Top true crime books of the 21st century

A full bookcase

Once Upon a True Crime airs Mondays at 9pm on Crime + Investigation at 9pm. The series follows four of the UK's top true crime writers as they retrace the steps of the killers and victims who inspired some of their most popular novels. With unprecedented access to experts, witnesses, and journalists that covered each case, the murders are pieced together and new, untested theories surface in an attempt to resolve mysteries that remain.

The four novels covered in the new show are Babes in the Wood by Peter James, Their Little Secret by Mark Billingham, The Long Drop by Denise Mina, and Frightener: The Glasgow Ice-cream Wars by Douglas Skelton.

The popularity of true crime is clear to see. From podcasts to television and movies to dedicated conventions, the world’s love for true crime shows no sign of stopping. Fans can find their fix in many different formats, but sometimes nothing is better than getting lost in a gripping book. Here we’re looking at some of the most popular and captivating true crime books of the 21st century. It’s a chance to see the inner workings of some of the world’s most terrifying serial killers and criminals.

Lifers (2016) - Geoffrey Wansell

Lifers is a fantastic overview of some of the most well-known serial killers. Author Geoffrey Wansell spent over twenty years up close and personal with many notorious names. A chance to get into the psyche of some of these unforgettable criminals, Wansell brings us a fascinating collection of interviews, first-hand accounts and unexpected insights into the minds of the most feared criminals. It’s also a chance to see how behaviours change once they realise that “life means life”.

Happy Like Murderers (2019) - Gordon Burn

Gordon Burn is well-known for his study of Peter Sutcliffe, but Happy Like Murderers is possibly his finest work yet. It looks closely into the lives of Fred and Rose West. The casual nature of their murders, their intense relationship and the brutality that lay at the heart of it make it fascinating and horrifying in equal measure. It is profoundly moving in a way you’d never expect from a true crime book.

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland (2019) – Patrick Radden Keefe

Delving into the murky history of the Irish Troubles, Patrick Radden Keefe explores this dark part of our history through a unique and unexpected path. He traces the narrative through the murder of a mother of eight, kidnapped for her supposed support of the British forces. Keefe uses this single incident as a starting point for a fascinating look at the conflict. He incorporates oral history at the heart of his work, and the brutal nature of the tale is brought to life by the fact that it’s so well researched and based on reality.

Killing for Company (2017) - Brian Masters

Killing for Company takes us into the inner workings of Dennis Nilsen’s mind. After receiving Nilsen’s express permission and even his input, Brian Masters was in the unique position of creating the study of a murderer with the subject’s consent. Nilsen’s disturbing psychology creates a compelling read.

A Very English Scandal (2016) - John Preston

John Preston tells the tale of Jeremy Thorpe, the first MP ever tried for murder. He was accused in the 1970s of hiring an assassin to take out his alleged ex-lover, and Preston’s account is both eye-opening and graphic in its undoing of the subject. Brilliantly researched, surprises and shocks are hidden within these pages, making it impossible to put down.

You Could Do Something Amazing With Your Life (2016) – Andrew Hankinson

Compelling and based on the life and actions of the most unusual of killers, Raoul Moat, You Could Do Something Amazing With Your Life is written by Andrew Hankinson, a local to the area Moat grew up in. Hankinson looks to get inside the mind of Moat and examine how he came to commit such despicable acts. After sparking one of the biggest manhunts in UK history, Moat’s unusual story and devastating murders made him a compelling subject for Hankinson, who interviewed his relatives and others who knew him when putting the book together.

The Lost Boy (2007) – Duncan Staff

One of the saddest and most moving murder cases is that of Keith Bennett. Known to be one of the victims of the Moors Murderers, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, the pair never shared the location of his body. They murdered five children in total, three found on Saddleworth Moor in shallow graves and the other in their home. Keith’s body has still not been recovered, and in Staff’s book The Lost Boy, he puts forward a case for where the body might be. Terribly sad but powerfully compelling, this is another book true crime lovers will need in their collection.

We live in a world where criminals are at work every second of the day. Our fascination with the way unusual and psychotic minds reach their devastating conclusions and patterns of behaviour means there’s always a new true crime book to devour. These are just some of the best titles in the last few years.