AMERICAN DESPERADO by Evan Wright and Jon Roberts

American Desperado – Evan Wright and Jon Roberts

Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/1/2011
MSRP: $28.00

Editor’s note: I just want to welcome Dave Wahlman back to the fold. Dave took a little time off to wage a war for his health and well-being. Of course Dave is too tough for something as silly as cancer and is back on the streets of Boston, saving lives and living like to the fullest.

I first was introduced to Jon Roberts in the documentary Cocaine Cowboys. A cult-favorite, it is the story of Miami drug smugglers and dealers in the 70s and 80s. Cocaine Cowboys IS one of my all-time favorite documentaries, but it portrays Jon Roberts very differently than how he is portrayed in his autobiography. I was first introduced to Evan Wright when I read his book Generation Kill, the story of a Marine force recon platoon Wright was embedded with during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Wright was later portrayed by actor Lee Turgenson on the HBO series, “Generation Kill.” Any writer willing to embed with force recon marines for a story automatically gets respect in my book. After reading American Desperado and finding out exactly who Jon Roberts is, I can only imagine Evan Wright being the one to tell the story.

Jon Roberts was an Italian kid from New York whose family at one time was Mafia royalty. Roberts, through his own wild youth, went to Miami in the 70s with almost nothing and became an outlaw in the truest sense. What started out as a kilo or two of cocaine turned into one of the largest cocaine smuggling operations in the history of American crime. The ingenuity that Roberts and his crew displayed in their endeavors makes you shake your head and wonder at that old cliché about what they could have accomplished had they decided to be good people. Now, the fascinating Cocaine Cowboys documentary portrays Roberts in a certain light. I wouldn’t call it unflattering, but it doesn’t come close to scratching the surface of who he really is. As a matter of fact, if you’ve seen the documentary and then read American Desperado, you’ll be in for a surprise. Roberts’s male family members were directly related to Lucky Luciano and Murder Inc. Those men, his father and uncles, were his “positive male role models” growing up.

American Desperado is an enjoyable book to read. Many anecdotes, such as Jimi Hendrix getting kidnapped and shooting speed, pulling robberies with Tony Sirico (Paulie Walnuts on The Sopranos) in the early 70s, doing coke with the Pittsburg Steelers the night before the Superbowl and hundreds of beautiful women are one part of it. On the other side, you have countless beatings, killings, and other assorted acts of violence carried out by Roberts directly or his crew on his behalf that you quickly lose count of as you read the story.

Again, I go back to the thought that if you’ve seen the documentary you go into this thinking Roberts is one kind of man. I myself was truly surprised at reading what Roberts is really like. For the most part I like despicable people, I won’t deny it. But there is something about Roberts and his story that I found repulsive yet fascinating and I could not put the book down. Clocking in at over 500 pages, American Desperado has countless moments of horror and humor. It is flat-out, hands-down, the best true crime book I’ve read in years. I cannot recommend it enough. I don’t want to gush all over the page about how much I love the book, just remember: it’s not for the faint of heart. Evan Wright does a masterful job of putting down on paper and fact-checking every word printed therein. I don’t want to see Roberts come out with another book, but I do look forward to seeing what Wright comes out with next.

Dave Wahlman