LINE OF DUTY by ERNEST TIDYMAN (1974, W.H. Allen, Hardback, 240pp) ∗∗∗½
Blurb: Terror prowls the dark streets of a sprawling American city waiting for violence to break out. Some men sleep but others wait for it too, hiding in the shadows. One of them waits in a comfortless room lit by a single glaring bulb, seller of secrets of the organization that could pillage the metropolis. A second comes hunting him with a policeman’s badge shielding a ruthless assassin’s hunger for the kill.. And a third, a just and honest man, begins to know that his hands alone can stop the bloodbath that threatens to engulf his city. Violence is about to come thundering through the night. Before day dawns, a trail of death will be created in its wake.
Ernest Tidyman’s Line of Duty was originally written as a screenplay titled The Inspector and its roots are apparent in the transition to a novel. The story of a cop gone bad, having become a killer for a major crime figure, is interesting and could have made for an intriguing movie. On the page, Tidyman allows his character to breathe giving all the major protagonists a voice. There is no snaking plot line or mystery. The enjoyment comes from seeing the characters react as the truth around Dempsey’s corruption emerges.
Tidyman’s dark humour is apparent throughout as is his knowledge of his home town. He even references a quote from his father Ben (a respected former crime journalist), to whom the book is dedicated: “There is only one reason this burg Cleveland exits. It’s a place to stop between New York and Chicago and piss in the river.”