The Good Cop

  • Brad Parks
  • Minotaur Books
  • 336 pp.
  • Reviewed by Jud Ashman
  • April 11, 2013

The suspicious death of a Newark police detective kicks off reporter Carter Ross’ latest adventure.

Brad Parks will be appearing at the Gaithersburg Book Festival on Saturday, May 18, 2013.

Brad Parks made quite a splash a few years ago with his debut mystery, Faces of the Gone.With its memorable reporter-hero, Carter Ross, and gritty-but-homey depiction of Newark, N.J., the book garnered some nice acclaim and a couple of notable industry awards. Since then, Parks has delivered consistent, engaging Carter Ross adventures, putting out another three books, the most recent installment being The Good Cop.

Carter Ross, if you haven’t met him, is an enjoyable sort: one part world-weary cynic, one part overgrown preppy frat boy, one part self-deprecating do-gooder. It’s a combination that often proves to be hysterically funny. 

How funny? The fact is, Carter Ross can even make “getting dressed” fun. Known for his very narrow wardrobe — a couple pairs of pleated slacks, a neatly-pressed white or blue shirt, and exactly three colors of necktie — Carter is proud that he could reach into his closet blindfolded and, without fail, pick out one of 12 possible color combinations, any of which would work just fine.

“I make a Land’s End catalogue look avant-garde by comparison,” he tells the reader. “[Y]ou have to know what flavor of ice cream you are in this world, and I am vanilla.”

As The Good Cop opens, Carter is awakened out of a blissful sleep by a call from one of his Newark Star-Ledger editors, who informs him of the death of a city police detective, Darius Kipps. Rather than follow orders and head to the newsroom, Carter goes directly to the deceased’s house to speak with the widow.

Carter goes through his fact-finding routine; he learns that the late Detective Kipps was 37 years old, fairly well paid, well regarded in the department, with a loving wife and a 5-month-old at home. However, just as Carter is getting this fuller picture, his boss calls him to say that there’s no story, it was a suicide — and they don’t give much play in the paper to suicides.

The idea that Kipps would commit suicide doesn’t compute. Carter requests permission to pursue the story a little further, but is rejected. Nonetheless, of course, he persists.

Intermingled with the Carter and Kipps storyline is a procedural that follows a mysterious organization, Red Dot Enterprises, as it smuggles guns from Virginia — where anyone with a concealed carry permit (fairly easy to acquire) can buy as many guns as he wants — to New Jersey. 

The discourse on gun smuggling is timely given the current national debate. “New Jersey is one of just six states that do not have a version of the Second Amendment,” writes Parks. Detailing the state’s regulations, he points out that the required paperwork and fingerprinting, the exclusion of felons and those guilty of some misdemeanors, and the separate Purchase Permit requirement for each gun, have combined to put most gun dealers out of business in the state. That has led to a situation in which, according to the ATF, the origin of roughly half the guns recovered by law enforcement in New Jersey cannot be determined.

“Indeed, New Jersey’s laws — enacted in response to the epidemic of gun violence that has plagued its cities for decades,” writes Parks, “ have had the unintended consequence of proving that old NRA bumper sticker: when you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns.”

Aside from the charming Carter Ross, Brad Parks’ books are always good for an amusing cast of side characters. Geoff “Ruthie” Ginsburg is an intern at the paper, whose ambitions make him an easy target for pranks. For example, when Ruthie’s presence threatens to get in the way of Carter’s investigation, Carter sends him on a wild quest to inspect toilets in every home in one of Newark’s tougher neighborhoods to test their water for the presence of an entirely imaginary chemical threat. Ruthie, of course, obliges, and even though he’s out of the way for a bit, still happens to stumble upon useful information.

Kira O’Brien is the Star-Ledger’s research department librarian, and Carter’s current fling, who while restrained during daytime hours, is wild in the evenings. Carter describes Kira as sexually adventurous, allowing him “to cross a number of items off my bucket list, some which — like getting intimate with Princess Leia in an elevator — I didn’t even know were on there in the first place.” 

Then there’s Paul (pronounced Powell), a friend of Kira’s, who shows up with black eyeliner, tattoos adorning his neck and arms, pierced eyebrows, nose and ears, and an eerie fascination with death. Appropriately, he works as an intern at the Essex County Medical Examiner’s Office, and it is Paul who sneaks Carter in to see the body of Darius Kipps, which, to no one’s surprise, shows evidence that it may not have been a suicide.

Carter Ross’s milieu is a very realistic-seeming Newark, N.J., but his modus operandi requires a little suspension of disbelief. A reporter on a local beat, he somehow still has the time and resources to do deep, meaningful investigative work on spec. Uh huh.

However, if the public can humor Aaron Sorkin’s Will McAvoy, the modern-day Edward R. Murrow character in “The Newsroom,” why not Brad Parks’ version of Bob Woodward-in-the- Metro-section?

It’s a worthy ideal, and a fun ride.

Jud Ashman is the Founder and Chair of the Gaithersburg Book Festival, one of the Mid-Atlantic region’s premier literary events. Jud also owns a web design and development shop, Web Mobile Image, and serves on the Gaithersburg City Council.


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