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Above Suspicion – Review

by: Sharkey, Joe

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press Paperbacks

Copyright: 1993

Type: Paperback

reviewed by: Lynard Barnes 1/5/1995

Summary: Some personality types just don’t make good law enforcement officers. An FBI agent goes bad. Who would have thought. Highly recommended reading.

Republished from Crushies Book Reviews – Volume II Issue No. 1 – January 1995 – Copyright 1995.

On page 106 of ABOVE SUSPICION is described the content of a Teletype message from the Federal Bureau of Investigation headquarters in D.C.. The Teletype was in response to a proposal from the FBI office supervisor in Covington, Kentucky. His proposal was to use the wife of Special Agent Mark Putman, Kathy Putman, in a drug sting.

The sting was to be against a Letcher County, Kentucky politician who, on the particular evening in question, shoved a gram of cocaine into Kathy Putman’s purse during a flirtatious dinner at a restaurant in Pikeville. Though Mark was not too happy, Kathy Putman was enthusiastic about going undercover to trap a drug trafficking politician. Terry Hulse, Mark Putman’s supervisor in Covington, was also enthused. The Putmans, Hulse and the U. S. Attorney in Lexington got together, worked out the details and sent their Teletype to FBI headquarters requesting permission to use an FBI agent’s wife in an undercover operation.

The Teletype response from FBI headquarters said they had never heard of such a lame brained idea. It was a lame brained idea then and is still a lamb brained idea.

This incident becomes subtle background noise for everything else that happens in ABOVE SUSPICION. If you have ever wondered why there is such a premium placed on the life of being a cop, you should read this book. All the pitfalls are exposed.

Special Agent Mark Putman fitted the typical image an FBI agent. Despite what he eventually admitted to doing, you can not avoid judging him a decent man. A decent man but tragic. Like some protagonist in a Shakespearian play, it was his mortal weakness, hidden behind an armor of duty and devotion to his role in life as a cop, an FBI agent, that undid him. Special Agent Mark Putman had an affair with Susan Smith, an FBI informant, and upon learning she was pregnant, killed her.

In ABOVE SUSPICION, Joe Sharkey makes an earnest attempt to explain the circumstances leading up to the death of Susan Smith. Though not totally objective, you get the impression that Sharkey brings us as close to the truth as we can ever get. The significance of ABOVE SUSPICION, sadly to say, goes beyond the tragedy of a life lost and a life shattered. Like many other books reviewed in these pages, ABOVE SUSPICION addresses the shortcomings of our law enforcement and legal system. For all that, the power of this book rests in its examination of one FBI agent gone bad.

Pikeville, Kentucky is about 158 miles southeast of Cincinnati, Ohio, and 139 miles west of Roanoke, Virginia. The geography can be misleading however. As Sharkey points out, this is the land of the legendary Hatfields and McCoy feud. At the time Mark Putman was assigned to the FBI Resident Office in Pikeville, the most persistent criminal activity was bank robbery. Bank robberies were what brought Mark Putman and Susan Smith together.

Susan knew the person responsible for the latest bank robberies. With the then cooperation of her abusive husband, she sought out the FBI and became an FBI informant.

From the start, the Special Agent-informant relationship between Putman and Smith was subjected to rumor and speculation. The rumors were started by Susan. The speculation was fueled by Susan. Given her past, given the narrow line she walked between law abiding citizen and criminal, it comes as no great shock that she used her role as FBI informant to validate her worth in life. In this, she was much like Putnam whose existence was as an FBI agent–nothing else really mattered.

The early relationship between the two was almost thoroughly professional. Almost because Kathy Putman, as her husband’s at-home secretary and message-taker, gradually developed a surrogate counselor relationship with Susan. Susan was a drug addict, an abused wife, a neglectful mother. A woman in trouble. Kathy Putman wanted to help.

In hindsight from reading Sharkey’s account, we can see where the barriers of agent-informant succumbed to the dynamics of personalities. Of the three primary characters involved, Susan’s was the dominate personality. She knew how to influence, exploit and control–skills developed from walking the line. The inexperienced Putman and his wife never had a chance. Tossed into the mix was a Svengali of a Special Agent transferred to Pikeville from the Chicago Office, Ron Poole. Special Agent Poole’s was a master at developing drug cases. He also appeared to be one of those bureaucratic infighters who knew more about how to advance his career than safeguard the integrity of the institution he worked for.

ABOVE SUSPICION is not an FBI bashing book, though it could very well have been. Nor is it an attempt to provide an unqualified exoneration of Special Agent Putman, though it does at times lean in that direction. By example, it paints a very unflattering picture of our legal system’s use and abuse of criminal informants.


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