The multicultural stew pot that is contemporary Queens is served up steaming in this pungently uproarious novel about a frenzied young policewoman advancing her career one drug buy at a time.
If you’ve ever found—or, more likely, lost—yourself in the borough of Queens, New York, you don’t need to be told how difficult it is to make your way around its somewhat bewildering landscape unless you (A) have grown up there or (B) carry a reliable GPS. This crime novel written by Queens native Burgess (Dogfight, A Love Story, 2011) evokes some of that hurly-burly as it chronicles several tumultuous weeks in the life of Janice Itwaru, an NYPD covert op desperate to climb from the dreary if sometimes-hazardous swamp of petty street buys to a detective’s gold shield. In the process, Janice, who lives with her sickly Indian mom in Richmond Hill, must cope with the ribald taunts and elaborate pranks of her fellow “uncles” (as in undercover narcotics cops), whether on assignment or in their nondescript HQ labeled “the rumpus.” If the additional harassment she faces each day from the dealers, thugs, flunkies and informers isn’t bad enough, she’s also pressured by her superior officer to meet her shifting quota of buys and bullied by an Internal Affairs cop from Manhattan into helping him get the goods on a shady “uncle.” Less a conventionally plotted procedural than an anecdotal stream of harrowing encounters, scatological slapstick and polychromatic repartee, this is a multitextured chronicle of coming-of-age, or, perhaps more precisely, coming to terms with what it means to be a responsible grown-up struggling for truth, justice, love and value in a post-millennial urban universe where once-familiar boundary lines get blurrier every day.
Is it possible that Burgess is doing for Queens what Junot Diaz is doing for New Jersey? No easy answer just yet, but this novel will make you wait for one to show up.