Some Women Are Born to Be Blue

David Baldacci’s Newest Thriller Parodies Police, Mayor

Posted November 9, 2009 at 5:27pm

Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier’s rise to power seems ripped from a book: Pregnant at 14, she dropped out of high school, got married (and soon divorced) and put herself through college while becoming an officer.

But D.C.-based author David Baldacci has imagined an even more thrilling life for Lanier in his new book, “True Blue,— which follows the story of a female D.C. police chief and her ex-cop sister.

In it, fictitious MPD Chief Beth Perry — a tall blonde who bears an uncanny likeness to Lanier — investigates a conspiracy that reaches the highest powers of government intelligence. Along the way, she covers up her sister’s legally dubious actions, covertly meets with secret agents and plays hardball with the city’s politicians.

In a recent interview, Lanier denied that there was any truth to Baldacci’s tales of wayward intelligence agents killing innocent Americans to keep their anti-terrorism tactics secret. But the complex politics between federal and local agencies? That’s a daily reality, she said.

“It’s a fascinating story about, I think, what people view is the secrecy behind law enforcement and the secrecy behind intelligence agencies and things like that,— she said. “I think some of those things are far-fetched, but it’s part of what makes the story so exciting.—

Reading Baldacci’s book isn’t the most cerebral experience; “True Blue— is an easy read, full of clichéd metaphors and unlikely twists. His characters also talk like they escaped from a 1950s detective show — in one chapter, the city’s sleazy interim U.S. attorney easily reveals her evil plan to the lead character, Mace, explaining that she’s “so far ahead … that I don’t mind telling you all about it.—

But Baldacci also injects his plot with details about D.C. and its inhabitants, creating an entertaining parody of the nation’s capital.

The book’s mayor, for example, appears to be a cynic’s take on D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty. He is “young and good-looking— but also a “cagey politician, meaning that the person he looked out for most stared back at him in the mirror every morning.— The city’s criminals are intelligent leaders or “bottom-level huckabucks.— And Police Chief Beth Perry — along with her younger sister Mace Perry — are born to be “blue.—

The city itself sounds like a living game of roulette. Baldacci describes it as “the sort of town where on one block you were as safe as you would be in the middle of a small town in southern Kansas on Sunday afternoon in front of the local Methodist church. Yet one block over, you better have Kevlar covering every square inch of your body because chances were very good that someone was going to get shot.—

Baldacci’s book spends equal time in D.C.’s unsavory neighborhoods and its rich suburbs, following Mace Perry’s efforts to get back her badge after spending two years in jail for an unjust conviction. Hoping to earn some political points by solving a high-profile case, she secretly investigates the killing of a D.C. attorney. In the process, she breaks the law, survives several assassination attempts and eventually follows her leads to a former Congressman who has become the nation’s intelligence director. Throughout, her sister tries to clear her name using her power as police chief.

To capture the city through the eyes of its police force, Baldacci went on ride-alongs with officers and spent some time with Lanier. The book reflects that quality time: Baldacci stole several details from Lanier’s life to fill out the background of Beth and Mace Perry.

While Beth is Lanier’s physical double, the real-life police chief said she saw some of herself in Mace, who is more drawn to taking risks. Mace’s career path also follows Lanier’s, who started as a beat cop in some of D.C.’s tough neighborhoods. Baldacci even includes a dog based on Lanier’s blind and deaf dog, Special Ed, in the text, renaming him Blind Man.

But Balducci’s book also includes some wishful thinking, giving the city a forensic lab that can turn around DNA samples within days.

The real lab has been in the works for years. But officials haven’t even broken ground, so the real-life police chief might have trouble tracking down a national conspiracy in less than a week.