By now, you or someone you love has probably succumbed to the pop culture addiction know as Serial, the This American Life spinoff podcast that’s inspired so much dissection that whole other podcasts have been engineered just to break down and analyze its story. Chances are even if you’ve never heard a second of host Sarah Koenig’s investigation into a 1999 murder and the potentially wrongful conviction that resulted, you’ve at least heard someone in your office or on your train or in your very own home asking their own questions and spouting their own theories about the case. Is Adnan guilty? Was it Jay the whole time? Who are all those people in that Mail Chimp ad and what subtext about the case do they bring to the table?
You might not care at all about these questions or their answers, but you may very well be doing some shopping for a Serial fan this holiday season. So, to make that particular present a little easier to wrap up, we’re presenting 10 gift options for the Serial-obsessed person in your life, from novels to true crime to feature films.
TRUE DETECTIVE: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON
OK, let’s get the obvious one out of the way first, because True Detective is on literally every gift guide list this year (seriously, go check that Barbie gift guide again; you’ll find it), but there’s a reason for that. Not only is it one of the most acclaimed new TV series of the year but, for our purposes, it bred the same kind of week-to-week obsessiveness among fans that Serial does. By the time the first episode is over, you’re searching every shot for hidden meaning, and usually finding it.
BLACK DAHLIA & WHITE ROSE: STORIES, MY SISTER, MY LOVE and THE CORN MAIDEN AND OTHER NIGHTMARES by Joyce Carol Oates
Oates is so astoundingly prolific that, even if you narrow her works down to only stories that revolve around crime, it’s hard to pick just one, so I picked three, all published within the last 10 years. Whether probing an imaginary relationship between “The Black Dahlia” Elizabeth Short and Marilyn Monroe, exploring a heavily fictionalized version of the JonBenet Ramsey murder, or weaving her own dark tales of transgression, Oates’ emphasis on the characters involved in her gripping crime stories will hook anyone obsessed with the personalities that populate Serial.
Much like Serial, this Peabody Award-winning documentary miniseries is a deep dive into a single murder case with an outcome that is disputed to this day. Instead of a retrospective look at a case that already has a conviction, though, you get to see the trial preparations and the trial itself as they unfold, all while examining one of the questions that’s also at Serial’s heart: Is the suspect an innocent man, or a cold, calculated killer?
THE PARADISE LOST TRILOGY and WEST OF MEMPHIS
The West Memphis Three case spawned so much public interest and activism over the last two decades that it actually inspired two sets of documentaries, and both are essential viewing for true crime buffs. Paradise Lost is a three-film journey through the case as it unfolded, while West of Memphis is an overview of the case and an attempt to produce new evidence pointing to another suspect. Both are gripping portraits of a heinous crime, Satanic panic, a broken justice system, and the protests and battles that broken system produces.
DARK PLACES by Gillian Flynn
You might know Flynn from Gone Girl, the bestselling thriller that everyone and their grandmother read which became a blockbuster film featuring a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo by Ben Affleck’s dick. Since everyone’s already so familiar with Gone Girl, though, consider its predecessor, in which the survivor of a massacre that claimed her family takes a new look at the case, and discovers new evidence. It’s Serial-like and it’s a Gillian Flynn book, so you kill two pop culture birds with one stone.
BROADCHURCH: SEASON 1
If you’re after something that’s similar to and even surpasses Serial’s ever-expanding web of new details, new deceptions, and possible dead-ends around every corner, try this British mystery-drama. Anchored by incredible performances from Olivia Colman and David Tennant, the series is both a whodunit and a portrait of a community in which everyone has secrets. It’s taut, it’s emotional, and it really will keep you guessing right up until the end.
HOMICIDE: A YEAR ON THE KILLING STREETS by David Simon
Mention “Baltimore” and “crime” in the same pop culture-related sentence and these days you’ll almost always be led back to The Wire, Simon’s phenomenal HBO series that’s both a crime drama and a portrait of an American city. If you want to go deeper, though, go back to Homicide, the result of Simon’s year of following Baltimore detectives and the murders they investigated. It’s a great gift for a true crime novice, or someone who really wants to dig into the darkest parts of the city where the Serial case took place.
Despite all the critical love (contemporary and retrospective) it’s gotten since its release, Zodiac might still be the most underappreciated film David Fincher’s ever made. It’s a dark, detailed, indulgent plunge into one of the most famous mysteries in American history, and it’s a film that’s as much about the obsessive quest to solve the puzzle as it is about the Zodiac case itself. If you know someone who loves all the questions to pick at throughout Serial, this is the film for them, and you can even pair it with Robert Graysmith’s book on which the film was based.
THE GREEN RIVER KILLER: A TRUE DETECTIVE STORY by Jeff Jensen and Jonathan Case
While Serial began when a journalist and radio host took a particular personal interest in a murder case, Green River Killer began because of a very personal connection to one of the most infamous serial killers in American history: Writer Jeff Jensen’s father Tom was the detective who caught Green River Killer Gary Leon Ridgway in 2001. Using his father’s own memories of the case, which he worked on for two decades, Jensen and artist Jonathan Case reconstruct in compelling and often terrifying detail one of the greatest serial murder investigations ever, all in a comic book format unlike anything you’ve ever read.
THE CASES THAT HAUNT US by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker
If you’re shopping for someone who just can’t get enough of unsolved crimes or crimes with disputed outcomes, check out this true crime anthology from legendary FBI profiler John Douglas (the inspiration for Jack Crawford in The Silence of the Lambs). Douglas lends his own analysis to cases ranging from Jack the Ripper to Lizzie Borden to JonBenet Ramsey, and even focuses on cases that some people already consider solved.
Matthew Jackson is a freelance pop culture writer/nerd-for-hire and Contributing Editor at Blastr.com. Find him on Twitter at @awalrusdarkly.