Book Review: Brooklyn Supreme by Robert Reuland

In Robert Reuland's Brooklyn Supreme, police union representative Will Way is caught in the middle of a conflagration of law, politics, and race when a rookie cop fatally shoots a man on a Brooklyn street corner.

Will Way is the first person called out whenever there’s a police officer-involved shooting in Brooklyn. A union representative from the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, he gets forty-eight hours with the officers involved before anyone else does, whether it be the cops’ own bosses, Internal Affairs or the District Attorney’s office. His job is to look out for the welfare of his cops first and foremost.

When Police Officer Georgina Reed shoots a robber apprehended immediately after rolling over a bodega, Will thinks this should be an easy case to manage. But sitting in the stationhouse basement and listening to Georgina’s story, he feels a growing sense of unease, as Georgina is clearly lying about what happened mere hours ago:

Georgina Reed had given me her truth, but not the truth—not the whole truth and nothing but. What interested me more than her truth was her lie, for the most interesting truths in this business are always the ones hidden by lies. When you uncover the lie, well, then you have the truth. For the moment, however, her truth was enough to let me stand with her. I had to stand with her regardless, but it’s always better when you can feel good about your man. Then you can stand a little closer.

Regardless of what actually happened that night, Will firmly believes that while Georgina may have killed someone, she’s not actually a murderer. Unfortunately, he’s also starting to believe that maybe Georgina shouldn’t have been a cop in the first place. But he’s ready to defend her at all costs and against all comers, including against the press, the lawyers and the protestors who come alive when word of the shooting gets out. Georgina claims that the man she shot was holding a gun: others swear that all he had was a bouquet of azaleas. Will’s determination to protect her lands him right in the middle of a political firestorm that could upend not only his entire life, but also everything he thought he knew about his own past.

Set in the late 1990s, this is a novel that delves deeply into the muddled thinking of a thirty-three-year-old Irish-American man who grew up poor in Brooklyn but had bigger dreams than joining his father’s produce business. Smart enough to seek solace in books, he tries to escape into academia, only to return and enlist in the police academy instead. Unhappy, however, with the person he’s becoming, he transfers to the PBA and tosses his gun into the bay, devoting himself thereafter to doing his utmost to protect his fellow officers the way he himself would want to be protected.

But the American people’s increasing awareness of their civil rights, and their commensurate outrage at the abuses perpetrated by cops, won’t allow Will to do his job quietly. Neither will his girlfriend, the wealthy liberal Kat, the morning after the shooting:

For now there were no signs, no marches, no flowers, no patrol cars overturned and burned, no impromptu assassinations, no lives thrown onto the pyre, no microwave ovens looted through the broken windows of discount appliance stores on Atlantic Avenue. That would all come later. For now Georgina Reed was interesting only because Georgina was not George, and the lede began, Last night in Brooklyn a policewoman shot and killed… Later they would broadcast her service picture, Georgina against a green background, her skin bleached light in the flash. She might have been anything in that photograph, even a police officer. “What’s she look like?” Kat would ask before that, meaning Is she black or is she white? because Americans can’t talk about race even when they talk about race.

This was an interesting novel for me: wryly self-aware on many issues of race and class in America, even as its first-person narrator seems frustratingly dense, on both those issues and in terms of the street smarts he needs not only to conduct himself well on the job but in navigating his own past, too. I was astounded by his propensity to spill everything to anyone who asked, though I did find it intriguing that his insistence on not being a racist person also made it impossible for him to see the extremely obvious truth about the girl he’d loved when they were both teenagers. As a metaphor for the way white America, and cops especially, blinker themselves when they ought to know better, Brooklyn Supreme is quite the achievement, with an ending that further feels like an allegory.

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