Cover image for Uncle Janice : a novel
Uncle Janice : a novel
Burgess, Matt, 1982-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Doubleday, 2014.
Physical Description:
269 pages ; 25 cm
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Twenty-four-year-old Janice Itwaru is an "uncle"--NYPD lingo for an undercover narcotics officer--and the heroine of the most exuberantand original cop novel in years.

A New York City cop who can last eighteen months in Narcotics, without getting killed or demoted first, will automatically get promoted to detective. Undercover narc Janice Itwaru is at month seventeen. Ambitious, desperate for that promotion, she hits the sidewalks of Queens in her secondhand hoochie clothes, hoping to convince potential criminals--drug dealers, addicts, dummies, whomever--to commit a felony on her behalf. And things aren't any easier back at the narco office, where she has to keep up with the bantering lies and inventively cruel pranks
of her fellow uncles while coping with the ridiculous demands of her NYPD bosses.
     With an ailing mother at home, her cover nearly blown, quota pressures from her superiors, and rumors circulating that Internal Affairs has her unit under surveillance, Janice is running terribly short on luck as her promotion deadline approaches. Now she has to decide which evil to confront: the absurd bureaucrats at One Police Plaza, or the violent drug dealers who may already be on to her identity.
     Bursting with the glorious chaos of the New York City streets, Uncle Janice is both a deeply funny portrait of how undercover cops really talk and act, and a compelling story of their crazy, dangerous, and complicated lives.

Author Notes

MATT BURGESS is the critically acclaimed author of  Dogfight, A Love Story . A graduate of Dartmouth and the University of Minnesota's MFA program, he grew up in Jackson Heights, Queens.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

After 17 months as an undercover narc (or uncle) in Queens, half-black and half-Indian Janice Itwaru is just a month from a detective badge when her captain pressures her to increase her drug buys. So when Janice sees an easy buy but fails to properly cover her partner, 17-year veteran Chester Tevis, she loses his trust but not his friendship. As the lives of uncles swing from boring to life-threatening, shortcuts sometimes are taken, and Internal Affairs targets Janice to inform on her sergeant, throwing her into turmoil as her potential promotion date nears. Meanwhile, her divorced mother, with whom Janice lives, is slipping further into dementia, and Janice must seek help from her estranged father, a reformed alcoholic who betrayed and battered her mother before he remarried. As in his well-received debut, Dogfight, a Love Story (2010), Burgess puts a humorous slant on deadly serious drug matters in this vivid portrayal of life on the streets, which swings from funny to gut-tighteningly suspenseful. Not likely to gain recruits for narcotics squads, but a tour-de-force of its type.--Leber, Michele Copyright 2014 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

The uncle of the title of this gripping, well-written book set on the mean streets of contemporary Queens is an undercover narcotics officer in the NYPD. "Uncle" Janice Itwaru, a New Yorker of Guyanese descent, poses as a drug addict to make "buys" of crack and other controlled substances; she is shadowed by a "ghost," a fellow officer who makes the arrests. Burgess has crafted an urban picaresque, though Itwaru's undercover identity and activities are potentially dangerous. But the relatively low level of narrative momentum (this is not a genre novel) is well compensated for by the rich, vibrant portrait of Queens's vast underclass-from the suffering addicts and smalltime dealers to the cops who are more concerned with doing their job, surviving the tedium and drudgery, and moving their way up the NYPD food chain than making the streets safer from the scourge of drugs. Burgess (Dogfight, a Love Story) has a finely honed eye and a gift for rendering street-smart dialogue that is both credible and comic; he fully realizes Itwaru's world and makes the reader understand just how futile most of the skirmishes in the war on drugs really are. (Jan.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

Starred Review. In Burgess's outstanding sophomore effort (after Dogfight, A Love Story), 24-year-old Janice Itwaru is an "uncle" for the NYPD, making controlled buys as an undercover narcotics officer, withstanding the good-natured ribbing of her fellow uncles, and counting the days until her 18 months comes up and she makes detective. But the Big Bosses have instituted a quota, and Janice, if she wants to earn that gold shield, needs to step up her game to include four buys a month, in an area where she is fast becoming a known face. As Janice attempts to scheme the hapless drug dealers of Queens in locations dank and desperate, while tending to her mother's descent into dementia and generally avoiding her alcoholic father, she begins to crack under the bureaucratic pressures of modern-day policing-and Internal Affairs may be watching her every move. VERDICT This fresh take on the cop novel genre retains the madcap energy of Elmore Leonard's best fiction while introducing the most irresistible police precinct this side of Joseph Wambaugh's Hollywood Station. [See "Writers To Watch, from Scott Blackwood to David Whitehouse," Prepub Alert, 7/14/14.]-Michael Pucci, South Orange P.L., NJ (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.