Monday, 14 September 2015

Pocket Notebook by Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas is a former police officer. He’s not the first ex-cop to turn his hand to writing, though most of his contemporaries either write biographies or turn to police procedurals. What both groups have in common is an often-rosy portrayal of the police. It is because Thomas appeared to promise the exact opposite which drew me to his books. Pocket Notebook, his first novel, comes with a recommendation from the Independent on the back cover. The book, the Independent says, will become cult reading in police circles but will certainly not be used as a training manual. The front cover certainly supports this assertion, introducing our protagonist, Jacob Smith, as a firearms officer, steroid abuser and foot fetishist.

So what did I find when I opened the book? Did it meet my expectations? Well kind of. While in some ways it exceeded them. The cover gives an idea of the book as a madcap combination of American Pycho and A Clockwork Orange, a version of John Niven’s Kill Your Friends perhaps, but set in the world of the boys and girls in blue, rather than the music biz of the 1990’s. It undoubtedly has elements of those three. For example late in the book there’s a hilarious scene where Smith is caught by his best friend, masturbating in the shoes of the best friend’s daughter, who he’s become obsessed with. But the novel is also richer than this. As with American Psycho, A Clockwork Orange and Kill Your Friends, there has to be more than violence and outrageous sex or it’s just infantile. Behind the shock factor, Thomas’ book is a study of a man slowly losing his grip on his sanity; a portrait of what someone who’s defined by their job and status does when all that is stripped away.

A pocket Notebook is a good book; in some ways it’s an excellent novel, funny, riotous, at points sad and poignant. It’s written with an assuredness that is impressive in a debut. If I have one criticism, it is that it strays quite early on from its USP. One of its selling points is that Jacob Smith is a firearms officer; there’s a frisson that a man amidst a meltdown is carrying a Glock. But very early in the novel he’s stripped of that role and is thrown back on the beat and I felt that this cheated the reader somehow. On the whole though this is a minor quibble and I would unhesitatingly recommend this book.

I would give this book 4 out of 5 stars

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