At the age of thirty, Carlo Garibaldi became chief of police in the midsize suburban city of Bridgeton, Pennsylvania. Carlo worked the streets confident of his ability to maintain the peace. But one day a crime escalated and the untimely intervention of a bystander resulted in the death of Officer James Underwood. The fact that Carlo sustained multiple gunshot wounds in an effort to protect him did not allay the heavy guilt he is still feeling a year later.
Honored at an anniversary ceremony for his heroic role, Carlo finally retreats to an unpaid sabbatical to resolve the issues he cannot let go. He fills his time with his hobby of woodcarving. Recently, the mayor has implemented a new project, that of a “Buddy System” for children in need. One of the first to plead for help is Samantha Underwood, the widow of the slain officer. The mayor volunteers Carlo for the job.
Samantha’s young son Jeffrey, had retreated into himself following his father’s death. The treating psychiatrist had been unable to get him to respond to overtures made by schoolmates, teachers or even his mother. Carlo reluctantly agrees to try and help Jeffrey.
Dad in Blue has two focuses; one, the establishment and growth of a relationship between an adult stranger and a small boy who does not want a buddy; and the burgeoning romance between Samantha, who has lost both father and husband in the line of duty, and Carlo.
The interaction with Jeffrey is carefully drawn to portray a slow building of trust between them. The author clearly understands small children and their responses to crisis. The love story between Samantha and Carlo is a bit more predictable, overwhelmed as it is with the guilt issues that a widow faces before she gives herself permission to live again, and misplaced guilt of a man who is not quite the “super-hero” who can leap tall buildings.
Shelley Cooper draws her characters well, albeit a bit heavy on the constant anxiety and guilt. The reader is introduced to the large Garibaldi family in such a way that lends itself to the thought of future books. Even these secondary characters quickly become memorable personalities. The story proceeds at an effortless but varied pace, adding even more interest.
The major criticism is the repetitious angst on the part of Carlo and Samantha. While several authors have shared with me the reality that it is the editors who insist that they state and restate these points. If this is so here, please dear editor: the reinforcement theory of learning begins to bore after the first 100 pages.