If you’re like us, you kind of don’t know what to do with yourself now that Serial is over. The podcast, from the creators of This American Life, took listeners by storm with its captivating combination of in-depth investigative reporting and mesmerizing storytelling, and now that Season 1 has come to a close, we’re having serious withdrawals.
Which is why we’ve come up with this really great list of books to keep your investigative mind engaged and to help you to continue to flex those analytical skills that the podcast brought out in everyone who listened. So, pull out the library card and get ready to spend some quality fireside reading time in fine company.
The Way the Crow Flies
First on our list is this gripping novel by Ann-Marie MacDonald. Oprah’s Book Club fans may recognize the author’s name since MacDonald’s book, Fall on Your Knees, was an official selection in 2002. The Way the Crow Flies was inspired by a 1959 murder case, in which a 14-year-old named Steven Truscott was sentenced to death, on dubious circumstantial evidence, for the rape and murder of a 12-year-old girl. Truscott’s case is often cited as ending public support for the death penalty in Canada.
MacDonald’s novel takes place on a quiet Air Force base in Canada in the early ’60s, and is told through the eyes of the high-spirited 8-year old Madeleine. Wrapped up in military secrets, her father finds himself distanced from his family, just as a horrifying murder takes place in their quiet community, which contributes to Madeleine’s loss as she struggles to make sense of, and solve, the mystery of what really happened that tragic day.
Why we think you’ll like it: Although the book takes a while to get started (there is considerable time spent in the first 30 pages or so on setting up Madeleine’s world, which had me wondering when the book was going to hurry up and kick in to gear!), it is incredibly well-crafted, with clues expertly parsed out over the course of the book in much the same way as Serial. Madeleine’s world becomes our own, as we struggle to make sense of a complicated world in which the truth is often held in pieces by more people than we realize. This book is seriously gripping and is told against the backdrop of real-life historical events.
If you’re a movie buff, you’re already very aware of Gillian Flynn’s thriller, Gone Girl. The book, about the eerie disappearance of a suburban housewife, took theaters by storm this past fall, with Ben Affleck playing the suspicious husband.
Why we think you’ll like it: Although the book is a work of fiction, the story itself draws from real headlines. Women go missing all the time and the first suspect is always the husband or boyfriend (or ex-boyfriend, as was the case on Serial). What stands out about Flynn’s book is the access she gives us to the minds of both characters, who on the surface appear to be one thing, but are soon revealed to be another. A truly satisfying read for lovers of mysteries and people interested in the perversion of the human psyche.
The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates
The premise behind this nonfiction book is too unbelievable to summarize, so I’ll just pull a quote directly from Amazon: “Two kids named Wes Moore were born blocks apart within a year of each other. Both grew up fatherless in similar Baltimore neighborhoods and had difficult childhoods; both hung out on street corners with their crews; both ran into trouble with the police. How, then, did one grow up to be a Rhodes Scholar, decorated veteran, White House Fellow, and business leader, while the other ended up a convicted murderer serving a life sentence? Wes Moore, the author of this fascinating book, sets out to answer this profound question.”
Why we think you’ll like it: While some fans of Serial have been all over the Baltimore neighborhood that Adnan grew up in, not everyone lives close enough to the city to immerse themselves in its geography in an attempt to get a better feel for his story. The Other Wes Moore will take you there, show you around and ask you how it is that two young men growing up within blocks of one another could have their lives turn out so unequivocally different — it’s a gut-wrenching query that takes readers inside Baltimore from the comfort of their own home.
In Cold Blood
In the book that made Truman Capote a household name, the eccentric author reports on the gruesome and shocking murder of a Kansas family on Nov. 15, 1959. The family of four died from shotgun blasts fired at extremely close range. With almost no clues and no apparent motive for the crime, authorities were hard-pressed to understand why the crime took place.
Capote, mesmerized by the story, traveled to Kansas to meet with the killers, assembling the first investigative nonfiction novel and taking readers deep into the psyche of the would-be robbers who shocked a nation with the violence of their crime.
Why we think you’ll like it: Capote broke the mold with this book, creating a new genre that even today continues to inspire authors writing about true crime. Capote not only takes you into the world of the murderers, he does so with surprising empathy and breathtaking suspense (don’t try reading this alone at night or you could wind up phoning a friend at 1 a.m. just to “check in”). A true masterpiece of the genre, In Cold Blood is not to be missed for true crime fans.
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America
In The Devil in the White City, author Erik Larson uses extensive research to transport readers to Chicago circa-1893 and immerse them in the lives of Daniel Burnham, Chicago World’s Fair architect, and H.H. Holmes, super-scary serial killer to the max who used the World’s Fair to lure his victims to their deaths.
This has to be one of the creepiest and most fascinating true crime books ever written! Holmes makes Sweeney Todd look tame by comparison. The murderous madman actually built a murder hotel near to the fair, complete with secret passages, hallways and chutes to the basement for easy disposal of his victims. A kiln in his basement made getting away with his crimes easy enough that the man was able to operate for years like this before anyone caught on.
Why we think you’ll like it: One of the biggest draws of Serial was the constant nagging question of who was lying and why. If you were of the mind that the prosecution’s main witness, Jay, was lying, you were left running circles around the case trying to figure out what really happened. One theory posits that Hae Min Lee might have been the victim of a serial killer. This book affords you an (at times unwelcome) peek into the mind of a true serial killer, while fleshing out the era and circumstances around which he was able to operate.
Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith
Jon Krakauer is a master of nonfiction and each of his books takes his readers on remarkable investigative journeys through real-life events. Under the Banner of Heaven tells the story of brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty, who claimed to have received a commandment from God to kill an innocent woman and her baby girl.
As Amazon so succinctly states, through his meticulous research, Krakauer “constructs a multi-layered, bone-chilling narrative of messianic delusion, polygamy, savage violence, and unyielding faith. Along the way he uncovers a shadowy offshoot of America’s fastest growing religion, and raises provocative questions about the nature of religious belief.”
Why we think you’ll like it: The prosecutors in Adnan’s case claim that the murder of Hae Min Lee was an honor killing motivated by religious beliefs. While Adnan and his family strongly deny the claim’s feasibility, In the Banner of Heaven is an excellent exploration into the dangers of religious zealotry.
Listen, we’re not going to lie. This novel is long. Like, 1,026 pages long. But if you’re at all curious about the mind of an oftentimes violent, yet impressively intelligent, teenage maybe-messiah, you won’t be able to put it down. The Instructions is a work of fiction, but author, Adam Levin, takes his readers so deep inside the mind of his characters, you might just forget they’re not real.
Why we think you’ll like it: The Instructions may be the biggest leap from Serial in terms of inclusion in this list, but its deep exploration of the teenage psyche will be fascinating for anyone mesmerized by the teenage stupidity, or cold and calculated intelligence (depending on your read of him), on display in Adnan’s case.