Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Review of "Red on Red" [28]

Red on Red by Edward Conlon
Spiegel & Grau, ISBN 978-0385519175
April 5, 2011, 464 pages

"Nature-or was it history?-sometimes intervened before the police could, when the killer was killed. "Exceptional clearances," as they were known. Nothing was righted, as such, but something was resolved. In the military, when the enemy turned on the enemy, they called it "red on red." Soldiers didn't have to pretend to be sad about it."
Who would be the best person to write a book that really captures the true feeling of what it is like to be a Big City cop, capture the stories that fill their days. Well, maybe a NY city police detective...and the author does indeed hold that job...who is a very good writer..and the author   previously wrote a memoir, Blue Blood, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, a New York Times Notable Book, and a New York Times bestseller. Wow, that would seem ideal.
Then why did I not love this book more than I did?

But first, you might want to know what the book is about.
To quote the publisher's description of the book...
In Red on Red, Edward Conlon tells the electrifying and suspenseful story of two NYPD detectives, Meehan and Esposito: one damaged and introspective, the other ambitious and unscrupulous. Meehan is compelled by haunting and elusive stories that defy easy resolution, while Esposito is drawn to cases of rough and ordinary combat. A fierce and unlikely friendship develops between them and plays out against a tangle of mysteries: a lonely immigrant who hangs herself in Inwood Hill Park, a serial rapist preying on upper Manhattan, a troubled Catholic schoolgirl who appears in the wrong place with uncanny regularity, and a savage gang war that erupts over a case of mistaken identity.

A literary thriller about the twisted dynamic of a successful police partnership—the tests of loyalty, the necessary betrayals, the intersections of life and work—Red on Red tells an unrelenting and exciting story that captures the grittiness, complexity, ironies, and compromises of life on the job.
First, let me tell you what this book is not. It is not, no matter what that description says, a mystery or a crime thriller. A police procedural? Yes, I guess so, with the emphasis on the procedures.
We meet the two central characters, the two detectives Meehan and Esposito, as they open several new cases, a suicide, a gang shooting, and then follow them along over the next several months, as these and any number of other new cases, several connected in one way or another to each other, play out. We see events in their personal lives unfold, separations and deaths, new relationships and  old friendships that wax and wane, crimes solved and unsolved and all the shades of gray that accompany all these these things. We travel along on a very gritty, seemingly very realistic, trip through the city and yes, it is often a very interesting and engaging trip.

For me, the book got off to a slow start and for some reason I had a bit of a problem getting into the flow of the story. I probably put it down 4-5 times, started another book and then came back to it again. But I must say, after a 100 pages or I got into the rhythm, I was liking the trip. Meehan and Esposito and a number of the others, especially some excellent 'bad guys' are very good characters and the view of NYC, the Inwood neighborhood, is often very interesting. But it is a trip that ultimately doesn't go anywhere.

There is no central story to hold it all together. Rather, it just sorts of meanders along, with a few bursts of excitement as a chase is on, then falling back to a regular, sometimes tedious pace, punctuated by some dark humor. And I must say, toward the end of the book, it almost lost me again. One, rather long involved storyline, involving a serial rapist, a Catholic school yard and a couple of inches of snow almost descended into something out of the Keystone cops and the ending left me a bit dissatisfied.

It times, the ride was a lot of fun and the view was engaging. And that seemed fine for awhile, until it just seemed like we have been in the car a bit too long, the view starts to look awfully familiar and we wonder what the point of this drive really was, what was the destination. For me, it never quite made it there.

My thanks to the Library Thing Early Reviewers program and the publisher for providing me with an ARC of this book.


  1. I LOVED Blue Blood and I had no idea the author had a new book out! However, after reading your review, I think I will take a pass. It sounds like it has potential but isn't quite there. Bummer.

  2. Hmmm... might not be one to add to my list but I always enjoy your reviews. For me, putting a book down 2 or 3 times is the kiss of death to ever finishing it. I actually have a book case of those (gifts, mostly.) My daughter teases me about when, if ever, I'll open them up again. :)

  3. Yeah, this may not be the book for me. Thanks for your review.

  4. Kate, quite honestly, if it had not been a Library Thing ER book that I felt obligated to read..and if I was not so honest and can't fake a review if I have not finished the book, I probably would have stopped before I reached the part that was more interesting, never to return.

  5. Interesting but it sounds like one that if I was not obligated to review I would probably not finish. Thanks for the review.


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