On the shelf: ‘No Angel: My Harrowing Undercover Journey to the Inner Circle of the Hells Angels’, by Jay Dobyns

no-angelOn the Shelf Book Review
By Lisa Boss, Grand Rapids Public Library, Main

When the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms decided to infiltrate the Arizona Hells Angels and clean house they knew it wouldn’t be an easy job. Lengthy, complicated and expensive (think tax dollars), this sting holds one’s attention, as we wait to see what will ultimately be revealed when the nets are pulled up.

The most interesting part for me was the state of mind of the author/agent, as he descends into a violent, criminal culture that he finds increasingly attractive. We follow the transformation of Jay Dobyns, ATF undercover agent, into Bird, aspiring Hells Angel, over a 2-year period.

It raises the questions that police, military and even psychologists face, when they are trying to infiltrate or befriend “the enemy”. How much of our personality and our values are reflections of the culture we are in, rather than uniquely “us”? Where do the criminals stop and we begin… Dobyns invokes the lure of the free, macho brotherhood at first, but as time passes he shows us that it doesn’t really age so well.

Some of it was unintentionally funny. Who knew that there is a very strict, fussy code to get into the Hells Angels, and that their charters are filled with rules and “do’s and don’ts”. One crazy scene involves an impromptu opportunity for ATF, when the Hells Angels stay at a swanky Vegas hotel, supposedly arranged by Bird’s mysterious boss. ATF then needs an out-of-town police operative to play this “Mr Big”, and at the last minute they have to get a substitute, with surprising results.

Things are not as they would seem on the surface, but then, they never are.