[Evan Wright is the author of a just-released Kindle Single, How to Get Away with Murder in America (see review below) and American Desperdo, which was an Amazon Best Book of the Month in November. We asked Evan to share a list of books about crime, fiction or nonfiction, that have influenced or inspired him. It's an eclectic mix.]
Building narrative in reporting is the toughest challenge. Facts are messy and don't yield to the demands of story. In How to Get Away With Murder in America the task was more difficult because I never met my subject, Enrique Prado, the former high-ranking CIA officer believed by some in law-enforcement to have escaped justice for crimes he may (or may not) have committed decades ago. He was never indicted and is highly regarded by his colleagues. Yet I had a mountain of evidence suggesting Prado led an epic double life between the streets of Miami and the highest echelons of the CIA. I constructed the narrative by letting sources, from police files to Prado's friends, do the talking. When sources revealed conflicting viewpoints, I included them. Life is complicated. In nonfiction, as in fiction, the human heart is always the ultimate subject. To that end, some of the gods of literature that have guided my narrative reporting are:
Points and Lines. Seicho Matsumoto's prose is like cool water. His story-telling relies on strict adherence to facts that bind and obsess his detective protagonists, as it is when you are a reporter. Obsession is at the root of much reporting.
In Libra Don DeLillo had many goals. Writing a pop crime novel was probably not one of them. But his mythologized meditation on Lee Harvey Oswald is one of the greatest psychological thrillers ever written. DeLillo's spare prose somehow lulls you into a dream-state exploration of his dark protagonist's consciousness. DeLillo is an alchemist.
You can't read Libra without American Tabloid, Jame's Ellroy's feverishly imagined telling of the JFK shooting. Until Ellroy came along, the city existed in noir as simply a bleak, unforgiving place. Ellroy posits American civic life as a nightmare that, unfortunately, you often find it to be when you dig into it as a reporter.
The Best and the Brightest by David Harlberstam. When you report on soldiers or spies, bureaucracy itself is always a formidable character. The Best and The Brightest is one of the most lucid studies of bureaucracy--and its power to hamstring even a president--ever written.
Red Harvest, or anything by Dashiell Hammett, is mind blowing. His fictional renderings of 1920s America, inhabited by crooks, city bosses and precious few shaky people of virtue could be, with the transposition of a few details, news dispatches from any number of American cities today. If you don't believe me, look up the Los Angeles Times' reporting on corruption in the city of Bell, California that won the Pulitzer prize in 2011.
Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories by RyÅ«nosuke Akutagawa explores the central problem for all story-tellers: no two witnesses see the same event the same way. If you are true to the facts, no reported story ever ends with a perfectly drawn conclusion.
Newspaper Days by H.L. Mencken. Before reporters became on-air personalities with perfect hair, they chased stories in the streets, subsisted on a diet heavy in whiskey and cigars, and weren't averse to the occasional brawl. Mencken proved a century ago that too much beer, a bad haircut and no credentials were no impediment to becoming one of greatest American news writers, ever.
Without Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, none of the others would be on my list, because there would be no list. When at age 14 I read his account of murder from the perspective of the killers, I didn't know his kind of literary journalism was legal. In Cold Blood started it all for me, and should be at the top of anyone list of best true crime.
Our review of How to Get Away with Murder in America: Drug Lords, Dirty Pols, Obsessed Cops, and the Quiet Man Who Became the CIA's Master Killer: When best-selling author Evan Wright began digging into the hard-to-believe life story of Enrique "Ricky" Prado--a former Miami thug who became a top CIA official--he was told to stay away or risk getting "whacked." One investigator warned, "You don't want to f--- with this guy." Wright first learned about Prado while researching American Desperado, his shockingly good book about drug trafficker Jon Roberts. At first, he refused to believe that an alleged hitman and bodyguard for a mobster could become a CIA informant and eventually rise to the top echelons of the U.S. national security and intelligence systems. In this riveting account, Wright says the "two halves of Prado's life...made no sense." But through dozens of interviews and thousands of documents, Wright tries to make sense of them. The result is a story of two fiercely loyal Cuban-American childhood pals--Prado and his former cocaine-running boss, Albert "the Maniac" San Pedro--whose kinship lasted throughout Prado's CIA career. Even as Prado rose to the CIA equivalent of a two-star general, he helped San Pedro with numerous deadly deeds. This is investigative journalism at its best"”brave, meticulous, and significant. --Neal Thompson