This slice-of-life thriller features an ex-cop with a shady past working as a PI. Joe Kozmarski has few choices when he accepts a security job for a developer that has been suffering heavy on-site losses, random thefts that have stripped the company of considerable profits. Parked in an open garage on surveillance and nearly dozing off from boredom, Joe watches impassively as a police cruiser pulls into the yard, expecting it to turn around. Instead, two vans follow the cruiser and the area is systematically stripped of valuable construction materials. Most shocking: the thieves are cops. Joe calls for assistance, a shootout ensues, and Joe’s life changes for the worse. When the flying bullets cease, Joe is left holding a discharged gun, his round fatally striking a cop. That he shot in defense of two others is moot. Kozmarski is no longer on the force. And now he is a cop killer.
Left to cool off in a cell for a couple of days, Joe is offered a proposition: infiltrate a massive theft ring with deep roots in the department or face arrest. His life already morally compromised, Kozmarski agrees to act as double agent, hoping to find his way out of this quagmire while following orders. The plan is to infiltrate, gather evidence and dismantle the ring without exposing the department to public scrutiny. Joe is instructed to sow discord among the crooked cops and bring about their fall from within: “I spent the night burning energy with gang members, vicious dogs and thieves.”
Kozmarski’s reputation is hardly stellar, terminated by the department for his excesses. After the shootout and short incarceration, Joe casually throws away seven years of sobriety to blunt the tremors of his latest ordeal, giving the reader some idea of the quality of folks involved in this caper. Between the department honchos, the cop/thieves and the interest of the FBI, Joe will obviously survive this test only through blind luck: “The only thing I could do was make the cage my own.” So he adds more toxic fuel to the fire, mixing sexual partners, ex-wife and partner, exponentially increasing the risks and the likelihood of confrontation.
Clearly, Kozmarski is no hero. Wiley plays him as a flawed protagonist whose moral structure has already been compromised by personal demons. Doing the right thing makes no difference; Joe is a cop killer, the newspaper further trashing his reputation. Joe bluffs his way through this assignment much as he bluffs his way through life: working one thief against another, dodging the FBI, and expecting betrayal from those on the force who promised backup for his cooperation.
Gunfights, men’s clubs, sit-downs with gang-bangers, and a showdown between bad-cop rivals yield lots of action, if not always a logical plot. It’s hard to care much what happens to this two-timing ex-cop, but Wiley gives police corruption on this level an aura of plausibility in a society where only outrageousness is rewarded, easy money only one temptation away. Nobody gets any sleep on this ride, Kozmarski barely escaping the violent consequences he instigates.