Detective Sergeant Sam Batford has been lying low at a remote safe house in the highlands of Scotland. He’s doing his best not to attract the attention of the enemies he made, on both sides of the law, during his last under-cover operation but Batford knows he’s just killing time until he’s called to account.
Inevitably the sharks begin to circle and as Batford is called back to front-line action in London he’s thrown into a deadly game of cat and mouse where it seems everyone is out to get him.
After having to endure a frustrating resolution to their previous undercover operation together DCI Klara Winter from the National Crime Agency is determined to prove that Batford has crossed the line into criminality and finally bring him to face justice.
All Sam Batford wants is to outwit his enemies long enough to stay alive and come out ahead of the game.
Last year Fahrenheit Press released Rubicon by Ian Patrick; a twisting and turning tale of undercover police work, bent coppers, corruption and drug smuggling. It was a stupendously good book. To save me having to repeat myself here, you can read my review of it via this rather spiffing link…… here.
Now the sequel has been unleashed unto the world. Is it as good as the first book, which in itself is a very tough act to follow?
Why, yes, yes it is. In many ways it’s even better.
Rubicon began the story of Sam Batford, an undercover officer (UCO), a Detective Sergeant with Metropolitan Police Service down in that Lahndahhn Town. But if you’ve read my review what I did link to above then you would already know that. 😉 In that book, Sam was shown to be less than honest when it came to the matters of telling his superiors all that he was up to. You see, Sam has a plan; a long term plan that involves making enough money via the criminal under-element he is ensconced in, so that he can have a nice, comfy, trouble free retirement when the time comes.
Now, in my eyes this is a pretty duff plan. It’s up there with trying to scale the Empire State Building in barefeet and buttery hands dressed as a banana whilst a sodding great gorilla chucks planes at you from the top. I’m not Sam Batford, but Sam Batford is Sam Batford, so I guess it’s his life and if he wants to fuck over the Met, the National Crime Agency and the London Mob (headed up by Vincenzo Guardino, aka Big H), who am I to argue?
But this is a plan that Sam has apparently thought through and, by the seat of his police issue boxers, seems to have, mostly, got away with. Big H doesn’t seem to have forgotten about it though and Sam has to spend most of his time looking over his shoulder for signs that Big H’s heavies may be lurking around the corner with a deadly pea shooter, loaded with the kind of peas that have his name on them. It’s rather unfortunate for Sam that he has a name short enough to fit on a pea really, isn’t it? If his name had been Raphaello, Constantine or Graham, maybe he would have felt safer? I guess we’ll never know the answer to that one *pondering emoji*
Assuming that Sam stays alive and under the radar long enough, it would appear that [mild spoiler for Rubicon] he may have gotten away with a nice little nest egg for the time being.
After the events of Rubicon we first meet Sam in Stoned Love squirrelled away for his own good in the remote Scottish cottage. It’s police protocol to ‘rest’ their undercover agents after a job (especially when it goes arse up a tad).
The beginning of the book serves as a nice little introduction and reminder as to what Sam is involved with:
“I observe the rat. It’s twitching, convulsing, foaming at the mouth. It’s eyes pulsate at odds with its erratic heartbeat. I haven’t touched it. I’m just watching it die. I don’t wish to intervene in a sentient being’s death. It’s chosen this path and taking any drug has its consequences. You see, this dirty rat has just consumed a corner of my kilo of cocaine and is now having a seizure as a result. This rat has cost me money but has shown me a valuable lesson in the dark side of my business. It’s time to get shot of the last five kilos I have sat in a salt bin, in the wood by the cottage I’ve inhabited for the last month. I’m here because the police have put me here. They have a duty of care to all serving police officers, of which I am one.”
But it’s not long, almost a page later in fact, when his corrupt superior Detective Superintendent Mike Hall rings up for more than just a chat about whether Sam is ever going to return his copy of ‘How To Live Secretly In The Highlands and Not Get Caught by The Mob’, and whether or not he’s creased the spine. Sam has a begrudging, and slightly untrusting, respect for Mike, but they are playing their little corrupt game of ‘fleece the baddies’ together and so far seem to be making a success out of their double crossing ways.
Mike has been made aware of a job that may just suit their needs (i.e. making money), and he and Sam are recruited by the National Crime Agency (NCA) under the authority of DCI Klara Winters. Klara is gunning for Sam. She knows that he’s a wrong’un, oh yes, and she is determined to unmask him (I’d like to think whilst he is tied up by a thick rope and in a Scooby Doo stylee). In the last book Sam slipped through her fingers, outwitting her at every turn, but this time she’s determined that he won’t get away again, for she has been reading ‘NCA How To Guide 22a: How To Double Cross The Double Crosser Without Being Caught Out: Part 1“. I imagine. Anyhoo, she’s in no hurry, and she plays the long game in trying to prove that both Sam and Mike are corrupt.
Like Rubicon before, Stoned Love switches points of view throughout. Sam’s story is told in the first person, but there are parts that are told in the third. I enjoy this approach as it allows us to witness parts of the story, and the behaviours of other characters, that are usually denied us in purely first-person narratives. Klara’s POV is told through her ‘Decision Log’:
“Decision Log Initial Entry, 7th September 2020
DCI Klara Winter – Senior Investigating Officer – NCA
Here I go again. Same old shit, different day. It’s becoming like a play. Same script, same cast, different audience. I’m getting hacked off at the belittling of the Met. Having to beg for covert resources is becoming a joke. I have my own, but terrorism is taking priority at the National crime Agency.
However, I’ve waited for this job since the last debacle and now I have my chance. “
Oooh, she has the bit between her teeth this time and has a plan so cunning that even a fox would hang up its tail and doff its cap to it. Oh, and the date is not a typo up there; this story takes place in the very near future. Unfortunately it’s too near for there to be flying cars, holographic conference calls and robot butlers, but I’m sure they are only a few months away at this point.
As hinted at in the above extract, aside from exposing corruption and the catching of criminals, both within and without the police and mob, Stoned Love, like Rubicon before it, deals with the effects of the debilitating cuts that the service has faced over the last 7 years or so since the Conservatives came to power. Although this is not an overtly political novel, as an ex-police officer himself, Ian Patrick uses his writing as a voice to air his frustrations through his characters. Klara is particularly hobbled by the austerity measures that are in place, having to work with restricted money, resources and people power at at time when violent crime is on the rise in the UK. All of this just heightens her frustration in her efforts to bust the gangs responsible for flooding the Capital with drugs and weapons, and also to root out the corruption within the police.
Although Sam Batford is a dodgy copper, he is one who still possess a strong sense of right and wrong. He knows he’s crossed a line – the Rubicon of course – but his sense of survival, of the illicit rewards, and of his dreams of a cosy retirement are too strong for him to resist. Despite this, Sam is still a highly likeable guy who maintains respect for the police and for procedure. He is clever, resourceful, quick thinking, intelligent and, at times, one very lucky son of a pea shooter. Oh, and he only has one leg. This isn’t something that remotely holds him back or slows him down in any way though. It just is:
“It was thoughtful of my Detective Superintendent to ensure that the reserved seat had good leg room. Not that it matters as I have my lower left leg sat next to me. I’ve taken the shoe off, of course. It wouldn’t be appropriate to have a shoe on the seat.”
Stoned Love is a book that twists, turns, twists again, double crosses, triple crosses, doubles back, loops under, goes left over right, right over left, back and through – if it were a Cub Scout it would have the knot tying badge tied up, I can tell you – but, somehow it rarely leaves you confused or unsure of what is going on or who is investigating who. Actually, there’s no ‘somehow’ about it; it is Ian’s skilful plotting and writing that ensures that you never really lose the end of the string through the cave of confusion that he has excavated before you. The relationships between some of the characters are deliberately vague; their true intentions and identities only revealed when it is necessary, of course.
Speaking of characters, there are many and varied ones in Stoned Love and a lot of them are pretty unlikeable. Is that a word, “unlikeable”? It’s only a typo away from ‘unlickable’, but then again I wouldn’t fancy licking many of them either, if I’m honest (well…. no, it’s not that kind of book). Where was I? Oh yes, characters. Yes, as you would expect from this type of book, many of the main characters are the baddies; nefarious, underworld types who would rather make their money from illegal and, quite often, unpleasant means. Making profit from peddling the kind of things that feed the misery of others; drugs, weapons, people. You can’t help but have the utmost respect for the honest, real-life UCOs who have to immerse themselves in this culture in order to bring these crime syndicates/families/organisations to justice. I see Sam as being in two camps here: on the one hand, with his cop hat on, he does actually want to see justice done and to put an end to the suffering of those caught up in the bigger picture, but on the other without them he wouldn’t be able to exploit their ill-gotten gains for his own ultimate needs.
Ambiguity, thy name is Stoned Love.
Ian writes his characters in a very believable way helped along by strong dialogue and by firmly rooting them in reality; they make mistakes just like you and I and are not helped out by handy plot devices and having people turning up just at the correct time. For instance, Sam may be working on the right side of the law, technically at least, but he isn’t above the law; he’s not someone who can claim some kind of magic immunity just because he’s a UCO, and the austerity measures only press this point home further.
This may be the direct follow-up to Rubicon, but it can easily be read as a standalone. The fates of a couple of characters from Rubicon are revealed early on, but it certainly wouldn’t spoil your enjoyment of that book at all. Ian lays out all you need to know early on in SL so you can dive in like a greased up Tom Daley in super streamlined speedos on a hot day and come up for air at the end with the satisfaction of having read one of the best undercover cop police procedurals you’re likely to read this year. It is a proper page turner and the pace is high throughout.
You may be interested to hear that Batford Book 1: Rubicon has been optioned by the BBC for a full six episode TV series and it is with great hope that they also option Stoned Love too. I certainly hope so as it will make for a most excellent series indeed. The BBC has a long history of gritty, noirish TV cop dramas, and Rubicon, and this one should it get picked up, would be a great success. I have everything crossed. Yes, even that!!
Ian has just delivered to Fahrenheit the 3rd in the Batford series, ‘Fools Gold‘ and, do you know what, I cannot bloody wait. 😍
Stoned Love is out NOW and you can buy your copy direct from Fahrenheit Press:
Educated in Nottingham, Ian left school at sixteen. After three years in the Civil Service he moved to London for a career in the Metropolitan Police.
He spent twenty-seven years as a police officer, the majority as a detective within the Specialist Operations Command. A career in policing is a career in writing. Ian has been used to carrying a book and pen and making notes.
Now retired, the need to write didn’t leave and evolved into fiction.