Monday, March 08, 2010

Pocket Notebook by Mike Thomas

Jacob Smith’s life is unravelling fast. We watch in mirthful horror as the tactical firearms officer repeatedly pushes the button marked: ‘self-destruct’. Professional suicide and personal alienation swiftly follow as his troubled psyche goes into meltdown. The steroids don’t help. Nor does his obsession for violent computer games, militaristic films, and women’s feet.

Smith’s spectacular fall from grace and the familial trauma behind it shape the novel. But it is the verve of the first-person narration that really gives Pocket Notebook its drive and sparkle. Adding extra spice to the text are the increasingly subversive and paranoid entries in his police notebook – his notes from underground:

“Five tiny clone plods who couldn’t handle a lone sixty-odd-year-old scabies-ridden weakling tramp when he started cutting up rough outside the bookies (NB can I call him a tramp? What’s the wanky PC term for them now? ‘Homeless person’? ‘Outdoor Outcast’? ‘Stinky Fucker’? I must check.).”

Political correctness and increasing bureaucracy are the bane of his working life. Mock acronyms and abbreviations pepper the prose: ESSO (Every Saturday and Sunday Off); FNG (Fucking New Guy); UDI (Unexplained Drunken Injury). Colleagues, too, are more often than not reduced to nicknames: “we all know him as Thrombo because he’s a slow-moving clot.”

Although Smith is a macho, right-wing, "grunt" (Daily Mail readers will thrill at his attacks on Britain’s underclass), you can’t help but like him. In part this is down to Mike Thomas’s skill at making you see the world through the eyes of a man having a breakdown. But it is also because Jacob Smith is funny. His humour lends him humanity and reminds us that he is essentially a person who is suffering greatly. And despite his mental disintegration he never loses that innate urge to save and rescue, whether it’s the dismembered girl in the Clio or the redemptive prostitute Lowri.

Keen-eyed south Walians will recognise the capital and the Valleys as Pocket Notebook’s disguised setting. This is because the author is a serving police officer in Glamorgan. Thomas’s knowledge of coppering provides the reader with authentic insight and accuracy of detail rather than crime fictional cliché. But first and foremost this is a comic novel and a very good one, too.

Pocket Notebook by Mike Thomas is on sale now and is published by William Heinemann.