Pennsylvanian Charles Weiser Frey (1910-1963) authored six crime fiction books during the 1950s under the pseudonym of Ferguson Findlay. The first of these was his 1950 novel, “My Old Man’s Badge” that was also re-released in 1959 as “Killer Cop.” The story was adapted into a 30-minute episode of the long-forgotten TV show, “Suspense,” and (most relevantly) recently reprinted by the good people at Black Gat Books for modern consumption.
Our narrator Johnny Malone is a rookie New York City street cop. The heroic thwarting of a robbery in progress thrusts Johnny into the position of detective long before the promotion would have happened otherwise. Johnny continues to live in the shadow of his late father - also a handsome Irish cop - who was killed on the job 14 years earlier when Johnny was 11. The crumb who shot Dad was never caught and revenge becomes the driving force of “My Old Man’s Badge” now that Johnny has made detective.
The cops know that it was a German national named Rudy Hoffmann who killed Johnny’s dad, but they never caught the elusive kraut. The German’s backstory is fantastic - one of the most compelling bad guy origin stories I can recall from this era’s fiction. When Johnny is informed that the killer is back on the New York streets, living in the shadows, and gunning for Johnny, the young detective asks to be assigned the case to bring Hoffmann to justice. As such, the reader is treated to a vendetta story swathed in a police procedural wrapper.
Chasing the only lead he has, Johnny goes undercover as a Bowery bum living among the human refuse looking for clues. Hoffmann has an axe to grind with the Malone family, and Johnny wants to neutralize the German before he gets killed just like his father. The path from Johnny to Hoffmann is a circuitous one, and Johnny joins a dope-distribution gang in his undercover capacity to generate leads.
The beginning and end of “My Old Man’s Badge” are both excellent - among the best scenes you’ll read. The middle, however, dragged a bit for me. Johnny’s descent into the undercover life of crime was a bit convoluted and the plot had way too much gangland drama in the dope ring. Things get back on track once Johnny finds his dad’s killer, and the climactic, but predictable, ending is extremely well done.
Overall, the paperback is definitely worth your time, but it could have used a stronger editorial hand 70 years ago. In any case, I’m glad I read it, and Black Gat should be lauded for resurrecting the novel.
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