Book: Blue Blood (Edward Conlon)

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Blue Blood

Author: Edward Conlon
Publisher: Riverhead Books

The life of a New York City police officer, with the NYPD running through his veins: a highly anticipated nonfiction epic—destined to be a classic.

Blue Blood is an important book about what it means to protect, to serve, and to defend among the ranks of New York’s finest. Conlon’s canvas is great and complicated—he is fourth generation NYPD—and the story he tells is impossibly rich: it presents an anecdotal history of New York through its police force, and depicts a vivid portrait of the teeming street life of the city in all its horror and splendor. It is a story about fathers and sons, partners who become brothers, old ghosts and undying legacies. Here you will see terms like loyalty, commitment, and honor come to life, in action, on a daily basis. With brio and a thrilling literary style, Conlon depicts his life on the force—from his first days walking a beat in the South Bronx, to his ascent to detective. The pace is relentless, the stories hypnotic, the scope nothing less than grand. Blue Blood is a bona fide literary masterpiece.


As a Harvard graduate and regular writer for the New Yorker, Edward Conlon is a little different from most of his fellow New York City cops. And the stories he tells in his compelling memoir Blue Blood are miles away from the commonly told Hollywood-style police tales that are always action packed but rarely tethered to reality. While there is action here, there’s also political hassle, the rich and often troubling history of a department not unfamiliar with corruption, and the day to day life of people charged with preserving order in America’s largest city. Conlon’s book is, in part, a memoir as he progresses from being a rookie cop working the beat at troubled housing projects to assignments in the narcotics division to eventually becoming a detective. But it’s also the story of his family history within the enormous NYPD as well as the evolving role of the police force within the city. Conlon relates the controversies surrounding the somewhat familiar shoo! ting of Amadou Diallou and the abuse, at the hands of New York cops, of Abner Louima. But being a cop himself, Conlon lends insight and nuance to these issues that could not possibly be found in the newspapers. And as an outstanding writer, he draws the reader into that world. In the book’s most remarkable passage, Conlon tells of the grim but necessary work done at the Fresh Kills landfill, sifting through the rubble and remains left in the wake of the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11 (a section originally published in The New Yorker). In many ways, Blue Blood comes to resemble the world of New York City law enforcement that Conlon describes: both are expansive, sprawling, multi-dimensional, and endlessly fascinating. And Conlon’s writing is perfectly matched to his subject, always lively, keenly observant, and possessing a streetwise energy. —John Moe

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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)

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