McDonald tries to unravel the blue-walled enigma of the NYPD through the lens of a sprawling Irish Catholic family memoir. McDonald's father, a detective lieutenant, was among the first of many cops to violate regulations and move his family from the city to then-rural Rockland County, a calculated retreat from the tide of drugs and gangs that he saw coming even in 1955. McDonald explores the dichotomy between this artificially tranquil police domesticity and an urban sphere in which "the cops were losing—; this schism imploded by the early 1970s, during McDonald's adolescence, a time of anticop fervor, high crime, and his own "holding onto the longhaired remnants of the 1960s." Also told are the parallel histories of his grandfather's pre-1920 experiences within the corrupt Tammany NYPD (a muscular yet meticulous evocation of old New York that recalls Luc Sante's Low Life), and of his brother, who became a detective after high-risk Street Crimes duty, was demoted after two ambiguous incidents that nearly drove him from the force, then ultimately regained his gold shield and became a teacher of police science. Throughout, McDonald eloquently addresses the fascination those close to cops find in their volatile circumstances, while maintaining a jaundiced view of how the department treats its own. He examines his own youthful confusion, wistfully taking the NYPD exam during a hiring freeze and carousing, gambling, and loafing in suburban discos or "gangster school." But he is more circumspect where his brother and father are concerned. Although his portrait of the guarded inner lives of law enforcers in the midst of savage criminality is arguably as good as it could be, these men remain somewhat distant and at times opaque, and their experiences feel less than archetypal. Still, McDonald's first book offers an original take upon this storied (and notorious) institution and on the conflicted inner lives of one cop family, written with grace, seriousness, and historical understanding.
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