Propulsive, contrarian tale of an undercover specialist for the FBI.
Recently retired, McGowan uses his memoir, co-authored by Pezzullo (co-author: Full Battle Rattle, 2018, etc.), as a victory lap of sorts, recording his experiences in the high-stakes world of federal undercover law enforcement. As he said to a colleague, “I’m really good at pissing people off.” This frankness informs reflections on his early years and on discovering his high-stakes specialty: “Green and unskilled, I was still completely hooked on undercover work.” He portrays his inspiration sharply, chronicling his hardscrabble childhood in New England, where his father was a tough, alcoholic patrolman. McGowan entered the elite ranks of the FBI following formative years as a patrol officer and then detective. He scored an early undercover coup by securing a huge deal with a heroin smuggler, but his career was nearly derailed when he was framed for theft of the evidence: “I’d gone from FBI Golden Boy, to Public Enemy #1, back to Golden Boy.” Though he writes clearly of the nitty-gritty of complex federal investigations, he remains unforgiving of opponents, including both criminals and the upper echelons of the FBI, many of whom he clearly feels jockey for power from behind desks while tougher agents like himself take risks and build cases on the streets. He details major cases where he infiltrated the ranks of Russian mobsters and Mafiosi and shows how the FBI uses wiretaps, informants, and undercover agents to cajole admissions of wrongdoing from high-level suspects. “These guys might be cold blooded killers, but they were also fun to be around,” he writes. McGowan can come off as arrogant, with axes to grind against supervisors he clashed with, particularly regarding an elite national squad who went up against a Mexican cartel but then was abruptly disbanded. Still, this case and others give his recollections the tang of authenticity.
Will appeal to readers curious about the undercover lifestyle and the inner workings of federal law enforcement.