The White Van Papers: fiction that tells the truth

The White Van Papers by Roland Muldoon, reviewed by Jane Shallice
January 2012

Bridging the election of the coalition government and set against an east London backdrop of local crime, the Olympics and the associated yuppification of the area, Roland Muldoon’s novel is a page-turner grounded in reality. This is not a novel about the removal and destruction of working class communities, though – there are only passing references to the implantation of the cushioned middle class into areas such as Broadway Market – but a crime thriller.

A white van parked in Romford is found to contain papers, transcripts and tapes. Together they reveal a story of cops (some in the lowest echelons with all the problems of insane shifts and attacks on their pay and pensions) and robbers. The story features ‘undercover Home Office-sanctioned cops’, an old East End ‘firm’, ‘royalty, drugs, police protection of institutionalised crime, murders and murderers, corruption, and the old establishment practice of being beyond the law, protecting their class interests as they felt the need to do’.

Written in breathtaking staccato style, the plot is centred on two undercover coppers who are monitoring Bob Crow. The story reveals how the British state has been involved in murders and rendition. While not developing a major political thesis, it contains sufficient hints, references and pointers to the author’s sympathies and experiences. The role of the state in Northern Ireland, the setting up of stories of Jamaican gangsters flooding London with coke, the infiltration of leftist groups and the involvement of the extreme right are all in the melange. And you keep reading to unravel it all.

But within this fiction is a truthful commentary on the way the state permits its ‘servants’ to operate outside the law. It is not only current events such as the embarrassing papers found in Tripoli linking MI6 and the rendition of Libyans. The state has a long history of paying informers and maintaining connections with people who are criminals but are thought to be useful.


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