An Anglo-Irish writer long ago compared the law to a cobweb in which the small flies are caught and the great break through.
But that's all Greek to Bob Deasy.
For, contrary to what satirist Jonathan Swift believed, Deasy decidedly proved him wrong as a Canadian cop who spun a Machiavellian web of treachery and deceit to con and ensnare some very big insects in modern crime as he masqueraded as one of them.
In the riveting and roguish Being Uncle Charlie, Deasy describes how he and teammates worked deep undercover for many years for the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), posing as equals with everyone from behemoth bikers and well-dressed killers to gone-bad businessmen, Italian and Russian mobsters, psychopaths and sociopaths, and all the time faking it as brilliant phoney fellow-travellers in spine-tingling, horrific gambles of make-believe.
Deasy was a cop for 23 years -- 15 undercover -- and retired in 2006 as a detective inspector and investigatory legend. His skill and courage were the flypaper that helped snare some major players in Canada's underworld and severely damaged their activities many times over.
His tale is somewhat like that of FBI agent Joseph Pistone, who infiltrated New York organized crime in the 1970s and was made famous in the movie Donnie Brasco starring Johnny Depp and Al Pacino. And like Donnie Brasco, Deasy's story is, in Hollywood terms, more Maltese Falcon than Scarface, more about human relations and betrayal than blood-lust and body count.
Not once in his dealings with these people did Deasy see a gun, although it's clear from his experiences he would have been dead in an instant if that's what they had wanted.
Uncle Charlie is the moniker used to label Deasy and fellow operatives as UCs, undercover cops. They were involved in duping a number of different personalities, from low-level thugs and wannabes to brilliant criminal minds and emperors of organized crime.
To succeed, these Uncle Charlies had to be cunning, intuitive, inventive, original and quick-witted, attributes that require a high level of intelligence and empathy. In their work, isolated from everyday policing, they easily became mavericks who didn't break the law, but often came close to the edge.
And to let off steam, they sure partied.
According to Deasy, their more conventional and mainstream brethren, particularly the RCMP and the bean counters in police bureaucracy, viewed them suspiciously and -- to the frustration of the UCs -- were more interested in seeing paperwork satisfied and rules obeyed than crooks ruined or captured. It doesn't take a cop to figure out that asking thugs for a receipt for the cash you've just given them in a drug deal is foolish and a good way to flirt with death.
Another bizarre part of Deasy's story is about operatives in the RCMP with whom he and his kind often worked. He claims the RCMP is a hide-bound institution unsuited for undercover. For example, he says, they'd sometimes make the mistake of assigning undercover jobs to rookies fresh out of the RCMP training depot in Regina and, although Deasy doesn't say so, it's clear such novices would look as out of place undercover as a Mountie performing in a musical ride without a horse. They didn't last long.
In the end, Deasy survived a long-term dystopia of stress, boredom, worry, heartache, loneliness, isolation from reality, marriage problems and unending anxiety. All the while he acted in his imaginary role in a dehumanizing underworld social order that fears and murders its own as much as it exploits its customers and victims.
The nadir of his experiences was his astonishing accomplishment of being the first UC in history, he claims, to infiltrate the leadership of the Italian Mafia in Canada, only to see the undercover operation forced to shut down a year or so later through no fault of his own. That still bothers him.
Being Uncle Charlie is a compelling snapshot of the cat-and-mouse nature of undercover policing.
Retired journalist Barry Craig covered organized crime and forensic sciences.