The favorite crime books of Atlanta’s top cops and lawyers

  • AJC Staff
  • The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
2:23 p.m Monday, Dec. 11, 2017 Local
Truman Capote's classic true crime book "In Cold Blood" was among the books cited as a favorite read by Atlanta police and lawyers.

Crime books are among the most popular genres out there. True crime. Legal fiction. Courtroom thrillers. Police procedurals. They fly off the shelves.

We asked the leaders in metro-Atlanta law enforcement as well as some of the region’s top criminal defense attorneys to name their favorites. They live these stories every day. What books get it right? Which ones inspire them?

Here — in their own words — are the books they can’t put down:

Stephen Bright, former director Southern Center for Human Rights

Stephen Bright, former director Southern Center for Human Rights

Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America; by Gilbert King: “This is a nonfiction account of accusations of rape involving race, a thoroughly corrupt sheriff, and the remarkable coverage and brilliance of Thurgood Marshall who went to Groveland, Fla., to represent the accused in the late 1940s. King is a great story teller and it is hard to put this book down once you pick it up.”

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard (KENT D. JOHNSON/AJC file)

“I love Michael Connelly’s crime books. I’ve read many of them and find it rather difficult to select a favorite but I really enjoyed his Harry Bosch series. I love the Harry Bosch character because he’s a very detailed detective who never gives up. If I had to choose just one I’d have to say “The Black Ice” is my absolute favorite.

GBI Director Vernon Keenan

GBI Director Vernon Keenan (KENT D. JOHNSON / AJC file)

Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase For Lincoln’s Killer; by James Swanson: “I have read it four times over the years. I like history and this is the account of the greatest fugitive hunt in American history. The nation knew the murderer was John Wilkes Booth but did not know to where he had escaped or if other persons were involved in the crime.”

FBI Special Agent in Charge for Atlanta David LeValley Compton
FBI agent David LeValley (Curtis Compton/

Eternity Street: Violence and Justice in Frontier Los Angeles; by John Mack Faragher: “This is a historical account of pervasive violence in Los Angeles and southern California in the mid-nineteenth century. It is an account of conquest and ethnic suppression. It chronicles the societal struggle to achieve the rule of law and justice amid the turmoil of a remote and loosely governed frontier society. Los Angeles displayed the nature, causes, and consequences of murder and mayhem in that violent world at the time but also speaks to the enduring problem of violence in America. This book makes the case for the importance of an impartial justice system including the police in America today and where we could be as a society if we did not have the rule of law.”

The Last Lynching; by Anthony S. Pitch: “This book gives an account of the horrific murder of two African American couples on July 25, 1946, in rural Georgia. One of the victims was a decorated veteran who served in North Africa and the Pacific during World War II. The murders occurred close to the Moore’s Ford Bridge in Walton County, Ga., and is referred to as the Moore’s Ford Lynching. The crime was never solved despite intense investigation by the FBI and GBI.”

MacArthur’s Spies; by Peter Eisner: “In 1942, the Japanese invaded the Philippines and drove U.S. military forces under the command of General Douglas MacArthur out of the country. General MacArthur would later return to the Philippines and reclaim it for the Filipino people. This book chronicles the efforts of a mysterious American woman identified as Claire Phillips who remained in Manila during Japanese occupation to set up a clandestine enterprise to smuggle food and medicine into prison camps for U.S. citizens and soldiers.”

Attorney Maddox Kilgore (KENT D. JOHNSON / AJC file)

Maddox Kilgore, Cobb County criminal defense lawyer

The Poet; by Michael Connelly: “Most crime novels tell the story of pursuing the bad guy through the eyes of a detective, prosecutor, or FBI agent. OK…I get it…that’s kinda of the way it usually works. But as a criminal defense attorney, how about a crime thriller told by someone without a badge? Where the police are clueless ? Oblivious to the existence of a serial killer who is murdering police detectives and making it look like suicide? In The Poet, the cops are in the dark until the pieces are put together by old-school newspaper man after his brother’s death is ruled a suicide. The FBI gets involved and the story goes all ‘Criminal Minds’ — an elusive and diabolical pedophile, clues left in the poems of Edgar Allan Poe, FBI profiling, killer using hypnotism. And the FBI bungles it all badly. The cop killer is a serious monster I really wanted to go down bad. But like lots of stories in the crime thriller genre (and I read a bunch), The Poet throws a classic “didn’t see that coming” at the end. However, (spoiler alert) the big reveal that an FBI special agent is the bad guy made The Poet just a little more….satisfying.”

U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia BJay Pak

Hyosub Shin/AJC
U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia BJ Pak (HYOSUB SHIN / Staff)

“I mostly read nonfiction history books. I haven’t read a crime book in a while, as now I listen to podcasts related to crime. Malcolm Gladwell has a series calledRevisionist History that has several episodes about crime, and are excellent. The last crime book I read was probably Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. A bit of a stretch for a story, but a fast read and entertaining. Of course, I have read Grisham’s novels when stuck with nothing else to do at the airport. His best book was probably his first hit – A Time to Kill.

Steve Sadow, Atlanta criminal defense lawyer

Hyosub Shin/
Attorney Steve Sadow (Hyosub Shin,

The Dismas Hardy series; by John T. Lescroart and the Ben Kinkaid series; by William Bernhard.

The Dismas Hardy series by Lescroart and the Ben Kinkaid series by Bernhardt are my favorites because both lead characters are top-notch, respected, aggressive criminal defense attorneys who understand their duty is to fight to protect their clients against overreaching and self-righteous prosecutors and law enforcement officers. The courtroom scenes are well-done and as realistic as possible given the fictional nature of the stories.”

Don Samuel, Atlanta criminal defense lawyer married to local author Melissa Fay Green

Ben Gray/
Attorney Don Samuel (BEN GRAY / AJC file)

Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields Compton /
Atlanta Chief of Police Erika Shields (Curtis Compton/

“Given that I live it every day at work, I’m not really a fan of true crime books. In my off-time, I like to pursue things — like sports — that are an escape. I see the devastating impact of crime every day, so reading about it in my free time is not much of an escape for me. Having said that, there is one glaring exception: I read Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood many years ago. It’s a remarkable piece of writing and storytelling that has stuck with me over the years due to its detail of what is truly one of the most horrifying and random crimes in American history. Police officers live to put killers like the ones responsible for the Clutter murders away. It’s why we chose this profession.”

Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills Compton
Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills (Curtis Compton/

The Dave Robicheaux series; by James Lee Burke: “I suppose my favorite Burke novel was probably Heaven’s Prisoners, but I’ve never read anything he wrote that wasn’t entertaining. The Robicheaux novels are set in Iberia Parish, Louisiana, but the cases always spill over into New Orleans. 

“Another favorite of mine is John Pritchard. To my knowledge he has only published two novels. Those are Junior Ray and The Yazoo Blues. They are about the exploits of an extraordinarily profane Mississippi sheriff’s detective named Junior Ray Loveblood. I laughed aloud off and on when reading both. People unfamiliar with the world of the police might well not see the humor in Pritchard’s work, but I found them hilarious.”

— Shannon McCaffrey, Bill Rankin and Rhonda Cook compiled this list