While dealing with family issues, personal demons and office politics, Special Agent Jake Shaunessey and fellow Drug Enforcement Administration agents try to track down the elusive kingpins of a Minneapolis-area heroin network.
The characters in Nelson’s first novel might be found on an action-packed cop show: hard-boiled, hyperdedicated good guys vs. diabolical bad guys with no redeeming qualities. In a conversational style, Nelson—himself a DEA veteran—writes with the banter and gallows humor of men and women who constantly face danger: One of Jake’s co-workers “could handle herself quite well in the office, thank you.” (If anything, the good guys might be a little too good.) The agents pursue a series of leads from sketchy informants, conduct dangerous raids, sustain casualties and flip small-time dealers in an uphill battle through the drug ring’s chain of command. Along the way, the agents’ dedication earns them problems with spouses and censure from their boss, Alan Ravich, a self-interested political animal. The other side of the crime coin is inhabited by a number of lowlife, conscience-free dirtbags. Top kingpin Big Al not only heads the drug ring, but keeps his minions in line via a satanic cult, conducting hallucinogen-fueled ceremonies in which young kidnapped girls are sacrificed: “Phantoms embraced the physical features of Al. Some saw horns on Al’s head. Some envisioned him with a long tail.” In fact, some of the bad guys make more interesting characters than the agents. For instance, Big Al’s psychology degree enables him to control fragile personalities. Tanya, his psychotic sidekick who’s fond of slitting throats, has dual dominant/submissive personalities; Big Al manipulates her by taking advantage of her daddy issues. Eddie, a drug importer, demonstrates a hint of conscience that comes into play at the end; and then there are the twins, Lonnie and Donnie, incompetent junky burglars whose antics lend dark comic relief. When things finally fall into place for the agents, the action ramps up to an exciting, satisfying denouement.
Hits all the targets for fans of police drama.