Stiffly composed, unpersuasive account of the author’s drug-enforcement work in Boston.
Doyle asserts that the story of his years as an undercover agent “needs to be told. . . . The myth that experimental use of illegal drugs is a harmless rite of passage should not go unchallenged.” Perhaps, but such sanctimoniousness, which pervades the text, ultimately limits his tale’s effectiveness. Following a stint in the army, Doyle was recruited by the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (the DEA’s precursor) in 1971, when the BNDD was seeking “experienced soldiers” to serve as undercover street agents. He divides his memoir into six long chapters, each delving into a different facet of the nefarious urban drug scene in a time and place Doyle recalls as swarming with thugs, bikers, mobsters, naïve swingers, and the tattered remnants of the counterculture. “Chinatown” details Doyle’s infiltration of that neighborhood’s heroin scene; an addicted prostitute eventually introduced him to a local kingpin. “Informant” describes the role of snitches in undercover drug work: “I came to despise most of them. . . . Nobody likes a rat.” In “Bad Acid,” the agent cozies up to a hippie (“I have connections all the way to Amsterdam, Hong Kong, San Francisco”) who steers him to the so-called “Acid King,” resulting in the takedown of a major LSD manufacturing operation. Throughout, Doyle finds himself increasingly appalled by the undercover milieu, meeting sweet young college students who soon overdose on heroin and brutish drug dealers whose attempts to dupe him are met with fisticuffs. The square-jawed tone, reminiscent of Dragnet, is often unintentionally humorous: ethnic and cultural stereotypes abound, and the agents spend their downtime getting hammered in bars. Doyle’s overwritten prose is strewn with adverbs, and his dialogue is stiff. Furthermore, the simplistic narrative fails to convey these operations’ complexity, portraying unbelievably dumb criminals who literally throw themselves at the G-men.
Doubtless there is an exciting, informative tale to tell about drug crime in the ’70s—but this isn’t it.