The shelf of unread books is a mysterious place. For one thing, it’s no longer just one shelf. The many, many books that I buy cannot be contained by one shelf any longer and have slowly but steadily been dribbling down to the shelf below, so that now the unread books occupy two shelves, along with the tops of all the books on the other shelves. Yes, I have one of those bookcases so stuffed with books you’re afraid to get near it for fear that it might choose that moment to collapse under the combined weight of those pages and injure you in the process.
The real mystery of the shelf of unread books, though, is that some books will languish there for years, while others are plucked up again almost as soon as they are put down, read quickly and sent to their new home on a more permanent shelf or to the give-away box. Some of the books that languish are ones that I really do want to read right away, but can’t for various reasons, like Neal Stephenson’s Reamde which is jammed onto the shelf of unread books due to its sheer length. I know once I start it, I’ll have to read it non-stop and I have to read a bunch of other things for work, leaving me sadly without the luxury of dedicating a couple weeks to a single book. Some day…
But some, like Coppers, languish there simply because they get lost in the noise, because I get so used to seeing that spine there that I simply stop noticing it when I am selecting my next reading choice. I have no idea when I bought this book, although the copyright page says that it is the third printing, issued in 2009, so I suppose it must have been after that. That is basically all I can say about when it came to live on the shelf of unread books, where it has sat for years possibly, wedged in between the latest volume of Ooku and Lawrence Durrell’s The Black Book.
And when I started reading it, I almost put it back in its long-held position. Ono tries to tackle too much at once in the beginning of this book about cops in New York. I felt overwhelmed at the onslaught of characters, all cops working at the 51st Precinct in the Bronx. So many katakana names! And because of this rush of introductions that starts the book off, I had trouble figuring out who was who throughout. I get that Ono’s trying to give an overview of the entire precinct and the characters we’ll be encountering throughout the series at the beginning, but it just felt like too much.
Once you move past the initial introductory chapter, the book settles into a story per chapter kind of style, with each chapter focussing on a different cop introduced at the beginning of the book. The seemingly lone female cop (I didn’t see any other lady cops, but the androgynous nature of Ono’s drawings might have tricked me into thinking a lady was a man) gets a chapter early on dealing with her mother and femininity, which was both interesting and frustrating. In the sense that of course, the woman cop has to confront the issue of how to be a “proper” woman while still being a good cop, while the rest of the cops just get to be cops. But naturally, being a woman cop, you must have to deal with this kind of thing, so it did feel honest. But compared with the rest of the chapters devoted to guy cops and their career aspirations, it felt a bit sad, like even in Japanese manga, you cannot escape the fact that being a woman makes everything you do about female-ness.
The art in this volume is very much that of not simple, the cartoonish characters, the big eyes, the delightfully awkward block hands. The panel layout is very cinematic, as in other work of Ono’s from this period, such as Gad Sfortunato. And like Gad, it can be confusing as she pulls you from jump to jump, through time and place with little to no explanation. It works better in this volume though, perhaps because of the association of cops with cop shows and the tense cut action of said shows. Although that said, there were still times when I had to flip back a few pages to double check exactly what was happening.
About halfway through, though, the book really hits its stride and I enjoyed each page more and more, right up until the end. The characters start to come alive and the personality quirks that seemed forced in the first half becoming charming and meaningful in the second half. Suddenly, Tyler’s desire to know the neighbourhood and the people in it makes sense, and together with his unwilling partner Aaron, you develop a respect for his style of policing. The deli next door to the precinct that seemed like a flimsy excuse for a story at the beginning becomes a believable gathering place for the cops from the precinct. The admin cop Hausmann becomes more than a shy nerd sitting at a table.
A couple of the chapter-stories take the reader to some sad places, but for the most part, these are fairly lighthearted takes on the lives of a group of cops working out of a precinct in the Bronx, with a running commentary on the importance of doughnuts. As a Canadian, I can attest to that fact. You cannot overlook the importance of doughnuts.