The Mastermind: A True Story of Murder, Empire, and a New Kind of Crime Lord

The Mastermind was selected as a best book of 2019 by The New York Times, NPR’s Favorite Books, Hudson’s Ten Best Nonfiction Books, Kirkus Best Reported Books, Mother Jones 2019 Books to Read, Evening Standard Best Technology Books, CrimeReads Ten Best True Crime Books.

PAPERBACK ON SALE NOW from Random House. The incredible true story of the quest to bring down Paul Le Roux—the creator of a frighteningly powerful internet-enabled cartel, an international kingpin who merged the ruthlessness of a Pablo Escobar with the technological savvy of a Jeff Bezos.

The enterprise started as an online prescription drug network, supplying hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of painkillers to American customers. But it soon morphed into a multinational conglomerate fueled by narcotics trafficking, weapons smuggling, money laundering, militias, and murder. The mastermind behind it all, pulling the strings from a laptop in Manila, was a South African named Paul Calder Le Roux—a criminal genius who could only exist in the networked world of the twenty-first century, and a self-made godfather that American law enforcement had never imagined.

For half a decade, the DEA played global cat-and-mouse with Le Roux as he left terror and chaos in his wake: ex-special forces transporting sacks of gold from Ghana to Hong Kong; kilos of North Korean-manufactured methamphetamine; a personal hit squad deployed to torture and murder across the globe; a mysterious dead man at the helm of a shipwrecked yacht containing $100 million worth of cocaine. It would take relentless investigative work, and an unexpected crack in Le Roux’s empire, to bring him down—but at what cost?

“With his relentless and fearless reporting, Evan Ratliff has pried open a hidden world filled with high-tech gangsters and drug kingpins and double-crossers and stone-cold hitmen. The story is as fascinating as it is terrifying, and it is one that will hold you in its grip.”—David Grann, author of Killers of the Flower Moon

More reviews of The Mastermind

The Washington Post: “Web promoters and billionaires praise the Internet’s potential to redistribute power and disrupt institutions, but Ratliff reminds us that those so empowered include people like Le Roux — in thrall to greed and uninhibited by ethics — and the institutions so weakened are those that once afforded us protection.”

The Los Angeles Review of Books: “A fine example of resolute investigative journalism… Ratliff manages to tell a compelling story with skill, style, and tenacity, traveling the globe to understand how one man could evade capture for so long.”

The Irish Times: “Darkly fascinating and truly gripping… It’s a brilliant book, one that makes Le Roux’s life and career seem a suitably wild parable for a digitally deranged age.”

San Francisco Book Review: “The Mastermind is true crime at its most stark and vivid depiction.”

Kirkus Reviews (starred): “A wholly engrossing story that joins the worlds of El Chapo and Edward Snowden.”

Other praise for The Mastermind:

“If truth is stranger than fiction, then The Mastermind is the truest book you’ll read this year. The only thing predictable about it is how quickly you’ll turn the pages.” —Noah Hawley, author of Before the Fall and creator of the TV series Fargo

“As directors, we spend countless hours imagining heightened plots and memorable characters that will leave a lasting impression on audiences. The true tale of obsession, genius, intrigue, and vengeance detailed in The Mastermind is as gripping and cinematic as anything we could endeavor to conjure up.” —Joe and Anthony Russo, directors, Captain America and Avengers: Infinity War

“This is a mesmerizing, absolutely bonkers story about a man as brilliant as he is villainous. You’ll find yourself sucked in, freaked out, and ultimately blown away by Ratliff’s storytelling and tireless reporting. The Mastermind is a masterpiece.” —Nick Thompson, editor-in-chief, Wired

Previous Books:

Love and Ruin: Tales of Obsession, Danger, and Heartbreak from the Atavist Magazine (W.W. Norton, 2016), a collection from the first five years of the Atavist Magazine.

Safe: The Race to Protect Ourselves in a Newly Dangerous World (Harper Collins, 2005), co-authored with Martha Baer, Katrina Heron, and Oliver Morton

Full Reviews of THE MASTERMIND

Philippine Daily Inquirer:Int’l drug crime boss had heyday in Philippines, says book” (2019)

Los Angeles Review of Books: “Incentivizing the Cartels: Evan Ratliff’s The Mastermind” (2019)

New Frame: “Criminal Ambition that Knows No Bounds” (2019)

Rappler: “Journalist Evan Ratliff on drug kingpin Paul Le Roux’s operations in PH” (2019)

Women’s Health: “25 Best True Crime Books” (2019)

ReadItForward: “40 Best True Crime Books of All Time” (2019)

The Minneapolis Star Tribune: “Reviews: ‘The Mastermind,’ by Evan Ratliff” (2019)

Arab News: “What We Are Reading Today: The Mastermind by Evan Ratliff” (2019)

The Hindu: “Evan Ratliff’s new book, ‘The Mastermind’, explores the dark side of the Internet” (2019)

San Francisco Book Review:The Mastermind: Drugs. Empire. Murder. Betrayal.”

The Washington Post: “Building an international criminal empire — online” (2019)

CrimeReads: “The Best True Crime Books of the Month” (2019)

Daily Maverick: “How a South African man became the world’s most notorious cyber-criminal” (2019)

The New York Times: “Guns, Drugs and Money: Taking Down the Drug Kingpin Paul Le Roux” (2019)

The Daily Mail: “Mastermind whose specialist subject was violence: Fascinating new true crime book investigates the little known life of Paul Le Roux” (2019)

The Washington Post: “Meet the digital El Chapo” (2019)

The Irish Times: “The Mastermind review: Wild parable about one of world’s most prolific criminals” (2019)

Outside: “Everything Our Editors Loved in February” (2019)

CrimeReads: “A Cyber Criminal’s Insane Empire of Drugs, Guns, & Gold” (2019)

Longreads: “’The Most Versatile Criminal in History” (2019)

The Los Angeles Times: “Meet Paul Le Roux, the cyber criminal exposed in new books by Evan Ratliff and Elaine Shannon” (2019)

Smithsonian: “The Computer Programmer Who Ran a Global Drug Trafficking Empire” (2019)

The Times UK: “Hunting Paul Le Roux: from TrueCrypt to cocaine and murder” (2019)

Wired: “Meth, Murder, and Pirates: The coder who became a crime boss” (2019)

VICE: “A Drug Kingpin Ran His Empire from a Laptop, Then Snitched on His Own Assassins” (2019)

Kirkus Reviews: “A complex tale of true crime on a global scale.” (2019)

Publisher’s Weekly (starred): “Investigative journalist Ratliff makes the most of the stranger-than-fiction story of Paul Le Roux” (2019)


The New York Times: “A triumph… Aside from the other triumphs of The Mastermind, Ratliff clearly deserves this year’s Award for Dogged Journalism for staying on his target until the very end.” (A New York Times’ 2019 Notable Book)

Publisher’s Weekly: “A true crime classic.”

The Los Angeles Times: “A tour de force of shoe leather reporting—undertaken, amid threats and menacing, at considerable personal risk.”

The Daily Mail: “A masterwork of investigative journalism.”

Outside: “The whole thing reads like fiction.”