Sunday, January 26, 2014

No Angel by Jay Dobyns

Title: No Angel
Author: Jay Dobyns
My Rating: B+

Genre: Biography
Release Date: February 2009
Publisher: Broadway Books
Links to Purchase

Story Overview:
Here, from Jay Dobyns, the first federal agent to infiltrate the inner circle of the outlaw Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, is the inside story of the twenty-one-month operation that almost cost him his family, his sanity, and his life.

Getting shot in the chest as a rookie agent, bartering for machine guns, throttling down the highway at 100 mph, and responding to a full-scale, bloody riot between the Hells Angels and their rivals, the Mongols–these are just a few of the high-adrenaline experiences Dobyns recounts in this action-packed, hard-to-imagine-but-true story.

Dobyns leaves no stone of his harrowing journey unturned. At runs and clubhouses, between rides and riots, Dobyns befriends bad-ass bikers, meth-fueled “old ladies,” gun fetishists, psycho-killer ex-cons, and even some of the “Filthy Few”–the elite of the Hells Angels who’ve committed extreme violence on behalf of their club. Eventually, at parties staged behind heavily armed security, he meets legendary club members such as Chuck Zito, Johnny Angel, and the godfather of all bikers, Ralph “Sonny” Barger. To blend in with them, he gets full-arm ink; to win their respect, he vows to prove himself a stone-cold killer.

Hardest of all is leading a double life, which has him torn between his devotion to his wife and children, and his pledge to become the first federal agent ever to be “fully patched” into the Angels’ near-impregnable ranks. His act is so convincing that he comes within a hairsbreadth of losing himself. Eventually, he realizes that just as he’s been infiltrating the Hells Angels, they’ve been infiltrating him. And just as they’re not all bad, he’s not all good.

Reminiscent of Donnie Brasco’s uncovering of the true Mafia, this is an eye-opening portrait of the world of bikers–the most in-depth since Hunter Thompson’s seminal work–one that fully describes the seductive lure criminal camaraderie has for men who would otherwise be powerless outsiders. Here is all the nihilism, hate, and intimidation, but also the freedom–and, yes, brotherhood–of the only truly American form of organized crime.

My Review:
I'm not a big non-fiction reader just because I tend to get bored with it and don't finish the books, no matter how well they are written. This was not that type of book. I read this book for research since the next book I plan to write delves into the undercover motorcycle club world. But I found myself completely riveted by "Bird's" account of this undercover operation, Black Biscuit, which consumed two years of his life and had a hard time putting this book down. 

This book is an account of this two year operation. For the most part, the book felt very honest. Jay is right up front saying when and where he screwed up and there at the end of this operation that happened a lot as Jay lost sight of himself. To Bird (Jay's MC name), everything about the operation would fall into place once he and his boys became full Hell's Angels and he became obsessed with that the detriment of his goals, his physical condition, his wife, his kids, and his boss. And he states that very clearly in the text of the book as you read, giving the reader a bit of foreshadowing throughout with leading sentences so you know that things are about to go to a bad place. 

Overall, the operation was not a success. A few guys got a little bit of jail time, but with the depth of crimes being allegedly committed by these guys, even Jay admits, it was a failure. 

But the book does give a great view into the world of the Hell's Angels and the protocols for the motorcycle clubs. But it gave an even better view of the price that undercovers pay to help keep us safe. It's hard, dangerous, dirty work with long hours and so much stress. Jay was undercover for two years and readily admits that he lost the good part of himself during that time to "Bird", his undercover persona. Before that time, Jay wasn't even really a motorcycle rider (and he wasn't one after the fact, either), but he became obsessed during that time with the club and the lifestyle. He could have so easily lost everything and at that point in time, he would have been okay with that.

The book is hard to read in that respect because you can feel his regret and remorse for those he hurt along the way. I feel for his wife and kids. I can't imagine living like that and watching your husband become this stranger that you only get to see for moments and not knowing from one day to the next if he's even alive or dead. 

I've always respected what these guys do for a living, but even more so after reading this book. Keeping our country safe is not an easy thing to do and there are guys out there doing what Jay Dobyns did every day. He paid a high price with very little outcome for two years worth of work. I can't imagine how difficult that is to face. But I appreciate him so much for writing this book. It's a great testament and record of what he and his whole team did during that time. 


Kim Muhl said...

It sounds really interesting. Like you, Non-Fiction rarely holds my attention but once in a while a good one sucks me in.

Brianna (The Book Vixen) said...

I find these type of nonfiction books interesting as well. I read Under and Alone by William Queen, a book similar to this one that you read. It was scary to read and learn what goes on, but interesting nonetheless.

And now I'm curious about the book you plan to write next!

Christi Snow said...

Hey Brianna! Thanks for stopping by... I have that one in my tbr too. This is research for my second Mudflap book. smiles....

Bird said...

Thank you for the kind review of my book. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I love that you got what I wanted to portray. Not a hero story where the protagonist comes in as a knight in shining armor and then leaves as a bigger one. But rather, that I was just a blue collar agent whose journey was a decline into that world. I insisted that the story be told honestly even if it was not necessarily flattering. Good luck on your new book. If I can help you with some insights please feel free to reach out.