just researching the story of Barrett’s murder, Safran headed to Mississippi to interview all involved, including the killer… and managed to get himself tangled even further into the story while he was there.  What follows is a riveting exploration into what happened, why it happened and why on earth Safran found himself in the situation he had got into.  An absolute page turner!

A scandal in Bohemia / Haigh, Gideon

In the 1920s Mollie Dean was a young, independent woman, a poet and aspiring novelist who was the lover and muse of acclaimed artist Colin Colahan.  And then one night in 1930 she was brutally murdered by an unknown killer.  When police investigated, they found a tangle of bohemian lifestyles, abusive family and sexual freedom that was to shake Melbourne to the core and inspire music, literature and theatre long into the future.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil / Berendt, John (Audiobook)

A delicious, steamy melange of high society, rednecks, con artists, voodoo, antiques and a stunning black drag queen who metaphorically slays all in her path.  This New York Times bestseller was made into a film starring John Cusack and the Lady Chablis, the actual drag queen featured in the book.  This book reads like fiction, but it’s all true, and like the aforementioned Safran book, the author John Berendt manages to get himself embroiled in the story.  Another riveting story.

His bloody project : documents relating to the case of Roderick Macrae, a historical thriller / Burnet, Graeme Macrae

His Bloody Project is technically fiction, but it has been created from extensive research into a true crime case and the community around it.  A fantastic historical thriller explores a triple murder in a small Scottish farming community around the time of the highland clearances.  There is no question that 17 year old Roderick Macrae committed these brutal murders, but what led him to do so? What secrets were being kept by the villagers of Culdie?  Graeme Macrae Burnet has used the historical documents of the time to piece together the story and speculate on the reasons behind this dramatic occurrence in a tiny village community.

Tamam Shud : the Somerton man mystery / Greenwood, Kerry

Written by Kerry Greenwood, author of the Phryne Fisher and Corinna Chapman novels, this is the story of the most mysterious unsolved murder in Australian history.  In 1948 a body was found on a beach in Adelaide, and even now, it is not known who he was.  But around him, were so many bizarre details.  A tiny scrap of paper with the words “Tamum Shud” sewn into the lining of his suit.  A code written in a book of Persian poetry… the same book that the piece of paper in his suit had been torn from.  All the labels had been cut from his clothing.  Kerry Greenwood delves into this story to try to solve it after all these years, and leaves us with almost as many questions as we have answers!

The tall man / Hooper, Chloe

Chloe Hooper takes a close look at the case of Cameron Doomadgee, the Palm Island man who was found dead in a watch house cell after swearing at a white police officer, Senior Sergeant Christopher Hurly, and the long and difficult efforts to bring him to trial.  Indigenous deaths in custody have long been a contentious issue in Australia and the Palm Island case was a flashpoint in Indigenous rights.  This would have been a very complex case to research and even more difficult to write as sensitively as Chloe Hooper has. A totally engrossing read that literally made me hold my breath in parts.

In cold blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences / Capote, Truman

Let’s face it, In Cold Blood is the OG of the true crime genre as we know it today.  Truman Capote took crime reporting and turned it into literature.  Investigating the 1959 murder of the Clutter family and the men who carried out that murder, Capote himself got embroiled in the community of Holcomb, Kansas and the lives of the two murderers, Perry Smith and Richard Hickock.  There is an intimacy to the way that Capote writes about those involved in this case that set the tone for crime writing well into the future.  As well as a captivating tale, it’s a fantastic way to look at the way the true crime genre was born.

For more great true crime reads, click here.

Fiction to film: #NZIFF 2018

Disobedience book cover

The New Zealand International Film Festival 2018 is nearly here! Tickets are booked, cinemas mapped out and movies selected and re-selected! The festival has such a range of fantastic movies that you wonder where all the ideas come from! Some can be found between the covers of some popular, and some more obscure literary works.  If you really enjoy something at the festival and want to read the inspiration source, some of them can be found here in our libraries.


Disobedience, directed by Sebastián Lelio, based on:
Disobedience / Alderman, Naomi
Disobedience is a novel that illuminates a culture that has existed in Britain for centuries, yet remains almost entirely hidden. Naomi Alderman offers a contemporary take on the search for love, faith and understanding in a world filled with conflicting moral and sexual ideals.” (Catalogue)

Border, directed by Ali Abbasi, based on:
Let the old dreams die / Ajvide Lindqvist, John
This short story collection includes Burning adapted and expanded by Iranian-born Swedish filmmaker Ali Abbasi.
“A classic short story collection from the writer called Sweden’s Stephen King that continues the breathtaking story begun in the internationally acclaimed classic Let the Right One In, also in “Final Processing,” Lindqvist reveals the next chapter in the lives of the characters he created in Handling the Undead.” (Catalogue)

Cold Blooded: The Clutter Family Murders, directed by Joe Berlinger, based on:
In cold blood / Capote, Truman
“Truman Capote’s masterpiece, In Cold Blood, created a sensation when it was first published, serially, in The New Yorker in 1965. The intensively researched, atmospheric narrative of the lives of the Clutter family of Holcomb, Kansas, and of the two men, Richard Eugene Hickock and Perry Edward Smith, who brutally killed them on the night of November 15, 1959, is the seminal work of the “new journalism.” Capote’s account is so detailed that the reader comes to feel almost like a participant in the events.” (Catalogue)

Piercing, directed by Nicolas Pesce, based on:
Piercing / Murakami, Ryū
“The follow up to In the Miso Soup, Piercing confirms Ryu Murakami as the master of the psycho-thriller.” (Catalogue)

Wildlife, directed by Paul Dano, based on:
Wildlife / Ford, Richard
“Ford’s fourth novel is set in the same Western landscape that so distinguished his acclaimed collection Rock Springs, and with it he extends his reputation as one of the most compelling and eloquent storytellers of his generation, providing us with both the pleasures of narrative and the sad wisdom of art. Wildlife is the story of coming out into the world as it resolutely is, never the world we hope it is.” (Catalogue)

Juliet, Naked, directed by Jesse Peretz, based on:
Juliet, naked / Hornby, Nick
“This novel is about the nature of creativity and obsession, and how two lonely people can gradually find each other.” (Catalogue)

Burning, directed by Lee Chang-dong, based on:
The Elephant vanishes / Murakami, Haruki
This collection includes Barn Burning which has been translated into the film Burning by Korean director Lee Chang-dong.
“By turns haunting and hilarious, The Elephant Vanishes is further proof of Murakami’s ability to cross the border between separate realities — and to come back bearing treasure.” (Catalogue)

No Shame, directed by Brendan Donovan, based on:
The lazy boys : a novel / Shuker, R. Carl
The film No Shame by directed by Brendan Donovan is one of the New Zealand’s Best short film finalists of 2018.
“Like a punch in the stomach or a sustained cry, Carl Shuker’s risky and harrowing first person narrative is as visceral as Fight Club and as brutal as A Clockwork Orange. On the surface Richey’s actions are unforgivable, but his unformed and distorted world is immediate and recognizable to a generation brought up in a society indifferent to its own nihilism.” (Catalogue)

Lean on Pete, directed by Andrew Haigh, based on:
Lean on Pete : a novel / Vlautin, Willy
“Fifteen-year-old Charley Thompson wants a home; food on the table; a high school he can attend for more than part of a year; and some structure to his life. But as the son of a single father working at warehouses across the Pacific Northwest, he’s been pretty much on his own for some time. Lean on Pete opens as he and his father arrive in Portland, Oregon and Charley takes a stables job, illegally, at the local race track. It’s there that Charley meets Pete, an old horse who becomes his companion as he’s forced to try to make his own way in the world. A portrait of a journey, Lean on Pete is also the unforgettable story of a friendship and of hope in dark times.” (Adapted from fishpond.co.nz)

Breath, directed by Simon Baker, based on:
Breath / Winton, Tim
“Bruce Pike, or ‘Pikelet’, has lived all his short life in a tiny sawmilling town from where the thundering sea can be heard at night. He longs to be down there on the beach, amidst the pounding waves, but for some reason his parents forbid him. It’s only when he befriends Loonie, the local wild boy, that he finally defies them. Intoxicated by the treacherous power of the sea and by their own youthful endurance, the two boys spurn all limits and rules, and fall into the company of adult mentors whose own addictions to risk take them to places they could never have imagined.” (Catalogue)

We also have to mention a documentary we’re very excited about seeing: Ex Libris: The New York Public Library. “Standing in for libraries everywhere, the magnificent New York Public Library is explored and extolled in the great Frederick Wiseman’s latest ode to the importance of essential institutions in politically tumultuous times.” We can’t wait! In the meantime, you might enjoy this book, featuring NYPL in its pages:

The public library : a photographic essay / Dawson, Robert
“Many of us have vivid recollections of childhood visits to a public library: the unmistakable musty scent, the excitement of checking out a stack of newly discovered books. Over the last eighteen years, photographer Robert Dawson has crisscrossed the country documenting hundreds of these endangered institutions. The Public Library presents a wide selection of Dawson’s photographs from the majestic reading room at the New York Public Library to Allensworth, California’s one-room Tulare County Free Library built by former slaves. Accompanying Dawson’s revealing photographs are essays, letters, and poetry by some of America’s most celebrated writers. A foreword by Bill Moyers and an afterword by Ann Patchett bookend this important survey of a treasured American institution.” (Catalogue)