A former newspaper reporter and editor, at one point for the Business Examiner, South Hill resident George Pica has turned his pen from fact to fiction. He weaves a tale of vice and corruption in Tacoma in 1964 in his debut novel “Blueboy.” Pica paints a vivid picture of a different era, when cops and reporters drank and smoke together after work and when downtown was full of pawnshops and dive bars and houses of ill repute.
The main character is Thomas Gaston, captain of detectives with Tacoma Police Department. The first part of the book, Gilded Frames, introduces us to him. He grew up in Tacoma and joined Tacoma Police Department in 1938. A few days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, he enlists in the U.S. Navy and serves on a ship in the Pacific Ocean. He returns to his police duties after the war and rises through the ranks to become captain of detectives. His marriage ends in divorce and one of his sons is attending law school, which Gaston is helping pay for. Those factors have led Gaston to move in with his widowed father, Duke.
Gaston is arrested by fellow officers with a warrant. He is named a suspect in the 1952 firebombing of the Crystal Palace, a Hilltop bar that was Gaston’s favorite watering hole. Mystery ensues.
Released this year, “Blueboy” comes out eight years after David Brame killed his estranged wife Crystal and himself. It is clear that Pica was influenced by the scandal that followed that tragedy and the extensive media coverage of the details of Brame’s personal and professional lives and the bitter infighting that wracked TPD.
The TPD of “Blueboy” is split into two factions; one that supports Chief Jim Deef and another backing Gaston. Deef came up through TPD’s ranks and got the appointment to chief that Gaston desired. Ten years ago, Brame was selected as chief over Captain Charles Meinema and reporting on the department in the aftermath of the shootings revealed factions aligned to both men.
The second section of the book, Acts of Contrition, has Gaston returning to work, following a short suspension. He has been demoted to a supply clerk, but at least can earn money while preparing for his trial.
Pica’s writing is typical detective novel prose, bringing to mind old Humphrey Bogart movies or perhaps Philip Marlowe from Raymond’s Chandler’s books. But this style works well for this particular plot.
At several points, Pica has Gaston going into flashback mode to an incident where he is wounded during the war. While they add to the character development, these passages did not relate to the plot and were somewhat distracting.
He introduces us to characters likeable and detestable and spins an interesting story. Pica does maintain suspense. The reader knows Gaston was framed, but by whom and for what reason? The recent death of a prostitute is a key factor, as is the death of another woman years earlier. Deef is depicted as power-hungry slimeball, but other characters could be culprits, including one of Gaston’s closest colleagues in the department. Pica reveals the answers in a rather macabre fashion that kept the pages turning to the end.
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