crime

T.V. tie-ins

authors index

books index

e-mail

home


IAN KENNEDY MARTIN & JOE BALHAM
The Sweeney


click to enlarge

Ian Kennedy Martin
The Sweeney
Futura, London, 1975
price: 60p; 168 pages

click to enlarge

Joe Balham
The Human Pipeline
Futura, London, 1977
price: 60p; 160 pages


The blurb on the back:

The Sweeney:
Jack Regan is one of the Heavy Mob.
He’s also a loner, intolerant of red tape and insubordinate to his superiors.
And he just happens to be the best detective in Scotland Yard’s crack Flying Squad.
When Regan receives orders to co-operate with Lieutenant Ewing, over from America to trace a cop killing, Regan is pursuing his own case and ignores them. But he soon discovers that Ewing is as tough as he is – and a dangerous clash of personalities develops. As the two cases begin to merge into a sinister and violent network of IRA provos and murderers, the two men close in for the kill…

The Human Pipeline:
Twelve dead men, weighed with concrete blocks are found on the edge of a reservoir. All have died before they reached the water, so it is a clear case of mass murder.
It is a job only Jack Regan of the Sweeney Flying Squad can be trusted to handle, and it takes him from Scotland Yard to the red-light district of Hamburg, from Hamburg to a terrifying chase through the Midlands behind the wheel of a juggernaut, in search of the man who has set up: The Human Pipeline.


opening lines:
Patrolman Dennis O’Hagen sat in a field bordering the town of Anselmo (population 1480), Northern California, for two days and nights and nobody seemed to notice him.


The Sweeney, as though you needed reminding, was one of the great triumphs of British TV and of ITV in particular. Everything about it was wonderful: top theme tune and title sequence, shaky, handheld camerawork for the action sequences, great guest stars and superb acting from John Thaw, Dennis Waterman and Garfield Morgan. Above all, it had fabulous scripts, full of tough but tender observations on the existential loneliness of the professional plod.

Before the series kicked in, there was a feature-length pilot in the Armchair Theatre strand titled Regan, which gave some indication of where the original emphasis lay: not in the relationship between the two central characters, but solely on Thaw’s portrayal of the hard, embittered bastard with a heart of gilt. This book also comes from that angle though, as far as I know, it’s a stand-alone novel rather than a transferral from the screen. Here Carter is a ruthless careerist, not Regan’s side-kick but his rival – the prince who will one day depose the king and is seeking to hasten that day – and Regan consequently stands alone, beleaguered on all sides.

It’s a decent thriller, for long periods of which I lost sight of Thaw altogether, being carried away instead by the book itself. There’s an American cop who’s even harder than Regan, there are the IRA running around building links with the criminal underworld, and there’s plenty of seedy London scenery (including a nod towards the late-lamented Compendium Books, Camden’s and London’s best radical bookshop until its closure a few years back). And then there’s the you-don’t-mess-with-us solidarity of the Force:

They were going to kill the copper killer inside the farm, no trials, no fiteen-year murder sentences commuted for good behaviour. (Sweeney p.111)

Bit disappointing that the IRA plot didn’t get more political in its motivation, but other than that, it’s well worth a read: pacey, rugged and belligerent.

By the time of The Human Pipeline, writing duties had been taken over by Joe Balham, which is said to have been 'a pseudonym for a well-known author of crime and war thrillers'. (Anyone know who this is?) The relationship between Regan and Carter has settled down, and we're into much more familiar territory. So familiar, in fact, that the IRA are back. And this time they're personal. Mind you, at least they’re working hard in England, even if it is only in the interest of:

’Earning money that I can spend buying weapons and ammunition for the poor lads back home. To kill lads like you with. And I'll tell you this much; I'm Irish. I don't give a hoot whether it’s the Catholics or the Protestants. I supply them all. Because all any decent Irishman wants to do, is kill you Englishmen. To kill the lot of you that ever set foot in Ireland’. (The Human Pipeline p.143)

Again, though, that’s a sideline. Our main focus is a people smuggling syndicate that’s bringing assorted criminals and extremist politicos from Germany into Britain. Of course (this being Britain) the smugglers are also bringing in illegal immigrants, and (this being Britain in the 1970s) the immigrants are Pakistani rather than Kosovan or Rumanian or Morrocans or whoever the current tabloid scare story is blaming for all our woes.

For those of who are fascinated by the social history of Britain in the ‘70s, this is interesting stuff. There’s a lot of dodgy stuff here – characters referring to ‘Pakis’ is one thing, but an omniscient narrator doing so is something much more disturbing – but there's also the occasional opportunity for a dissenting voice. Here, for example, is a German cop railing to Regan against the need to stop people moving around without a passport:

’What's so fucking criminal about that? You tell me most of the men they move are Pakistanis with fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, kids, already in England. Illegal immigrants. Illegal? Whose bloody law? Not my law. I don't give a damn who goes to live anywhere. All it takes is a politician's vote to create a Common Market, whatever crap that may be, and all of a sudden, you can come into Germany and I can go into England any time we want.’ (The Human Pipeline p.72)

As a book? Yeah, it’s alright, y’know. Not a bad piece of work at all, though not as strong as the first.


The Sweeney
ARTISTIC MERIT: 3/5
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE:
4/5
HIPNESS QUOTIENT:
2/5
The Human Pipeline
ARTISTIC MERIT: 2/5
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE:
3/5
HIPNESS QUOTIENT:
2/5


from the creator of
click to enlarge
The Chinese Detective
click to enlarge
King & Castle

crime
T.V. tie-ins
home