RARA-AVIS: William Caunitz

From: JIM DOHERTY ( jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 10 Sep 2002

Where Robert Daley was a high-ranking police executive
(and that's all he ever was; he never worked his way up from patrol officer like most cops), and that for only a short time, William Caunitz was a career policeman who spent most of his career in middle-management. Specifically, a detective lieutenant in command of a precinct investigative squad. Most, though not all, of his heroes are also squad commanders, and most, though not all, of his books are one-shots rather than series entries. In fact, he only re-used a character once, and you could say it was the death of him.

Cauntiz's first book was ONE POLICE PLAZA which featured a Manhattan squad commander involved in what
(at least to me) seemed very unlikely international political shenanigans. Then again, given recent events, maybe he was prescient. I enjoyed his second book, SUSPECTS, about the investigation into the murder of a shady (but not necessarily dishonest) police officer by a one-legged squad commander (based on a real-life colleague of Caunitz's), much better.

Cauntiz followed with BLACK SAND, about an NYC squad commander and a Greek cop collaborating on an international investigation (the hunt for an ancient artifact, making this book sort of Caunitz's MALTESE FALCON); EXCEPTIONAL CLEARANCE, Caunitz's version of the "hun-for-a-serial-killer" plot with an NYPD squad commander in the lead role; and CLEOPATRA GOLD, about the attempt to break up an international drug ring, the only book featuring a hero, a deep cover narc detective, who's not a squad commander.

Caunitz's penultimate book, PIGTOWN, about a Brooklyn squad commander whose investigation into a gang killing uncovers a cabal of high-ranking crooked cops, is, in my opinion, his best. It's hero, squad commander Matt Stuart, returned in Caunitz's posthumoulsy published CHAINS OF COMMAND, which was completed by another popular procedural novelist, Christopher Newman, author of the Joe Dante series.

Interestingly, although Caunitz clearly liked police work and being a cop, he doesn't seem to have liked the NYPD much. He portrays a department swimming in corruption, and pulls no punches doing it. This is in stark contrast to another former NYPD middle-manager, Detective Captain Dan Mahoney, about whom more tomorrow.


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