Jonathan Ashley crams a lot into The Cost of Doing Business, from ghetto shootouts with Tec-9s to sociological laments about middle class norms. It’s got elements of the tough-talking hood narrative, and the book is entertaining in places, but ultimately much of the action is muddled by drawn out sentences and the narrator’s distracted observations.
What Ashley does well is provide an inside look at the criminal underworld between Louisville, Kentucky and Cincinnati, Ohio. We get everything from the street-level hood to the big drug capo, from the accidental user-turned-dealer to the strung-out junkie, from the dirty shakedown patrolman to the PD Captain who takes orders from crime bosses rather than the chief of police.
He casts much of his tale on the border between urban decay and seedy gentrification. His part of Louisville is “The best of New York City Bohemia packed into a two mile strip… the tattoo parlors, the coffee shops, and record stores… ethnic joints and five star restaurants…” All this set beside the “Undesirable neighborhoods… where black and white children in hand-me-down underclothes block the middle of the street playing with hula hoops and deflated soccer balls, avoiding whatever horrors their parents perpetuate in the shotgun shacks on either side of the blacktop.”
In this environment narrator Jon Catlett and his manager-cum-buddy Paul pass the time selling used books and hosting yuppies to live music. Here he sets the opening scene, an accidental homicide that sends Catlett’s world crashing down around him.