cover image Breaking Blue

Breaking Blue

Timothy Egan. Alfred A. Knopf, $22 (267pp) ISBN 978-0-394-58819-3

In 1935, Spokane, Wash., was in the sixth year of the Great Depression. Unemployment was high. Civilian Conservation Corps workers were arriving in droves from the East for the Grand Coulee Dam project. Crime was rampant, and a series of creamery robberies had the town on edge. Then, on Sept. 4, the Pend Oreille County town marshal investigating these crimes was murdered. The mystery of George Conniff's death went unsolved until 1989, when Tony Bamonte, sheriff of Pend Oreille County and a graduate student, inadvertently uncovered information that generations of police had conspired to keep hidden. Egan ( The Good Rain ), Seattle bureau chief for the New York Times, lumbers occasionally, but his account of the reopened investigation generally resonates with regional color. Bamonte's investigation of the killing started as scholarly research, but stepped up when ``a convergence of conscience and coincidence'' suggested that the marshal had been shot by a cop protecting colleagues associated with the robberies. In a deathbed confession, a cop revealed that the Spokane police were involved in more than ``a conspiracy of small corruptions.'' Egan evocatively resurrects the scenes and raw insensitivities of '30s police life in the region, from Mother's Place, the diner where cops plotted their heists, to the Hotel de Gink, where transients stayed. (May)