Book Review: 90 Church

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90 Church: Inside America’s Notorious First Narcotics Squad
by Dean Unkefer

2 Stars **

The publisher’s disclaimer set the stage for some of my skepticism as i read through Unkefer’s book: “These memoirs are based on the author’s best recollections of events in his life…the author has stated to the publisher that the contents of this book are true.”

While I have no doubt that the team at 90 Church operated with an ideology of the ends justifying the means, I have serious doubts that the author was an innocent among the crazies. Unkefer sets himself up throughout the book as a naive dupe, who just goes with the flow and becomes corrupted in his endeavor to fight for “truth, justice, and the American way.” He seems intent on justifying the evil he discovers in his own heart, pinning the blame on many of the individuals that surround him. However, it is important to remember that he was an active participant in many of these events.

At other times, the scenes he describes seem far too dramatic, even for a such a lawless force. I found myself moving from thinking that these events were somewhat unbelievable, to believing that many were embellished for the sake of the memoir. Terrifying and dramatic as I’m sure Unkefer’s experiences were, some of his recollections border on the ridiculous and I find them unbelievable. I never doubted his experience overall, nor that there were some almost unbelievable events that dramatically impacted Unkefer. However, some of his recollections seemed more imaginative than others.

Then, there are times when Unkefer seems to leave out too many details. It’s at these points that I’m sure there is a story here, probably a very dramatic one, but that Unkefer has sanitized them to protect the parties involved, and perhaps to downplay his level of participation in these events. Because of Unkefer’s heavy sanitizing, at points it’s difficult to follow his timeline, and I was often frustrated by the choppiness of the memoirs flow.

Perhaps Unkefer’s tale really is true, and my perceptions are wrong. Perhaps the sense of disconnect I experienced is exactly what Unkefer himself experienced. I sure hope not. While I have no doubt that the work of many undercover law enforcers walks a fine line along the path of criminality, and at times even crosses it; I would be sadly disappointed to discover that the events inside 90 Church were not embellished but merely downplayed. Because justice is never justice when evil prevails on both sides of the law.

I have read law enforcement memoirs that describe more effectively the moral challenges many law enforcers face, and that I believe express the details much more honestly. They are no less dramatic, almost unbelievable, but never over the top. Ultimately, I found Unkefer’s tale to be too exaggerated and unbelievable.

Note: This review has also been posted on Goodreads at:

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