cover image 90 Church: Inside America’s Notorious First Narcotics Squad

90 Church: Inside America’s Notorious First Narcotics Squad

Dean Unkefer. Picador, $28 (432p) ISBN 978-1-250-06733-3

Some readers will take a skeptical view of this memoir of Unkefer’s four years with the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (from 1964 to 1968), given the publisher’s disclaimer, which notes that the volume is based on the author’s best recollections and that he has “rearranged the details of events and chronologies in order to facilitate the narrative.” The federal agent initially comes across sympathetically, as his first day on the job at the bureau’s Manhattan office is an embarrassing comedy of errors, and he begins his career as an idealistic crime fighter who refuses to sign off on a false report. That phase doesn’t last long, as Unkefer is quickly influenced by his crooked colleagues, becoming a corrupt and violent drug addict who cheats on his wife. He managed to justify his behavior by the results he and his fellow agents achieved; he looked forward to betraying drug dealers, even those he slept with, because “There were no more bothersome thoughts about right and wrong.” But the apparent honesty of his warts-and-all self-portrayal will be offset for some by his rationalization of his work for the FBN: “We worked in an environment of desperation, in a war that threatened to destroy America. The agents did what had to be done.” (June)