A Shadow in the City Review
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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.

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