It’s 1983, and in a violent, drug-ridden California suburb, Police Officer Hanson fights crime in the most unusual of ways. While most of his colleagues are focused only on meeting arrest quotas, Hanson believes in becoming a part of the impoverished, mostly black community that he has sworn to protect. Living within the boundaries of Oakland, he plays the role of peacemaker and all-round good cop – earning respect from those he serves, but pushing the boundaries of his role as an officer of the law.
This is the third instalment of Hanson’s story. The first, Sympathy For The Devil (1989), detailed his time as a special forces soldier in Vietnam, while the second, Night Dogs (1996), saw him working as a police officer in Portland, Oregon. In Green Sun, his unorthodox approach to solving crimes continues to frustrate most of his colleagues. As he charges into dangerous situations alone and fixes problems using his negotiation skills rather than official rules, we are quickly led to question whether his attitude is the result of sheer naivety or of bravado born out of his service in Vietnam.
Regularly assuring those he meets that he can never be killed, he carries a charming confidence about him that is difficult not to admire. The way he confronts death at every opportunity means the suspense in this novel comes not so much from a twisting, complicated plot, but instead from the constant niggling feeling that, one day, fate might just catch up with him.
Hanson’s struggle to find his place in a town where he doesn’t belong isn’t completely fictional; Kent Anderson himself worked as a police officer in Oakland, studied English and was a soldier – all experiences attributed to Hanson. It is sometimes difficult to discern where Anderson has drawn the line between fiction and reality, but while the events of Green Sun are fictional, the struggles of the divided city he works in are very much real.
As the novel progresses, Hanson is torn between working towards an easier life in a quieter place and thriving on the adrenaline provided by police work. A series of disconnected crime scenes and a succession of minor characters make it tricky to see where the story is going at times but, as loose ends are tied up, the novel becomes a stark portrayal of exactly what it means to be a cop in America.
Glimpses of the supernatural mingled with gritty crimes and the PTSD paranoia of an ex-soldier make this a far more interesting and thought-provoking read than the usual run-of-the-mill American cop story.
Green Sun, by Kent Anderson, Mulholland Books, £14.99