"Soul Anatomy," by Lou Manfredo, in New Jersey Noir, edited by Joyce Carol Oates, Akashic Press, 2011.
Before we get to the story I have to start out with a grudge and a gripe.
My grudge is this: as a writer for a previous Akashic anthology, and as a guy who spent his first 30 years in New Jersey, I was hoping for a chance to submit to this book. Wires got crossed and that never happened.
Not a big deal, and I only mention it because, as I said, I have a gripe, and full disclosure applies. You have a right to decide whether sour grapes are speaking here.
Now for the gripe: There are 1,300,000 African-Americans living in New Jersey, making up 14% of the population. And not one of them was willing or able to write a story for this book? Seriously? Not typical for Akashic anthologies, either.
Joyce Carol Oates, the editor, knows it's a problem. She mentions it in an interview with Publisher's Weekly. "We tried , tried, and tried" to get African-American authors, she says. Okay, but it sure looks like a big part of the state is missing.
All of which is tangentially relevant to this week's story, which is tangentially about race relations.
When a white rookie police officer kills an African-American man in Camden, one of the most Black and deadliest cities in the Garden State, trouble is pretty much guaranteed to follow. So, even though almost the entire story consists of a lawyer interviewing the cop, there would be plenty of natural suspense here.
But Manfredo manages to ratchet it up a notch: the rookie is the son of an up-and-coming Republican politician and the attorney sent to rescue him is a well-entrenched Democrat. In other words, the future of the reformer's family depends on the skills and motivation of the party hack. How is that going to work out?
I wouldn't say there is a surprise ending, exactly, but there are some surprising revelations that will make you see the story from a new point of view.
And consistently good writing, too. Here are two attorneys discussing the rookie:
"This young cop has his own political juice, courtesy of his old man. If becoming a cop was all he really wanted, his father could have gotten him assigned to bikini patrol in some shore town or crabgrass stakeout in our neck of the woods. Why would he want to go to Camden?"
"Maybe," Cash offered with little conviction, "he just wants to be a real cop."