In the Edgar Awards category Best First Novel by an American Author, Red on Red by Edward Conlon is the first entry. Against my will and 200 pages in, I began to like this book. If not for this exercise in trying to pick the Edgar winners, I would’ve put it down after the first 20 pages. Make that 10.

Conlon creates two memorable lead characters in NYPD detective partners Nick Meehan and Esposito (I don’t think we ever learn his first name, though sometimes he rates the diminutive “Espo”). Nick, a melancholy first-generation Irish guy, is estranged from his wife and lives with his widowed father. In order to get a coveted transfer to a new squad, Nick agrees to keep an eye on Espo for Internal Affairs. It’s unclear what the IAB suspects Espo is doing, but he’s got an eye for the ladies (even though he’s happily married and has three kids) and often takes their comfort while on The Job.

The story follows several different cases: an immigrant woman who hangs herself; a gang conflict that involves one family in particular with a vendetta against Nick; a young girl who is 13 going on 30 living with her clueless father. These cases are believable and compelling, which is not surprising because the author is an actual detective in the NYPD. Nick and Espo operate at the opposite ends of the emotional spectrum—Nick quiet and introspective, Espo loud and extroverted—which provides plenty of material for conflict and eventual mutual respect. The cast of characters surrounding these two is also undoubtedly culled from the author’s experience, lending authenticity and verisimilitude and a satisfying read.

My only objection to the book—and it is substantial—is poor editing. Conlon’s prose tends to delve into philosophical flights of fancy…trans-Atlantic flights. I’m not against a writer providing minute detail or description, but like feta cheese in a Greek omelet, a little goes a long way. The difficulty with some of the prose is that it detracts from the story and is distracting in itself. I think Conlon wanted to make the setting act as another character, something which really skilled writers do well (think Elizabeth George and Lawrence Block). But in this first attempt, better to keep focus on the actual human characters and story (both of which are compelling). I think Conlon will succeed at setting as character in a subsequent book, after he figures out that even if the setting is a character, it is still in the background and can never replace the ones providing the action. Pared down to its essence, this book would make a terrific movie. Rating: 6 out of 10