Crime pays—especially if you can get a movie contract. A case in point is Rush (Random House, $18.95), the first novel of convicted felon Kim Wozencraft. In her book, begun in a Columbia University writing class after her release from federal prison, the former Tyler policewoman reworks her own experience as a narc gone bad. Before she had even finished the manuscript, her agent had landed $1 million for the film rights.

In Rush, Wozencraft’s alter ego, Kristen Cates—part-time University of Houston student and lapsed Catholic—joins the Pasadena police force, eager to do “something that made a difference.” Police captain Jim Raynor suspects that she’s a natural for undercover work in the local war on drugs, and he’s right; she easily learns to roll a tight joint, handle a cocaine “tooter,” and shoot up. Far from an indulgence, learning to use drugs is a prerequisite to an agent’s buying drugs—dealers simply won’t trust the buyer if he is unwilling to partake. As one heroin dealer tells Cates’s partner, “I be talking bullets in about a half a minute if she don’t wanna get down [shoot up]. Like I said, man, I don’t be knowing you.”

Provided with a .25 automatic and standard-issue police philosophy, which argues that the end (getting dope off the streets) justifies the means (entrapment and occasional perjury), Cates gets results. She also gets more than she bargained for: a romantic entanglement with Raynor and, along with access to the illegal pharmacopoeia, a growing addiction.

Although Rush is a fully fleshed-out novel, with indispensable love story and cinematic action scenes, it is also a polemic against popular drug stereotypes. When a defendant whom Cates has brought to justice—a likable theology student who deals a little snow on the side—gets a 57-year sentence, Cates’s confidence that her work is making the right kind of difference begins to erode. What’s left of her illusions fades as her fellow officers dip repeatedly into the stash. In the end, cynicism leads her to testify falsely against a notorious drug czar.

Wozencraft makes Cates’s descent into addiction, crime, and finally punishment harrowingly believable. One suspects that the author kept a writer’s notebook during her days as a narcotics agent, for the gritty dialogue rings true, whether the character is a police officer or a druggie—or both. A wild-eyed junkie compliments Raynor on his heroin technique: “You pretty stout. You the first white boy I seen didn’t puke after doing this stuff.” In another scene, a narc admits he has no proof, but says, “If the dude ain’t wrong I’ll kiss your ass at noon in front of the post office and give you an hour to draw a crowd.”

Sensationalism aside, the questions Wozencraft raises are not easily answered. How can narcotics officers avoid being corrupted when forced to use deceit, entrapment, and drugs? And how can the police and the judicial system deal justly with the ever-growing population of drug criminals? The warning that Wozencraft has distilled from her own experience is that corruption in drug-law enforcement is all but inevitable. By walking the reader through this morally slippery territory, she makes the issues scarily concrete.