Book review “Rogues: True Stories of Grifters, Killers, Rebels and Crooks”, by Patrick Radden Keefe


In most of his previous bestsellers, including “Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland” and “Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty”, journalist Patrick Radden Keefe has masterfully illustrated this which he calls his “permanent concerns”. They are, namely, “crime and corruption, secrets and lies, the permeable membrane separating the licit and illicit worlds, the bonds of family, the power of denial”. His latest book, “Rogues: True Stories of Grifters, Killers, Rebels and Crooks,” offers insight into these concerns in his shorter work, a collection of essays originally written for The New Yorker. Taken separately, each play offers a portrait of variously defined thugs, ranging from the openly criminal to the amiable (in the case of Chief Anthony Bourdain). Taken together, the essays reflect the collective concerns of the troubling times in which we live: mass shootings and terrorism, unresolved mental health issues and the many flavors of financial corruption.

Keefe is frequently engaged in stories involving a thug and a pursuer obsessed with bringing the criminal to justice. (Or, in the case of death row defense attorney Judy Clarke, get the defendant out.) Take accused German wine forger Hardy Rodenstock, who died in 2018, still insisting on the authenticity of his findings , including bottles from the 1780s that supposedly once belonged to Thomas Jefferson. A collector of the “Th.J.” bottles, as they were called, was American tycoon Bill Koch, brother of famous Conservative donors Charles and David. Koch spent a great deal of time and money pursuing lawsuits against Rodenstock, throwing himself “into his battle against Rodenstock and fake wine with the same searing enthusiasm he devoted to collecting wine in the first place”. Another avenger portrayed is Ken Dornstein, who lost his brother in the Lockerbie airline bombing of 1988. A respected journalist in his own right, Dornstein has spent nearly his entire adult life tracking down shadowy culprits. behind the bombing, a quest complicated by the 2011 Arab revolutions and the collapse of Libya.

Often in Keefe’s work, the lines between criminal and crusader are blurred, as in the case of computer technician Hervé Falciani, who stole confidential data from the Swiss private bank HSBC containing the names of wealthy people who had relocated their money . Swiss law enforcement pursued him, but the French, eager to obtain evidence from citizens who had evaded taxes, welcomed him as a hero.

Judged solely by the gravity of their crimes, many offenders are openly despicable. Yet without excusing their misdeeds, Keefe nevertheless manages to highlight the humanity and contradictions in their lives. Syrian arms dealer Monzer al-Kassar, a supplier of arms and ammunition to terrorists and guerrillas, was graciously hospitable to guests at his Marbella mansion and was described as a loving father to his children. And Mathew Martoma, convicted of insider trading on the basis of prior knowledge of poor Alzheimer’s drug test results, stood out to his undergraduate professor at Duke as someone ‘one with an abiding interest in the study of medical ethics. Keefe also recreates the mundane daily lives of his subjects before their crimes: Boston Marathon suicide bomber and former jihadist Dzhokhar Tsarnaev spent his college evenings “getting high and playing video games with friends,” photographs of his dormitory revealing “a painfully mundane American: cinderblock dorms, big-screen TVs, gigantic boxes of Cheez-Its.

Intimate characterizations are central to Keefe’s writing. Chef Anthony Bourdain, for example, “with his Sex Pistols t-shirt and his sensualist creed” had “something like an aging rocker”, belying the fact that he was “neurotically controlled: clean, organized, disciplined “. , courteous, systematic. He is Apollo in drag like Dionysus. In a meeting with Guinea’s former president, Alpha Condé, an idealistic leader trying to tackle corruption in the country’s iron ore mining industry, Keefe writes that Condé “has snagged slightly to the right as we spoke, in a posture of big lies- crown fatigue.

A book largely about high-profile thieves and those who try to frame them, “Rogues” is a quick and often suspenseful read. While the often high-profile crimes committed are familiar, Keefe is a virtuoso storyteller, able to build suspense with his descriptions of how these crimes unfolded. There is a feeling in many of the essays that, given the smallest of detours, events might not have happened the way they did. What if, for example, neurobiologist Amy Bishop, who in 2010 shot and killed three of her colleagues during a department meeting at the University of Alabama after not being tenured, had been the subject of an investigation into the 1986 murder of her brother, whom she allegedly shot by accident? And if the television program “The Apprentice” never existed: would Donald Trump have become president? Keefe makes a compelling case that “The Apprentice” producer Mark Burnett not only created reality television as we know it today, but also shaped the successful image of a man that American viewers could then envision as presidential. “The Apprentice,” Keefe writes: “Pictured Trump not as a sleazy hustler who huddles with local gangsters, but as a plutocrat with impeccable business instincts and unparalleled wealth – a titan who always seemed to come out of helicopters or in limos.”

The collection concludes with a 2017 essay on the meteoric rise of chef Anthony Bourdain. Keefe masterfully captures Bourdain’s unbridled energy and creativity, as well as his struggles with drug addiction. Tragically, Bourdain committed suicide a year after the essay was published. It’s a depressing endnote that suggests the perils of notoriety – the good thieves are gone too soon, while others manage to evade justice indefinitely. “Rogues” reveals many disturbing things about our world today: the challenges of international cooperation, the ill-gotten gains of incredibly wealthy individuals, and the intractable presence of terrorism and mass shootings. The overwhelming impression from these essays is that justice in our violent and turbulent world is fragile and elusive. Fortunately, there are no shortage of individuals engaged in lifelong crusades to pursue him or, in Keefe’s case, to write about him.

Rachel Newcomb is Professor of Anthropology at Rollins College.

True Stories of Scammers, Killers, Rebels and Crooks


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