The Dirty Dozen by Lynda La Plante: a rollercoaster ride through a tension-packed, fast-moving plot, a fascinating slice of no-nonsense Eighties-style policing - book review -

The Dirty Dozen
The Dirty Dozen

After six years with the Met, Detective Sergeant Jane Tennison has landed a coveted job with the famous Flying Squad, better known to cops and robbers alike as the ‘Sweeney.’

After six years with the Met, Detective Sergeant Jane Tennison has landed a coveted job with the famous Flying Squad, better known to cops and robbers alike as the ‘Sweeney.’

But what she thought was a groundbreaking appointment for a woman turns out be an ‘experiment’ by the bosses in an attempt to keep the men out of trouble during an ongoing investigation into police corruption.

The canny Jane has a lot to prove… and the squad’s ‘Dirty Dozen’ male detectives are not going to make it easy for her.

If you haven’t already discovered Lynda La Plante’s gripping ‘retro’ series charting the legendary detective chief inspector of the award-winning Nineties TV series, Prime Suspect, making her way in a man’s world long before she hit our screens, then now is the time to dive in and indulge your crime thriller senses.

The Dirty Dozen is the fifth book featuring the iconic detective’s early years in the police force and while it can easily be read as a standalone, it would be a shame to miss all the fun when you can enjoy Tennison’s early career from day one by reading this nostalgia-packed series in sequence.

As Jane Tennison joins the Flying Squad in 1980, the force is currently feeling the discomfiting undercurrents of Operation Countryman, an investigation into police corruption in London following allegations made by a ‘supergrass.’

Jane is the first female detective to be posted to the Met’s renowned Flying Squad, based at Rigg Approach in East London, from where they co-ordinate investigations into armed robberies on banks, cash in transit, and other business premises.

Believing that her transfer to the Sweeney was on merit, she is shocked on her first day to discover she is actually part of a short-term internal experiment, intended to have a ‘calming influence’ on the team of men, dubbed the ‘Dirty Dozen,’ and make them think twice about ‘giving a suspect a slap.’

Meanwhile, the men on the squad don’t think that a woman is up to the dangers they face when dealing with some of London’s most ruthless armed criminals, the sort who think ‘the only good cop is a dead cop.’

Sensing immediately that she is ‘an outsider,’ not just with the closely-knit band of male officers, but also with the only other female in the building – office clerk Katie Powell who regards the newcomer as a rival – Jane is determined to prove she’s as good as the men.

Involved from the off in a brutal armed robbery on a security van outside a bank, Jane is allotted the menial leg work and interviews but discovers from a reliable witness that what could be the same gang is going to carry out a massive robbery involving millions of pounds.

But she what she doesn’t know is who they are, or where and when they will strike…

La Plante, the Liverpudlian who became one of the UK’s most famous crime queens, is something of a legend herself and the past few years have seen her busier than ever with the launch last November of Steve McQueen’s movie, Widows, based on her original thrilling 1980s ITV crime series, the publication later this year of another Widows book, She’s Out, and an exciting spin-off series now in the making.

And nowhere is this talented author and screenwriter more at home than in the company of her much-loved creation, Jane Tennison, as we reel back time to join the tenacious detective still finding her feet in the tough, male-dominated world of 1980s London policing.

Although not yet the hard-headed and totally assured chief inspector working with both knowledge and years of experience, we are now starting to see Jane play the game, act on her instincts, learn from mistakes, and outsmart the macho, male dinosaurs she works alongside.

Initial vulnerabilities are being carefully controlled, her confidence is growing by the day but there is still an appealing impetuosity of youth, ambition and enthusiasm that drives her to stumble into some dangerously reckless situations.

As always, La Plante takes us on a rollercoaster ride through a tension-packed, fast-moving plot, leavened by sparkling dialogue, a fine line in sardonic humour, and a fascinating slice of no-nonsense Eighties-style policing.

Packed with intriguing period detail and real-life events, police procedural and office politics so authentic that you feel part of the squad, and all topped off by cast of superbly drawn characters, this exhilarating series is crime writing at its best.

(Zaffre, hardback, £18.99)