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From Serial Killers To Fraudsters: Oxygen's Gift Guide To The Best Crime Books Of 2021

For the true crime bookworm on your holiday shopping list, consider one or more of these titles.

By Gina Tron
Books To Read Holidays

Think you’ve binged all the true crime content you could this year? Sure, you’ve devoured all of "Murder Among the Mormons" and "Lady and the Dale" and "Sons of Sam."

But even the biggest true crime junkie – the one who's watched it all – probably hasn't also read it all. That’s what makes true crime books such a perfect gift, this year or any year!

If you have a true crime fan on your holiday shopping list, consider gifting one of these incredible books from this year.

1.  “Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York”

Last Call

Elon Green’s “Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York” has given renewed life to four men who were the largely ignored victims of a serial killer who stalked and murdered them during a time of heightened homophobia in the early 1990s. The book is mostly devoted to the lives and personalities of Peter Anderson, 54, Thomas Mulcahy, 57, Anthony Marrero, 44, and Michael Sakara, 55, who were all killed by “The Last Call Killer” Richard Rogers Jr. 

“When it came time to write about the murderer, at the beginning I had no interest whatsoever,” the author told Oxygen.com earlier this year. “Eventually I did write about him because I had to fill in the narrative gap, but he was not, and is not, compelling to me.”

For more on this case, watch Oxygen's "The Last Call Killer" coverage from the series "Mark of a Serial Killer."

2. “The Rope: A True Story of Murder, Heroism, and the Dawn of the NAACP”

The Rope

This is not only a true crime book but an important piece of American history. In “The Rope: A True Story of Murder, Heroism, and the Dawn of the NAACP,” author Alex Tresniowski chronicles the 1910 murder of ten-year-old Marie Smith in New Jersey. A white detective and a former slave team up to solve the killing which occurred in the Jim Crow era. This book gives insight into the launch of the NAACP, systemic American racism, and the beginning of forensics.

3. "Couple Found Slain"

Couple Found Slain

In “Couple Found Slain,” author and psychoanalyst Mikita Brottman focuses on the story of Brian Bechtold, who killed his parents during a delusional episode in 1992 at the age of 22. He was drug dependent in his youth and admits that he was likely schizophrenic at the time of the shooting. Bechtold was found not guilty by reason of insanity and sent to Maryland’s only maximum security forensic psychiatric hospital, Clifton T. Perkins Center. It is there where Brottman met Bechtold and became interested by his intelligence and self-awareness. She claims that while in the hospital, he was overmedicated and mistreated, without the hope of ever being able to be viewed as sane again. 

In an interview with Oxygen.com, Brottman argues that many forensic hospitals are worse than prisons and that we still have a long way to go when it comes to understanding mental health.

4. “We Are Not Like Them”

We Are Not Like Them

While “We Are Not Like Them” is a novel, it’s tale mirrors some of the very real social justice issues America faces today. Christine Pride and Jo Piazza have written a tale about two best friends since kindergarten: Jen and Riley.  Riley becomes a television journalist and is gearing up to become one of the first Black female news anchors, while Jen marries young to a police officer and is preparing to have children with him.

Can their deep friendship, described as a sisterhood, recover after Jen’s husband is involved in the shooting of an unarmed Black teenager?

5. "American Serial Killers: The Epidemic Years 1950-2000"

American Serial Killers

This one is perfect for any one who loves to offer trivia for that friend who always pulls out random serial killer facts. Renowned serial killer expert Peter Vronsky, has compiled a well researched and comprehensive history in “American Serial Killers: The Epidemic Years 1950-2000,” It features information about high profile murderers like Ted Bundy but also of the lesser known killers of the serial killing “golden age.”

6. “True Crime Story”

True Crime Story

In this novel, author Joseph Knox tells the tale of teenager Zoe Nolan who vanished after walking out of a college party, never to be seen again.  Years after her disappearance, struggling writer Evelyn Mitchell becomes obsessed with trying to put the puzzle of the mystery together. She gets close with the missing girl’s closest friends and family and soon uncovers some uncomfortable truths. And while “True Crime Story” isn’t actually true, it is just as gripping as that true crime podcast your loved one is obsessed with. 

7. “She Kills Me: The True Stories of History’s Deadliest Women”

She Kills Me

Male killers dominate the true crime genre but in “She Kills Me: The True Stories of History's Deadliest Women, women are the homicidal centerpiece. Jennifer Wright’s book, described as “residing squarely in the middle of a Venn diagram of feminism and true crime” details the life and crimes of 40 different female murderers. Some killed for necessity, some killed for revenge and some, like their male counterparts, just killed for fun. 

8.  “The Babysitter: My Summers with a Serial Killer” 

The Babysitter

 “The Babysitter: My Summers with a Serial Killer” is about as far from “The Babysitter’s Club” books as you can get. This memoir details the summers that author Liza Rodman spent with Tony Costa, who was later suspected of killing at least four women in Cape Cod between 1968 and 1969. He was convicted of killing two: Patricia Walsh, and Mary Anne Wysocki, whose dismembered bodies were found in a garden Costa used for growing marijuana. Rodman recalled Costa even taking her and her sister to that very same wooded area at around the time when the murders would have occurred.

Still, the nuanced book paints a real picture of the serial killer instead of turning him into a cartoon villain.

“We had some horrible babysitters and Tony was not one of them,” Rodman reflected to Oxygen.com earlier this year. “He was fun and he was handsome and he paid attention to us.”

9. "Don't Call it a Cult: The Shocking Story of Keith Raniere and the Women of NXIVM"

Dont Call It A Cult

In “Don't Call it a Cult: The Shocking Story of Keith Raniere and the Women of NXIVM,” investigative journalist Sarah Berman dives deep into the practices of NXIVM, a self proclaimed self-help group that has been exposed as having an inner sex slave cult. The once-secret ring DOS, run by group leader Keith Raniere, served as a way for him to gain and exert control. DOS recruits were required to have the initials of Raniere carved onto their bodies with a cauterizing pen. It proved their devotion to the group and to Raniere, and established their status in the cult as "slaves." Raniere, the mastermind behind it all, was sentenced in 2020 to 120 years in federal prison for a slew of charges, including sex trafficking.

10. “Confident Women: Swindlers, Grifters, and Shapeshifters of the Feminine Persuasion”

Confident Women

This is for your loved one who just cannot wait for “Inventing Anna” to come out. “Confident Women: Swindlers, Grifters, and Shapeshifters of the Feminine Persuasion”is a roundup of the most notorious female con artists out there. And Tori Telfer’s book goes way beyond alleged fraudulent heavy hitters like Elizabeth Holmes and Anna Delvey.

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