Reviewed by Veronique Greenwood
When the Belizean government announced on November 12 of last year that they were seeking John McAfee for questioning about the murder of his neighbor on the white-sand island of Ambergris Caye, it was just the latest, grimmest installment in one of the strangest tech stories of 2012. The former anti-virus tycoon's Central American escapades had become news six months prior, when his jungle compound had been raided by the government on suspicions that he was manufacturing meth.
No drugs were found, but after the raid, Joshua Davis, a Wired contributing editor, began investigating McAfee's doings, spending time with the gun-spangled man himself and his array of young female companions. When McAfee went on the lam after the murder, saying he'd be killed if he turned himself in, Wired published Davis' profile as a 47-page ebook, John McAfee's Last Stand. It paints a picture of a fascinating paranoiac whose fear brought him to the top of the anti-virus industry and to the bottom of a hole dug in the sand where he hid, covered by a piece of cardboard, while officials searched for him after the death of Gregory Faull. It's an engaging read, even now that further chapters, including an escape to Guatemala, an accidental disclosure of his location by Vice magazine, and expulsion to Florida, have been added to McAfee's story.
The many lurid details—teenage lovers! slinky blue dresses! assault rifles!—are titillating, but ultimately a side dish. The book's tension arises from one central fact: most of Davis' main characters emerge as unreliable, heavily armed fabulists. Davis tries to pick apart what is false and what is real about the reality McAfee has constructed, ultimately revealing some of his own suspicions that I'll leave it to you to discover.
There were moments, however, when Davis could make it clearer where his information is coming from, especially given the general atmosphere of paranoia. The passage where this is most lacking is his detailed description of the raid: How does he know that during the raid, the guard's mouth gaped while he watched a Madonna concert on tape? Does he have security footage? How does he know the truck McAfee was loaded into sped away at 80 miles per hour? A simple "McAfee recalls" or "videos show" would have helped me get my bearings as to what about the description I could trust. (McAfee's response to the book can be read here.)
Davis' account is certainly one of most intimate, well-written takes on McAfee out there. But by the time the story ends, you may be feeling a bit uneasy. While the tale has all the weird chills of a psychological thriller, mixed with the wacky high-jinks of a spaghetti western, it's not fiction.
As the story of an eccentric millionaire, it is entralling, often funny, entertainment. But in Belize, a man is dead. McAfee's whereabouts may no longer be a mystery. The identity of Faull's killer, unfortunately, is.Veronique Greenwood is a former staff writer at DISCOVER Magazine. She writes about everything from caffeine chemistry to cold cures to Jelly Belly flavors, and her work has appeared in Scientific American, TIME.com, TheAtlantic.com, and others. Follow her on Twitter here.