A street-smart and hilarious memoir from Conlon, who takes readers behind the squad-room door to reveal the inner life of New York’s Finest.
The author isn’t exactly a typical policeman: he graduated from Harvard, and he published a “Cop’s Diary” under a pseudonym in The New Yorker. But he really does have “blue blood,” flowing from his great-grandfather, a crooked cop who was a Tammany Hall bagman, through his uncle, a veteran NYPD officer, and his father, who served in the NYPD briefly before joining the FBI. Conlon’s odyssey runs from early euphoria (graduation from Police Academy, work as a housing division cop in the South Bronx) through disillusionment (clashes with new superiors at a Street Narcotics Enforcement Unit he had come to cherish) to eventual triumph (promotion to the Detective Bureau). His personal trajectory almost exactly encompasses the Giuliani years, when New Yorkers’ response to the police department careened from acclaim for crime reduction to anger over the Louima and Diallo cases, ending with gratitude again in the wake of the World Trade Center attack. Although the extensive descriptions of stakeouts could have been pruned, it’s unlikely that anyone will soon provide a more literate view of a police precinct: “good-hearted if sometimes misguided, bound by duty and tradition and semi-private heartbreak.” Conlon’s prose, buffed to a high sheen, mixes the rich and rowdy dialogue of police and “perps” with department lore about legends like Eddie Egan and Frank Serpico, literary allusions, and overviews of daily routine that bristle with sharp observation. (“Junkies, coming down, can go into a whole-body cramp, and have hands as stiff as lobster claws.”) It’s all here: wayward crackhead informants, the roughhouse camaraderie of police units, precinct pettifogging (better to call in sick for “flu-like symptoms” than for colds), the haunting fear that a lying complaint by a civilian might derail a career, and, above all, the gravitational, 24/7 pull of “The Job” with its “wreckage and wonders.”
Crackling sharp—and utterly compelling.