4 out of 4 stars
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Sin and Redemption: The Pink Elephant Connection by James E. McCarthy is a fiction novel that is based on the life, experiences, adventures, and actions of the author himself. Although he goes to the appropriate lengths at the beginning of the book to provide the reader with the requisite disclaimers that it is a work of fiction, it is evident that much of the story is quite true. It is extremely easy to read this book and assume that it is a well-written memoir.
This book follows the life of Leo Stegner beginning with the most defining moment in his life, the death of his father. Ever since his father was killed for an overdue gambling debt, Leo vowed to exact revenge on his father's murderer. This vow dictated many of the choices that came in his life and haunted his every move. Leo starts off on the wrong path early in his life by involving himself with a highly-efficient gang of car thieves and despite a close call with the law, he always seems to find himself testing his luck in avoiding the authorities. He joins the army in order to go to Vietnam (to learn to be a killer in order avenge his father) but is sent to the Germany instead. It is there that Leo finds himself introduced to the illegal drug game. He mixes himself up with a military fronted marijuana smuggling/distribution ring, to begin with, and then subsequently graduated to harder drugs. Once his service is up he uses his same contacts to move heroin throughout Europe. Next, he intends to import the worlds purest heroin, Pink Elephant, to the American market. Will his luck hold out? Will he eventually get the chance to confront his father's killer? You'll have to read the rest of this one to find out.
This was an extremely captivating read. I think what made it the most exciting is that the reader is constantly aware that this is, technically, a real story. As I don't want to give away the end of the book and can't say too much, I'll just say that it is clear that the author is speaking from the heart and is trying very hard to be as honest as possible. He is laying everything out on the line. The dramatization that comes with a book like this (to convert it from memoir to fiction) was done extremely well and provided enough action and drama to keep the reader glued to the pages. What I enjoyed the most about this book is the unique glimpse into the world of illicit drug smuggling. One's involvement (hopefully) in this realm is often limited to what we see on TV, but this frank look at the trade is an eye-opener. Not only do we get to see a view of the operations from an upper management level, but also the stress, techniques, and tactics used by the men and women bringing several pounds of drugs at a time across international borders.
Any time that I found myself judging/questioning/criticising the author's choice in the direction that book took, I reminded myself that it is based on his life. For that reason, I have little negative to say about the plot and story of Sin and Redemption. The only awkward portions of the book came in the form of the added pictures, illustrations, and diagrams. Throughout the book, there were many images made available to the reader. In general, I have no issues with this. Often, they added to the comprehension of the story at hand. For example, McCarthy includes some pictures of Pink Elephant heroin, maps he presumably used in his past, and correspondences. What I disliked the most, however, is where the images contributed little to the story itself. To give a few examples, the author included a picture of a bunch of needles on the ground (to show needles on the ground), an illustration of an explosion with a body in it, and a picture of a woman shooting heroin in her arm with a needle. I found that these extraneous images were unnecessary and affected the flow of the book at times.
Despite the minor hiccup mentioned above, I will not hesitate to give this book a solid 4 out of 4 stars. The book reads like a memoir, has action and excitement like a thriller, and educates the reader along the way. If you like books with a criminal nexus or are a fan of memoir/"based on a true story" books, this one would be a slam-dunk for you. If you aren't a fan of books where the main story is around illegal activity, this one won't tickle your literary fancy.
Sin & Redemption
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