The Good Cop by Brad Parks is the fourth mystery featuring investigative reporter Carter Ross (available March 5, 2013).
Among the many reasons I enjoy being a newspaper reporter—not the least of which are the freedom, the fun, and the constitutionally protected right to announce when people are acting like idiots—one of the small-but-important pleasures is what I’m doing each morning at eight thirty-eight.
At 8:38 a.m., I imagine most gainfully employed, industrious members of our society are already enjoined in the struggle that is their daily grind. They have attended to their grooming needs, squeezed themselves into their workaday uniforms, rushed through a meal that puts the “fast” in “breakfast,” and made the necessary concessions to their caffeine addictions.
At 8:38 a.m., they are inhaling the carbon-tinged exhaust fumes from the car in front of them on the Garden State Parkway; or they are recovering from the latest skirmish in the ongoing Battle of No, You Cannot Wear That to School; or they are checking their emails, looking at their schedules, and generally girding themselves for all that is to come.
At 8:38 a.m., I do solemnly swear that I, Carter Ross, am asleep.
Meet Carter Ross: investigative reporter for the Newark Eagle-Examiner. Now, for a large segment of the population, the words “investigative reporter” conjure images of a very specific kind of journalist. Tenacious. Smart. A maverick—the very epitome of Stoic Badassery, dedicated to Exposing Truths, Righting Wrongs, and Looking Awesome in a Cargo Vest.
And I’ll grant you, Carter Ross bears little resemblance to a Stoic Badass. He drives a Chevy Malibu. He wears pleated slacks. He drinks Coke Zero. Truth be told, he’s really more Frank Fontana than Bob Woodward (or even Anderson Cooper, for that matter):
My instant read was that he fancied himself a tough guy and he would only respect other tough guys. This was a bit of a problem for me seeing as, under most circumstances, I’m about as tough as sun-warmed gummy bears.
But I could pretend otherwise. So, without saying a word—because tough guys are taciturn—I pulled out a plastic folding chair and sat across from him. I narrowed my eyes and reclined slightly because tough guys squint a lot and don’t care about impressing anyone with good posture. And then I sat there. Just sat there. Because I was tough. Very tough.
It took all my energy to do this, of course. My natural tendency toward glibness made me want to fill long silences like this one. But I focused and kept my lips pressed together.
Finally, after an eternity of pretending to be tough—and I’m talking a good forty-five seconds here—he said, “You want some coffee?”
I didn’t. Not even a little. I hate coffee. I don’t like the flavor of it when it hits my tongue, and then—as if to reassure me of my first impression—it floods my mouth with this bitter, acidic aftertaste. I’d rather drink a stranger’s toothpaste scum. So I said, “Coffee. Sure.”
Because I’m that tough.
“How you want it?”
“Black,” I said, because I knew that’s how tough guys were supposed to take their coffee.
Mike got up from his seat and poured from a clear pot of dark brown liquid into a Halloween mug, complete with black cats and witches. It was not exactly a tough guy mug. But I accepted it and tried not to wince as I took a tough guy-sized swallow. Then I set the mug down and continued our modified staring contest, which seemed to involve not actually looking at each other.
“Mike Fusco,” he said eventually.
Feeling like I won some important victory, I replied, “Carter Ross.”
But for my money, that doesn’t make him any less impressive an investigative reporter. He’s still a bit of a maverick (particularly when it comes to squaring off with his editor):
I couldn’t help myself. I made a display of walking around her, bending down and pointed toward her behind.
“Oh, hey, look at that!” I exclaimed.
“What?” she said, trying to look back at what I was doing.
“I think there are some monkeys flying out of your ass.”
She stuck her hands on her hips and looked in another direction.
“I just don’t know if I want to waste my time on a nonstory like this,” I said.
As she sighed, I continued: “I have copy due on something else by the end of the week, and the editor, let me tell you, she won’t accept any excuses for it not being done because she’s never wrong.”
I stopped for a moment just to make sure, you know, we were still having fun with this. And I think we were.
Or maybe it was just that I was having enough fun for two because she finally said, “Are you finished?”
“Let me think about it,” I said, paused for five seconds, then added, “Yes, I think I am.”
And while we’ve already established the unlikelihood of him ever donning a cargo anything, that doesn’t make him any less smart, less tenacious, or less dedicated to Exposing Truths and Righting Wrongs:
On the one hand, there was what Pritch told me about Internal Affairs. Was Darius Kipps dirty? He had been talking about buying a new house, taking his kids to Disney. A guy making ninety grand a year might be able to swing those kinds of outlays on his own, depending on his other expenses. Or it might have been a sign he was supplementing his income in some less-than-legitimate fashion. And once he got caught, the decorated cop—who was the son of a decorated cop—couldn’t handle the shame. So he arranged himself a hasty exit.
On the other hand, I had my gut—and Mimi Kipps’s loud, insistent voice—saying that suicide didn’t fit. You didn’t spend hours at the hospital telling your infant son how he was going to root for the Eagles someday if you didn’t plan to stick around and do it with him, right? And there was also what I had learned about Kipps being an all-about-the-law police officer. Cops like that didn’t go bad, did they?
The bottom line was . . . well, there was no bottom line. I had no real idea what happened. And perhaps I should have let it drop—I had a big story about a public housing project to hand to Tina by the end of the week, after all—but part of being a reporter means never turning off your natural curiosity.
Most importantly, though, when the events of The Good Cop conspire to land him in the middle of his biggest and most dangerous investigation to date—one involving murder, corruption, and gunrunning, and that finds him with a price on his head, he does the whole Stoic Badass thing one better and handles the situation like an Actual Human Being:
The first thing I forced myself to do was crawl toward the curb and the parked cars. I wanted metal at my back and something to dive under should the need arise. I probably looked ridiculous, going on all fours across the sidewalk, but it would be a little while before I felt like having the precious contents of my skull more than about two feet off the ground.
Eventually, I reached a rusting Toyota Celica, against which I stayed huddled for a minute or so, trying to resist the involuntary shaking that was overtaking my body. Still dazed, I looked back at Mimi’s house, which was pockmarked with bullet holes like a modern-day Alamo. Several of the windows had been shot out. The siding was going to need a serious patch job.
Finally, I stood up on gone-wobbly legs. The Mercedes had disappeared. For now. Was it coming back? I didn’t have much experience with drive-by shootings—watching Boyz in the Hood twenty years ago just doesn’t count—but I sure as hell wasn’t going to stick around to find out.
I ran, or maybe just stumbled, to my car, fumbling nervously with my keys until I got the door open. I dove in, turned the engine over, and started driving. For the next few blocks, I have to admit I was rather generous with the accelerator, rather stingy with the brakes.
My first thought, once my heart rate returned to something like normal and my breathing was back under my own control, was that I ought to call the police. Shooting at someone, that’s illegal, isn’t it? I didn’t have a book called Being Target Practice for Dummies handy, but I was reasonably certain the law frowned on citizens discharging firearms in the direction of other citizens.
Right. Definitely. Once I put sufficient distance between myself and all those spent shell casings on Rutledge Avenue, I dialed the number for the East Orange Police Department.
For me, that’s ultimately what makes The Good Cop—and all of author Brad Parks’s Carter Ross Mysteries—worth reading. Personally, I have zero interest in reading three hundred plus pages of Ultra Serious Story told by Ultra Serious Narrator; that’s what nonfiction is for. I appreciate me a sense of humor in my investigative journalists. After all, a spoonful of humanity helps the horrors go down. Just ask Carter Ross.
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Katrina Niidas Holm loves mysteries. She lives in Maine with her husband, fabulously talented pulp writer Chris F. Holm, and a noisy, noisy cat. She writes reviews for Crimespree Magazine and The Maine Suspect, and you can find her on Twitter.