I received a review copy of Curbchek from the author, and was immediately struck by the intriguing cover. Curbchek describes the gritty, day-to-day working life of a cop on the city streets, and that cop’s name is Zach Fortier, just like the author. Now, I’ve actually read quite a few books where the author decides to give the main character their own name, and to be honest, I’ve never really understood why writers do this. Nonetheless, I started reading, knowing that Fortier based his book on his personal experiences as a police officer.
The book is a series of short chapters, each focusing on a different street incident that takes place in an unnamed city. Some of these stories are fairly banal and even humorous, but most are truly horrific and sometimes shocking. Fortier definitely has a gift for lurid description, and he and his trash-talking fellow cops come across as authentic, if disturbing. But while the crimes themselves are hard to stomach, I found the most disturbing part of Curbchek was the “character” of Zach Fortier. I honestly don’t know how much of the book is autobiographical, but if this is the real Fortier, I don’t think I want to meet him. In the Preface, he actually describes himself as “damaged,” and he’s not wrong. Fortier was in the military police before coming over to the civilian side, and his training instilled in him a loathing for authority of any kind. When he started working the streets, he realized he could finally make his own decisions, and many of those decisions come across as downright reckless.
We’ve all heard about police brutality, and seen it in action on TV, but most of us probably don’t think much about it on a daily basis. So when I started reading Curbchek I was not prepared for Fortier’s casual descriptions of the treatment of some of the perpetrators. Although I acknowledge that police work is dangerous and officers have to be alert and ready for violence at all times, I felt a lot of the bad treatment of criminals went above and beyond what was necessary to keep them in check. Instead of cheering on the cops for protecting society, I was horrified by what I interpreted as sadistic cops who take out their aggressions on the job.
Most perplexing to me is how many people really loved this book. I checked the reviews for Curbchek on Amazon and Goodreads before I started writing this review, just to see if I was on the same page as other readers, and I found that I am not. Curbchek is getting glowing five-star reviews from most people, which is great for Fortier, but confuses the heck out of me. I have to conclude that those who have read and reviewed this book are reacting to its shock value, and not the fact that it is a poorly constructed “novel.” If Fortier had actually created a fictional character and a story arc that provided the reader with a beginning, middle and end, it would have been much more successful. Even throwing out the idea of a novel and calling it “non-fiction” would have made it better. In any case, when I evaluate a book there is one thing that has to be present in order for me to give it any kind of “thumbs up.” If the characters, even the bad guys, do not have any redeeming human qualities, the story just doesn’t work.
I’ll leave you with this definition of “curbchek” from the introduction, which sums up very nicely how I felt after finishing the book:
“Curbchek: Placing an unconscious or immobile individual’s head against a curb with their mouth open, then stomping on or kicking them in the head.”