cover image The Mastermind: Drugs. Empire. Murder. Betrayal.

The Mastermind: Drugs. Empire. Murder. Betrayal.

Evan Ratliff. Random House, $28 (496p) ISBN 978-0-399-59041-2

Investigative journalist Ratliff, the coauthor of Safe: The Race to Protect Ourselves in a Newly Dangerous World, makes the most of the stranger-than-fiction story of Paul Le Roux (aka the Mastermind), who was “a multiple murderer, a prodigious global drug and arms trafficker, a solicitor of rogue regimes, and a man who had supplied hundreds of millions of doses of painkillers” to Americans. Le Roux, who grew up in what was then Rhodesia and was first arrested as a teen for selling pornography, made himself into a software genius. His first major criminal venture involved setting up, in the mid-2000s, a massive online pharmacy scheme, which billed itself as simply a more efficient prescription refill service. Actually, it delivered millions of doses of addictive painkillers that weren’t legitimately prescribed. Ratliff makes the complex story accessible by starting with the one thread law enforcement chanced upon that resulted, in 2012, in Le Roux’s arrest and eventual, controversial cooperation with the Justice Department. Two low-level Minnesota DEA investigators, whose focus was on the diversion of prescription drugs to illegal markets, decided to look at FedEx shipping records, which led to the unravelling of Le Roux’s entire criminal empire. Le Roux’s profits from his cybercrimes funded his expansion into other illegal ventures, including cocaine trafficking and contracting with the Iranian government to buy and sell weapons, and his ordering hits on those who crossed him. Ratliff’s dogged investigation, which included interviews with multiple co-conspirators of Le Roux’s, has yielded a true crime classic. [em]Agent: David Kuhn, Aevitas. (Mar.) [/em]