Feature

Patrick Radden Keefe's 6 favorite books about true crime

The award-winning author recommends works by Jill Leovy, Gabriel García Márquez, and more

Patrick Radden Keefe's latest book, Rogues, gathers 12 of his New Yorker stories about real-life grifters, crooks, and rebels. Below, the award-winning author of Say Nothing and Empire of Pain names six favorite true-crime books.

Ghettoside by Jill Leovy (2015)

An extraordinary book about policing, detective work, and race and criminal justice in one American community. Leovy is a masterful reporter and storyteller, and the tale she relates about a South Los Angeles murder is fast-paced, often counterintuitive, and deeply important. Buy it here.

The Hard Sell by Evan Hughes (2022)

Having written about the opioid crisis myself, I've read all the books on the subject and can safely say that this one, about little-known Insys Therapeutics, is unique. It's an immensely absorbing crime story about a bunch of colorful crooks who take the criminality we associate with the opioid business and dial it up to 11. Buy it here.

News of a Kidnapping by Gabriel García Márquez (1997)

Though García Márquez is better known as a novelist, he began his career as a journalist in Cartagena. I often return to this book, about a series of kidnappings in the 1990s by the Medellín cartel, for guidance on how to tell a true story in a vivid and emotionally engaging manner. Buy it here.

The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm (1989)

The job of a reporter, particularly when writing about crime, is fraught: I've interviewed killers, parents of killers, victims, and families of victims. For insights on the hazards of these interactions, I often return to Malcolm's classic examination of the relationship between Jeffrey MacDonald and Joe McGinniss — a man accused of a terrible crime and the writer who wants to tell his story. Buy it here.

Killings by Calvin Trillin (1984)

Trillin is one of the all-time great New Yorker writers, and this wonderful collection, with dispatches from crime scenes across the United States, was an inspiration when I was putting together Rogues. Buy it here.

Savage Appetites by Rachel Monroe (2019)

Monroe's book, subtitled Four True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession, is not just about crime but also why we are so drawn to this subject, as writers and as spectators. It's a deeply insightful book that poses a series of questions we should all bear in mind when writing true crime, or reading it. Buy it here.

This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine here.

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