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

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

Ben Machell. Ballantine, $28 (288p) ISBN 978-0-593129-22-7

British journalist Machell debuts with a gripping account of the unlikely criminal career of Stephen Jackley. As a student at the University of Worcester, Jackley decided to become a modern-day Robin Hood. Instead of social activism, he chose to make a difference by robbing banks with the intention of giving away the stolen money. After striking multiple banks in England in 2007, 20-year-old Jackley became the subject of a multinational investigation. His habit of obsessively writing down his thoughts and plans became a treasure-trove for law enforcement when he was finally apprehended in Vermont in 2008, after his failed efforts to buy a firearm. In 2009, after spending some time in prison in Vermont, he was deported to the U.K., where he served time until 2015. His diaries, along with Machell’s interviews with Jackley, enable the author to reconstruct Jackley’s bizarre criminal career in vivid detail. That includes Jackley having been so nervous before his first attempt that he had “written down the things he wanted to say and stuck the little script to his gun with all the nervous care of a schoolboy preparing to cheat on an exam.” Assured prose boosts Machell’s stranger-than-fiction true crime narrative. This balanced and sympathetic look at a troubled young man should have broad appeal. Agent: Richard Pike, C&W Agency (U.K.). (Jan.)