RARA-AVIS: Police Procedurals: Mayor, Turnbull, Westermann

From: Joy Matkowski ( jmatkowski1@comcast.net)
Date: 21 Sep 2002

Archer Mayor's _Bellows Falls_: This is the book I lost, which turned up under my pillow. It was not very interesting in the beginning, at least for the sleepy reader, because of an initial prologue-type incident in the work of Brattleboro's Lieutenant Joe Gunther that is then dropped for a great many pages. The overall plot has to do with Gunther being called to investigate a charge of sexual harassment by a citizen against a police officer in another town. Apparently, this is how such accusations are handled in a law enforcement agency way too small to have its own internal affairs unit. This book is mostly about police work from one officer's POV, with only enough of his personal life thrown in to prove he's a real human being. It has a great deal of discussion--too much for those of us who aren't interested--about the formal and informal interactions of the various towns' police forces, the state police, county prosecutors, the state attorney general's office, and various statewide task forces, especially in the decision process of who should pursue a suspected network of Fagan-style drug dealers. Then again, I enjoyed all the geographical and sociological description of Vermont, which others might not. I think of the state as full of mountains and rock-ribbed dairy farmers, for example, not big lakes and sleazy dopers, and this new view is what has stayed with me from this book.

Peter Turnbull's _And Did Murder Him_: The location is Glasgow, and the plot concerns an apparent knife fight between two junkies that turns out to involve upper levels of society, according to the cover flap, so I figured I'd love this book. However, it's novella length with a dozen or so often-repetitive points of view, mostly police, whom I readily confused, and much of the story, draped over a meager plot, has to do with the various officers' personal lives--a drinking problem that is affecting job performance, for example. If this book is part of a continuing series, these bits may be development that are interesting to readers who have been following these lives, but they're padding to me. Big chunks of text are thrown in, I suppose to answer an editor's query of "huh?" We interview a suspect's mother at length, for no particular reason, and learn how he was taught to handle a knife properly on account of his father's having tripped and thus stabbing himself to death while carrying a knife carelessly. There are lots of other unplugged holes--can a lawyer whose practice is the government-financed defense of impecunious minor crooks really afford a sumptuous lifestyle? for instance. People tell me Turnbull's books are excellent, and I can only conclude that this one was a desperate attempt to fulfill a publication commitment.

John Westermann's _Ladies of the Night_: This is a police (and politics) procedural about Nassau County, New York, Police Commissioner Frank Murphy, written by a former Long Island police officer. The women of the title are not what you might think but rather high-ranking, more-or-less respectable county Republican party movers and shakers who keep disappearing. The time frame is the upcoming county commissioner elections, in which the first credible Democratic candidate in generations has surfaced. The protagonist has to balance good police work and constant political double-guessing, if not outright interference. The county commissioner's own personal, totally loyal police officer bodyguard reminded me of the Rizzo years, although I suppose the practice is common. The plot has lots of potential suspects, twists and turns, and exciting chase scenes. The writing also has some broadly drawn characters, wit, and humor, which I find a big plus, but everyone might not. All in all, I'm going to order this author's other police procedurals (which are apparently not a series with continuing characters) from Powell's, which will enable me, at long last, to get _1974_ without paying any shipping and handling.

And a question: I notice that when I'm doing online shopping there is often little information available about a book, even at amazon.com, especially if the book is a few years old (let alone a couple of decades old). Although I may be wrong, I figure it's legal to paste what I write here and on other lists about books onto reader review places such as those on amazon.com. But is that considered proper behavior ("netiquette," although I dislike the word)?

Joy, who also means to cover a lot more police procedurals she's bought

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