Hanson, Anderson’s endlessly conflicted cop hero, leaves Portland (Night Dogs, 1996) for Oakland. It’s a marriage made in hell.
It’s no surprise that most of his fellow officers take against Hanson, who doesn’t so much color outside the lines as operate on a frequency where the lines don’t appear. Lt. Garber tries to get him to drop out of the police academy because he’s too old, too set in his ways, and too noncompliant. The more practically minded Sgt. Jackson uses him as a crash-test dummy in training exercises. Officers Barnes and Durham use him to set up a suspect they’re after in full knowledge that they’re setting him up, too. Hanson, who thinks of himself as a social worker with a gun, never fights back, but he often zones out in the manner of a Kurt Vonnegut hero. As the months go by, he befriends Weegee, a street-smart kid; he quietly lusts after Racine, who’s called the cops on her abusive live-in; he keeps crossing swords with drug lord Felix Maxwell, though, in the manner of Kabuki warriors, neither of them ever seems to land a blow; he sees a vision of a black rabbit at the Mormon Temple; he responds to any number of complaints by defusing the situation and reporting that there’s nothing to report. Nearly half of Hanson’s violent, poetically rendered rookie year in Oakland has passed before some, though by no means all, of these plotlines begin to converge, and when they do, it’s like watching a finely crafted short story emerge from a novel-length chrysalis.
Read Anderson for great scenes and an appealingly contrary hero, and the absence of the traditional kinds of genre coherence, not to mention suspense, won’t bother you a bit.