The Unusual Suspect: The Rise and Fall of a Modern-Day Outlaw

Ballantine. Jan. 2021. 288p. ISBN 9780593129227. $28. CRIME
The most remarkable writing of the average bank robber is a note demanding money, not a treatise on environmental destruction and capitalism, but Stephen Jackley is far from ordinary. Observing the Shoemaker-Levy comet hurl into Jupiter in 1995 when he was a boy in rural England, he was consumed with dread about the precariousness of existence and human-made threats to Earth. Rather than becoming an environmental activist, this self-styled Robin Hood turned to crime to redistribute wealth and disrupt the flow of capital. Journalist Machell intersperses his gripping account with Jackley’s journal entries and manifestos, which offer prescient predictions about social and economic issues. The author notes that though Jackley was also motivated by the 2008 worldwide financial crisis, he victimized the people he was attempting to help; the entry-level bank tellers traumatized by his robberies were no different than over-mortgaged homeowners. Machell is sympathetic, detailing his subject’s difficult childhood—raised by a mother with schizophrenia and a domineering father, Jackley struggled to make friends, and his Asperger’s syndrome went undiagnosed for years. However, the author stresses that neither these challenges nor Jackley’s noble motivations excuse his violence.
VERDICT With nuance and sensitivity, Machell has profiled a young man who, like a canary in a coal mine, offered warnings about impending financial, political, and ecological reckonings.
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