Working 25 years in Brooklyn’s criminal court system may have given first-time novelist Lou Manfredo a rare insight into how justice really gets done, but it hasn’t gifted him with any special knack for dialogue or exposition. Large chunks of Manfredo’s police procedural Rizzo’s War are given over to characters saying “Here’s the thing,” then delivering long speeches that lay out what’s going to happen next in the plot, and how they feel about it. What most writers would do via internal monologues and descriptive action, Mancredo sticks between quotation marks.
Thank goodness, then, that Rizzo’s War has such compelling protagonists doing all that yakking. The book follows veteran Bensonhurst cop Joe Rizzo throughout his first year partnered up with urbane, ambitious youngster Mike McQueen. The first half of Rizzo’s War is more like a collection of short stories than a proper novel; it moves quickly from case to case while establishing backstories—especially for Rizzo, who’s dealing with an Internal Affairs investigation related to his dealings with a crooked former partner. Then Rizzo and McQueen catch a case involving the runaway daughter of a local politician, and the remainder of Rizzo’s War becomes about the cops tracking down the girl while trying to figure out how they can both leverage this assignment into a better life.
That focus on deal-making and petty corruption gives Rizzo’s War its real charge. Manfredo depicts police work as a series of impossible moral choices, faced daily, and he shows how his cops constantly weigh ethically iffy moves against the greater good, always remembering that there’s a difference between “wrong” and “illegal.” To find their missing person, Rizzo and McQueen deal with priests, feds, doctors, bikers, and gangsters, in every instance relying on a system of favors that moves them further and further from what would be considered strictly clean. Yet Manfredo frames the action—and his heroes—in such a way that readers can understand what they’re doing, and even root for then. If only they could keep their mouths shut.