You may have noticed that books, podcasts, and shows about crime are more popular than ever these days. People love to learn about how mysteries are investigated and solved, true or not. And the techniques for solving crimes are constantly evolving. It sounds amazing, but DNA testing has only been used to help identify criminals for 30 years. That’s not a long time, considering how long humans have been around.
So what did crimes, crime-solving, investigations, and trials look like years ago without all this relatively newfangled technology? How did the police find the bad guys before DNA testing or even fingerprinting was around? How did people react when they couldn’t get updates on a trial every minute on social media? Here are seven great books that examine just that: life—and death—before technology.
Fifteen-year-old Pin spends her days disguised as a boy and hanging around Chicago's Riverview Park. When she sees what she is sure is a murderer preying on victims at the carnival, she teams up with the brilliant outsider artist Henry Darger to catch the killer before he strikes again.
In the summer of 1969 in London, former Rolling Stones member Brian Jones was found dead in his swimming pool. Police ruled it an accident, but there were persistent rumors that he had been murdered. In Play with Fire, detectives Cathal Breen and Helen Tozer are called out to examine two deaths at separate scenes: Brian Jones, and a young sex worker. As Cathal digs deeper into the girl's murder, he discovers they may not be so separate after all.
Boady Sanden is a high school freshman longing to leave his small town in the Ozarks for a bigger life. Things change for him when an African American family moves in across the street. The son, Thomas, befriends Boady and helps his gain a deeper understanding of the world around them, with all its injustices and sorrows. As Boady begins to view his town in a different light, he realizes that he may know more about a missing woman from the plastics factory than he first thought.
The Manson Family murders are one of the most famous crimes in all of American history. Journalist O'Neill had a long-fascination with the case, and his diligent investigating unearthed shocking evidence of a cover-up behind what happened, including police carelessness, legal misconduct, and potential surveillance by intelligence agents. In Chaos, he discusses several persistent questions about the murders, including Manson's ties to celebrities, law enforcement's failure to stop Manson even though he was under surveillance, and how a petty criminal could become one of the most persuasive people in history.
CNN anchor and Chief Washington Correspondent Jake Tapper threw his hat in the political thriller ring with this debut about a young congressman in Washington D.C. in the 1950s. Congressman Charlie Marder and his zoologist wife, Margaret, are thrust into political life when Charlie's predecessor dies mysteriously. No one has ever claimed that politics was a clean game, but they discover just how shady the underworld of D.C. can be, and they soon find themselves fighting to stop a conspiracy at the highest level.
Twenty-five years after their friend Vinka ran off with their prep school philosophy teacher, Thomas, Maxime, and Fanny must return to the school. There's a class reunion, which makes for great cover. Because they've learned the gymnasium is going to be renovated and they can't let that happen—at least not until they remove the body they hid in the walls all those years ago...
This was one of the most explosive true crime cases of the early 20th century. When chorus girl Evelyn Nesbit confided in her husband, millionaire Harry Thaw, that the famed architect Stanford White had raped her years earlier, Thaw shot and killed White in front of hundreds of people. The sensational trial that followed captivated and shocked the nation, who were divided on whether the crime was justified or not.
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Liberty Hardy is a Book Riot senior contributing editor, co-host of All the Books, a Book of the Month judge, and above all else, a ravenous reader. She resides in Maine with her cats, Millay, Farrokh, and Zevon. You can see pictures of her cats and book hauls on Twitter @MissLiberty and Instagram @franzencomesalive.