Wild Cowboys: Urban Marauders and the Forces of Order

Robert Jackall, Author, Mark Schroder, Illustrator Harvard University Press $26.5 (448p) ISBN 978-0-674-95310-9
New York City's Washington Heights neighborhood is home to a number of violent ""crews"" that seem to divide their time between drug trafficking and murdering rival gang members. Jackall, a sociologist from Williams College, spent three years as a participant observer of efforts by criminal justice workers to bring members of one such gang, the Wild Cowboys, to account. His tale mixes sociology and journalism, without fitting comfortably into either. The drama centers around the work of homicide detectives in linking separate killings and assaults to a single source. As the title might indicate, Jackall tries to give his book the structure and even the language of a classic western, with a rushing, hard-boiled prose that sounds like Jack Kerouac collaborated with James Cain. But the book lacks definable central characters (a 15-page dramatis personae follows the text) needed to tie together a narrative and give readers someone to identify with through the many layers of the criminal justice system. The author seems most interested in making this a morality tale, as in his previous Moral Mazes, about the world of corporate managers. Little attempt is made to integrate the work into sociological literature on gangs, nor does he discuss the built-in problems of participant observation--over identification with subjects and difficulty in generalizing the experience. Still, despite its problems, it does have strengths. 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. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/01/1997
Release date: 09/01/1997
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Paperback - 438 pages - 978-0-674-01838-9
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