By Sabina Mollot
The year is 1981, the place, a crime-ridden New York City and Stuyvesant Town resident and cop is tasked with finding out who murdered a famous actor — also his best friend — at a Manhattan hotel. On top of that, the mayor is up for reelection and since a high-profile murder can’t help his chances at the polls, the cop is warned to keep a lid on media leaks, or be thrown off the case.
The scenario is fortunately fictional. However, it has come to life in 2018 the form of a new novel, Damage Control, written by a former Stuyvesant Town resident, Thomas Cassidy.
Damage Control ($26.95) was released on June 12 by Cedar Forge. However, it has been in the works for last 25 years by Cassidy, who recently retired from a 20-year career as a special investigator for the New York State attorney general and whose father Hugh Cassidy served in the NYPD for over 30 years.
As for its title, Cassidy explained, “What they’re trying to do is damage control, trying to deflect attention from the crime wave. Everyone, including the mayor’s office, the corporate office of the flagship hotel, the Police Department, everyone is doing some form of damage control. Everyone’s trying to put a positive spin on it and that makes it difficult for the detective trying to solve the crime.”
As for the mayor’s warning to the aforementioned cop, Lieutenant John Patrick Donnellan, the detective commander of Manhattan South Homicide, the book, early on, offers an explanation.
“Donnellan recalls the fateful day that reporters branded (Deputy Mayor Barry) Rosen with the moniker Lefty when they overheard Donnellan referring to Rosen as Mayor Longley’s left ball. Whoops!”
Donnellan, the lead character was inspired not only by the elder Cassidy but by a good friend of the author’s named Frank Keenan. Keenan worked with him on many cases at the attorney general’s office after leaving the NYPD’s Manhattan South Homicide unit, where he was a detective sergeant.
“I never intended to write any book in terms of my childhood in Stuyvesant Town,” said Cassidy. “It was not a goal I had as a young person.”
However, he was motivated to do so after Keenan died from a massive heart attack, shortly after retiring. Whenever Keenan had shared stories with him about his investigations, Cassidy’s usual response would be to tell him, “You should write a book.” It was only after his passing that Cassidy realized the only way his friend’s stories would live on would be if he were to write that book for him.
He wasn’t actually a writer, though, so the project didn’t happen overnight.
“I realized writing is not as simple as I thought it would be,” Cassidy admitted.
After a three-week writing binge in which he’d tacked out a whopping 12 pages, Cassidy decided to invest in a writing course before getting back to it. But with his career in Medicaid fraud investigation for the AG a demanding one, the book remained on the back burner. Still, he was able to write another book during this time, a nonfiction title released by New Horizon Press in 1996 called Elder Care/What to Look For/What to Look Out For. The book was written in order to help seniors looking into longtime care avoid situations like abusive healthcare practitioners and corrupt nursing homes. It was a subject he learned the ins and outs of at the AG’s office and through interviews he conducted, a process that ultimately helped him with his crime novel later.
“I was fortunate to have a job where every time I interviewed someone, I had to write a report,” said Cassidy. “You had to make sure it was understood, so a defense attorney could read it so they could help their clients. You had to be accurate and you had to write clearly.” He added, “Most bosses I would encounter would say, ‘Don’t write a novel.’”
And he didn’t — until he retired in 2016. At that point, Cassidy was able to delve into Damage Control full-time, completing it last year.
He does consider his father a co-author to some extent. Prior to Hugh Cassidy’s death in 2011 at the age of 85, he would often give his son feedback and offer advice on how to make the precinct settings credible.
“He had a creative mind and he loved writing,” said Cassidy, who also got plenty of his inspiration from his own investigative career. “When you have a case, you never know where it’s going to lead,” he said. “You can’t go into an interview with any preconceived notions of what people are going to tell you.”
Because so much time had passed from the book’s start to finish, Cassidy decided to base it in the original timeline of 1981, rather than try to adapt it to the present time. For one thing, that wouldn’t be an environment he knew anything about in terms of how the NYPD works, Cassidy explained, and he also found the grittier 1980s, “when New York City was not as pleasant as it is today” to make for better story telling.
“It was one of the worst times in city history,” he said. “People were scared.”
He has already finished a sequel to the book with the title of Grave Danger. Always having been a fan of the genre of mystery novels, Cassidy is now a member of the Mystery Writers of America.
Cassidy moved away from Stuyvesant Town and his hometown when he went to college at Stony Brook University. He now lives in the nearby Seatucket.