The Big Policeman: The Rise and Fall of America's First, Most Ruthless, and Greatest Detective

J. North Conway (Author)


The remarkable career of one of America's greatest detectives--a story of murder, mayhem, and intriguePhilip Marlowe, Dirty Harry, and even Law & Order--none of these would exist as they do today were it not for the legendary career of nineteenth-century New York City cop Thomas Byrnes. From 1854 to 1895, Byrnes rose through the ranks of the city's police department to become one of the most celebrated detectives in American history, a larger-than-life figure who paved the way for modern-day police methods, both good and bad.During the age of Gangs of New York, Byrnes solved many of the most sensational and high-profile cases in the city and the country. He captured Manhattan's Jack the Ripper copy-cat killer; solved the murder of prostitute Maude Merrill, who was killed by her jealous lover--her own uncle; solved the largest bank heist in American history; arrested anarchist Emma Goldman for inciting a riot in Union Square; and accomplished much more. For both good and ill, according to the New York Times, Byrnes "shaped not just the New York City Detective Bureau but the template for detective work . . . in every modern American metropolis." He not only pioneered crime scene investigation, but also perfected the brutal interrogation process called "the third degree." He revolutionized the gathering of evidence and was the first to use mug shots and keep criminal records. But when Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt investigated the corruption that had plagued the department for decades, the man one prominent journalist had dubbed the "big policeman" was forced to resign.Bringing the Gilded Age to life as he did in his acclaimed King of Heists: The Sensational Bank Robbery of 1878 That Shocked America, J. North Conway narrates in thrilling, vivid detail the crimes, murders, corruption, and gritty police work associated with the father of the American detective.

Product Details

Lyons Press
Publish Date
May 01, 2019
6.0 X 0.7 X 9.0 inches | 1.0 pounds

Earn by promoting books

Earn money by sharing your favorite books through our Affiliate program.

Become an affiliate

About the Author

J. North Conway is the author of King of Heists: The Sensational Bank Robbery of 1878 That Shocked America and the upcoming Bag of Bones: The Sensational Grave Robbery of the Merchant Prince of Manhattan; in addition to seven other nonfiction books. He has been a daily newspaper reporter and editor, and a columnist and feature writer for the Providence Journal and Bostonia, the alumni publication of Boston University. He has worked as an editor/writer for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the second oldest international learned society in the country. He teaches at the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth and Bristol Community College in Fall River, Massachusetts. He previously taught at Boston University, Northeastern University, and Fisher College. He lives in Assonet, Massachusetts.


"Creating period atmosphere by quoting extensively from newspaper accounts of the sensational crimes Byrnes solved, Conway portrays his subject's cleverness and excesses with a flawed-hero flavor that should draw in true-crime fans." --Booklist "Conway presents the exceptional biography of Thomas Byrnes, who has been called 'the father of detective work.' The story of his remarkable career is interwoven with many notable 19th-century events. . . .An essential read for those interested in police work, detective stories, and New York City history."--Library Journal "A fascinating, fast-moving account of one of the most polarizing and influential figures of 19th-century New York. Conway brings 'the big policeman' to life." --Daniel Stashower, author of The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Invention of Murder "A treasure trove of information not only on larger-than-life pioneering detective Thomas Byrnes but also on law-and-order in wide-open nineteenth-century Manhattan."--David Pietrusza, author of Rothstein: The Life, Times, and Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series "Across the sordid tableau of crime, vice, and murder in New York City's Gilded Age, no figure cut so enduring a path as Thomas Byrnes, the city's top cop who used brains and brawn in his then-groundbreaking belief that to catch a criminal, one must think like one. J. North Conway has mined the clues and unraveled the mystery of the man behind the headlines, painting a nuanced portrait of the crusader who pioneered law enforcement's most durable and controversial investigative techniques. Meticulously researched and written like an unusually well-crafted police blotter, The Big Policeman portrays New York's criminal underground and ambitious lawmen as vividly as any TV drama ripped from the headlines." --Greg Campbell, coauthor of Flawless: Inside the Largest Diamond Heist in History and author of Blood Diamonds: Tracing the Deadly Path of the World's Most Precious Stones