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What to Read Next (No. 266): Criminally Good
Rebecca Makkai's "I Have Some Questions for You" and PRK's "Rogues"
Happy Friday, readers!
Crime stories are almost universally irresistible as reading material. But there’s a lot of mediocre crime writing out there — a lot. So it’s always refreshing and exciting to come across titles in this broad genre that are especially well-written.
Today I’m bringing you two such books that are just criminally good. (I had to.) The first is a novel from an author who has now cemented herself on my must-read list and the second is a non-fiction essay collection by a journalist who’s already on that list.
What are your favorite tales of crime and corruption? I’d love to hear!
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I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai
After I finished The Great Believers last year, I knew it would wind up on my end of year favorites list. It was an easy choice. So when I saw Makkai had a new book coming this winter, I knew I had to get my hands on it ASAP (and the kind folks at Viking obliged with an early review copy).
I Have Some Questions for You is a campus murder mystery at its core. When hard-on-her-luck Bodie Kane got a scholarship to Granby boarding school in New Hampshire, she had no idea just how much those four years would form and infiltrate the rest of her life. Most of all, it’s the murder of Thalia Keith, Bodie’s former roommate, that sends lasting shockwaves through the lives of nearly everyone at Granby.
As a grown woman, Bodie ends up back at Granby for a couple weeks to teach a short course on podcasting. When one of the students takes up the supposedly solved case of Thalia Keith, long-buried questions come bubbling back to the surface.
Here’s what I love about Makkai’s writing: though it doesn’t make for particularly fast reading, I was always excited to pick it up again. She obviously writes with deep intention and takes some artistic license with the prose and format. Not every sentence drives the plot forward; sometimes she’s just saying something interesting and important in a really beautifully written way. But — and here’s the key — it’s never pretentious or hard to read.
As I said up above, I Have Some Questions for You is a twisty, compelling murder mystery. What it’s really about, though, is memory, anxiety, youthfulness, growing up, and violence (without being violent). I can’t recommend it highly enough. Makkai’s writing is magical, pure and simple.
Rogues: True Stories of Grifters, Killers, Rebels and Crooks by Patrick Radden Keefe
This isn’t exactly breaking news, but Patrick Radden Keefe is one of the top few most engaging narrative non-fiction writers working today. He’s as can’t-miss as it gets. Period. Everything he writes is pure gold, including his latest collection of true crime essays, Rogues: True Stories of Grifters, Killers, Rebels and Crooks.
These essays are collected from the best of PRK’s reporting at The New Yorker from the last 15 years. Though crime is his niche, what he actually does is write long profile pieces that just happen to be about criminals.
In these pages you’ll find profiles on:
The biggest fraudster in the world of rare wines
The Dutch woman who testified against her notorious gangster brother
Mass shooter Amy Bishop
El Chapo — specifically about how he ended up getting caught
The criminal defense attorney who takes on the country’s most indefensible cases, including defending Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
And these are just the tip of the iceberg. Each of the 12 profiles are utterly superb. What PRK excels at is knowing when to zoom out and give readers the context they need to understand the zoomed in details about what people believe and how they operate on a day-to-day basis.
He knows how to communicate the core human aspects of a story better than any other journalist in the business, while also crafting incredibly compelling narratives that keep the pages flying. There is never a dull moment in his writing.
That’s all for me this week! Thanks so much for the time and inbox space. I deeply appreciate it.