In A Shadow in the City: Confessions of an Undercover Drug Warrior, journalist Charles Bowden chronicles Joey O’Shay (the fictitious name of a
real undercover narcotics agent) in an unnamed city. Being a cop is
O’Shay’s entire life. It is his identity. The book takes place in the
drug world—O’Shay’s world. He’s taken down a lot of drug traffickers—and
then comes the $50 million Colombian drug deal. As the book progresses,
there is conflict as to which side O’Shay is on. The lesson to be learned
is this: those involved in the drug world will suffer a loss of humanity.
They will sell out their own values, get mean, and lie. They enter
a world where they either go down or thrive.|
But if you’re going to tell a story, why not just tell the story? I found
Bowden’s writing style as enigmatic as the characters about whom he
writes. The book flips from the present to the past, flipping back and forth without any cohesion. Often, I’d be reading along and realize that I wasn’t in the same time frame that I was in a minute ago—and there
were times when I couldn’t follow the story at all.
I just don’t have the patience for Bowden’s writing style; I found it
terribly frustrating, and my interest waned. This could and should be a
very important book with a very important story, and I think it would take
on new meaning if the story had simply been told. The reader
shouldn’t have to wade through the murky depths of Bowden’s literary style
to find the story or the meaning behind it.
Fans of Serpico, Prince of the City, Donnie Brasco,
Billy Bathgate and that ilk will want to look elsewhere.