6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Spider and I are left conflicted
, 16 Aug. 2010
This review is from: Rough Justice: The 7th Spider Shepherd Thriller (The Spider Shepherd Thrillers) (Paperback)
"They were driving drug-dealers out of the country, they were getting rid of paedophiles, they were castrating pimps and rapists ... I'm talking about justice. Rough justice, maybe. But real justice. That's the problem, Charlie. There's no justice in the world these days. We put pensioners in prison for not paying their council tax and we let murderers and rapists roam the streets ... (The system) is just plain broken. The cops have no power, the courts are biased towards the villains rather than the victims, the prisons are so crowded that we're putting the bad guys back on the street before they've finished their sentences, and the probation service is so overworked that they can't keep track of the criminals who are released. I've just had enough. I don't want to be part of the system anymore." - Spider Shepherd venting to his SOCA boss, Charlie Button
As a long-time fan of Dan "Spider" Shepherd and a periodic email correspondent with his creator, Stephen Leather, I was left more than just a little conflicted by his latest adventure, ROUGH JUSTICE. I'd like to be able to award the usual, well-deserved four or five stars, but just can't in all honesty.
Shepherd, an agent with the Serious Organized Crime Agency (SOCA), a British national law enforcement entity since 2006 with duties similar to that of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, is, in ROUGH JUSTICE, tasked by his boss Charlie Buttons with infiltrating a shadowy group of vigilante cops in the Territorial Support Group (TSG), an arm of London's Metropolitan Police Service charged with public order containment. Spider deplores the assignment, but soldiers ahead with a stiff upper lip.
If you read Stephen Leather's Internet blog, you'll realize that his observations on the contemporary state of the British justice system are given further voice by Spider, perhaps Leather's alter ego, and other characters in this novel. ROUGH JUSTICE is, then, a better than average social commentary. However, that doesn't make it anything more than a mediocre action thriller. Indeed, the action peaks in the first few pages, then plateaus out at a somewhat lower tempo before ending with what was, in my opinion, an anticlimax. At one point, it looked as if Shepherd himself might be compelled to a personal act of vigilantism when his son Liam and the boy's au pair are threatened by a particularly vicious Albanian immigrant, but Stephen has his hero sidestep a direct, contextual solution to the problem and remain technically on the side of the law. (Had the line been crossed, there would've been no going back for Spider, but the novel would've been rendered considerably more riveting as an entertainment vehicle.)
SOCA, in real life, is to be absorbed into something called the National Crime Agency. This is reflected in Spider's personal career evolution by the end of the book. However, against the background of the totality of the Dan Shepherd series to date, ROUGH JUSTICE seems to me to be little more than a place-holder for Spider as he pauses to re-order his priorities before venturing off in a new direction.
I'll keep reading whatever Leather writes. Regarding ROUGH JUSTICE, my high esteem for the author obliges me to happily leave the last word to him:
"I did want to keep the book as real as I can, and one of the major aims was to show what policing is like in London these days. I spent a day on a TSG bus with a team and saw what their job was like and have tried to portray that as realistically as possible.
The 'social commentary' is maybe less interesting for an American but it strikes a nerve with the Brits because almost everyone is worrying about the way our country is changing. And it is changing, far quicker than any of us can keep up with, and none of us really understand why it's happening. It has changed the nature of the work that a cop does, and increases the frustration they feel when their mission to cut crime is hampered by a broken system of justice and a Human Rights Act that often favours the criminal over the victim! I could have cut it back but to be honest I think it makes the book more real.
I would say that I disagree with Rough Justice being a place-holder - Spider is on a journey and Rough Justice is part of that." - Stephen Leather in a personal email
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