September 5, 2007


After reading an article in Mystery Scene magazine lauding Black author, Joseph Gober Nazel (1944-2006), I decided to find out a little about him and to read his novels. Nazel wrote more than 60 books in many genres: biographies, histories, romances, thrillers, and mysteries. He was a journalist and wrote articles for several magazines. He also edited the weekly newspaper The Watts Times.

I chose KILLER COP because of the ironic twist on the term “cop killer.” James Rhodes, a member of the Los Angeles narcotic squad is the “killer cop” of the title. To the Black community he is a man with a gun and therefore no different from the White cops who “carry death with them.” The reader isn’t told much more about him, except that he has a girlfriend, Sue, and is well aware of the Black community’s feelings.

Most of the action involves gunplay that occurs over a span of two nights. The story opens with Martin Xavier, an informer for a secret government agency, running from men who are trying to kill him. Wounded, he escapes by hiding in the back of Rhodes’s van. Rhodes doesn’t discover him until he unloads the van at the cabin in the mountains a short distance from Los Angeles where he has gone for a vacation. As he is unloading the van, men start shooting at them. He barely escapes into the cabin carrying Xavier. Xavier is weak from lose of blood and can’t tell Rhodes who is shooting at them. Rhodes manages to retrieve his handgun and rifle, kill three of the men, all in the dark, and escape down the mountain with Xavier in the van.

Rhodes wakes up a short time later in a doctor’s office. The sheriff of the town informs him he is under arrest for the murder of Xavier. The White, redneck sheriff doesn’t listen to Rhodes’s explanation or the fact that he is a policeman. Rhodes manages to escape and return to Los Angeles.

Before Nazel describes the action in Los Angels, he introduces the subplot involving the Black Freedom Fighters (BFF), the organization on which Xavier was informing. In the subplot, Nazel presents the dilemma of Black militant organizations. Quincy, the leader of the BFF, has rejected violence. He tries to persuade his followers that “offing the pigs” means all the members will likely be killed. Burley, his rival for the leadership, seems to be the better speaker, though he is less educated and more of a thug. He thinks the cops have killed Xavier and persuades the others to try to revenge him by killing a few cops. The group follows him into the night, unaware that he, too, is an informer to the killers who are trying to kill Rhodes.

In the climatic scene, Rhodes arrives at the BFF meeting house looking for help, and Peggy, Xavier’s girlfriend, arrives later with Xavier’s notebook. We do not learn what is in the notebook, but we assume that it is the motive for the killers trying to kill everyone associated with Xavier. Rhodes confronts Quincy and asks for help. Quincy wrestles with his conscious whether to again pick up a gun and shoot at somebody. He makes up his mind when the killers start shooting into the building.

The gunplay in KILLER COP kept me on the edge of my seat, but the flaws in the plot diluted my enjoyment. In the prologue, Nazel gives the impression that the subject of the story is the conflict between the Black community and the Los Angeles police and that James Rhodes will be caught in the middle. However, the community is never involved in the action. The larger flaw is we are never told how the killers knew Xavier had hid in Rhodes’s van, or how they found Rhodes in the mountains?

A writer should never be judged based on one novel. Nazel may have had a bad day when he wrote KILLER COP. I will reserve judgment until I have read more of his novels.