22.1.16

Book review - The Job: True Tales from the Life of a New York City Cop by Steve Osborne

I listen to NPR quite a bit (shameless plug - listen to it online on WBUR, Boston's NPR news station) . The Moth radio hour is one of the more interesting shows on public radio. Real world stories narrated by authentic individuals - what's not to like about that. Imagine my surprise when one of those narrators now has their own book. I just had to read it - the show is that good.

Steve Osborne, a decorated NYC cop brings together some of his shows from the Moth hour and fleshes them out in 'The Job: True Tales from the Life of a New York City Cop'.  It's an anthology of short stories with very few parallels. Steve traces his career as a cop from his first days a rookie to his retirement as the leader of a special unit in a bunch of short stories.

Some of the stories are poignant, some are bawdy and some right surreal. Most are a little loosely written - probably because their original audience was a live crowd. The choice of incidents to narrate is top rate. It almost feels like NYC is a city of magical reality.

Take the story about him ramming the dealer carrying a huge knife with his squad car. And then he takes care of the other dealer being knifed. He even gets him hot dogs. Or as Osborne puts it"You act like a gentleman, and I’ll treat you like a gentleman. You act like an a–hole, and that’s the way I’m going to treat you."

Or take the time when he decides to chase a criminal down the metro and almost kisses an incoming train. Or that time with the millionaire. Or that time with the dead girl.

As you flip through the pages, you realize you have stepped into someone's stream of consciousness. Osborne's narrative is very much geared towards the live audience, so it can read wierd at times. It feels like some statements are inserted more for the standup value than to actual help narration. Casual racism and profane language abound for no special purpose. There is a lot of shifting between past and present which can be off putting. There is also a lot about a cop's place in this universe and how there are scum on the streets of NYC. Again, works great when narrating - on a book, comes across as pontificating and shallow posturing.

Even then, the anthology is worth a read. Cops are a much beleaguered lot in today's world. Osborne was not very different. But, he has interesting stories to tell.In a way we owe it to ourselves ('your liberal do-gooder *insert profanity* selves' as I imagine Osborne would put it) to view the world from a cop's perspective. It's well worth the read and it might be in your local public library.

3 stars.