Review: The Happy Policeman

Happy Policeman
Patricia Anthony
Harcourt Brace and Company, 15 East 26th Street, New York, NY 10010, hardback, 282 pages, 1994, ISBN 0-15-138478-9, US $21.95
Review by J. J. Walton

DeWitt Dawson is the police chief of the small town of Coomey Texas. He is self centered, getting fat, racist, just shy of being a redneck and extremely content. When he comes upon the nude body of the local Mary Kay representative, her throat torn out, her left eye missing, and her legs spread at an impossible angle, he immediately wonders how he can make the death look like an accident. A murder would ruin the fragile status quo in his town.

The status quo is very important to a town like Coomey.

On Bomb Day the inhabitants of Coomey awoke to find their town surrounded by The Line, a barrier which cut the town off from the rest of the world. The official story is that a nuclear war has destroyed civilization and aliens, the Torku, were able to put The Line in place just in time to save the town. The Line changes color and pattern randomly, perhaps responding to someone's mood.

Dawson has the dubious honor of being the primary liaison between his town and the Torku, who really run things. The Torku supply all the food, power, clothing and emergency services. Yet the people of Coomey go on as if life hasn't changed. People still get drunk and drive their cars through red lights. People still grow marijuana and have extra-marital affairs. Children still attend school and throw rocks. And people still kill.

The possibility that one of the Torku committed the murder threatens to tear the town apart. Dawson fumbles through an investigation, doing more harm than good, while facing the irony that his own family is more alien to him than beings from another planet. He is unable to stop the violence which can destroy Coomey.

Policeman starts interestingly enough despite the fact that we have seen the "town stolen by aliens" scenario before. Unfortunately the book soon degenerates into a tawdry, small town melodrama, ala Peyton Place, with everyone having a dirty little secret. The aliens are forgotten and we never really know their reaction to human foibles. They watch and give no useful answers.

In the end when things are as sorted out as they are going to get, we are left with several questions. What really happened that made the aliens erect the shield in the first place? What did the aliens want? What did they gain? Were they from outer space or was Coomey the site of a rift between universes? Were the aliens real or was Dawson having a very strange delusion?

When I read books by Ms. Anthony I get the feeling she is describing herself and her own thought processes when she is describing aliens.

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