There’s an increasingly huge demand for media about serial killers.
Whether it be movies and documentaries, YouTube videos and podcasts, or fiction books, there’s something in discussing the mind of a serial killer that people find fascinating.
In literature, it’s often said that people crave stories about relatable characters, but how many of us can really relate to someone who delights in stalking and habitual murder?
Perhaps that’s the draw – we can’t help but be intrigued by a mindset so alien, and our morbid curiosity keeps us turning the pages with fervor.
The 7 books listed are perfect for if you’re looking to scratch that itch with a decent fictional serial killer story.
Th1rt3en – Steve Cavanaugh (2018)
In this gripping courtroom drama, the serial killer isn’t the one on trial.
He’s on the jury.
The fourth book in a series about defense attorney Eddie Flynn, Th1rt3en features a serial killer with ingenious methods.
Joshua Kane is an expert stalker and master of disguise: he can mimic anyone he studies. But not only that – he has also established a killing pattern that has, so far, left him unsuspected by the police.
For each of his murders, Kane frames someone else, then arranges to place himself on the jury at their trial and ensures his targets are wrongly convicted of his own crimes.
Kane’s most recent target is Hollywood actor Bobby Solomon, who is accused of the brutal murders of his wife and his head of security. After one conversation with his client, Fynn can tell he’s innocent.
But can Flynn figure out that the real killer is sitting less than twenty feet away in the courtroom?
Or will Bobby Solomon become Kane’s next victim, courtesy of the death penalty?
At 336 pages, the short, snappy chapters make this a compelling read.
Gone to see the River Man – Kristopher Triana (2020)
One of the more disturbing books on the list, Gone to see the River Man explores the baffling phenomena of women who become romantically infatuated with convicted serial killers.
The protagonist is Lori, who has fallen in love with Edmund Cox, the serial killer of over twenty women.
She has written Cox letters, visited him in prison and, when he gives her a mission to prove her love to him, she eagerly follows his instruction: she must go to see ‘the river man’.
She and her disabled sister, Abby, embark on a journey for which they (and the reader) are not prepared.
Though this story focuses more on Lori than the serial killer, because we get to read their letters to one another, his presence is felt strongly throughout the book.
This story is not for the faint hearted: Lori’s experiences on her journey can only be described as truly vile.
If you can stomach it, the book is a quick read at 182 pages, but it is sure to keep you up at night!
Mr. Mercedes – Stephen King (2014)
Ex-detective Bill Hodges’ life is empty now that he has retired.
Living alone, he has nothing to do but sit in his recliner, watching TV.
He’s contemplating ending it all, when the mail arrives on his doormat, and with it he finds a taunting letter from the one serial killer he failed to catch.
Brady Hartsfield, a.k.a. Mr. Mercedes, is infamous for stealing a Mercedes, driving to a job fair and mowing down as many people as he could.
Killing eight people and leaving many with debilitating injuries, he also left no trace evidence for the detectives.
His crime was brutal, his case unsolvable, and in his letter to Hodges he laughingly threatens to strike again. Hodges now has a very good reason to live.
If you’re interested in stories that show the pathology of a serial killer’s motivation, you’ll enjoy Brady’s chapters, which explore his childhood and an extremely dysfunctional mother-son relationship.
Hodges has no idea of just how sick his suspect is. The book is fast-paced and, as the details of Brady’s plans unfold, the case becomes a race against the clock.
Darkly Dreaming Dexter – Jeff Lindsay (2004)
Is it possible to sympathise with a character who is a serial killer?
What if they’re the main character, and the book is told in first person perspective?
Dexter Morgan tells the reader candidly about his crimes and makes no apologies for his proclivities.
He’s the adopted son of Harry Morgan, who recognised Dexter’s darkness at a young age.
From his experience in dealing with murderers as a detective, Harry suspected Dexter would grow up to become a dangerous killer.
Instead of punishing or trying to change his son, he led Dexter in a different direction.
Dexter’s different from most serial killer characters because he has a code; he calls it ‘The Harry Way’.
The code is simple: he may only kill bad people – killers, rapists, the worst of the worst.
In his job as a blood spatter analyst for the Miami police department, Dexter has everything he needs to lead him to each of his victims.
But when a new killer emerges, using methods identical to Dexter’s, his interest is piqued.
Will Dexter abandon his code for a murderer so like himself?
Imitation in Death – J. D. Robb (2003)
Lieutenant Eve Dallas investigates a string of murders in this police procedural, only to find herself a target of the killer.
Next to the body of the killer’s latest victim, she finds a note teasing her to play a game and find the out the killer’s identity, signed ‘Jack’.
Dallas soon realises that ‘Jack’ is extensively knowledgeable about historical serial killers and is copying their tactics in each of his kills.
In one case, he mimics Jack the ripper, in others, Al De Salvo and Ted Bundy, so the reader gets a little taste of true crime throughout the story.
There’s a romantic element to this novel, as it focuses both on the case and on Dallas’ relationship: her husband is worried because, ‘Jack’s note suggests that Dallas is on his kill list.
Can she catch him before he murders again?
Or will she be his next victim?
My Sister the Serial Killer – Oyinkan Braithwaite (2018) Korede and Ayoola
Korede is hardworking and loves the routines and rules of being a nurse.
She likes things neat and clean.
Her sister Ayoola is the chaotic and care-free golden child of the family, and also happens to be a serial killer.
Ayoola’s victims are her boyfriends, and Korede spends her life cleaning up her messes.
The women are daughters of long-dead abusive father, and Korede’s love for her sister is ruining her life.
You must read this book with the right expectations: it’s not a story with grisly descriptions of Ayoola’s murders; it’s more about their sibling relationship and Korede’s jealousy of the fact that Ayoola’s traditional beauty seems to give her a free pass in life.
It’s a fast-paced, episodic novel with dark humour throughout.
You’ll never know what’s about to happen, which will keep you reading until the story is over.
American Psycho – Bret Easton Ellis (1991)
If you are a fan of serial killer fiction and haven’t read American Psycho yet, you are missing out on a glimpse at one of the most revolting characters ever to grace the page.
To those around him, Patrick Bateman appears normal, intelligent, and charming, but in the place where human emotion and empathy should be, there is nothing. Bateman is a psychopath.
Written in first person, the novel is an intentionally disturbing satire of consumerism, toxic masculinity, and Wall Street culture.
The highly detailed descriptions of torture and death are balanced out by an in-depth portrayal of an upper-class lifestyle.
In an almost stream-of-consciousness narrative, the reader is inside Bateman’s mind as he fastidiously describes his fashion, his daily routines, and his opinions.
His depravity extends to killing anything he wants to: adults, children, and animals.
Whilst the novel is not technically horror, the violence is explicit and may seem gratuitous to some.