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The Book Pages Q&A: ‘Love & Ink’ author Joe Pompeo on true crime and classic mysteries

Joe Pompeo is senior media correspondent for Vanity Fair, where he recently profiled Rachel Maddow, and his work has appeared in The New York Times, Politico, Bloomberg Businessweek and Columbia Journalism Review. Pompeo is the author “Blood & Ink: The Scandalous Jazz Age Double Murder That Hooked America on True Crime,” which explores a 100-year-old double murder and its ensuing tabloid media circus. Here he shares what he’s been reading lately.

Q. What are you reading now?

I’m double-fisting “American Demon” by Daniel Stashower, about Eliot Ness and the 1930s Cleveland torso murders (Stashower hooked me with one of his earlier books, “The Beautiful Cigar Girl,” about the 1841 Mary Rogers murder that inspired Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Mystery of Marie Roget”); and “The Poisonous Solicitor” by Stephen Bates, which retraces an early 1920s arsenic investigation in rural England.

Q. Do you remember the first book that made an impact on you?

My earliest reading memories are of the Hardy Boys and a young reader adaptation of “Oliver Twist.” But I don’t think I was truly transported into a novel until I found a beat-up copy of “The Hobbit” in my parents’ attic in fifth grade. I blew through it in a few days. Never got around to reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy, believe it or not.

Q. Is there a book you’re nervous to read?

As the parent of young children, I don’t think I could make it through Rob Delaney’s new memoir about losing his 2-year-old son. I’m certain it’s a powerful read but I’d be too scared to open it. Is that wrong?

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Q. Is there a genre or type of book you read the most?

For the past five years or so, probably 80 or 90 percent of what I read is historical true crime and narrative history. Before that, I went through a big detective phase. I devoured Henning Mankell’s Wallander series in chronological order, binged a bunch of Georges Simenon, gave Ross Macdonald a spin. I’d like to read all the Wallander novels again some day.

Q. Do you have a favorite book or books?

A younger me would have said “Ulysses.” I was fortunate to have taken a “Ulysses” seminar my senior year at Rutgers, four years after falling in love with “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” during high school AP English. These days, it’s probably a toss up between “The Moonstone” or “The Woman in White” by Wilkie Collins. I’m nursing a mid-life addiction to Victorian sensation novels. Collins is the master of the form.

Q. Which books do you plan, or hope, to read next?

“The Ruin of All Witches” by Malcolm Gaskill—about the other witchcraft hysteria that shook 17th Century Massachusetts—is sitting on my bedside table. New memoirs from Nick Cave and Kid Congo Powers are on my Christmas list.

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