Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Book Review: Chemical Cowboys, by Lisa Sweetingham

Chemical Cowboys: The DEA's Secret Mission to Hunt Down a Notorious Ecstasy Kingpin
by Lisa Sweetingham

Hardcover: 464 pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books; 1 edition (February 24, 2009)
ISBN-10: 0345499956
Rating (1 to 5 *): *****


When the drug Ecstasy first came on the scene, it was considered “kiddie dope” by Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents. They considered it to be a low priority, when they had more important worries in the war on drugs: cocaine and heroine. However, after learning of pushers selling the drug in New York nightclubs and of kids dying as a result of the drug, age Bob Gagne decided to take it on in his own personal war, taking his partner Matthew Germanowski along for the ride. It was a battle that would dominate Gagne’s life for the next nine years.

The true-life tale Chemical Cowboys takes the reader into the depths of the underground—New York clubs with open drug dealing, organized crime and vast conspiracies to move drugs from Europe into America—using everyone from young religious boys to old couples to strippers as “mules” to do the carrying.

It is a story of people who are lured into the criminal life by the trappings that come with money: fancy cars, trips and plenty of drugs and sex. Young people who soon find that the life is not all it seems to be…people who are arrested and quickly turn on their bosses in an attempt to save themselves. But mostly, it is a story of the men who would see the end to the ruined lives that come from the Ecstasy trade.

In Chemical Cowboys, Lisa Sweetingham does not so much tell a story as weave a tapestry, creating a rich picture of a world most people would never dream of. Through the course of the tale, the reader is transported back and forth through time until they have gained a nearly overwhelming level of detail into each character, details that give great understanding of who they are and what motivates them. The reader is taken from the very beginning, when the drug was first introduced, through its introduction in the clubs, its peak of popularity around the turn of the 21st century and finally its dramatic decline due to the DEA’s efforts in cooperation with other countries.

Lisa Sweetingham, a senior staff writer at CourtTV.com, shows her incredible level of knowledge and many hours of painstaking research in the writing of this book. Every I is dotted, every T is crossed, and no stone is unturned. Chemical Cowboys is both an entertaining read and a valuable history. It is the ultimate in crime drama, because it is at once fantastic and true.

Father’s Day just around the corner, and Lisa Sweetingham’s Chemical Cowboys would make a great gift for the CSI-loving Dad in your family!

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