Friday, August 24, 2018

A Brilliant Police Procedural from Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson's Sympathy for the Devil, which was published in 1987, remains, I think, one of the best, if not the best of the novels to come out of the Vietnam War. It was a searing account of the war as seen through the eyes of one soldier, a young man named Hanson, who very closely resembles the author.

Anderson's second novel, Night Dogs, appeared in 1996, and certainly ranks among the best police procedurals I've ever read. The book is set in the middle Seventies, shortly after the end of the war. The protgonist is again Hanson, now home from Vietnam and working as a patrol officer for the Portland, Oregon Police Bureau.

Hanson has survived the war, physically at least, but it haunts his every moment, and he now finds himself in the middle of a new war, which is just as hard to decipher as the old one. Hanson is assigned to Portland's North Precinct, the ghetto and the worst precinct in the city. The commanding officers are all men who screwed up in other areas of the department and who were exiled to the North Precinct. The patrol officers are mostly cowboys looking for the rush that the action in the precinct provides on a daily basis.

The book has only the loosest of plots. One of the principal threads involves one of Hanson's closest friends from the war who has come to Portland and become a drug dealer and a killer. Rather than arresting him, though, Hanson attempts to help him, given that they bonded while in the Special Forces together and given that he remains the only man Hanson really trusts. 

The other thread involves one of Hanson's fellow officers in the precinct, a guy named Fox, who hates Hanson and spends most of the book attempting to undermine Hanson's career. For the most part, though, the novel is a chronicle of the daily interaction between the police and the criminals, mostly small-time, who inhabit the North Precinct. It's a daily battle and an endless revolving door, with the cops confronting the same scumbags day in and day out, without making any progress at all in the war on crime. "Justice" is a very elusive concept here, in a world where the cops dispense what is largely their own brand of very rough justice.

At one point, Hanson confronts a guy who's giving him grief and shoots him The Look, which "was full of knees and elbows and night sticks, car hoods and concrete, broken noses, broken collarbones and concussions."

It's not a pretty sight, and this is not a book for the squeamish reader. Beautifully written, it's tough, gritty and ugly, but it has the ring of authenticity--much more so than virtually any other crime novel I've ever read. Anderson himself worked as a patrol cop in Portland in the Seventies, and one would imagine that, like his first book, this one is based very closely on his experiences there. It's a great novel and one that you won't forget soon. 4.5 stars.

No comments:

Post a Comment