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

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


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.”