Older and Still Popular: True Crime Books

May 21, 2021 | M. Elwood

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There are 100 libraries in Toronto and each branch has it's own character, collection and community. But across all libraries, books about crime are in high demand. Some older books have withstood the test of time being borrowed over and over, and in a way, handed from one reader to another. They've also survived physically with many wearing their scars proudly.

For those who are unfamiliar with the Dewey Decimal system, criminology is located at 364, within the larger Social Services and Social Problems section. 

Below are some of our highest circulating, well loved and well used, true crime titles from across Toronto.

And never let her go

—And Never Let Her Go: Thomas Capano: The Deadly Seducer by Ann Rule

Anne Marie Fahey was the appointments secretary to Delaware Governor Tom Carper. Thomas Capano was a rich lawyer who was well known in Delaware political circles. The two began an affair but after a couple of years Anne Marie became uncomfortable with Tommy's desire to control every aspect of her life. On June 27, 1996, they went to dinner. Anne Marie Fahey was never seen alive again. Best-selling crime writer Ann Rule tells the story of the affair, murder and the eventual arrest of Tommy Capano. 

Bag lady papers

The Bag Lady Papers by Alexandra Penney

Alexandra Penney had successful career as a writer and editor. Her assets were invested and safe — or so she thought. It all changed with one phone call when she learned that Bernie Madoff, who she had trusted with her money, had been running a Ponzi scheme and her money was gone. Although Penney's book documenting her sudden loss of financial security is a little tone-deaf — she has to take the subway! She can't afford cut flowers! Her cleaner can't come as often! — it's a a fascinating look at one woman's experience of the biggest financial scandal in recent years. 

Bringing down the house

Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six MIT Students who Took Vegas for Millions by Ben Mezrich

MIT students form teams of card counters and successfully play blackjack in Las Vegas briefly enjoying the life of wealthy high rollers before being discovered and barred. It's interesting that this book is catalogued as criminology because none of their actions were illegal. Books about gambling are found in several places in the library including this one. 

Questions have arisen about the accuracy of this book. The Boston Globe concluded that author Mezrich "not only exaggerated freely . . . but invented whole parts of the story, including some pivotal events in the book that never happened to anyone". The book includes a disclaimer that "[t]he names of many of the characters and locations in this book have been changed, as have certain physical characteristics and other descriptive details. Some of the events and characters are also composites of several individual events or persons."

In cold blood

In Cold Blood: A True Account of a Multiple Murder and its Consequences by Truman Capote

Truman Capote identified this book as a "non-fiction novel"; although based on facts, it contains scenes and dialogue that were created by Capote. Capote was intrigued by the 1959 murders of four members of a Kansas family and its impact on their community. He, accompanied by childhood friend Harper Lee, visited Holcomb, Kansas where they interviewed members of law enforcement, the community and the murderers themselves. Capote worked on the book for six years. Published in 1966, this is the oldest book on this list. 

Journalist and the murderere

The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm

Jeffrey MacDonald was convicted of the murders of his wife and daughters although he maintained the family had been attacked by members of a drug cult. MacDonald asked author Joe McGinniss to help prove his innocence. McGinniss was granted access to MacDonald, his legal team and supporters. Seeing the evidence McGinniss concluded that MacDonald was guilty but he continued to work closely with him pretending to be an ally. When McGinniss's book Fatal Vision was released, Macdonald was shocked by its contents and sued McGinniss. In this book, Janet Malcolm looks at this case and the ethical responsibilities of an author in McGinniss's position. 

Massey murder

The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master and the Trial that Shocked the Country by Charlotte Gray

The Newcastle Foundry and Machine Manufactory was founded in 1847 by Daniel Massey and after a merger in 1891 became the largest agricultural manufacturing company in the British Empire. The Massey family became prominent members of the Toronto elite. The family became known for its support of the arts and the creation of Toronto landmarks like Hart House and Massey Hall. Daniel's grandson Charles "Bert" Massey known for his love of a good time. On February 8, 1915 Bert Massey was shot on his own doorstep as he came home from work. His servant, Carrie Davis quickly confessed to the murder but said that she had shot Bert to protect her honour. Historian Charlotte Gray tells the story of the murder that shocked Toronto society. The book won numerous awards including the Toronto Book Award and OLA Evergreen Award. 

Napoleon of crime

The Napoleon of Crime: The Life and Times of Adam Worth, Master Thief by Ben Macintyre

Adam Worth realized when he was young that earning an honest living was not for him. After he was mistakenly listed as killed in action in the Civil War, he committed himself to a life of crime by leading a gang of pickpockets before progressing to robbing stores and banks. When his activities drew the attention of the Pinkertons, he moved to Europe where he conducted a series of daring robberies most notably stealing a Gainsborough painting of the Duchess of Devonshire and successfully hiding it for 25 years. Arthur Conan Doyle used Worth as an inspiration for the character of Professor Moriarty in the Sherlock Holmes novels. 


Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art by Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo (place on hold)

John Myatt was a painter who had a great talent for mimicking artists. He advertised his work as "Genuine Fakes" and sold pieces for £150. One of his customers, a man named John Drewe, began selling Myatt's paintings as the real thing planting false documents in archives to establish provenance for the fake art. It's a fascinating tale of how Drewe exploited weaknesses in the art establishment to become a celebrated collector. 

Suspicions of mr whicher

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Murder and the Undoing of a Great Detective by Kate Summerscale

Jack Whicher was one of the original 8 Scotland Yard detectives. His talent for crime solving inspired novelists like Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens who wrote characters based on Whicher. In 1860, Whicher was called upon to investigate the murder of a 3-year-old child — a case that came close to destroying his career. 


Thunderstruck by Erik Larson

Erik Larson writes compelling and accessible non-fiction that is popular with many readers. It's not a great surprise that two of his crime books are still being widely read. 

In Thunderstruck, Larson writes about Guglielmo Marconi and the invention of the wireless telegraph and Dr. Hawley Crippen, an unlikely murderer, and the dramatic way their lives intersected. 

Devil in the white city

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

This is a fascinating look at the creation of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair which was largely responsible for turning the city into a thriving metropolis. The Fair was also the hunting ground for H.H. Holmes, America's first serial killer. Holmes operated a hotel near the fairground that drew a stream of clients who were unaware that their stay might be permanent.  

We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families

We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch

Genocide may not come to mind as part of the true crime genre but this book is shelved in that area. Gourevitch travelled in Rwanda after the 1994 genocide, interviewing witnesses and survivors in an effort to understand what had happened. In 2019, Slate named this book one of the 50 Best Non-Fiction Books of the past 25 years. 


How many of these have you read? What are your favourite, older true crime books? Let us know in the comments.