by Glenn Wood ( Shoal Bay Press)
reviewed by Don Franks
I noticed this book in an op shop. Its back cover blurbed: ” the hilarious account of Glenn’s adventures as a police cadet…a warm and funny book that will appeal to all New Zealanders”.
Harrumph I thought, but the first sentence – “I always wanted to be a marine biologist” – hooked me in, and the price was just a dollar. Any cop literature has got to be a risk, this time I got my dollar’s worth.
Structurally, The Laughing Policeman is slight; a snippet of autobiography, based on one repeated situation; big clumsy teenager gets into serial amusing scrapes at police training college. The formula works because Glenn Wood has the knack of weaving trivial incidents into entertaining stories. His writing bounces along in an engaging style.
Wood’s police training history is typical of many recruits – young lad from a working class family who wants a job with excitement and a uniform that will impress girls. Wood is also motivated to do right, thinking his “honest nature” will be an ideal police attribute.
After a series of setbacks, Wood is finally accepted as a police cadet and joins the last intake into the old police college at Trentham.
I can vouch for his description of that ghastly bleak place as I was there then too, with a Post Office cadet intake in the adjoining building. We shared similar shit facilities and food with the police cadets, but were spared police culture.
Laconically, Wood describes a harsh military discipline, alternating with cadet horseplay which not infrequently caused broken bones. The instructors did not discourage cadet bullying; it went in tandem with the official exercises which were designed to risk life and limb. Preparation to be a police officer primarily demanded blind obedience coupled with physical courage.
Glenn Wood tells his tale in an understated humorous way, which achieves more force than preachy denunciation. In almost any tense situation the funny side is foremost, although there’s some exception, notably the moving account of a favorite instructor’s early death.
After graduation, Glenn Wood’s career in the police occupies only 26 pages of the book. That includes the most dramatic passage, where Wood is nearly shot dead, courtesy of his cynical and cowardly sergeant. The author risks his life because, as he matter of factly puts it: “Trentham had conditioned me not to question a superior officer’s orders, no matter how insane they might appear.”
Glenn Wood’s not on any political propaganda mission here, as his book title suggests, the main aim is to tell funny yarns and get a laugh. He succeeds in this, and as a byproduct, reveals a grim cop culture reality. Like many other police recruits who joined up hoping to “do some good” Glenn Wood has now left the force.