Hero or villain? That’s the central question in Good Cop Bad Cop by the prolific British thriller author Simon Kernick. Is Met Detective Constable Chris Sketty an honest to goodness white knight, the hero of the Villa Amalfi siege, or a manipulative and calculating criminal mastermind responsible for the deaths of several people at the restaurant that night. Only in the final pages does it become clear, and it’s terrifically exciting getting there.
Sketty is a brilliantly realised character, inhabiting the grey world between good and bad, but just how flawed, just how guilty is he? The story twists and turns, and every time we think we’ve nailed Sketty’s character we have to think again as the layers of the story peel away. The guessing game is incredibly tense; Sketty’s story is deeply intriguing and over all this is an exhilarating read.
We are firmly in gangland territory here, much of the action is undercover, but this is a London police procedural with added zip. Kernick is channelling Line of Duty levels of duplicity and corruption. It all starts with Sketty telling the story of the Villa Amalfi siege many years later. We are transported back through his career, from first going undercover to being wounded in a gun fight and then recognised as a hero. We see the good, the bad and the downright ugly. Sketty’s well rehearsed story is interrupted by someone who knows a lot more than the accepted version of events.
Dr Ralph Teller is in his 70s, MS has confined him to a wheelchair, but grief has driven him to investigate the night of his wife’s death. She was one of the victims of the siege. Teller has painstakingly collated information, interviewed witnesses and reconstructed the peripheral lives of those involved, finally arriving at a showdown with Sketty, the lynchpin of the whole affair. Faced with the evidence Sketty is forced to open up but how many layers of obfuscation, lying and self-justification will be admit to. Will he really come clean. Sketty isn’t the man everyone thinks he is but just how dirty is he?
For Sketty it all started with the death of his young daughter, which put paid to his marriage and hardened his edges. Shortly afterwards he tangled with a violent thug and found himself on disciplinary charges. That should have been the end his career with SO11, the Met’s organised crime unit, but while suspended Sketty is contacted by DCI Maria Reincke of SO15, Counter Terrorism Command. They have an arms dealer in their sights. Kalain Roman supplies to al-Qaeda and right wing extremists alike – only the money matters to him. So far he’s been implicated in several incidents but remains elusive. Sketty is given a second chance and joins Gangs Intelligence Unit based in Hammersmith to keep an eye on Detective Sergeant Barry Cleaver, suspected of links to Roman. The usual surveillance won’t work on an experienced cop like Cleaver.
As Sketty works with Cleaver he gets involved in taking down estate gangs and drugs rings. It’s a long time before a particularly nasty assault on a young girl bonds him to Cleaver. Eventually he offers Sketty a way into a clandestine group dedicated to weeding out criminals by any means. Sketty thinks this might get him closer to Roman. SO15 are waiting patiently but they aren’t aware of all the things Sketty has been going through undercover.
The story of a cop working cases and leading a dual life, spying on one of his colleagues is credibly written and involving. Sketty is well realised as an ordinary man battered by life and sinking into bad ways. It’s intriguing to wonder how we would act under the same pressure, isolated and alone. And yet as events lead up to the Villa Amalfi siege we are given more than one interpretation of events and so how compromised Sketty is remains a mystery.
The typical British police procedural can be a bit staid, perhaps a little too trusting of the inherent honesty of British policing, but there are no rose tinted spectacles here. This is riveting, raw and fresh. Apart from the hunt for Roman and Sketty’s story this novel has a strong feel of London and the gang culture in the city. A layered thriller that is genuinely chilling and gritty as hell. //London, corrupt, cops: Like Line of Duty? Luther The Calling Neil Cross, The Divinities Parker Bilal//
CFL Rating: 5 Stars
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