Today MORE than happy to welcome Mike to the blog talking about his top 5 dodgy cops ahead of the publication of his new novel “Ash and Bones” tomorrow which features its own dodgy cop – a book that is glaring at me from my tbr pile having loved Ugly Bus I shall no doubt be reviewing Ash and Bones very soon. Before that though – this…
Top Five Books about Dodgy Cops – Mike Thomas
Police officers. There are a lot of them in fiction, mainly heroic, dogged ‘tecs out on the streets kicking ass and taking names, albeit while battling a drink problem, or the effects of multiple divorces, or some other off-the-shelf trope that seems to afflict the vast majority of protagonists in contemporary crime. I’ve read many such novels and enjoyed them all, but the common complaint about ‘flawed cops’ being a cliché is not something I agree with – I spent more than two decades in the Job and every single person I worked with had, shall we say, issues of some kind, so the imperfect detective/uniform narrative rings true. My complaint is that these fictional damaged cops aren’t damaged enough. I’ve witnessed how the Job can grind you down. Wear you out. Tip you over the edge. I’ve experienced it myself; I was rather unwell for a period after the turn of the millennium and it forced me to ask the question: do you really want to be a police officer anymore? The answer: no. Which is why I now sit at a desk and make stuff up. My first two novels, Pocket Notebook and Ugly Bus, focus on the ugly side of police officers and policing. So what are the novels that do the same, that ring true to me? What are the ones that contain the dark humour, the crazy incidents, the mentally ill plods, or the occasional monsters in cheap CID suits that, unfortunately, I recognise from my time ‘in the cloth’? Let’s begin with one of those monsters…
Filth by Irvine Welsh
A book I came late to, but loved immediately, because the main character – venal, scheming, sexually-deviant, coke-snorting, talking-tapeworm-owning Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson – is frightening and hilarious and the literary equivalent of a car crash. You can’t help but stop, and gawp, with your mouth flopped open. And, as I learned during my twenty years in the Job, there’s a ‘Robbo’ in every nick: a slimeball wrapped in a shiny-arsed Next two piece, always on the make, always shifty, always playing ‘the games’, and always the one you’d do anything to avoid working alongside. Or leave alone with your wife. Or children. Or pets. Welsh’s classic begins with a murder, but what follows is not a by-the-numbers investigation. Instead it is a journey – graphic, excruciating, comical, extraordinary – into the darkest of dark hearts and an unflinching portrait of a man freefalling into the abyss.
Manners by Robert Newman
Little-known but deserving of a much wider audience. Written by Robert ‘Rob’ Newman – of Newman and Baddiel fame – it charts the downfall of the titular police constable, John Manners, who is not so much a bent cop as an irreversibly damaged one. Via first person narration we see Manners on patrol in North London, searching out suspected serial rapist Lee Andrew, whom he confronts – then beats to death, his colleagues finding a wild, blood-soaked Manners pummelling Andrew’s corpse. What follows is a brilliant, emotionally draining tale of Manners’ mental disintegration: suspended, he takes to patrolling the streets alone in his uniform, adrift from the Job, adrift from everyone, working through his past, present and lack of future, all the while listening in to emergency calls and determined to stop a planned murder… not realising who the intended victim actually is. A huge influence on my first novel.
The Choirboys by Joseph Wambaugh
Wambaugh has written plenty of novels that open up the oft hermetically-sealed world of policing, but for me his best will always be The Choirboys. Focusing on ten cops working the Wilshire Division of LAPD in the Seventies, the work is as authentic a book as I have read in terms of the camaraderie, black humour and general ‘feel’ of being a copper. Where it differs, however, is that I have never known an entire relief to end each shift in the local park, getting very drunk and indulging in group sex (perhaps I was just never invited). Wambaugh’s hellions dub these events ‘choir practice’, a term still used today by cops to describe rowdy off duty get-togethers. The Choirboys themselves are not bad men, necessarily – save perhaps for the awful, bullying Roscoe Rules, who could have ‘handed out towels in the showers at Auschwitz’ – just mostly young men hardened beyond all recognition by the Job and doing what they have to do to survive the daily/nightly grind. His characters’ behaviour and complaints about the hierarchy and the ungrateful public they serve still ring true to most serving cops today.
The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson
Published to some controversy in 1952, Thompson’s dark tale is as hard-hitting now as it was back in the day. Lou Ford is sheriff of a small town in the US state of Texas, seemingly normal and dedicated to his job. In a loving relationship, dependable, just a little bit… average. What we learn, however, is that beneath this bland exterior there lies one of those monsters I have mentioned. Ford is a sociopathic, sexually deviant ball of repressed rage, a rage which spills out in terrible fashion when he becomes involved with a prostitute who brings out his sadomasochistic urges – ‘the sickness’, as Ford calls it. The novel is a downward spiral from this point: blackmail, murder, and Ford’s disgusting history come to the fore, with the nadir a stomach-churning beating handed out by the increasingly deranged sheriff to one of the women in his life. It’s safe to say he’d never get a Chief Constable’s commendation. Ever.
LA Confidential by James Ellroy
A sprawling, tightly-plotted slab of Fifties-set noir, this is the third of the Demon Dog of American Crime Fiction’s LA Quartet and is packed with spartan prose, multiple plot lines, double- and triple-crosses and a riveting look at sleaze in high – and frequently gutter-level low – places. And it’s not just one dodgy cop here: the novel reeks of corruption, from the uniforms on the beat to the powers-that-be in the upper echelons of the police, the government and the entertainment industry. Three very different characters – careerist Edmund Exley, the brutal Wendell ‘Bud’ White, and Hollywood schmoozer Jack Vincennes – are drawn together following a multiple homicide at a coffee shop – and they uncover a conspiracy which is bigger than they ever imagined. A genuine masterpiece, with the film version as good as the novel that preceded it. Seek them both out.
Red Riding Quartet by David Peace
Miami Blues by Charles Willeford
Gone, Baby, Gone by Dennis Lehane
The Business of Dying by Simon Kernick
I Was Dora Suarez by Derek Raymond
About the book:
In a remote corner of Lagos in Nigeria, a stranger delivers a homeless boy to an orphanage, where the welcoming staff hide a terrible secret.
At a squalid flat in the docks area of Cardiff, an early morning police raid goes catastrophically wrong. A plain clothes officer is shot dead at point blank range. The killer slips away.
Young and inexperienced, Will MacReady starts his first day on the CID. With the city in shock and the entire force reeling, he is desperate to help – but unearths truths that lead the team down an increasingly dark path..
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