Home Culture Culture Lists

11 True Crime Books For Music Lovers

From black metal murders to Charles Manson and the Beatles

10 True Crime Books For Music Lovers

Rave murders, black metal church burnings and the Son of Sam are just a few of the topics covered in the best true crime books for music lovers.

We’re living in a golden age of true crime narratives right now. Podcasts like In the Dark, Serial and S-Town have taken an expansive approach to telling crime stories, and have found an enthusiastic audience along the way. Television shows like American Crime Story have turned real-life cases into thrilling drama and books like David Grann’s recent Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the F.B.I. have been widely acclaimed.

So what if you’re looking for a gripping crime story that dovetails with the world of music? Well, there are plenty of those to go around as well. What follows is a look at eleven notable books that bring together the worlds of true crime and the music industry. 

'Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx is Burning' by Jonathan Mahler

‘Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx is Burning’ by Jonathan Mahler

The volatile and frequently chaotic scene of late-1970s New York, and its impact on music, has been written about in a number of acclaimed books, including Jeff Chang’s Can’t Stop Won’t Stop and Will Hermes’s Love Goes to Buildings on Fire. Jonathan Mahler’s Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx is Burning situates the city’s musical evolution in the context of other things happening within its borders–including events like the Son of Sam killings. 

'Devil's Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three' by Mara Leveritt

‘Devil’s Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three’ by Mara Leveritt

Mara Leveritt’s book Devil’s Knot is an in-depth look at the case of the West Memphis Three: three teenagers convicted of murdering three eight-year-old boys (believed to be as part of a Satanic ritual) in 1994 despite substantial evidence and procedural issues that suggested that they were innocent of the crime. A number of prominent musicians – from Henry Rollins to Chuck D – have, over the years, been supportive of their case; they were released in 2011.

'BMF: The Rise and Fall of Big Meech and the Black Mafia Family' by Mara Shalhoup

‘BMF: The Rise and Fall of Big Meech and the Black Mafia Family’ by Mara Shalhoup

The history of musicians with close ties to organized crime goes back decades, if not longer, and it’s led to some memorable true stories along the way. Mara Shalhoup’s BMF: The Rise and Fall of Big Meech and the Black Mafia Family grew out of a series of articles that she wrote for Atlanta’s Creative Loafing, examining how a drug trafficking organization sought to enter the music industry–and how the law eventually caught up with them. 

'Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground' by Michael Moynihan and Didrik Søderlind

‘Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground’ by Michael Moynihan and Didrik Søderlind

The history of black metal in Norway abounds with violence and other horrific acts, from church burnings to murder to various musicians’ fondness for fascism. (Elizabeth Hand’s excellent crime novel Available Dark also riffs heavily on black metal’s violent side.) Lords of Chaos provides a comprehensive look at this particular subculture and the unpleasantness left in its wake. 

'Hit Men: Power Brokers and Fast Money Inside the Music Business' by Fredric Dannen

‘Hit Men: Power Brokers and Fast Money Inside the Music Business’ by Fredric Dannen

Fredric Dannen’s 1990 book Hit Men explored the complex world of the record industry from the early Twentieth Century onwards, showcasing a host of bad behavior and unethical practices along the way. If you’re looking for a narrative where the line between a music industry confidential and a tale of crime in the business world is blurred, you’ve come to the right place. 

'Notorious C.O.P.: The Inside Story of the Tupac, Biggie, and Jam Master Jay Investigations from NYPD's First 'Hip-Hop Cop' by Derrick Parker and Matt Diehl

‘Notorious C.O.P.: The Inside Story of the Tupac, Biggie, and Jam Master Jay Investigations from NYPD’s First ‘Hip-Hop Cop’ by Derrick Parker and Matt Diehl

As a detective with the NYPD, Derrick Parker was involved in a host of high-profile cases that related to the world of music, including the shooting of Tupac Shakur and the murder of Jam Master Jay. Parker and Diehl’s book examines the contentious relationship between hip-hop and the NYPD, and Parker provides an inside view on several prominent investigations. 

'Party Monster: A Fabulous But True Tale of Murder in Clubland' by James St. James

‘Party Monster: A Fabulous But True Tale of Murder in Clubland’ by James St. James

In his memoir of his time in the New York club scene in the 1980s and 1990s, James St. James focuses on the circumstances of the 1996 murder of Andre Melendez. The book was originally published under the title Disco Bloodbath, and has been adapted for the screen (in 2003) and the stage (in 2013). 

'Tearing Down the Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall' of Phil Spector by Mick Brown

‘Tearing Down the Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall’ of Phil Spector by Mick Brown

Mick Brown’s expansive biography of producer Phil Spector covers decades of Spector’s life, and succinctly delineates the paradox of a pioneering artist who wasn’t a very good person. Brown’s book also explores the 2003 killing of actress Lana Clarkson, a crime for which Spector was convicted in 2009. 

'LAbyrinth: A Detective Investigates the Murders of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G., the Implications of Death Row Records' Suge Knight, and the Origins of the Los Angeles Police Scandal' by Randall Sullivan

‘LAbyrinth: A Detective Investigates the Murders of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G., the Implications of Death Row Records’ Suge Knight, and the Origins of the Los Angeles Police Scandal’ by Randall Sullivan

Randall Sullivan’s book on the killings of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. focuses on former LAPD detective Russell Poole, who had been involved with the investigation of the latter’s death. Sullivan’s book explores corruption in both law enforcement and the music industry, and the deaths that have taken place as a result of it. 

'Under the Bridge' by Rebecca Godfrey

‘Under the Bridge’ by Rebecca Godfrey

Rebecca Godfrey’s acclaimed book explores the circumstances of, and history surrounding, the killing of a fourteen-year-old girl, Reena Virk, by a number of her fellow students in British Columbia in 1997. Godfrey’s book provides an in-depth look at the social circumstances and societal and cultural influences that led to this horrific event. 

'Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders' by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry

‘Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders’ by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry

Besides his position as one of the most abhorrent human beings of the Twentieth Century, Charles Manson also had a foothold in the music scene: he was a singer-songwriter for a time, as well an associate of Beach Boy Dennis Wilson. Bugliosi and Gentry’s true-crime study of the killings Manson was responsible for takes its title from Manson’s delusional theory of a coming war along racial lines, which itself took its name from a Beatles song.  

In This Article: Books

Show Comments