Looking for the perfect present for your crime-obsessed loved one? Well, look no further, for I have a host of gift books to recommend this holiday season, from oversized to pocket-sized, and everywhere in between. (What is a gift book, you might ask? A gift book is a book that someone would not ordinarily buy for themselves but would love to receive as a present. There. Easy peasy.) These beautifully designed books should make perfect gifts for the fan of true crime, detective fiction, graphic novel mysteries, or film noir.
Poe For Your Problems: Uncommon Advice from History’s Least Likely Self-Help Guru by Catherine Baab-Muguira
Edgar Allen Poe, known curmudgeon, may not be the typical figure to turn to for inspiration, but it year two of the pandemic and we could all take a pointer from Poe’s dedication to literary hustling and his constant struggle to find the right home for his work. The perfect gift for your favorite grumpy writer!
Murder Book: A Graphic Memoir of True Crime Obsession by Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell
(Andrews McNeel Publishing)
This book is the perfect combination of funny and informative! Unlike your ex-boyfriend, Murder Book really is God’s gift to women, so buy this one for your mom, your aunt, your best friend, and literally anyone of any gender with whom you have ever shared a murder-based love language. Check out Campbell’s ode to the OG queen of true crime here.
Aside from having one of the best titles in modern memory, Mark Seal’s new history of Coppola’s epic is as entertaining as the source material. You can read an excerpt here in which Mark Seal traces the influences of The Godfather on David Chase’s The Sopranos.
Patricia Highsmith: The Diaries and Notebooks, 1941-1993, edited by Anna Von Planta
(Liveright Publishing Corporation)
What’s got even more self-loathing and amorality than a Highsmith novel? Why, Patricia Highsmith herself—that is, her diaries, now available from Norton and Co in all their horrifying glory. While I wouldn’t recommend reading all the entries at once, because I don’t want you to give up on happiness quite yet, each entry provides a fascinating lens into the strange confluences of history and personality that made Highsmith—and by extent, her characters—the defining voices of an era.
Murder Maps, USA: Crime Scenes Revisited; Bloodstains to Ballistics, 1865 -1939 by Adam Selzer
(Thames and Hudson)
Looking for the perfect gift for the true crime fan who has everything (except, perhaps, the location to Jimmy Hoffa’s grave)? Check out this well-designed guide to the strangest of US murders committed between 1865 and 1939, full of infographics and original documents, but shying away from gruesome-for-gruesome’s-sake.
House of Fiction: From Pemberley to Brideshead, Great British Houses in Literature and Life by Phyllis Richardson
While this book isn’t strictly crime-focused, any fan of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction can attest to the outsized importance of these sprawling country homes to the crime reader’s imagination. You can read about Agatha Christie’s many residences here as a preview.
Cain’s Jawbone by Torquemada
Okay, so, Cain’s Jawbone isn’t a proper coffee table book, but it’s very thick and you WILL need a table to read it all. It’s the brainchild of Edward Powys Mathers, the former crossword puzzle creator at Britain’s popular newspaper The Observer. Published in 1943 (and reprinted just recently, in an edition illustrated by Tom Gauld), it is an exhausting, 100-page mystery-novel puzzle in which all the pages have been presented out of order, preventing the readers from following along to discover the culprit. Not only do readers have to find clues that lead to the solving of the novel’s six murders (naming the murders as well as the victims), but they also have to do this when the whole story makes no sense at all, ultimately reordering the narrative. Unsurprisingly, only three people in history have ever solved it. It might be the perfect activity to do this holiday, when you’ve got a bunch of people over and they’re all a little tipsy.—Olivia Rutigliano, CrimeReads Assistant Editor
Film Noir Style: The Killer 1940s by Kimberly Truhler
The rise of film noir coincided with a revolution in American fashion, accelerated by the needs of an America at war, and the dresses on display here at as timeless as the sultry sirens they are draped upon. Kimberly Truhler’s lush foray into the bias-cut world of film noir fashion is not to be missed, with lavish illustrations interspersed amidst careful analysis of iconic looks, from the nightclub gear of Rita Hayworth’s Gilda to the business casual of Gene Tierney’s Laura.
A Fatal Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: Murder in Ancient Rome by Emma Southon
(Harry N. Abrams)
Aside from having what is clearly the best title in the history of nonfiction, Emma Southon’s highly entertaining history of murder in Ancient Rome reads like a lecture from your favorite high school history teacher, as profane as it is informative and as cheesy as it is terrifying. Please, buy this book for someone you love. And use it as an excuse to celebrate the oeuvre of Zero Mostel. ♫ Something familiar, something peculiar….a tragedy tonight! ♫
The Graphic Canon of Crime and Mystery, Volume Two by Russ Kick
(To be released on December 7 by Seven Stories Press)
Tragically, Russ Kick, the editor of this and many other wonderful anthologies, died earlier this year. But you can still enjoy one last anthology from him, The Graphic Canon of Crime and Mystery, Volume 2, featuring a diverse array of international artists with their own unique takes on crime storytelling.
Redhanded: An Exploration of Criminals, Cannibals, Cults, and What Makes a Killer Tick by Suruthi Bala and Hannah Maguire
I’m a huge fan of British comediennes Suruthi Bala and Hannah Maguire and their ever-fascinating true crime podcast, Redhanded, so it was great to see these two join the murder memoir crowd and bring us some complex and comical thoughts on the world of true crime today. Like the podcast of the same name, RedHanded is dedicated to analyzing true crime cases for that ever-elusive answer to the eternal question: are serial killers born, or man-made?
Shooting Midnight Cowboy: Art, Sex, Loneliness, Liberation, and the Making of a Dark Classic by Glenn Frankel
Glenn Frankel is my number one film critic these days, with a string of deep dives into some of the most complicated film historiographies around, including the Searchers and my all-time fave, High Noon. His latest goes into the legends and lore of Midnight Cowboy, John Schlesinger’s fuck-you to mid-century America, and the urban decay picture that started a less-than-admirable trend in the 1970s. If you’ve ever wondered why so many directors went out of their way to shit on New York in the latter parts of the 20th century, that’s actually because the city of New York was down on censorship, and willing to approve any script to support the city’s declining film industry. So yeah, 1970s NYC—not as bad as the movies made it sound! And much, much gayer.
Woke Up This Morning: The Definitive Oral History of Sopranos by Michael Imperioli & Steve Schirripa with Philip Lerman (William Morrow)
What’s better than reading a book or listening to an interview? Reading a book full of interviews, obvi. Woke Up This Morning is a frequently profane, occasionally hilarious, and surprisingly poignant deep dive into the fictional framework and real-world legacies of the greatest mafia show ever made. The perfect gift for therapists, mafiosos, and, well, really any professional. (I put this book last so that you’d have the credits song stuck in your head too. You’re welcome.)