A Faint Cold Fear

Generally speaking, the only people cops disdain more than lawyers are reporters; the only people reporters mistrust more than politicians are cops. A former New York City deputy police commissioner who’s also been a reporter for The New York Times, Robert Daley knows both types. The author of 20 previous books, including Prince of the City, he also knows how to tell a complex and entertaining story. In A Faint Cold Fear, a novel about a love affair between a cop and a reporter, Daley does that and more.

In the Byzantine world of NYPD headquarters, Ray Douglas is far too successful and outspoken for his own good. After leading the largest cocaine bust in city history, he’s impolitic enough to resist turning his operation over to the DEA. From a working cop’s perspective, federal agents have the college degrees but there aren’t enough of them and they don’t know the turf.

A mayor and a police commissioner eager to pass the buck to Washington are bound to find Douglas’ bluntness offensive and inconvenient. They hit upon the expedient of lending him to the DEA for a special assignment in Colombia. In terms of his career, that’s worse than Coney Island. A personal disaster too. A recent widower, Douglas is more worried about dying of loneliness than being murdered by narcotraficantes.

Reporter Jane Fox, on the other hand, came to Bogotá by a different route. In their sexist fashion, her editors at a newspaper that sounds a lot like The New York Times had assumed that a young married woman couldn’t bear to leave her husband to become a foreign correspondent. But then they don’t know her husband. In twisting her editor’s arm, Jane had in mind a glamorous European capitol. Madrid, for example. Instead she got Bogotá, a city in which the U.S. ambassador’s wife can’t go shopping unless accompanied by a battalion of marines.

If it takes no great intuition to realize that the two are made for each other, one of the pleasures of well-made popular fiction is watching the inevitable happen. Nor is theirs an easy relationship. Jane feels a ”New York journalist’s normal distrust of the police.” And Douglas, far from being lovestruck, sees the hometown reporter as a tool for salvaging his career. ”I got on the front page and she got on the front page,” he thinks. ”I used her and she used me. We used each other.”

Sure, Daley’s metaphors could use a little work. ”Terror,” he writes, ”is a high plateau. The Everest of emotions.” Mount Everest a plateau? His characterizations can also be sketchy. But in other ways A Faint Cold Fear has surprises on every page. Not the least of these are Douglas’ reflections on the drug war and Latin America. After witnessing firsthand the vastness, remoteness, and desperate poverty of the region, he comes to wonder whether the whole enterprise isn’t hopeless to begin with. First-rate, thought- provoking entertainment. A

A Faint Cold Fear
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