Any hope narcotics officer Edward Conlon had of hiding his alter ego — Harvard grad, closet intellectual, magazine writer — was dashed one day in 1999 by a drug informant.
“I hear they’re writing a book about you,” the junkie told Conlon on a Bronx street corner.
Actually, Conlon was the one who was doing the writing — to the tune of a $1 million advance.
“The remark captured perfectly his limitations as an informant, and we didn’t use him afterward,” Conlon writes in “Blue Blood,” an unvarnished look at life as an NYPD cop, published by Riverhead Books.
“At best, half of police work is waiting around,” he said in a recent interview. “Hours and days of your life are being wasted. But then there’s the great part, where it’s a circus. The stories are strange and incredible.”
Conlon, 39, is still on “The Job,” as police call it, juggling the demands of detective work in the Bronx and a promotional tour that will take him across the country. So far, his first book has been well received, even by his street-savvy colleagues.
“They know me as a cop and a person,” he said. “They’re glad that someone’s showing what we do, and is proud of what we do.”
Life on ‘the job’The memoir recounts Conlon’s journey as the son of a one-time FBI agent who won a scholarship to Harvard University, where he majored in English. After trying social work, he followed in the footsteps of his namesake uncle, enrolled in the police academy and dreamed of earning a detective’s gold shield.
Conlon’s first beat was a Bronx housing project, then narcotics, where he embraced the thrill, heartache and drudgery of policing a wasteland of dealers and their customers. He describes how arrests — and the overtime they brought — were so plentiful that officers would barter them.
Throughout the book, Conlon debunks the romanticized perceptions of police work cultivated by movies and television. He finds that narc epic “The French Connection” is “perversely gripping in its depiction of the grueling dullness of surveillance,” and that “Serpico” — the famous tale of an NYPD whistle-blower played by Al Pacino — was too kind to its subject.
“Frank Serpico has many admirers and many detractors, but there was no disagreement that he was a very strange man,” he writes.
Conlon insists police misconduct is not as widespread as pop culture might suggest. Instead, he writes the average cop must deal with “the smallness of the people and the grandeur of their demands. The danger was not in corruption but corrosion.”
Serpico, after hearing the remarks, said, “Corrosion must be the Harvard word for corruption.” He accused Conlon of masking the truth.
“The cops I know in the city say the corruption is there,” Serpico said in an interview with the AP from his home outside Albany, N.Y. “It’s business as usual.”
Worried more about the reaction of his bosses than his fellow officers, Conlon kept his literary ambitions under wraps. He began writing pieces for The New Yorker and other magazines using the pen name Marcus Laffey.
Once news of his book deal broke, Conlon discovered graffiti scrawled on his police locker, “Self-made millionaire” — “the worst thing I’ve ever been called.” Later, he was summoned to the office of then-Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, who wanted Conlon to join his staff as a speech and letter writer. But the idea was scrapped to avoid the appearance that the commissioner, who inked his own book deal, had a ghost writer.
To this day, people tell Conlon, “I heard you wrote Kerik’s book,” he said.
Conlon, who received his gold badge, expects to be back in the Bronx by the end of the month, making cases and collecting more stories. One recent caper involved a suspected jewelry thief who sent his identical twin to an interview with police.
“I ended up locking up the whole family,” the detective said.