cover image I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS: A True Story of Life, Love, and Prison Breaks

I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS: A True Story of Life, Love, and Prison Breaks

Steve McVicker, . . Miramax, $23.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-7868-6903-9

Steven Russell, the subject of this true crime story, is a rare individual, a genius who has run afoul of the law, a prodigious intellect endowed with boundless energy, audacity and guile. Russell pulled off his first jailbreak while waving a stolen walkie-talkie at a guard as he sauntered out the front gate, and his last escape—a feat of staggering self-discipline—by faking a terminal case of AIDS over several months and forging his own death certificate. Russell also walked out of prison and into a six-figure job as a CFO of a major company—twice. (The title of the book refers to Russell's only proven weakness—his steadfast love for one-time fellow convict Phillip Morris.) Journalist McVicker has written an unexceptional book about this exceptional man, but Russell's charisma—shining through lackluster prose—is what makes this offbeat biography a success. Like any great con man, Russell has a charm that is both disarming and overpowering, but his criminal antics are more effective and make for more interesting reading because they are coupled with unlikely virtues: sincerity, diligence, fidelity, affability. What McVicker does well is capture the accident of Russell's descent into criminality, a series of events that turned a once law-abiding husband, father and former police officer into one of the most innovative criminal minds in recent memory. (June)