These days, it’s hard to find great serial killer novels but also hard to find a crime fiction which doesn’t include a serial killer: A single death might seem to boring or insignificant to shape a novel around. But in most of these novels, the character of serial killer is just one element in the story and not the biggest part of the plot.
Therefore we looked at the books we have read during the last 15 years and also talk to the active members of several crime fiction communities to pick 10 books in which not only have great stories but also great killers. The character of the serial killer is the central part of all the titles we have picked and we hope you find this list useful. Enjoy!
You can click on the images to check out the Amazon page for each book.
The Silence of the Lambs : As part of the search for a serial murderer nicknames “Buffalo Bill,” FBI trainee Clarice Starling is given an assignment. She must visit a man confined to a high-security facility for the criminally insane and interview him.
That man, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, is a former psychiatrist with unusual tastes and an intense curiosity about the darker corners of the mind. His intimate understanding of the killer and of Clarice herself form the core of The Silence of the Lambs–an unforgettable classic of suspense fiction.
The Alienist: The year is 1896, the place, New York City. On a cold March night New York Times reporter John Schuyler Moore is summoned to the East River by his friend and former Harvard classmate Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, a psychologist, or “alienist.” On the unfinished Williamsburg Bridge, they view the horribly mutilated body of an adolescent boy, a prostitute from one of Manhattan’s infamous brothels.
The newly appointed police commissioner, Theodore Roosevelt, in a highly unorthodox move, enlists the two men in the murder investigation, counting on the reserved Kreizler’s intellect and Moore’s knowledge of New York’s vast criminal underworld.
They are joined by Sara Howard, a brave and determined woman who works as a secretary in the police department. Laboring in secret (for alienists, and the emerging discipline of psychology, are viewed by the public with skepticism at best), the unlikely team embarks on what is a revolutionary effort in criminology– amassing a psychological profile of the man they’re looking for based on the details of his crimes. Their dangerous quest takes them into the tortured past and twisted mind of a murderer who has killed before. and will kill again before the hunt is over.
The Bone Collector (A Lincoln Rhyme Novel) : In this gripping thriller, Jeffery Deaver takes readers on a terrifying ride into two ingenious minds…that of a physically challenged detective and the scheming killer he must stop. The detective was the former head of forensics at the NYPD, but is now a quadriplegic who can only exercise his mind. The killer is a man whose obsession with old New York helps him choose his next victim. Now, with the help of a beautiful young cop, this diabolical killer must be stopped before he can kill again!
The Poet: Death is reporter Jack McEvoy’s beat: his calling, his obsession. But this time, death brings McEvoy the story he never wanted to write–and the mystery he desperately needs to solve. A serial killer of unprecedented savagery and cunning is at large. His targets: homicide cops, each haunted by a murder case he couldn’t crack. The killer’s calling card: a quotation from the works of Edgar Allen Poe. His latest victim is McEvoy’s own brother. And his last…may be McEvoy himself.
Ashes to Ashes: He performs his profane ceremony in a wooded Minneapolis park, anointing his victims, then setting the bodies ablaze. He has already claimed three lives, and he won’t stop there. Only this time there is a witness. But she isn’t talking. Enter Kate Conlan, former FBI agent turned victim/witness advocate. Not even she can tell if the reluctant witness is a potential victim or something more troubling still. Her superiors are interested only because the latest victim may be the daughter of Peter Bondurant, an enigmatic billionaire.
When he pulls strings, Special Agent John Quinn gets assigned to the case. But the FBI’s ace profiler of serial killers is the last person Kate wants to work with, not with their troubled history. Now she faces the most difficult role of her career—and her life. For she’s the only woman who has what it takes to stop the killer…and the one woman he wants next.
The Mermaids Singing (Dr. Tony Hill and Carol Jordan Mysteries) : This was the summer he discovered what he wanted–at a gruesome museum of criminology far off the beaten track of more timid tourists. Visions of torture inspired his fantasies like a muse. It would prove so terribly fulfilling. The bodies of four men have been discovered in the town of Bradfield.
Enlisted to investigate is criminal psychologist Tony Hill. Even for a seasoned professional, the series of mutilation sex murders is unlike anything he’s encountered before. But profiling the psychopath is not beyond him. Hill’s own past has made him the perfect man to comprehend the killer’s motives. It’s also made him the perfect victim. A game has begun for the hunter and the hunted. But as Hill confronts his own hidden demons, he must also come face-to-face with an evil so profound he may not have the courage–or the power–to stop it.
Messiah: The first victim was found hanging from a rope. The second, beaten to death in a pool of blood. The third, decapitated. Their backgrounds were as strikingly different as the methods of their murders. But one chilling detail linked all three crimes: their tongues had been cut out and replaced with a silver spoon. The local police had enough evidence to believe they were witnessing a rare–and disturbing–phenomenon: the making of a serial killer… “He’ll kill again.”
Investigator Red Metcalfe has made national headlines with his uncanny gift for tracking killers. Getting inside their heads. Feeling what they feel. He’s interviewed the most notorious serial killers in the world. He knows what makes them tick. But not this time. The killer’s motives and methods are so elusive, so brilliant, that Red is forced to search the darkest corners of his own soul–and face the guiltiest secrets of his past–to see the truth. This time, the life he saves could be his own.
Ritual : Heffernan’s latest chiller/thriller begins as Stanislaus Rolk, a controversial New York police lieutenant, listens intently to the pleasant voice of Kate Silverman, lecturer at the Metropolitan Museum. Her description of ancient Toltec ritual murders is mesmerizing, certain to attract more than casual interest in the upcoming exhibit. But before the night is over, a young woman is brutally killed and mutilated in the same manner as in those ancient ritualistic sacrifices.
Within days, the killer strikes again. The bizarre pattern implicates several Mayan anthropologists at the museum. Dr. Silverman’s life is mysteriously threatened, and Rolk, assigned to the case, is drawn to her in a protective way. Rolk’s investigation takes him and the beautiful assistant curator to Mexico, where they discover a link between the natives and a priest closely connected to the museum exhibition.
A Perfect Evil (Maggie O’Dell Novels) : The brutal murders of three young boys paralyze the citizens of Platte City, Nebraska. What’s worse is the grim realization that the man recently executed for the crimes was a copycat. When Sheriff Nick Morrelli is called to the scene of another grisly murder, it becomes clear that the real predator is still at large, waiting to kill again.
Morrelli understands the urgency of the case terrorizing his community, but it’s the experienced eye of FBI criminal profiler Maggie O’Dell that pinpoints the true nature of the evil behind the killings—a revelation made all the more horrific when Morrelli’s own nephew goes missing. Maggie understands something else: the killer is enjoying himself, relishing his ability to stay one step ahead of her, making this case more personal by the hour. Because out there, watching, is a killer with a heart of pure and perfect evil.
Rules of Prey (Lucas Davenport, No. 1) : Lieutenant Lucas Davenport, highly touted killer detective, invents intricate video games that he sells for cash. Called in to aid the Minneapolis team scrambling to stop a psychopathic serial woman-slayer, Lucas almost meets his match. The self-styled “mad dog” murderer views his rape/stabbings as a game as well, setting up obstacles for the police, carefully selecting his victims, and priding himself on clever moves.