Dobyns, Jay and Nils Johnson-Shelton. No Angel: My Harrowing Undercover Journey to the Inner Circle of the Hells Angels. Crown, 2009. ISBN 978-0307405852 352 pp. $25.95
No Angel, the story of an undercover ATF agent infiltrating the AZ club of the outlaw motorcycle gang (OMG) the Hell’s Angels is an exciting and engaging tale with suspenseful–sometimes breakneck speed–pacing and a dose of humbling self-reflection mixed in with the narration.
The exciting moments sometimes get bogged down with names and connections–too much information. In several places early on, Dobyns’ easy-going tone comes off as arrogant, and with just a sentence or two, I had a flash of annoyance that put me off. Sometimes, he made it all sound too easy… the bikers seemed to trust him so quickly and easily! Granted, the whole premise of the book is about posing as a Hell’s Angel, so maybe some posturing is to be expected.
The gritty story, rife with drinking, drugs, illegal gun sales, had a lot of heartbreaking moments too: a biker dad who offers his barely-legal daughter for companionship, an infant with diapers that haven’t been changed in days, a woman getting beaten for coming back late with a takeout meal. These scenes are juxtaposed with Dobyns’ wife calling from home, imploring him to come take care of the lawn; jailbait bringing Dobyns aspiring musician daughter to mind; and Dobyns fingering the found rocks his son always sends him off with.
Glossy photos of the author, agents, and criminals inserted in the middle of the book would have been better placed at the beginning with the cast of characters. A map on the endpapers goes a long way in keeping places straight; a timeline of events would have been useful. The glossary at the end was a nice touch, but why not define words in context?
Highly appealing, this “real cop & robbers” story is pretty slick & sexy. While not 5-star, I have to admire Dobyns’ (and his co-writer’s) ability to design the story so I would feel as burned out by the end as “Bird” becomes, before reaching his epiphany of sorts that he is turning into the the guy he is trying to bring down.