“How far would you go?”
- Book: Bad For Good
- Location: Brighton, Hove
- Author: Graham Bartlett
Before I go any further, I am reminded of a phrase popular with so many of our British television news journalists –
“Warning! My following report contains bad language and distressing scenes of violence from the outset”
This is one hard-hitting storyline, but gosh! what an opening gambit, in what I can only hope is destined to be the first in a series featuring the redoubtable Joanne Howe. However, even if this turns out to be a single stand alone novel, it definitely works for me, I just need many more of them please! There is always a debate around whether or not it is more advantageous for an author to write books from the genre in which they have particular expertise, and in this case there is no argument about the authenticity and knowledge the author brings to his storyline, it is the complete police procedural, crime thriller package.
So, without further ado, I had better make an attempt at a ‘spoiler free’ potted premise around my reading journey…
Phil and Jo have been work colleagues on the Brighton & Hove Police Force, and personal friends for some years now, although the ‘with benefits’ aspects of their relationship have long since ended, with both of them now holding senior positions and having settled down with their respective partners and families. Cutbacks and staff shortages have made their jobs more difficult than they should have been, so stress levels are running high, as long working hours are beginning to take their toll on regular family life. Phil and his wife Ruth, are experiencing particularly tough health challenges too, which means that their young adult sons Harry and Kyle, have been left pretty much to their own devices in recent times, which Phil will ultimately live to regret with every fibre of his being. Whilst Jo’s husband Darren, is her rock, keeping day to day life for their two young sons on an even keel when she is unable to, because of the rather unsociable hours she keeps.
When a horrific tragedy rocks Phil and Ruth’s world, the downwards spiral begins; only intensifying and gathering momentum, when more heartbreak and sadness heaped upon the remaining family, bring a whole new set of challenges to the equation. At this point, I was quite heartened to be in the position of completely empathising and sympathising with Jo, when necessity takes her to the heart of the medical system and she is forced to go inside the hospital. Her visceral reactions to her physical surroundings and the emotions and feelings engendered, are known to me all too well and were articulated perfectly in this particularly descriptive portion of the narrative. It is good to know that I am not the only Nosocomephobia sufferer around the place.
A broken and vulnerable Phil, finds himself at the mercy of and exploitation by, the unscrupulous, from both inside his own network of colleagues and the wider scope of the criminal underworld, although even he is totally amazed at exactly what has been going on under his very nose and completely off the radar, or is that more of a ‘blind eye’, of those in the highest authority. He pays the ultimate price of experiencing first-hand exactly how easy it is to become caught in the net of corruption, and once trapped, just how difficult it is to find an escape route, without losing everything and everyone he holds dear along the way.
Meanwhile, the members of Phil’s old team, rally round Jo in an effort to bolster him, not knowing how completely damaged and compromised his position really is and with the added, potentially dangerous ignorance, of not knowing that they may not be able to trust or rely one another as much as they might have expected, which might compromise them all and even end up by costing them their lives.
Thanks to the tenacity of Jo’s collective team, and despite the efforts of other outside forces, two high profile cases eventually seem to be colliding, as common factors are rooted out and assimilated, thanks to some rather unorthodox policing methods and strategies, and a stubborn refusal to conform to the normal rules of engagement. It was obvious that eventually the two strands of the storyline were going to be in some way linked by cause and effect, however whilst one of them was pretty much laid out quite early on, there was still a last minute twist I never really saw coming. Whilst the second investigation definitely had me taking my eye off the ball, completely missing the subtle evidence drop, which eventually Jo pounces on almost by accident, despite the ensuing heartache and grief she knows it will cause her personally – So no detective badge for me this time!
Gripping, intense, powerful and violent. A well researched, multi-layered, textured storyline, relevant and very much ‘of the moment’. Whilst there are few marked chapters, there are plenty of natural paragraph breaks, which at least gives room for breathing space and time to surface for air, before the next gruesome event takes over and sucks you back in. The writing is crisp, punchy, immersive and fluent, and the pace utterly relentless. Together, the narrative and dialogue are compelling, atmospheric and descriptive, so whilst the footprint of the storyline is not huge, it offers a genuine sense of time and place.
Whilst there are many references to colleague shortages and budget cut-backs, which do tend to get a little repetitive, but are well used to set the scene for certain failings during this investigation, overall they don’t serve to distract from the story too much and are indeed, one of the most important challenges of British policing right now. When just two cases can encompass so many different and diverse crimes, many of them with potentially lethal consequences, it is easy to see how an organisation and its colleagues on the ground, are stretched both mentally and physically, to breaking point.
I am also always amazed at just how much we love our acronyms here in Britain. I admit that I had to compile myself a little list of the character names attributed to the initials of the individual groups and departments and their relationships with each other, so that keeping track of quite a sprawling cast of characters, was just that wee bit easier. And boy! did all the characters need keeping careful tabs on, as to a person they all had more of a past history, making them prime targets for corruption and blackmail, than I would ever have thought possible, given the thorough positive vetting procedures we purportedly carry out. It began to look as though the greed, lies and underhand dealings, were a standard part of policing, and that no-one stood in total innocence.
Secrets, lies, duplicitous and manipulative behaviour, you name it, these police officers have it by the spade-load. I have always assumed that there is is a kind of ‘brotherhood’ amongst a force, where they cover each others backs and look out for one another, although absolutely not when there is obvious wrong-doing, abuse of power and position, or corruption involved. I can tell you right here and now though, that I wouldn’t turn my back on any one of this motley crew, for fear of being well and truly stabbed between the shoulder blades.
There really were no winners in this war of drugs, vigilantism, corruption, kidnap, murder and family jealousies.