William P. McGivern (1918-1982) started his writing career authoring science fiction and fantasy stories for the pulps. By the time he turned to paperback novels, crime fiction became his preferred genre with a high water mark being his 1954 release, “Rogue Cop.” The book was adapted that same year into a well-regarded movie starring Robert Taylor and a pre-Psycho Janet Leigh.
The book’s protagonist is Detective Sergeant Mike Carmody, a police officer in the employ of his big-city police department (feels like Philadelphia to me) and the local mobster, Dan Beaumonte. Carmody has an idealistic kid brother named Eddie who is also a cop, but one who honors his oath of office and plays by the rules. As you can imagine, their relationship is distant and chilly due to the sizable gulf between their core values.
As the novel opens, Carmody has a real dilemma on his hands. His brother Eddie is preparing to testify against a low-level mobster working for Beaumonte, and the racketeer is nervous that the defendant is going to flip if convicted. Beaumonte enlists Carmody’s help to have Eddie keep his mouth shut...or else.
When Carmody explains the risks of testifying to Eddie, the Super-Catholic younger brother doesn’t want to hear it as he can’t be bought or swayed. Carmody is forced into quite a bit of soul-searching regarding his own reputation in the department as a dirty cop while devising a plan to placate his mob boss and keep Eddie alive. Carmody enlists Eddie’s girlfriend into his scheme to keep his brother safe using his own knowledge of the girl’s checkered past.
This really is a fantastic novel. McGivern brings his A-game when it comes to creating tension and making Carmody’s redemption tale a roller-coaster ride of conflicting interests. The mobsters are menacing without being cartoonish, and the scenes of reckoning between the brothers are emotionally wrenching. McGivern had a real knack for propulsive plotting, and this story is tight as a drum.
“Rogue Cop” is more than just a kick-ass tale of cops and crooks (although plenty of asses do get kicked). It’s also a story of a man fighting for his own redemption - both professionally and spiritually. There’s a lot going on in this short novel, and it’s way smarter than most genre paperbacks of that era.
I haven’t seen the movie adaptation because they always seem to be a letdown, but I may seek this one out. But you shouldn’t cheat yourself out of a great page-turner. If you’re looking for a fast-moving hardboiled crime story without an ounce of fat, please consider “Rogue Cop” to be essential reading. Highly recommended.
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