Coming through Gatwick, my plane the inevitable hour late, I browsed the terminal’s only bookshop. Where I found Woods’ first person tome sitting in the top 10 of the bestellser list. Something I hadn’t expected. I had earlier come across it via an article in the paper. Woods’ book describes his years as an undercover cop fighting the drugs war before arriving at the conclusion, one that has been carefully flagged up earlier in the book, that the drugs war is failing and that drugs should be legalised. It’s a heartfelt story, blending vivid action sequences with Woods’ descriptions of the personal price he paid, as his marriage breaks down and his career stumbles. Far from being respected and revered for his undercover skills, Woods suggests he was viewed as a loose cannon. His willingness to get down and dirty with the addicts and sometimes put his life on the line made it even harder for him to fit into a ersatz macho police culture, more mouth than trousers, according to the writer’s account.
The argument proposed for legalising drugs on the basis of his experiences is well made. Likewise, the vivid accounts of each individual undercover operation. But more than anything, the book offers a gripping vision of another England. The invisible world of the street, populated by losers and petty dealers and vagrants and criminals. Woods depicts the towns he’s working in (Brighton, Leicester, Glossop, Nottingham, etc) from beneath the bottom of the glass. The estates and the streets and their suffering come vividly to life. This is the other side of the coin, a far cry from Waitrose Britain with its gastropubs and 2-for-1 Strawberry-n-Prosecco offers. This is the Britain that no-one wants to see and no-one wants to represent, neither in politics nor in art. As such, although its timescale does not match and its focus is the provinces, Good Cop, Bad War is a companion piece to Ben Judah’s This is London. Both writers have a commitment to revealing and showing understanding to the under-world, which exists side-by-side with the uber-world.
Good Cop, Bad War is a cracking tale, well told. Which is no doubt what has propelled it into the airport bestseller lists. But it’s also an invaluable portrayal of a society which is broken, a postcard sent by a man who has visited parts of this country where few writers have dared or deigned to travel.