I started this book reluctantly — neither a book nor a topic I would have chosen. However, I ended up engrossed and reading late into the night.
Brown was a police reservist at Mowbray Police Station in Cape Town for 10 years. Having been on the other side of the law during the apartheid struggle, becoming a reservist was an intriguing thing to do. The author writes: “Someone has to put on their boots and wade out into the sewage of human behaviour; that person is the dedicated, poorly paid and under-resourced policeman or woman.” This book is a record of some of Brown’s experiences wading into that sewage with them. As you’d expect, there is drama, suspense, trauma and tragedy. However, there are also moments of delightful humour, like the time a prostitute stole washing off a line and gave some of the items to her friends. Brown and the complainant patrolled the streets looking for the perpetrator with the victim alternately whimpering and growling as she saw her clothes on the local prostitutes. She did not want the pink negligee back, but she did retrieve her jacket from one of them.
“It is not, I think, the sudden fear-of-death shooting or the terrifying car chase that induces stress in the lives of police officers; it is rather the incremental accumulation of human tragedy, baseness, cruelty and grief.” That accumulation took its toll on Brown. He stopped being a reservist when he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome. Writing this book formed part of his recovery. For many of those “dedicated, poorly paid and under-resourced” policemen or women getting out is not an option. My respect for them and my gratitude to them grew immensely.
This is a well-written and engaging book that deserves a wide reading.