THE DRAGONHEAD by John Sack

THE DRAGONHEAD

The Godfather of Chinese Crime--His Rise and Fall
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

A trashy true-crime saga in which Mickey Spillane meets Terry and the Pirates.

Journalist Sack (Company C: The Real War in Iraq, 1995) spins a tale about one Johnny Kon, a Shanghai dabbler in petty crime who bribed his way to Hong Kong and established a worldwide contraband-goods empire. In the early days, he sold furs to tourists, then secured a franchise in American and Korean PXs during the Vietnam War, where, by Sack's account, he became a familiar of CIA operatives and other spooks, under several flags. Eventually, aided by able and extremely vicious lieutenants, he came to head a heroin-smuggling syndicate, the so-called Big Circle, that had a strong presence in nearly every major American city and whose annual profits ranked the organization “among the top two hundred corporations in our new global economy.” Dogged by the Drug Enforcement Agency and a kill-on-sight bounty from the Taiwanese CIA, Kon endured for decades, amassing a huge fortune and a formidable list of victims. He was finally caught, though, and is now serving time in a US prison. Writing with grudging admiration for his subject, Sack does a reasonable job of lining up the facts of Kon's career as a criminal mastermind. His approach, however, is scattershot; the herky-jerky narrative is reminiscent of a badly dubbed martial-arts flick, and it does not help that Sack often renders dialogue in pidgin (“ ‘And you selling what kind gifts?’ / ‘Watches, cameras, jewelries—’ / ‘Oh, you selling everything.’ / ‘You name it, we sell it. Furs.’ / ‘How you bring into Saigon? ’ ”)—not a surprising turn from a writer who deems Cantonese a “weird language.”

Amateurish and often offensive, this should be avoided. Readers with an interest in the general subject will find Peter Huston's Tongs, Gangs, and Triads (1995) much more rewarding.

Pub Date: Oct. 16th, 2001
ISBN: 0-609-60353-1
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2001