Tough-as-boots ex–Special Forces federal agent Queen teams again with Century, co-author of his bestselling Under and Alone: The True Story of the Undercover Agent Who Infiltrated America’s Most Violent Outlaw Motorcycle Gang (2005), to replay the hunt for a gun-crazy renegade holed up in a mountaintop hideaway.
The first-person narrative describes Queen’s quarry, Mark Stephens, as “a dopehead with an attitude and a machine gun.” By all accounts, Stephens was righteously bad, an accident waiting to turn lethal. He lived in a remote San Bernardino aerie, where he tended his marijuana gardens (“he had an impressive, if highly illegal, green thumb”) and made forays into town to peddle his harvest. While in civilization, Stephens enjoyed terrorizing his company of petty dealers—spraying their houses with automatic-weapon fire, for instance, or sticking the barrel of a gun down one dealer’s sister’s throat, then disappearing back into the mountains. Queen, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, strongly reacted to Stephens’ attention-seeking behavior. “I want this guy; I want this guy bad,” he muttered as he cruised the California freeways. But the suits at the Bureau dithered. So Queen kept tabs on Stephens while performing other undercover assignments, many involving outlaw motorcycle gangs and skinheads. The stories about these fearful gigs suggest bravery just this side of a death wish: “going deep undercover or running and gunning in the streets always fueled me.” Queen is a thorny, ambivalent character, both scary and comforting. He’s the ideal protagonist for zesty tales featuring vile miscreants and the cool thrill of operational specs. Soon it’s back to priority one as Queen gets the green light to go after Stephens. Century helps keep the narrative rolling toward a finale sure to ratchet up readers’ anxiety levels.
Fraught, shivery fun that will paint you to your chair.