Drawing on the series of articles he wrote for The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Sunday magazine, bestselling author Bowden (Black Hawk Down, 1999, etc.) tells the comic but ultimately pathetic true story of a loser whose life turned upside down when he stumbled on $1.2 million.
On February 26, 1981, Joey Coyle found two big containers of unmarked $100 bills that had fallen out of an armored truck. An unemployed, drug-addicted longshoreman dismissed by both friends and enemies as too stupid to care about, Coyle was suddenly rich beyond his dreams. Of course, the cops were on the case minutes after the money was reported missing, and Coyle was busted seven days later at a New York airport while attempting to escape to Acapulco. Because he gave some of the money to friends in wildly generous sprees, the city's media called Coyle a hero: “One of the things that kept reporters out there looking for stories every day, year after year,” Bowden grumbles, “was a belief in miracles, in the stubborn vitality of goodness, in the ultimate triumph of the little guy.” His narrative is more sympathetic to the law enforcers, from “rumpled, steady” police detective Pat Laurenzi to Assistant District Attorney Robert Casey, “a crisp young man with an easy, professional manner” who contended at the trial that Coyle never intended to turn any of the loot in, and that made him a thief. But “short, cocky” defense lawyer Harold Kane persuaded the jury to acquit by arguing that finding all that money rendered his poor client temporarily insane. The author depicts Coyle as a self-destructive junkie who used money and drugs to burn himself out, a judgment that seems especially tough-minded since Coyle committed suicide three weeks before the release of a sanitized Disney movie based on Bowden’s Inquirer articles.
Accomplished but finally dispiriting, as the wry, revealing dialogue and gritty South Philly detail give way to sour cynicism.