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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

For lovers of crime thrillers, movies with creepy plots, low lighting and suspenseful music, we have a different way to get your fix. Author Duane Swierczynski likes his crime stories splayed across the page in comic book form. He recommends three books that take you beyond the police tape. It's for our series Three Books in which we ask authors to recommend books on one theme.

DUANE SWIERCZYNSKI: I'm pretty much a snob when it comes to true crime stories. I want something vivid, but I also don't want eight pages of shocking photos or a garish cover with a mug shot of some dude who needs a sandwich, a shave and a hug.

I want my tales of real-life mayhem to be well-researched and with the weight of history behind them but also move with the speed of an action film, which is why I love it when true crime stories are told in graphic novel form. Here are three of my favorites.

Eliot "Untouchable" Ness famously tangled with one of history's greatest villains: Alphonse "Scarface" Capone. And then he went off to Cleveland and ended up hunting someone even worse: that city's notorious Torso Killer. In "Torso," Brian Michael Bendis and Marc Andreyko make stunning use of newspaper clippings, crime scene snaps and period photography, making "Torso" seem less a traditional comic book and more like a great flick that somehow ended up on paper instead of celluloid. And while the creators supply their own best-guess ending, the killer was never caught. You can tell they breathed in endless gallons of microfiche copier ink to absorb every grisly little detail.

For a decade now, Rick Geary has been serving up delightfully grizzly novels, tackling such infamous cases as the Lizzie Borden murders, Jack the Ripper and the Lindbergh baby kidnapping. But my favorite is "The Terrible Axe-Man of New Orleans," about a now-obscure maniac who roamed the streets of 1918 New Orleans and liked to chop up his sleeping victims with a you-know-what. Geary walks us through each murder in spare, sober detail and saves a nasty little jazz-fueled twist - which I refuse to ruin for you - right in the middle of the book. This killer's identity was never revealed, and the puzzling questions Geary asks at the conclusion will chill you as much as the gory murders.

Is it strange to call a graphic novel about a vicious psychopath both gruesome and heartwarming? Jeff Jensen's the "Green River Killer" also happens to be a tender meditation on his own father, Detective Tom Jensen, who led the 1982 task force charged with taking down the man suspected of killing at least 48 women. But this is not a whodunit. Early on in the book, Jensen has a suspect in custody. I never thought I'd say this about a serial killer story, but I finished it feeling both gutted and uplifted.

With true crime and comics, the old cliche is true: A single image can be more expressive than 1,000 words of prose. It almost makes me wish that writers would bring along an artist the next time they step into a blood-splattered crime scene or a dusty newspaper morgue.

SIEGEL: Duane Swierczynski is the author of the novel "Hell and Gone." You can comment on his essay at our website. Go to nprbooks.org.

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