THE MASTERMIND by Evan Ratliff
Kirkus Star


Drugs. Empire. Murder. Betrayal.
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A complex tale of true crime on a global scale.

Wired contributor Ratliff (editor: Love and Ruin: Tales of Obsession, Danger, and Heartbreak from the Atavist Magazine, 2016), the co-founder of Atavist Magazine, digs deep into a story that seems utterly appropriate to the computerized, globalized, transnational age. The protagonist is Paul Le Roux, a Zimbabwe-born computer programmer. Having moved from South Africa to Australia and later to the Philippines, he discovered early on that cyberspace was a frontier in which to grow rich serving humankind’s lesser instincts: pornography, trolling, gambling, addictions of various kinds. Eventually, as the author foreshadows in an opening salvo of incidents, he founded a crime network with many nodes across the world, one with hired killers, corrupt doctors, software specialists, and countless other players. One branch began by selling painkillers under the flimsiest of medical screenings: A customer would type in a complaint that she had back pain, a doctor would sign off, and drugs would arrive in great quantities, with one small-town Wisconsin pharmacist alone filling 700,000 illegal prescriptions and being paid millions in return from a Hong Kong bank account. Killings followed as Le Roux stretched his hand to North Korean methamphetamine manufacturers, international mercenaries, Colombian cartels, and black-ops hackers. Writes Ratliff, each of these pieces “seemed like a kind of message from an adjacent reality that few of us experience directly”—a reality that ended in a massive counter-operation on the part of the Drug Enforcement Administration and other law enforcement agencies, bringing down long prison sentences and massive fines. “In 2013,” writes the author, “UPS paid $40 million to resolve federal accusations of knowingly shipping drugs for illegal online pharmacies.” Sifting through detail after nefarious detail, Ratliff serves up a taut narrative that limns a portrait of a sociopath whose powers were most definitely used to evil ends.

A wholly engrossing story that joins the worlds of El Chapo and Edward Snowden; both disturbing and memorable.

Pub Date: March 5th, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-399-59041-2
Page count: 496pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2019


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