My recent reads

June 2017.

Blue – A memoir

John Sutherland

Blue a memoir

I was an inspector at Stoke Newington in North London when John Sutherland joined the police. The subtitle to John’s first book – Keeping the peace and falling to pieces – was something I was starting to experience just as he entered the world of London policing. And so, for reasons that may be apparent, I approached this book with some trepidation.

I’ve followed John’s @policecommander twitter feed and his blog for some time and we have been in touch many times. His blog, in particular, is simply brilliant. Eighteen months ago, he came to the London launch of my debut novel and was kind enough to bring me a present. It was a simple gift, but full of meaning. John brought me a tie, a Hostage Negotiator tie, from the Hendon course that he and I had both attended. Me, in 1991, John many years later. My original tie was lost, something I had mentioned to him and, without being asked, John sourced a replacement.

That thoughtful side to John’s character comes across clearly in this, his first book. He is a man who cares, a man who builds bridges.

‘Blue’ is John’s account of his 25-year policing career in the Metropolis, of his experiences and the challenges he faced, and of the eventual toll it took on his mental health. Reading ‘Blue’ took me back, long-forgotten memories returned and I felt a sense of re-connecting with my past. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Much of ‘Blue’ is written in the form of anecdotes, short stories of incidents, of people and of issues facing the police service. The writing style is that of a narrator, and it very quickly draws you in, to the point where you are soon fully engaged. For me, it felt like a warm blanket, comforting and, at the same time, reassuring that our police service is being run by people like John, who clearly care a great deal for the public they serve.

‘Blue’ made me smile, it made me laugh. It made me cry out in frustration and sympathy and, just near the end, it brought a tear to my eye. I won’t tell you where, but I suspect you will recognise the moment when you read it for yourself. And, I use that word ‘when’ quite deliberately, because I feel this book is essential reading for anyone interested in policing, whether it be as a serving or retired officer, or as a person who is interested in what happens behind the scenes of an organisation charged with preserving peace in our society.

‘Blue’ is a memoir, a one-off account of one man’s police career. But it is far more than that. It is an insight into how the pressures and stresses of the high-paced, career-focussed lives of our senior executives can place unacceptable and unsustainable responsibilities upon them.

A ‘must read’, if ever there was one.

 

April 2017.

Lethal Force – Tony Long

Like me, Tony Long joined the Metropolitan Police Force of the 1970s. Over the next twenty-odd years our career paths overlapped but, although I knew of him, I didn’t know him.

book-coverToni and I joined a police force that changed a huge amount during our service. Crime trends evolved, new threats emerged and the Met was compelled to respond. Tony Long was part of that response, a very special part, he was a member of a very skilled and very brave group of men and women who were prepared to risk placing themselves in the front line of the fight against armed criminals.

I say brave, because it’s not simply the courage to face a man with a gun, it’s a question of being prepared to deal with the fallout which will inevitably occur should you be required to pull the trigger and, if you kill your target, to handle the inquest that will question your split-second decision, your temperament, your training and all manner of factors that will have led up to that fateful moment.

This book is a compelling, highly engaging account of one man’s career path, a path that led to him one day having to face such an inquest and to then go on to face what every firearms officer fears most, to face a criminal trial as the accused, charged with murder.

Tony Long first transferred to an embryonic Firearms Branch in the 1980s. Known as D.11 in those days, it was under-resourced and operated with very limited training and equipment. It was as a member of that team that our paths first crossed. As many will know, I was a friend of WPC Yvonne Fletcher who was murdered in 1984 outside the Libyan Peoples Bureau. Tony was one of the D.11 officers who attended. I wrote about my involvement here and an incident that happened one night when a mystery officer ran into the crime area to recover Yvonne’s abandoned hat. For years I had wondered who that officer was as I wished to express my thanks to him. In ‘Lethal Force, I learned his identity as he turned out to be an old mate of Tony’s.

D.11 evolved into PT17 dept, then SO19, CO19, SCO19 and is now part of CTC, the Counter-Terrorist Command. If there is one thing the Met does well it is changing the names of it’s specialist departments! It’s something that authors often struggle to keep pace with and, woe betide if you get it wrong.

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With colleagues – awaiting the command

Tony Long was dedicated to his chosen specialism. He trained, practised and refined his skills. He was fast, accurate and highly skilled. He needed to be, as did his peers. Armed police officers – as with Special Forces operators – have to be better than armed terrorists and criminals to maintain the edge that ensures they win in a fight than may mean kill or be killed. This is a world where there is no second chance, no replay, no extra life. This is not x-box or playstation, and it is not a game.

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The Mac-10

Tony Long took part in thousands of deployments where he was armed. He fired his weapon three times. On the first occasion, the suspect had just butchered his partner and was about to kill a child, on the second – in 1987 – he faced three armed robbers armed with guns. On the third occasion, in 2005, he opened fire on a man in a car who he had been informed was armed with a Mac-10 machine pistol that he was on his way to use to kill fellow drug dealers. That man was Azelle Rodney.

That decision resulted in over ten years of legal wrangling, expert opinion, post incident analysis, ill-informed opinion, amateur analysis, prejudiced views, inquests, reports and hearings.

Finally, Tony Long faced that very situation fireams officers must be brave enough to risk facing – he was charged with murder. He was arrested, placed in a cell and gripped the rail at the Old Bailey. Tony faced a lifetime in prison and a decision on his innocence or guilt would be made by twelve people with no previous understanding of the situation he faced, the split-second decision he had to make and the dangers he and his colleagues deal with as part of their daily job.

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Damage caused by a machine pistol similar to the Mac-10

I don’t plan to comment on the trial or express my personal opinion on what happened the day Azelle Rodney was shot, but I would leave you with one thought. It is in the form of a picture, a picture of what damage a weapon like the Mac-10 is capable of inflicting.

Tony Long had been told he was facing a weapon capable of doing this to him, his colleagues and to the public in the area surrounding the scene.

If it hadn’t been for Tony Long being placed on trial, Lethal Force would never had been written. I have mixed feelings about that. I’m glad the book is now published, but I’m sad that Tony had to go through such an ordeal to bring about the circumstances of its writing.

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Tony Long – accused of murder after doing his job

Lethal Force is an excellent book, well written and engaging. If you are a reader interested in policing, firearms, justice or the complexities of the law, it comes highly recommended. If you enjoy a fascinating autobiographical account of an incredible policing career, you will also enjoy this book. But don’t expect an easy read, Lethal Force asks questions that some will find uncomfortable and leaves the reader wondering just what we expect of the ‘rough men’ who we expect to protect us while we sleep soundly in our beds.

And, if you an author who has written or you plan to write a book that will involve the police use of firearms I would recommend Lethal Force as essential reading.

Lethal Force is published by Ebury Press and is available in hardback, paper back and for all e-readers.

In her wake – Amanda Jennings

Amanda-Jennings 2Read outside your favourite genre.

That’s advice given by Stephen King to aspiring writers. Truth be told, I don’t really have a favourite. I’ve read Stephen King, James Patterson thrillers, Lee Child and the Reacher series.  I read and enjoyed both The Fog and The Rats by James Herbert and one of my all time favourites is Paulo Coelho’s, The Alchemist.

So, when I was given a copy of ‘In her wake’ to read, I approached it with an open mind. Possibly not a book I would have chosen and, if I’m being honest, a lot of books I get sent to read prove to be disappointing.

Not this time! Although ‘In her wake’ is a book about a woman and written by a woman it is certainly not a read that should be limited to female readers. It’s about controlling relationships, domestic abuse and the central character’s struggle to find herself. And yet, it is much more than that. It’s a story that explores an incredible concept, one that could affect anyone of us and which one day, somewhere, someone will be facing up to.

To reveal the idea behind ‘In her Wake’ would be to spoil the reader surprise, so I’ll not do that. But what I will say is that I wish I’d thought of it myself. It’s brilliant, and the journey that it takes the main character on proves to be equally engaging.

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Amanda Jennings

‘In her Wake’ is well written and well edited. It is a very gripping and interesting tale. It made me angry, made me joyous and, at times, it was upsetting. All credit to the author for being able to stir up such emotions and to keep me going back for more. I stayed up late to keep reading it and it kept me awake.

A 5-star read, an assessment from me that many seem to share, given the reviews already posted on Amazon, Goodreads and other sites.

Get the paperback here, and the kindle version here. Kobo version here.

And, of course, it’s available through all the best bookshops.

How to be Brave – Louise Beech

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I’m going to start this review with an admission, a confession if you like. I break and fail to conform to one of the golden rules of writing. I don’t read fiction enough. It’s not that I don’t like reading, more a question of enjoying non-fiction so much that I struggle to find time to enjoy both. And often, when I start a novel, I find myself disappointed when a promising story fails to engage me, something that rarely happens with non-fiction.

How to be brave. An interesting title, and given the subject matter I had high hopes I was going to enjoy it.

I did – absolutely!

Louise Beech has penned an excellent story. She very cleverly weaves together an account of a mother, Natalie, struggling to deal with a young child, Rose, diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. ‘How to be Brave’ addresses some very challenging questions. How do you deliberately hurt your own child? How do you stick a needle in their tiny fingers, cause them pain and anguish, even though you know it is essential for them to live? How do you deal with their resentment, their anger and their innocent wish to escape from their affliction? As a father, this really hit home to me and I’m not ashamed to say that Louise’s writing made me quite emotional at times as her words so beautifully described something that every parent fears but that few have to face.

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Louise at work

Woven into the story is that of Colin, Natalie’s great grand father, long since deceased, but who has left a diary that Natalie and Rose start to read while testing blood levels and injecting life-saving insulin. Colin’s story is one of survival – at sea, adrift in a lifeboat during WWII.

I won’t tell you how Louise achieves the link between the two stories but, suffice to say, it is an original and well thought through idea.

The story is vivid, the descriptions first class. I was completely engaged with it and soon began to plan my day so that I could devote time to reading it.

A top quality read.

How to be Brave is available here  for Kindle, here in paperback and in Waterstones, WH Smith and through all bookshops.

Shell Shock by Neil Blower

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Published by Firestep Press

£1 from each sale is donated to the UK Military PTSD charity, Combat Stress.

oh, but it’s Tommy this and Tommy that

and ‘Chuck him out, the brute.’

But it’s ‘saviour of his country’

when the guns begin to shoot.

Rudyard Kipling 1892.

‘Tommy Atkins’ is a slang expression used to describe an ordinary soldier in the British Army.

Although mostly associated with the First World War where German soldiers would call ‘Tommy’ across no man’s land to speak to the British soldiers, it is a nickname that has been in use for many centuries.

It is widely believed that the name originated in 1794 when the Duke of Wellington spoke to a mortally wounded Private Thomas Atkins who described the fierce engagement of the day as “It’s all right sir, it’s all in a days work.”

The words used by Rudyard Kipling to describe Tommy are very appropriate in that he highlights the fact that these young men are those that the nation turns to in times of conflict. They are the same young men that can be a nuisance in the pub on a Saturday night and yet, when called upon to fight for their country, are prepared to give their lives in order that their fellow citizens may enjoy freedom from tyranny.

Sometimes, as described in this book, the effect on those young men can be so devastating that it inhibits their ability to adjust to post military life.

‘Shell Shock’ is introduced by Colonel Tim Collins. OC of the Royal Irish Regiment, Tim Collins gave a speech to his soldiers before the 2003 Iraq war which is often quoted and used as an example of how to deliver an inspirational speech. This is an excerpt.

We go to Iraq to liberate not to conquer. We will not fly our flags in their country. We are entering Iraq to free a people and the only flag which will be flown in that ancient land is their own. Show respect for them.There are some who are alive at this moment who will not be alive shortly. Those who do not wish to go on that journey, we will not send. As for the others I expect you to rock their world. Wipe them out if that is what they choose. But if you are ferocious in battle remember to be magnanimous in victory.

Iraq is steeped in history. It is the site of the Garden of Eden, of the Great Flood and the birthplace of Abraham. Tread lightly there. You will see things that no man could pay to see and you will have to go a long way to find a more decent, generous and upright people than the Iraqis. You will be embarrassed by their hospitality even though they have nothing. Don’t treat them as refugees for they are in their own country. Their children will be poor, in years to come they will know that the light of liberation in their lives was brought by you.

If there are casualties of war then remember that when they woke up and got dressed in the morning they did not plan to die this day. Allow them dignity in death. Bury them properly and mark their graves.

It is my foremost intention to bring every single one of you out alive but there may be people among us who will not see the end of this campaign. We will put them in their sleeping bags and send them back. There will be no time for sorrow.

The enemy should be in no doubt that we are his nemesis and that we are bringing about his rightful destruction. There are many regional commanders who have stains on their souls and they are stoking the fires of hell for Saddam. He and his forces will be destroyed by this coalition for what they have done. As they die they will know their deeds have brought them to this place. Show them no pity.

It is a big step to take another human life. It is not to be done lightly. I know of men who have taken life needlessly in other conflicts, I can assure you they live with the Mark of Cain upon them. If someone surrenders to you then remember they have that right in international law and ensure that one day they go home to their family.

The ones who wish to fight, well, we aim to please.

If you harm the regiment or its history by over-enthusiasm in killing or in cowardice, know it is your family who will suffer. You will be shunned unless your conduct is of the highest for your deeds will follow you down through history. We will bring shame on neither our uniform or our nation.

Regarding the use by Saddam of chemical or biological weapons, it is not a question of if, it’s a question of when. We know he has already devolved the decision to lower commanders, and that means he has already taken the decision himself. If we survive the first strike ,we will survive the attack.

As for ourselves, let’s bring everyone home and leave Iraq a better place for us having been there.

As with Col Collins speech, I found ‘Shell Shock’ to be a really powerful read. It stirred up emotions, made me laugh, made me cry. I had to put it down a couple of times as I found my emotional reaction overwhelming.
It isn’t a long book, it took me two hours to read it, but it is a very powerful tale of a soldier, recently returned from a theatre of war who is struggling to adapt to the comparative routine of civilian life.
Shell Shock’ is an original idea, well written and joins my personal list of favourite books. It takes the form of a diary, written by the anonymous soldier and edited by the author. You join Tommy Atkins just as he leaves the Army. He is receiving treatment for Post Traumatic Stress and he writes of his experiences with the Health Service and his family as he struggles to cope with his worsening condition.
Tommy goes home to his bickering parents and to a girlfriend, Shell, who adores him and is glad to have him back. As previously mentioned, the novel takes the form of a diary. Tommy chronicles his every day experiences – his attempts to find employment, his working relationships, his relationship with Shell, and with his parents, the ups and downs that gradually become overwhelming.
I recommend this as a book to buy. If you have any interest at all in the military, PTSD or in the way that stress affects family life, you will enjoy it. It will also open your eyes to the problems that many of young servicemen and women will be experiencing as they return from Iraq and Afghanistan.
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