MIDNIGHTS: A Year with the Wellfleet Police by Alec Wilkinson
Kirkus Star

MIDNIGHTS: A Year with the Wellfleet Police

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A small gem of a book, distinguished by its very unpretentiousness. On the surface, exactly what it seems: an account of Wilkinson's year as the junior cop on the nine-man police force in Wellfleet, Mass., a small town on the windswept outer arm of Cape Cod. How small? So small that the police chief takes the shotgun out of the cruiser to go hunting in Maine. Charming-small--but awkward-small, too. So small that a cop can get fired for arresting a politician's son. ""It's unfortunate that everybody in town here knows all the cops by their first names,"" says one Wellfleet policeman. ""I'm not sure that's healthy. . . . You get too close to people."" And in the bleak Cape Cod winter, the town's size only heightens the cops' sense of alienation. ""When I found out the people I thought were my friends weren't really my friends, I felt better off,"" says another. ""Whether you're in uniform or not, you're an asshole to everyone."" Against this psychological backdrop, rookie Wilkinson (just out of Bennington, a music major) took his on-the-job training: routine patrol of deserted Main Street on the midnight shift (""I sat on the benches in front of Town Hall, empty now, and read with my flashlight""); unpredictable danger in domestic disturbances (""I was rare in preferring a domestics call to one that required I search a dark building""); sheer terror as a passenger in high-speed chases (""While they were on, I had no expectation of surviving them""). It never bothered him that he didn't know anything about his gun--no Wellfleet policeman had ever fired his weapon in action. One of Wilkinson's most important lessons was learning to live with his fellow officers, and his profiles of them are picture-perfect: the free spirit who keeps cracking up patrol cars; the would-be intellectual who takes college courses (""My rÉsumÉ is a solid two pages""); the smart, conscientious cop who runs afoul of local politics; and the student of Zen (""You could probably function better in police work if you were in a state of enlightenment""). On one level, then, an entertaining, witty, sometimes moving account of daily life in a small town. On another level, a perceptive look at what separates cops, anywhere, from the rest of us. And on yet a third level, the education of a sensitive young man in the ""real world."" There's more here than first meets the eye, and Wilkinson (who has a great ear for dialogue) makes it seem effortless. A super book.

Pub Date: Aug. 2nd, 1982
Publisher: Random House