Friday, April 20, 2018

Book Review: The Policeman’s Daughter by Trudy Nan Boyce

A Police Procedural that Feels Real

Lil’ D, Dirty Red, Q-ball, Man.  They aren’t the nicknames of anyone I know, but after reading The Policeman’s Daughter, it feels like I do.  Boyce vividly brings to life the people and the setting of an area of Atlanta known as the Homes.  It’s a tough, violent neighborhood and a difficult life, on the edge of poverty, ruled by a drug gang, forgotten by all…except Detective Sarah Alt, aka Salt.  Salt patrols her beat with guts, with intelligence, and most of all, with compassion.  But what part of that compassion represents her need to feel close to her father, a cop she found dead by his own hand when she was just ten?  How far will she go to cling to that memory by walking in his shoes?  It’s a tense ride, as Salt tries to come to grips with her past without sacrificing herself, her home, and those around her.

Boyce weaves the tale from ‘war stories’ on the job – talking a violent man into the wagon, watching kids play in a fire hydrant on a sweltering summer day in Atlanta.  As a result, the book feels a bit slow at first.  But soon, the plot centers around the murder of Shannell, a woman who does whatever is necessary to get her drug fix; and Stone, the violent lieutenant of the local drug gang.  There are places where the story became somewhat muddled.  At one point, Stone sets up Lil’ D to be arrested for drugs, but I wasn’t sure why.  To establish his dominance?  To test Lil’ D’s mettle?  In another, a fellow policeman, Pepper got a flat tire.  Or was it shot out?  Was this supposed to be a warning, because if so, none of the police seemed to make the connection, except perhaps Salt.  (And yes, the nicknames Salt and Pepper seemed a little too cute at first, but that bit of syrup is soon lost in the suspense.)

The Policeman’s Daughter is not the kind of mystery you can solve by paying attention to the subtle cues, and so, identify the killer before the author comes to the finale.  Boyce, through a character, tells you that.  It’s a world teetering on the edge of collapse, where anyone could have snapped and killed Shannell.  Even so, the conclusion is a bit shocking.  And in that ending, Boyce draws the themes of past vs. present, her father vs. the force to a satisfying conclusion.  Only the apparently miraculous recovery of Salt’s eyesight seemed too convenient.

Overall, The Policeman’s Daughter is driven by Boyce’s rich depiction of life in the Homes and Salt’s growth as a person and a cop.  It’s well worth the read.

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