Smuggler Catcher recounts the author’s 48 years working for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The story chronicles the growth of the agency from 1963 to 2011, offers an insider’s look at the agency’s daily activities, and relates successful drug busts, covert operations, agent misbehavior and corruption. It also details the Yugoslavian-born author’s rise in the Bureau, his struggle to overcome workplace prejudice and agency politics, and his receiving the coveted Commissioner’s Award.
The most enjoyable part of this book involves the author’s recollections of smuggling attempts by others. There are snakes in suitcases, money in shoes, drugs in body cavities and naked women wearing fur coats. The procedures noted for catching smugglers are intricate and fascinating, as are the slices of real life, such as agents misbehaving in Juarez, Mexico, and a certain burlesque queen in Baltimore.
It is a great disappointment, then, that these fascinating tidbits are overwhelmed by minutiae and extraneous details. Despite the enticing subject matter, the narrative is basically a dry recitation of daily agency life. The story is told in a basic timeline with a plodding narrative and almost no dialogue. There is very little description, making it difficult to visualize the action and connect with the author; for example: “…the wife, overly excited, threw herself on the floor, faking a heart attack. Then the husband did the same. An ambulance was called.” The reader would benefit from seeing the wife and husband thrash about, scream invectives and so on, but alas, that does not happen.
With such wonderful material at hand, the narrative had great promise, but the textbook retelling of this life story ultimately doesn’t deliver. Readers interested in the precise daily workings of the Bureau and its history will find this an informative read. Casual readers looking for a rip-roaring customs story will regretfully set the book aside.
Also available in hardcover.