‘My Policeman’ – Bethan Roberts

Started again in November having read none of it last month, and this is a definite case of rounding up my review though there’s many elements of it that frustrated me.

The Policeman is a book that I only heard about when looking for a book to fulfil a PopSugar2022 category, and it tells the story of Marion and her husband, Tom, and the third wheel to their relationship, Patrick.

Our setting is 1950s Brighton. This period was evoked well, and the claustrophobic nature of the setting was necessary to highlight the key focus of the story. Marion becomes best friends with Tom’s sister and has a crush on him, she waits for him to return from National Service and engineers ways to spend time with him. Though this might seem rather forward for the time, it’s clear from the outset that Tom isn’t going to get her into the expected trouble as he is gay.

Given the time, this can’t be named. The secrecy surrounding people trying to express their feelings is something I find hard to accept, though I do think the writer presents this well. The knowing looks and euphemisms highlight just how brave someone who lived their life as they wanted to really was, but the situations that are referenced throughout emphasise just what a risk was being taken.

The book begins with Marion’s view and takes us through the beginnings of her relationship with Tom. We see them enter marriage, and when the narrative shifts to Patrick’s diary it is evident that this is not going to end well.

Through Patrick’s eyes we see his pursuit of Tom and their subsequent relationship. I felt desperately sad that these men could not be honest about their feelings for one another and that the selfishness of each of the characters led to this very messy situation.

As the book draws to its end we learn that Patrick has had a stroke and is being cared for by Marion. This is no selfless act, rather a need to atone for something she thinks she set in motion by writing a letter to Patrick’s employer. This act – though we are never sure – leads to Patrick being imprisoned for indecency, and though his charm gets him a long way we know he is beaten for being gay.

In spite of the setting and general story being presented so well, I found it difficult to understand the motivation of any of the characters. For seemingly progressive people, they were quite restricted in their thinking. I was frustrated by the fact that we never hear Tom’s view and he is only seen through the eyes of others. The hero-worship was never justified for me. The structuring of the book began well, but things moved so quickly at the end and it seems a shame that for what was clearly such a major event in Patrick’s life, so little focus was paid to what followed. Perhaps there was a reason for this – others have commented that Tom’s silence and his absence from Patrick’s life may be intentional – but it niggled. I also found myself increasingly frustrated by the fact that each of the characters was so determined to pursue their course of action in spite of it making them so bloody miserable! Was it worth it?