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Jolly Cotton penned – ‘The Detective in the Dooryard’

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Anyone who has worked the same job for a long time likely has their share of stories. And if that job involves regular interactions with the public, they probably have even more. And if said public isn’t always thrilled about those interactions, well … you get the point. Stories. Lots of them.

Tim Cotton certainly has all of those bases covered as a veteran police officer, having served for more than three decades in a variety of capacities. He’s got the stories for sure. But unlike the majority of his peers, he’s taken the time to write some of them down.

That writing started in earnest with Cotton’s assumption of the position of Public Information Officer for the Bangor PD, a job whose duties included updating and maintaining the department’s Facebook page. He started sharing his thoughts and stories about the job on that page (along with a healthy helping of the Duck of Justice, an old stuffed duck whose origin has become the stuff of legend), as well as a delightful regular feature titled “Got Warrants?” where he related the week’s particularly ridiculous incidents.

Before long, literally hundreds of thousands of people – nearly 10 times the city’s population – were following the page, all of them eagerly anticipating TC’s latest bit of homespun hilarity. Soon, Cotton’s writing was appearing elsewhere, popping up in newspapers and on various websites.

The logical next step? Write a book!

Hence, we get “The Detective in the Dooryard: Reflections of a Maine Cop” (Down East, $24.95), a collection of thoughts, musings and anecdotes about the world as seen through the eyes of one particular (and kind of peculiar) police officer. These tales are brief, breezy reads that embrace the idea of sharing stories that might not make their way into the local paper’s police beat, but warrant (see what I did there?) telling nevertheless.

Cotton is a natural storyteller with a particular gift for using his own personality – quirks and all – into the mix. The resulting collection, featuring over 50 vignettes, is a blend of humor and heart. And while he’d likely never cop to it (get it?), Cotton also manages to endow his work with an aw-shucks pathos that is unfailingly endearing.

The book is broken up into five primary sections: “From the LT’s Desk,” “If You Don’t Like the Weather,” “Thoughts from the Dooryard,” “Got Warrants?” and “The Cop.” The first four sections are all true stories, while the fifth – “The Cop” – is an arresting (another one!) selection of fiction, albeit heavily informed by true stories. In addition, the book kicks off with the origin story of the aforementioned Duck of Justice, a story that truly sets the tone for exactly what readers have gotten themselves into.

It’s worth noting that not all of these stories are about police and police work. While the majority of them do feature law enforcement stuff at least tangentially, there are some that are just about … life. And these pieces engage in their own ways; Cotton’s writerly vigor isn’t diminished when he ventures father afield in his subject matter.

Most of the stories are funny, driven by Cotton’s inherent instinct for vaguely goofy self-deprecation. And they’re entertaining, to be sure. But it is the stories that eschew the laughs in favor of emotional truth that will linger. “Didn’t Even See Him” – a tale of an encounter with a long-ago friend fallen on hard times – is made up of six of the most honestly heart-wrenching pages I’ve read in ages. It’s the kind of story you don’t soon forget.

Trying to make a full account of all 50-plus pieces would be a fool’s errand – there’s just so much here. One of the many joys of “The Detective in the Dooryard” is that sheer readability; it’s the sort of book that invites continued page turning, a book that inspires multiple self-promises of “Just one more story” while continually refusing to allow itself to be put down. You can’t eat just one Skittle and you can’t read just one TC tale.

(For the record, here are a few personal highlights. I already mentioned “Didn’t Even See Him.” “The Chair” is a wonderful paean to, you guessed it, his chair. “The Perfectly Parted Police Pants” is a delight. “Mopping the Morgue and a Good Breakfast at Martha’s Diner” is a surprisingly uplifting piece. “Dear Summer Visitors” is a tongue-in-cheek ode to Maine tourists. “Got Warrants?” is 50 pages of gold. And I can’t pick just one of the 10 stories in “The Cop,” though the first – titled “Banana Bread” – certainly sets the tone.)

“The Detective in the Dooryard” isn’t world-changing literature. It isn’t an “important” book, nor is it meant to be. All Tim Cotton wants to do is make you smile and make you feel, to share stories that give us a brief glimpse at the world as he sees it, both as a police officer and as a person. All in all, it’s a pretty nice view – I liked it and I think you might too.

“Keep your hands to yourself, leave other people’s things alone, and be kind.” - TC

Last modified on Thursday, 09 July 2020 12:53

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