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The Best True Crime Books Of 2020 For Holiday Gifting
From a deep dive into the legal pursuit of Jeffrey Epstein to the grisly tale of abductions in rural South Dakota, these are the top book choices for the true crime fan on your holiday shopping list.
What a year for true crime. From a slew of groundbreaking, in-depth docuseries across cable and streaming platforms to countless binge-able podcasts, 2020 was a year that the white-hot genre hit a new peak. We may have been locked down and socially distanced, but at least there were dozens of twisty mysteries to delve into and complex cases to be solved.
But it wasn’t just a banner year for television and podcasts in the world of true crime—dozens of major books from across the genre hit the shelves in 2020. So if you have a true crime fan on your holiday shopping list, consider gifting one of these incredible books from this year.
1. We Keep the Dead Close: A Murder at Harvard and a Half Century of Silence
It was 1969 when the body of 23-year-old grad student Jane Britton was discovered bludgeoned to death at her apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Rumors of the mystery surrounding the murder of the daughter of Radcliffe College’s vice president swirled for four decades, and soon became the obsession of Becky Cooper. Here, she meticulously recounts the twists and turns of her probe into the notorious murder, and eventually reveals a history of the institution’s elites, misogyny in academia, and audits the way we form narratives around tragedy.
"We Keep the Dead Close: A Murder at Harvard and a Half Century of Silence" is published by Grand Central Publishing.
2. Dancing With the Octopus: A Memoir of a Crime
What happens to a young girl when she returns to her home after a terrifying abduction? In 1978, Debora Harding was taken at knife-point, assaulted, and left to die. Switching between the past and present, her probing account of the event and its aftermath bravely looks at her family trauma and the hope of restorative justice—combining wit, drama, and deep self-reflection to investigate the aftershocks of a devastating crime.
"Dancing With the Octopus: A Memoir of a Crime" is published by Bloomsbury Publishing.
3. The Devil's Harvest: A Ruthless Killer, a Terrorized Community, and the Search for Justice in California's Central Valley
Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, and ... Jose Martinez? The little-known California mechanic and devoted father was in fact one of the most prolific killers of the past century. For decades, Martinez terrorized California's Central Valley’s rural, immigrant communities, collecting debts and acting as a hitman for drug cartels. Jessica Garrison, a senior investigative editor for BuzzFeed News, traces the life and crimes of the man who killed three dozen people while exposing a hard truth about justice for the poor and disenfranchised in America.
"The Devil's Harvest: A Ruthless Killer, a Terrorized Community, and the Search for Justice in California's Central Valley" is published by Hachette Books.
4. The Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia
In July 1980, 26-year-old Vicki Durian and teenager Nancy Santomero were murdered in Pocahontas County, West Virginia while hiking to a festival called the Rainbow Gathering. The investigation into what became known as the Rainbow Murders saw several twists as multiple suspects emerged over many years. In writing this book, Emma Copley Eisenberg spent time living in Pocahontas County—both investigating the murders and looking at the long-lasting impact they've had on the tiny rural community.
"The Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia" is published by Hachette Books.
5. Race Against Time: A Reporter Reopens the Unsolved Murder Cases of the Civil Rights Era
In a year that saw an explosive reckoning on racial justice in America, investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell published his riveting account of his long hunt for the Klansmen who committed some of the most notorious murders of the Civil Rights Era. His book looks at the pursuit of justice in four major unprosecuted cases—including the 1964 murders of three civil rights leaders by nearly two dozen Klansmen, which became known as the notorious “Mississippi Burning” murders. The book looks at the roles the police, state, and federal officials had in allowing the killers to remain free for years, and how they were ultimately brought to justice.
"Race Against Time: A Reporter Reopens the Unsolved Murder Cases of the Civil Rights Era" is published by Simon & Schuster.
6. Yellow Bird: Oil, Murder, and a Woman's Search For Justice in Indian Country
The worlds of a Native American tribe in North Dakota and the blue-collar oil workers who labor on their reservation collide in the story of Lissa Yellow Bird, a native woman recently released from prison. As she acclimates to her people’s newfound wealth, she begins to investigate the troubling disappearance of a young white oil worker, Kristopher "KC" Clarke, who vanished from his worksite in 2012. Reporter Sierra Crane Murdoch’s book tackles not just the mystery of what happened to Clarke, but weaves in the backstory of injustices against tribal people over several centuries, as well as Lissa’s own story of redemption.
"Yellow Bird: Oil, Murder, and a Woman's Search For Justice in Indian Country" is published by Random House.
7. Relentless Pursuit: My Fight For the Victims of Jeffrey Epstein
The August 2019 death of billionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein in a Manhattan jail cell shocked the nation, and the pursuit of the truth about his life and death has created ripple effects that continue today. In his book, Florida-based attorney Bradley Edwards—who represented more than 20 of Epstein’s victims—details his years-long pursuit of bringing the sex offender to justice. This shocking and compulsively readable account is the definitive book on the Epstein story.
"Relentless Pursuit: My Fight For the Victims of Jeffrey Epstein" is published by Gallery Books.
8. The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy, Updated and Expanded Edition
Elizabeth Kendall's 1981 memoir of her time dating infamous serial killer Ted Bundy while he was carrying out a murder spree got a newly updated edition in conjunction with Amazon's latest docu-series, "Falling For a Killer," this year. If you loved the series, which was inspired by this book, you can go further in-depth about the six years Kendall and Bundy spent together to get a better picture of the notorious killer.
"The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy, Updated and Expanded Edition" is published by Adams Press.
9. Unspeakable Acts: True Tales of Crime, Murder, Deceit, and Obsession
Does your favorite true crime fan prefer a little bit of this and a little bit of that? Then this anthology from acclaimed writer Sarah Weinman is the perfect gift. The book includes 13 pieces of previously published long-form journalism, looking at everything from crime and identity to the criminal justice system, and the stories of Gypsy Rose Blanchard to Ted Bundy.
"Unspeakable Acts: True Tales of Crime, Murder, Deceit, and Obsession" is published by Ecco.
10. Duct Tape Killer: The True Inside Story of Sexual Sadist & Murderer Robert Leroy Anderson
This grisly tale of rape, torture, and murder delves into the abductions of women in rural South Dakota by Robert Leroy Anderson, who was convicted of kidnapping and killing Larisa Dumansky in 1994 and Piper Streyle two years later. This deeply detailed page-turner, told out of chronology, comes from the authors of the bestseller “Gitchie Girl” and former South Dakota Attorney General Larry Long. "
Duct Tape Killer: The True Inside Story of Sexual Sadist & Murderer Robert Leroy Anderson" is published by Electio Publishing.