Last week marked the premiere of the new SIMON TRUE series, a non-fiction YA series easily summed up by the series tagline: “Real stories. Real teens. Real crimes.” The series launched with two titles, each equally riveting true stories: Deep Water, in which a Coronado swim team is recruited by an old coach for drug runs across the border into Mexico, and One Cut, which details the consequences of a deadly fight in California (and is also currently available here on Riveted as an extended excerpt until May 15th).
I DEVOURED these two novels and then basically found myself in somewhat of a true crime binge, reading/watching/listening to anything in the true crime genre I could get my hands on. Luckily, true crime stories have seen a real revival over the last few years (hence the creation of this new SIMON TRUE series), with popular shows on streaming services and the internet welcoming them like pop culture darlings, clamoring for more. For those of you looking for more true crime (who’ve already read the extended excerpt of One Cut, of course), I’ve put together a list of a few of my personal favorites (in no particular order) to help bring your attention to this thrilling and macabre genre.
Note that some of the listed media does feature violent content (as most true crime stories do), so keep that in mind before tuning in.
Serial Season 1: Though season 2’s analysis of the Bowe Bergdahl story is also great, I decided to go with the first season of the groundbreaking podcast. This American Life producer Sarah Koenig delves into the mysterious 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee, a popular high school student in Baltimore. Her ex-boyfriend, Adnad Syed, has been convicted of her murder and has been in jail for years. Contacted by friends who still believe Adnad is innocent, Sarah Koenig explores the murky stories surrounding the murder. Incredibly powerful and likely to have you changing your opinion on whodunit from episode to episode, Serial should be required listening.
My Favorite Murder: Fans of true crime can sometimes feel a little awkward about discussing their interest in the matter. Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff started this podcast normalizing the conversation on these terrible events, and bringing people together over a shared interest in the macabre. The podcast follows a “monster of the week” formula, with the hosts each picking one murder to discuss each week, and filling it in with “Gilmore Girl”-esque verbal banter. This relatively new entry has been hugely successful, and now boasts a massive fanbase and live shows.
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson: Telling the parallel stories of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and the arrival of H.H. Holmes to the city, a man who has been branded as the United States’ first serial killer. The result is a fantastic juxtaposition of the herculean effort to create a fair that would exemplify American power and progress (as well as shut up the East Coast elites that saw Chicago as nothing more than a backwater), and the sinister plots of H.H. Holmes as he uses the draw of the fair to find victims.
Bonus: if you’re interested in H.H. Holmes, for further reading, check out author Adam Selzer’s Behind the Book: Just Kill Me & H.H. Holmes post. Then if you want even more, Adam recently published a book all about H.H. Holmes: H. H. Holmes: The True History of the White City Devil.
Making a Murderer: This Netflix original series is very similar to Serial, detailing the possible erroneous conviction of Steven Avery. Avery was convicted of the rape and murder of Theresa Halbach, a photographer for an auto magazine he often listed cars in. Avery had already been wrongfully convicted of rape and had spent years in prison because of it. Filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos examine the evidence and weave a complex and fascinating (not to mention controversial) account of possible evidence tampering, governmental collusion, and forced confessions.
Mystery Show: Ok, so maybe “crime” is a stretch with this one, but hear me out. This podcast from This American Life contributor Starlee Kine isn’t quite a crime show but she DOES set out to solve mysteries. Her pursuits are quirky and fun, such as figuring out how tall Jake Gyllenhaal actually is (A far more complicated endeavor than I thought it would be), or whether or not a video rental store ever existed on a street in Tribeca. Though every episode is spectacular, I particularly recommend the “Belt Buckle” episode. I dare you to listen to that one without tearing up.
News of a Kidnapping by Gabriel Garcia Marquez: The late 1980s was one of the most volatile and dangerous time periods in Colombian history, with the decades-old armed conflict against communist rebel groups and the increasing power of the drug cartels pushing the nation to the brink of collapse. In News of a Kidnapping, the Nobel Prize winning author recounts one of Pablo Escobar’s most well-known crimes—the kidnapping of ten notable Colombians to use as bargaining chips with the government. Marquez’s keen journalistic eye and storytelling prowess create white-knuckle tension as you follow the ordeal of the victims, trapped in the political machinations of a man bent on subjugating a nation, and a country desperate for peace.
The People V. OJ Simpson/OJ: Made in America: I couldn’t make up my mind between these two absolutely spellbinding accounts of the so-called “Trial of the Century.” The People V. OJ Simpson is a dramatization of the events, its stellar cast includes Cuba Gooding Jr. as OJ Simpson, Sarah Paulson as DA Marcia Clark, and Courtney B. Vance as the electric Johnny Cochran. Made in America is an ESPN documentary charting OJ Simpson’s life from collegiate sports through the pros and the murder accusations, and even won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. Paired together, they give a complex view of the social environment surrounding the case and it’s resonance with pop culture.