Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Confessions of A Catholic Cop: Puzzling Title, Good Story

Thomas Fitzsimmons is a new, independent author who was a New York City cop for ten years and is also a Vietnam veteran. As such he ha plenty of experience with the darker side of human nature and he uses it well in his debut novel. His lead character, Michael Beckett, is a likeable guy, a good cop, a decent human being who was raised in an Irish Catholic family and who works part time as an actor on the television program Law and Order. I thought the latter was an interesting addition to his character because much of the story-telling in Fitzsimmon's novel, Confessions of A Catholic Cop, reads rather like a Law and Order script – one of the few contemporary television programs I have actually watched.

The story is pretty straight-forward. A series of arsons has plagued a neighborhood in the South Bronx and it is pretty obvious somebody is up to no good but who and why? Beckett and his partner Vinnie D'Amato have some clues but pulling all of them together is a daunting task. Especially when they are juggling far more cases than they have time to deal with, non-stop pressure from within the police department, a highly critical public, obnoxiously persistent news reporters, problems at home, and no shortage of inter-personal conflicts between Beckett and D'Amato who is openly jealous of his partner's new-found celebrity.

Fitzsimmons writes well and I liked the shifting POV. Chapters alternated between Beckett's first-person narrative and a third-person POV that gives the reader a different perspective on the action – and there is plenty of action. Fitzsimmons writes with the confidence and authority of experience and it comes through powerfully throughout the story.

He also has a real gift for his secondary and minor characters. Some of them were just perfect. He is accomplished at characterization and eve those characters that might have slipped into cliché had such individual personalities that it made it interesting. He also has a dry sense of humor and he made me chuckle with his political activist Reverend Al Dullard (“dull” being the opposite of “sharp”.)

This is action-packed, gritty, violent, straight-forward story-telling without a lot of suspense or mystery. In fact, to me the biggest mystery was why the book was titled as it was since, other than mentioning that he grew up in an Irish-Catholic family, Beckett doesn't seem to have much connection to his religion. Toward the end of the book, after a particularly violent shoot-out, he goes to his parish priest and asks for Confession (the scene reminded me of a few Law & Order episodes in which Detective Eliot Stabler does the same thing - I'm always happy to have a reason to put his picture on my blog.)

I liked Fitzsimmons style. The violence was tough in places and parts of it were very sad but I couldn't help but care about both Beckett and D'Amato. In fact all of the characters were interesting – I felt a special attachment to D'Amato's long-suffering wife. So, if you are looking for plenty of action, interesting characters and a good story, this will do. I admit I kept waiting for more about the “Catholic” aspect of Beckett's life and felt a little mislead when not much happened there.

I read the Kindle version and there are some serious formatting issues. There is no break or indenting on most of the paragraphs which makes it hard to follow at times. Also, for some reason, the author kept spelling “psycho” as “physco” – not a big deal but it did make me wonder if he'd ever seen the Hitchcock movie..

Thanks for reading.    

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