These are boom days for writers and readers looking for thoughtful, hard-hitting stories about real-life crime. Whether you’re in the mood for a high-octane page-turner, an investigation, or a penetrating memoir, chances are there’s a book (and many a podcast or docu-series) out there for you. Every month, we round up the best new crime non-fiction with recommendations from CrimeReads staff. Here are the selections for January:
Patrick Radden Keefe, Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland (Doubleday)
In 1972 in Belfast, Jean McConville was brutally abducted from her home and children in one of the most horrifying incidents of The Troubles; her remains would not be found for over thirty years. In the meantime, though her attack was an open secret, nobody would come forward to authorities with information about the culprits. New Yorker staff writer Patrick Radden Keefe frames this penetrating study of The Troubles and the aftermath with an in-depth look at the McConville case. Long overdue answers are unearthed in the dogged investigation, but a bigger perspective is also presented: through interviews and archival work, Radden Keefe brings readers to the very heart of the trauma, to the atrocities committed on both sides, and to the very human cost.
Lucy Inglis, Milk of Paradise: A History of Opium (Pegasus)
There’s nothing intrinsically “criminal” about opium or poppy, of course, but throughout the substance’s history it’s been entangled with illicit realms, sinister characters, and parts of the human mind and experience we still don’t fully understand. Inglis’s new book is a learned, engaging, and ambitious look at the cultural history of a product that’s much talked about these days but little understood. Inglis provides a sweeping history of the cultivation and uses of opium across a millennium and across cultures, showing how it’s been stitched into the fabric of our societies, time and again, always a complex and provocative relationship.
Ian Frisch, Magic Is Dead: My Journey into the World’s Most Secretive Society of Magicians (Dey Street Books)
The world of magic is about as mysterious and even more entertaining than you think. When Frisch decides he’s going to immerse himself in the subculture of magicians, he finds himself caught up with a group that calls itself “The 52,” a semi-secret “cabal” of magicians who want to revolutionize the art and direct it toward a more nuanced and mesmerizing future away from the splashy acts of Las Vegas showrooms. Magic Is Dead is a seriously engaging, often intimate look at a world few of us have access to, and an insightful study of the history of an art form.
Shanna Hogan, Secrets of a Marine’s Wife: A True Story of Marriage, Obsession, and Murder (St. Martin’s)
In 2014, a young woman named Erin Corwin drove into the desert around Joshua Tree National Park and never came back. She was married to a marine stationed nearby, part of a close-knit military community that banded together to search for Corwin. Her body was eventually found at the bottom of a mineshaft, garroted and dead. Journalist Shanna Hogan investigates the brutal killing and the community it tore apart, as new secrets emerge, scandals erupt, and authorities sift through the many layers of lies that obscure the truth of what happened to Corwin that day.
Tom Clavin, Wild Bill (St. Martin’s)
Clavin has become one of our foremost chroniclers of the larger-than-life figures of the Old West, and this time he’s training his sights on one of the most mythical of them all, Wild Bill Hickock, the best shot in the West, sometimes a lawman, sometimes more of a rogue, an inveterate gambler and a romantic to the end, a man whose legacy has been passed down through the ages and leaves its stamp on the culture still. Clavin wades into the historical record sifting truth from tall tale and emerges with a powerfully human story about a man whose life was fully worthy of the legends it inspired.