Collins (Maze, 1989, etc.) blends fact with fancy in a transnational melodrama, plausibly settling any lingering doubts as to the origin of crack, how Nicaraguan contras were financed, and the importance of Panama for laundered money as well as narcotics. Much of the tale is narrated (via tape) by the late John Featherly (Jack) Lind IV, an affluent and well-bred CIA officer. It's in 1988 Laos that Lind first confronts Kevin Grady, a dedicated DEA agent who can't accept the cloak-and-dagger crowd's winking at the drug-smuggling activities of its ad hoc allies. After their initial meeting, the instant antagonists go their separate ways, Grady to place an informant inside Colombia's Medell°n cartel and Lind to recruit promising young officer Manuel Antonio (``call me Tony'') Noriega as the CIA's man in Panama. Over the years, Noriega gains power and influence, becoming an invaluable source of intelligence. By the time the Reagan Administration decides to make Panama the keystone of its anti- Sandinista campaign, then, agency people like Lind have long turned a blind eye to Noriega's lucrative involvement with dope traffickers. Meanwhile, less concerned than Lind with the finer points of national security, Grady continues to stalk big-time drug dealers to the ends of the earth—including Noriega and the Cuban mercenaries the CIA has set to training contras with funds supplied by can-do Marine colonel Oliver North. (During all this, Medell°n's deep thinkers have developed crack to get the carriage-trade price of coke in US ghettos.) Lind warns Noriega of the DEA's approaching investigation; the strongman promptly orders the murder of an American undercover opponent of his regime; and, finally, Lind is forced at last to face the consequences of actions he's taken in the so-called national interest . . . just as Grady arrives with a warrant for his arrest. An engrossing, wide-angle yarn that could help confirm many conspiracy theorists' wilder suspicions and speculations.
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