Patrick Radden Keefe in his collection of true stories “Rogues”

On the shelf

Frogs: True Stories of Grifters, Killers, Rebels and Crooks

Author: Patrick Radden Keefe
Doubleday: 368 pages, $ 30

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Astrid Holleeder is the sister of a Dutch gangster who risks her life to overthrow her. Hardy Rodenstock may be the biggest cheater in the world of vintage wines. Amy Bishop is a rare group shooter with a deadly secret in the past.

These three will be brought to life. “Frogs: True Stories of Grifters, Killers, Rebels and Crooks, ”collection Patrick Radden KeefeNew Yorker articles. Keefe’s previous two books were both acclaimed bestsellers, full-length non-fiction accounts of the problems in Northern Ireland (“Don’t Say”) and how the Sackler family drove America into the opioid crisis (“The realm of pain”).

In this week ‘s Rogues, the focus is on criminals (insider traders always El Chapo), but the stories cover a wide variety of people, including celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain; a computer technician who revealed the secrets of the Swiss banking industry; a lawyer for the death penalty who defended the Boston Marathon bombing; and producer Mark Burnettwho revived Donald Trump’s “Apprentice.”

Speaking to The Times via video conference, Keefe outlined the thematic connections of his stories in an edited interview for length and clarity, as well as the ability to get people to care about random topics and the limits of reaching journalists.

How do these stories represent your career and how do they relate to each other?

I love being a professional dilettante. I move on from one topic to another, I parachute into a story, spend three to six months on it, and then move on to the next thing. At the moment, I never feel like I’m pursuing a particular theme or topic, I’m just chasing any interesting story. I thought I had free will to choose the stories, but in hindsight I saw a return to a handful of themes.

I am fascinated by the categories we have for legal and illegal and what we call crime, and how we define them. I’ve always been interested in denial and the stories people tell themselves, their families, and their communities to rationalize the bad things they do. The themes are repeated, but hopefully the characters and their lives will vary.

Are you just trying to tell interesting stories in your work or are you hoping to make a difference?

I never think about the impact of the story. I don’t consider myself an activist even though I notice something outrageous and I’m confused that other people aren’t furious. My job as a journalist is to gather facts and tell a compelling story and get people involved.

Sometimes you influence reality by what you do, and it’s gratifying, but most of the time you describe the world, you don’t change it. And when you change things, it happens in small ways.

"Frogs" Author: Patrick Radden Keefe

Is it frustrating when the rich and powerful walk away unharmed?

It is part of the oddity of the country of residence. When a company has a rotten culture, sometimes the company admits its guilt and sometimes individuals are guilty or condemned, but people who call shots at the top of the pyramid manage to avoid all the law. responsibility.

That was true with the Sackler family or here [billionaire] Steve Cohen and insider trading allegations against his company, SAC. But as a journalist, I can write an accurate fact-based story about the government’s attempts to get him down, and even if they ultimately failed, you can read the story and decide the case itself.

When writing about topics like Swiss banking, insider trading, or antique wines, do you think of readers who know nothing about the subject?

If something annoys me as a reader, it’s when the author does a lot of great research, but it feels like they’re just pushing it across the table towards me. For me, the pleasure is from distillation. You never read a text where you get the first section, which is colorful and immersive, and then you get a paragraph break and then it says, “And now, a thousand words about the history of corn.”

I always remind myself that I interview people who are experts or immersed in the details of a story, but the reader may not know anything about it. With the insider trading scandal, that lawsuit had been handled by the corporate department on a daily basis, but I felt like there was a big opera version of the story. So I said to myself, “You’re not writing to someone who reads the corporate section, but to someone who sees the story of insider trading and turns the page.” Can I get that reader and get them involved in mere human drama?

Are you interested in the wider story at first or the people themselves?

It’s people, characters. It’s weird to call them characters, but I’m interested in storytelling. As a reader, I find that if I pick up a book about a period in history or some nature or a complex political issue and read a thousand words and don’t hit a person, I find myself coming off. I think we are firmly committed to dealing with information in the form of stories about people.

You used the word “characters”. Worried about the dramatic storytelling that blurs the lines so readers forget they’re reading about the right people?

I’m not ashamed of the novels that technology brings: where I start with the concealment of story, structure, characterization, suspense, and knowledge. The lines blur as you cheat and get ahead of the facts you collect.

I am never tempted to do so. I tried to write fiction in college, but I failed. I couldn’t come up with most of the things I found in my reports. If you put some of these details in a novel, no one would believe them. I get so much satisfaction from it.

The book is the story of the sister of the biggest gangster in Amsterdam. He is also a lawyer… and he is his lawyer. And no one can catch him because no one gets close to him. But then he decides to turn to him. In the thriller, it would seem too convenient, but these things happen in real life.

And in fiction, you can hack your head on the wall all day trying to find the perfect end result. With reporting, someone will finally say it and it will fall into your arms. You just have to be able to identify it when it comes. Sometimes I interview someone and he says something, and I put a small star in the margin of my notebook because when I hear it I know: That’s my last line.

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