MURDER FOR HIRE by Jack Ballentine

MURDER FOR HIRE

My Life As the Country’s Most Successful Undercover Agent

KIRKUS REVIEW

Memoir of an undercover cop who posed as a hit man.

A three-time winner of Police Officer of the Year, Ballentine began his unusual specialty soon after joining the Phoenix PD. “Within a couple years I was whisked off to a sting operation where I made a living undercover buying stolen property from burglars, thieves, and fences,” he writes. “Then came the murder-for-hire business.” He developed physical bulk and a repertoire of underworld identities, including “biker-gang warlord, Mafia hit man, soldier of fortune, disgruntled Vietnam vet, and Aryan Brotherhood prison convict.” According to the author, he effortlessly dominated the Arizona underworld, working out of seedy bars and strip clubs, developing networks of informants who referred to him a steady stream of “clients.” In every chapter he encounters such individuals, like an impoverished couple who tried to have their sociopathic son killed, or a “Black Widow” type who wished to destroy her husband. The anecdotes inevitably end with the surveillance team swooping in and slapping on handcuffs. Ballentine claims that he wrote this book to purge the strange double life that undercover work demands—“Never before have you seen undercover operatives in this light, as well as with whom they work”—and his account seems plausible. He effectively captures the violence and degradation of underclass criminality, where the lives of drug dealers, bikers, white supremacists, prostitutes, strippers and career criminals intersect. However, despite flashes of verisimilitude, the repetitive narrative fails to flesh out specific casework or time frames. The subplot of his marriage to a woman outside this dark world adds little drama.

An intriguing life story in need of a ghostwriter.

Pub Date: June 9th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-312-38452-4
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2009