Bill James' 6 favorite crime-solving books

The baseball writer has unlocked the game's secrets through detailed statistical analysis — now he surveys the best true-crime stories

Baseball writer Bill James taps into his inner crime-solving agent and reveals his favorite mystery novels.
(Image credit: Crystal Image Photography)

Final Verdict by Adela Rogers St. Johns (out of print). Adela Rogers St. Johns’s father, Earl Rogers, was perhaps the most famous lawyer of his time. Put it this way: When Clarence Darrow was arrested and put on trial for bribery, he hired Earl Rogers to defend him. Adela was among the best-known writers of her era. This book is her memoir of growing up in her father’s law office—an absolutely astonishing true-life story, told by a skilled and talented author.

He Made it Safe to Murder by Howard K. Berry (out of print). Moman Pruiett, an Oklahoma lawyer from 1895 into the early 1940s, was a scoundrel who defended other scoundrels—brilliantly. Pruiett defended more than 300 accused murderers, got virtually all of them off, and observed very few ethical restraints while doing so. Howard Berry’s gawking, naïve account of Pruiett’s astonishing career feels all the more substantive because it’s unvarnished.

The Rose Man of Sing Sing by James McGrath Morris (Fordham, $18). A famous journalist murders his wife. Life eats Art for dinner.

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The Hall-Mills Murder Case by William M. Kunstler (Rutgers, $22). A New Jersey minister and a woman in his choir were murdered together in September 1922, and nobody has ever been able to figure out who shot them. The late defense attorney William Kunstler thought it was the Ku Klux Klan, but then, if the Easter Bunny didn’t show up with the eggs, Kunstler would think that the Ku Klux Klan had got him, too.

Last Rampage by James W. Clarke (Univ. of Arizona, $18). This book has stayed in print for decades because hiding underneath its crass, blood-splattered original cover is a harrowing and powerful tale.

The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius (Penguin, $15). If you like reading about really fouled-up people who do despicable things with great frequency and on a grand scale, the Roman emperors are hard to beat. The other Roman historians liked to write about battles and speeches. Suetonius liked to write about whom the emperors tortured and murdered and whom they had sex with—often, they turn out to be the same people.

Baseball writer Bill James is the founding father of sabermetrics, the effort to unlock the game’s secrets through detailed statistical analysis. The best-selling author’s latest book, Popular Crime, is a survey of great true-crime

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