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Wild Cowboys: Urban Marauders & the Forces of Order Paperback – September 26, 2005
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From Kirkus Reviews
Despite a few years of research and the promise of his own marauder-like name, Jackall has written an unremittingly wooden tale of drug-related mayhem. Jackall (Williams College; Moral Mazes, 1988) spent a few years with the NYPD, following a trail of murders across precincts in Manhattan, the Bronx, and the West Side Highway connecting the two boroughs. The detectives gradually uncover a single gang operating out of a heavily Dominican neighborhood in Manhattan's Washington Heights. The Red Top crew--enamored of Scarface and clavos, secret compartments for guns that line their fancy cars- -moves in and takes over the corner drug trade after murdering the local dealers. Jackall is on the scene as the worst offenders are themselves murdered or rounded up for trial, accused of murdering others, from competing dealers to an innocent college grad who made the mistake of passing a gang member on the highway. But this dramatic story is not well served by Jackall's dry style (it's clear why the police referred to him as ``the Professor''). He is ill at ease with police lingo, and his use of terms like ``pross,'' ``dissing,'' and ``two in the head'' can be grating. Clearly, Jackall has an intimate understanding of the complicated case against the Red Top gang, yet it is confused by the book's poor organization. A short speech by the sentencing judge crackles with the only real fury here about how thoroughly the gang has ruined the lives of everyone it touched. An academic, labyrinthine look at the terror gangs inflict on their neighbors and society. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Wild Cowboys has a great deal to tell about the formation and operation of emerging "criminal enterprises." Moreover, and perhaps more important, this book is a fly-on-the-wall look at how the "forces of order" think and go about eradicating the opposition...Mr. Jackall is at his best when he fleshes out how police detectives single-mindedly overcame dead-end leads, sidestepped or neutralized competing units within the ranks of the police bureaucracy and parlayed fragments of accurate information to solve several particularly vicious pieces of Wild Cowboy handiwork...Anyone interested in the techniques of criminal investigation could not find a more comprehensive and readable primer than this book. (Alan Mass New York Law Journal)
This book is a hard-driving, factual account of the Dominican drug trade and the havoc it wreaked in New York City, particularly in Washington Heights and the Bronx, along with the frustrated efforts of law enforcement officials to deal with it. (Bill Franz The Register)
Jackall isn't afraid to draw conclusions and his story has an air of authenticity. This book makes a brutal and, for most readers, extremely foreign world seem discomfitingly close. (Publishers Weekly)
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Robert Jackall focuses his sociologist's eye on a localized crime wave amongst Dominicans living in Washington Heights. He begins with the brutal acts of wanton murder that lie at the center of the book. From there he casts his net ever wider until the reader slowly grasps the big picture.
To someone such as me, living in Britain, this is a very alien landscape. The casual acts of extreme violence, the industrial scale drug dealing, and the regular open gunplay on the streets of the Big Apple read almost like something from a Hollywood script rejected for lack of authenticity. The title, Wild Cowboys, is well chosen both for the gang that adopted the name and for its portrayal of urban mayhem.
By the end of the book the reader has a good grasp of the complex social relationships on the block, the reasons for all the extravagant machismo, and the extraordinary difficulty facing police officers investigating such crimes. Jackall does an excellent job of tracking relationships - even if he does let his unalloyed admiration for NYPD officers shine through rather often. But, hey - those guys need all the help they can get after their recent regular bad press.
I did struggle a little in the middle of the book when I thought I was going to be overwhelmed by names of new characters constantly joining the tale. However, ends are brought together well at the conclusion when Jackall traces how a wall of criminal solidarity cracks wide open to resolve itself in a series of guilty pleas.
If the cast list of War and Peace put you off reading Tolstoy - give this one a miss!