Guy got his head cut off in there,” says NYPD detective Edward Conlon, gesturing out his driver’s-side window at a parole building on his run-down turf, the rough-and-tumble 44th Precinct in the South Bronx. Up the street is not only Yankee Stadium – the 44th’s crown jewel – but an old Babe Ruth haunt that later became a ”classic nightmare welfare hotel, where the halls were flooded with blood.” Conlon’s got a story for every corner of the Four-Four: That bodega there recalls the case where ”the fat white chick from Connecticut brought her baby along for a robbery spree with this junkie,” while the giant, city-within-a-city Morris House projects remind him of fistfights, the brick that almost brained him, and snarling pit bulls. A lot of history here, a lot of old stories. ”Some guys get nostalgic,” he says. ”I don’t.”
He just writes it all down. Blue Blood, Conlon’s first book, is a 559-page memoir about his nine years and counting as a patrol officer, narcotics agent, and robbery detective. It too bursts with stories, and some of them first ran in The New Yorker, where Conlon’s pseudonymous ”Cop Diary” dispatches set off a million-dollar bidding war for the book back in 1998 – even though it’s not the typical cop book some editors were hoping for.
”The book’s about a very ordinary cop’s life in a bad neighborhood,” says Conlon, 39. ”I didn’t take down the Son of Sam or the French Connection, but when I was talking to different publishers about what the book might be, there was an expectation that there has to be some major case, just because that’s what cop movies are. But if anything, the job’s sort of like TV when cop TV is good, because it’s just sort of rolling, ongoing, weird, small, day-to-day amazements and tragedies and camaraderies.”
Conlon’s great-grandpa Pat was a cop; so was his Uncle Eddie, and so, briefly, was his dad, before he moved over to the FBI. But after a Bronx and Yonkers upbringing, Conlon went to Harvard, majored in English, wrote a thesis on fellow Irishman Samuel Beckett, tried the ”lousy” freelance-writing life, and finally, at 30, opted for a real gig. ”It seemed like cops were the only people who really loved their jobs,” he says. ”So I said I’ll give it a try, I’ll be a cop.”
As far as he knows, he’s the only Harvard College grad on the force: ”I guess it didn’t occur to anyone else.” But he loves it – everything from racing down city streets during car chases and knocking down doors on search warrants to simply bearing witness to ”the human drama of ordinary life and strange things.” He insists, despite all the attention he’s getting as an author, that he’s a cop who writes, not the other way around. ”Everybody, when they hear he wrote this book, assumes he took the job to write the book,” says Riverhead publisher Julie Grau, who edited Blue Blood. ”But he’s gonna retire as a cop, and when you read the book it’s so patently clear that being a cop is his first job.”