Midnights:

A Year with the Wellfleet Police

Midnights is both a comedy of errors and an affectionate portrait of small-town police, those beleaguered souls charged with the task of keeping their neighbors in line….A reminder that those assigned to protect are often vulnerable and quietly heroic.”—Time

Funny, touching, revealing, here is the view from a rookie cop’s patrol car, during midnight shifts, in a (mostly) peaceful town. With a rich cast of characters, this is a classic memoir of the fear, surprises, excitement, embarrassment that comes with a protecting and serving a small community.

“When I was twenty-three years old, five months out of college, with a degree in music, and without any idea of what to do with myself, I took a job as a policeman in Wellfleet, Massachusetts,” so writes Alec Wilkinson. “Music, huh?” the police chief said during the job interview. “That’ll be a big help.” Wilkinson’s main qualification was familiarity with the town of 2,000 people from summers there growing up. Committing himself to a year wearing a uniform and carrying a gun, and with no training, Wilkinson was sent out to keep the peace, hoping nothing would happen.

There are high-speed chases and stopping drunk drivers, one of whom tries to set Wilkinson’s hair on fire. There are domestic squabbles. “The first six months were murder for me,” Wilkinson’s partner confides on his first night. “After that, when I found out the people I thought were my friends weren’t really my friends, I felt better off.” There is an attempted bank robbery. The teller convinces the robber that his haul ($300) is too much to carry around in cash. The robber is still listening to investment options when the police arrive.

Throughout there are conversations with his eight fellow officers who Wilkinson comes to respect and admire. “Nobody ever calls you when they’re behaving themselves,” one admits. “As a rule, you always get called when people are at their worst. It’s sad. It depresses me.” The job is often thankless. “Right now I work on the police force,” another officer says, “my wife stamps cans in the supermarket, and she makes more money than I do.”

This is experiential journalism at its most poignant and entertaining—and it launched the career of Alec Wilkinson: writer, interviewer, essayist, and author. This is for any reader looking for insight into the real lives of police officers, outside of large cities, across America. It is also for anyone looking for a marvelously engaging read.

Midnights is part of Godine’s Nonpareil imprint: celebrating the joy of discovery with books bound to be classics.

Alec Wilkinson began writing for The New Yorker in 1980. Before he was a policeman, he was a rock-and-roll musician. He has published eleven books—including two memoirs, two collections of essays, two biographical portraits, and two pieces of reporting. His honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Lyndhurst Prize, and a Robert F. Kennedy Book Award. He lives with his wife and son in New York City.

William Maxwell was an American editor, novelist, short story writer, essayist, children’s author, and memoirist. He served as a fiction editor at The New Yorker from 1936 to 1975.