One week ago today Undercover: Operation Julie – The Inside Story was launched and the early book reviews have started to appear on Amazon. I am pleased with them.

early book reviews

There were four  5* and three 4* reviews left on UK Amazon. Three 5* and one 4* reviews on US Amazon. I really could not have asked for more! I’m delighted but still waiting for the first bad review.

Some of the 4* reviews were from people “in the know.” They know others on the “wrong side” of the Operation Julie fence. Yet, they are fair and honest reviews and not without some humour.

For example Mr. Den Browne gave a title to his review of Stephen’s Been Working For The Drugs Squad. I’m delighted, Mr. Browne, to inform you that there is no “Clash” in our respective tastes in humour.

His review started like this:

I’ve always been interested in the “Operation Julie” case and its ongoing story. I was a teenage LSD enthusiast, and one of my old-time acid buddies went on to be a major player in the LSD operation that led to the famous bust. My tripping days were but a memory when it all went down in ’77, and I haven’t used acid in years now – but the LSD experience leaves any other drug standing in terms of intensity, and even now I can still feel some of the altered perceptions and enhanced vision of those times. So a book by one of the undercover cops from the Welsh end of the Julie bust sounded right up my street.

He continues:

A few years before Julie a friend was busted at the Windsor Free Festival by someone looking like a hardcore drop out, and for me the most interesting and atmospheric parts of the book are the chapters describing how Stephen Bentley & fellow ‘tec Eric gradually integrate and submerge themselves into the Welsh scene. It evokes another world, when a lot of people still believed in the “Alternative Society”, housing and work weren’t too hard to come by, and it wasn’t too difficult to opt for a life outside the city where a bit of dealing on the side would supplement the basics. There are some very evocative chapters of rambling round the locality getting stoned, then on to the pub, before being one of the inner circle who’d head back to the local dealer’s place for afters – all the while filing information, and developing trust with their “targets”.

There are several themes running through the book. One of the strongest is Stephen’s real commitment to the police and “the job”. The book illustrates his journey from idealistic no-nonsense young detective, through the Julie years, and the searing disillusionment that came with his return to the ranks and shabby treatment from the police hierarchy.

Another powerful theme is the nature of undercover work itself, and its effect on the psyche of those involved. At times he still seems conflicted as he works through the contradictory thoughts that come from living a lie to get at the truth – can you be honest about Duplicity (explored in some depth in the chapter of the same name)? All of this is brought into sharper focus by the conflict between the personal and the professional brought on by his relationship with one of his main targets, Alston Hughes, aka “Smiler”. Apart from busting a few local dealers along the way, thee main achievement of Bentley’s undercover work was to identify Hughes as the crucial link between the LSD manufacturers and the dealers on the supply chain. There’s a powerful friendship between the two men, lasting to this day, and which illustrates the many grey and problematic areas that come with undercover work.

So yes, Stephen certainly did “inhale” as part of his undercover role, along with the odd snort and a whole lot of alcohol. Despite his commitment to the job in hand, he is never able to overcome the feelings of betrayal where Alston Hughes is concerned, and its nuances like this that lift this book above the usual police and true crime memoirs. As far as I can tell, he didn’t actually trip on LSD though. I wonder what effect that might have had on his views?

Hmm. I wonder.

There’s a hilarious chapter describing how he and Eric have to fight off top brass’ attempt to foist a VHF radio on them for filing their reports – on a frequency that anyone in the village could hear! Stephen Bentley captures this old-school police mentality really well – there’s a strong “Sweeney”/”Life on Mars” feel to the macho, alcohol dominated cops’ world of the time: pre-“PACE”, most respect reserved for the top “thief takers”, finding reliable “snouts”, and so on.

They are snippets from the full review. You can read them all in full here.

I do like the reference to Life on Mars, the British TV programme. It was funny but like the best humour was grounded in some of the excesses prevalent in policing techniques back in the day. But, were they excesses? The job got done and life was easier and less violent then. Just saying Den …

There are some issues raised in that review and others that I will address in due course as part of my “war on drugs” series.


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