Wednesday, May 04, 2005


Conlon, Edward, Blue Blood. New York: Riverhead Books, 2004

A cop story, told in tough-guy style, is not my kind of book. But I couldn't lay this one down!

It's so much more than just a cop story. The author, a detective in the New York City Police Department, skillfully weaves many layers together: his own story of becoming a police officer, the stories of fellow officers, including some of his own Irish ancestors, the history of crime and policing in New York. He includes accounts of many of his cases with perceptive observations about both the perpetrators and victims. He tries to understand or at least live with the organizational system, the reams of paperwork, the baroque regulations, the interdepartmental rivalry, the transfers and promotions wafted unpredictably by political hot air.

The frosting on the cake is his use of language: sometimes straightforward, sometimes lyrical, often staccato. Always rich and fast moving. At times, the sentences almost become rap. Conlon describes the police radio as "a constant and chaotic montage of stray details, awful and comic facts." NYPD uses the abbreviation "K" to end a radio transmission, in the same way most other organizations use "over."

"You okay, K?"

"A-OK, K."

"Okey-doke, K."

Conlon had majored in English at Harvard, but when he entered the police department, he didn't think his academic qualifications would be an asset. He describes how he filled in forms about his background:

" I had written where I had gone to college in a cramped scrawl, and the best guess for what it said would have been 'Howard.' Sgt. Alvarado and PO Rickard must have wondered why I'd gone to a historically black school, but Sgt. Solosky interrupted himself in the middle of class to say, 'Hey, wait a minute! Conlon, there's a rumor going around that you went to Harvard! Didja?'

I made a derisive sound. 'Not lately, Sarge.'

After class I approached him and apologized, saying I didn't mean to mislead him but I preferred to keep that quiet. He slapped me on the shoulder and said, 'Don't worry, Conlon, it's nothing to be ashamed of.'"

If you ever wondered why anyone would want to be a cop, read this book. And be thankful there are people like Edward Conlon on the Job.


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