Sunday, 7 August 2016

Preview: The Ghost Squad by John Gosling, 1959

Being a member of the Ghost Squad was a lonely job.

Cover of my hardback first edition.
There are books read and reviewed. And then there are books unread and written about. Because you can’t wait to tell your readers about it. The Ghost Squad by John Gosling, a former police officer with Scotland Yard, is the kind of book you feel unusually excited and compelled to write about as soon as you buy it. I’m doing so after reading only the first chapter.

You see it at a book exhibition and you grab it and you run out and down the stairs waving it in the air.

“Hey, look what I got! I bet you don’t have it. I bet you haven’t even heard of the book and its author.”


Pardon my exaggerated reaction to this book. But how else do you react to the discovery of a 1950’s hardback first edition of a forgotten nonfiction that tells the story of the Ghost Squad, a secret operation undertaken by Scotland Yard to flush out London’s underworld?

Reconstruction of a chapter episode.
This actually happened. Gosling was Detective Sergeant when the Yard chose him as one of the four phantom detectives on the Ghost Squad, which began work on January 1, 1946. This is his story told in first person.

And this is what the front inside of my pictorial book jacket says:


“(Gosling) was one of the four top C.I.D. men chosen from London’s 1,200 detectives to be enrolled into the Ghost Squad, and he remained with it throughout the four years it was operational. In that time more than 1,000 men and women were arrested and over half a million pounds worth of stolen property was recovered. But none of the phantom detectives responsible for this clean-up of London’s underworld were appeared in court nor were their identities ever disclosed. The Ghost Squad worked undercover to catch the biggest crooks in London who were too clever to be caught by orthodox methods.

“It was a battle of wits between the “ghosts” and the criminals; cunning was matched against cunning and the stealthy encroachment of the “unseen force” into the deepest haunts of crime struck terror among the master-minds of the underworld.”

The four-year long secret operation was a success. John Gosling retired in 1956 with the rank of Detective Superintendent.

The book inspired the crime drama series, Ghost Squad (also known as G.S.5), which ran on ATV between 1961 and 1964.

Now on to chapter two of The Ghost Squad, which Gosling thought was
a revolutionary idea at the time because, among other things, “Crooks are our enemies and the best of them will try to outwit you. If you don't learn how to handle a crook he'll soon learn to hand you—and then the tail is wagging the dog.

24 comments:

  1. Sounds like a terrific read, Prashant. (And I know exactly how you feel when making such a discovery. I sometimes get so excited over my literary finds at the library that I make the librarian smile indulgently.) I'll look around for a copy. I'm not usually a fan of non-fiction crime books though I do read some (I'm nothing if not contrary) and this particular book intrigues me. Never heard of the Ghost Squad before. I like secret stuff. :)

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    1. Thanks, Yvette. This book reads like nonfiction and it's well-written too. I grabbed it as soon as I spotted it.

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  2. Lots of info I didn't know. Cool.

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    1. Charles, I used to follow newspaper reports about Scotland Yard in the eighties.

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  3. The Ghost Squad sounds like a keeper, Prashant.

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    1. Oscar, it sounds and reads like a solid work of nonfiction.

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  4. Prashant – This sounds like my kind of book. I read a lot of non-fiction, and often think that if an author put the stories into a novel, readers would reject the situations as being too fantastic. Happy reading.

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    1. Thanks, Elgin. I don't read as much nonfiction as I'd like to. I have been contemplating reading early thinkers of political science.

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  5. Sounds very interesting, Prashant. If I find a copy I will definitely pick it up.

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    1. Tracy, it's worth picking up. Author John Gosling is earnest about his secret assignment.

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  6. Loving your enthusiasm for it. It's a great feeling when you find a book that sets your pulse racing.

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    1. Oh, it does, Col. I like the early paperbacks and hardbacks, especially since I don't come across them easily.

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  7. Oh, Prashant, lucky you! I would be just as excited if I'd found it. I hope you'll review it here when you've finished.

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    1. Thanks, Margot. It was a lucky find. I will certainly try and review it.

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  8. I never knew any of this history, Prashant. Never saw the series for that matter. Will check Amazon Prime, Netflix, etc for the show.

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    1. David, if it hadn't been for the book find, I wouldn't have known about the television series. I don't know if it's available on YouTube.

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  9. Fascinating Prashant - I had only heard off the TV show, not the book. Hope the books holds up as you read the rest!

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    1. Thanks, Sergio. I thought you might be familiar with the TV show. The book is holding up well, mainly because of the fine narrative.

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  10. It isn't fair--I wanted to find it!

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    1. Thanks, Mathew. I feel that way about so many books I read about on the internet, especially old Westerns.

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  11. Like you, I love it when I make an unexpected book find! Well done!

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    1. George, I'd made a habit of it till couple of years ago. Now I avoid book exhibitions owing to a self-imposed embargo. I have more than enough to read.

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  12. This looks so atmospheric, and so very much of its time! And you have still more to enjoy...

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    1. It is, Moira, and very well-written too. I'm enjoying it more because I'm a slow reader of nonfiction.

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