A nonfiction account reveals how a dedicated law enforcement team dismantled one of San Francisco’s most notorious gangs over the course of four years.
If gangs commit so much of their mayhem in the open, with members flaunting their allegiance and violent achievements, what makes it so difficult to catch and prosecute them? In their book, debut author Santini, a special agent, and journalist Bolger (Near Side of the Moon, 2013) demonstrate all of the challenges involved. They meticulously reconstruct how Santini and his team from Homeland Security Investigations finally brought San Francisco’s branch of MS-13 to justice. The authors take readers back to the gang’s founding by Central American immigrants in Los Angeles in the early 1990s, tracing MS-13’s expansion into an international criminal web and detailing the complicated rules and hierarchies of the San Francisco offshoot. By the early 2000s, MS-13 and other gangs had made the city’s streets infamously unsafe, viciously killing one another to protect their turf while frequently catching innocent bystanders in the crossfire. But putting individuals behind bars fails to deter crime overall, so in 2004, Santini set about infiltrating MS-13 with a series of undercover informants who collected varied evidence against dozens of members, waiting for the right time to bring them down. In these politically charged times, readers will be quick to notice that although fairly businesslike in tone, the book is singular in focus, squarely presenting the views of law enforcement officials. (Sanctuary city policies are seen almost entirely through the lens of how they obstruct police, and misguided hippies and liberals are gently but clearly derided.) Nevertheless, Santini and Bolger provide readers of all backgrounds with valuable insights into the psychology of both individual gang members and MS-13 as a whole, portraying the deep-rooted feelings of loyalty and pride that young men especially derived from their shared identity. But the crimes they committed in the service of this identity were gruesome, as the authors adeptly illustrate, and with the investigation’s stakes building ever higher both publicly and privately, Santini and his team became increasingly determined to finally punish those responsible.
A suspenseful, informative take on an ambitious criminal investigation.