REVIEW: "Blue Blood" by Edward Conlon

  • Posted on: 14 January 2012
  • By: TedG

With two exceptions, the group was of two minds about this biography/memoir by a New York City police detective. The exceptions were Adrian, who employed his “50 pages and out” rule – “if a book hasn’t caught my attention in the first 50 pages, I move on; I have a lot of other things to read” – and, on the other end of the spectrum, me. Though I don’t need to read the book twice, I enjoyed it very much the first time around. However, as I read it, I knew that the group was going to say it was slow and too long. They did, and maybe it was.

The two mindsets for the other three readers were these: the book had some really good parts, and those parts were interesting to read, but they were broken up by some really long and not necessarily relevant stories about the author’s family history, or details about day-to-day minutiae. There were too many names, too many details, and too much jargon (though Conlon does a good job of explaining the terms when he first uses them). But the good parts were really good! Who knew there was SO MUCH paperwork involved, especially with signing up informants! And it is AMAZING how much truly awful behavior and tedious work police officers have to put up with! The book was good and not so good.

Edward Conlon comes from a law enforcement family that is pretty well known among the NYPD, so it may seem natural that he became a police officer himself. However, he doesn’t do so right out of high school, choosing instead to go to Harvard first, which is apparently not the regular path of most civil servants. He tries to keep this fact quiet, as well as his interest in writing a book. In fact, he does not get a job with Department Commissioner, Bernard Kerik (after they recruit him, and everyone says “don’t turn this down”!) because the commissioner is thinking of writing a book, and when he learns Conlon is thinking of writing a book as well, Kerik does not want there to be an appearance of Conlon perhaps having written his book for him. But that’s a very small story in this larger view of the police world. Conlon is a good cop, and his path through the department toward the much-coveted “gold shield” of the NYPD detective is perhaps typical. He’s hard-driving and hands-on, always looking to make the arrest. But he is also keenly aware of the city’s and the department’s history, and his place in it. He reflects on all of this, bringing it to bear in his daily work on “the Job.” (“Job” is always capitalized, representative of how he views police work as a vocation rather than just a profession.) His appreciation of irony and coincidence and perhaps fate all make the side stories and tangents relevant to his larger contemplation and respect for police work.

Conlon earns his transfer to the detective bureau in the summer of 2001, and soon after, of course, is the attack on the World Trade Center. His description of that day and its aftermath – his assignment to sift through the rubble at the Fresh Kills landfill, and a story of his partner’s assignment to the morgue as a sort of honor guard for when the remains of police and fire fighters come in – is perhaps the most interesting for those who are not as taken with the rest of the book. Even now, 10 years after that horrific day, Conlon’s telling of it stirs raw feelings and emotions.

I have always been interested in law enforcement. It’s an interest that has been mixed with both true admiration and faulty misconceptions. As I kid, I read all the Hardy Boys books (twice!), and I have always been interested in the TV cop shows and movies (my favorites were Dragnet, Adam-12, Starsky and Hutch, CHIPS, The Untouchables, and the Lethal Weapon series). I’m still in awe of this vocation (it really is a calling), which is why when I saw Blue Blood on a National Public Radio book list, I added it to the our group’s candidate list. Perhaps, then, my enjoyment of the book is colored by that long-standing interest. Indeed, the group felt cops would probably like this book. (If any officers are reading this blog, we welcome your participation!) In the end, the average score for interest was a 3.5, and readability scored a 3.3 (both on a 1-5 scale). Three people said they were not interested in reading another book by Conlon, while one other person could be, if, like with Douglas Brinkley’s Wilderness Warrior, he knew ahead of time how long the book was, and if he could read an independent review of it AND have access to Clif Notes (do they still make those?). I would read something else by Edward Conlon, even if it was more “true crime” than personal history. The mystery – or just the burden of proof – and the intelligence that is required to provide the proof and solve the mystery always make for good reading.