Early on in this splendid recounting of his long years with the NYPD, Edward Conlon writes, ”The way I worked as a cop was to know the basics, trust my instincts, and make it up as I went along.” Much the same can be said for his crisp, clear writing. He knows the basics, he trusts his instincts, and he makes it up as he goes along.
This is not to suggest that there is anything even remotely fabricated in Blue Blood, an engrossing tale that starts in 1995 with Conlon as a rookie patrolman in the South Bronx and ends in the present with him as a gold-shield detective in the Four-Four, farther uptown. But there is a scattergun approach to the material that leads one to believe Conlon has left nothing out; he wrote down everything and anything he remembered, as he remembered it, telling it just the way it was and is. The result is a book that resonates with the shattering ring of truth.
Considering its roots in raw fact — and some of it is extremely raw, seemingly torn bleeding from the victims of crimes still in progress — the book reads surprisingly like a novel. We know that Conlon and his fellow cops are real people, and reason tells us that their stories all have foregone conclusions; yet we follow their exploits and their careers with bated breath, concerned and caring, always uncertain of the outcome. Similarly, the residents of Conlon’s teeming New York, the good citizens and the bad, the dealers and the addicts, the confidential informants, the police department bureaucrats, all come to life in a novelistic way, lending an epic tone to Conlon’s long struggle with his lifelong love: the NYPD.
Make no question about it: This is a love story.
”We stood in our new dress uniforms, and saluted with our white gloves, then took them off and tossed them up, and they filled the air like a flock of birds.”
That’s the poetic language of a young man falling in love.
”…I set up the execution for Friday night, with Narcotics, ESU, EMS, and the dozen or more cops from the PSA.”
That’s the secret language of a man hopelessly enthralled.
But as in any good love story, there are misunderstandings and rifts, petty disputes and temporary disillusionments; at one point, after repeated setbacks suffered at the whims of two thickheaded superiors, Conlon writes, ”it wouldn’t have made sense at the time, to have reached a point in my career where everything was great about work except work.”
Some of his problems on the Job stemmed from the fact that he was at the time writing articles about police work for The New Yorker; portions of four chapters in the book originally appeared there. Given the frenzied pace of his police activities, it’s a miracle Conlon found time to write at all. Some of the finest writing in the book is in those four chapters, including a glittering 16-page riff on drugs, drug addiction, and the history of the drug trade. Eventually, his moonlighting activity became common knowledge in the department, dogging him from assignment to assignment; when he first began working ”midnights,” the other cops suggested he nickname himself Poe, for Edgar Allan Poe.
In the end, true love triumphs. Conlon remains a cop. But in telling us everything he did, everything he felt, seemingly everything he thought during the frantic years recorded in these pages, somewhere along the way he became a writer as well.
We are extremely fortunate that he did.