The Millions

Ten Thrillers Based on Real-Life Events

Writers of fiction based on real-life events lay themselves open to charges: sensationalismexploitationcheap thrills. Let’s be honest: sometimes the thrills on offer are cheap. But they don’t have to be. The form of the thriller—fast-paced but with moments of intense reflection—lends itself to exploring big questions, often from new and unexpected angles. Edgar Allan Poe, Truman Capote, and Patricia Cornwell have all used mystery stories to reinterpret real events. Was Jack the Ripper actually English painter Walter Sickert, as Cornwell claims in Portrait of a Killer? I don’t think so, but Cornwell is such a high-octane storyteller that I enjoyed being pulled along for the ride. And sometimes a writer wants to go further, to frame an alternative outcome, or to dramatize aspects of a case that are not inherently dramatic (we know from FBI transcripts that most of what goes on in a serial killer’s head is unendingly mundane). Sometimes only fiction will do.

Murder disturbs us, and murder trials do not bring closure. They raise And because motive can be the hardest thing to determine,  Perhaps fiction can’t provide definitive answers, but it can certainly map out the terrain. In the U.S., , a killer who made keepsakes from bones and skin, casts his long shadow over ’s  and ’s . And almost 30 years after it happened in my home country of Britain, we still struggle with the case, in which two 10-year-old boys murdered a toddler in cold blood. ’s  and ’s  take their inspiration from this horrible little murder. They are works of entertainment, yes, but honorable, thought-provoking, and deeply compelling. Here are 10 exceptional thrillers based on real-life events.

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