AUTHOR: Mark Bowden
STARTED: June 16, 2016
FINISHED: July 6, 2016
FIRST SENTENCE: There was no reason to suspect anything unusual when Larry saw Pat O'Donnell on the dock in a business suit.
SUMMARY: [From BN] A most unlikely drug kingpin, Dr. Larry Lavin was a Philadelphia dentist at the time of his arrest and subsequent sentencing to a 42-year prison term. But Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Bowden has done an exceptional job of showing how family background and the yuppie culture of the '70s and '80s combined to produce one of the East Coast's biggest cocaine dealers. The son of a man who had once been well-to-do but continued to try to maintain an upper-class lifestyle on a lower-middle-class income, Lavin was a brilliant scholarship student at Phillips Exeter, but was expelled for drug use. Accepted to the University of Pennsylvania, he became the biggest marijuana dealer on campus, at a time when more than half the students, Bowden estimates, were using pot. Then came cocaine and profits ranging into the millions, with an organization that involved dozens of people. Eventually, however, Lavin's flamboyant spending led authorities to suspect him. A notable, in-depth look at a figure who, even after his apprehension, was able to rationalize his criminality on the grounds that he was only supplying a demand.
THOUGHTS: You can tell that this book was one of Mark Bowden's earliest works. His typical voice and style are there, but everything is a little bit looser and a little bit more information dumpy than his more recent works. This has been on my bookshelf for years, so I was glad that the mood to read non-fiction finally struck me.
This story was intriguing and left me flabbergasted that a college student could turn himself into a cocaine drug lord. My enjoyment of this story rested on the sheer audacity of it's characters. You go into the book knowing that everyone will get caught, this book chronicles the backstory and the daring attitudes of those in Lavin's world. I scoffed openly that some of the characters thought they were outside of the law's notice. It's almost impressive that the drug ring operated as openly as it did for so long. They were just begging to be caught. This book works because everyone is a character. Bowden spends enough time showcasing people's personalities that you're drawn into their stories and the roles they play.
The main downside to this book is that Bowden relies almost too strongly on wiretap transcripts and transcribed conversations. It's great that those conversations are true to life, but I think they could have been edited a touch more for length and clarity. Bowden did, however, set those pages up well in the overall narrative.
Also, since this book was written about 30 years ago, I found myself wrapped up enough in the people involved to Wikipedia where they are now. I think that means I enjoyed the book.
RATING: 7/10 [ Very Good]