Books & Literature

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

NON-FICTION: From the prize-winning, New York Times bestselling author of Say Nothing and Empire of Pain, twelve enthralling stories of skulduggery and intrigue by one of the most decorated journalists of our time.

Endlessly fascinating, informative, and engaging.

Patrick Radden Keefe’s last book, Empire of Pain, an exploration of the Sackler family and their pharmaceutical company, won the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction. An award-winning staff writer at The New Yorker, his by-line has become synonymous with meticulously researched, honest, and brave works of literary journalism. Rogues pulls together some of his most outstanding pieces from the last 15 or so years.

These 12 articles are tied together by the theme of the outlier: the eponymous grifters, killers, rebels, and crooks. Within these pages are forged bottles of $100,000 wine, a Dutch gangster who was turned in by his own sister, massive financial scandals (including one that threated to bring down the entire Swiss economy), the hunt for El Chapo, the corruption encasing an iron ore deposit in Guinea, and a criminal defence lawyer who takes on “the worst of the worst”.

Keefe is a bloodhound when it comes to research, chasing down every lead, placing himself in some of the most dangerous areas of the world, and interviewing some of the craziest people. He tries to get under the skin of his subjects, whilst remaining as neutral as possible. It can sometimes take him three or four requests to get a subject to agree to see him. He clearly has the patience of Job!

It is easy to see from this collection why Keefe’s work has garnered so many awards. He knows how to write an article which is jam-packed, whilst telling an engrossing story. And he particularly knows how to write an opening that captures the reader. In Winning, he opens up with a discussion of an obscure Swedish reality TV show from the 90s. This show’s format was eventually bought by a man called Mark Burnett, who turned it into Survivor and who eventually went on to produce The Apprentice, essentially making Donald Trump what he is today. In The Prince of Marbella, about international arms dealer Monzer al-Kassar, he begins with a description of al-Kassar’s white marble mansion in the eponymous Spanish coastal town. In his final essay, Journeyman, the opening paragraph describes then-President Barack Obama, travelling through Hanoi in a bullet-proof car. It is only the final sentence which lets us know that he is going to dinner with Anthony Bourdain.

Each of the dozen articles in this collection is a fascinating introduction to worlds most readers will never enter. Few of us have numbered Swiss bank accounts, or buy bottles of wine worth thousands of dollars, or deal in arms. And although these matters may seem niche and irrelevant to the general populous, Keefe shows us how many of these nefarious activities can affect us all. If the Swiss economy fails, what hope is there for the rest of the world? If arms are being dealt, who are they eventually killing? And how exactly does someone like Donald Trump end up as President of one of the most powerful nations on earth?

Rogues is a quirky, endlessly amazing, and often horrifying exploration of the dark, the impossible, and the slightly insane. Keefe is keeping the art of long-form journalism alive and relevant. This work should be compulsory reading for any student or emerging journalist. Or for any reader who just loves a great, and strangely true story.

As Keefe himself says in his preface: “I hope [these stories] illuminate something about crime and punishment, the slipperiness of situational ethics, the choices we make … and the stories we tell ourselves and others about those choices.”

Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
Twitter: @TraceyKorsten

This review is the opinion of the reviewer and not necessarily of Glam Adelaide.

Distributed by: Pan Macmillan Australia
Released: July 2022
RRP: $36.99

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