Friday, April 6, 2012

Review: Curbchek by Zach Fortier

Written by Zach Fortier

Published: 2011

Synopsis: Curbchek is the story of a damaged cop, Zach Fortier. Fortier worked in the police department for the city where he grew up. One foot in the world of the cops, courts and legal system. The other in the world of gangs, drugs, thugs and street violence. Where the laws and rules are made by the strongest, the schemers and the most brutal. Read about the transformation of Fortier from a green rookie to a damaged paranoid veteran seeing danger in every situation. Follow along as he walks this tight rope. Trying to make difference, breaking the laws he promised to enforce. This is a story of law and order uncensored

Curbchek is a behind the scenes, no holds barred look at life as a cop in America. Zack Fortier spent a portion of his life working as a cop both in the army and as part of the police department, and has a valuable position to tell some of the more dark, disturbing and occasionally bizarre stories that occur when you patrol the streets as a cop.

The book takes the form of a loosely chronological patchwork of stand-alone stories and more in-depth chapters which deal with the lessons he learned while on the job. The mingling of internal and mostly philosophical narration with the anecdotal conversations, interactions and confrontations works well, creating a smooth story that was rich, chaotic, interesting and, at times, disheartening. I feel like I came out of the other side of this book with a much more comprehensive understanding of people, what makes them tick, what sets them off, and what leads them down certain paths. At no time does Zach Fortier portray himself as an expert, but the clarity of his insights helps makes certain jigsaw pieces in your own life turn and fit together.

 Zach makes an interesting character (not in the fictional sense). He admits early in the book that he is hardly a perfect or undamaged person, as he describes on page 10;
"I knew that with my personality and various triggers, it was better for everyone concerned that I be something of an authority figure rather than be subject to authority figures without recourse."
He openly discusses his troubled marriages, his (sometimes violent) confrontations with other cops, and his unorthodox (for his area) relationships with victims and culprits alike. And while he discusses his complete disdain for most of the internal politics and practices at the police station (some will infuriate, some will make you sick) and his opposite outlook on most issues, he never puts himself on a pedestal as the "perfect" or "ideal" model of what is right and good. One of the quotes that best represented this to me came towards the end of the book (page 173). Zach was explaining why he tries hard not to resort to violence, rather than immediately jumping at the suspect with a nightstick and a closed fist;
"fighting wasn't a victory for me. I don't like how it makes me feel; I feel like a failure when I fight because  it means that I misjudged the situation. I believe I should be able to think my way out of anything, and most times I did."
Curbchek isn't your typical police memoir. While there is a sense of pride in helping others and not descending to a level of violence and racism which would have been better accepted by his colleagues,  the main focus is on the inherent self-destruction or problem that most men (and women, although this isn't brought up specifically) who join the force suffer from. It blurs the line of "us and them", and paints a dark and nihilistic personal view of the current state of the American police services and the road it is heading down.

I know how depressing I've just made this sound, but this is an incredibly well-written and well-thought out book, and there are funny or interesting cases sprinkled throughout. It was a real eye-opener, and I'd love to read an Australian equivalent of life in the force down here. I wonder how different or similar it'd be.

A final caveat, there is frequent swearing within the book, and while I had no problem with it and I think it plays an important function in retelling these stories, it's something you should be aware of before going in.


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