List of Top Serial Killer Novels
These days if I’m being honest, I find it a bit of a slog to get through crime series with 8,9,10 more titles in the series. Personal preference, but I prefer one-offs or at the max trilogies. But if you are a fan of series novels I recommend you go old school. Dig out the original Tony Hill and Carol Jordan series by Val Mcdermid (The Mermaids Singing is the first) Try the early Rizzoli and Isles (The Surgeon is the first in the series.) Obviously Thomas Harris – Silence of the Lambs, Red Dragon etc which are some of the best and most well known serial killer novels available, featuring the likes of Hannibal Lecter, The Tooth Fairy and Buffalo Bill. Try PJ Tracy. Fancy a bit of smut with your drama? Try Karen Rose. Mo Hayder is pretty good, start with Birdman. Also, Kathy Reichs, Karen Slaughter and Patricia Cornwall of course.
If you’ve been there, done that, I’ve put together a list of great serial killer fiction novels below. Hopefully, there will be one or two new reads here to try. Also, if you can think of a great serial killer type book I might not have read, as ever please let me know in the comments section!
Anyway, in no particular order, here goes…
My List of the Top Serial Killer Books
1The Killer Inside Me – Jim Thompson
Jim Thompson’s psychotic protagonist presents an outwardly genial, slightly corny bore to the world, but as a reader, you are privy to what he is really thinking – usually pretty nasty stuff.
Published in 1952 the story is told through the viewpoint of Lou Ford, deputy sheriff of a small Texas town. Ford appears to be a regular, small-town cop leading an unremarkable existence. But beneath this facade, lurks a cunning, depraved sociopath. Slowly his crimes start to catch up with him and his mask of sanity begins to slip
2Alex – Pierre Lemaitre
Strong female protagonist and an interesting detective, with a pretty neat twist towards the final third that I definitely didn’t see coming.
Alex is part of a trilogy (book 2 of The Camille Verhoeven Trilogy) but is by far my favourite of the three. I actually read this first by accident and it didn’t seem to spoil it for me.
The basic story is the race to find a kidnapped girl. The police have nothing to go on, just the fact that a girl was snatched off the streets of Paris and bundled into a white van. The narrative is told from both her perspective as things rapidly go from bad to worse and from the perspective of Commandant Camille Verhoeven and his detectives.
3Child 44 – Tom Rob Smith
This is the first novel in a trilogy featuring former MGB Agent Leo Demidov
Child 44 is based very loosely on the case of serial killer Andrei Chikatilo (although he operated at a much later date). Set in Joseph Stalin’s Russia, a brutal regime that executed anyone who disagreed with its dogma, ambitious secret police officer Leo Demidov has spent his career arresting anyone who steps out of line.
When a child’s body is found in a Moscow railway yard his injuries consistent with torture, the family is told that child-murders simply don’t happen in Soviet Russia and that the death was an unfortunate accident. When the all-powerful State, claims there is no such thing as crime, who would dare to disagree?
Soon the body of another child is found with similar injuries. With only his wife at his side, Leo is forced to risk everything to hunt a sadistic serial killer.
4The Shining girls – Lauren Beukes
An interesting concept, vivid descriptions of Chicago and a strong, relatable heroine make this novel stand out for me.
The Shining Girls centres on a time-travelling Depression-era drifter who must murder shining girls – bright young women who burn with potential, in order to continue his travels. He murders these exceptional women, cutting out their “spark” then vanishes, untraceable into another time. Finally, Kirby a young woman living in 1989, survives his attack and vows to hunt down her would-be killer.
5The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
Ummm, just read it!
Cult classic about a psychopathic teenager living on a remote Scottish island.
6The Talented Mr Ripley – Patricia Highsmith
Patricia Highsmith’s protagonist, the charming sociopath Ripley seduces the reader into empathizing with him even as his actions defy all moral standards.
Tom Ripley is a young man struggling to make a living in New York City. Trying to stay one step ahead of his creditors and the law. By luck he is approached by shipping magnate Herbert Greenleaf to travel to Italy, to persuade his errant son, Dickie, to return to the United States and join the family business.
Ripley soon becomes obsessed with Dickie and by the wealthy lifestyle, his acquaintance with Dickie affords him. When this is threatened, his response is swift and shocking.
7Zombie – Joyce Carol Oates
Zombie, another novel that explores the mind of a serial killer. This time, inspired by the life of Jeffrey Dahmer.
This short novel with its matter of fact narration is creepy and disturbing in the extreme. Known only known as Quentin P, this remorseless psycho killer really could be anyone.
8The Alienist – Caleb Carr
Groundbreaking historical whodunit
The Alienist takes place in New York City in 1896 and includes appearances by many famous figures of New York society in that era, including Theodore Roosevelt and J. P. Morgan. The story follows Roosevelt, then New York City police commissioner, and Dr Laszlo Kreizler, as their investigative team attempts to solve gruesome murders through new methods including fingerprinting and psychology.
9Where Serpents Lie – T. Jefferson Parker
Definitely not one for snakeaphobes. That’s a word, right?
Terry Naughton, head of Orange County’s Crimes Against Youth unit has come up against his share of criminals in his years on the force, but nothing has prepared him for the Horridus. Abducting children from their beds, dressing them like little angels, and releasing them the next day, the only clue he leaves is a piece of snakeskin tucked into the folds of their gowns. So far he hasn’t physically harmed any of them, but as Naughton well knows, it’s only a matter of time.
10The Decoy – Tony Strong
Twisty, turney and weird.
Claire Rodenburg, a young British actress, pays the rent on her New York apartment the only way she can: as a decoy for a detective agency, entrapping straying husbands. When a client is murdered in macabre circumstances, she agrees to help the police entice the dead woman’s husband into revealing whether he’s the killer.
11Headhunter – Micheal Slade
Mountie Noir! Exploitation slasher horror crossed with police procedural
A serial killer known only as The Headhunter is loose on the streets of Vancouver. The victims are everywhere. All are women. All are headless.
The Mounties of Special X are up against a unique brand of killer. A killer whose sexual psychosis stretches back through Ecuador’s steaming jungle and a scream-filled New Orleans dungeon to a dead-of-winter manhunt in the Rocky Mountains a century ago.
Fun fact – Michael Slade is the pen name of Canadian novelist Jay Clarke, a lawyer who has participated in more than 100 criminal cases and who specializes in criminal insanity, and several additional authors
12Kiss the Girls – James Patterson
Old School Serial Killer thriller
Kiss the Girls is a psychological thriller novel by American writer James Patterson, the second to star his recurring main character Alex Cross.
In Los Angeles, a reporter investigating a series of murders is killed. In Chapel Hill, North Carolina, a beautiful medical intern suddenly disappears. Two clever serial killers are collaborating, cooperating, competing- and they are working coast to coast.
13Psycho – Robert Bloch
The book that inspired the classic Hitchcock film
Marion is lost on a dark and lonely road; she’s tired and hungry and afraid. She thinks she’s dreaming when she sees a motel sign shining in the darkness: Bates Motel. But for Marion, the nightmare is just beginning …
To most people, Psycho needs no introduction, but although Alfred Hitchcock’s film was largely faithful to the book, in the novel itself you will find a story more nuanced and – if possible – even darker.
14American Psycho – Bret Easton Ellis
Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho is one of the most controversial and talked-about novels of all time. A multimillion-copy bestseller hailed as a modern classic, it is a violent black comedy about the darkest side of human nature.
Patrick Bateman has it all: good looks, youth, charm, a job on Wall Street, reservations at every new restaurant in town and a line of girls around the block. He is also a psychopath. A man addicted to his superficial, perfect life, he pulls us into a dark underworld where the American Dream becomes a nightmare.
15Exquisite Corpse – Poppy Z. Brite
Moving from the grimy streets of London’s Piccadilly Circus to the decadences of New Orleans’ French Quarter, Poppy Z. Brite dissects the landscape of torture and invites us into the mind of a serial killer in this riveting, unforgettable masterpiece of horror.
To serial killer Andrew Compton, murder is an art, the most intimate art. After feigning his own death to escape from a life sentence in prison, he makes his way to America with the intention of bringing his art to new heights. Tortured by his own perverse desires, he inadvertently joins forces with Jay, a dissolute playboy. They set their sights on a young Vietnamese-American runaway, who they deem to be the perfect victim.
16The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson
Introduction to the awesome and complicated Lisbeth Salander
Forty years ago, Harriet Vanger disappeared from a family gathering on the island owned and inhabited by the powerful Vanger clan. Her body was never found, yet her uncle is convinced it was murder – and that the killer is a member of his own tightly knit but dysfunctional family.
He employs disgraced financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist and the tattooed, truculent computer hacker Lisbeth Salander to investigate. When the pair links Harriet’s disappearance to a number of grotesque murders from forty years ago, they begin to unravel a dark and appalling family history.
But the Vangers are a secretive clan, and Blomkvist and Salander are about to find out just how far they are prepared to go to protect themselves.
I seem to recall that in general, people preferred the later books, but this is my favourite. It has a different flavour I think. Less complicated, in some ways, it feels more like a modern twist on an old fashioned Who-dunnit (which I’m partial to). But with a really interesting protagonist (Lisbeth more than Mikael)
17The Butchers Theatre – Jonathan Kellerman
Serial Killer thriller, set in Jerusalem
In the ’60s Jerusalem was dubbed ‘The Butcher’s Theatre’. Decades later and the City of Peace is about to regain that title. The corpse of a young Arab girl has been found – her body violated and then carved up with chilling precision. Sexual murders are virtually unheard of in Jerusalem and the killing throws an already unstable city into turmoil.
Chief Inspector Daniel Shalom Sharavi, takes charge of the case. But with political and religious tensions in the city muddying the murder trail, could he be about to lose the killer in the confusion?