After Latisha Patton, the witness in a homicide case he was working was murdered, Ash Levine resigned from the LAPD.
When he’s asked to rejoin the force, Ash reluctantly agrees. Getting his badge back could give him the chance to find Latisha’s killerbut could also cost him his life.
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Kind of Blue
By Miles Corwin
Oceanview PublishingCopyright © 2010 Miles Corwin
All rights reserved.
I just finished mumbling my way through the Birchat Hamazon — grace after the meal — when I heard the doorbell ring and Lieutenant Duffy call out, "Open up, Ash, I know you're in there."
My mother padded across the room and peered through the peephole. Then she quickly glanced at me with a pained expression, her eyes filling with an amalgam of anger and dread, and opened the door.
"Shabat Shalom, Mrs. Levine," Duffy said, smiling. He reached for her hand and then patted it gently.
She glared at him.
"I learned a little Hebrew in the seminary when I had a class in comparative religion."
"Very little, I assume."
While he prattled on, trying to charm my mother, I sat slumped in a dining room chair. My temples felt like they were being squeezed in a vise. In an instant, I was transported right back to that street corner at 54th and Figueroa, where I saw Latisha Patton splayed on the sidewalk, her head encircled by a pool of blood, brain tissue and skull shards blown into the gutter. Why? Because of my stupidity. Or incompetence. Or carelessness. Or all of it. I felt as if I had killed her myself. For the past year I had been trying to bury the agonizing memory of that afternoon. And now, seeing Duffy brought it all back again. When I set my hands on my lap, I saw that I had left sweaty handprints on the wooden arms of the chair.
My mother glanced over at me for a moment. She could always read me better than any suspect. Turning to Duffy, she said in a loud whisper, "I wish you'd just let him get on with his life."
She looked particularly small and frail at that moment. Pale and freckled, her bright red hair was so lacquered and spherical it looked like a football helmet. She had an energy that made her seem physically imposing, but when people stood next to her and realized she was only about five feet tall, they were always surprised. Of course, standing next to Duffy would make anyone look small and frail. He was six foot five and somewhere between burly and fat, like an offensive lineman a few years past his playing days.
"I just need a few minutes with your son," Duffy said. "Then I'll be on my way."
I could see that my mother looked painfully confounded, torn between the desire to berate Duffy and the compulsion to offer him food. "You eaten?" she muttered through clenched teeth, as if the words escaped from her mouth against her will.
"Just had a delightful supper with my own dear mother."
Duffy eased into a chair — encased in a protective plastic coating — across from me. When I smelled his breath — beer laced with Tic Tacs — I knew he had spent the past hour — not with his mother — but downing beers at El Compadre in Echo Park, a Felony Special hangout.
"But," Duffy added, "I wouldn't say no to a cup of coffee and perhaps a slice of your challah." A loaf of braided egg bread was centered on the dining room table between a pair of dripping candles. "Sometimes Ash used to bring in sandwiches made from your delicious challah and he'd occasionally be kind enough to share them with me."
She rolled her eyes and trudged off to the kitchen. I crossed the room and slumped on the sofa.
Duffy looked around the monochromatic living room, everything a pale celery green, including the walls, carpeting, porcelain lamps, faded silk lampshades, and chintz sofa. "Your mother must like green."
"You must be a detective," I said sarcastically.
"I guess she's the obsessive type — like you," Duffy said, smiling.
This was just like Duffy, I thought, to ignore my mother's discomfort and my glare, and just make himself at home. I had always admired Duffy's ability to strut into a South Central living room, filled with cop-hating gangbangers and, with complete confidence, toss off a quip, ease a tense situation, and begin asking questions. Maybe it was his size. He was a presence that demanded attention. Maybe it was because Duffy, with his ruddy complexion, empathetic sky blue eyes, wispy silver hair, booming voice, and hale, voluble manner reminded people of the friendly parish priest. The Irish lilt enhanced the impression. I had always thought that Duffy's two years at a Catholic seminary when he was a teenager gave him a great advantage. One Salvadoran murderer who confessed later told me that talking to Duffy in an interview room was like whispering in a confessional to un padre con placa. A priest with a badge.
I first met Duffy at a homicide when I was a young patrolman in the Pacific Division and he was a detective. While the other cops were drinking coffee beside their squad cars, I wandered around outside the yellow tape and found a flattened .40-caliber slug imbedded in a wooden porch column next door to the crime scene. Duffy was the primary detective on the case and the slug led him to the murder weapon, which led him to the murderer. After that, at homicide scenes, Duffy always asked me to help him conduct the searches and, on a few occasions, he let me interview peripheral witnesses. When he took over South Bureau Homicide — a division based in South Central — he brought me in as a detective trainee. When I got my shield, he threw me a party at the academy. Years later, when he made lieutenant, was promoted to Robbery-Homicide Division, and put in charge of Felony Special, I was one of his first hires.
It was pretty predictable that I would have a weakness for father figures, and Duffy was an obvious choice. My father, after surviving Treblinka, was so consumed with his own demons, so remote and tormented, that there was not much emotional capital left for his sons. But after the Latisha Patton debacle, when I really needed some paternal guidance and support, where was Duffy? All I got from him was a two-week suspension and a bureaucratic rebuke stuffed in my personnel file. Seeing Duffy now didn't make me angry, just very sad, the betrayal so strong that I could feel it in the pit of my stomach. Many times during the past year I had envisioned how I was going to curse him out when I saw him again, how I was going to denounce him for caring more about covering his ass than taking care of his people, how loyalty meant nothing to him, how he was so consumed with ambition that he'd sell out every detective in the squad room for a promotion. But now, when I had the chance, I was too enervated to utter a word.
"I like your mother," Duffy said. "I like her honesty. In the past, whenever we talked, she always said what was on her mind. Very different from the women in my family. Everything was always fine. No matter what. My older brother would show up for dinner, night after night, dead drunk, and almost pass out on the kitchen table. My mother and aunt would always manage to avoid seeing what was right in front of their faces." Duffy, in a high-pitched brogue, impersonated them: "'Our poor Brendan must be a bit sleepy again this evening. The poor lad is working too hard.'"
Duffy rose and walked over to the mantel and studied my parents' wedding picture. "You don't resemble your mom much." He pointed to my father, who had wavy black hair, an olive complexion, and stared into the camera with an unnerving gaze. "You look a lot like your father. You've even got his Charlie Manson stare. How long's he been gone?"
"He looks a lot older than your mother."
"More than twenty years."
"You ought to take a page out of your dad's book and find yourself a young babe."
"She wasn't that young when she got married."
"Aren't you the baby of the family?"
"Yeah. My brother's eleven years older than me. When I was a kid, and my parents would take me to the park, people thought they were my grandparents."
Duffy edged his chair across the room until it was only a few feet from me.
"I learned that in detective school, too," I said.
"What are you talking about?"
"Cut the distance between you and the suspect. Get in his space. Make him feel uncomfortable. Get leverage over him. Persuade him to do what you want."
Duffy laughed — a deep, hearty belly laugh. "I've been shuffling paper too long. I need to get back on the streets. I'm losing my edge."
"So you want me back."
Duffy looked genuinely startled. "How'd you know?"
"No other reason for you to be here."
"Yeah, I want you back. I never wanted you to leave."
"Then why'd you suspend me? Why'd you stick that chickenshit letter in my package."
Duffy crossed a leg and carefully straightened a sock. He fixed me with a solemn look and said, "Had no choice. And if I hadn't —"
"Maybe someone would have questioned you, questioned your judgment, questioned how you run your unit?"
"Look, Ash, you may not understand now, but one of these days you might be running your own unit, and you'll have to make difficult decisions that will —"
"I doubt that," I interrupted. "And I don't want to listen to any more of your bullshit. I worked my ass off for you. I cleared a hell of a lot of cases for you. Made you look damn good. Whenever you caught some loser case that no one else wanted, you'd never hesitate to call me at three in the morning. And I'd always come running. But when I got into some trouble and really needed you, you left me swinging in the fucking wind."
"You done?" Duffy asked.
"No. I'm not done. I want to ask you a question: After the way you turned your back on me, why should I come back?"
"Because you want this job. Because you need this job. Because you've missed being a detective every single day since you quit."
I took a deep breath and expelled the air with a loud spurt. Typical Duffy, I thought. When it came time to manipulate you into doing what he wanted, he always knew how to cut right through your resistance and arrive at some essential truth that left you sputtering without a comeback. That's how he was able to lead a unit of cocky, know-it-all, prima donnas, each one of whom thought he was the best detective in the city.
I had been lost this past year. Duffy was right about that. But I had been too angry and too proud to come slithering back. I thought I was punishing Duffy and punishing the LAPD when I quit. But I soon realized that the only one who was being punished was me. There are more than nine thousand cops in the department. One less or one more cop, I quickly discovered, didn't seem to matter much to anyone. Except me. I discovered that I had lost everything. Without the job, I felt as if I didn't exist.
But I also wanted to return to the department because of the Patton case. As long as the murder book was moldering in the bottom of some dusty file cabinet, and her killer was roaming the city, I knew I'd always feel that I'd failed. Failed Latisha Patton. Failed myself. I simply didn't do my job and a woman was dead because of it. If I returned to investigate Duffy's case, I could — on the side — pursue Patton's killer. I knew I could never properly track the case on my own, as a civilian. I had to get my badge back.
Now, watching Duffy cross his arms over his sizable gut and stare across the room, eyes half closed, looking like a giant Buddha, I was immensely relieved that he'd offered me a way to come back. But I wasn't going to let him know that. I wasn't going to make it easy for him.
"Why should I come back and work for someone who doesn't back his detectives?"
"I don't have time to play this game now. You going to take this case or not?"
"Tell me about the homicide and I'll think about it."
Duffy scratched his eyebrow with a thumbnail. "A retired cop by the name of Pete Relovich was piped last night in his house in San Pedro. His dad was a captain in Newton years ago. Looks like a B and E. Did you know Pete?"
"No. But, but I crossed paths with the old man at a crime scene years ago."
"I want you to come back and take over the investigation."
"Why's Felony Special handling a B and E hit on a retired cop? Sounds pretty routine."
"The chief was friends with his old man."
"So why me?"
"Chief wants my best detective. So I'm asking my best detective to come back. Grazzo's given me the okay. He's fast-tracking you. You can start right away and finish up the bureaucratic crap over the next few days."
My mother returned carrying a tray with two mugs of coffee, a bowl of sugar, and nondairy creamer. She grabbed two pieces of challah from the table and set them on a plate in front of Duffy.
"Many thanks, Mrs. Levine," he said. "Can I trouble you for some butter on that challah?"
"Didn't they teach you anything in your seminary class about our prohibition of mixing dairy and meat?" she said in an accusatory tone. "We had brisket for dinner."
Duffy laughed and said, "Maybe that's why I ended up at a police station instead of a parish."
"Thank God for small favors, they must be saying in the parishes," she grumbled as she padded off to the kitchen.
I sipped my coffee and said, "So you worked Grazzo and got him to take me back. It's a twofer: you've expiated some of your Catholic guilt and you get another body at Felony Special. You're always complaining about not having enough detectives. Now you get a freebie without the fight with personnel. You probably told Grazzo I was the only detective who could solve this crime."
"You are too smart to be a humble civil servant." Duffy slowly stirred a spoonful of sugar into his coffee and said, without looking up, "I did tell Grazzo all that — in essence." He held his hand over his heart. "But listen to me, Ash, my boy, everything I told you was still the God's honest truth," he said, his brogue thickening with each word. I do think you're the best detective that I've —"
"When did your family leave Cork?" I asked.
"When I was ten, why?"
"When you're trying to appear sincere, you really lay on that fucking accent."
"I resent —"
"You know that when your countryman, Brian Callaghan, was promoted to assistant chief — and he came over when he was nineteen, not a kid like you — your accent suddenly got a lot thicker."
"That's not true."
"And when he retired, your accent quickly faded."
"That's a load of horseshit. And it's got nothing to do with why I'm here. Let's stop wasting each other's time. I'm asking you to come back. So make your decision. What's it going to be?"
When my mother reappeared, I realized she'd been eavesdropping. "Why can't you leave him alone?" she asked Duffy.
"Because the LAPD needs him. Because I need him."
"Hasn't the LAPD hurt him enough already?" she said. "That Latisha Patton business was devastating to my son. He's risked his life so many times for your department. He's solved so many cases for you. He's given up everything for the LAPD. And how do they — how do you — treat him? Like dirt! Anyway, he's considering going to law school. He's been studying for the LSAT test."
"Does the world really need another lawyer?" Duffy asked. "You've already got one lawyer son. Why do you need another one? I admit, Ash probably would be a fine lawyer — for someone starting out so late. But he's already a magnificent detective. A brilliant boy. Truly gifted. Why not let him do what he does best?"
She pursed her lips for a moment and said to me, "You know how upset your father was when he first saw you in uniform? He saw the uniform and thought of one thing, those SS officers who —"
"Enough!" I shouted. "Why does everything in our family have to lead back to this? Why does every discussion in this house end in hysteria?"
"You're meshuga if you go back," she said. "You don't need the tsoris. I don't need the tsoris. Remember, your brother said as soon as you finished law school he'd hire you."
"Marty's got to get out of rehab first," I said, disgusted. "Why is it more honorable to have a son who's a drug addict lawyer than a son who's a sober cop?"
"A goyishe parnosseh," she muttered. A gentile trade. "It was the dream of your father that you and Marty open the law offices of Levine & Levine."
"You're really bringing out the heavy artillery tonight."
"Me, I'm just worried about you getting hurt," she said. "I don't want to go back to spending my nights worrying that some shvartze in Watts is going to shoot you."
Excerpted from Kind of Blue by Miles Corwin. Copyright © 2010 Miles Corwin. Excerpted by permission of Oceanview Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Interesting plot! Lots of dirty and plain stupid cops, a few decent ones. And then Ash the brilliant one. Annoying guy, his go it alone attitude a bit arrogant. Too much description of things that amount to nothing. I did finish it and I would try the author again.
Best cop read in a long time
This is yet another mystery where one officer, or one spy, or one superhero, cleans up the problem with little help from others. This focus on an individual rather than the group is popular in fiction, but rarely seen in life. I find it hard to understand the 5 star reviews, but it is a moderately interesting book. Not all interesting books are worth five stars.
Surfing detective figures out dirty cops.
I read ALOT of detective stories, at least one a week. This is the best one I've read I awhile. When I checked my progress I was always glad I still had a ways to go. Will definitely be reading more from this author.
It is two murder mysteries with the seemingly common thread is Ash. Superbly written, cop and ghetto language and thorough understanding of LA's underbelly, interspersed with Yiddishkite. Not too many bizarre circumstances and a well developed story. Highly recommended of the police mystery aficionados. I hope we hear more about Ash Levine. One thing, tough boychik. It is birkat hamazon, and not Bir Mat Hamazon.
A few years ago, this author wrote a couple of serious non-fiction books about the Los Angeles Police Department. He spent a lot of time with cops in that city and wrote books that became best-sellers, "The Killing Season" and "And Still We Rise." Now he's back with a powerful persistent novel that draws from the same source material. "Kind of Blue," is not your ordinary police procedural. It constantly reminds readers that the cops involved are no super beings, rising above the worst humanity can offer to save their city; nor are they all thugs, wife beaters and abusers. They are ordinary citizens, sometimes corrupt, sometimes honorable and brilliant, often prejudiced, but too often willing to make the supreme sacrifice for the citizens they serve. And, occasionally they violate the rights of criminals. Author Corwin bends a keen and discerning eye on this stew of varying humanity to fashion a fascinating novel of human relations. Asher Levine, a dedicated, mostly honest cop, is one of LA's best homicide detectives. But as the book opens, Levine is a former cop, having abruptly resigned after he was unable to protect a vital witness from being murdered. The death of Latisha Patton, never solved, devastates the detective and causes him to question his abilities, even though it is clear that apart from his dedication, he is a brilliant detective. So he resigns. A year passes and a decorated officer has died, murdered in his home and the special homicide squad needs Levine's help solving the case. More to the point, certain key executives in the LAPD hierarchy need the case solved or at least put to rest. Levine has had that year to discover his resignation hurts him more than it does the LAPD. With clearance from the top cops, Levine is fast tracked back to the force and handed the case. The problem, of course, is that Levine won't just concentrate on the current case and thus all sorts of actions that need to be buried along with the ghost of Latisha Patton. Traces of other earlier activity begin to resurface as Ash Levine winds his way through labyrinthine police and social structures of the street until he comes to the shocking final solution. The title is apt, a riff on a 50 year old Miles Davis studio piece, the cover fits the mood and the attitude of the novel. All the elements fit and it was a pleasure to read this excellent book.
I enjoyed Kind of Blue. You can tell that Miles was a crime reporter by how vivid his descriptions are. He's a talented author who knows how to entertain a reader. I would recommend this book to fans of James Patterson and Dennis Lehane.
Ash Levine had quit his detective position in the LA police department because he was suspended from the force when one of his informants was killed. About a year later his boss who had suspended him asks Ash to come back and solve a recent homicide of a retired police officer. Ash thinks it is about time he came back to work and it would give him a chance to find out who killed his informant. Ash is a relentless pursuer and very methodical in the way he approaches the case. His style is a lot like Harry Bosch (from author Michael Connelly). He is also very close to his family and attends Shabbos dinner at his mother's house every Friday. As Ash digs deeper into the case it appears that there are "dirty" police involved. The author does a good job of making it difficult to figure out who on the force is corrupt so you never know when Ash may be tipping off the bad guys as to what he is doing. I liked this book and think Ash has the potential to have some really good future books. I didn't give this book more than three stars because most of the book is told in first person, which spoiled any tension during the times when it seemed Ash could be killed. Secondly there seems to be too many "bad" cops involved in coverups. Lastly, there is a romantic interest with a weird art dealer that seems to add nothing to the plotline.
Ash Levine left the police force last year. He was a star detective, but when Latisha Patton, a witness in a murder investigation he was working on was killed, he blamed himself and left the force. Now, the LAPD wants him back. Why? Because Pete Relovich, an ex-cop, has been murdered and with pressure from the top, Lieutenant Frank Duffy is told to put his best detective on the case. The problem is, Levine is his best detective. Duffy visits Levine (who lives with his mother) and tries his best to woo the detective back to work. Levine finally agrees, but only because he hopes getting back to work will allow him to resume his search for Latisha's murderer. Will Levine be able to solve two murder cases? Levine's first request, once back at work, is to be partnered with Oscar Ortiz, one of the few people he trusts in the LAPD. Unfortunately, Oscar isn't available so Levine declares that he will work alone. Not a wise idea when investigating a violent crime. Next up, Levine heads to the crime scene to see what clues he can find. Duffy tags along but knows enough to stay out of the way and keep his mouth shut while Levine works. The star detective has his own idiosyncratic way of working and doesn't like to be bothered while studying a crime scene. The 'Harbor Division' has already examined the crime scene and concluded that Relovich was killed by a random junkie on the prowl for drugs. But Levine believes the ex-cop knew his killer, or killers, and the hunt is on. Of course, Levine still has plans to solve Patton's murder. Things are about to get messy - and very dangerous. The author, Miles Corwin, has worked as a crime reporter for the Los Angeles Times and the knowledge he gained of crime scene investigating at that job comes through on the pages of Kind of Blue. Every autopsy, each interrogation of suspects and witnesses alike, as well as the melodrama of the squard room read realistically. This author has been there, done that. While there is plenty of fast-paced action in Kind of Blue, there are a few spots where the story slows as the author gets a bit sidetracked. For example, a new girlfriend of Arab descent has Levine wondering if a Jewish-Arab relationship could ever work. Additionally, a surfing expedition does lead to a clue in the murder case, but it takes numerous pages of surfing before the clue comes to light. It would have worked better to shorten these escapades. Overall, however, the author stays on target and keeps the reader entertained. Levine's story is told in the first person, which threw me at first as it seemed a bit awkward. But once I got used to his "voice," the story drew me in and the pace seemed to pick up. Levine certainly has some issues (his mother, certain members of the LAPD, guilt over Patton's death) that were brought to the fore through his telling of the story. I enjoyed getting to know Levine in this book and hope to see more of him soon. Quill says: A mystery/crime novel that successfully takes the reader to the gritty back streets of Los Angeles.
Former LAPD cop Pete Relovich, renowned for his courage in a Watts incident in which he saved his partner's life and legend says spit out a slug, was killed in his home in San Pedro. Assistant Chief Grazzo informs Lieutenant Duffy to put his best man on the case. Duffy says his top gun Asher Levine quit eleven months ago over what he perceived was his failure to protect homicide witness Latisha Patton who was murdered. Duffy asks Levine to work the homicide of a heroic cop. Levine agrees as he sees this as an opportunity to pay what he believes he owes Latisha by bringing her killer to justice. As he investigates both murders, Levine finds clues that shake his already battered soul. Kind of Blue is an entertaining police procedural that reads more like a Noir as fearless (and foolish) Levine works the mean streets of L.A. with an obsessive vendetta propelling him. Levine owns the fast-paced story line with his take the hill attitude yet knows he feels more than just grief when he follows where the leads take him. Readers will appreciate Miles Corwin's character driven investigative thriller due to the kick butt hero and the strong support cast enhancing his inquiry. Harriet Klausner