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Blue Blood

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Overview

"A great book... with the testimonial force equal to that of Michael Herr's Dispatches."—Time

Edward Conlon's Blue Blood is an ambitious and extraordinary work of nonfiction about what it means to protect, to serve, and to defend among the ranks of New York's finest. Told by a fourth generation NYPD, this is an anecdotal history of New York as experienced through its police force, and depicts a portrait of the teeming street life of the city in all its ...

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Overview

"A great book... with the testimonial force equal to that of Michael Herr's Dispatches."—Time

Edward Conlon's Blue Blood is an ambitious and extraordinary work of nonfiction about what it means to protect, to serve, and to defend among the ranks of New York's finest. Told by a fourth generation NYPD, this is an anecdotal history of New York as experienced through its police force, and depicts a portrait of the teeming street life of the city in all its horror and splendor. It is a story about police politics, fathers and sons, partners who become brothers, old ghosts and undying legacies.  Conlon joined the NYPD during the Giuliani administration, when New York City saw its crime rate plummet but also witnessed events that would alter the city, its inhabitants, and its police force forever: polarizing racial cases, the proliferation of the drug trade, and the events of September 11, 2001, and its aftermath. Conlon captures the detail of the landscape, the ironies and rhythms of natural speech, the tragic and the marvelous, firsthand, day after day. A New York Times Notable Book and Finalist for The National Book Criticics Circle Award for Nonfiction.

 

Third-Place Winner of the 2004 Discover Great New Writers Award, Nonfiction

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
Edward Conlon may be better known to some readers as Marcus Laffey, the pseudonym used for his "Cop's Diary" column that appeared in The New Yorker. But he is fully Ed Conlon here. And his story, a sprawling portrait of Conlon and his Irish-American family, many of whom have been in law enforcement for generations, offers a rare glimpse behind the "blue wall" and into the complicated struggles and successes of a current member of the fraternity known as the NYPD.

Despite a degree from Harvard and his family's dreams of a more exalted life for him, Conlon felt called to "The Job." And in Blue Blood, he brilliantly evokes the decrepit streets of his Bronx beat, from his rookie days in the projects to his current work as a detective. But a cop's job isn't just to take care of the street. And Conlon's book is filled with the lives of the denizens of his precinct: some, hell-bent on sliding ever deeper into the muck and others who try mightily to live lives of dignity amid the simmering chaos that threatens to engulf them. Conlon tells their stories (and his own) with a clear-eyed candor that's unsentimental, yet deeply felt. Ultimately, Blue Blood is a book of both great passion and compassion, and an exposé of a vocation to which Conlon felt called -- with good reason. (Summer 2004 Selection)

The New York Times
Never has a cop explained like this -- and a working cop, at that. The New York Police Department has, of course, inspired a huge variety of popular entertainments over the years, from genre novels to films and long-running TV shows. But Blue Blood, in terms of its ambition, its authenticity and the power of its writing, is in a class by itself. Conlon is uniquely qualified to write about this giant (four times the size of the F.B.I. when he was hired) yet famously insular tribe. — Ted Conover
Zac Unger
Conlon is a cop's cop and his book, a dazzling epic of street life and rough camaraderie, is far more rewarding than any disgruntled Serpico-style tell-all could ever be … Blue Blood doesn't attempt to sanitize an entirely human institution. Instead, Conlon presents the truth as he has lived it.
The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
This gripping account of his life in the NYPD by a Harvard-educated detective will evoke deserved comparisons to other true crime classics, like David Simon's Homicide and Kurt Eichenwald's The Informant. The son of an FBI agent, Conlon began his career patrolling housing projects in the Bronx before moving on to narcotics work and eventually getting his gold shield. He seamlessly weaves in family stories, autobiography and a history of corruption and reform in the legendary police force, but the heart of the book is his compelling and detailed rendering of the daily grind of the average policeman, a refreshing antidote to car chases and running gun fights that are a staple of popular culture's depiction. There are dozens of fascinating supporting characters on both sides of the law, including pitiful addicts and career criminals hoping to become informants, devoted public servants, good bosses and petty bureaucrats. The narrative spans the violent early 1990s, touches on the controversial Abner Louima and Amadou Diallo cases, and features an evocative account of the grim recovery at the Fresh Kills landfill, sifting through remains of the twin towers, where circling birds provided clues to human remains. Even those with a more cynical view of the realities of police work will be impressed by the warts-and-all portrait Conlon provides, and his gifts as a writer will doubtless attract a wide audience. Agent, Owen Laster at the William Morris Agency. (Apr. 12) Forecast: Conlon is already established as the author of the "Cop Diary" pieces in the New Yorker, written under the pseudonym Marcus Laffey. A six-city author tour should help launch this one onto many bestseller lists. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In his memoir of life as a New York City police officer, Conlon (author of the "Cop Diary" pieces in the New Yorker under the pseudonym Marcus Laffey) has produced an eloquently written piece of nonfiction that reads like a novel. He includes bits of childhood memories and family history (explaining his "blue blood"), but the bulk of the book consists of career-related anecdotes. From responding to a call about a dangerous housecat to his post-9/11 assignment of sifting through debris from the Twin Towers, the author weaves his anecdotes into an intelligently composed whole. The reader learns what it is like to be a rookie cop covering a public housing area in the South Bronx in 1995 and follows Conlon's career from cadet to seasoned cop on the beat. The result is an insightful and revealing biography. Highly recommended for all public library collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/03.]-Sarah Jent, Univ. of Louisville Lib., KY Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A street-smart and hilarious memoir from Conlon, who takes readers behind the squad-room door to reveal the inner life of New York's Finest. The author isn't exactly a typical policeman: he graduated from Harvard, and he published a "Cop's Diary" under a pseudonym in The New Yorker. But he really does have "blue blood," flowing from his great-grandfather, a crooked cop who was a Tammany Hall bagman, through his uncle, a veteran NYPD officer, and his father, who served in the NYPD briefly before joining the FBI. Conlon's odyssey runs from early euphoria (graduation from Police Academy, work as a housing division cop in the South Bronx) through disillusionment (clashes with new superiors at a Street Narcotics Enforcement Unit he had come to cherish) to eventual triumph (promotion to the Detective Bureau). His personal trajectory almost exactly encompasses the Giuliani years, when New Yorkers' response to the police department careened from acclaim for crime reduction to anger over the Louima and Diallo cases, ending with gratitude again in the wake of the World Trade Center attack. Although the extensive descriptions of stakeouts could have been pruned, it's unlikely that anyone will soon provide a more literate view of a police precinct: "good-hearted if sometimes misguided, bound by duty and tradition and semi-private heartbreak." Conlon's prose, buffed to a high sheen, mixes the rich and rowdy dialogue of police and "perps" with department lore about legends like Eddie Egan and Frank Serpico, literary allusions, and overviews of daily routine that bristle with sharp observation. ("Junkies, coming down, can go into a whole-body cramp, and have hands as stiff as lobster claws.") It's allhere: wayward crackhead informants, the roughhouse camaraderie of police units, precinct pettifogging (better to call in sick for "flu-like symptoms" than for colds), the haunting fear that a lying complaint by a civilian might derail a career, and, above all, the gravitational, 24/7 pull of "The Job" with its "wreckage and wonders."Crackling sharp-and utterly compelling. Agent: Owen Laster/William Morris
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594480737
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 4/5/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 576
  • Sales rank: 272,322
  • Product dimensions: 6.13 (w) x 9.26 (h) x 1.34 (d)

Meet the Author

Edward Conlon

Edward Conlon is a detective with the NYPD. A graduate of Harvard, he has published columns in The New Yorker under the byline Marcus Laffey.

Biography

Edward Conlon is a detective with the NYPD. A graduate of Harvard, he has published columns in The New Yorker under the byline Marcus Laffey.

Author biography courtesy of Penguin USA.

Good To Know

A few outtakes from our interview with Conlon:

"In college, I acted once. A Beckett play, Krapp's Last Tape, which was a big bite for a first-time actor -- it's a one-man show, lasting nearly an hour. The setup, in the most reductive TV Guide-type summary, is this: an old man listens to a tape-recorded diary he made in his youth. He talks to himself, sometimes, too. That's about it. I wore a gray wig and had to walk like a geezer. There were also bits of silent-comedy slapstick, some of which involved a banana.

"I found acting excruciating in two opposite senses: you're truly alone out there, speaking your lines and making your faces, and at the same time, you feel the audience so completely you might as well be in one big bed with them. You feel every cough as if it were on your neck, every laugh sounds purred in your ear, and every silence brings on a delirium of neurotic speculation: Didn't they hear me? Do they hate me? Does this wig make me look fat? We did the play in a dormitory basement, with 70 or 80 seats, but if it was in Yankee Stadium, I don't think my sense of the crowd would have been less acute. Opening night went well, a blur of adrenaline and nerves. People clapped at the end, and I didn't soil myself.

"The second show was a nightmare, beginning with me. In any production, you have a lot of people doing things for you -- makeup, costume, props, let alone all the coaching and advice, the fidgeting and fuss -- and what begins as luxury turns quickly into seeming a necessity, and from there it becomes a matter of civil right. I had always thought of myself as a fairly self-reliant person, and maybe I am, but it apparently took all of one day and a round of hearty applause to abandon dignity and character altogether. You call this a banana? I can't work with this! In truth, it was a bit off -- we were all tired, things hadn't been set up, all kinds of people kept dropping by to socialize, and nobody had the balls or brains to chase them away. One notorious campus dolt came and wouldn't leave, spouting pompous opinions and pointless advice, in a British accent that make him all the more despicable. I was later intrigued to learn that he was from Staten Island. Not long before curtain, he brayed that he had to leave to get stoned, and the show went on.

"It wasn't bad, at first. Some bits that got big laughs the first night didn't go over, but there were others that got better response this time around. In general, it felt a little more forced and mechanical, less felt. And then there was a cough, and a lot more coughing, which spreads in a crowd like an epidemic. I had to geezer-walk backstage at one point, and two people left, in a hurry. I heard every footstep and hated them. You bastards! So what if this stinks! You couldn't wait another fifteen minutes? For a moment, it seemed like a real choice: finish the play, or hunt them down. I finished the play, quickly, out of contempt. When people clapped at the end, I thought they were kidding.

"After the audience had left, and I finished cursing them, it was pointed out to me that the sudden illness in the audience was not respiratory but gastro-intestinal. The Staten Islander had thrown up, and whoever was sitting next to him had waited until the backstage bit to haul him off. The rest of the audience had sat around a puddle of puke to watch the end of the play, which was very sporting of them.

I would never again wonder why actors were crazy."

"When I was a kid, my family would go out on my uncle's boat, around the city and up the Hudson. I remember seeing Hart Island, just off the Bronx in the Long Island Sound. Hart Island is New York City's Potter's Field, where unknown and unclaimed people are buried. The bodies are ferried over from City Island, and inmates are ferried over from the city jail at Rikers Island for the burial detail. Somewhere, there must be minutes from a 19th-century city council meeting that read, ‘All right, unless anyone has an even more eerie and mythological way to go with this, we're agreed?' My uncle, a cop in the Harbor Patrol, would visit the island to wander around. The thought of a picnic on the bones of 800,000 lost souls struck him as a fine thing. It didn't strike my father that way, and though I don't recall if my family ever disembarked there on one of our weekend trips, I suspect we did not.

"The place stuck with me, though, and I wrote a long piece about it that was the first story I had in The New Yorker. I didn't know anyone there. I showed up at the place with the manuscript, asked for an editor who was an acquaintance of a friend, threw it at him, and ran. It was a long story, some 60 pages in manuscript, largely because Hart Island is run by the Department of Corrections and it was months before I got there. I wrote about a detective at Missing Persons and a forensic anthropologist at the morgue. I talked to the coffin manufacturer. When I got to the island, I traced back one of the bodies, and found out how he'd ended up there. In any case, it was good work for me as a writer -- this was before I was a cop -- because I learned that, as a tactic, in dealing with the government or anyone else, it's a better thing to just show up.

"Not long after, I received a letter from a woman in Paris. She said that she had grown up in the Bronx, not far from where I lived, and that her father died when she was a young child, five or six years of age. No one in her family would ever speak of it, and now no one who knew what had happened was still alive. She had children of her own who approached adulthood, and she wanted to know what had happened. I believe that birth and death certificates are public information, and at the same time, you can't just go shopping for these documents. You'd think I'd know more now, after a decade as a cop, but I still don't. I did know that if I put on a suit and asked for them, with a brusque but cordial tone, my chances of obtaining them were better. At the Bureau of Vital Statistics, as I believe it is called, they provided me with the death certificate, from which I learned that the woman's father had committed suicide on New Year's Eve. Though that bare fact is bleak enough, by comparing the minimal information on the document with that of the woman's letter, I saw that he had hung himself, at home, probably a few yards away from where she slept. As a story, it opened up for me, as a kind of dark wonder, but I had genuine doubts about what to tell the woman. Suicide can be contagious, and it runs in families, and I imagined the old news escaping from the envelope like a virus when she opened it. Still, she had a right to know, and I wrote her to say what happened. I didn't expect a thank you. I didn't get one. I wonder about her sometimes.

"When I'm not working as a cop or writing, I'm immensely lazy. I barely move."

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    1. Also Known As:
      Marcus Laffey
    2. Hometown:
      Bronx, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      January 15, 1965
    2. Place of Birth:
      Bronx, New York
    1. Education:
      Regis High School, New York City, 1983, Harvard College, 1987

Read an Excerpt

ONE

As I took my first steps on patrol as a New York City police officer, heading out from the precinct onto East 156 Street toward the projects on Courtlandt Avenue in the South Bronx, a deep voice called out, "There's a new sheriff in town!" We had been told that people would know we were rookies by the shine on our leather gear and the dim, soft expressions on our faces-people can smell new cop like they smell new paint. When I grinned bashfully and turned toward the voice, I saw it was speaking to us, but not of us. It belonged to a tipsy derelict in an enormous Styrofoam cowboy hat, half-swaggering and half-staggering down the street. I thought of the NYPD Department Values, which begins, "In partnership with the community, we pledge to protect the lives and property..." During our time at the Academy, we would recite it every day in Gym, just as my high school track team would say a Hail Mary before a meet. The partnership with the community had not begun as expected, but it might be said that education is an adjustment of expectations, and although I was done at the Academy, my education had barely begun.

I was assigned to Police Service Area 7, which covered the public housing in five South Bronx precincts: the 40th, 41st, 42nd, 44th, and the 46th, with the heaviest concentration in the Four-O and Four-Two. Like the word "precinct," we used "PSA" to mean both our building and the area it served. On the first day, the PSA was hung with purple and black crepe bunting, for a cop from the command who had died of AIDS. We knew nothing beyond that fact, but as we waited in the muster room, a cop stormed in and began to yell at us: "I don't give a fuck what these assholes say, Mike was a good guy and a great cop, so if you hear different you can tell them to fuck themselves from me!" He left as abruptly as he arrived. We were bussed up to his wake, where we barely knew what to say, even to each other. Such was our introduction to the inner life of the precinct-good-hearted if sometimes misguided, bound by duty and tradition and semi-private heartbreak-into which most of us did not rush to insinuate ourselves, knowing it would find a place for us in time.

We were met with amusement or abuse, equally unexpected and unprovoked: a lieutenant might hold roll call and scream at us as if we were late with the rent, or a sergeant would begin by saying, "Thanks for stopping by." Some of the older cops watched over us and others looked down at us, and all of them told us how we'd missed out: on the greatest cops and the worst crime, and especially the Housing Police, "the best kept secret in the city." Three months before, New York City had three separate police departments-Housing, for the projects; Transit, for the subways; and the NYPD-which were then combined by Mayor Giuliani in April 1995, into one department of nearly forty thousand police. Even our new station house-a state-of-the-art cinder-block cube, with plenty of lockers and a gym in the basement-was seen as a kind of rebuke; it was as if the old PSA, which had comprised a few rooms in the basement of a project, and was prone to rat infestations and floods, told an awful truth that we were too late to learn. We'd never know anything but the NYPD, and it was a bigger, stiffer, colder job, as we'd find out when we called to take a day off, or were on patrol and needed to knock down a door. We were little players, late for the game.

They told us things we didn't need to hear, but often had no answer to what we asked:

Why do we call it the "four-to-twelve" shift, if it starts at three?
Why do we wear clip-on ties?
Where do we eat?

In fairness, the responses to these questions-"I don't know"; "To avoid strangulation"; and "Good luck!"-may not have been any different from what I'd answer now.

We were like the equipment we carried: dangerously new. I'd put on my blue polyester slacks and shirt; black boots; an equipment belt for holster and gun; two magazines, each holding fifteen rounds of 9-millimeter ammunition; radio, mace, handcuffs, flashlight. The equipment belt was snapped to the uniform belt with four "keepers." The bulletproof vest-"bullet resistant," technically-is made of two double panels of a synthetic material called Kevlar, inside a cloth carrier that holds it around your torso like a lead X-ray smock. One cop wrote phrases from the Bible on his, "Yea, though I walk in the valley of the Shadow of Death..." Other cops wrote their blood type. The vest showed in the neck of the summer shirt, which has short sleeves and an open collar, but if your T-shirt showed above that, some bosses would yell at you, or write you up, or make you change. The shield was pinned to the shirt with a kilt pin, over a black cardboard backing that held the nameplate on the bottom and medals on the top. Some cops' medals stacked up so high that the backing rose above their shoulders. The clips for the nameplates didn't hold, and someone found that the stoppers of crack vials worked better. They were not hard to find. I kept a prayer card to the Archangel Michael, patron saint of police, in my hat. The uniforms made us look alike, as intended, and since I said little, I didn't so much fit in as fade in.

We had a few weeks of field training, during which a cop named Vinnie Vargas led six of us around Melrose and Jackson Houses, adjoining projects a block away from the precinct. We worked as a group, at first-Paul Tannura, Matthew Goodman, Angel Suazo, Kim McLauren, Jose Velez, and myself-and then in threes, where McLauren, Velez, and I split off, and then with Velez alone. We wandered around, checking the parking lots and rooftops. Once a day, a sergeant or a lieutenant would raise us on the radio for the "scratch," to sign our memo books and tell us we were doing great or awful work, arbitrarily it seemed. A three-car collision occurred before my eyes, and the job took me five hours to complete, listing the license, registration, and insurance information, taking statements and diagramming the positions of each car and everyone in it. When I finally got it down, I felt like I could have learned calculus and French. There were three or four radio runs a day, mostly for domestic disputes and stuck elevators, though in the evenings we would hear gunshots. We would run toward them, holding on to our radios and nightsticks so they wouldn't fly out of our belts, and miss them so completely we were like kittens hunting a flashlight beam on the floor. In the precinct lunchroom one night, I heard shots and looked out the window to see two young men walking down the block toward me. We stared at each other and then, in unison, they pointed their thumbs back toward the projects. I nodded and went back to eating. The gunshots came from the drug dealers, at war or at play, but to wean a team of rookies on drug collars is a tricky business, and Vinnie decided against it. While this decision was prudent, it allowed the rampant crack and heroin trade to take place unobserved all around us; the dealers could have had snowball fights with the stuff for all we'd have noticed. The beat cop in Melrose-Jackson was named Scott Mackay, and I liked the way he handled himself, friendly or forceful as the circumstances demanded. I told him I thought the post was a little on the slow side and he laughed at me.

When field training was over, we crowded around the board in the muster room to find out our assignments. Any of us could be a Project Community Officer (PCO), a beat cop assigned to a particular project, or on a Target Team, one of five or six cops assigned to a sergeant, moving from project to project every few months, or in a squad car. Squad was the most sought-after, in that you rode instead of walking, and it fit our expectations of a grown-up, cop-like, lights-and-sirens deal. But I had a city kid's indifference to cars-my driver's license was only a few months old-and most PCOs and Target Teams had either Friday and Saturday or Sunday and Monday off, while the three squads-day tours, four-to-twelves, and midnights-worked a rotating chart of five days on, two days off, five days on, three days off, five days on, two days off, and so on, so that your weekends fell on the weekend only a few times a year. I wanted PCO and I got it: Post 151, Morris Houses in Claremont Village, in the Four-Two. A few cops said, "You're in for it now. Watch yourself."

Claremont Village was one of the largest projects we covered, and it combined Morris, Butler, Webster, and Morrisania Houses. There were thirty buildings, each between sixteen and twenty-one stories tall, set around courtyards and playgrounds. Like most public housing in New York City, its design was inspired by the chilly optimism of the forward-thinkers of the mid-century. For them, the tall towers and wide plazas were "cities of the future" that would supplant the stacked rows of stuffed tenements where the poor had lived for the past century. From a certain distance, or at a certain angle, you could see what they were getting at: you could walk through the grounds beneath shady aisles of sycamore and maple, past tidy lawns and playgrounds teeming with children. There would be families having cookouts, old ladies reading Bibles on the benches, pensive pairs of men playing chess. Armies of groundskeepers and janitors, as well as plumbers, carpenters, painters, and elevator repairmen, were employed to keep up the physical plant. Inside, many people kept immaculate and well-appointed apartments, and even some hallways were clean and cared for, decorated for holidays as festively as a window at Macy's. But the semi-public spaces-the lobbies, halls, stairwells-were, more often than not, literal toilets. The debris of recreational annihilation was everywhere: condoms, crack vials, syringes, and shell casings; graffiti was cleaned constantly only to return at once, while bullet holes and scorch marks lasted longer. Multiple bodily functions took place in the elevators and rooftops, where you saw beer cans and smashed rum bottles amid pools of piss, piles of chicken bones beside heaps of shit. You learned not to lean against walls so roaches wouldn't nest in your clothes. More than ten thousand people lived there, by my estimate, and maybe three thousand of them made it a ghetto.

There were many bad neighborhoods in New York, but the South Bronx was a byword for "slum." There was no renaissance in its past, like Harlem, nor any signs of gentrification or renewal, as there were in parts of Brooklyn. "Fort Apache" was the nickname for the Four-One, just east of where I worked, though the Four-Two was used as the station house in the movie Fort Apache, The Bronx. Though the plotlines of interracial romance and police corruption were invented, the landscape of urban wasteland was not; "Fort Apache" was later known as "Little House on the Prairie," because so much of the area had burnt down. My uncle Gerry had been a firefighter in the South Bronx in the 1970s, and he told me that they were busier than the London fire department during the Blitz. In Report from Engine Company 82, the firefighter Dennis Smith wrote that they responded to as many false alarms as fires, and a man from his company was thrown from the truck and killed while responding to a false alarm pulled by a nine-year-old boy. A sign was put up on the call box, telling of the death and the danger of false alarms, but a false alarm was called in later the same day, from the same box, so they took the sign down.

I was born in the Bronx, but my family moved just north, to Yonkers, when I was little. I'd taken my father's old apartment in the Bronx seven years before, the "four rooms of gloom over an airshaft" where he'd grown up. It seemed like we owned the neighborhood: Uncle Eddie, a cop for thirty-three years, never left it, and Uncle Gerry's last fire house was three blocks away, across the street from Uncle Nick's office. Nick was a doctor who had married my father's sister, Theresa, a nurse. When I was a kid, when we drove through Kingsbridge, my father would point out where Joe Louis and Mike Quill had lived, but what I remember most about the Bronx then was the windows of the abandoned buildings a mile to the south. The City had covered them with decals, of curtains and shades with flower pots, to suggest that happy families dwelt within instead of junkies and ghosts. Though the official motto of the Bronx was ominous enough, Ne cede malis-"Do not give way to evil"-one writer suggested that it should be, "Get out, schmuck, get out!" Our official flower was the corpse flower, a massive jungle plant so named because its bloom smells like rotting flesh. It was cultivated for the first time in North America in the Bronx, in 1937, and the borough president decided the eight-foot-tall prick-shaped flowers (Amorphophallus titanum) would prove an apt symbol for our future growth. However, the corpse flower might go for thirty years between blooms, which stink and die within days. I still can't figure out what they were thinking.

For a long time, I kept to myself at work. I said hello to other cops but not much else. I always carried a book with me, slipping it under my vest or in a jacket pocket. When someone asked why, I'd say gravely, "You never know when nothing's gonna happen." Two other cops were assigned to Morris Houses, and six more to the other three projects that made up "the Village." Most of them tended to stick together on patrol. Though I took to walking by myself early on, when I didn't, I was with Angel Suazo and Osvaldo Rivera. We were all brand-new, and an odd threesome. Angel was Honduran, dark-skinned, and bald, an immigrant who had come here at the age of eighteen. His English was heavily accented and he was prone to saying things like "Cut me in half!" when he meant "Cut me a break!" He had been in the Army, and when I asked him what his assignment had been, he told me, "Communications." Angel was unflinchingly cheerful, and nothing could dent his good humor: he laughed as hard as the jokers did at the jokes about his driving a gypsy cab or the INS coming to take him away. He also had a nose like a bloodhound-he could smell someone smoking a joint a block away-and he had a surprising nimbleness to him: once, a sparrow flew into a bodega and he caught it with his hands, then let it fly out unharmed. Osvaldo was Puerto Rican, and from the South Bronx. He never took his hat off, and smoked twice as much as I did, which is to say like two chimneys. When we walked, he sometimes liked to sing and to do voices from kung-fu movies. He wouldn't say how old he was, called his wife constantly, and talked a lot about dogs. Though dogs weren't allowed in the projects, half the people seemed to have pit bulls, and half the pit bulls seemed to be named Tyson, so there were plenty who needed his advice. Though Osvaldo lived in a building where dogs weren't allowed, he owned an enormous German shepherd, which he would pack up into a duffel bag to take outside for walks. I asked him how the dog liked getting stuffed into a bag every day and he said he loved it-that he reacted like other dogs do when they see you pick up their leash. Both Angel and Osvaldo were serious family men and lived in the South Bronx. Whether from college liberalism or Irish sentiment, I had some measure of softness for the derelicts and delinquents of the neighborhood, but they had none, and their belief that these people should know better was good to hear.

In time, we took to each other, becoming a familiar sight around the projects: the black one, the brown one, the white one. Angel was quick to write tickets, I was quick to make arrests, and Osvaldo was quick to let us. I had started to learn Spanish the year before, but it fell to my partners to handle the rapid-fire and highly inflected dialects we heard-I would guess that our projects were slightly more black than Hispanic, with three white people that I knew of-and so my pidgin Spanish fell away. I did most of the paperwork, eagerly, as I wanted to master the Aided Cards, Complaints, Police Accident Reports, and Domestic Incident Reports that are the basic grammar of the NYPD. We did countless "vertical patrols," taking the elevator up to the top, then splitting up to check the roof, radios down, guns drawn, hats backward at night so there would be no reflection, creeping out to see whatever we might find. And then we would walk it down, taking separate stairwells but meeting on each floor. We ran into dogfights, blow jobs, and enough sleeping bums to fill a warehouse. At first, I was inclined to leave them unmolested, but I began to think if I had to step over someone every morning when I left my house, I might feel differently, and the working people in the projects deserved the same consideration. I would leave them alone when the weather was terrible, or if they were fastidiously clean or had a plausible story, like a fight with the wife, that argued for a temporary stay. In truth, the ones who stank to high heaven also got a pass, arrest-wise, though I'd throw them out of the building. We took a lot of people in for trespass, which prevented a lot of robberies, I'm sure, and maybe a few rapes and murders as well. The trespass collar is the Swiss Army knife of the beat cop, especially in the projects, where the City is the landlord. Anyone who doesn't have a good reason to be in a building probably has a bad one, and if you run into someone hanging out on a stairwell, the burden of proof falls on the mope.

We walked around and listened to the radio, with its scratchy hum of white noise and its string of coded calls and responses for lettered sectors and numbered posts, developing an ear for our own jobs, which a seasoned cop can hear, truly, in his sleep. "One-five-one, respond to a thirty-four on a female at one-four-five-eight Webster, four-Nora on the fourth, unknown weapons, advise when eighty-four..." And as we got to know the turf, the code might as well have been a telegram: "Ah, the Petersons again." Because the woman assaulted at 1458 Webster, #4N, calls every payday, because her boyfriend hits the rum and then he hits her. Or the woman's already called twice, today, and she perceives the assault in the minds of her upstairs neighbors, and no matter how much voodoo she sends at them, she can't block out their mental beams. The radio is constant and chaotic, a montage of stray details, awful and comic facts:

"Respond to a woman in a room cornered by a large rodent..."

"Supposed to be a one-year-old baby with its head split open..."

"The perp is a male Hispanic, white T-shirt, blue jeans, possible moustache, repeat, possible moustache, K..."

"K" meant a radio transmission is over, the way the military and just about everyone else says "over," and I don't know if the NYPD has any argument for the difference beside difference's sake.

"You okay, K?"

"A-OK, K."

"Okey-doke, K."

It is a code, after all, intended to mean nothing to most people. Codes, like good children, don't talk to strangers. The official terminology has a forced flatness, a clipped neutrality that keeps a lifted-pinky distance from lurid circumstance. I heard a dispatcher revise a job for the patrol car assigned: "Be advised, unit, that domestic dispute is now coming over as a severed limb." It was part of the general oddity of cop talk, its shotgun marriage of street slang and legalese. The raw talk of New Yorkers, criminals, victims, and cops themselves, was jury-rigged with the particularity of statutory phrases: "C/V states at T/P/O above perp called him a 'bitch-ass punk' and mooshed him, causing annoyance and alarm." The abbreviations are for "complainant/victim" and "time and place of occurrence"; to moosh is to shove in the face, and is almost more insulting than a slap (here, the form would be bitch-slap or pimp-slap) because of the suggestion that there is no need to inflict injury. Naturally, cops pick up a lot of criminal vocabulary, especially in the drug trade, where the criminal words for things are the only words there are; you can call it a deck, or you can call it a "glassine envelope of a white powdery substance...alleged and believed to be heroin." When crack was starting to be packaged in miniature heat-sealed plastic baggies the dealers called "slabs," the official and legal term which arose to characterize them was "slabs." It's what happens in language naturally, as common speech becomes acceptable usage, but to make a rule of this kind of exception would lead to indictments that read, "...to wit, defendant did possess one mad fat rock of yayo."

Most often, though, the babel of the city just mixed with police jargon in striking ways, as we struggled to express ourselves with bits of hand-me-down language that didn't always fit. One would-be street lawyer protested what he took to be an "illegal search and seizure" of his cocaine by declaring it an "illegal circumcision." (Now that's a civil-rights nightmare for you, rogue mohels with guns.) A rookie cop I know had her own gift of phrase, once notifying the sergeant that a shooting victim had been "glazed by a bullet," though fortunately, he only suffered from "harasserations." And I overheard a cop recall, brightly, "Oh, sure, I was the first nonfatal shooting of 1994! In the keester!" The tone is intended to impress as exacting and detached, though the prefabricated phrases can sound cold-blooded and bombastic. When I hear cops refer to their "personal vehicle," I want to grab them and shout, "Say, 'my car,' dammit!"

If the NYPD is less and less a fraternity, it will remain a kind of ethnicity, because ethnicity is defined by language. An arrest is a collar, but also a pinch; a perp can be a skell or a mope, depending on whether he's a lowlife or a thug. A DOA is someone who's gone EOT, end of tour. One under, two under, ten under, is an accounting of collars, but in Transit, a "man under" is not under arrest but under a train. After a stabbing or a traffic accident, you'd hear over the air, "Is he likely?" It was short for "likely to die," and required the cop to make a crude wager of Likely or Not to summon Accident Investigations or a detective from the Squad to the scene. It gave many reports an unwarranted note of sarcasm: "Complainant states he was sleeping when his wife struck him with a two-by-four. Not likely." Perhaps because of its paramilitary nature, the department has a fondness for acronyms, which vary from the flatfootedly functional to the downright cool: TNT, for the Tactical Narcotics Teams of the mid-1980s, is still the street name for any kind of drug cop, though the units were disbanded years ago. The Robbery Apprehension Module took the place of the Robbery Identification Program, which broadened the range of the Senior Citizens Robbery Unit. And thus SCRU begat RIP, and RIP begat RAM, with a certain loss of panache. We were learning to talk the talk.

We were also learning to walk the walk. We'd walk out the front of the precinct, beneath the green lights that have marked police stations since Wall Street was a wall, and head out to post. We would stop by the management as soon as we got up there, either if a sector car rode us up, or more often, if we took the bus from 156th Street and Melrose up to Webster and 170th. Morris Houses had a manager who was almost as new there as its cops, but Ms. Brockington was a formidable lady who enjoined everyone around her to work as hard as she did, to help tenants or to hound them, according to need. Her secretary, Sarah DeBoissiere, had been at Morris Houses for over twenty years, and she was as hard and elegant as a malacca cane. She smoked long, thin cigarettes and wouldn't empty her ashtray so she could keep track of how many she'd had. She had assembled her own rogues' gallery of problem tenants, and she had the benefit of counsel of her fiancé, the legendary Detective Irwin "Silky" Silverman, who had caught killers for almost four decades before he lost his lawsuit to overturn the mandatory retirement age of sixty-three. The problem families at Morris Houses were well known and well established, sometimes for generations, and though they wrought spectacular havoc, they had been, until recently, virtually impossible to evict. One family of brothers, the sons of a South Carolina minister, were estimated to have committed more than fifteen hundred violent felonies, and their eventual removal was through the criminal-justice system rather than Housing Court. The Housing Authority had begun to press for evictions of tenants who committed crimes, or to negotiate the exclusion of individual family members-for example, if an old woman had a nephew dealing crack from her apartment, she would have to sign a stipulation saying he was not permitted to return-and it had begun to have an effect. After catching up with Ms. Brockington and Sarah, we'd sit down for a cup of coffee and the newspapers, and then head out for patrol.

The tenants themselves were organized, at least to a degree, at least on paper. I don't know how Morris Houses compared to other projects, but I would imagine that they were not the only ones where a few people were heroically dedicated to their communities, and where a few more helped when they could. Every building had a captain, though I didn't know most of them, and the honorific may as well have been kept on the shelf like an old Little League trophy. Others, like Curtis Johnson, swept and mopped their lobbies themselves, even though they were cleaned every day. About a third of our buildings had tenant patrols of some sort: a few people would sit in the lobbies around a bridge table, with a pad for visitors to sign in, and we had to stop by to sign in and check the building. A few buildings were watched over by old women who did not look up from their Bibles and wouldn't unless the Holy Spirit entered the lobby. But others had real organizations, with a dozen or more tenants working tightly scheduled hours, and it had a definite effect, at least during the time of the watch, and if there was drug activity during their off-hours, they were at least able to let us know about it-quietly, always. Though the neighborhood had been improving, there was no guarantee that this would continue, and most members of the Resistance were wisely unwilling to declare themselves.

The neighborhood was one where children had to walk through three different brands of crack vials in the lobbies, and most people, young and old, could tell the sound of gunshots from fireworks or a car backfiring: the hard, sharp crack, like a broomstick snapped cleanly in half. But because the shocks were somehow anticipated-you knew there would be bodies-the genuine surprise was how wholesome and ordinary many lives were there: the daily round of getting the kids ready for school and going to work, wondering if they'll get another year's wear out of their car or winter coat. Life in the projects can be just like it is in suburbia, except it takes place on busier streets and in smaller rooms. Sometimes it's better, in the way that city life, when it's good, is better than anywhere else. Once, I went to the roof of a project and saw a hawk perched on the rail; always, you see the city in the near distance, its towers and spires studded with lights, both stately and slapdash, like the crazy geometry of rock crystal. There were many days when you felt sorry for people who worked inside.

And it was a revelation to see how many people in the South Bronx liked cops. In safe neighborhoods, a cop is part of the scenery, and mostly you don't have time to pay attention. Before I became one, I noticed cops like I noticed mailboxes, which is to say barely, unless I needed one. But on my beat, I noticed how people noticed me, and especially among certain classes of people-older people, young kids, single women, people dressed for work or church-they looked at me with positive appreciation and relief. I was proof that tonight, on this walk home, no one was going to start with them. Sometimes, they expressed it, which was nice. The classic antagonism was with guys on the street, in groups, from the age of thirteen or fourteen on up to around twenty, or older if they were unemployed. Sometimes they were only going to make noise, sometimes they threatened to make more than noise, and I meant the opposite to them; I was a suggestion, a sign, that this wild night's not going to be, not as they hoped, not here. Sometimes they expressed themselves, too. There were those who saw us as their protectors, and those who saw us as their keepers, and both were right. Each group taught me how to be a cop.

Early on, I wanted to tell these pure strangers who would meet me with such strong feelings, whether grateful admiration or vein-bulging rage, "Hey, I just showed up here-relax! Maybe in a minute, or a year, you'll have a reason to love me or hate me, but as of now, you don't know me!" And I did remind people, with partial success, when they verged on losing control. But I began to understand the variety and potency of the guises in which I appeared to them-rookie cop, Irish cop, white cop, housing cop, ghetto cop, good cop or bad, stone-hearted or sympathetic or scared. It was like being a kind of celebrity, and it was hard to convince people that I was not like what was portrayed on TV, because I played still another role even as I explained it that I wasn't. I was not myself, but the latest cop, loaded with symbolism, and a loaded gun. For them, for now, I was the system.

—from Blue Blood by Edward Conlon, copyrighr © 2004 Edward Conlon, published by Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., all rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 36 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 25, 2012

    Highly recommended

    This book is a great account not only of what police officers do, but also of what motivates police officers, how a department is organized and how politics are inevitably linked to the department. Conlon is a gifted writer and he knows how to write in an informal, even witty, way while choosing his words so carefully that his writing sounds incredibly mature and thoughtful. Even if you are not particularly interested in the police, I would recommend this book for the quality of its writing, which is witty and thought-provoking at the same time. It's a long read, but it's well-written and worth your time.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 21, 2009

    Good Book

    This is a good book for anyone over the age of 18. Some words may be Offensive to some readers. By useing raceial words or words that should only be read if over the age of 18.I like New York City and crime books I got it for only $6.98 in Wilks-Barre,PA. And i love it. I don't mimd the words they use in the book. Blue Blood is a very good book and i would recomend this book

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 7, 2012

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  • Posted August 10, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Retired Cop !!!!

    Mr. Conlon's work is an authentic account and is a wonderful read. As a retired police officer I enjoyed the book tremendously, and recommend it to anyone who enjoys any sort of police entertainment. His career is a riotous path of action, boredom, pitfalls, and victories. His stortytelling is full of sincerity and candour. I enjoyed it, and hope he writes again.

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  • Posted July 15, 2009

    Excellent

    This is an incredible novel. It is filled with mounds of details on the NYPD and Conlon has had some thrilling experiences throughout his career. As far as Cop books go, this has almost everything you'd want from; patrolling, drug busts, police politics, even an insider's view of 9/11.
    I highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone (there is some graphic content). I can't express enough how grateful I was that he compiled all this data and wrote this book.

    Few things to note; the book is long so don't expect a short sit down, there is some disturbing content (not much) and maybe it was the copy I received from B&N or the printing press but there were some inconsistencies with the print (the text being stretched, etc) Also there are quite a few references to family/the neighborhood/history/etc that in the beginning can be a bit much if you're like me and not from NY, but it lightens up as you go along and I think was essential to anyone that is close to the author that is reading the book.

    All and all, A++

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 2, 2007

    Incredible!

    I finished this book in less than a week, just could not find a way to put it down.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2007

    Outstanding, loved it.

    As a professional Social Worker for the last 20 years, I found this book funny, easy to read and real. Love his writing style a true pleasure. I can't put it down. Those who have not enjoyed this book perhaps haven't had the experience of serving individuals that truly live on the margins of society. Our work is often frustrating and challenging, but more than not,it's a calling, and not for everyone. From his first day on the job, I was able to see myself 20 years ago, scared, excited, unsure of myself, but armed with the belief that I could make a difference. This book has heart,it's gutsy, real, poignant, funny..... a great read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 23, 2006

    Very Confusing

    I could not follow this book at all. The first few pages seem somewhat promising, then the author just jumps around from one subject to another at random and you get completely lost.I found it extremely difficult to keep from closing the book. It was frustrating to try and keep up with the author and what he was talking about.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 8, 2006

    so so book

    I had a very hard time following this book. It seemed that Mr. Conlon flipped back and forth between to many subjects and time periods. I made it half-way and have not picked it back up. I was hoping the second half would be better, but I may never know.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2006

    Worth reading

    Writing style is enjoyable but not enough time under his police belt to be writing his memoirs. A book that will pass the time but you won't be staying up late with this one.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 25, 2006

    Incredible

    This book is certainly long, but in parts it is the most interesting thing you will ever read. His retelling of encounters with people and the language he uses make this my favorite non-fiction book of all time. I laughed out loud HARD at some of the stories, the kid in the handcuffs, the dog in the knapsack, etc. I wonder what he could come up with if he wrote a novel. The man is incredibly talented and I will read anything he writes based on this stunning book. I am surprised it has not gotten more publicity. I bought it casually when I had some time to kill in an airport book store. His publishing company needs to get the word out about how great this book is because no one I know has ever heard of it. So I will end with giving it the best compliment I can -- I read 4-5 books a month and don't even know why I bought the book. I even put it at the bottom of my stack. When I started reading it late one night I was completely blown away by it because it was such a surprise to expect nothing and receive the gift of this book. Read it and give it to anyone who enjoys police stories OR anyone who appreciates wonderful writing. Ten stars to this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 23, 2005

    Green Beer

    Really do not like 'Burglary/Badge Blood' feel like the title, picture and idea of authorship offends Families that deserve a high degree of respect and major Metropolitan area seeped in history and praised ethnicity. Personal feeling are not suppose to interfere with decision making ability.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 23, 2005

    Awesome

    I could not put this book down. It was very well written, and very easy to read and understand. There are not enough books like this that give a glimpse into the life of a NYPD officer.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2005

    BEAT GETAWAY

    As a Deputy Sheriff, I find this book to be very 'informational' for civilians who know nothing about law enforcement. Walking/riding a beat is nothing like most civilians think. Blue Blood does not show only the chases, fights, shootouts of law enforcement, it shows the real, everyday mania the beat cops experience. Blue Blood is a great 'getaway' while on the beat and a very uplifting book. It shows all of us who are cops, that we are not the only ones who think like we do and it shows civilians our day to day lives on the job. I highly recommend this book for everyone and wish all who read it, enjoys it as much as I.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 5, 2005

    Excellent...

    This is a HUGE book, but worth the read. My only hope is that Edward Conlon finds time to write again. A fascinating, well-written book. Conlon definitely has raised the prestige of the NYPD without sacrificing the reality of the job.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 5, 2005

    Funny, Poignant Book! A Great Read...

    As an attorney in the law enforcement field, I LOVED reading this book and highly recommend it to others. The author has done a fantastic job of describing the thrills and highs, as well as the lows, of working in law enforcement. I found it to be factually accurate, extremely interesting, hilarious in some parts (I loved reading about the author's 'cat' incident!), sad in other parts, and overall, a very honest, accurate depiction of the challenges, danger, ethical and moral dilemmas, and stress that those who work in law enforcement face every day. This book reads like a novel I had difficulty putting it down, and finished it in three days. To the author, thanks for sharing your experiences with such honesty, humor, and dignity.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2005

    A Captivating story

    I do not regret that I bought this book. It is an interesting book. I like the author's style of writing and the police stories which I found exciting. I generally like cop stories and wasn't disappointed by this. If you ever want to know about the inner workings of New York City and the NYPD, then this is a recommended read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2005

    one of NY's best.

    I first picked up this book cause I used to live in NY for 16yrs. I had never heard of this detective personally, but I have known a few so far. When I was reading this book I found myself shocked and amazed at the things Conlon has gone through and seen in the NY. To say the least would be to say that I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Conlon is an awesome novelist. He has done so much for NY and the police and I personally am grateful for all that he has done. I look forward to anymore books Conlon puts out in the future. amazing book, amazing life.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2005

    A book too long and hurt by fate

    I found this book to be both tired and tiring. A mammoth of minutae, much of which has little to do with big-city policing, it relentlessly presses on to a conclusion that only confirms that you have seen one tiny, marginally interesting sliver of being a cop. It is extremely revealing that Conlon openly admits he fudged the timeline towards the end, because it exposes the fact that he does not have a true, compelling narrative for his story, but instead had to find one somehow. Only if he alters it to culminate in his promotion does he have a 'story,' per se, instead of a catalog of events he experienced at the fringes of the NYPD: housing cop, street-level drug enforcer and precinct detective. In this way, perhaps fate was not too kind to Conlon the writer. His short, tightly-focused articles in The New Yorker gained and kept interest becauase the types of police incidents Conlon experienced are best related in a constrained, article format. That cruel fate did not give Conlon an epic story to tell shows in this book: we do not get the story of a great man who has done your 'average' great things, nor do we get the story of a common man who had extroadinary circumstances thrust upon him. From what I can gather, Conlon has acutally spent less time inside of a marked police car than most NYC cops, and less time doing the nitty-gritty of police work. Too bad none of these other cops feels like writing about it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 30, 2005

    FROM ONE COP TO ANOTHER

    BLUE BLOOD IS AN EXCELLENT BOOK. I AM ALSO A POLICE OFFICER IN NYC AND HAVE WORKED THE SAME STREETS CONLON HAS WORKED. BLUE BLOOD IS A REAL EYE OPENER WITH GREAT DETAILS. THE WORDS THE AUTHOR CHOSE TO DESCRIBE THE NEIGHBORHOOD AND THE FEELINGS HE FELT AS A COP IN THOSE STREETS WERE VERY FAMILIAR. I HIGHLY RECOMEND THIS BOOK TO ANYONE WHO IS CURIOUS TO KNOW WHAT THE JOB IS REALLY LIKE. CONGRATULATIONS TO DETECTIVE CONLON GREAT WORK LOTS OF SUCESS.

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