80 pages 2 hours read

Patrick Radden Keefe

Rogues: True Stories of Grifters, Killers, Rebels and Crooks

Nonfiction | Biography | Adult | Published in 2022

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Summary and Study Guide


Rogues is a 2022 essay collection by Patrick Radden Keefe, consisting of work originally published in The New Yorker drawing on his career as an investigative longform journalist for that magazine. The collection focuses on crime, fraud, and the nature of fame and notoriety, with case studies of 12 individuals and notable episodes in their lives. Keefe includes brief addendums to each essay describing each subject’s current status. The narratives range from a case of wine fraud, to the controversy around the role of reality television in Donald Trump’s election to the presidency in 2016, to notorious instances of criminality including drug trafficking, mass shootings, and the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

In addition to his longform journalism, Keefe has achieved significant recognition for his narrative nonfiction works. His 2018 book, Say Nothing, about sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, received the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction. His 2021 work, Empire of Pain, is a history of the Sackler Family and the American pharmaceutical industry, including the public health crisis around opioid use disorder and deaths by overdose.

Content warning: This work includes discussions of suicide, substance use disorder, sudden death, gun violence, and domestic abuse.


Keefe opens the work with “The Jefferson Bottles,” in which a famous cache of wine believed to come from the collection of the third president of the United States sparks a broader controversy about the extent of fraud in the rarefied world of those who sell and purchase extremely rare wines. Bill Koch, the scion of a famous industrialist family and a successful businessman in his own right, purchases a Jefferson bottle and discovers that there is no tangible evidence of its authenticity. Koch takes up a crusade to expose the world of wine forgery and its causes.

In “Crime Family,” Keefe introduces notorious Dutch criminal Wim Holleeder’s trial for murder, where his sister Astrid is the chief witness against him. Keefe’s profile of Astrid focuses on the relationship between the siblings. Astrid and Wim shared a traumatic childhood. While Astrid pursued education and hoped to emigrate, Wim became nationally infamous after he and a friend kidnapped beer magnate Freddy Heineken. Wim kept a portion of the ransom money and used it to build his empire. Wim terrorized his family with his temper; Astrid worked as his attorney until she could no longer endure her complicity. She now lives in hiding and is haunted by her decision, forever bound to the brother she loathes.

“The Avenger” concerns family tragedy in the aftermath of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988, which killed all passengers and crew on board. Ken Dornstein, Keefe’s main subject, was devastated by the loss of his brother David. After becoming an investigative journalist, he dedicates years to uncovering the perpetrators of the bombing plot. He is assisted by political circumstance, as a 2011 revolution topples Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, whose regime has long been implicated in the attack. After following the trail to a former Libyan intelligence official living in Berlin, Dornstein identifies the most likely suspect, but ultimately decides against further travel to Libya as this would risk his own life for the investigation.

In “Empire of Edge,” Keefe delves into the high-risk and high-reward world of stock trading, epitomized by billionaire Steven Cohen. Cohen notoriously skirts ethical boundaries around confidential sources, a practice known as insider trading. Keefe focuses on a case involving Cohen’s seemingly preternatural ability to sell a pharmaceutical stock just before news spread that an Alzheimer’s drug had subpar results. In reality, Cohen relies on information that has yet to be released to the public provided by ambitious young trader Matthew Martoma, who cultivates neurologist Dr. Sidney Gilman to leak drug trial data. Martoma is investigated for insider trading, and the FBI discovers other ethical lapses in his past, including an expulsion from Harvard Law School for falsifying his transcripts. Martoma’s family insists on his innocence, to a degree bordering on denial. Cohen faces no charges.

“A Loaded Gun” opens with a 2010 mass shooting at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, where then-professor Amy Bishop kills three colleagues and wounds several others. The search for Bishop’s motives leads to the 1989 death of her brother, Seth. Amy shot him in the family kitchen, and the death was ruled an accident. The 2010 mass shooting reopens the older case, leading some in the community of Braintree, Massachusetts, to suspect that the police chief at the time protected the Bishop family from scrutiny. Keefe comes to suspect that Bishop may have intended to harm or frighten her father after an argument, but killed her brother instead. Bishop and her parents insist her brother’s death was an accident.

In “The Hunt for El Chapo,” Keefe focuses on the popular mystique of criminals, the extent of corruption within Mexico, and the successful 2014 arrest of drug trafficker Chapo Guzmán. Through careful tracing of Guzmán’s limited communications channels, a team from Mexico’s elite Marines, SEMAR, infiltrates Guzmán’s inner circle and tracks him to a safe house and through his underground tunnel network. Though the arrest appears largely symbolic, and some doubt he will remain in jail for long, Keefe reveals in an afterword that Guzmán has since been moved to a high security prison in the United States.

“Winning” profiles Mark Burnett, the reality television producer who created Survivor and The Apprentice. After recounting Burnett’s rise to prominence in the emerging genre of reality TV, Keefe examines his role in Donald Trump’s rise to power. The Apprentice effectively transformed Trump from that of a bankrupt laughingstock into a businessman and exemplar of leadership, all while Burnett and others on the show knew this image to be false and exaggerated. Keefe closes with Burnett’s ongoing reluctance to condemn the former president’s xenophobia, racism, and discriminatory policies.

Turning again to the financial sector, a “Swiss Bank Heist” describes the 2008 data theft from Swiss Bank HSBC, and its architect, Hervé Falciani, a self-described crusader for transparency who objects to Swiss banking laws on confidentiality being used to conceal assets for tax evasion. While Falciani is wanted by the Swiss police for his actions, other European governments come to appreciate the stolen data as an investigative tool. Falciani himself may not be as morally upright as he appears, as he has had numerous extramarital affairs and may have initially sought to profit from his theft. Falciani insists, however, that while reform efforts may not change banking, they have altered international perception of Switzerland.

Keefe’s next subject is the “Prince of Marbella,” or weapons trafficker Monzer al-Kassar. Syrian by birth, he makes his home in Spain while evading law enforcement scrutiny. Al-Kassar assists both governments and terrorist groups with weapons sales, and may even have been an intelligence asset. Ruthless and charming, he cultivates the image of a hospitable family man. In 2008, the US government successfully arrests him in a sting operation, using anti-terrorism statutes. Al-Kassar maintains his innocence, while others posit that his arrest limits his usefulness to the intelligence community.

In “The Worst of the Worst,” Keefe profiles defense attorney Judy Clarke and her career defending the notoriously guilty in an effort to save them from execution. Keefe focuses on the 2017 trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the sole surviving bomber of the 2013 Boston Marathon. Clarke uses compelling stories of her clients’ tragic and trauma-filled lives to convince juries that they deserve prison, not death. She is driven by belief in redemption, perhaps due to the loss of her brother to AIDS earlier in her life. Tsarnaev, however, is difficult to defend, both for the scale of suffering he caused and because he is not especially contrite during the trial or sentencing. Clarke’s effort is further hampered by federal secrecy rules and the requirement that jury members approve of capital punishment. Her efforts to save Tsarnaev from the death penalty fail.

“Buried Secrets” takes place in the developing nation of Guinea, in West Africa, amidst the global contest for which mining consortium will win the contracts to develop its vast repositories of iron ire. The largest concession ultimately goes to diamond magnate Beny Steinmetz, an Israeli citizen who lives in many locations. There is immediate suspicion that Steinmetz received the contract through bribery, which is investigated under the country’s new reformer president, Alpha Condé. Steinmetz views his entire effort as a personal attack, but Condé’s goal is to see Guinea’s resources benefit its population more than outsiders. Condé’s supporters unearth substantial evidence of Steinmetz’s use of bribes through intermediaries. Steinmetz refuses to explain, when interviewed, why he took steps to destroy evidence of this.

The collection concludes with “Journeyman,” Keefe’s examination of the life and adventures of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, and his show, Parts Unknown. Catapulted to fame by his tell-all book, Kitchen Confidential, Bourdain embraced the chance to host a reality television show and see the world. Keefe travels with Bourdain to Vietnam, noting his zest for life; they also meet in New York, where Bourdain hopes to open a massive open-air food market showcasing global cuisine. Bourdain is open about his past failures, including his first divorce, breakup with his second wife, and history of drug addiction. Above all, Bourdain values authenticity, adventure, and the value of travel. Bourdain died by suicide two years after Keefe’s article appeared in print.

Rogues spans nearly two decades of internationally significant events, crimes, and scandals, as well as different geographies and cultures. For all the seemingly disparate threads between Keefe’s protagonists, all of them buck convention and reveal the dizzying complexities of human nature, law, society, and morality.

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