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The Accidental Cop by Eve Koguce

Front-line public Law Enforcement in Canada, is something I have a degree of familiarity with, having been in that role for the better part of the last 20 years of my life.

Challenges with the career abound. Somewhat lagging public confidence for a variety of complex reasons. Volatility with morale, (largely because of said public confidence issues, combined with the complicated bureaucracy of law enforcement institutions, and the overall demands of public service). The perils of operational hazards that expose Officers to a higher risk of mortality via mortal injury sustained in the line of duty from such things as violent physical confrontations, or motor vehicle collisions. Post-Traumatic-Stress Disorder (PTSD) due to continued exposure to disturbing events. These are just a few of the downsides of the career.

Yet there remains considerable upside. In Canada, Law Enforcement serves enjoy extremely stable employment, (as opposed to our colleagues in the United States who have some measure of risk from layoffs in certain geographic areas and services) exceptional benefits including robust pensions; nominally competitive salaries (averaging between approximately $75k to 100k annually) and steady if not spectacular pay increases through collective bargaining as civil servants; good promotional and specialized assignment opportunities; union protection; still, a relatively high degree of respect and appreciation from the public; and overall an exciting, rewarding, even extremely fulfilling career.

I’d say, on the whole, Law Enforcement is a good profession in Canada, that many people aspire to, and most of those who are part of it, are very proud to be in it.

Law Enforcement is an ever-evolving occupation, but in terms of Canada, while things have certainly changed a lot, the job 20 years ago is very similar to the job today. And while Law Enforcement is different all over the world, there are more similarities, in my opinion, than differences.

Law Enforcement exists, primarily to protect the public and public order, and the safety and well-being of the state’s citizens, and enforce the law of the state, prevent crime, and thwart civil unrest.

But while the job has many commonalities, no matter where one works as a Law Enforcement Officer in the world, where you work in the world can make the day-to-day realities of your job, and your living conditions, starkly different than your colleagues in a different country.

For me, those potentially stark differences, between Law Enforcement in somewhere like Canada, and other parts of the globe, never became more apparent, than after reading Eve Koguce’s brilliant, raw, disturbing, and exhilarating crime noir / Police procedural (and Pacific Book Awards 2023 Finalist), set in the post-Soviet Latvia of the 1990’s, entitled “The Accidental Cop”.

Koguce brings the reader to the dark and shady underbelly of one of the most scenic, cultured, and dynamic countries in the world: Latvia, in the Baltic region of Northern Europe, after the fall of the Soviet Union.

It’s a place where, beneath all the engaging literature, vibrant arts, fascinating history, and glorious architecture,  poor, honest people wallow, and rich, morally bankrupt people excel. Corruption is rampant at all levels of society, including among government officials.

Especially among Police Officials, in a system where former Soviet-Union military personnel dominate the upper echelon of the Police hierarchy. In their world, who you know, who you pay off, and who is paying you off, matters a lot more than your capabilities as a Police Officer.

And Roberts Bergs is a good man, a good cop, trying to – somehow – stay clean amidst the grime.

“Criminal Law Means for Combating Corruption. Roberts had read the title of his diploma so many times that the words lost their meaning. Today, before beginning to write a new chapter, he mused at the irony of it. Here he was researching corruption issues dating back to ancient Rome, and nothing had changed over a couple of millennia. If anything, people had become more tolerant of bribery. In ancient Rome, they used the skin of the judge accused of and executed for corruption to cover the seat of his successor. Robert wondered if that practice would change anything in modern law enforcement authorities.” 

Roberts is also poor. He can barely feed himself on his scanty entry-level Police salary. But he has dreams and ambitions, and refuses to be denied. And, he refused to succumb to the temptation of easing his living circumstances through malfeasance.

Was it the money? The thought was unsettling. Mainly because it rang true. The self-assured people he’d met all had money. But Dana was right about the method they used to make their fortunes. Was he ready to do what they did to climb the hierarchy ladder? He knew that he wasn’t. It didn’t matter how desperate he felt when he ran out of money at the end of each month or how humiliating it was not to be able to afford to buy clothes in decent shops. The money wouldn’t make him feel better if it was earned in a dishonest way. He couldn’t cheat, take bribes, and pretend the law existed for others and not for him. He still believed there was another way to earn a decent living.”

Roberts is intelligent. He is fluent in English, a rarity among his Police comrades, and an advantage for future upward mobility in his environment. He is on track to become a lawyer, if he can complete his classes, while he works as a Patrolman of the Public Order Police Patrol. But it’s not easy to keep your dreams untarnished when so much around you has lost its lustre, and you are mired in the muck, your belly is empty all the time, and you don’t know if you will be able to pay your share of the rent in the tiny apartment you share with your Police roommates.

All the while, Roberts must deal with the considerable stresses and dangers of being a front-line Officer. A click of a trigger or the thrust of a knife or an axe could put an end to all his aspirations of being a lawyer. If the avarice and subornation of his colleagues, or the crushing conditions in which he must exist don’t eat him alive first. Latvia is not an easy place for a principled man and cop.

 

“He felt guilty about not paying attention to her. In fact, they hadn’t discussed their relationship or what they expected from each other. Roberts knew why. He didn’t expect anything and didn’t want to hear her tell him that she did. If she said it aloud, it would become a kind of obligation. And he treated his obligations seriously. As long as they didn’t talk about it, it didn’t exist.”

 

How can it be possible for a good man, a good cop, to make it out alive?

 

“Back at the police station, Roberts quickly walked past the duty officer post. He still noticed something unusual about the high panel board. A head was bobbing up and down behind it. It appeared and disappeared at regular intervals. Up and down, up and down. Blonde, with curls, it wasn’t Bruno’s head. Roberts hurried up the stairs. Boredom and loneliness had gotten to the duty officer. Anyway, it wasn’t that anyone would report him for having a good time with a prostitute. No one would notice, and no one cared.”

And even if he does, can he do his job, and get justice for the victims of crime and malversation?

The characterization by Koguce continues to be absolutely superlative. The protagonist, Roberts, was crafted in impeccably realistic fashion. The auxiliary players are also fabulous. I don’t mean to not give them the proper mention they deserve, but this book was all about Roberts for me.

My personal connection with Roberts as a character was something very special for me.

It was astounding, motivating, and empowering, to see the dogged refusal of Roberts, who had every incentive to just give in, and engage in corruption to raise his standards of living from poverty to something much more comfortable. Almost buried by the oppressive weight of penury, Roberts teeters on the brink, but never gives into despair or unscrupulousness.

He crawls until he can walk, and walks until he can run. He shows the immense and unimaginable courage it took to survive his circumstances, by taking things one hour, one day at a time, surviving one hour, one day at a time. He clings to hope, and his personal integrity and honour, like a drowning man, until he can potentially surface into a brighter future.

This protagonist affected me on levels that I am still processing. I wept openly, agonized for Roberts, over some of the things he endured. I cheered when something good, no matter how relatively small, happened to him. And I FELT, all the way along with Roberts. It is an incredible skill by an author when they can make you feel that deeply for a character. Eve Koguce is an author whose skill in that regard is immense.

Koguce made me not only understand Roberts, but see the elements of Roberts (outside of being a Police Officer) that I feel inside of me, that I believe we feel in all of us. The feeling of hope in the face of overwhelming obstacles. The feeling of needing to be a good person, not caring if no one is watching, not looking for credit for your good deeds, doing good for the sake of BEING good.

I understood, to a certain degree of course, what he dealt with as a Police Officer.

I even understood, to a certain degree (but nothing remotely close) what it meant to not grow up wealthy. But not being wealthy versus being poor are very different states, and I thankfully have never been poor. There has always been more than adequate and ample food, enough clothing, enough shelter, and enough prospects for me to progress in life. Not so for Roberts.

The setting is gritty, and Koguce paints an evocative picture of this setting that she knows intimately – beautiful Latvia, which like all beautiful places, is imperfect, aesthetically and in terms of a society.

“Roberts walked through the Teika neighbourhood to the Police Academy complex, his mind doing a good job at blocking the bleak surroundings of dingy khrushchyovka and dull factory walls but failing to refrain from showing other images instead. Those alluring images of the fresh, sparkling water that one destined to die among the sand might see in a desert.”

The themes in this book hit hard, and are so poignant. And they are myriad. Yet the one that stands out for me the most, is the kind of courage it takes to be a Police Officer under the circumstances Roberts finds himself. It takes one kind of courage to face down an armed subject. It takes another kind of courage to stand up to corrupt fellow Officers, truly care about victims of crime regardless of their social status, and treat them with the dignity and respect they deserve, and stay steadfast to your honour, and your values, in the face of scorn, being ostracized, or worse.

Roberts displays that kind of courage, and the cost may be not only his dreams, but his life.

Koguce’s lovely writing is always vivid. Her rose is captivating. Some passages of the book are similar to poetic diction.

Witty, dark, sometimes brutal, extremely compelling, “The Accidental Cop” is simply outstanding.

If you enjoy Police procedurals, particularly those delving into Police corruption, murder mysteries, and character-driven stories with gutsy heroes amidst a sea of grey morality, this is surely a book for you.

You may also leave this book feeling very much appreciative of what you have. I certainly did, feeling a deep sense of gratitude as both a Law Enforcement Member, and a person. And I believe I am better for it. You don’t have to be in Law Enforcement to experience that feeling of being thankful, and I am confident after reading “The Accidental Cop”, irrespective of your job, you will.

Thank you, Eve Koguce, for giving me, and all your readers, that uplifting feeling. I will treasure it. And always remember.

This amazing book that will stay with me forever.

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