The two main police characters, carry their personal flaws through into their police work - Bud White for instance carries a hatred of wife beaters - or indeed anyone who brutalises women. His police work often spills over into vigilante action against the perpetrators of such violence. Many of the other officers are prepared to bend or break the law to further their own careers - all of them hold racist ideas against the city's black community. How realistic this all this is difficult to say - certainly it is a far cry from many detective novels, with squeaky clean heroes and stereotypical baddies.
The complex plot reflects perhaps the reality of corruption - the web of intrigue that drags dozens of people into illegal activity. And their is a ring of truth to the nasty racial attitudes of the policemen. Apparently, some of the key moments in the book are based on historical events. In particular, this scene of police brutality, which shapes the novel at the very beginning. It is an enjoyable read, though not necessarily a pleasant one.