Thursday, June 4, 2009

"Chemical Cowboys" by Lisa Sweetingham

When I started reading Chemical Cowboys, I will admit it was with some trepidation. I am generally a fiction buff, and what I had before me was about as nonfiction as it gets. However, it didn’t take long to realize that the facts uncovered by Lisa Sweetingham were going to weave a story too unbelievable to be anything other than true crime at its most brazen, and more entertaining than fiction for that fact alone.

Chemical Cowboys is the story of a massive ecstasy trafficking ring that is investigated and ultimately brought down by the DEA. Acting on a tip received from an informant, DEA agents Robert Gange and Matthew Germanowski become aquatinted with who they believe is a small time ecstasy peddler. Ecstasy, in the summer of 1995, is seen as a less threatening drug than cocaine, heroin, and marijuana by the DEA, and often referred to as ‘kiddie dope.’ Because it has not gained the status of the harder drugs, ecstasy has been allowed to flow pretty much unfettered through the underground New York nightclubs. The agents begin to realize the scope of the problem when their ‘small time’ dealer offers to score thousands of pills for them. With a street value of upwards of $20 a hit, and promises of an almost limitless supply of pills, the agents know that they have discovered a hugely unacknowledged and potentially dangerous threat.

Sweetingham really pulls out on the stops. The story of the investigation and subsequent prosecution of ecstasy ring kingpin Oded Tuito is told from various points of view and no detail is ignored. Readers will enjoy a history of the pharmaceutical MDMA, which is a drug that was developed for the treatment of severe depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. You will also get a brief history of the DEA, as well as an inside look at its operation. The main focus of the book, though, is the influx of ecstasy into the United Stated and the lengths that drug enforcement agents were willing to go to in order to try to curb the problem.

All in all, Chemical Cowboys was a hugely informative and entertaining read. It is a must for lovers of true crime nonfiction and crime novels alike. With Father’s Day closing in (Sunday the 21st of June for those who haven’t been paying close enough attention), Chemical Cowboys would make the perfect gift for anyone’s bookworm dad. Easily four stars.

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