11. Women Warriors: Stories From The Thin Blue Line by John M. Wills

IMG_8131My 52 Books Challenge is slowly creeping along! I actually have two other reviews fcoming your way soon, thanks to a sudden breakthrough with speed reading, so keep an eye out for those up soon! Today, however, a slight departure from my usual reading material.

Women Warriors was one of only two books that I treated myself to when visiting America (The other was The Readaholics and the Falcon Fiasco, which I reviewed a few weeks ago). Ben and I found this at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Museum in Washington on our penultimate day in the U.S. It is an anthology of true short stories from a variety of women involved in law enforcement in some way across America. It looks at the funny, tragic, dangerous and downright bizarre anecdotes from some extraordinary women. Their truly colourful careers span every state and approximately forty years in the process.

The true crime market is saturated with male accounts of the job described as ‘the thin blue line’, and often they are presented in an ultra-macho format to appeal more to male readers (think The Sweeney meets Kojak). So the idea of reading about the perspective of female police officers really appealed to me. Our time in America taught Ben and I that, by comparison to the UK police force, American cops are far tougher and way more badass than our bobbies on the beat. This is in large part due to the issue of American nationalism and identity – the sheer volume of people and the right to bear arms which means anyone could be carrying a gun. Being a police officer anywhere in the world is a dangerous job, but in America this definitely feels more extreme; and there is a real sense that an officer can walk out the door in the morning and not know if they will return to their family in the evening.

Taking all that into consideration, the US police force still presents challenges for women who choose to follow this career path; in particular, the task of establishing themselves and earning the respect of their male colleagues. I have a great deal of respect for all the women whose stories are contained within this book. America is a vast, vast country, and I think that for these women to be chosen specifically to share their stories they must be pretty special! And once you read their extraordinary tales I think you may agree with me…

This book looks at several different sections of law enforcement across the US: Patrol Officers, Dispatchers, Investigators and Chaplains. This ensures that you cover the whole spectrum of American law enforcement, and how women play a part in it. You will find a story for every emotion, and some will stick with you longer than others. It’s easy to dip in and out of the book, as the stories are all quite short and aren’t linked to each other, so it works for the reader who is strappped for time or has a short attention span!

You will read about an officer in Alaska tasked to chase away some bears which had been unwittingly holding a hotel of people hostage. You will read about a K9 officer and the strength of the bond with her dog (so moving!). You will read about an officer who was herself a victim of domestic abuse at the hands of her father for years before finding the courage to escape him.

I think one of the most powerful stories in the collection was that of a radio dispatcher trying desperately to keep calm and continue to do her job whilst she can hear her husband, a police officer, on another channel involved in a gun battle. Imagine sitting at your desk at work and knowing that your loved one was involved in a fight for their lives, that you might hear the sounds of them getting injured or dying right there in that moment. But all you can do is sit still, listening to the commentary on their fight and not being able to do anything about it. All you can do is sit still and try to carry on with your job, and keep it together while trusting that they can hold it together and come home to you.

One of the other hugely moving stories was from an officer who travelled from Chicago, where she worked, back to her home city of New York in the wake of 9/11, to help out at Ground Zero in the rescue and salvage missions. It’s a harrowing read, describing the toll it took on the workers, the devastation they saw and the illnesses that remained long after they left the site. It’s so sad, but at the same time uplifting in a sense when you think of what it tells you about the human spirit.

This may not be your cup of tea if you have no interest in law enforcement and stories which talk about the best and the worst of people, but if you do read it I promise you will read about some remarkable women, and it will be an eye-opening experience.

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