It’s About the Cop, Not the Badge

The Blue Religion edited by Michael Connelly.

Nineteen stories about cops. While I’m still familiarizing myself with the subgenres in crime fiction, I know I’m not interested in writing mysteries (especially cozies), though the police procedural might not be too bad of an experience. What appeals to me, though, are the elements in these stories that aren’t necessarily procedural, but character driven.

In one story a detective retired for Alzheimers appears at a crime scene and solves the case while the detectives who got the call worry about his presence, and then he promptly forgets how he got there and how to get home.

In another story—the only historical entry—a Hawaiian cop at the handover of sovereignty to the United States, covers up a murder by his brother and switches the used Hawaiian flag for a meaningless fresh one so that the memories and symbolism of the old flag can be protected by Hawaiian’s who are about their homeland.

As it says on the back cover “The best story about the badge is not about how a cop works on a case, it is about how the case works on the cop.” This is demonstrated throughout this collection. High powered writers—though Connelly is probably the biggest name associated with it—come together to write about the men, and women, in blue.

A cop who meets a seductively alive 19 year old risks his career investigating her murder because she made him feel alive one afternoon. A crime scene cleaner comes across a police badge and begins an investigation into the murder whose blood he’s cleaning and ends up with a bullet in the chest. A retired cop deals with white supremacists in rural Idaho by saving the child by forcing him into the Army.

Nineteen different approaches to the blue, each one interesting, and each one well written.

Any of the authors included in this collection are worthy of further examination and, with the exception of Greg Rucka, are foreign to me. While I’m still relatively new to the police procedural as a reader—namely experienced with Ed McBain’s 56th Precinct Novels and the television series of David Simon (Homicide: Life on the Street, The Wire, etc.) I do enjoy a good procedural. While there is an element of the mystery, it’s different. There’s still the question of whether the protagonist will find the bad guy, but instead of the red herrings and other tropes of a straight up mystery novel, it’s more of a thriller, oftentimes with the culprit not showing his or her face until the final shootout.

Reading “Father’s Day,” Connelly’s contribution to the collection, made me wonder if it was Connelly or Harlan Coben that I once read and didn’t like. I know I read one of their novels and didn’t like the main character. I’m increasingly thinking it was Coben, especially after reading The Chill by Ross Macdonald and realizing that crime novels—at least those told from the perspective of the good guys—are often not that into back story.

After this, I think I’ll give Connelly a try. The bestseller lists certainly give him a great deal of credit, and with his show just renewed for a seventh season on Amazon, there has to be something there to the character. Maybe I’ve found a new author to read. Not that there are any shortage of them, digging into the crime fiction genre with all its sub genres.

I’d give The Blue Religion a solid four stars for competent writing, quality plots, and sympathetic characters. A solid recommendation. Check it out.

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