WSIRN Ep 162: The best bad ending you’ll ever read

Today’s guest Traci Thomas has had a hard time finding her niche in the online bookish community, because, as she puts it, she “reads like a dad”. But I have a hunch lots of listeners will relate to her obsession with true crime and the literary search for truth. In today’s episode we’re chatting about books that strengthen your sense of belonging, Traci’s reluctance to read fiction, and the best bad ending she has EVER read. If you recognize her voice, there’s a reason for that… Traci hosts the snappy podcast book club The Stacks, a show focused on giving you real life conversations about all things bookish.


What Should I Read Next #162: The best bad ending you'll ever read with Traci Thomas

Connect with Traci Thomas: Podcast | Website | Instagram | Twitter | Goodreads


Books mentioned in this episode:
Some links are affiliate links. More details here.
If you’d like to support your local indie, check out And by all means, go grab one of these from your local library!

Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy, by Heather Ann Thompson (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• The Mothers, by Brit Bennett (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• The Mars Room, by Rachel Kushner (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• Popular Crime: Reflections on the Celebration of Violence, by Bill James (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• The Executioner’s Song, by Norman Mailer (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• There, There, by Tommy Orange (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• The Ramona Quimby series, by Beverly Cleary (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• The Giver, by Lois Lowry (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• Charlotte’s Web, by E. B. White (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
Columbine, by Dave Cullen (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
•  Parkland: Birth of a Movement, by Dave Cullen (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy, by Sue Klebold (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Jonestown, by Julia Scheeres (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple, by Jeff Guinn (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• Author Doris Kearns Goodwin (try Leadership: In Turbulent Times: AmazonBarnes and Noble)
The Line Becomes a River, by Francisco Cantú (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• The Devil’s Highway: A True Story, by Luis Alberto Urrea (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• The Far Away Brothers: Two Young Migrants and the Making of an American Life, by Lauren Markham (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• The Ensemble, by Aja Gabel (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• A Lucky Man: Stories, by Jamel Brinkley (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, by Malcom Gladwell (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• Hellhound on His Trail: The Electrifying Account of the Largest Manhunt in American History, by Hampton Sides (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• And the Sea Will Tell, by Vincent Bugliosi (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders, by Vincent Bugliosi (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• Four Days in November: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, by Vincent Bugliosi (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• Outrage: The Five Reasons Why O.J. Simpson Got Away With Murder, by Vincent Bugliosi (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• Divinity of Doubt: God and Atheism on Trial, by Vincent Bugliosi (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• The Prosecution of George W Bush for Murder, by Vincent Bugliosi (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America, by Gilbert King (AmazonBarnes and Noble)

Also mentioned:
• Revisionist History podcast—specifically mentioned, Ep 5: Food Fight
• The Stacks podcast—specifically mentioned, Ep 22: The Mars Room


What do YOU think Traci should read next?  Tell us in the comments!

more posts you might enjoy


Leave A Comment
  1. Amy says:

    I also really enjoyed Columbine and have recommended it a lot (most people don’t follow thru though). Totally agree with Anne’s recommendation of “Hellhound on the Trail” (it’s excellent on audio). More true crime to consider: “Crime of the Century” by Dennis Breo, “Red Notice” by Bill Browder and “The Barefoot Bandit” by Bob Friel. And for something a little different but still in the interesting non-fiction realm, try “Shadow Divers: by Robert Kurson, “Get Well Soon” by Jennifer Wright and “In Harm’s Way” by Doug Stanton (all good on audio).

  2. Kim LaBolt says:

    Tracy needs to read Five days at Memorial by Sheri Fink, the telling of the horrible problems that arose in Memorial hospital in New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina. Why didn’t we hear about any of this when it happened?

    • Traci says:

      I have had that on my list for so long. I plan to get to it. There are a few great docs on Katrina that mention what went down at Memorial. Also Anna Deavere Smith has a play on the topic as well. Thanks for your right on suggestion.

  3. Susan in TX says:

    Great episode! Now, I’m off to look up Traci’s podcast. Traci, you may have already heard of this author, but maybe not as he passed away in the 80’s and his stuff (I think) is mostly out of print. I first came across him in high school when a teacher recommended him to me. Thomas Thompson is his name – he wrote about somewhat contemporary (to him) true crime. My teacher handed me Blood and Money, which fascinated me and I went on to read a lot of his stuff, but the ultimate one that sticks in my memory the most, was Serpentine (international criminal that took years to catch — and since it’s been over 30 years since I read it, I can’t honestly remember if they got him — this guy made Frank Abagnale look like an amateur). The same teacher also handed me Helter Skelter and In Cold Blood — she was my favorite teacher (what does that say about me?) — it was a class where we got to go and sit for an hour and read, and every so often she had us talk about what we were reading, or we did speed reading exercises, etc. I doubt they offer classes like this any more in public schools (which is where I was educated). I have to be completely honest – as a parent of 4 adult children, if a teacher had handed these to my own kids at the same age, I might have been horrified. 😉 I’m going to try and put a wikipedia link to Thompson so you can see if these appeal or quickly dismiss them before hunting for them. Again, after 30+ years, there’s no way I can vouch for the writing quality, but since I do remember the way I felt reading them, that “couldn’t put them down, compulsive page-turning,” and no one ever mentions them any more, I thought I’d pass them along.

    Have to add, I appreciate your high praise for Urrea’s Devil’s Highway since I picked it up recently at the Texas Book Festival – he has a new novel out that may appeal to you, if you haven’t heard about it yet. (The House of Broken Angels)

    Thanks for all the backlist titles today! I love most the episodes with backlist treasures. Happy reading.

    • Susan in TX says:

      Coming back to add – I did a lot more “true crime” and even “horror” reading in my youth. Once I had kids, I couldn’t handle as much of it, so I tend to not read it now. That said, it was definitely a catalyst for expanding my reading horizons and introducing me to other genres that I might not have been exposed to otherwise. I still love a good hefty percentage of nonfiction mixed in with my fiction – just maybe with a little more history, a little less violence. 🙂

  4. Lisa says:

    “Warmth of Other Suns” is one of my all time favorite books. Anne, you mentioned starting this book a few times – I highly recommend the audio version read by one of my favorite readers, Robin Miles. I couldn’t stop listening – amazing and beautifully read and one of the most illuminating books ever.

    • Libby says:

      I find it really helpful to read these types of books on audio instead of in print! I have a tendency to tune audio out a bit, which works in my favor for giant historical books that are challenging to get into, because you’re a more passive reader and can kind of get the flow of the book without having to focus on it so hard. I listened to “Lawrence in Arabia” read by Scott Anderson this way, and I loved the book. Most of the book takes place in the Middle East, so reading the names and not knowing how to pronounce them or who was actually important would have been challenging to me, but 1/3 of the way in I recognized who was a major players and who was aside characters. Traci might also enjoy that book, although the plot doesn’t move fast. But at the end, you feel like you finally understand why politics in the Middle East are the way they are, and it’s for a lot of reasons that were never explained well in history class (shortcut: blame the Brits!).

  5. Wow, I loved this episode. I’m a HIGHLY sensitive reader who also “enjoys” these types of books – meaning I devour them while peeking through my fingers and cringing. Last year, I read Columbine and found the only way I could get through it and send my kids to school the next morning without bursting into tears was to read a “chaser” book. So, for every chapter of Columbine, I read a chapter of At Home in Mitford. God bless Father Tim for getting me through those intense few days. Looks like I’ll have many more days in Mitford as I attempt to tackle some of the books discussed on this episode…

    It probably goes without saying, but Killers of the Moon Flower is a GREAT book in this genre. It would make a good companion read with the YA fiction Dreamland Burning.

    Also, my husband is currently reading Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou. I’m anxious for him to finish so I can read it! Maybe Traci would enjoy this as well!

    • Traci says:

      Thank you for listening. I have and still have yet to get to KOTFM but it’s on my list. Bad Blood is fantastic. We discussed it on my podcast, The Stacks, so you and your husband should check out the episode once you’ve read the book. Thanks for your suggestions, love the “chaser” book.

      • Dave Cullen says:

        I love the idea of the chaser book! I wish I’d tried than when I was writing it. Haha. Some chapters were rough. (I tried to mix it up with chaser chapters, like Patrick Ireland’s recovery, but there were not enough of them to go around. It was a dark book. Oprah told . me it gave her nightmares, and asked if I got them.)

  6. Renea Mertens says:

    Tracy, I too read books for “dads”. As a 36 year old mother of toddlers, I often get an eyebrow raise when I mention how much I love procedural true crime stories. I work in the civil side of the law, and love how different the criminal process is. Helter Skelter and In Cold Blood are some of my all time favorites. I also loved the historical books, The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, which combines urban planning and murder and Hell’s Princess by Harold Schechter, a female serial killer in the 1800’s. Historical true crime can be disappointing because you so rarely find out the motive, but it does take away some of the sting/ scariness of real life situations. I can’t wait to read your recommendations and check out your podcast!

    • Traci says:

      Love hearing from other people trapped in “dad” mode. I have read Larson’s other book In The Garden of Beasts, and I liked it so I will check out Devil in the White City. Thank you for listening and sharing your suggestions.

  7. Valerie says:

    If you aren’t completely sold on reading Burial Rites, the audiobook version is wonderful. I picked it because I wanted to hear the pronunciation of the Icelandic words, which were beautiful. While I agree with Anne’s thoughts on the book and might have felt the same about the recommendation, the audiobook was interesting to me the whole way through.

    I’d also recommend “Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson if by some chance you haven’t heard of it, which features a serial killer and his “Murder House” alongside the 1894 Chicago World’s Fair.

    • Traci says:

      Thats good to hear. Maybe I’ll try to listen. I do tend to struggle with fiction on audio because my mind wanders too much, but its worth a shot! Someone else suggested the Larson, I read In The Garden of Beasts, and liked it, so I will check out the other. It was soooo popular when it came out. Thank you for listening and bringing your suggestions.

      • Ashley says:

        I didn’t love in the Garden of Beasts, but thoroughly enjoyed and could not stop listening to Devil in the White City on audiobook. Highly recommended!

  8. Carol says:

    Good episode as always! I loved Columbine and Jeff Guinn books. My library does not have “The Stranger Beside Me” by Ann Rule (Ted Bundy), I will look for it used. So I have not read it yet, but hope to soon. I’m also looking for a good book on Patty Hearst. Looking forward to listening to The Stacks!

  9. Melyssa says:

    I really related to Traci and her love of books that dads like. Narrative nonfiction is probably my favorite genre, and The Warmth of Other Sons is one of my all-time faves. All of the recommendations that follow are totally worth of a “great books for dads” list.

    If you end up liking Hellhound on His Trail, a similar one is Manhunt by James Swanson. It follows the Lincoln assasination and the hunt for John Wilkes Booth.

    I don’t read a lot of true crime, but I did enjoy The Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann. I have liked several books about wrongful conviction. One that is less well known is The Ghost of the Innocent Man, by Benjamin Rachlin. It is about one of the cases that led to the establishment of the North Carolina Innocence Commission.

    I also listened to the audiobook of The Great Halifax Explosion, by John U. Bacon. It is about a wartime explosion in Canada that I’d never even heard of! I love when I read a book that tells me about history that is unfamiliar to me.

  10. Chelsey says:

    Loved this episode! I’ve been reading more nonfiction lately, thanks to Bookstagram and my “dad reader” husband. The best nonfiction book I read this year was Seven Fall Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City by Tanya Talaga. I cannot stop talking about this book and recommending it. Traci, I think it would totally check all of your boxes: crime, untold stories, a compassionate OWN voices author, and legal drama…plus a LOT to discuss and think about. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it!

  11. Margaret says:

    This episode saved my procrastinating Christmas butt! I’ve basically used it as a gift guide for my sister who loves true crime. She’ll be getting a collection curated by Traci and Anne <3

  12. BarbN says:

    I loved this episode– well, I love all of them, but in particular, I loved this one because I love listening to people talk about books I know I will never read. I feel like I can have a little bit of the experience without the sleepless nights! (a book that gave me nightmares was Gone Girl, and instead of loving it, I rank that as my least favorite book I’ve read in the last ten years. I am not brave.) So I didn’t think I would have any recommendations to add until Anne mentioned fictionalized true crime, which reminded me of Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood. It’s set in the 1840s, based on a true story about a young working-class woman who is accused of murdering her employer and others. I probably would never have read it but it was assigned to me when I was in grad school, and to my surprise, I loved it. And also, it’s Margaret Atwood. I’m not a big fan of Handmaid, but everything else I’ve read of hers I loved and there’s no denying that she’s a terrific writer.

    Also, to Anne: as another not-very-brave reader, I have to echo everyone else who has recommended Columbine. It’s not an easy read but it is so fascinating and so worthwhile. He intersperses the actual events of the day with background and exposition, so it’s not too hard to skim lightly over the scary stuff.

  13. Martha Gordon says:

    If you liked Executioner’s Song, try Mikal Gilmore’s memoir about his brother called Shot in the Heart. I read them back to back.

  14. Kate says:

    Ha, my immediate thought for Traci was “Hellhound on His Trail,” which I found riveting because I was born in 1968 but feel like I never learned many of the details about MLK’s assassination.
    Looking forward to “The Warmth of Other Suns.” I did one of my library school internships at the archive at the African American Museum & Library of Oakland, and yes, so many of the collections reach back to roots in Louisiana, so getting more context for that sounds so interesting.
    Another non-fic book I read recently you may like is “A Gathering of Saints” by Robert Lindsey, about a master forger (and later bomber) who fooled noted historians across the country with false documents about Mormon history. Not only is the true crime part fascinating, but the author also looks as the cultural aspects of how people prefer to see certain narratives and what might happen if that is proved false. There are a few books about this case, but this one is supposedly the most well-researched and balanced.

  15. Martha Gordon says:

    One more recommendation: Border Patrol Nation by Todd Miller. This was a book my book club read. I found it so disturbing I couldn’t finish, but I definitely liked what I read better than I liked The Line Becomes a River and I will go back and finish it eventually. The group liked it as a whole and we had a wonderful discussion about it.
    I enjoyed this episode so much. I’m a character-driven reader for fiction, but for nonfiction I like things that move. I wrote down so many titles and I subscribed to Traci’s podcast.

  16. Marcy says:

    Though I’ve been reading a bunch of nonfiction lately, traditionally I’m more of a fiction reader, not a “dad” reader, and definitely not big into true crime or violence — so I didn’t expect to be interested in many of the books in this episode!

    Sigh, my TBR list continues to blow up. Very interested in history, social issues, and changing our lenses to see truth that goes against the prevailing narrative, so… Thank you both for a wonderful episode, even though you aren’t doing my reading list any favors! ::insert cry laugh emoji I’m not finding with my Chromebook::

  17. Sarah says:

    This has been one of my favorite episodes yet. I love reading non-fiction that you can’t put down, especially when they look at specific topics in detail. I would second some of the recommendations above: Five Days at Memorial and Seven Fallen Feathers. I would also recommend Deep Down Dark – story of the Chilean miners who got stuck underground for many days. Can’t wait to check out your podcast!

  18. Molly says:

    I second (or third?) Devil in the White City. In my youth I was into true crime and realistic(ish) horror. Helter Skelter gave me the creeps, but I still read it a few times. Another book I couldn’t put down was The Amityville Horror. To this day I honestly don’t know if the whole story is based on fact, but it was realistic enough to give me nightmares. Not exactly procedural in terms of law and order, but definitely creepy. Another crime thriller (fiction but very realistic) Traci might like is The Alienist by Caleb Carr.

  19. Libby says:

    This is a podcast recommendation, not book, but I think Traci would love it! Heaven’s Gate, put out by Stitcher. It’s an examination of the Heaven’s Gate UFO cult that committed mass suicide in the 1990s. Not a spoiler, both because it’s historical and because the host says it in the first 5 minutes or so. What I think Traci will really enjoy about this series is that the host himself was raised in a doomsday cult, so his narration is very sympathetic towards the cult members. He really tries to connect the dots between reporting in the 90s that was “omg these weirdos thought aliens were abducting them to heaven” to the individual people before they joined, the cult before it was so cult-y, and how seemingly normal people get drawn into cults in general. Host is also a person of color, so further confirmation for your theory!

  20. Allyson says:

    Anne’s recommendation of “Devil in the Grove” reminded me of another title. I first heard about “Devil in the Grove” while attending an author event for Deborah Johnson and the release of her novel “The Secret of Magic.” Although a novel, the book is based on a true story of a returning WWII African-American veteran — in his uniform — who refused to sit in the back of a Mississippi bus and was killed for it. A young lawyer from the NAACP, mentored by Thurgood Marshall, is sent to Mississippi to investigate the suspicious death. It’s both a page-turning whodunit and an examination of race relations.

  21. Vera Webb says:

    Yay! Finally someone mentioned “The Warmth of Other Suns”. I too loved this book. I learned so much about 20th century American history from Isabell Wilkerson’s book. There is a wonderful conversation with Ms Wilkerson on Krista Tippet’s On Being. Earlier in December, Isabell Wilkerson reviewed Michelle Obama’s Becoming, in the context of the Great Migration for The New York Times books section. The NYT books podcast also interviewed Ms Wilkerson about Becoming, but the second half of the interview was devoted to The Warmth of Other Suns

  22. Ginger says:

    Traci, I loved your episode! I think it’s funny that you think you read like a dad because most people who I know that LOVE true crime are women!

    I think you might be interested in The Defender: How the Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America by Ethan Michaeli. It covers the history of the newspaper in general, but a large part of that surrounds its role in the Great Migration and how that was tied to the train lines.

    A book that I read 10 years ago and am still recommending is Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Street by Sudhir Venkatesh. I think this falls into the category of taking something you think you know and flipping it on it’s head. A lot of people think they understand gangs—gangs are bad; we just need to get them off the streets—but the reality is that it is a lot more nuanced and complicated than that, and by the end of this book, you really get that.

    Anne’s recommendation of Devil in the Grove made me think of Honor Killing: How the Infamous “Massie Affair” Transformed Hawaii by David E. Stannard. It’s another case of justice gone completely sideways and involves another famous lawyer, Clarence Darrow.

    A couple other recommendations that I’m not quite as sure about but you still might be interested in:
    The Orpheus Clock: The Search for My Family’s Art Treasures Stolen by the Nazis by Simon Goodman—it’s true, and there was A LOT of crime, but I don’t know if it could be considered true crime. One thing that I think it does very well is show how easy it was for Hitler to gain power, and I honestly feel like it should be required reading at this point.
    Also, the podcast Dirty John about a total scam artist who lies his way into this woman’s life was fascinating and infuriating.

  23. Lindsey says:

    I’m late to this party, and not even done with the episode yet, but it so happens I just finished a book Traci would probably like! The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist by Balko and Carrington. It’s true crime, but goes into some really interesting issues with the justice system and what historically led us to it. Also I’ll be Gone in the Dark is another good one. I’m excited to check out your podcast!

  24. Cyndi Moskal says:

    I’ve never read true crime and would normally disregard any recommendations or lists from the genre. But listening to this podcast really intrigued me and several are now on my TBR. That’s for broadening my reading life!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.