Grady Hendrix is the best-selling author of the meta-horror novels The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires and this summer's The Final Girl Support Group. His history of 1970s kung fu movies, These Fists Break Bricks, arrives Sept. 15.
The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule (1980).
To hell with Truman Capote; Rule wrote the best American true-crime book. She started writing about a series of unsolved murders, not knowing the killer would end up being her good friend Ted Bundy. Queasily intimate, this book created modern true-crime writing and remains its exemplar. Buy it here.
In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes (1947).
Dix Steele, an Air Force pilot with the most phallic made-up name since Peter O'Toole, drifts through postwar L.A. trying to recapture that old combat high by strangling women. Hughes' novel pegged Dix's type — self-pitying, entitled, aggrieved — decades before we came up with a name for it. Buy it here.
Rapture by Thomas Tessier (1987).
Silicon Valley tech bros get skewered when one of them bumps into his best friend from high school and admits he always had a crush on her. She thinks he's sweet, which is his cue to manipulate and murder his way into her life. A reminder that serial-killer books are about masculinity so toxic it needs to be sealed inside a barrel and buried in the desert. Buy it here.
Indian Killer by Sherman Alexie (1996).
This gonzo portrait of Seattle in the grip of an "Indian Killer" who scalps his victims is a forgotten best-seller. Alexie says he's not comfortable with the book today, but its bare-knuckled approach to race, its molten core of rage, and its elegant sentences still land like punches. Buy it here.
Koko by Peter Straub (1988).
I never "got" Straub until I read this book. Survivors of a Vietnam platoon realize that one of their members is still alive and committing a series of slayings. But this book is less a horror-tinged thriller than an examination of violence as the all-American national pastime. Buy it here.
My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (2018).
Despite its title, this recent novel isn't a serial-killer book. It's about sisters who live in Lagos, where the older Responsible One is always cleaning up after the younger Pretty One kills yet another sugar daddy in "self-defense." A book P.G. Wodehouse might have written if he had been Nigerian and cared about the inner lives of women. Buy it here.
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