Review: The Policewomen’s Bureau by Edward Conlon


Title: The Policewomen’s Bureau

Author: Edward Conlon

Published: March 28th 2019, Arcade

Status: Read May 2019 courtesy Skyhorse Publishing/Netgalley



My Thoughts:

In his Author’s Note, Edward Conlon explains that The Policewomen’s Bureau is a lightly fictionalised account of the life of Marie Cirile-Spagnuolo, who began her career with the NYPD in 1957. A former officer himself, Conlon was fascinated by Marie’s experience as a married Italian woman in a male-dominated, predominantly Irish police department, and worked with her on this novel before her death in 2011.

Asked what is true, Conlon answers “Most of it, and the worst of it.”

In The Policewomen’s Bureau, Marie Carrara is a new recruit in the 44th Precinct. It’s 1957, and the majority of the NYPD believe the force is no place for a woman. Most serving female officers are tasked with matron duty, used to guard female prisoners, console victims, search dead female bodies, and, more often than not, fetch and carry for their male colleagues, never leaving the precinct. But there are a handful of women who are reluctantly called upon to assist in cases that require a woman’s touch. These women are under the command of Inspector Melchionne of the Policewomen’s Bureau, and Marie is excited to join them after six months on the job.

Despite her startling naivety, not unexpected for a young Catholic woman in the 1950’s, Marie quickly finds she enjoys, and has a talent for, the undercover work she is tasked with. I enjoyed Conlon’s descriptions of her activities which are interesting, and often amusing. Her first case requires her to apply for a job with a man who is sexually assaulting many of the young female applicants. While she is successful, it takes a few hits with her blackjack to cool his ardour, and while waiting for patrol officers to arrive she decides to tidy up, throwing out a canister of ‘spoiled’ sugar (which is later found to be cocaine), and incinerating a stack of dirty pictures.

I was disappointed to learn in an author interview that the only purely fictional part of Conlon’s novel is Marie’s later work with the detective squads. I don’t begrudge Conlon taking fictional licence, and these sections were well written and entertaining, however I can’t help but feel as if it somewhat negates the real Marie’s accomplishments as a pioneering policewoman.

Conlon also weaves the professional and personal together in The Policewomen’s Bureau to illustrate a woman who is intelligent, brave, and resourceful, yet still a product of her time and background.

In 1957, Marie is also one of four daughters of Italian Catholic parents, married unhappily to Sid, and mother of four year old Cindy. Sid, himself a police officer, is generally considered to be good looking and charming, but he is also emotionally and physically abusive, a serial cheater, and venal. It was many years before divorce would be an option for Marie, and while she slowly gained some measure of respect in her workplace, she never gained the respect of her husband.

The Policewomen’s Bureau is an interesting and engaging read, both as a work of fiction, and for the truth it shares about women’s early experiences as serving police officers in the NYPD.


Available to purchase from Arcade Publishing

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