... one of the strengths of Ben Machell’s compelling book is its patient unearthing of the various motivations for his subject’s behaviour ... Collaborations between journalists and criminals often end badly, with the former either being duped by the latter (as Norman Mailer was by Jack Henry Abbott) or 'gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse' (Janet Malcolm’s description of Joe McGinniss’s treatment of the murderer Jeffrey MacDonald in his book Fatal Vision). Machell’s book is an honourable exception. He has had considerable help from his subject (referred to throughout as Stephen) without surrendering editorial freedom or fully buying into his version of events. Drawing heavily on Jackley’s journals and diligently tracking down people who met him at different points of his life, the book explains but doesn’t exonerate. The string of robberies left innocent victims traumatised, something Jackley, devoid of empathy, couldn’t see at the time and now deeply regrets ... This splendid book – less true crime than biography – does full justice to his complexity.
Machell intersperses his gripping account with Jackley’s journal entries and manifestos, which offer prescient predictions about social and economic issues ... 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 ... 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.
... gripping ... [Jackley's] diaries, along with Machell’s interviews with Jackley, enable the author to reconstruct Jackley’s bizarre criminal career in vivid detail ... 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.