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by Colin Campbell
Pen Press, April 2006
206 pages
6.99 GBP
ISBN: 1905621140

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Retiring from a job one has loved is bound to lead to bouts of nostalgia. Mick 'Ham' Habergham is putting his police career behind him because of an injury, and his colleagues are out in force to wish him the best. One important man is missing, though, the man who served as Mick's mentor and guide when Mick first started the job.

Barney Koslowski was a role model for Mick. He had a knack for turning a threatening situation around, and no matter how awful the event, Barney would always find a way to make him laugh. And so Mick reflects back to the long hot summer of 1976, when he was green behind the ears and Barney taught him how to survive.

The narrative follows Mick and Barney through the first year of Mick's life as a police officer in an episodic fashion. Together, they face the mundane to the monstrous bombs, brawls and death of innocents. Every day provides new experiences for Mick, whether they be about himself, the people he works with, police politics or the humanity around him.

Barney is a wonderful guide, knowing exactly how much Mick is capable of handling on his own and when he needs someone beside him. He tries his best to make Mick into a copper like himself. He largely succeeds, but is unable to get Mick to swear. Hearing "Crikey moley. Put it down" is not likely to strike fear into a hardened criminal's heart.

Under Barney's tutelage, Mick becomes his own man. In one of the most emotional moments in the book, Barney asks Mick to put aside his principles in order to protect him from his own bad behavior. It's extremely difficult for Mick to know what to do, and ultimately, their friendship is damaged. Who betrayed who is not a question that is easily answered.

What could have been a simple police procedural takes on extraordinary depth as Campbell develops each of the characters. Nodder Burton, the head of the group, is wonderfully drawn. I could hear policewoman Maggie Brayshaw's raucous laugh. Then there are the various ordinary people that they meet in the course of a day; none of them are caricatures and each has his or her own unique eccentricities.

In addition to excellent characterization, the dialogue is word perfect. The situations that Mick works through feel utterly realistic, perhaps because Campbell is drawing from his own background as a front line police officer. The setting is lovingly delineated, as rough as it might be. One can see the shabby flats, the dust bins, the alleys, the pubs. In addition, there is an undercurrent of humor that plays throughout.

I loved the first book in this series, THROUGH THE RUINS OF MIDNIGHT, and I loved BALLAD OF A ONE LEGGED MAN. Just as Joseph Wambaugh focused on the man in blue in the US, Colin Campbell devotes his writing to the ordinary copper in the UK. That makes this series unique in the UK police procedural genre.

BALLAD is one of my top reads for the year. I highly recommend it.

Reviewed by Maddy Van Hertbruggen, April 2007

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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