- - Monday, July 1, 2019



By Edward Conlon

Arcade, $25.99, 432 pages

Having interviewed a good number of police officers over the years and having accompanied patrol officers and detectives out on the streets, I’ve heard a good number of absorbing, amusing and atrocious cop stories.

I once asked a former Los Angeles Police Department detective sergeant and best-selling author, Joseph Wambaugh, whom many have called “The Father of the Modern Police Novel,” why cops are such good storytellers.

“First of all, they get good material in their work. They’re out there seeing people, doing things,” Mr. Wambaugh, the author of “The Onion Field” and “The Choir Boys,” said. “They are out there having fun when they do good police work and they are gathering material whether they know it or not. And once in a while someone like me will pop up and say, hey, tell me a few stories. And often they are eager to do it.”

Edward Conlon’s novel, “The Policewomen’s Bureau: A Novel,” is the result of one cop from an earlier era telling cop stories to a modern cop. Edward Conlon was a detective with the New York City Police Department, and he is the author of a memoir, “Blue Blood,” and a previous novel called “Red On Red.”

“The Policewomen’s Bureau” is a work of fiction based on the life of my late friend, Marie Cirile-Spagnuolo, and was written with her permission and cooperation,” Mr. Conlon writes in his author’s note. “I was drawn to her story through her memoir, ‘Detective Marie Cirile,’ and decided to adapt it as a novel over the course of long talks. Both of us were detectives in the NYPD, though in different eras. Marie was appointed in 1957, and she was at my retirement party in 2011, three months before she died.”

How much of the novel is true?

“Most of it, and the worst of it,” Mr. Conlon writes.

“Marie was an outsider and a trailblazer, an Italian in an Irish police department, and a woman in a man’s world. The indignities she suffered, on the job and off, were experiences I could only imagine. And so, I decided to relate them with as little imagination as possible, relying on her versions of events and her emotional reactions to them.”

Mr. Conlon goes on to state that he told her that he wanted the freedom to invent anything that might improve the story. “Go for it, kiddo,” she replied. And he did.

The novel opens with Policewoman Marie Carrara working in the Policewoman’s Bureau in 1958. She is one of the policewomen in a line-up along with a female pickpocket. She is so outstanding that the victim picked her out of the lineup, rather than the suspected woman.

Marie Carrara was serving as a station-house matron, guarding the female prisoners and performing other duties, such as searching female corpses and translating Italian to English for the detectives. She aspires to become a detective herself.

She is in awe of Inspector Theresa Melchionne, the commanding officer of the Policewomen’s Bureau, and the inspector, who observed the line-up, saw something special in Policewoman Carrara. She became her mentor, or “Rabbi,” as they call them in the NYPD.

After her tour, she headed home in the morning to husband Serafino — known as Sid, and “Hollywood Sid” to his fellow cops — and the smell of an all-night card game. She was greeted happily by her young daughter, Sandy. Later, she, her daughter and her husband went next door to eat with her parents and her three sisters, two of whom were accompanied by their husbands. (Mr. Conlon describes Italian-American life, language and food in the late 1950s and 1960s very well.)

At dinner she angered her husband with something she said and when they returned home, he slapped her and told her she was nothing without him.

The following day Inspector Melchionne offered Marie Carrara an opportunity to join “the Degenerate Squad,” although the inspector preferred to call it Special Assignments. The young policewoman had to pose as an applicant for a secretary job for a man suspected of sexually abusing women. The man attacks her, and she fights him off until other officers come in to arrest him.

This arrest leads to other assignments with the burglary squad, where she excels with her flair for disguises and two supportive male detectives. The book goes on to offer a series of sad, funny and exciting vignettes about her arrests, altercations and adventures. As her career advances toward becoming a detective, her husband became more and more abusive, eventually leading to a showdown and a violent physical fight that endangers both of their careers.

“The Policewomen’s Bureau” is a well-written, interesting and illuminating story of one woman’s arduous and trailblazing journey to become a detective.

• Paul Davis covers crime, espionage and terrorism.

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