True-Crime Novels: Perfectly Paradoxical Summer Reading Material

The podcast Serial resulted in such a remarkable surge in popularity for true-crime podcasts that researchers have since studied the "Serial effect" on real-life court cases and juries. The first season of the series came out in 2014, and is the subject of Adnan's Story: The Search for Truth and Justice After Serial by Rabia Chaudry (St. Martin's Griffin, $20). In the decade since, true-crime podcasts have come to represent nearly a quarter of chart-topping podcasts across platforms. With such incredible growth in the genre, it's perhaps no surprise that several novels have since centered on the journalistic process of using real life crimes to inspire popular media.

Rebecca Makkai probes the ethics of investigating old crimes in I Have Some Questions for You (Penguin, $19), as a podcaster returns to her high school campus to teach a podcasting class and winds up encouraging a student to dig into the 20-year old case of a murdered classmate. The novel has some notable parallels to the arc of the Serial podcast (a journalistic revisiting of a crime believed to be solved by local police, but with more than a few gaping holes in the case), but in Makkai's skilled hands, it never feels derivative, grappling not only with the ethics of true-crime podcasting but also questions of race, class, privilege, and social media in careful and thoughtful ways.

The case at the center of Katie Gutierrez's More Than You'll Ever Know (Morrow, $19.99) is also decades old, as a true-crime writer becomes obsessed with the details of a case against a husband accused of murdering his wife's secret second spouse. Though it seems cut-and-dried at first blush--a jealous lover sent into a rage by his wife's betrayal--the writer's mind is caught on just a few too many loose ends, threads she is determined to tie up despite the family's unexpected resistance to revisiting the case.

Meanwhile, Denise Mina's Conviction (Mulholland, $18.99) moves from the perspective of the true crime journalist to that of a listener, as an avid podcast fan realizes the victim of her latest listen is connected to her past. Kate Clayborn moves the true-crime premise into the romance genre with The Other Side of Disappearing (Kensington, $17.95), as a seasoned journalist and her apprentice investigating a conman link up with the daughters of the man's partner on an epic road trip in search of answers.

Most recently, I devoured None of This Is True (Atria, $28) by Lisa Jewell, swept up in the story of a podcaster who realizes partway through recording that she's making a true-crime podcast of her own life as she interviews the most unreliable of narrators for a feature. And as summer reading season commences in my part of the world, I'll be sticking with my paradoxical trend of true-crime novels on the beach this month. Next up: Amy Tintera's 2024 new novel, Listen for the Lie (Celadon, $26.99), which our reviewer called "quite sexy, compulsively readable, and laugh-out-loud funny." --Kerry McHugh, freelance writer

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