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Patrick Radden Keefe Is One of the Good Guys

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On a recent evening, journalist Patrick Radden Keefe was in his home office in Westchester County, toying with a story idea that involved the Russian mafia. Before calling it a day, he printed a trove of related documents and left them in a stack on his printer tray. When he returned the next morning, he found that someone had taken one of the pages — a picture of a dead body inscribed with a threatening message in Cyrillic letters — and placed it on his desk. The culprit had added a single word to the page: No.

As a staff writer at The New Yorker, Keefe has written about all kinds of disreputable figures — an international arms broker, hackers, a dubious diamond dealer, a mass shooter, and the Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzman, to name just a few — and this wasn’t the first time someone had tried to get him to beg off a story. While working on Empire of Pain, his 2021 book about the Sackler family’s role in the opioid epidemic, Keefe came to believe the family had hired an investigator to intimidate him by loitering outside his home. This time, however, the intimidation campaign was coming from inside the house.

“Every time he tells me a new story idea, I feel like I have a mini–heart attack. ‘Oh jeez, another litigious asshole or murderous criminal? Can’t you do a celebrity profile or something?’” says Keefe’s wife, Justyna Gudzowska, an attorney who specializes in international financial-crime policy. “Patrick is intrigued by all of the bad guys.”

Keefe insists that his predisposition toward “bad guys” is not a point of tension in his marriage, but his new book, Rogues: True Stories of Grifters, Killers, Rebels and Crooks (Doubleday), is proof of his nearly undivided focus on scoundrels. After the enormous success of Empire of Pain and 2018’s Say Nothing, a murder procedural set against the backdrop of the Troubles in Ireland, Keefe’s latest is a collection of 12 stories drawn from his work at The New Yorker and a reminder of his command of the magazine thriller.

“I need a story about people. I always start from the ground up. There may be some kind of particular 30,000-foot phenomenon that’s interesting, but I have to find an anecdotal way into it,” Keefe says, sitting on a bench in Tompkins Square Park on a recent sunny afternoon. “I’m often thinking about these kinds of questions of the specific and the universal and to what degree can we empathize with people even if they’ve done awful things.”

The appetite for stories about people........

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