Monday, March 23, 2009

No Angel: My Harrowing Undercover Journey to the Inner Circle of the Hells Angels - Jay Dobyns

Summary: 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 mp, and responding to 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 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....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...

My review: The summary tells you quite a lot about the books premise, so I'll skip that and get right to the meat. This book was a sort of lay-it-all-on-the-table kind of book. I appreciated the lack of deception and because of that I'm going to lay it out for you as well. This book has profanity in it. I'm not talking every now and then either. It has a lot--A LOT A LOT. It's coarse, crude, and often objectionable. I hope I'm being clear. Jay "Bird" Dobyns doesn't pull punches by glossing over the unpleasant situations he comes up against. He talks like the men he infiltrates and tells it like it is--and that can include anything from gun running and biker fights to murder. You will read about it--in detail. If you think that will bother you, don't read this book. It WILL bother you. The thing is, I don't think it would be possible to understand the undercover operation without allowing Jay to tell the story exactly as he does. This book couldn't even have been written, and written honestly, if it had been censored. It would have been 35 pages long. Instead, what I read was a highly detailed and realistic description of life inside the Hells Angels and of Jay's spiraling descent into the darkness of his undercover character.

That having been said, I liked this book, probably quite a bit more than I should have. It is non-fiction (the author's note in the back details what he did to make it as true to life as his memory could make it), a fact that I constantly had to remind myself as I read. The situations he gets himself into, and subsequently out of, are truly terrifying. I thought, at first, that in his telling of the story, Jay was tooting his own horn quite a bit--but then I realized that is wasn't just himself he was talking about (and talking up), but other agents as well and even Angels. He also made a concerted effort to talk about his own fears, weaknesses, and how the job was affecting him--about crying himself to sleep, neglecting his family, or getting addicted to diet pills to keep himself alert.

The most touching, yet toughest, moments of the book were the moments "Bird" interacted with his family. As a husband and father of two children, Jay struggled to be in both worlds and ultimately, admits to failing his family miserably during his time undercover. He admits that he just couldn't be two people and that the job was more important to him. What ultimately holds the book together, and gives it some redeeming value is Jay's overall view of the experience--the one he gained, I'm sure, after it was all over. He doesn't wait until the end to share these views either, but peppers them throughout the book--telling you what he was thinking in one situation and his thoughts on it in hindsight. One of the most significant moments of the book for me actually takes place near the beginning when Jay talks about missing his son's first steps because he was trying to nail down an explosives deal. He said "that's the kind of thing I've habitually traded the most precious moments of my life for."

While Jay starts off blazingly cocky, he actually ends up kind of humble as he comes to realize all that he has sacrificed and the people that he hurt because of his ambition. The last chapter is really dedicated to his reflections on what the journey had cost him. One of the highlights of the book for me where he stands up (figuratively speaking) and takes responsibility for who he became and what he did throughout his undercover career. It convinced me that he came out of the experience a better, more appreciative person.

So, if that wasn't a mixed review, I don't know what is. Jay often commented that he, as a person, was both good and evil. This book is no different. It has some definitely good qualities and some not so shiny moments. Take it or leave it.

My rating: So. 4 Stars. My conscience can't give it a 5...and my heart can't give it a 3. Does that make any sense?

Sum this book up in one phrase: In a word? Exhilarating. In two? Messed up.

1 comment:

Melissa said...

If you liked this one, check out "Under and Alone" by William Queen and "A Hunt For Justice" by Lucindia Schroeder. Not so much profanity.

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