Columns > Published on November 27th, 2017

10 Books to Read After Watching 'Mindhunter'

Netflix recently dropped Mindhunter, a show set in the 1970s about two FBI agents (AKA "The Mindhunter Boyz") expanding criminal science by delving into the psychology of murder and getting uneasily close to real killers. Producers include Charlize Theron and David Fincher (who also directs four of the ten episodes). The show, while initially bumpy and somewhat flawed, eventually won me over. One of my favorite movies is Fincher’s Zodiac, and this show feels like a welcomed return to its universe. Truthfully, I probably would rather just watch Zodiac over and over instead of Mindhunter, if not for Cameron Britton’s wonderful portrayal of Ed Kemper, which is easily worthy of multiple awards. While we wait for the much anticipated second season, here are SOME BOOKS you should be reading.

10. 'Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit' by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker

I mean, if you dig the show, then surely you’ll be interested in the book that inspired the series. Although the cast has been renamed, the characters in Netflix’s Mindhunter are indeed based off real people. Holden Ford is actually John E. Douglas (the author of Mindhunter), Bill Trench is Robert K. Ressler, and Wendy Carr is Ann Wolbert Burgess. From Charles Manson, Richard Speck, John Wayne Gacy, and many others—this book covers a good chunk of infamous and little-known killers. A lot of the content in this book is without-a-doubt fascinating; however, be warned that the author, John E. Douglas, can often be extremely annoying and narcissistic (much like Holden Ford in the actual Netflix series, I guess). Mandatory reading for fans of the show.

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09. 'The Crime of the Century: Richard Speck and the Murders That Shocked a Nation' by Dennis L. Breo and William J. Martin

On the night of July 13, 1966, Richard Speck tortured, raped, and killed eight student nurses. The Crime of the Century details not only his horrible, grisly crimes, but also the frustrating and bizarre trial that followed. Everybody thought the Mindhunter Boyz interview in the show was pretty vile, but you can’t even get through a conversation with this motherfucker without getting sick to your stomach. This is the interview, toward the end of the series, that nearly ruins everything for Holden. Remember the ripe cunts line? Yeesh.

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08. 'In Cold Blood' by Truman Capote

It’s difficult to write a list such as this without including the second-biggest-selling true crime book ever published (be patient: #1 is below). If you haven’t read In Cold Blood, you at least know the basics. Capote and his pal, Harper Lee, investigate a quadruple murder somewhere in the middle of Kansas. Since its release, the book has been criticized for not being one-hundred-percent factual, but there’s no denying the strength of its writing. Don't deny yourself the pleasure of this one.

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07. 'Bind, Torture, Kill: The Inside Story of BTK, the Serial Killer Next Door' by Roy Wenzl, Tim Potter, L Kelly, and Hurst Laviana

Throughout the first season of Mindhunter, we’re given glimpses into the life of a weirdo named Dennis. He never does anything incriminating in these scenes, but there are definite hints that he’s building up to something. Fellow serial killer enthusiasts recognized him right away as Dennis Rader, AKA the BTK Killer. Nothing ever really happens with him in season one, but it’s a safe bet we’ll see much more of him in future episodes. Stay ahead of the game and read the book first!

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06. 'The Trespasser' by Tana French

I recently discovered the wonderful crime fiction of Tana French by randomly downloading The Trespasser on Audible. Holy shit, French is the real deal, through and through. The Trespasser is a part of her “Murder Squad” series, but I had no trouble jumping right into it as a standalone. I have never in my life read such intense police interrogation scenes. So much of this book had me holding my breath, unable to move, just waiting to see how it would all play out. If you enjoyed the interviews presented throughout Mindhunter, then I encourage you to give this novel a try, too.

[amazon 978-0143110385 inline]


05/04. 'Zodiac' & 'Zodiac Unmasked' by Robert Graysmith

Behold, the holy grail of true crime. Robert Graysmith’s Zodiac and Zodiac Unmasked will destroy your brain, I guarantee it. Graysmith was an obsessive creep and his books will turn you into one, too. They’re also the source for one of the best films ever made: David Fincher’s Zodiac. Also, guess what! David Fincher is also heavily involved in Mindhunter, which is a fact you already knew, especially if you read the introduction to this article (which you almost certainly skipped). One of the reasons I love Mindhunter so much is due to how much it reminds me of Zodiac. I mean, just the way these things are shot...holy shit. They’re beautiful.

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

Helter Skelter! The best-selling true crime book of all time, baby! And for good reason, too. Not only is the Manson Family utterly fascinating, but the writing found in this book rivals most authors of crime fiction. It sucks you in and keeps you hooked from the very first paragraph. It also helps that the author, Vincent Bugliosi, had also served as a prosecutor on the case. This is probably the Holy Bible when it comes to true crime. Absolutely essential.

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02. 'The Killer Inside Me' by Jim Thompson

I work the night shift at a hotel. One time I checked in a guest named “Jim Thompson.” As I was processing his information, I casually informed him that I was a fan of his books. His response: “What books? I don’t write books!” I still think about that night a lot. Oh! Another time, I checked in a guy named John Coffey. After he told me his name, I said, “Like the drink, only spelled different, right?” and he responded with, “Uhhh...sure, I guess.” What kind of mad world do we live in? Well, Gary Jules, take a peek at Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me and find out for yourself. You’ll have a hard time coming across a more disturbing, hypnotizing look into a sociopath’s mind. The Mindhunter Boyz should include this one in their studies.

[amazon 978-0316404068 inline]


01. 'Red Dragon' by Thomas Harris

The original Hannibal Lecter novel. Don’t pretend like you don’t know who that is, either. Nobody will believe you and we’ll all make fun of you if you insist it’s true. In three of Harris’s Hannibal books—Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs, and Hannibal—Jack Crawford, FBI Agent-in-Charge of the Behavioral Science Unit at Quantico, makes multiple appearances. In Red Dragon, he serves as the protagonist's old boss and mentor. Crawford is, of course, famously based off of John E. Douglas, author of Mindhunter. Red Dragon is a kickass book, and everybody should read it. If you haven’t read it, now’s your chance. And if you’ve already read it, hell, read it again.

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And that’s all I got. Thoughts on Mindhunter? More reading recommendations? Sound off in the comments below.

About the author

Max Booth III is the CEO of Ghoulish Books, the host of the GHOULISH and Dog Ears podcasts, the co-founder of the Ghoulish Book Festival, and the author of several spooky books, including Abnormal Statistics, Maggots Screaming!, Touch the Night, and others. He wrote both the novella and film versions of We Need to Do Something, which was released by IFC Midnight in 2021 and can currently be streamed on Hulu. He was raised in Northwest Indiana and now lives in San Antonio.

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