Takedown: A Small-Town Cop’s Battle Against the Hells Angels and the Nation’s Biggest Drug Gang by Jeff Buck with Jon Land and Lindsay Preston

Reviewed by Russell Ilg

TakedownJon Land has proven once again that he’s much more then just a thriller writer with Takedown. This is Land’s second non-fiction book, spinning the story of one of the biggest drug busts in modern history, born of an unholy alliance between the Hells Angels out of Montreal, a corrupt Indian reservation in New York State, and the Russian mob.

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But the man at the center of the bust, Jeff Buck, actually comes from a small town in Ohio where he still serves as chief of police after a much lauded twenty-year career as an undercover drug officer that rightfully earned him the nickname “Dope Ghost.” This is Buck’s story, told in nourish, tough guy prose that features alternating chapters between the major case he spearheaded in 2009 and the chain of events the year before that led to his involvement in the first place.

I don’t read a lot of nonfiction and Takedown doesn’t read much like nonfiction at all; in fact, a few times I had to remind myself that all of this really happened. The novelistic approach serves Buck’s co-authors, the aforementioned Land and noted ghostwriter Lindsay Preston, well, creating a comfort zone that allows Jeff Buck’s voice to ring through in clear and discerning fashion. A complicated story turned into a coherent and riveting narrative that’s the best book of its kind since Robin Moore’s The French Connection.

The book opens with the 1995 murder of a young boy in a Montreal suburb, another victim claimed by the infamous Canadian Biker Wars that saw the Hells Angels stake their exclusive claim to territory previously shared with other gangs. Nearly fifteen years later Buck masterfully ties that to an infestation of drugs, mostly marijuana, being transported through sovereign Indian land belonging to the Akwesasne Mohawk nation in upstate New York that straddles the border with Canada to the tune of as much as two billion dollars per year. Did you know more drugs come into the US from Canada than Mexico? Neither did I.

The story takes on an almost Shakespearean-feel as Buck’s trail leads him from 20-something, millionaire Russian drug dealers in his suburban Ohio backyard to a Mohawk criminal kingpin done in by his own greed. But here’s the thing. Buck and his task force take them all down without gunfights or car chases. It’s all about surveillance, informants, drones and wiretaps. That said, Buck introduces himself into the story via a drug bust that almost went very bad when his back-up team got stuck in traffic behind a school bus. Some things you just can’t make up.

And Takedown is full of them. Somehow Jeff Buck, with Land’s and Preston’s help, has managed to make all the minutia seem magical, turning a by-the-books procedural into a no-holds barred, gritty tale of low-lifes and heroes battling for control of the nation’s heart and soul. This is the War on Drugs as seen from the front lines by a cop who’s walked the walked and talked the talk and it’s sure to leave you with a fresh understanding of the rigors and challenges involved in bringing down the bad guys.

In reading Takedown, you get the sense you’re learning from the very best. School’s in session with Jeff Buck serving as our teacher, providing a lesson in pitch-perfect plotting and storytelling that’s destined to be the best true crime tale of 2016.

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