Angel or devil?

No Angel: My Harrowing Undercover Journey to the Inner Circle of the Hells Angels

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In No Angel, the world is full of fast bikes and fistfights. It’s a world where drug addicts and strippers lurk in the background, where gun deals go down in the mornings over coffee and pecan waffles. This is the realm of the Hells Angels, and in his book written with Nils Johnson-Shelton, Jay Dobyns survives a journey to the group’s inner circle and brings back stories that equally shock and entertain.

As an undercover agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Dobyns infiltrates the ranks of the most feared—and arguably the most respected—outlaw motorcycle gang in American history. He’s on the front lines with a few other undercover agents gathering evidence that will eventually convict several members of the Hells Angels of crimes like felon in possession of a firearm, narcotics trafficking and murder.

The Hells Angels have charters in approximately 20 states and 26 countries and, as Dobyns explains, “If you become a Hells Angel, everything else about you becomes moot. You’re no longer John J. Johnson—you’re a brother. A soldier. A unit of fear. A spoke on a wheel of violence.”

Dobyns’ aim is to become a respected Hells Angels peer so that he can offer intelligence to an investigation focused on the club’s Arizona chapters.

Obviously, this type of job isn’t just for anyone, though Dobyns seems perfectly suited for the task. He’s a former college football player with a killer sense of determination. By the time ATF asks him to take on the Hells Angels investigation, he’s already seasoned in his work as an undercover agent and has survived a gunshot to the chest.

Dobyns and other undercover operatives working for ATF’s code-named “Operation Black Biscuit” establish ties to the Arizona Hells Angels by first forming a legitimate chapter of the Solo Angeles, a Mexican motorcycle club based in Tijuana. As Jay “Bird” Davis, Dobyns builds credibility with the Hells Angels as a supposed gun dealer, an all-around tough guy and willing hit man.

But as the investigation continues over a two-year period, Dobyns nearly takes on more of the “Bird” character than he or his wife and two kids can handle. He sleeves his arms with tattoos and keeps an 8-foot boa constrictor as a pet. His visits home become less frequent and more turbulent. And in a particularly insightful moment, Dobyns considers the consequences of his double life: “I’d thought I was the one infiltrating them. I had it backward. They were the ones who had infiltrated me.”

In No Angel, Dobyns and Nils Johnson-Shelton successfully deliver the juicy details readers will want from a world that most of us will never get to—or want to—see. The authors transform the “Operation Black Biscuit” ordeal into a narrative that is action-packed, adventurous and entertaining throughout.

Readers of No Angel should be forewarned that expletives flow freely, the violence is graphic and the plot sometimes takes on an overly contrived feel. The book’s over-the-top moments can be off-putting, but if readers feel set up, they can only be feeling a bit of how the Arizona Hells Angels must have felt after discovering the true nature of Dobyns and his crew.

By the end of the investigation, Dobyns’ personal and professional lives are in shambles, and he’s barely surviving on a diet of weight-loss pills, energy drinks, supersized coffees and cigarettes. With “Operation Black Biscuit” finally finished, Dobyns says family and friends repeatedly asked: “Was it worth it? Would I do it again?”

Only those who read the book to its final pages will understand how he can so confidently answer, “Absolutely, yes.”