By Tammy Scileppi
Queens native and author Matt Burgess sits down with novelist Richard Price to talk about Burgess’ soon-to-be-released work, “Uncle Janice,” at the Astoria Bookshop, Tuesday, Jan. 6.
Afterward, the former Jackson Heights resident will share excerpts from the edgy police story he penned, which is set in his favorite borough and deals with a rather controversial, hot button topic in a humorous way.
The war on drugs is fought on some of Queens’ meanest streets by Uncle Janice, a frenzied young female undercover cop who is advancing her career one drug buy at a time.
In a recent interview with the author, who also wrote the critically acclaimed novel, “Dogfight, A Love Story,” Burgess said he never forgot his Queens roots, even though he has been living in Minneapolis for years, and revealed that he still gets pangs of homesickness for the neighborhood he grew up in, which was the inspiration for his new book.
Burgess describes “Uncle Janice” as “a police procedural, office comedy, family drama, and coming-of-age story, in the middle of the most recent economic collapse—a hard time for almost everyone; an impossible time for Janice.”
The author explained why he decided to write the book and how he got the title.
“This book came out of barroom conversations I had with friends of mine from the neighborhood (Jackson Heights) who are now undercover narcotics officers—or ‘uncles,’ as they like to call themselves,” said Burgess. “It’s such a dangerous, draining, morally complicated job that the department promises that if you can last 18 months you will automatically get promoted to detective. And with that gold shield comes a nice bump in salary, of course, not to mention prestige.”
In the fictional account, one of those uncles turns out to be Janice Itwaru — a 24-year-old, first-generation Guyanese woman from Queens — who is at month 17. To her dismay, Janice’s boss tells her that she’ll only get her gold shield if she makes four more buys before the end of the month. Otherwise she’ll suffer a humiliating return to patrol, where her female colleagues will resent her for failing, and the boys in blue will pat her on the head and say, “Nice try.”
According to the story, in her urgency to make those buys, Janice jeopardizes her safety, blows her cover, alienates co-workers, confronts old demons, and attracts the unwanted attention of Internal Affairs, according to Burgess.
“’Uncle Janice’ is a lowdown masterful contribution to Urban American lit, charismatically written with terrific sly humor and a joyous dead-on ear,” said Price, author of “Clockers” and a writer for the TV show “The Wire.” “An addictive read, one of those books you wish would never end.”
If you go
Q & A with Matt Burgess and Richard Price
When: Tuesday, Jan. 6, at 7 pm
Where: Astoria Bookshop, 31-29 31st St., Astoria