True Crimes and Fictional Counterparts

Much of fiction is inspired by real-life events, including real crimes. Since the murder of Marie Rodgers was fictionalized by Edgar Allen Poe in “The Mystery of Marie Roget,” fiction writers have adapted, reimagined and transformed real crimes into great fiction. Check out these intriguing novels inspired by real crimes and nonfiction books related to the crimes.

The abduction of Sally Horner, which influenced Nabokov’s Lolita, has recently been the subject of both fiction and nonfiction books. Rust & Stardust tells a fictionalized version of 11-year-old Horner's abduction, which Booklist has called “A beautifully written, unnerving tragedy woven from equal measures of hope and menace.” 

Sarah Weinman expertly weaves the most comprehensive exploration of Horner's abduction, as well as literary history of Nabokov's controversial hit novel, in The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping Of Sally Horner And The Novel That Scandalized The World, an absorbing book that will appeal to both fans of true crime and budding literary critics.

Seasoned crime writer James Ellroy fictionalized the shocking 1947 murder of Elizabeth Short in The Black Dahlia, the first installment of his critically acclaimed L.A. Quartet. The highly publicized crime has also been explored in a number of nonfiction books over the years. Most recently, Piu Eatwell has given it a fresh look in Black Dahlia, Red Rose.

Megan Abbot, a writer skilled at upending female tropes in her crime fiction, reimagines the trunk murders tied to Winnie Ruth Judd in Bury Me Deep. And for a nonfiction exploration of the crime and the conviction of Judd, pick up The Trunk Murderess, Winnie Ruth Judd.

A sensational crime that seems to have been covered ad nauseum in true crime books is the Manson murders, most famously in Helter Skelter and more recently in Hunting Charles Manson, while Emma Cline's The Girls is beguiling coming-of-age novel featuring an adolescent girl orbiting the fringes of a cult loosely inspired by the Manson family.


Looking for more? Check out our Fiction Inspired by Real Crimes booklist.

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