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10 novels inspired by real crimes

It’s often said truth is stranger than fiction… and these crime stories prove just that.

Real-life crime stories have captured the imagination of crime writers across the globe, giving us tantalising tales you’d never believe were true. Except when you know they are.

Inspired by real events both past and present, these books offer a window into the world of some of the most infamous crimes.

10 fiction books inspired by real crimes:

novels inspired by real crimesThe Girls by Emma Cline

It’s the 1960s in Northern California and fourteen-year-old loner Evie Boyd is captivated by a group of girls she sees in the park and lured her into an unknown cult. Groomed by their charismatic leader, Russell Hadrick, Evie is swept along closer and closer to a violent act she could never have previously imagined.

Inspired by one of the most infamous and disturbing criminals of the late twentieth century, Charles Manson, this is a dark and disturbing story of vulnerability, fear, power and desire.

Find out more about the Manson murders here.

novels inspired by real crimesLittle Deaths by Emma Flint

When the bodies of two small children, Frankie Jr. and Cindy, are found brutally murdered, single mother Ruth Malone is prime suspect. But when tabloid hack Pete Wonicke looks into the story he finds there’s more to Ruth than the promiscuous woman she’s being made out to be. Did Ruth Malone violently kill her own children? Or is the truth far more sinister?

Set in the heatwave of New York in 1965, Little Deaths is inspired by real-life events and the gripping case of Alice Crimmins.

novels inspired by real crimesThe Long Drop by Denise Mina

Two men meet in a Glasgow. One, an ordinary businessman accused of the heinous crime of murdering his family, and the other an infamous criminal claiming to have information on who really did it. The pair go on a journey together through the gritty underworld of 1950s Glasgow on the search for guilt, justice and redemption.

Based on the true crime story of Peter Manuel, also known as ‘the Beast of Birkenshaw’, this is a semi-fictionalised account of the Manuel case and an intimate look into the mind of a cold killer.

Find out more about Peter Manuel here.

novels inspired by real crimesBlue Light Yokohama by Nicolas Obregon

A family are murdered in their own home and the killer leaves a painted black sun as their symbolic signature. Two detectives, Iwata and Sakai, are assigned to the case and it soon becomes clear the murders are not the first, or the last, by the Black Sun Killer.

Inspired by the real-life tragedy of the murder of the Miyazawas family in Tokyo in 2000, where the killer is still now at large. A compelling and disturbing story offering a fresh take on the classic serial killer novel.

Find out more about the case here.

novels inspired by real crimesSee What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

Summer 1892 and the brutal axe-murder of Andrew and Abby Borden in Massachusetts leaves little evidence and many unanswered questions. Daughter Lizzie Borden is the first to raise the alarm, but was she responsible for the blows that killed her father and stepmother?

A clever, gritty and insightful retelling of one of the most notorious murder cases in history, the novel shifts from the perspective of four key characters, including Lizzie herself, to explore the personalities and events surrounding that fateful day.

novels inspired by real crimesBurial Rites by Hannah Kent

Condemned to death for killing her former master and lover, Agnes is sent to spend her final months before her execution on the remote farm where she lived as a young girl. Set in Iceland in 1829 and inspired by the real-life story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the family who run the farm are horrified to be housing a convicted killer. But through the dark Icelandic winter they discover there’s another side to Agnes and the story they think they know isn’t quite what it seems.

Gripping, haunting and a remarkable debut novel.

novels inspired by real crimesMurder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Climb aboard the famous Orient Express for a fateful journey you’ll never forget. The train is stopped in its tracks by a snowdrift, where overnight millionaire Samuel Ratchett is murdered in his compartment. The killer has to be on the train. Enter the brilliant Hercule Poirot, the only man capable of finding the killer, in a race against time before they strike again.

Agatha Christie took inspiration from the infamous Lindbergh kidnapping case of 1932 as well as her own ride on the Orient Express in 1928, where she made notes on the layout of the train to include in the novel when a lengthy rain delay caused the train to grind to a halt. The result is a timeless whodunit which has kept people guessing for generations.

novels inspired by real crimesRoom by Emma Donoghue

Five-year-old Jack and Ma live in Room. Room is their entire world. Room is home to Jack but to Ma it’s the prison where Old Nick has kept her captive for seven years. And she needs to get them out. The idea for the book was partly triggered by the real-life case of Elisabeth Fritzl, who was imprisoned by her father in an underground dungeon in their family house in Austria for 24 years. Elisabeth mothered seven children whilst held captive, three of whom lived with her in her prison.

Room is a surprisingly sweet and beautiful story about a child’s innocence, a mother’s love and a fight for freedom.

novels inspired by real crimesThe Black Dahlia by James Ellroy

It’s Los Angeles in 1947 and the body of a young woman is found brutally murdered, drained of blood and cut in half. Two policemen, obsessed with the Black Dahlia case, as the newspapers have penned it, dig through the dirt of the seedy underbelly of Hollywood to discover the truth of the murdered girl and the dark twists that led to her death.

This neo-noir crime novel is based on the story of Elizabeth Short, a Hollywood hopeful whose murder prompted one of the greatest manhunts in Californian history.

novels inspired by real crimesThe Search by Howard Linskey

In 1976 Susan Verity went out to play but never came back. An unprecedented police hunt followed but Susan was never found. Convicted child serial killer Adrian Wicklow was the prime suspect, but after years of toying with the police, they were unable to find any evidence or hold him to a confession. 21 years later and the case re-opens. This time detective Ian Bradshaw and journalists Tom Carney and Helen Norton are determined to find out the truth.

Set in 1996 with flashbacks to 1976, this dark and gripping mystery, loosely inspired by Moors murderer Ian Brady, will keep you guessing until the final twist.

Have we missed any gripping fiction books inspired by real crimes? Let us know in the comments below!


    Ian Rankin’s Black and Blue involves the return of the never caught serial killer Bible John

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