Unusual Suspects

A New Page In Serial Killer Writing––Fiction and Nonfiction

Hello mystery fans! This week I wanted to highlight some novels and a true crime book that center a serial killer but that made an effort to move away from the genre’s problematic areas. In fiction it makes sense from a thriller perspective to set the mystery around a fictional serial killer: readers are invested in watching a fictional person chase after another fictional person with the very high stakes of having to stop them before they kill again. However true crime is problematic for a ton of reasons, from creating this idea that humans are born monsters we can’t do anything about to the way we treat victims and their loved ones while proclaiming how much we “love” true crime. Then there’s the issue of the cases people choose to focus on in the first place and what that says about which victims are worth of caring about.

The Jigsaw Man cover image

The Jigsaw Man (Inspector Anjelica Henley #1) by Nadine Matheson

Police procedural thrillers where a detective plays cat and mouse with a serial killer are historically a very white male centered category that then opened up mostly just enough to let in white women, making it rare to come across one written by and with a Black woman MC. If you like the fictional serial killer hunted by the messy-life detective who’s suddenly partnered with a rookie thing, here’s a great start to a new series set in London. Bonus Matheson is a criminal solicitor and teaches criminal law. (Review)

cover of dead dead girls

Dead Dead Girls (Harlem Renaissance Mystery #1) by Nekesa Afia

Here’s a fictional serial killer story set during the Harlem Renaissance! And as much as some people love to argue that it is unrealistic for people of color and LGBTQ+ to have existed in history—as if they just magically appeared on earth the other day—they in fact did. Here we have the focus on victims who are given less focus, Black girls, and a young Black lesbian turned amateur sleuth because the police threaten her into helping them find a serial killer. (Review)

Girl, 11 cover image

Girl, 11 by Amy Suiter Clarke

This time we have the tropes of the fictional serial killer thrillers—true crime podcast and all—with a huge difference: the focus is on the victims and dragging the serial killer monster myth out into the bright daylight to show the reality. This one is definitely a page turner and for anyone who nodded along to Lindy West’s essay “Ted Bundy Was Not Charming–Are You High?” in The Witches Are Coming. (Review)

Last Call cover image

Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York by Elon Green

Given the problematic obsession our society has with real serial killers, you can usually place your bet on the fact that if you’ve never heard of one, it’s because the victims were from a marginalized community. Elon Green does a fantastic job in focusing on the victims of a serial killer who killed gay men in New York during the ’80s and ’90s while also bringing the city to life, the LGBTQ+ community, and the reality of the discrimination they faced.

(TW it was hard to keep track of these because much is mentioned as part of history and cases but the main ones are homophobia/ alcoholism/ hate crimes / racism)

From The Book Riot Crime Vault

10 Mystery and Thriller Books Starring Older Women

Browse all the books recommended in Unusual Suspects previous newsletters on this shelf. See upcoming 2021 releases. Check out this Unusual Suspects Pinterest board and get Tailored Book Recommendations!

Until next time, keep investigating! In the meantime, come talk books with me on Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, and Litsy–you can find me under Jamie Canavés.

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