Joey O'Shay is not the real name of the narcotics agent in an unnamed city in the center of the country. But Joey O'Shay exists. The nearly three hundred drug busts he has orchestrated over more than two decades are real, too; if the drug war were a declared war, O'Shay would have a Silver Star.
With nerves and mastery worthy of his subject, Charles Bowden follows O'Shay as he sets in motion his latest conquest, a $50 million heroin deal that originates in Colombia and has federal agents sitting at attention from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., to New York City. As it unfolds, O'Shay reveals the unerring instinct and ceaseless vigilance that have led him through minefields and brought down kingpins. But now they have led him to a place where it isn't so clear who the heroes are or what the fight has been for. And still the warrior fights on, in a murky and unforgiving landscape readers will not be able to forget.
Readers drawn into the brutal and corrupt realities of the war on drugs in Bowden's much-acclaimed Down by the River: Drugs, Money, Murder, and Family (2002) are likely to be disappointed by his latest foray into that world. Bowden begins with a brilliantly lyrical opening chapter, replete with vivid descriptions of the unnamed city where most of the action is set, bringing its sounds, smells and throbbing pulse to life. But the promise of that introduction to the narcotics agent referred to only by his pseudonym, Joey O'Shay, is unfulfilled; the evolution of a multimillion-dollar heroin deal is uncompelling and not always easy to follow, and O'Shay is ultimately unsympathetic. In fact, many will have difficulty parsing his frequent interior monologues to get a clear picture of which side of the law he's really on, and the numerous references to the themes of Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl's landmark Man's Search for Meaning in the drug agent's life hint at a psychological depth that's not fully developed. The hazards of undercover work and the strains on the agent's sanity and conscience have all been portrayed before in memoirs like that of the FBI's Mafia infiltrator Joe Pistone, and O'Shay's story feels more like an unaired episode of Miami Vice than something new and noteworthy. Agent, Anderson/Grinberg Literary Management. (July) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.