HIGH by Brian O’Dea


Confessions of an International Drug Smuggler
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Blistering memoir by a once-notorious drug smuggler and addict.

Canadian O’Dea writes that a spiritual depression was part of what led him to become an international marijuana-smuggling kingpin in the 1970s and ’80s. Brought up a “good Catholic,” he found his faith wavering early on, as his childhood entreaties to the Blessed Virgin and God seemed to fall on deaf ears. He describes in unsettling detail a few particularly traumatic experiences at school with passive-aggressive, pedophilia-inclined priests that played a role in his loss of faith. Yet O’Dea’s upbringing was otherwise staunchly middle-class and relatively normal. It seems he was simply a born salesman, with drugs being a convenient and lucrative trade when he began dealing to fellow college students in the early ’70s. (Later, he effectively sold hair tonic and dinosaur-bone jewelry during lulls in his narcotics racket.) His 20-year smuggling career took him to dangerous, exotic locales like Bogotá, Colombia, Montego Bay, Jamaica, and Moultrie, Ga. O’Dea had a few impressive multimillion-dollar successes—yes, crime often does pay, for a while at least—but he more often emphasizes the futility of the business. Every operation depended on meticulous administrative planning, dumb luck and weathering built-in occupational drawbacks: rip-offs, double-crosses, getting wasted and waiting, waiting, waiting. O’Dea’s clipped, jabbing prose rarely flags. Especially tense is his retelling of an ill-fated trip from Georgia to Colombia, and back, in a rickety 1949 DC-6. He deftly interweaves a parallel narrative of his incarceration at Terminal Island prison, where pot dealers often served 50-, 60- and 70-year sentences, exposing a U.S. prison system nearly as corrupt as the drug trade itself.

Clarity of voice and extraordinary powers of recollection make this an unusually revealing account of a criminal’s rise and fall.

Pub Date: May 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-59051-310-1
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Other Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2009