RARA-AVIS: Robert Daley

From: JIM DOHERTY ( jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 09 Sep 2002

This week I'm focusing on NYC cops who've become cop-novelists.

The NYPD has always been inordinately influential in the development of the police procedural. What many regard as the "first" police procedurals, a series of short stories by William MacHarg about a tough cop named O'Malley were set in New York. So was the book often (somewhat erroneously) cited as the first police procedural novel, Lawrence Treat's V AS IN VICTIM. Sidney Kingsley's pioneering stage play about a day in the squadroom of a typical big city police station, DETECTIVE STORY, was set in NYC. So was the classic film noir procedural, THE NAKED CITY. Not surprisingly, this largest of all American police forces has been the "birthplace" of a number of cop-novel-writing careers.

Strictly speaking, Robert Daley wasn't really a cop. He was a professional journalist who served as the NYPD's deputy commissioner for public affairs (sort of the department's press agent) for a year or so under controversial Police Commissioner Patrick Murphy. He did carry a shield and a gun, and, presumably, had arrest authority, however, so he was at least a quasi-cop.

His tenure came during an amazingly eventful time in NYPD's history. The Knapp Commission, the firing of legendary Detective Eddie Egan (the model for Gene Hackman's character in THE FRENCH CONNECTION) for nothing more than resentment over his movie fame, the shooting of whistle-blower Frank Serpico, and the movement (a temporary one as it happened) of detectives away from general precinct squads and toward specialized details, the ambush murders of several cops by the Black Liberation Army, all took place during his time of service.

After leaving he wrote about his time with NYPD in TARGET BLUE. Shortly afterwards he published his first NYPD novel, TO KILL A COP, a thinly fictionalized version of the BLA case, was well-received becoming a highly-rated TV-movie, and ultimately, a TV series entitled EISCHIED (for the Chief of Detectives hero loosely modeled on real-life C of D Al Seedman, who spearheaded the hunt for the BLA).

Daley, not surprisingly, has tended to focus on high-ranking executive-type cops rather than working street cops. The lowest-ranking hero that I'm aware of is the captain commanding the Chinatown precinct in YEAR OF THE DRAGON.

He's also written one cop novel set in post-war France, THE DANGEROUS EDGE, about a Surete agent, and another non-fiction piece about the NYPD, PRINCE OF THE CITY, about narcotics detective Robert Leuci, who, to redeem his own corruption, decided to blow the whistle on department-wide corruption. This became a well-received film and earned Treat Williams, who played a fictional character modeled on Leuci, an Oscar nomination. His most autobiogrpahical novel is presumably MAN WITH A GUN, about a deputy commissioner for public affairs with no prior law enforcement experience.

I enjoy Daley's novels quite a bit, but he never quite manages to shake himself of the "gee-whiz" attitude of someone on the outside of police work looking in. Still, he was a paid NYPD eexecutive during one of NYPD's most active periods, and his books are an interesting blend of "insider" and "outsider" views of the Job.


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