Written by Mike Thomas — Martin Finch is a newly promoted sergeant in the Specialist Territory Support Group (TSG), a small team of police who man a riot van and respond when there is public disorder. It’s Boxing Day and Martin, an idealistic copper following in his father’s footsteps, is about to meet his new TSG team, but what should be a routine shift is likely to be far from it. They’re assigned to police a football match – a local derby where there’s violence in store with rival gangs on the scene ready to cause trouble at the match. At home, Martin’s wife is heavily pregnant. It could be today she gives birth.
It soon becomes clear to Martin that each policeman in the van has a weakness and he has a challenge on his hands to manage them. His team includes Andrew Mills (later nicknamed Thrush) who’s in a largely loveless marriage and an apparent abuser. David Murphy (Flub – fat lazy useless bastard) is a heavy drinker. Alan Reading (Dullas) is a religious nut. Finally, Vincent Vinyard (Vince) is a predator always on the lookout for the next woman to bed. Not the nicest lot to be looking out for the public’s health and safety.
As the shift wears on they deal with a multitude of problems surrounding the match. Martin struggles to fit into the group, but everything goes horribly wrong when, nearing the end of the day, they encounter a woman so drunk she can barely walk. At the behest of his team, Martin reluctantly agrees to drive the woman home, but an event occurs that will change them all forever. Will Martin stick to his ideals or will the team stick together and sweep everything under the carpet?
An ‘ugly bus’ is the nickname for a police riot van and similar acronyms and police terminology are used throughout the story but in a well balanced fashion that won’t put you off. Rather, it adds a flavour of their working day and the challenges they face. However, the police are not described in a particularly positive way, especially the senior staff. In fact, Ugly Bus has a central theme which the strapline on the front cover conveys in a straightforward fashion – ‘corruption is contagious’.
The author illustrates this by wrapping events around the football match. The details of the game itself aren’t important and we’re not even told the location, nor which teams are playing. But that doesn’t matter because the key element is the attack and Martin’s reaction to it – the book opens with a flash forward, with the woman in distress and a in mess. How did she get that way? She reaches a police station. Then we go back to the beginning and each of the characters on the ugly bus and the woman are introduced via their own chapter.
Overall this is an enjoyable, character driven novel. The promotional blurbs give the impression this is going to be a brash story; it is not. Though nameless, the location is well described and a fittingly downbeat backdrop to the narrative. However, the most powerful writing is in the final section when the attack on the woman is revealed. The previous events – patrolling pubs and sorting out violent offenders, attending the football match and the resulting casual transgressions of the law by the occupants of the ugly bus (such as theft) throughout the day – lead up to the attack and show why it could have happened, but they’re not as strong as the woman’s distress and the aftermath, which also has a good twist at the end.
Overall a very well written novel with plenty of merit within and ideal for those who appreciate stories of this type.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars