“A doorman wearing a uniform that would have shamed a five-star admiral in the Balkan Navy opened the taxi door…”
This decent noirish pulp is a satisfying quick read, there’s no real depth here but there is plenty of tension and atmosphere. My Old Man’s Badge is pretty much non-stop action from the double killing on page one to the spot-on denouement which really nails it. The premise is straightforward; NYPD greenhorn cop, John Francis Malone, has to catch up with the man who murdered his father, Gregory Malone, fourteen years ago. Hoffmann fled to Germany, became a Nazi during the war, but is now back in New York and threatening to kill John.
Three months and seven days into his police career probationary patrolman John Malone comes across an armed jewellery store robbery in the middle of the night. His partner is half a block away and they’re about to knock off shift. Without thinking Malone reacts when he sees the lookout guy and then the man pointing a gun at the shop owner Mr Meyerowitz inside, he begins shooting. As he tries to reload, his hands are shaking, he realises he’s just killed two men:
“One of them was on the floor inside Meyerowitz jewellery store, down on Eighth Street. The other was on the sidewalk outside with a hole through his head.”
Dinny, John’s experienced partner, comes running, he takes charge, a crowd gather and other cops arrive. Their lieutenant is delighted, John has managed to take down two cop killers, Edward Stein and Gus the Boogy. In time the report will read that John apprehended the suspects and called on them to surrender before they opened fire, only then did he return fire and the robbers were killed. Right now, the incident is making a big splash, the commissioner turns up and he’s going to make heroes of John and Dinny. He instantly promotes the rookie to sergeant, Eighth Detective Squad. He next few months are good for John, he meets a nurse and the relationship begins to flourish. After a few months training under the supervisory wing of veteran detective Lynch John gets a call from the commissioner. Rudolph Hoffman, the man who killed his father is back in New York and he wants to kill the son of the man he thinks ruined his life by busting him before the war. There’s still an active team on Gregory Malone’s case and they bring John up to speed. There are no photos of Hoffmann but they have a lead, he was a sailor and the threatening note came from St. George’s Mission in the Bowery. Hoffmann won’t be going by his real name but neither will John Malone as he goes undercover to preempt the killer’s strike. Johnny Murphy pretends to be a vagrant with a dodgy past, the Bowery is a good hiding place for criminals. Johnny works his way into Ciro Valentino’s gang. He knows Hoffmann is close but has to play the game, risking discovery, until he can force the man to expose himself. He meets plenty of colourful characters in the underworld:
“You don’t think I’m a goddamn fool, do you? . . .a girl has to find some way to pay the rent if she wants to live in a layout like this. I know I hell of a lot of bums in this town, Johnny Murphy, . . .bored stiff and have more money than they know what to do with, and little Callie Rogers from Brooklyn is going to pry as much of it away from them as she can while she has her health.”
Mostly the prose and dialogue are plain, only occasionally snappy and sharp, but the pace is good and the momentum is the thing. The idea of setting a rookie, learning on the job, to catch an ex-Nazi, hardened criminal creates a lot of the character interest in the story. John has to infiltrate a gang which gets him in with the right the crowd, some bad eggs, internecine rivalry and drug trafficking. There’s a nice sense of justice to this gritty story.
This is Ferguson Findley’s, real name Charles Weiser Frey, first novel. His second, Waterfront, was filmed as The Mob in 1951 with Broderick Crawford. Frey gave up writing when he joined Standard Oil, becoming an executive.
Paul Burke 3/3
My Old Man’s Badge by Ferguson Findley
Stark House Press 9781944520878 pbk Dec 2019