Pocket Notebook, By Mike Thomas

Arresting tale doesn't miss a beat
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The Independent Culture

Jacob Smith has got a bad marriage, a penchant for steroids, a violent temper and a foot fetish. None of this would be particularly unusual if he was a villain – but, in Mike Thomas's debut novel, he's one of the policemen. And he's got a gun.

The 38-year-old is supposed to show "fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality". Instead, he's cruising the streets as part of a firearms unit, living out PlayStation-inspired fantasies and dispensing his own peculiar brand of justice. "I am the law," he rails. But life is getting complicated for Jacob. His unorthodox methods (the details recorded in a pocket notebook) soon raise eyebrows, his drug dealer turns nasty and a spell stalking a colleague proves a prelude to his main obsession: a young prostitute.

Thomas is a serving policeman and, while his protagonist is an amalgam of unlikely extremes, this book is clearly written by someone who has seen coppering at first hand. We see Jacob on a quiet night-shift playing "snooker" – which means stopping cars in colour order: red first, then any colour from yellow to black, then red, then a colour.

In his anti-hero, Thomas has created a character who has been marginalised and brutalised, partly by frustration at being unable to make more of a difference. Our introduction to him is at the scene of a car accident, trying to comfort a young drunk-driver despite knowing she's going to die. This inability to save people is a theme returned to more than once.

Factor in Jacob's dysfunctional childhood and taste for booze, and you're left with a man consumed by bitterness and rage, who loathes other coppers, the "Trumptons" in the fire service and all things PC. He reserves particular venom for petty criminals – the "trolls and inbreds in their shell suits". While Pocket Notebook might become cult reading in police circles, it certainly isn't about to become a recruit training manual. This is an enjoyable black comedy that builds to an exciting climax, even if the main character is short on redeeming features.