(Brian Vincent McDonald)
ADDRESSES: Office—Gotham Writers' Workshop, 1841 Broadway, Ste. 809, New York, NY 10023.
CAREER: Gotham Writers' Workshop, New York, NY, writing instructor. Worked variously as an actor and bartender.
My Father's Gun: One Family, Three Badges, One Hundred Years in the NYPD (memoir), Dutton (New York, NY), 1999.
Indian Summer: The Forgotten Story of Louis Sockalexis, the First Native American in Major League Baseball, Rodale (Emmaus, PA), 2003.
Contributor to periodicals, including New York Times, Reader's Digest, and Gourmet.
ADAPTATIONS: My Father's Gun: One Family, Three Badges, One Hundred Years in the NYPD was adapted for television by the History Channel.
SIDELIGHTS: Journalist Brian McDonald's first book, My Father's Gun: One Family, Three Badges, One Hundred Years in the NYPD, is a history of three generations of New York City police officers but also "a well-researched and fascinating account of the history of the New York Police Department [(NYPD)], with all its dirty laundry flapping in the wind,"noted Emer Mullins in the Irish Voice. McDonald's maternal grandfather, Tom Skelly, the son of Irish immigrants, joined the police force in 1893, when New York politics was controlled by the Irish Democrats of Tammany Hall. New officers had to buy their shields, similar to cab drivers buying their licenses, and the price was so high that rookies were indebted to Tammany. It was also common at the time for promotions within the department to be bought, but Skelly chose not to follow that tradition and thus remained in his position with no pay increase for sixteen years. He also refused to moonlight as a doorman for a Tammany-run gambling hall. Graft and corruption in the department at that time was extreme, with many officers acting as collectors for the political machine.
McDonald's father, Frank, was the son of an immigrant coal miner who drank heavily to escape pain and the poverty of the Great Depression of the 1930s. Frank became a police officer in 1939, at a time when the force was composed predominantly of Irishmen who relied on the civil service system for security and as a way to join the ranks of mainstream American society. Tammany Hall had lost its power, and the popular Fiorella LaGuardia was mayor. Frank was one of twelve New York City policemen called the "Apostles," who broke the rule that forbid members of the force from moving outside the city. He took his family to Rockland County.
Commonweal contributor Maurice Timothy Reidy praised McDonald's ability to show that "this town—packed with over-worked men trying to leave the violence of the city behind—is a sociology dissertation waiting to be written." Frank headed the detective squad of the Forty-first Precinct in the Bronx, known as "Fort Apache," until his retirement, when he took an airline security job. McDonald's brother, also Frank, joined the NYPD in the 1960s and was assigned to the volatile street-crimes division. Because of incidents that allegedly had racial overtones, he came close to being removed from the force, but he went on to regain his badge and retire as a detective.
McDonald also writes of the impact of police life on other members of his family, particularly his mother. In his review, Reidy said that "the struggle between McDonald's identity as the grandson/son/brother of a cop and his identity as a writer is ever-present when McDonald himself does not make an appearance on the page. For the author's own literary style—his use of metaphor, simile, and anecdote—reveals that struggle.
In his second book, Indian Summer: The Forgotten Story of Louis Sockalexis, the First Native American in Major League Baseball, McDonald writes about the grandson of a Penobscot chief, a gifted ballplayer who played with the Cleveland Spiders for several years in the 1890s before his alcoholism reduced him to the minor leagues. His accomplishments were such, however, that the team was later renamed the Cleveland Indians in his honor. Unfortunately, little biographical material exists pertaining to Sockalexis. "Still this is rich material," said a Publishers Weekly contributor, "and McDonald handles what he knows from the records with style and skill."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
McDonald, Brian, My Father's Gun: One Family, Three Badges, One Hundred Years in the NYPD, Dutton (New York, NY), 1999.
Booklist, May 1, 1999, Gilbert Taylor, review of My Father's Gun: One Family, Three Badges, One Hundred Years in the NYPD, p. 1563.
Book Shelf, September 30, 1999, Darina Molloy, "Irish America," review of My Father's Gun, p. 88.
Boston Globe, August 30, 1999, Scott Alarik, review of My Father's Gun, p. C9.
Commonweal, January 28, 2000, Maurice Timothy Reidy, review of My Father's Gun, p. 28.
Irish Voice, June 8, 1999, Emer Mullins, "The Boys in Blue," review of My Father's Gun, p. 24.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 1999, review of My Father's Gun, p. 606.
Library Journal, February 1, 2003, Paul Kaplan, Robert C. Cottrell, review of Indian Summer: The Forgotten Story of Louis Sockalexis, the First Native American in Major League Baseball, p. 89.
New York Times Book Review, October 3, 1999, George James, "N.Y.P.D. Blue," review of My Father's Gun, p. 29.
Publishers Weekly, April 26, 1999, review of My Father's Gun, p. 66; February 10, 2003, review of Indian Summer, p. 175.