This review contains mild spoilers.
Book Name: Men In Blue
Author: W.E.B. Griffin (originally written as John Kevin Dugan)
Series: Book #1 in the ongoing “Badge of Honor” series
Format(s): Hardcover(reprint)/Mass market paperback/audiobook/eBook
Release Date: October 1, 1988
As I’ve been working my way through the series that author W.E.B. Griffin has written over the years the one ongoing series that stands out a little from the others is his “Badge of Honor” books because they don’t center around either the military or intelligence/black ops. There is lots of subject overlap in the other series, but how much of the themes that Griffin uses in his military books would he be able to use in a series about police work? Griffin answers that question before he gets even halfway through Men In Blue: all of it, and yet none of it.
One would think a series about the Philadelphia police department would contain at least some aspect of a mystery, but while there are crimes committed in the series the solutions of the crimes are almost secondary. Like all of Griffin’s other series it’s the interplay between the characters that’s the focus. Griffin breaks every rule of mystery writing in the books because he isn’t writing mysteries. So if you’re looking for that kind of book, these aren’t for you.
Set in the early 1970s Men In Blue begins by setting up what quickly turns into a huge action scene and murder that is the lynchpin for everything that comes after it. The killing of Philadelphia Highway Patrol captain Richard “Dutch” Moffitt during an attempted armed robbery introduces all the main characters of the early series and sets into motion the political dealings within the department that the series is based on. Griffin has his usual type of characters in the story, although he combines some of his archetypes into singular characters. Griffin always seems to have a wealthy character at the center of the action, and in Men In Blue that is Matt Payne, nephew of Moffitt and son of another officer who also died in the line of duty.
The change for Griffin is while Payne is his “rich character” he also has him as the “golden boy” character as Payne doesn’t follow the usual path Philadelphia officers are expected to do and is instead “kept safe” by higher ups (referred to as “rabbis”) that knew his father and uncle thinking Payne was just trying to prove his manhood by joining the police department after being rejected by the Marine Corps. The one big hole in the character history of Payne is he’s rejected for an eye issue that’s never really mentioned and somehow doesn’t preclude him from joining the police force. The question of how he could have an eye issue that stopped him from being a Marine officer but not a cop is never addressed.
The murder of Moffitt is also not written like a mystery. Who did it is figured out early and it just becomes a race to find the culprit before he escapes. Griffin introduces two young plainclothes narcotics officers to the plot, Jesus Martinez and Charlie McFadden, and has McFadden figure out how to catch the perp as Martinez reluctantly goes along with him. The end scene of that storyline is classic Griffin, and propels the two young officers into the forefront despite they also not having followed the normal career path of a Philly police officer. At least the reasoning behind that is easily explained and totally plausible.
The central character in Men In Blue is Peter Wohl, a Staff inspector whose father was a well liked Chief Inspector. Griffin goes through great pains to explain the ranks of the Philadelphia police department, so I won’t bother. You’ll either see it multiple times in the series if you read them or you won’t in which case it makes no difference. Wohl is another “golden boy” character type in the series, having been the youngest person ever at each rank he’s achieved. Funny thing is Wohl is probably the most believable character in all the early books. Longtime readers of Griffin’s books will recognize many of Wohl’s character traits.
While I was really expecting mysteries what Griffin delivers in Men In Blue is really more of behind-the-scenes type story many of his other series are. And it works as Men In Blue, once it got going, was a page turner. Despite many of the plot points reaching a satisfying conclusion it’s not really meant to be a stand alone novel. I’m betting if you read it you’ll want to read the next, Special Operations. I certainly did, and I’ll have more on the soon.