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Claude A Thormalen

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The Right Side of the Law: Reminiscences of a Federal Narcotics Agent
by Claude A Thormalen   

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Publisher:  Publish America ISBN-10:  1413711758 Type: 


Copyright:  December, 1997

This fictionalized, realistic look at the life of a federal narcotics agent follows Alton Haymon, former special agent still suffering from post traumatic stress resulting from work with both the Treasury and Justice Departments as drug agencies were merged to form the DEA. The conflict between his honest desire to enforce his country’s laws and his need to protect his brother agents with whom he feels bonded is the major struggle of the book. Thefts of drugs and drug money and use of illegal wiretaps become common and agents’ drugs use is wide spread. This struggle between good and evil and Haymon’s continued risk taking causes his final collapse. Haymon, a broken 31-year-old man, resigns from what was up until then the most important thing in his life and finds himself living in the mountains of Western Colorado where, in a last desperate attempt at sanity, he writes his story.

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It had been raining hard off and on for most of the day. With the heavy cloud cover, the night had grown so dark I could not see more than fifteen or twenty feet. I was very wet, but the cool flow of the fragrant summer night air felt good after the unbearable heat of the day. The smell of the wet earth and the pungent odor of the nearby mesquite thicket is still strong in my memory. I lay on my face in a wet, grassy irrigation ditch that ran along a brushy fence line approximately 200 yards north of the Rio Grande River and Mexico. Fire from at least one machine gun and several pistols cut the air and grass around me. The bright flashes from their barrels lit the darkness not more than thirty yards away from where I lay. I could not move. It was like a bad dream except I was not going to wake up and shake it off. I could hear many guns cracking the night air up and down the fence line. The shooting had started with my first shot, and my fear had caused me to jam an empty case in my old pump .12 gauge shotgun. It was too dark to see my way to clear the gun; I was now impotent. These people were trying to kill me and there was not a thing I could do about it.

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Reader Reviews for "The Right Side of the Law: Reminiscences of a Federal Narcotics Agent"

Reviewed by Laurie Vierheller 9/29/2004
Lake City Silver World, Lake City, Colorado
September 16, 2004

Review by Laurie Vierheller

You can’t just read Claude Thormalen’s newly released novel, The Right Side of the Law, Reminiscences of a Federal Narcotics Agent. You have to experience it. Main character Alton Hayman is such a perplexing mixture of whiskey slamming Texas outlaw and Lone Ranger, you have to step into his boots and grow with him, just to understand what he’s about. And when you do, you can feel the white-hot sweat of fear running down the back of his neck in the relative cool of a South Texas night and feel the knots in his stomach that only “Jack Black” can relieve.
Hayman isn’t fearless. But even in his youth he demonstrated a fearless façade that gave him a reputation. “I would stand up for what I thought was right and would not back down from anything,” Hayman reminisces.
After a stint in the paratroopers, Hayman begins his career as a Federal Narcotics Agent, as a brand new member of the United States Customs Office, in Laredo, Texas on the Mexican/US border. He believes in his cause.
His relative innocence is not to last for long, however. He quickly discerns that, in his job, it is every man for himself, as agents are rewarded on the basis of cases made, not cooperation and teamwork. Hayman lives in a world of informants that may or may not tell the truth and agents that are only as trustworthy as their own best interests. He learns that drinking on the job is expected--a not unwelcome revelation—and that “Customs doesn’t give a…what you do, as long as you can … produce.” During the course of his first year, Hayman remarks, “In the eight months that I had been in Laredo, I had been shaped and molded into a much different person. I was no longer the naïve trusting person that had come to Laredo.”
From his innocent beginnings, Hayman’s drive to succeed compels more and more dangerous encounters, many alone, at night, on the banks of the Rio Grand River. He discovers that stops at the US Customs stations will not fill the bill , so he resorts to isolated river crossings, making his way, through rattlesnake infested brush, to lie in wait for smugglers, without backup, under a darkened sky. His tools were minimal: a Browning 9mm with an extra clip and a pump, a .12 gauge shotgun, a flashlight, snacks, coffee, plastic handcuffs and a snakebite kit. He quickly discovers that the smugglers have machine guns, leaving him well out gunned, but even this does not stop Hayman, whose risk-taking behavior causes him to grow in status daily, due to the number and size of cases he is making.
But the risks he takes are not lacking in consequences. Hayman continues to work for the Customs department for several years, making increasingly dangerous and sophisticated busts, and he continues to drink. His obsession with his work grows and his inattentiveness to his wife and child grows right alongside. He makes a transformation from regular guy to federal agent, something that you almost sense he regrets, looking back. He then moves to the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, a move that will further erode his confidence in the cause that he has chosen to pursue.
At points in the book, it is impossible to tell whether the good guys are good or the bad guys are bad, with the hero taking on significantly concerning characteristics, while observing concerns of his own in the other agents. Over the course of his career, the stress of the job takes its toll on Haymon, who suffers post traumatic stress syndrome from too many near death experiences and appears, at times, to have fallen completely apart.
This book is about the human condition. Anyone who has ever felt fear and moved forward even when the odds were worse than bad; anyone who has ever questioned their own innate goodness; anyone who has experienced stress beyond their ability to cope; anyone who likes the excitement of the chase and values the toughness and determination of the Old West; anyone who wants a glimpse into the dangerous world of narcotics agents and smugglers and the dangerous world of a man’s mind, will find this book fascinating. The main character will challenge the reader and make the reader think.
The author, Thormalen, was born in San Antonio, Texas, in 1940 and grew up in Alice, Texas, which explains his realistic depiction of the climate and geography of Hayman’s surroundings. Thormalen has worked as a police officer, criminal investigator for the Customs Agency Service in the Treasury Department and as a special agent with the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs in the Justice Department. After leaving the Justice Department, he taught law enforcement at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas, where he also served as department chairman, Dean of Men and Dean of Students. He also worked as a middle school counselor in San Antonio.
Thormalen says to keep in mind that this story is a novel, not an autobiography, and the main character, Alton Hayman, is a composite of himself and others. He emphasized, “The characters are fictional and if anyone says that they see themselves in the book, they are mistaken.” On the contrary, Thormalen notes, “This is as accurate a portrayal of the true life of a Federal Narcotics Agent’s life as I can make it [and stay out of court and not get shot].”
Thormalen conceived of the idea for the book when teaching Criminal Justice at Sul Ross University in Alpine, Texas. He was having difficulty finding a good, honest text for his senior level class, “Special Problems in Law Enforcement.” Thormalen says, I thought it was important for the kids that were my students at the time and just entering ‘the life’ to have a true and honest idea of what lay ahead of them; so as to avoid some of the true pitfalls.”
In closing Thormalen noted, “Change can never take place unless you have the strength to look the truth in the face; and change was what I was hoping for both for myself and our government.”
Reviewed by Claude Thormalen 4/17/2004
When I was teaching criminal justice in the Texas university system, I was troubled by the lack of any true to life books, whether novels or non-fiction, that I could use in teaching a senior level special problems course. That lack of an honest portrayal of what it's really like to work as a federal narcotics agent was the germ of the idea that led to this book being written.

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