I'm reading the recent Edgar winner: C.J.Box, BLUE HEAVEN. I wanted to know what makes this book worthy to be a winner among the many, many mysteries of all subgenres.

This one is a thriller. That was a tad surprising. Almost by definition, a thriller doesn't have much going for it but violence and suspense. The characters are black and white. There's frequently some evil conspiracy. And the violence is nasty -- in this case torture.

Mind you, it's not badly written and he has a multiplicity of character types. The threat is specifically against two children who saw too much. That would make it meaningful to men and women alike.

But what appalled me in this book (and once again raised the idea that writers have some sort of moral obligation) is the fact that the evil in this case is the LAPD. And lest you think that it involves only three retired officers, the book makes it clear that the Idaho community is the retirement village of large numbers of crooked LA cops: their Blue Heaven.

What does a book like that do to a decent police officer anywhere, let alone in L.A.? And in spite of the attention given to the occasional bad cop by the press, the vast majority of policemen are surely decent and doing a very tough and dangerous job.

There is very little here that, to my mind, deserved an award.

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Oh, John D., not all people in any profession are through and through bad. Not even all are flawed. Some are just hard-working men and women doing a dangerous job (cops get killed all the time, don't they?) for little money. I grant you that the job description may attract some psychologically undesirable people now and then, but that is also true of teachers, nurses, priests, and boy scout leaders.
I'm a little past halfway, making myself go on, though things are predictable enough. It's not the worst book I ever read, and it does move, but to my mind there's a lot missing to make it award material. And I just don't like the beating up on any one group of people. I also took against another book's author because it portrayed most of the male characters (except for a couple of gay men) as vicious wife beaters and killers because the social theme was "battered women".

There are also better thrillers, though I still think the requirements of the genre don't leave much room for theme, character development, or the complexities of life.
I'm always leery of drawing too broad a comparison from the characters in a book. If the book is about corrupt LA cops, then, yes, many of the cops depicted willl be corrupt. Just as a novel about organized crime in New York is going to a lot of unsavory Italian characters. Made guys have to be Italian. Period. To try to break things up a little, have a family run by a German or a Hungarian, will detract from the authenticity. That's not the same as saying all Italians are mobbed up, or that only Italians are criminals. If the book's about drug gangs in Baltimore, then a lot of your dealers will be black, even though the percentage of black Baltimoreans working corners is a small minority of the population.
Oh, yikes! I see Crimespot.net picked this up. They never paid attention to my brilliant comments before. And I certainly did not intend to offend C.J.Box, hoping that this would remain entre nous, so to speak. This is a dangerous place to post opinions.
The LAPD has a long, dark history of corruption, racism and abuse of power. Much of the tension in Chandler's books derives from writing about Marlowe's difficult relationship with the LA law-enforcement establishment; Mosley also depicts LAPD as uniformly corrupt and racist--and this is generaly the perspective of LA's non-white community (as a semi-humorous aside, my father-in-law is an olive-skinned Jewish physician who lives in a very wealthy suburb south of LA--he frequently gets pulled over by LAPD, who assume he's Mexican and find it incongruous that he's driving a Lexus. "Uh, sorry Dr. Goldin..."). Suggesting that a book's not worth reading because it acknowledges those established facts seems a bit silly. I don't think we're obligated as writers to show the police in an exclusively positive light, especially when the reverse is so often and so evidently the case. What do fictional depictions of endemic police corruption do to decent cops? Nothing much, I don't think. If LAPD was really worried about its image in the community, they'd clean up their act.
Obviously I don't agree that honest cops aren't damaged by association with a police force that has been portrayed in fiction and by the media as uniformly cruel and racist. Why would a decent young man even apply to serve there?

My guess is that a very large force like the LAPD (and the New York police frequently also) is always in the forefront of confrontations that make charges of racism and brutality an almost daily occurrence. In fact, almost any police force in the country must worry about this. Not every accusation is valid, and the ones that are must be adressed and clearly are being addressed.

I would guess that service in a metropolitan PD is not unlike service in Iraq or Afghanistan. We also hear stories of racism and brutality from those fronts. Violence begets violence. But by and large this country does not vilify its soldiers the way they vilify their police.
Obviously I don't agree that honest cops aren't damaged by association with a police force that has been portrayed in fiction and by the media as uniformly cruel and racist.

My point is that no fictional portrayal, however negative, can possibly do as much damage to the public image of the LAPD as the documented actions of its own officers. People generally know the difference between fact and fiction: nobody's going to riot in Watts or South Central because of C.J. Box.

It's worth noting that Mark Fuhrman of O.J. trial fame moved to Idaho after his retirement and conviction for perjury. Idaho has long been a haven for white supremacists. Box is just putting two and two together.
Cops (and soldiers) will generally show all the different kind of positives and negatives of the population groups they represent. What's different is their opportunities to act on those impulses, both positive and negative.

That being said, certain types of people will be attracted to becoming cops. On the positive side, those who sincerely want to help others will find ample opportunity, if they can deal with the frustrations. On the negative side, those who like to boss others around, or otherwise leverage positions of authority, will also be attracted.

I once read in one of Connie Fletcher's books that cops are never surprise like the general public is when a child molester is exposed, and he's a Little League coach or scoutmaster. To paraphrase the cop, they're pedophiles, not stupid. They naturally gravitate to positions while little boys will trust them: scoutmaster, Little League coach, teacher, priest. Someone who occasionally likes to get rough may find opportunities for such actions as a cop, so they'll be drawn there.
Yes, I made that point also earlier. I think what we mustn't forget is that putting a man in the midst of enemy fire may well stress him to the point where he overreacts. In other words, neither soldiers nor cops behave like ordinary people because they deal with a different world. This country ( the U.S.) has a culture of gun violence that means a cop has to expect that every man, woman, or child he encounters may pull a gun and shoot him. We have no right to expect an arresting officer to be gentle and understanding when we put him into such dangerous situations.

As for writers: Most police procedurals deal with the detectives, the guys in suits and with offices who show up after the crime. Perhaps it's time to follow the beat cops around for a change.
Everybody hates cops until you need one.
Not me. I generally like cops just fine. But it's silly arguing that the LAPD's public relations problems, particularly in LA's minority community, are somehow the fault of novels or films.
Nobody said that. The public relations problems (news reports) came first, then everybody jumped on them.
And what fueled the public relations problems in the first place is an altogether different and more complex question.


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