Books by Brian Duffy

HISTORY
Released: July 19, 1996

A lively and highly informative look at the modern Justice Department's criminal division, by two veteran Washington reporters. Most Americans see the Justice Department and its nationwide corps of lawyers and law-enforcement agents through the unflattering lens of highly public scandals like the Aldrich Ames affair. McGee (an investigative reporter at the Washington Post) and Duffy (investigations editor at U.S. News & World Report) are clearly out to reverse that perception by showing the dedicated people within the organization. Throughout, they offer larger-than-life profiles of officials, like longtime federal prosecutor David Margolis and the department's ethical watchdog Mary Lawton. The book sometimes threatens to get bogged down in these portraits of officials, to whom the authors are at times overly deferential, but they rescue themselves by chronicling several important anti-drug and -violence campaigns. These episodes, including the war against the Cali Drug Cartel, and the undercover operation against the Bottoms Boys, a ruthless gang based in Shreveport, La., read like real-life thrillers. Ultimately, the authors have a more important agenda: examining the ``price of power'' and demonstrating that the Justice Department, like any other large organization, ``is not immune to excessive zeal, personal ambition or political malice.'' To illustrate that point, later chapters describe the ill-fated battle against pornography distributors, waged for political purposes by the Reagan administration, and the case against Ames, nearly compromised by an FBI investigation that may have overstepped constitutional boundaries. One particularly complex tale recalls the bungled prosecution of Miami S&L lawyer Kenneth Treadwell; general readers may find the legal maneuvers here difficult to follow. Still, in the end the authors have skillfully portrayed a Justice Department that is intrinsically honest, but plagued by growing pains as it struggles to adapt to new threats and rules. Read full book review >
NON-FICTION
Released: Jan. 1, 1996

Yet another first-person account by an FBI agent whose efforts brought the Mafia to its knees. Despite the input of former Miami Herald reporter Duffy (Head Count, 1991, etc.), this is written as if transcribed from tapes: ``Anyway, somewhere along the line'' or ``Another thing, as I mentioned . . . .'' Bonavolonta, who became a special agent in 1968 after a stint in Vietnam, makes it clear that he's not the typical, straitlaced G-man. Raised in Newark, he recalls mafiosi trying to muscle his father, a humble tailor. Getting the mob became his raison d'àtre; when he was transferred to New York in 1970, he was thrilled to be assigned to the Organized Crime Division. But just like in Vietnam, he had to battle ``the pencil-necked geeks'' to get his job done. ``The FBI,'' he writes, ``in its incomparable brilliance, had established a stupid-assed, monkey-minded bureaucracy.'' As he moved up in the chain of command, he pushed for undercover, ``long-term, strategic investigations that targeted the top people'' in the Cosa Nostra. His work, that of the renowned agent Joe Pistone, a.k.a. Donnie Brasco, and others would be influential in indicting members of the Five Families of New York. Bonavolonta's ``strategic plan'' would eventually involve 350 FBI agents and more than 100 NYPD officers and detectives. His team's work was instrumental in bringing down the Teflon Don, John Gotti, in 1990. That series of events is of interest because of the behind-the-scenes look at an FBI operation. But Bonavolonta's narrative is so laden with tough-guy talk and with superfluous expletives (``I kept on him like stink on shit''; ``These assholes had to go, I thought'') that it detracts from this occasionally interesting story and makes it difficult to tell the wise guys from . . . the wise guys. The fastidious, image-conscious J. Edgar Hoover is rolling over in his grave. Read full book review >
HEAD COUNT by Brian Duffy
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Sept. 25, 1991

First novel by Duffy (coauthor of The Fall of Pan Am 103), a former investigative journalist for The Miami Herald. The novel's heart is in the right place, with its sympathetic characters given a rounded basis for our liking them—even the villains have richly stuffed backgrounds for their villainy. And although the plot moves along professionally, it's seldom as outrageous as its first premise. Fado is the ragtag, scraggly capital of a ripped-off African country, whose streets are potholed beyond belief and littered with wrecked cars—and whose police force has shrunk to two: beer-swilling Chief Carlos, a wipeout, and Chief of Detectives Humberto Gub. There's a semidyslexic woman typist, but the ten desks in the trashed-out squadroom are always empty. Aside from a cashew-nut factory, there's no money in Fado and its best citizens have left, especially top detective Mireles, who is now in America and—because of his language skills—a member of the FBI. One day five bald-shaved and severed heads appear in Fado: one on the diving board of the city's single respectable hotel, one on a downtown sidewalk, the rest in public places. Someone is trying to upset the citizenry: Indeed, the chief villain, running the rebel forces, has plans to move into Fado and install his own government. He's assisted by a wonderful trio of psychopaths, each famed for his skill at mayhem. The following day another five heads appear. Detective Gub is on the move, tracking down clues while trying to pacify his girlfriend Betty, who runs a Save the Children group, and Mireles flies in from New York to help his old buddy just as the villains turn to Semtex and start blowing the town apart. The reader can't believe that Fado is now or ever will be worth the agony the two detectives go through. A Marx Brothers plot taken too seriously. Read full book review >