In Print : Behind the headlines
"The Fence: A Police Cover-up Along Boston's Racial Divide" by Dick Lehr. HarperCollins Publishers, 2009, 380 pages. $25.
"The Fence," former investigative reporter Dick Lehr's treatment of cover up in the Boston Police Department, is a reminder of how journalism is supposed to work.
The book recounts the mistaken-identity beating of an undercover African-American policeman by African-American and white fellow officers. It happened in 1995, during the capture of four murder suspects in a Boston alley and extends through a four-year effort by police officer and victim Michael Cox to bring the facts to light.
If you were in Boston and paying attention at all, you already knew the details of the vicious beating received by undercover officer Cox at the hands of at least two fellow officers who mistook him for a suspect in Woodruff Way, an alley in the Mattapan section of Dorchester.
What Mr. Lehr brings is an understanding of the depth of emotional and psychological ravage visited by the police department culture on the victim, the perpetrators and the loss of faith in their peacekeepers throughout the Boston community's.
"The Fence" gets behind all the characters, so we get to know the policemen, the criminals and the police department spokesmen who covered up the beating. The 380- page story includes 40 pages of research detail.
Deeply researched real life stories can plod along, driven by the writer's reliance on dry facts; not in the case of "The Fence." It races. For all his homework on the facts, Mr. Lehr still presents a taut page-turner. Particularly fascinating are the details he provides about the lives of Officer Cox and murder suspect Smut Brown, two young men who grew up in the same neighborhood and chose different lives.
A former Boston Globe reporter and award-winning author, Mr. Lehr's books include "Black Mass: The Irish Mob, the FBI, and a Devil's Deal," and "The Underboss: The Rise and Fall of a Mafia Family," both co-authored with Gerard O'Neill. His works are a must-read for fans of the genre.
Author's Talk: Dick Lehr, "The Fence," Sunday, August 2, 4:14 pm, Chilmark Community, Menemsha Tent.