SOUTH BRONX — Before he wanted to be a police officer, NYPD Sgt. Jordan Castro wanted to be a novelist.
"I’ve always had a passion for writing, since Kindergarten really," he said. "I read 'The Odyssey,' 'Othello,' 'The Great Gatsby.' 'The Odyssey' made me want to do two things: run a marathon and publish a novel."
Castro, 37, initially only entered the police academy at the urging of his father, and although he soon grew to enjoy the work after becoming an officer in July 2006, his desire to write never left.
So around May 2015, Castro—who is currently stationed at Police Service Area 7 in the South Bronx—starting using his nights to work on a project that eventually became his debut novel: "Smoke and Mirrors: Police Dreams."
"A lot of cops write novels or books, works of non-fiction, when they retire," Castro said, "but I was midway through my career, and I was like, 'There’s no time like the present.'"
The novel tells the story of a rookie police officer named Brandon Rose who wants to honor his father, a detective who died in the line of duty, by becoming a detective himself, a goal he plans to accomplish by catching the killers in a quadruple murder known as the Ash Wednesday homicide.
Rose gets into a relationship with a 16-year-old girl named Giselle in pursuit of this goal, taking her out on dates and manipulating her in the hopes that he will be able to use her to identify the murderers.
The novel is also supposed to be part social commentary on the tensions that have flamed up between police officers and their communities in recent years following several high profile deaths of black men at the hands of law enforcement, including that of Eric Garner in 2014 on Staten Island.
"I felt the timing was right for me to release this novel, given that there was this ongoing national conversation on police matters in America," Castro said. "There were police-involved deaths, and there were assassinations of police officers."
Castro attempts to demonstrate such tensions in "Police Dreams" through incidents like Rose's first arrest, which takes place after a young man bumps into his partner and refuses to apologize, and a conversation between the two officers about how the community views them.
"Sometimes in those life or death circumstances, or in situations where you really have good intentions in mind, something can go wrong, and you can end up in the crosshairs," Castro said.
The novel officially came out on Sept. 26 and takes place in 2007 in New York City's fictitious 51st Precinct, which Castro described as a combination of West Farms, Harlem and South Bronx housing projects.
Although "Police Dreams" is a work of fiction, Castro said he wanted to make the book extremely accurate and would often let the patrols he went on during the day inform what he would write about at night.
"I think it’s as authentic as it gets," Castro said. "Obviously, it’s colored in, and it’s embellished, and there’s the whole artistic element to it, but I think it's very realistic."
Castro maintained that he has always gravitated more toward writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald and William Shakespeare than to novels about police, and his goal with "Police Dreams" was to write a book dealing with a wide range of issues that takes place in a "crime fiction" world.
He is already planning his next novel, a piece called "Bridge of Lives" that will focus on the intersecting paths of people in law enforcement, and then hopes to shift away from crime and write something more centered on a family.
His overall goals are about as ambitious as can be for a new novelist.
"My aspirations are 'The Great Gatsby,' 'Pride and Prejudice,' books that I’ve read like Homer's 'Odyssey,' Shakespeare’s 'Othello.' That’s kind of my background as a writer," he said.
"Those writers are magnificent," he continued. "I’m not even saying I’m close to being in their caliber, but I was kind of chasing them with this debut novel."