Breaking Blue

Breaking Blue

3.7 9
by Timothy Egan

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“No one who enjoys mystery can fail to savor this study of a classic case of detection.” 
On the night of September 14, 1935, George Conniff, a town marshal in Pend Oreille County in the state of Washington, was shot to death.  A lawman had been killed, yet there seemed to be no uproar, no major…  See more details below


“No one who enjoys mystery can fail to savor this study of a classic case of detection.” 
On the night of September 14, 1935, George Conniff, a town marshal in Pend Oreille County in the state of Washington, was shot to death.  A lawman had been killed, yet there seemed to be no uproar, no major investigation.  No suspect was brought to trial.  More than fifty years later, the sheriff of Pend Oreille County, Tony Bamonte, in pursuit of both justice and a master’s degree in history, dug into the files of the Conniff case—by then the oldest open murder case in the United States.  Gradually, what started out as an intellectual exercise became an obsession, as Bamonte asked questions that unfolded layer upon layer of unsavory detail.
                In Timothy Egan’s vivid account, which reads like a thriller, we follow Bamonte as his investigation plunges him back in time to the Depression era of rampant black-market crime and police corruption.  We see how the suppressed reports he uncovers and the ambiguous answers his questions evoke lead him to the murder weapon—missing for half a century—and then to the man, an ex-cop, he is convinced was the murderer.
                Bamonte himself—a logger’s son and a Vietnam veteran—had joined the Spokane police force in the late 1960s, a time when increasingly enlightened and educated police departments across the country were shaking off the “dirty cop” stigma.  But as he got closer to actually solving the crime, questioning elderly retired members of the force, he found himself more and more isolated, shut out by tight-lipped hostility, and made dramatically aware of the fraternal sin he had committed—breaking the blue code.
                Breaking Blue is a gripping story of cop against cop.  But it also describes a collision between two generations of lawmen and two very different moments in our nation’s history.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In 1935, Spokane, Wash., was in the sixth year of the Great Depression. Unemployment was high. Civilian Conservation Corps workers were arriving in droves from the East for the Grand Coulee Dam project. Crime was rampant, and a series of creamery robberies had the town on edge. Then, on Sept. 4, the Pend Oreille County town marshal investigating these crimes was murdered. The mystery of George Conniff's death went unsolved until 1989, when Tony Bamonte, sheriff of Pend Oreille County and a graduate student, inadvertently uncovered information that generations of police had conspired to keep hidden. Egan ( The Good Rain ), Seattle bureau chief for the New York Times, lumbers occasionally, but his account of the reopened investigation generally resonates with regional color. Bamonte's investigation of the killing started as scholarly research, but stepped up when ``a convergence of conscience and coincidence'' suggested that the marshal had been shot by a cop protecting colleagues associated with the robberies. In a deathbed confession, a cop revealed that the Spokane police were involved in more than ``a conspiracy of small corruptions.'' Egan evocatively resurrects the scenes and raw insensitivities of '30s police life in the region, from Mother's Place, the diner where cops plotted their heists, to the Hotel de Gink, where transients stayed. (May)
Library Journal
In the course of preparing a master's thesis on law enforcement in Pend Oreille County, Washington, Sheriff Tony Bamonte discovered new evidence relating to the 1935 murder of Town Marshal George Conniff. Bamonte uncovered documents that implicated another police officer in the murder and also revealed a widespread cover-up by the Spokane Police Department. Already unpopular because of his confrontations with the lumber industry and his criticism of other law-enforcement agencies, Bamonte further angered the police community by disregarding the code that forbids going after a fellow police officer--``breaking blue.'' Tracking down witnesses who verified his suspicions, Bamonte turned his efforts to a search for the murder weapon, a gun thrown into a river more than 50 years earlier. The trail eventually led him to a final surprising discovery, which in turn was capped by an even greater irony. Egan, Seattle bureau chief of the New York Times , tells this remarkable story with a journalist's thoroughness and a novelist's ability to evoke place and character. The tale is rich in history and suspense and is recommended for all crime collections.--Ben Harrison, East Orange P.L., N.J.
Kirkus Reviews
Powerhouse story of an iconoclastic sheriff who cracked through 54 years of police coverups and solved the oldest open murder case in the country. Beginning with a brilliant evocation of 1935 Spokane and Pend Oreille County, Egan (Seattle bureau chief of The New York Times; The Good Rain, 1990) sets the scene for the killing of Spokane town marshal George Conniff, who had surprised men stealing butter from the local creamery. In the fifth year of the Depression, Spokane was full of reluctant hobos—many of them farmers who had fled the dust bowls of the Midwest—living, hungry for food and work, in a Hooverville by the local rail yards. The Spokane police regularly extorted sex, food, and money from these "vagrants" and collected also from the bootleggers, saloons, whorehouses, Chinese lotteries, and opium dens in the "Queen City of the Richest Empire in the Western Hemisphere." When a shortage doubled the price of butter, 6'3" rock-fisted Detective Clyde Ralstin and his partner profitably robbed dairies until the night that Conniff was killed. Ralstin was fingered for the killing by fellow detective Charles Sonnabend, but Sonnabend was ordered by the brass to stop investigating, and Ralstin disappeared. Fifty-four years later, in 1989, 47-year-old Sheriff Anthony Bamonte—former logger, Vietnam vet, Spokane cop—was writing his master's thesis on the ten previous sheriffs of Pend Oreille County and discovered a 1955 deathbed statement by Sonnabend about the coverup. Bamonte began to probe the case and, amazingly, men and women in their 80s and 90s who had known Ralstin came forward. Egan's narration of Bamonte's methodical stalking, of the ring of paranoia tighteningaround Ralstin (living in a tiny Montana town and knowing of the hunt), and of murder refusing to stay buried after 54 years—all make for compulsive, white-knuckle reading. Egan rises into the Most Wanted group of true-crime writers with this smoothly told, exciting account.

From the Publisher
"As a former police reporter I can give Breaking Blue the ultimate complement—I wish I had written it. No one who enjoys mystery can fail to savor this study of a classic case of detection" —Tony Hillerman "An engrossing tale of corruption in the Nor

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Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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Breaking Blue 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
SFlibres More than 1 year ago
I have read several of Timothy Egan's more recent books, and love his writing style and subjects so much that I went in search of older works.  I really enjoyed this one, and I can't believe I hadn't heard of it before.  A crime committed by one of the "boys in blue" (an officer in the Spokane Police Dept) during the hard days of the Depression is covered up and goes unsolved.  The victim is a cop himself, and his children never learn who killed their father.  The retelling of this nonfiction crime is engrossing in itself, but Egan also introduces us to a present day small town sheriff who decides to write his master's thesis on his sheriff predecessors.  He learns of the unsolved murder and becomes obsessed with solving it.    Revelations of how our upbringing shapes our foibles, how black and white is sometimes gray, and how searching for truth can be alienating and sometimes unrewarding are all themes of this excellently written and engrossing work of nonfiction.  What a talented author!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you live in the Northwest, this book will hold some extra fascination. The references made about life during the Depression are educational. A good enough read.
UnemployedPhilosopheress More than 1 year ago
I love reading about small events that have big implications! This story about the murder of a policeman in Spokane, WA in 1935 might make one think, "Who cares!" But the story is so artfully told, and so full of amazing and sad context, that it's easy to see how it could be applied to our time. Another one in this vein is Philp Gourevitch's A Cold Case. Recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Whats wrong carter?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sits on a tree branch and crys in her hands