Signet, 1998, 400 pages, C$8.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-451-19588-4
From time to time, it happens that an otherwise good novel suffers from one single wacky element, a part of it that just seems incongruous with what we expect, or what we consider to be “acceptable”. It happens that this single element destroys the novel, illustrating other structural flaws or simply turning the reviewer from an unbiased to a negative state of mind.
Blue Justice has such an element, in the character of Maria Alvarez, “a gorgeous 19th Precinct beat cop with a license to kill… and kill again.” She not only the Police Commissioner’s daughter, but she’s also a flaming psychopath, serially sleeping with the whole NYPD police force, harassing co-workers and -oh yeah, that too- killing other police officers by the hearseload.
It stretches, bends, twists and crooks believability not only to include such a character in a book, but to base a whole novel around such an element. The logical blunders are so big that they threaten to engulf the reader’s good faith. How are we to believe that such a twisted character could become a police(wo)man? How are we to accept the fact that she’s never been found out by any other person? How are we to gulp down the assumption that she killed almost a dozen police officers in a year and no one figured out that she was romantically involved with most -if not all- of these policemen? How should we react to the idea that she could go around harassing a fellow police officer (charging harassment, hanging dead eviscerated cats in his locker, charging rape then retracting it, sending ominous letters, making unpleasant phone calls, etc…) in complete impunity?
These are the questions at the start of the novel. But then something quite wonderful happens; the narrative makes you accept it and you’re in for the ride. Blue Justice isn’t your usual cop novel; it twists the usual assumptions, takes a few large risks and ends up as a pretty interesting piece of work despite never being quite believable.
Most of the novel’s strength is in the characters, from the thirty-year veteran Ed Gavin to rookie Jon Strega, tough-nails detective “Cue Ball” Ballantine and Ivy-league blond supercop Hansen, without forgiving psycho Alvarez. These are no simple caricatures, or movie cliché stereotypes. Struggling relationships, devious criminals and internal demons all vastly complicate our protagonists’ lives. Things never go quite as well as planned, never to the appropriate persons. If Hollywood would be to bring Blue Justice to the silver screen, critics would be running to their word processors in order to call it “brilliantly revisionist” and such.
The premise of the book itself isn’t conventional. Veteran Gavin is clued in that a rash of police suicides (including his partner) isn’t as simple as it would seem, but even though he zeroes in on the killer’s identity, it’s never as simple as bringing in the handcuffs. Other things have to be attended to, and while these “other things” are mostly extrataneous to the remainder of the novel, they also constitute most of the atmosphere. In passing, we get a good look at the NYPD and its own little quirks and internal particularities.
While Blue Justice never overcomes this initial feeling of oh-goodness-I-can’t-believe-it outrageousness, it still manages to pull itself together and deliver a good police procedural. The writing style is enjoyable, and the pacing is dynamic enough to compensate for other flaws. Maybe more interesting for jaded readers of the genre, Blue Justice is nevertheless worth a look. Just be ready to give some slack to the psycho killer.