three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
11-July-Aug-2004
user_rating: 
0

A-BlueBloodAt age 30, former Harvard English major Edward Conlon decided that the life of a New York City cop "offered entry into a drama as rich as any in Shakespeare." Blue Blood chronicles the results of that decision, packing in enough tragedy and comedy to make the Bard proud. Conlon recounts plenty of familiar situations—drug busts, chases, stakeouts—and some new ones as well, such as a bloody miscarriage in a bathtub. He also offers his take on famous NYPD cases, including that of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed black man shot 41 times by police. But don’t look for juicy gossip; Blue Blood isn’t an exposé. It’s the memoir of a man who loves his job ("the Job," he calls it) despite its danger and frustration.
Riverhead. 576 pages. $26.95.

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"… Conlon delivers the ultimate dissection of ‘The Job,’ a sort of Raymond Chandler-meets-David Halberstam unburdening of one good cop’s soul that is as much about the reading experience as it about the street crime it so vividly portrays. … [I]f you count the landscape of New York street crime among your fascinations, then this book, already being hailed as a masterpiece of its genre, may be the read of the decade." Larry Brooks

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"… Blue Blood, in terms of its ambition, its authenticity and the power of its writing, is in a class by itself. … While sometimes the detached observer, Conlon is often deeply involved in the stories he tells, and to the extent that he’s not self-aware, his tales can yield some unflattering insights." Ted Conover

San Diego Union-Tribune 3.5 of 5 Stars
"… Blue Blood, Edward Conlon’s brogans-on-the-ground reportage straight outta the Bronx, doesn’t tell us much of anything we haven’t already absorbed from the cop-saturated ethos. What he does provide is a series of street-smart and street-dumb vignettes steeped in social and historical context, rendered in boldly assured prose that manages to be both gritty and lush." Arthur Salm

Newsday 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Conlon’s great achievement is that he has avoided the action-adventure genre and focused instead on the totality of the experience, all of its boredom and anxiety and its frustrations with prosecutors, judges and police bureaucracy itself. … Some sections are over-written to the point where they seem not only redundant but also self-indulgent." Anthony Marro

Miami Herald 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Blue Blood is the product of a team player; critics and troublemakers such as The NY Times and Frank Serpico, the detective who blew the whistle on corruption in the early 1970s, are treated unfavorably. Conlon’s aim is to dispel misconceptions, to boost, not knock." Ariel Gonzalez

Rocky Mountain News 2 of 5 Stars
"It’s hard to keep up with Conlon’s prose, which ricochets like an ill-aimed bullet." Karen Algeo Krizman

San Jose Mercury News 1.5 of 5 Stars
"There are too many slow patches, too many excursions into the administrative maze of the NYPD, too many raids and stakeouts and collars that seem like recaps of stuff we’ve already read. … Conlon is handicapped by the fact that it’s hard to write frankly and critically about an institution of which you’re still an active part." Charles Matthews

Critical Summary

Conlon still works for the NYPD, and his closeness to his subject gives Blue Blood, which began as a series of features for The New Yorker, what The New York Times Book Review calls "charge and immediacy." The skill and care with which he renders the New York streets prompts many critics to pronounce his book the best of its kind. But what fascinates a cop may not always entertain a reader. The narrative occasionally sags under the weight of its many details, characters, diversions, and acronyms, while Conlon’s own life gets frustratingly short shrift. And his sympathy for his fellow officers can cloud his historical judgment—he is perhaps too quick to excuse Diallo’s shooters. Still, for those who crave a cop’s-eye view of New York, Blue Blood may be the perfect fix.

Supplemental Reading

A-Prosecutors.epsThe Prosecutors A Year in the Life of a District Attorney’s Office | Gary Delsohn (2003): 4 of 5 Stars Nov/Dec 2003. A reporter from the Sacramento Bee spends a year in the local D.A.’s office. It’s the other half of Law & Order from the other side of the country.