Hell's bells, how I love me some books about cops going undercover as bikers. Having just finished No Angel by Jay Dobyns I checked out this one, also...moreHell's bells, how I love me some books about cops going undercover as bikers. Having just finished No Angel by Jay Dobyns I checked out this one, also about an ATF agent, this one infiltrating the Mongols, the Hells Angels' chief rivals in southern California. I dug the book big-time. I think I liked it better than the Dobyns book, but they're both great for what they are.(less)
I very much enjoyed this first-person book by an undercover ATF agent who was actually patched in to the Hells Angels -- though the investigation ende...moreI very much enjoyed this first-person book by an undercover ATF agent who was actually patched in to the Hells Angels -- though the investigation ended before he actually got his patch. It's a good read and at times really mind-bending.
Unlike a lot of books by undercover cops, No Angel moves quick and feels real. Perhaps most importantly, the language and life attitude portrayed by the narrator/cop/author is appropriate to the biker lifestyle, which is important because I look for total immersion in a world when I'm reading a book about undercover work. That is definitely here -- in spades. Dobyns shows a real ability to laugh at himself which makes the book feel more genuine and also makes it read more pleasantly. That wisecracking nature also doesn't erode the genuine noir-ish, hard-boiled feeling of the book, which is too, too lacking in cop books. I'll never understand how some cops who write books can see reprehensible behavior and then write about it as if they were writing church sermons. That's not this; Dobyns comes across as genuinely hard-boiled, and his enthusiasm for the bad-ass life seems real.
For these reasons, I gave it five stars but I have some serious reservations about it both as a work and as a law-enforcement document.
The first is that this guy talks a LOT about his family -- his wife and his kids who are reportedly adorable. NOTHING is more boring than someone talking about their kids, unless it's an UNDERCOVER COP talking about his kids. It drives me nuts. They're his kids; of course he likes them. I don't really like or dislike your kids, Dobyns. But in a cop book a little of that crap goes a long way. For the undercover cop to survive being undercover and writing a book about it, the family MUST be portrayed as perfect and wonderful and ooey-gooey. This is not so much because undercovers form a longing for family life while they are undercover, but because after spending years being neglected, their wives and kids will put hatchets in their heads if the cops don't lavish them with unending praise. It serves the cop authors' purposes, but man! It is damned boring for the rest of us. At the end, he throws in a few bleating huzzas for God, who I'm glad he got to know, but I'm sick of hearing about Him in a half-assed context in cop books, since resorting to God to find grace in police work seems, to me, irrelevant to my interests and actually actively counters any respect I would have for the insights about law, order, morality and immorality that a dedicated police officer has seen in the world of cop and criminal. If you lay it all on God, in my view you're abdicating human responsibility. If God is watching, I believe He wants you to actually understand the nasty things about human behavior, not just howl thank-yous to him for saving you from humanity's dickwads. I trust that Dobyns finding of God was important to him and meaningful, but it makes anything about people that I learned from this book feel, to me, empty. My kingdom for an atheist cop.
The next, and hugely more important reservation, is actually partially ameliorated by the ending of the book and the ending of the case (which was called "Black Biscuit" -- after a slang term for a hockey puck.) Or maybe my point is not ameliorated -- it's just that the courts agreed with my point overall. Hysterical weirdos like Yves Lavigne and The History Channel want to portray the Hells Angels as an international crime syndicate on par with the Mafia. Some sources (Lavigne chief among them) said explicitly in the '90s, following the "collapse" of La Cosa Nostra, that the Hells Angels were going to take over the place that LCN had held in American crime.
This was and is total bullshit.
I am not arguing that the Hells Angels is an organization of criminals -- duh, of course they are. But that doesn't make it a criminal organization. And it sure as hell doesn't make it LCN. Guns, drugs and violence are part and parcel of the outlaw biker lifestyle, but too often I've heard law enforcement portray the HA as some organized group of criminal masterminds. They aren't. As far as I can tell, they're a motorcycle club that, as individuals and groups, routinely engages in criminal activity, both organized and otherwise. But in an overall OC sense? Yeah, sure, in terms of the war with the Mongols and other clubs, but not in the sense that they should be placed on the same level as other OC groups that exist solely for profit.
This point is underscored by the fact that even after Dobyns and his associates going so deep underground that they were actually made Hells Angels, the RICO case against the Angels fell apart. It seems to me like it was a crappy case to begin with; the Angels aren't the sort of group that RICO was built to take down, even if the majority of them are engaged in criminal activity. As far as I can tell -- admittedly, from no personal experience but merely from reading books on the subject -- is that the criminal activity is not done in a RICO-worthy sense.
To be fair to Dobyns, he writes quite frankly at the end about the fact that Operation Black Biscuit mostly fell apart. Few meaningful prosecutions were gained, which he blames on problems with the government attorneys. It sounds like the press blamed this on the undercovers, which seems pretty bogus. It sounds like good undercover work, but unfortunately not all undercover work ends up being Joe Pistone ....thank God, since I loved this book but I hate Donnie Brasco.
Overall, this is a great read and Dobyns actually sounds like a decent chap. It also sounds like he got kind of screwed by the government. But isn't that the way?(less)