Two major bullet points stood out about his epic book for me. First, it is a top quality, immensely crafted piece of writing, the work which has gone into producing it undeniably vast and conscientious. Second, it is an incredibly hard book to read, for several reasons.
To begin, I want to say that Frederick Reynolds is awe inspiring. His work rate and attention to detail are second to very few authors I have read. Not just a writer but a man and a professional to be taken very seriously indeed. This is a person with talent, stamina and determination in his writing; I can only imagine what he must have been like as a cop, but I don’t hesitate to believe he was every bit as burdened with integrity as he professes to be in this gritty biography. However, his talent and delivery aside, I have to say that I struggled with this opus at times. It’s biggest and probably most obvious issue for me was its length; it is a very long, very wordy book indeed. It certainly surpassed my preferred word count maximum, but I had little else on so I let it slide. In actual fact, had I been busier I would probably have passed; this was a real effort to get through and not my preferred genre. From Detroit to Compton, L.A., Reynolds finds himself working the beat in some of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in the civilized world, where murders are committed for fun. It is an extremely vivid, graphic and claustrophobic read, which absolutely lingers on the more disturbing aspects of life. The violence, the horror, the sheer depressiveness of this lifestyle, are almost wielded like a certificate of service by those who choose to put their life on the line every day. And why shouldn’t they shout about their sacrifice? I’m sure writing about it is therapeutic, even cathartic. But my point is, and I felt when reading, the world is not the way they live it, and the way they see it, in the main. There is a part of you, as a reader, screaming out, “Why do it?! Why subject yourself to this danger, death and misery?” And, more selfishly and ostrich-like, as the reader, “This is not the world I choose to inhabit, and I don’t.” This book brings it into your life, into your home, and that’s hard to accept. That aside, of course, ultimately one can only be left admiring those brave men and women in blue (and I don’t mean the Crips).
The length, as I’ve said, is something I really struggled to get past, and perhaps harms the book a touch. There are lots of words, and many pages are spent on any one particular sequence of events. The grisly, distressing and upsetting content is relentless and candid, the gang activity infuriating and pathetic in equal measures, but the absolute drive of Reynolds’s pen is consistently powerful and unstoppable. As Officer Reynolds moves up the rank, the mindless crime never lets up, and indeed gathers momentum, but now the narrative moves into even more murky territory, that of dirty cops and even dirtier politicians. What started as Colors now becomes Serpico on steroids.
That it becomes increasingly difficult to adhere to with enthusiasm is perhaps made more difficult in this case, because some of the punctuation is not best practice or easiest reading, which is surprising for a book which clearly expended so much exhaustion on the part of the author, both in terms of its source material and its actual creation. Most notably, I felt there was a big problem with the underuse of paragraph breaks throughout. This meant that the prose felt like a barrage at times, the context and focus moving from one point to the next like a runaway train. When the meticulously researched content is imparted, it is buried in the midst of a force of nature – that which is Reynolds’s epic articulation.
Be advised, this book has a strong racial element, and throughout its entirety characters are introduced and described in these terms. Obviously the premise of the book is such that it examines and blurs the racial lines of and between crime and order, and the progress of a minority in a career with a tough reputation and potentially glass ceiling. But the respective descriptions of “Black” and “White” characters is a constant theme, over and over again, to the point where it became actually quite distracting, and I wondered at times if it was actually relevant. Being a U.K.-based reader, where racial identities are not capitalized as proper noun labels, as they are in the U.S. (Black, White, Native, etc.), this had me unclear on the narrative’s focus at times.
To summarize, this book is going to appeal to a lot of readers, for a lot of different topical reasons. Whether your interest is gang culture, cop life, American history or racial inequality, Reynolds is an outstanding, hardworking and hugely respect-worthy author, man and researcher – an authority in every area, with the data to support this reputation. This is a book and a life which both deserve a heap of praise, and indeed a lot of thanks from a great number of people.
In : Book Reviews
Tags: frederick-douglass-reynolds cop crime memoir autobiography true-story gangs american los-angeles compton detective racial