I need to blend in where I shouldn’t belong. The best undercover officers have no air of ego or the appearance of a police mannequin. After all, one sniff of pig and your ass is bacon. I’ve no intention of being served up at any criminal’s barbecue.
How do you follow up 2017's Rubicon, the twisty, morally ambiguous (at best) tale of an undercover cop? Well, if you're Ian Patrick, you do it by bringing that shady cop back and putting him in a tighter spot with threats (physical, legal and career) on all sides.
Sam Batford has had a little time off to recuperate and get his head on straight after Rubicon -- hopefully giving the heat on him a little time to cool down, and maybe give Big H time to move on from the setback Batford dealt him.
The Met has a new assignment for him -- working with the same DCI as he did last time, DCI Klara Winter. During the last assignment, she wasn't sure she could trust Batford -- now she's convinced that she can't. In fact, while she wouldn't mind taking down the criminals that Batford infiltrates, her main objective is to arrest Batford and his Superintendent Mike Hall, a pair she's convinced are dirty. She's right, of course, but that's beside the point.
Ostensibly, Batford's assignment is to infiltrate a group that's supposedly planning a major armed robbery and will need a driver of some sorts. But the clock is ticking so he doesn't have time to do this carefully. Winter has someone already embedded with the crew giving her information, and their primary purpose is to get dirt on Batford and Hall. Which sounds good, but when you get a couple of guys as cagey and wily as this pair, that's no easy task.
At the same time, Hall's told Batford that between family and work stresses, this is his last hurrah. Now, he'd like to start his retirement with a sizeable bankroll, and trusts that Batford will find a way to make the both of them some money from just whatever it is that this crew is up to. The crew's leader, who goes by the cuddly moniker of Razor, is a long-time "unauthorized informant" of Hall's. And now, he's sending Batford in to get him arrested. Which seems odd, but it does give Hall enough of an inside track to help Batford.
So, essentially, Batford needs to find a way to get rich off these criminals, hopefully get enough evidence for some arrests, stop them from pulling off whatever they're trying to -- and avoid getting arrested himself (not that he knows he's being targeted for that). Oh, yeah, and Big H hasn't moved on, forgotten or forgiven him -- in fact, he has an active contract out for Batford's life, and there are people trying to collect on that. Sounds like a pretty rough time for him.
In Rubicon, there was a question (at least for me) throughout -- just how bent is Batford? Will he actually do law enforcement, or is he just out for himself? What are the limits for him? Will he have any success in either his criminal or police activities? In Stoned Love, the questions are different -- we know he's bent pretty far. So it's just will Batford survive? Will Winter arrest him? Will Hall use him to save his own skin? Will Razor do something to him? Will Big H's killers eliminate him?
This changed the dynamic of the book for me, and made it a lot easier for me to enjoy this novel and cheer on Batford. There's no moral or legal gray area any more. Like Michael Corleone or Hannibal Lechter, Sam Batford is a despicable character that the reader wants to find success. Thankfully, he's nervy enough and clever enough, that there's a pretty good chance that he will. At least for a while.
Winter is manipulative, deceptive and devoted more to her career than anything else. But she's, technically, the good guy here. Everyone else is the kind of criminal that the police are supposed to stop, not become. But because we're in Batford's head,and Winter's primarily seen as an obstacle for him to overcome, the reader roots for him and against her -- knowing the whole time that it should be the other way around.
There's frequent and repeated commentary on the effects of Brexit, budget cuts, personnel cuts and other moves by the British government that are impacting the police services throughout the novel. Patrick is a former police officer and if these aren't his actual views coming forth through Batford, he's a better author than I think. If Batford's diagnosis of what's going on with the police in Britain is accurate, it sounds pretty frightening.
It's a minor thing -- I only noticed this as I started to write this post, and I've recently had a bad experience with reading a novel that couldn't pick a verb tense, so I was primed -- but Patrick's use of the present tense for these books is a subtle, and incredibly effective way of cranking up the tension, propelling the action forward, and pushing the reader to keep up with the pace of the book. I should've picked up on it with Rubicon, and am a little annoyed with myself for taking this long to notice.
I enjoyed Rubicon, but I appreciated what Patrick was doing and how he was doing it more. With Stoned Love, I still admired and appreciated his skill and aims, but I enjoyed the story more -- I resented things like work and family for preventing me from finishing this as quickly as I wanted to, and absolutely relished an airline flight that meant I had uninterrupted reading time*. I think Stoned Love is an all-around better effort (which is saying something) and makes me very excited to see what comes from Ian Patrick next.
Not everyone enjoys reading books where the police are just as dirty as those they're supposed to be stopping -- and I understand that -- but if you're someone who can embrace a tarnished knight, someone who seems to be law enforcement malgré lui, you don't want to waste any more time, get your hands on Rubicon and Stoned Love and prepare to be impressed.
* I also really appreciated having this to focus on rather than the fact that I was in a giant metal tube that has no business being that far off the ground, but that's another story.