Review: Patrick Radden Keefe – Rogues

Rogues: True stories of grifters, killers, rebels and crooks
Patrick Radden Keefe

“Keefe explores the intricacies of forging $150,000 vintage wines; examines whether a whistleblower who dared to expose money laundering at a Swiss bank is a hero or a fabulist; spends time in Vietnam with Anthony Bourdain; chronicles the quest to bring down a cheerful international black-market arms merchant; and profiles a passionate death-penalty attorney who represents the ‘worst of the worst’, among other bravura works of literary journalism. The appearance of his byline in the New Yorker is always an event; collected here for the first time readers can see how his work forms an always enthralling yet also deeply human portrait of criminals and rascals, as well as those who stand up to them.”

Once this book arrived, I wasn’t sure if I would be interested in a series of academic essays about ‘rogues’. That being said, I actually found myself quite eagerly diving into the stories, and it helped that the first was about wine fraud! After each one I needed to take a breather to really absorb what I had read and I ended up reading the book over two major sittings. By the end, my brain was feeling a bit overused and I would have said that the last 40% was a slog. I’m not certain that the last story really covered a ‘rogue’ (Anthony Bourdain – more of a sad ending than anything else) but none-the-less it was a good point to end the book.

I wondered whether the author had become self-realised after profiling defense attorney Judy Clarke — who represents “the worst of the worst” – and realising that what he has done in this series of essays is very much alike to what Judy does with her clients. In each case, I felt that Keefe had eventually become quite sympathetic to the person involved which went a little against what I believed was supposed to be a journalistic neutral position.

Be aware that some of the language, particularly regarding legal circumstances, can be quite impenetrable for the average reader. I occasionally felt quite stupid while reading because I didn’t know anything about the political context or any of the major players. I don’t think this is deliberate by the author, and it’s probably just a side effect of me avoiding anything that looks like news/media.

I think that this book is great for anyone who has an interest in law and international crime. Also, anyone keen on knowing more about journalism in the ‘old days’ would enjoy it. I feel as if ‘true journalism’ is a dying art – social media now allows, and even encourages, people to write their own narratives (which we see to some extent for the criminals discussed). However, if someone is already an avid reader of Keefe’s work this probably isn’t a great buy as this isn’t new content just reprints.

Pan Macmillan | 28 June 2022 | AU$36.99 | paperback

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