13 Of The Best British True Crime Books

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Many classics of the true crime genre are American – but where are their British counterparts? They’re right here, in SLMan’s roundup of the best homegrown stories of real-life wrongdoing…

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The Five: The Untold Lives of The Women Killed By Jack The Ripper

By Hallie Rubenhold

Probably the most famous British serial killer of all, Jack The Ripper lives on in the nation’s collective memory. Shortlisted for the 2020 Wolfson History Prize and winner of the 2019 Baillie Gifford Prize, Hallie Rubenhold’s account takes a new approach, adopting the perspective of five of his victims. The result is an engrossing group biography detailing stories of Victorian life, poverty and how the powerless become victims of abuse.

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Peaky Blinders: The Real Story Of Birmingham’s Most Notorious Gangs

By Carl Chinn

Thanks to the hit BBC drama, nearly everyone thinks they knows who the Peaky Blinders were. But what about the ‘real’ Peaky Blinders? Did Tommy Shelby and pals actually exist? Historian, broadcaster and author Carl Chinn spent decades researching them and is precisely the man to reveal the notorious gang’s true story. Chinn’s own grandfather was a member, and you won’t want to put this exceedingly readable 288-page social history down.

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Wicked Beyond Belief: The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper

By Michael Bilton

For more than 20 years, the dark secrets surrounding the biggest manhunt in British history remained a mystery. Despite over two million hours of police work being logged, detectives refused all requests to discuss the story of the Yorkshire Ripper investigation, while hordes of evidence were kept locked away. This was until award-winning writer Michael Bilton persuaded the key people to finally talk, revealing how Peter Sutcliffe was able to continue killing as he did. It’s a harrowing, exhaustive read but an unparalled insight into how serial killers can get away with what they do.

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The Suspicions of Mr Whicher: or The Murder at Road Hill House

By Kate Summerscale

This prize-winning story plays out in a quintessentially English setting: there’s been a murder during a summer’s night in a detached Georgian house within a sleepy Wiltshire village. Mr Whicher faces the horrible task of trying to solve a case in which the family are also suspects. If you want to read a true story that inspired writers such as Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle, you’re in the right place.

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Manhunt: How I Brought Serial Killer Levi Bellfield to Justice

By Colin Sutton

Colin Sutton was a senior police investigator who helped bring to justice Levi Bellfield – the infamously cruel murderer of Milly Dowler and others across the early-to-mid-2000s. Sutton was looking into the murder of Amelie Delagrange when he spotted a connection between the murders of Dowler, Delagrange and Marsha McDonnell, which helped to collar Bellfield. Sutton tells all in this gripping tale of police procedural that serves as a first-hand account of evil. 

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The Pembrokeshire Murders

By Steve Wilkins & Jonathan Hill

Now a major TV series starring Luke Evans, Wilkins and Hill’s book is a page-turning overview of how a rural Pembrokeshire serial killer and one-time contestant on the game show Bullseye evaded capture for more than 20 years. This has been dubbed one of the greatest cold case reviews ever undertaken in the UK and you will end up seeing why.

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The Sleep of Reason: The James Bulger Case

By David James Smith

On Friday 12th February 1993, two ten-year-olds skipped school before abducting and killing two-year-old James Bulger in Liverpool. For the decades that followed, there was speculation, sensationalist reporting and outright misinformation. Award-winning journalist David James Smith cuts through the rumour mongering to provide a definitive account of what happened.

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Rose West: The Making Of A Monster

By Jane Carter Woodrow

Rose West and her husband Fred were the most despicable of double acts, aiding each other in a string of murders in Gloucester during the 1970s and 80s. But how did Rose become one of Britain’s most notorious female murderers? Crime writer Jane Carter Woodrow puts together the pieces of Rose’s life to understand what happened and create this gripping origin story.

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The Pyramid Of Lies

By Duncan Mavin

The spectacular fall of financial technology company Greensill Capital caught countless high-profile figures within its blast radius – even David Cameron was engulfed in the multibillion-dollar scandal. Financial journalist Duncan Mavin documents the whole story, from Greensill’s stratospheric rise to its collapse into administration early last year. For a contemporary read on the power of finance and how it wraps our political infrastructure within its tentacles, look no further.

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Inside Parkhurst: Stories of a Prison Officer

By David Berridge

David Berridge was a prison officer for 28 years – 22 of which he spent at the notorious HMP Parkhurst. Then he decided to share his cache of stories, revealing how quickly he had to learn how to deal with the tricks of prisoners and the scams they would try to run on him. Covering the early days of his career to his disillusioned later years, this book reveals the everyday realities of prison life.

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The Thief, His Wife & The Canoe

by David Leigh with Tony Hutchinson

This tale of unbelievable fraud from a superficially ‘ordinary’ couple tracks John Darwin, who faces up to bankruptcy by paddling out to sea and disappearing – only to reappear six years later. Journalist David Leigh tracked down John’s wife in Panama and discovered she had started a new life with the insurance money earned from her husband’s ‘death’. This is the book that reveals first hand the motivations that made the Darwins partners in an extravagant crime.

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Bloody Valentine

by John L Williams

This nearly got its author sued for libel by the police. John L Williams’s account of an outrageous miscarriage of justice in 1980s Cardiff uncovers the racism and police corruption  that led to three Black men being wrongly convicted of murdering Lynette White on Valentine’s Day in 1988. The new edition includes an afterword bringing the saga bang up to date.

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Underworld

by Duncan Campbell

Organised crime has a long and rich history on these shores. From the Soho vice bosses and the Kray twins to the Great Train Robbers and the more recent waves of international hitmen and drug traffickers, Underworld documents them all in this historical survey of British gangs. The first-hand accounts from those on both sides of the law make this a great and definitive read.

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