Ever since my husband died, I had been drawn to true crime as a way to process trauma. Hearing dark, tragic stories made me feel less alone. I started with Dateline, watching episode after episode, sometimes for hours, alone in my flat in London. Then I heard about True Crime podcasts. There was something so intimate about these—smart, funny women journeying into the world’s darkest places to make order out of chaos. I became addicted, listening to every episode, attending live events where I met incredibly kind, open people. I became immersed in the True Crime fandom.
In my novel, If I Disappear, my protagonist Sera is obsessed with true crime podcasts. It gives her a sense of control in a world that sometimes makes her feel invisible. Much of her obsession is focused on one person in particular: podcast host Rachel Bard. Rachel is everything Sera wants to be. She is brave, intelligent, impossible to ignore. Sera feels connected to her and to the person she wants to become. So, when Rachel goes missing, Sera does what Rachel would do: she plays detective. Her journey leads her to an isolated town in Northern California—a place where people go to disappear. Sera wants to find Rachel, but if she’s not careful, she will lose herself.
If I Disappear is part of a growing body of books featuring True Crime Fandom. Like Sera, I became a (book) detective, putting together a list of guilty novels. Below are my findings: evidence of true crime in fiction.
Good Girl, Bad Blood (A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, #2), Holly Jackson
Citizen Detective: Pip Fitz-Amobi, a detective turned true crime podcaster and her partner in (stopping) crime, Ravi Singh.
Crime: The disappearance of Pip’s friend Jamie Reynolds. When the police refuse to investigate, Pip and Ravi take matters into their own hands.
Fandom: “A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder” Podcast. Pip and Ravi release a true crime podcast about the murder they solved in Book 1, but soon update it with news about Jamie’s disappearance. Can they find their friend before it’s too late?
Dark Places, Gillian Flynn
Citizen Detective: Libby Day, the embittered survivor of a well-known massacre.
Crime: The Day Family Massacre. Libby’s mother and two sisters were brutally murdered. Libby’s evidence led to the arrest and conviction of her brother Ben.
Fandom: The Kill Club. This creepy True Crime fan club encourages survivor Libby Day to take a second look at her family’s deaths. Did she put the wrong person in jail?
The Family Plot, Megan Collins
Citizen Detective: Dahlia Lighthouse. The daughter of two true crime obsessives, Dahlia was raised in an isolated mansion where things were certainly a bit…different.
Crime: The disappearance of Dahlia’s twin brother Andy when they were sixteen. Ten years later, the family returns home following their father’s death and finds Andy’s body already buried in the family plot.
Fandom: The entire Lighthouse family are obsessed with true crime. So much so that they have named their children after famous cases: Dahlia, Tate, Charlie. One brother creates a museum dedicated to their true crime research, a sister specializes in true crime dioramas and a mother organizes true crime re-enactments. But now Dahlia has her own true crime to solve, and Andy’s body might not be the only secret this family has kept buried…
Truly Devious, Maureen Johnson
Citizen Detective: Stevie Bell, a true crime superfan who enrolls in the mysterious Ellingham Academy intent on solving a notorious cold case.
Crime: The kidnapping of the wife and daughter of Ellingham Academy’s founder, Albert Ellingham. Ellingham was a notorious tycoon who wanted to build a school “where learning is a game.” So, he packed it with riddles, twists and garden mazes.
Fandom: True Crime fan Stevie uses her knowledge to track the cold case when one of her housemates is murdered. This cold case just turned hot! Can Stevie solve the crime and keep her head above water at the mysterious academy, where even murder feels like a game?
After the Silence, Louise O’Neill
Citizen Detective: Noah Wilson, a documentary maker who leads his crew onto Inisrún, an isolated island off the coast of Ireland.
Crime: The decade-old murder of Nessa Crowley, which happened on Inisrún during a violent storm where no one could have escaped the island, yet no one was ever charged.
Fandom: The true crime documentary filmmakers become increasingly invested as they discover things are not what they seem on Inisrún. What happened to Nessa Crowley, and how has the truth of her fate stayed buried for so long?
Truth Be Told, Kathleen Barber
Citizen Detective: Poppy Parnell, an investigate reporter with a hit podcast.
Crime: The murder of Chuck Buhrman, the father of twin girls.
Fandom: The ‘Reconsidered’ Podcast. Podcast Host Poppy Parnell re-investigates the cold case murder of Chuck Buhrman, and we follow the fallout for daughter Josie Buhrman and family. Is the wrong person behind bars?
The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, Grady Hendrix
Citizen Detective: Patricia Campbell, a dissatisfied matriarch who finds friendship and excitement in a local true crime book club.
Crime: Local children are going missing, citizens are out for blood, is it the work of a serial killer or something slightly more, er, unique?
Fandom: “The Southern Book Club,” a book club focused on true crime classics. When an enigmatic stranger’s appearance seems to correlate with a spate of disappearances, Patricia starts her own investigation. But is this newcomer more Ted Bundy or Lestat?
Girl, 11, Amy Suiter-Clarke
Citizen Detective: Elle Castillo, a social worker turned True Crime podcast host who focuses on cold cases.
Crime: The ritualistic murders of the ‘Countdown Killer,’ who kills three girls in a week, each girl one year younger than the last.
Fandom: The ‘Justice Delayed’ Podcast. After two seasons of successful crime solving, podcast host Elle Castillo decides to tackler her ‘white whale’: The Countdown Killer. When she stumbles on a dead body, she realizes this cold case just got hot. Can she stop TCK before they kill again?
Sadie, Courtney Summers
Citizen Detective: West McCray, a radio personality who is enlisted by a missing girl’s surrogate grandmother to find her and subsequently starts a Serial-like podcast that uncovers her secrets.
Crime: The murder of teen Mattie Southern, little sister of missing teen Sadie Hunter.
Fandom: ‘The Girls’ podcast. West McCray’s podcast is interwoven with Sadie’s own narration, as the missing girl tracks her sister’s killer, intent on revenge. Will someone find Sadie before it’s too late?
I Know You Know, Gilly MacMillan
Citizen Detective: Cody Swift, a filmmaker haunted by his own ‘Hometown’ mystery.
Crime: The murder of eleven-year-olds Charlie Paige and Scott Ashby, Cody Swift’s childhood friends.
Fandom: “It’s Time to Tell” Podcast. Cody and his girlfriend Maya produce a podcast to reinvestigate the murder, just as another body turns up. Is the wrong person in jail? Can they ID the killer before it’s too late?