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Pocket Notebook Mike Thomas (William Heinemann, pounds 12.99) This novel slams into action, arriving on the scene with siren wailing and blue lights flashing. It detains you for further examination and handcuffs you to the page.

Welcome to the world of British cop Jacob Smith, complete with tetchy wife Karen, teen kids out of reach across the generational Grand Canyon, an office party bit on the side, a steroid drugs habit and a Vietnam War obsession.

He's also a foot fetishist attracted to Jessica, the daughter of his colleague and friend Frank, who shakes his head when the dealer delivers the steroids at the window of the squad car.

This pacey, edgy, black comedy written by Cardiff policeman Mike Thomas works on many layers. It's a great read, but it's also an expose of the macho world of what Smith calls the Police Farce, with its jargon and its private patois.

Never heard of "black-dogging"? You hear it here, and wonder whether it's true, and whether Smith is the only copper who crosses his fingers as he takes the oath in magistrates' court.

He's also a tactical firearms officer who likes to keep in shape with the other "human growth hormone giants" at the gym as he tries to escape a marriage where "all the fun is beginningless".

Thomas gives us a believable, loveable swine of a character and writing that's witty and incisive.

"I've got bloody biros with more service" he says of the "straight-off-the-production-line clone" of a colleague he labels "Seal Pup, because all I wanted to do was club him to death".

And there's the game that he and Frank play to liven up a dull patrol, "police snooker". You stop red cars first and then a colour in the right order. It peters out when they can''t find pink.

When not on the beat, Thomas is finishing a Masters in creative writing at the University of Glamorgan. If this debut novel is anything to go by, he has a very bright future out of uniform.

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A child's eye view of life 80 years ago - and the death of a child - is seen in The Songbird is Singing by Alun Trevor (Parthian, pounds 9.99).

It's the 1920s and two small boys on a North Wales farm are lucky enough to know a wider world through their father, Jabez Trevor, who sang with the Welsh Imperial Singers year after year in concert tours of North America.

Music weaves through a moving story that captures the excitement of America and the intimacy of life on the land.

It's funny and moving, but always evocative and poignant as Trevor recalls the days around the sudden death of songbird brother Arthur.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jan 30, 2010
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