The Police and Me

Written by John Sharpe

Review written by Gwen Moffat

Gwen Moffat lives in Cumbria. Her novels are set in remote communities ranging from the Hebrides to the American West. The crimes fit their environment, swelling that dreadful record of sin in the smiling countryside cited by Sherlock Holmes. The style echoes this: rustic charm masking horror.


The Police and Me
Hayloft
RRP: £12.99
Released: May 2017
Pbk

Subtitled “As the thin blue line got thinner” this is the revealing memoir of a highly individualistic cop with thirty years’ experience of a force in flux.

In 1963 when John Sharpe joined the Cumbria Police the bobby on the beat had no personal radio and communication with his station was by means of a blue light on a building, his attention often called to it by a  more responsible member of the public. There were no computers and very few vehicles, no armed specialist backup. Sharpe gives a hair-raising account of the shooting of three officers (one fatal) at Oxenholme Station, of unarmed uniforms searching the line for the armed killer in the small hours, a wounded man being tended on the platform as the night express roars through the station.

The author worked his way upwards: foot patrol, traffic (motor cycle cop on a decrepit BSA wearing ill-fitting gear), staff officer at HQ where he was promoted from sergeant to inspector. This was a necessary rank for the job but grudging promotion for a man who, notwithstanding his intelligence and peculiar attributes as a planner and organiser and (dare one suggest?) sometime mentor to his superiors, was a maverick.

Sharpe saw what was wrong, he could sense danger ahead, and said so. He cites the irrelevance of Press conferences (echoing the narcissism deplored by the fictional Morse and Frost). He fulminates against police warnings to the public not to approach serious crime suspects: “It is everybody’s civic duty to try and prevent crime and apprehend offenders, not just a police job.” He has only contempt for counselling and PTSD; dealing with traumatic violence and death was part of the job and if one couldn’t handle it, then who could?

Reading this book, the crime writer’s imagination filling gaps between the lines, one is hooked by its plethora of characters:  from the careful cunning old sweat and the callow cadet through to the upper echelons with eyes on pensions and images. Here is all the stuff for an historical police procedural: before motorways and computers, before PACE. Not the police investigating crime in the outside world but inside: in the tight, closed, fecund stab-in-the-back brotherhood of a provincial headquarters.



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