Joe Rizzo is 51, heading toward retirement after 26 years as a New York police officer. As we renew acquaintances with him (following his first outing in Rizzo’s War), he is meeting his new partner outside Brooklyn’s 62nd precinct building. Detective Priscilla Jackson rides a Harley, is taking over from Mike McQueen, Rizzo’s partner in the first book (who appears in this one too).
Priscilla, or Cil, is grateful to Rizzo for helping her get promoted, which means she can afford to move in with her well-off lover, Karen. We learn quickly that Cil is black, Rizzo thinks the job has changed in bad ways during his time, he has three daughters, one of whom wants to be a cop, which he opposes – all in the first six pages or so of clunky, let’s-meet-the-characters dialogue.
But then it settles down to being a fairly engrossing procedural, with good dialogue and the kind of detail and feel for street life you’d expect from an author who is a 25-year veteran of the Brooklyn justice system.
The narrative jolts the reader when it is revealed that Rizzo and McQueen are sitting on an explosive secret. Previous to this novel, they tracked down City Councilman William Daily’s missing daughter and discovered the politician’s closeted skeletons, which they used to leverage some perks for themselves – nice job in Manhattan for McQ, and six months of phantom overtime for Rizzo, who is struggling with college fees for his daughter. The plan was that after six months they would detonate Daily’s career. But now Rizzo wants to keep milking the arrangement for another year. He needs the cash…
Welcome to the dirty politics of the New York policing, which reminds us of Rizzo’s motto – ‘there’s no right, there’s no wrong, there just is’. Rizzo is a good guy, but he plays dirty, as any successful operator in this environment has to. He shows his partner Cil – and us – how it’s done.
We see him do a deal with a Hell’s Angel chief, and effectively blackmail a gang leader into handing over an acquaintance who’s committed some muggings. And later, when he and Cil link the killing of a lonely guy in his apartment with that of a famous Manhattan playwright in a possible case of plagiarism escalating into murder, he convinces Cil to join him in taking a huge risk. They agree not to alert the Manhattan cops of the possible link and grab the glory for themselves, possibly endangering others lives along the way.
To Carol, the daughter who wants to join to cops, Rizzo is a headline-grabbing hero. But the detective breaks the law to enforce the law – a harsh reality he wants Carol to understand.
While there are few surprises here (events go largely as Rizzo predicts they will), Rizzo’s Fire has the ring of authenticity to it, from the rhythms of the street talk to the hardened cop’s attitude to life and the murky politics of the job. It’s suspenseful, easy to read and offers a riveting insight into Brooklyn’s tough streets.