Sunday, July 8, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Black & White by Wes Albers

     "I wish I could remember my last solid shit but I can't."

     So begins Black & White, the debut novel by Wes Albers. I first learned about this book at one of my trade web sites, or in a police magazine; a novel about a San Diego Police Officer, by a San Diego police officer, with a plea to give it a try. I did, and now look forward to more from Wes Albers.

     John Hatch is a veteran San Diego police Patrolman, partnered with a rookie just off field training, in a not-so-nice part of town. He is single (never married), middle-aged, and appropriately bitter about his station in life, but not so much that he can't enjoy himself or has become pessimistic about ever finding happiness. He is a cop, which he distinguishes nicely from police officer, he likes it, and even acknowledges that to be successful at anything else would require not being a successful cop.
     As you might expect, Hatch has his foes. One is a new Sergeant, one who has moved up the ranks quickly, but was never a cop, looking to rise to the top. "Let me put it this way, the cream always rises to the top. You've heard that before, haven't you, John?" says Sgt. Roosevelt, after questioning why Hatch is still only a patrolman, and why he so quickly is not. 

     Black & White, described by several other reviewers as gritty, is full of lines of literary genius:
Eating a carne asada burrito is happiness, but the satisfaction always leads to a messy run to the crapper. Life is tough and makes no promises. 
It was never that complicated. I just needed one little clue and the answers would become as apparent as the intent of drunken teenagers on prom night.
     Before you think this is the classic police novel, don't! It has some great police stories, and one whodunnit, but the mystery plays a secondary role to the character study of John Hatch.
     Black & White is written in the first person, which I normally don't like in crime fiction because it doesn't allow for a more objective view of the protagonist. But it works in this book because of Hatch's self-awareness.
     John Hatch is a complicated man. He is a cop first, but has not given up on wanting more. He is a patrolman, and will listen to the boy-wonder Sergeant, but only because he has to. But when I expect a confrontation, he takes the diplomatic route. When I expect the cold, callous attitude of the tough-guy book cop, there is a kindness or empathy that surprised me. He is frustrated by having to deal with a rookie patrolman, but also knows his role in developing that patrolman's skills, turning into a cop, which is is reminded of by his retiring mentor.
Author Wes Albers
     Other times expectations are right on. Hatch does go head to head with the Sergeant, and puts up a wall between people he cares about.  But what makes it more real to me than many other police novels is that Hatch is aware, sometimes painfully, of his conduct, its consequences, and how he might be able to do things differently to achieve a better result. 

     If you like police novels, or are a police officer, know a police officer, or are curious about police officers, give this book a read. It is entertaining and enlightening, and will make you crave more from Wes Albers and John Hatch.

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