'Red On Red': Not Your Standard Airport Crime Novel

Apr 23, 2011

"Red on red" is a military term for when enemy fighters turn against each other. It's also the title of a new book by writer and NYPD police officer Edward Conlon.

"It's analogous to what we in the detective business — or at least the New York City Police Department calls an 'exceptional clearance,'" Conlon tells Weekend All Things Considered host Linda Wertheimer. "That's when you're hunting for somebody, and you know whether he did it, and someone else takes him out before he gets arrested. Now I liked the title, 'Exceptional Clearance,' but it also sounded a little bit too much like a Steven Seagal movie."

The bad guys do mostly kill each other off in Red on Red, an unconventional take on the detective novel. There's no central crime to be solved, and there's no neat ending — just a chaotic sprawl of crime and death that serves as a backdrop to the complicated relationship between the two main characters, detectives Esposito and Meehan.

"This is not Agatha Christie stuff," Conlon says. "This is messy and often pointless, real crazy life." It's a life Conlon is familiar with; he's been with the New York Police Department for 16 years and still serves as a detective.

Red on Red is Conlon's first work of fiction, but it's not the first time he's written about the world of policing. He wrote the Cop's Diary column for the New Yorker for many years — under an assumed name — and published an acclaimed memoir, Blue Blood, in 2004.

Turning to fiction after so many years of memoir "felt a lot freer," Conlon says. "I could go into other characters' personal lives and make them messy, and make them conflicted and complicated in a way that writing nonfiction ... was none of my business." Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.