Saturday, March 05, 2016

Drug-Gang Police Work, in TAKEDOWN, Jeff Buck, with Jon Land & Lindsay Preston

The cover of TAKEDOWN, the new true-to-life drug bust tale from police investigator Jeff Buck and two co-authors -- Jon Land, noted author of the Caitlin Strong Texas Ranger crime fiction series, and Lindsay Preston, an established and esteemed ghostwriter -- says the book reveals "A small-town cop's battle against the Hells Angels and the nation's biggest drug gang."

Stop! If you're looking for a shoot-out with the wicked and powerful motorcycle gang called the Hells Angels, this is not the book you want!

But if the actual day by day process of setting up a drug bust at a high enough level to actually get the dealers out of the territory for a few years (in this case, out of Ohio), grab your copy of TAKEDOWN when it goes on sale on March 8.

Land explained the genesis of the book in his post last week at the online 'zine, The Big Thrill. It's fascinating. I'll paraphrase, but really, it's worth reading all of it, by clicking here. The short version: In her (nonfiction) ghostwriter life, Preston tackled police detective Jeff Buck's life story, only to realize the details were more striking, more important, than a simple ghosting task could do justice to. When she said to Jon Land, "Did you know more drugs come into the US over the Canadian border than the Mexican border?" -- Land was hooked. He leaped into the process, interviewing Buck for many more hours, learning about undercover life, family stresses, successes, complications, and most of all the urge to avoid the low-level arrests of neighborhood drug dealers, in order to reach up to where cutting the pipeline can actually have effects.

For Buck, that meant tangling with the Russian mob, while running parallel to a major Canadian sting operation that would arrest 143 Hells Angels in Montreal around the same time. It also meant coming to grips with a gap in US border enforcement, which Buck and co-authors describe as taking place where the Akwesasne tribal lands straddle the US–Canada border. (Yes, that does mean this book portrays reservation poverty as having an effect on people being willing to run drugs. It's a grim take on an American social issue.)

Land's seasoned narrative technique brings the police detective's tale up to "noir" standards. Here's Buck explaining how he maneuvered his way around the multiple territories of other police forces involved in the region:
From the look on Kondrat's face, I knew I had him. But the scrunched, bushy eyebrows of Detective Meyers said otherwise.

"That is, if you want me to," I added in a show of deference, already contemplating how best to negotiate the politics of crossing jurisdictions to take control of this particular drug case.

Because it was time to go after the real bad guys again.

"Of course, we'd love to catch this guy," Kondrat responded, "but I gotta tell you, he's good."

I started to smile and stopped. "We can get him," I said confidently. "It's all how you go about doing it."

"I just don't want you to get your hopes up," Kondrat said, not swayed by my experience or swagger. "I just don't think this kid ever touches the drugs or the money."

I found it amusing that Kondrat didn't want me to get my hopes up. Then again, he didn't know me. It wasn't about anything as random as hope; it was about the handling of a case, knowing what to do and when to do it and when to give up if necessary.
Of course, you might not always like this narrator! But he's real, and Land and Preston clearly took great pains to carry Buck's own voice into nearly 300 pages of tough police work. And that puts this book at an intriguing intersection of nonfiction and police procedural and thriller -- even though Buck makes it clear that a shoot-out is the last thing a good investigation needs. Or wants.

Prowling along with Buck in TAKEDOWN is great background for crime and crime fiction writers, as well as entertaining for readers. Buck makes some great points, too, about why he doesn't consider marijuana use to be a victimless crime (worth reading for all of us, really).

As Land points out in his Big Thrill article, despite the cover design, you're not going to run into many Hells Angels here, because Buck himself was too smart to do that. But his investigative journey around the drug pipelines that he sees as manages by the crime syndicates turns out to be at least as compelling.

And he lives to tell the tale. And see Ohio, his home state, have a reprieve from those drugs, for at least a little while.

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