Boxing day, late shift.
On duty: Flub, Dullas, Vince and Thrush.
The new guy: Sergeant Martin Finch.
What begins as a routine shift policing a football match rapidly descends into chaos. But how far will new guy Martin go to fit in? One thing is for certain: the lives of everyone on the Ugly Bus – and the life of a young woman drawn into their orbit – will change for ever.
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Books from Dusk Till Dawn
Christmas time. Mistletoe and wine. The season of domestics, religion, adultery, drugs, hangovers, alcohol, parties, fights, unwanted gifts, football matches and goodfucking will to all men.
And that’s just one tour of duty on a TSG van.
Ugly Bus is five cops. Martin. Flub. Dullas. Vince. And good old brain-dead Thrush. Specialist Territorial Support Group officers working a late shift on Boxing Day. Martin Finch is the new sergeant on the group: young, idealistic, following in his late father’s footsteps and desperate to make a difference. Unfortunately the old sweat coppers he’s now working alongside have other plans…
What begins as a routine shift policing a football match rapidly descends into chaos, and Martin is faced with the question: just how far would you go to fit in? The answer will change the lives of everyone on the Ugly Bus – and the life of a young woman drawn into their orbit – forever.
Always remember: what happens on the van, stays on the van.
HERE ARE MY THOUGHTS AND REVIEW
What an opening scene, a woman desperate for help, Where the hell is a policeman when you need one? Exhausted, confused, drunk and obviously brutally abused, then finally sanctuary and a step back to the day before……..
There could only be one thing worse for the TSG (Territory Support Group) then getting a new Sergeant and that is getting a new Sergeant that learnt everything he knows at University not through the ranks like a real Policeman. After having Jim as their Sergeant, one of the lads like them, just happy to take the easy route until retirement, well now it wasn’t going to be easy, no way, all done by the book. Yes well good luck with that! Sergeant Martin Finch had a lot to live up to, being an only child and growing up to stories from his Policeman father every night that unfortunately he leaned more to the fairy tale version of being a policeman than to the real thing, as Martin was now rapidly finding out. Simply putting on a uniform doesn’t make you a good person. Limits were to be pushed to find out how much his team could get away with and where to draw the line for his authority.
This isn’t a good feel factor story. It isn’t good cop bad crook. It is a scary reality of what could be given that all the elements come together in the right order. Mike Thomas has written a dark and compelling novel that takes one day and pushes everything to the edge and beyond. All the bad days rolled into one, but it isn’t all doom and gloom because the story is laced with humour through out. The rebelliousness of this team against authority, I know they are Police Officers, but they don’t have a lot of respect, and this can be beautifully summed up with a daring game of bingo which is quite amusing. I just loved how they got lost in the moment and excitement of winning before remembering just where they were. Magic! But some practical jokes just aren’t so funny when they go wrong.
What happens in the van stays in the van. The rule between them all. But how far will they all go before it is too far and has anyone the courage to say enough. Highly recommended.
HERE IS A LITTLE ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mike Thomas was born in Wales in 1971. For more than two decades he served in the police, working some of Cardiff ’s busiest neighbourhoods in uniform, public order units, drugs teams and CID. He left the force in 2015 to write full time.
His debut novel, Pocket Notebook, was published by William Heinemann (Penguin Random House) and longlisted for the Wales Book of the Year. The author was also named as one of Waterstones’ ‘New Voices’ for 2010. His second novel, Ugly Bus, is currently in development for a six part television series with the BBC.
His new novel (the first in the MacReady series), ‘Ash and Bones’, was released August 2016 by Bonnier Zaffre. ‘Splinter’, the second in the series, is ready for release in 2017.
He lives in the wilds of Portugal with his wife, two children and an unstable, futon-eating dog.
Follow the author on Twitter at @ItDaFiveOh. More details can be found on the website http://www.mikethomasauthor.co.uk
Reviewed 29 August 2015 by John Cleal
No wonder the author lives in the wilds of Portugal! The former South Wales copper is hardly going to be popular with his former colleagues after this excoriating expose of everything that’s wrong with today’s police.
The Ugly Bus of the title is a Territorial Support Group van. Its crew of four – there should be five, the other is suspended – are the central characters in a brutal, foul-mouthed, warts and all story, a compelling blend of darkness and humour which reflects the problems and pressures of modern front-line policing.
Martin Finch, an idealistic young sergeant, the product of a ridiculous system which takes university graduates and offers them accelerated promotion beyond their experience, is put in charge of the unit. He is desperate to emulate his late father, a legendary sergeant who he idolises. His team are a strange mixture of characters, so realistically portrayed you get the feeling Thomas has borrowed heavily from memory, are typical veteran TSG officers. The Group, known in all forces as Millwall FC – fans’ motto: ‘Nobody likes us and we don’t care’ – are the shock troops of the police, dealing with public disorder.
There is Andrew, nickname Thrush, a thick ex-Marine in a largely loveless marriage, an apparent abuser, who thinks proactive policing is hit first and hardest; David (Flub – fat lazy useless bastard), a family man with several ex-families to support and a heavy drinker; Alan (Dullas – my editor won’t let me explain that one!) a religious nut; and Vince, an egotistical sexual predator who has survived only because he is able to blackmail senior officers.
The story is largely concerned with the group dynamics of this ensemble, with their effect on each other and how being a member of a group can affect people’s actions. The repeated mantra: ‘What happens on the van stays on the van’ is a reflection of their hermetic and often dangerous world.
The action centres on a Boxing Day football match between Cardiff and Swansea – traditional enemies to rival Celtic and Rangers in the fierceness of their battles on and off the pitch – and rival political activists who plan violent demonstrations of their own.
The story is shot through with often crude, but never out of character, humour. There is a brilliant moment when Thomas highlights the huge disconnect between politically correct senior officers and the boots on the ground. At a briefing session, the serial play ‘bullshit bingo’, selecting lists of management-speak and PC clichés in a bid to win a whip-round jackpot.
As the shift develops in a blaze of violence, Martin finds his control of the team is purely nominal and that he does not even have the experience to fulfil his own role. All five officers have their own problems to think about – Martin’s wife is imminently expecting their first child – as well as the drunken fans and determined troublemakers and this adds to the pressures. Meanwhile, chance and an excess of drink, propel a young woman onto a collision course with them.
And when you think the plot has no more twists and turns to offer, the final scene is startlingly revelatory. The acronyms and police terminology used throughout add to the overall impact of this brilliantly observed, sharply written and all too realistic plunge into the depths of the often sordid world of law enforcement.
As a former crime reporter with many friends in the Job, quite simply, this is the best description of real life policing I’ve read. Thomas pulls no punches. The problems, the shortcomings, the opportunities for cover-up and corruption are all there, presented in a near-documentary manner and should be compulsory reading for all new Home Secretaries and Police Commissioners
Reviewed 29 August 2015 by John Cleal
In fiction and life, there are good cops, bad cops, and average cops. There are dirty cops, clean cops, cops who work for the Greater Good, and those who work for themselves. Often, in fiction and life, those who act as the first line of defense are also the first line of offense. Police are, after all, as human as anyone else, and – as a consequence – capable of the same twisted inhumanities as those they are sworn to both protect and prosecute. It is on this axiom that Mike Thomas, former police officer and current writer, presents the protagonists ofUgly Bus.
The Ugly Bus, a tough troupe of frontline coppers sent in to do the heavy lifting, the dirty work that no-one else can; in theory, a solid human barricade between warring legions of super-thugs, such as the bottle-lobbing hooligans of the English Defense League, and the partisan bannermen of Casuals United, who grace Cardiff’s meanest streets before, during, and after a traditional Boxing Day match against famed football rivals Swansea City.
In reality, a fractured and disparate collection of male id, battling their own superegos and those of their colleagues. Known in the force as the TSG – the Thick and Stupid Group – the Ugly Bus are mostly brash, vulgar, horrible bastards; not above breaking the law when it serves their own needs, but, Thomas seems to imply, the first people you’d call in a fight.
Leading this gang of macho maniacs is new boy Sergeant Martin Finch, thrown in at the deep end the day after Christmas while his pregnant wife Samanya waits at home. Joining him in the van are straight-laced bible-thumping Dullas, muscle-headed Vince, thicko Thrush (real name: Andrew) and jaded old tough guy Flub.
Thomas gives you a chance to learn more about his characters, and to quickly love or hate them, casting them as heels or potential do-gooders from the outset, and returning to them later on, revealing motivations and actions that were previously unknown. Finch, it’s mentioned early on, is following in the long shadow cast by his father, the previous chief, who warned him before his death that “human failings are contagious”. This is a theme for the book, and Finch holds the moral compass.
Pitted against the backdrop of a volatile city centre, with social temperatures at boiling point, Thomas – writing his characters in a way that is not so much hard-boiled as acid-drenched – presents Finch as the potential saviour of the Ugly Bus team, and you know early on that he might just be naive enough to believe it himself, until things start to fall apart.
Thomas drip-feeds details of his characters’ past and present lives, just enough to provide a wider sense of what could be about to happen, and just too little to make sense of everything that’s happening now. You know Finch is doomed, but you don’t know how, and you don’t know who by – the football hooligans he struggles to control, his own team, or maybe the higher-ups. Most of all, it seems, Finch is doomed by his own determination to do the right thing. In the Ugly Bus, that’s good for nothing.
Defined by an Irvine Welsh-esque sense of bleakness, boasting a very particular (and British) understanding of prescient social disfigurement, Ugly Bus works as a claustrophobic city-centred immorality tale and an entertaining bit of pseudo-fiction, where you feel at any point any one of his characters might jump off the page and punch you in the mouth, or worse. They’re not people you’d like to meet, but, Thomas suggests, you’ve already got their number.
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Praise for Ugly Bus
“A warts and all look at modern policing on the frontline, Thomas pulls no punches as modern British life is played out in all its absurd glory … Dark and hilarious, Ugly Bus is never short of compelling.“ (Hull Daily Mail)
“Ugly Bus is a blend of darkness and humour … Just when you think it has no more twists and turns to offer, the novel’s final scene is startlingly revelatory about who and what a particular person is … there are characters here whose story could well be continued in a third novel … Bring it on, I say, provided it has the tension, momentum, observational keenness and dry wit of this one.” (Sheenagh Pugh blog)
“I think what struck me more than anything else was how believable everything was and Thomas’ brilliance in setting scenes, creating characters who I felt I could genuinely see and relentless black humour, darkness and pure grit. It’s sweary, it’s dirty and it’s real.” (Plastic Rosaries)
As a former crime reporter with many friends in the Job, quite simply, this is the best description of real life policing I’ve read. Thomas pulls no punches. The problems, the shortcomings, the opportunities for cover-up and corruption are all there, presented in a near-documentary manner and should be compulsory reading for all new Home Secretaries and Police Commissioners (John Cleal – writer for CRIME Review)