Mitch Gelman was twenty-six years old and "green as a sapling" when he began covering car chases, shoot-outs, race crimes, and unspeakable violence in New York City. Landing a job as a beginning reporter for New York Newsday, the brash new tabloid in town, meant that his dream of writing about the city where he'd grown up was coming true. "The thrill I had when I walked by the uniformed cop guarding the door at Police Headquarters," he writes, "was the same one I had felt twenty years earlier when my father gave ...
Mitch Gelman was twenty-six years old and "green as a sapling" when he began covering car chases, shoot-outs, race crimes, and unspeakable violence in New York City. Landing a job as a beginning reporter for New York Newsday, the brash new tabloid in town, meant that his dream of writing about the city where he'd grown up was coming true. "The thrill I had when I walked by the uniformed cop guarding the door at Police Headquarters," he writes, "was the same one I had felt twenty years earlier when my father gave me my first baseball glove." His first day on the job was as much a rite of passage as any he'd experienced as a boy. Crime Scene is the gritty and compelling story of Gelman's first year on the police beat. We see him thrust into a world of mayhem and murder, transformed from a naive rookie into a hard-nosed reporter. With an eye for detail and the human side of the story, Gelman takes us inside the police department bureaucracy, around the waterfront shipyards, to the ghetto schoolyards where wannabe superstars can't stay off drugs. He trades war stories with other reporters at a famous Greenwich Village saloon and waits in hospital corridors where police hold vigils for fallen comrades. Relationships grow amidst the chaos: Gelman befriends an emergency-room surgeon and the wife of a critically wounded cop who show him that courage is the best weapon against the devastation of crime. He learns the intricate information-swapping dance performed by the police and the press. And he develops an uneasy, sometimes comic newsroom romance with a tenacious fellow reporter. As Gelman races to meet deadlines and nabs impossible-to-get news stories, his gripping tale takes on the dimensions of a fast-paced detective novel. Compassionate and candid even at its most breakneck moments, Crime Scene weaves together shocking true crime with a story about coming of age in the vortex of an American city under siege.
Gelman's journalistic success, prompted by his New York Newsday bureau chief's instructions, turns on mastery of what he calls the ``Italian Rules'': Do what it takes, just don't get caught. In 1988 this self-described ``yup-puppy'' was assigned to the crime beat after having spent two frustrating years as a researcher for the tabloid's editorial page (``I was zealous, determined and ambitious, at times to a blinding fault,'' he writes). But it's a redundant admission, given Gelman's self-revealing anecotes, like the one about when he intruded at 12:30 a.m. on a grieving mother of three whose husband had been gunned down hours before as the couple made their way home from Christmas Eve shopping. Readers put off by Gelman's ghoulishness, however, will come to respect him after witnessing his epiphany: the realization that in his reporter's bag of tricks ``empathy is more important than intimidation or subterfuge.'' His depiction of urban mean streets--ghetto children killed by stray bullets, young girls raped, mutilations, racial gang wars--makes us feel anguish for the victims and their relatives, makes palpable the crime reporter's frustration at numbing police bureaucracy, makes our adrenalin pump whenever Gelman's 24-hour beeper sounds and we join him on the chase for news. (Sept.)
Americans' appetite for crime stories, whether on TV or in print, seems to be insatiable, and this book will appeal to many readers. Gelman recounts his days on the police beat and his zeal to get the story and the newsworthy quote, ending with his sense of burnout and move to other areas of reporting. While he relates plenty of crime stories, this is also the tale of a young man's growth in his profession. In that respect, it differs considerably from Edna Buchanan's Never Let Them See You Cry ( LJ 2/1/92), which details a crime reporter's life in Miami. Buchanan brings experience and a crispness of style to her book that Gelman's lacks. Nevertheless, this would be a good addition to true crime collections.-- Rebecca Wondriska, Trinity Coll. Lib., Hartford, Ct.