A journal of the year the author spent working with a p.i. firm founded by a much-decorated Massachusetts city cop.
Atkinson (Ice Time, 2001; a novel, Caveman Politics, 1997), who was self-admittedly a Rockford Files addict back when prime-time TV still had private eyes, introduces career Boston detective Joe McCain as a bona fide hero “who can punch like a kangaroo, drink like a sailor and has the balls of an elephant.” These attributes make him a standout even among the parade of New England cops here who have chestnut virtues like being tough but who are also “softies for old ladies and kids,” that kind of thing. That McCain was a diabetic who let his weight balloon to over 300 pounds, however, is seen by the author as fodder for stationhouse banter, but not as a diminishment in the safety of fellow officers whose lives may have depended on McCain’s ability to react physically. McCain, in fact, did get shot in the stomach during the drug bust that’s reconstructed in the opening chapter, but, in a requisite apotheosis, Atkinson notes that he emptied his gun at the shooter, hit him with enough shots to kill him, and got a medal for it. When the author joined McCain Investigations, it was headed by the also smart and tough son, Joe Jr., some 13 years later, after complications from the bullet wound (and possibly the diabetes) had finally proved fatal to the father. Fascinated by the idea of a real detective who was more than a match for fictional creations like Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade, Atkinson probes into the officer’s life and times while helping out with repo processing, among other things, for the agency. The result is a series of recollected encounters with dangerous criminals, sleazy cop rivals, and city politicos by the incorruptible Joe Sr., along with the story of Joe Jr.’s taking up the mantle.
A lionized legend wrapped in truisms trumps crime in Mystic River country.