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The Mastermind by Evan Ratliff
True crime

The Mastermind

by Evan Ratliff

Quick take

From North Korea to Somalia to your local pharmacy: The true story of a criminal genius turned painkiller pusher.


It all started as an online prescription drug network, supplying hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of painkillers to American customers. It would not stop there. Before long, the business had turned into a sprawling multinational conglomerate engaged in almost every conceivable aspect of criminal mayhem. Yachts carrying $100 million in cocaine. Safe houses in Hong Kong filled with gold bars. Shipments of methamphetamine from North Korea. Weapons deals with Iran. Mercenary armies in Somalia. Teams of hitmen in the Philippines. Encryption programs so advanced that the government could not break them.

The man behind it all, pulling the strings from a laptop in Manila, was Paul Calder Le Roux—a reclusive programmer turned criminal genius who could only exist in the networked world of the twenty-first century, and the kind of self-made crime boss that American law enforcement had never imagined.

For half a decade, DEA agents played a global game of cat-and-mouse with Le Roux as he left terror and chaos in his wake. Each time they came close, he would slip away. It would take relentless investigative work, and a shocking betrayal from within his organization, to catch him. And when he was finally caught, the story turned again, as Le Roux struck a deal to bring down his own organization and the people he had once employed.

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Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of The Mastermind.

Why I love it

Occasionally, there comes a nonfiction book that is so fascinating, so unbelievable, so insane, that it reads like The Bourne Identity. This is one of those books. Before reading it, I knew nothing about the shadowy, international criminal mastermind—yes, the designation is entirely deserved—named Paul Le Roux, but now he’s all I can talk about. Looking for a true crime read that will blow your mind? Look no further.

In the early 2000s, deep in the recesses of the internet, a rogue coder named Paul Le Roux built a drug empire from the safety of his home in Manila. His operation, which began as a covert way to supply Americans with painkillers, soon stretched across the globe, from North Korea to Somalia. For years, American law enforcement tried to take him down and, for years, Le Roux eluded their grasp.

This is a big book with a ton of characters, side plots, and moments of intrigue. But the throughline—the genius of one tech genius turned drug lord—will hold you until the very end. If the subtitle of this book—Drugs. Empire. Murder. Betrayal—doesn’t convince you of its worth, I don’t know what will.

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Member ratings (518)

  • Megan S.

    Brooklyn, NY

    This twisting plot is almost too crazy to be true. That it is true only adds to the insane wow factor. Ratliff expertly breaks down this complicated crime syndicate so that it is easily digestible.

  • Brittany M.

    Hickory Hills, IL

    This was a book like none I've ever gotten from BOTM. Written in somewhat of a textbook format, it is FULL of information about The Mastermind. While heavy at times, it was ridiculously interesting!

  • Carol Y.

    Princeton, NJ

    Excellent. Very well written and researched. Fascinating look at how criminal empires are built in cyberspace. Disappointing to see how the FBI handled the investigation and the outcome they chose.

  • Samantha R.

    Somersworth, NH

    Brings to light Le Roux's life of drug trafficking, weapons, and money laundering across countries. He grows more powerful and spirals to the underworld. Decides to help the DEA; what's the motive?

  • Rashmi T.

    North Bend, WA

    In extent of investigative journalism is mighty impressive. Author deserves to be lauded for it. The book is engrossing, shocking and made me wonder why I haven't heard of this Mastermind before.