Reading list

6 chilling novels based on real life murders

From the mysterious to the gruesome to the downright bizarre, there's something about a murder story that sucks us in... but if it's based on a real life story, that adds an even more chilling dimension. Here are six of the best.

 

The Long Drop

Denise Mina

Award-winning, shape-shifting, readers' favourite Denise Mina takes us to Glasgow to tell the story of William Watt, whose family has been murdered, leaving him wrongly accused of their killing. As he begins a hunt to find the real killer, it seems that Peter Manuel is the only man with any answers. And so he agrees to meet him. Based on the 1950s true story featuring the same cast, Mina's grisly tale paints a dark and dangerous picture of a time when justice certainly couldn't be taken for granted. If you're not sure whether to embark upon this grim journey, try seeing what Ian Rankin has to say about it - he's a serious fan.

 

The Witchfinders' Sister

Beth Underdown

Essex, England in the 1640s was a terrifying place in which to be a woman. Especially if your brother happened to be the celebrated Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins. Alice Hopkins soon finds out that her brother's power and influence have deadly consequences for the innocent women of the community, and as the people around him grow ever more frightened, it falls to her to end the madness. A Matthew Hopkins really did live, and witch-hunt, in that decade, and Underdown adds just enough historical detail to bring the past eerily to life in a gripping new book that comes recommended by none other than The Girl on the Train author Paula Hawkins.

 

The Girls

Emma Cline

Emma Cline's debut novel is one of the most hyped of the past year. And rightly so. Fizzing with the adventure and heady energy of 1960s California, Cline's story of a young girl who unwittingly finds herself a bit-part player in a cult's killing spree is uniquely thrilling, drawing clear paralells with the crimes of the notorious Charles Manson. Having joined the glamorous group in search of escape from her troubled family, Evie finds events taking a darker turn. Suddenly the flowers, dancing and psychedelia seem miles away, and the murderous fallout follows her for the rest of her life.  

 

HHhH

Laurent Binet

Published nearly five years ago, HHhH is in our minds again because of the imminent release of The Man with the Lion Heart - the film based on this story of a plot to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich. Famed as the head of the SS and the Gestapo and the mastermind of the Final Solution , it's little surprise that someone had it in for him. Binet's imagined narrative weaves real-life characters and politics with danger, suspense and humanity, which makes reading the book before seeing the film a must.

 

High Dive

Jonathan Lee

Jonathan Lee's novel about the 1984 Brighton hotel bombing has been phenomenally reviewed and praised. Telling the complex and multilayered story of the Provisional IRA's attempted murder of then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher - using fictional characters - this is more a tale of plots and machinations than gore, and it's all the more intriguing for that. Although Thatcher survived, five others were murdered that day, and Lee uses fiction to explore the emotions and motivations of people who commit such violent acts.

 

In Cold Blood

Truman Capote

It's impossible to discuss novels based on true crime without mentioning this classic. Truman Capote (with the help of research assistant Harper Lee - you may have heard of her?) investigates the brutal murder of a local Kansas businessman, his wife and their children, by two ex-farmhands. The jury took just 45 minutes to arrive at the guilty verdict, which at the time carried a mandatory death sentence. Meanwhile, Capote took six years to finish the book, interviewing and researching on the ground in Kansas. It was published in 1966 before becoming one of the bestselling crime 'novels' of all time, and it's fair to say the other books on this list wouldn't exist without it.

 

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