THE DRUG TEST…

The drug test…

Kiss and Tell’ has only recently launched via the Amazon Kindle Store but I’ve already had some feedback on the ‘drugs debate’ which smoulders throughout the book… including mail from an ex addict, a police Inspector and an academic, all keen to talk about the issues raised.

The background theme of the book is the ‘drug debate’. At least that’s how it’s often labelled. You may have noticed over the past decade or so that the ‘debate’ has from time to time piqued public interest and come to the fore. Some years back there were many who advocated both a change in the classification of drugs and an open debate on decriminalisation. At one point the government’s own advisors, and a number of senior police officers, were urging this consideration to be properly aired.

As it transpired, though the government toyed with classification of certain controlled substances, it has done little more than pay lip service to the ‘debate’. Indeed, recently, and notably since the credit crunch, there seems to have been a dampening down of the issue as a whole. I hesitate to constantly call it a ‘debate’ as some voices have been given credence whilst others seem to have been either repressed or ridiculed. There’s certainly been a fair degree of shuffling and backtracking over the issue of decriminalisation.

This has always been something I was keen on exploring. Having pursued various strands of research I came across one particular thread which was quite alarming, and as far as I could tell, had yet to be exposed. I don’t want to write a spoiler here, so won’t give away too much of where the plot goes with it, but it is already something others have picked up on.

Most of the key characters in the book have a ‘drugs story’, many from different angles. It’s Jimmy’s angle which is perhaps the most interesting, the ex con who is asked to appear as the token spokesman for inmates on the ‘drug debate tour’. The tour is made up of invited guests from either side of the polarised ‘drug debate’. No doubt we are all reasonably familiar with the arguments for and against decriminalisation. Jimmy tells us it is his job to warn of the dangers of drugs, using his own life experiences as an example. However, he ends up discovering something rather sinister about his fellow panellists.

I’ll say no more at this stage as the narrative hinges on what Jill believes as the first person narrator. Whether she trusts her ex enough to follow his lead, or is led down the garden path by him, is part of her journey. What I didn’t want to do was write about ‘the issue’ in a heavy handed way. The light touch in ‘Kiss and Tell’ is very deliberate. The read is meant to be ‘easy’ but the themes should still resonate.

Of course ‘Kiss and Tell’ is very much Jill’s vehicle. It’s her own story of how she made it as a lawyer against the odds. When we join her in a safe house we soon realise that something, or someone, has come along to throw that journey off course.

In the early parts of the novel we also learn a fair bit about Jill’s background, perhaps more than we might learn about the protagonist in many a crime novel. As it happens Jill’s background and character is central to the way the narrative unfolds, because we have to understand her own journey and motivation in order to second guess whether she’s made the right judgement on others… those in fact who hold the key to her safe escape.

Jill’s journey also allows the reader to enter a world they may have thought they had little concern with, other than an occasional prurient peek. However, such is the reach of the many tentacled drugs beast that in reality it influences us all, and on a daily basis.

Initially drug legislation was brought in as a valiant attempt to save the vulnerable from addiction and society as a whole from instability. It’s unlikely that the authorities at the time could have imagined a scenario where the illicit profit from controlled drugs would become so vast, and the network of laundered money arising from it so sophisticated, that the economy itself might be jeopardised by a reversal of that legislation.

Whoever Jill ends up siding with, this is where ‘Kiss and Tell’ seems to lead us. The ultimate irony is that legislation to outlaw certain drugs has provided easy pickings for shady venture capitalists. As security officer Peter Mitchell alludes to in the book, it’s doubtful that so many would ever have had contact with drugs had they not been promoted by prohibition. There are many substances widely and legally available that create similar highs, and lows, to controlled substances. Indeed, some can be found on our supermarket shelves, yet you are unlikely to find a queue of buyers lining up in the car park. However, prohibit the same substance by law, and then put some scumbag in a tower block stairwell, or on a street corner, and you’d think they were salesman of the year.

There will always be the vulnerable, the gullible and the curious. A certain percentage will dabble, a certain percentage may become addicted, but those figures might pale into insignificance if the same substances weren’t pushed by dealers…. dealers who are part of a funded network. A young person on their way home from college can walk straight past their local mini-mart, but they might struggle to avoid the pushy dealer lurking outside…

In the book, Jill becomes aware of a possible link between certain high profile supporters of the anti-decriminalisation lobby and major drug barons. Like many who might hear this for the first time it makes her uncomfortable, and she is reluctant to believe it. Surely those people are merely trying to protect society, or as they like to put it ‘protect our children’s future’. But what if there’s an awful reality, that some have an alternative motivation… to protect something far more valuable to themselves… their own continued profit.

In the book this is one of Jill’s dilemmas, and what makes it all the more difficult for her is that the ‘evidence’ comes from a source she is loathe to trust. She feels almost embarrassed that she has never actually taken a view on the issue of decriminalisation. She reckons she’s ill qualified to do so, though if I were debating the matter with her now I’d try to convince her that she’s just as qualified as anyone else, probably more so, given the amount of drugs related cases she takes on.

In any event we are all able to ‘take a view’. Whether we realise it or not the decision taken many years ago to label certain substances as ‘controlled’ has had an influence on us all. In the book Jill’s friend Mary, the court usher, takes a pragmatic approach. In response to Jill chatting about a Newsnight debate on the issue she quips, looking around the magistrates court as she does so, “Legalise drugs me dear and we’d all be out of a job…. me, you, the ‘ole bleedin’ lot of us.”

Mary could be right, but not just in relation to those who operate in the hinterland of the criminal justice system. Such is the mess we have created, with ill thought out legislation, that precious finance is now dovetailed into the legitimate economy, with a voice all of its own. The problem we now have is that this voice is likely to be disguised, with its part played by an actor, to conceal their true identity.

In precarious financial times such as these, it’s doubtful that the authorities will be brave enough to tackle the problem head on, if at all. As the sporting world has invariably shown us, drug tests often fail, because those with money, power and knowhow have already developed sophisticated means of concealing the truth…

‘Kiss and Tell’ by TJ Cooke, available via the Amazon Kindle Store.

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