No Angel by Jay Dobyns, Nils Johnson-Shelton

by Heather West

9 June 2009

cover art

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

Jay Dobyns, Nils Johnson-Shelton

US: Feb 2009

Ghost writers. From all accounts, they are the hidden force behind an increasing number of books hitting the market these days. Laziness and lack of talent on the part of the “author” has historically created a demand for ghosting services, but in the current marketing climate, it seems like creating generic, easily digested material to dovetail with the endless stream of reality television shows that inundate the public has become even more paramount.

These vehicles for vicarious thrills are well-known for stilted dialogue and reliably repetitive descriptive devices, usually delivered to illuminate the lives of those who live “life on the edge”: safe crackers, mafia soldiers, FBI agents and other miscreants have enjoyed profits from this lucrative industry for generations.

Jay Dobyns (and his trusty sidekick, co-writer Nils Johnson-Shelton) have taken this genre to new levels of outlandishness and lame machismo with the added element of monotony. No Angel: My Harrowing Undercover Journey to the Inner Circle of the Hells Angels is a New York Times bestseller; apparently there are legions of airport travelers who want to know what really goes down in the life of a motorcycle gang soldier. Disappointment awaits them.

Dobyns and Johnson-Shelton crafted the story of Dobyns’ time undercover while infiltrating the Hells Angels. During this time, he grew to avoid his wife and children, become addicted to diet pills and seriously unbalanced mentally; his honesty on these subjects is one of the centerpieces of their publicity campaign. While the vast majority of the pages blend together into one big muy-macho biker rally in which Dobyns and his marks talk about “old ladies” and “pieces” and “beef” constantly, there is very, very little actual action. Despite being drug-addled and exhausted, he appears to be able to regurgitate long discussions with multiple people over and over and over again, or so he claims.

In endless conversations as told by Dobyns, numerous members of the biker gangs he is hanging out with trust him implicitly, and believe every outlandish excuse he has for not doing drugs or raping their women, despite the fact that declining to participate is seen as the red flag of copdom. Only one biker doubts his iffy cover story and he lives in Mexico, though he does manage to stir up trouble by bringing up obvious issues with the cover that any other biker should have spotted as well.

Dobyns says, however, that he was like “a brother” and the gang became “my family” which begins to ring false and reek of self aggrandizement. If they do trust him implicitly, why is there so little action? The ATF spent countless millions of dollars on the operation, and arrested 50 Hells Angels ultimately, but “disputes over evidences and tensions between the ATF and the US attorneys killed our case”, as Dobyns recounts it. Is he looking to blame the US Attorney rather than admitting to abject failure to build a decent case as an undercover officer? 

Though the waste of resources is maddening, ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether Dobyns is telling the truth or not. The book is just boring. Standing around the bar, standing around the clubhouse, standing around the casino, standing around the rally. They just stand around, a lot. And he wonders why his wife thinks he spends all his time partying and having fun? Does she have any idea how tired his feet must get from standing around?

If a new writer like Dobyns had crafted this tedious litany of mind-deadening, macho, ignorant encounters that drag on in an unending one dimensional stream, he could be forgiven. But isn’t the ghost writer supposed to jazz things up a little? Truly, Nils-Johnson has fallen down on the job. Though Dobyns’ self-righteous, arrogant stupidity makes him imminently unlikeable in the first 20 pages, surely Random House could have done him a solid and gotten someone to help him out.

If you are a fan of Sons of Anarchy, a well-cast but truly retarded FX television show, this book is for you. If you are a fan of empty boasting, chest-puffed posturing and bad breath, this book is for you. If you fall into neither category, and want to learn about the Hells Angels, please drop this book like a hot rock and rush to purchase Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs by Hunter S. Thompson—it is the classic in the field.

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


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