1611 A life with crime

Thirty-Three Years: The Unfiltered Memoir of a Cop
by Rob G. Rothwell

Victoria: FriesenPress, 2021
$24.49  /  9781039123427

Reviewed by Jaime Smith


There is no crime without laws. An inborn human drive to compete against others promotes individual greed, usually suppressed or diverted by shared ethical standards. Some always will ignore the law, resulting in behaviour deemed criminal. As an occupation, crime suppression and law enforcement involve the authorized use of force, compelling citizens to obey the laws of their government to maintain a stable society, with peace and order shared among its members.

The academic subject of criminology examines this issue as a subset of human behaviour. In literature, the genre of crime fiction ranges from popular whodunits to the height of psychological speculation about concepts of innocence, guilt, and their origins, from Lee Child to Fyodor Dostoevsky. Non-fictional writing about crime focusses on who did what and to whom, either as historical account, or personal memoir by either a criminal or by one of their foes, usually an agent of law enforcement, i.e. police.

Rob Rothwell as a young policeman

An “arresting account” of a working life devoted to the apprehension of criminals and prevention of crime is presented in a recent autobiographical memoir, Thirty-Three Years: The Unfiltered Memoir of a Cop, by retired Vancouver policeman Rob Rothwell. The 54 short chapters are devoted to descriptions not only of traditional police work but also crime prevention and education.

Shifting cultural attitudes and laws about cannabis usage render accounts of yesterday’s growers and suppliers as criminals less relevant today than when the author worked in the drug squad as an undercover cop, but he admits we each have our own poison, relaxing at home with a single malt after a hard day on the street pursuing dealers in illegal herbal forms of mood alteration. Politicians make laws, not cops.

Law enforcement may involve lethal violence, and Rothwell unhappily describes reluctance to employ it. “Pulling the trigger, regardless of how justified, is a cop’s worst nightmare,” and he despairingly elaborates that doing so “sets in motion a litigious traumatic journey in which criticism, second guessing, and rhetoric is espoused by self-declared experts pursuing anti-police agendas.”

Rothwell as an undercover cop after a successful bust

Unwelcome frustration is also experienced in having to control peaceful street demonstrations that turn ugly, dismissively assuming that participants are motivated by opposition to capitalism, consumerism, or to “whatever  ‘ism’ they capriciously opposed at any given moment.”

Rob Rothwell

Law enforcement inevitably involves issues of right and wrong, often not black and white but in shades of grey, and a police officer may be confronted with difficult decisions. As W.S. Gilbert wrote in his libretto to The Pirates of Penzance, “A policeman’s lot is not a happy one.” Nevertheless, Rothwell describes his overall satisfaction with his career choice and voices no regrets.

The writing is clear and accessible, but there is little information about the personal life of the author, how he came to enter the profession, or of his religious and social values. His book lacks an index, making retrieval of specific subjects tedious. The front cover depicts an “arresting” image of a smiling cop hovering over the towers of downtown Vancouver, seemingly ready and eager to assist a tottering senior citizen across a busy street.


Jaime Smith. Photo by Alexander Mackie

Jaime Smith is a retired Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Canada and Life Member of the Canadian Psychiatric Society. He is the author of the memoir Foxtrot (FriesenPress, 2020) and two collections of essays, Stardust (Granville Island Publishing, 2021) and Meteors (Granville Island, in press), based on his reflections on physical science, biology, philosophy, religion, behaviour, society, music, literature, the dimension of time, and the prospects for humanity in the near and distant futures. After an adventurous life, travelling by both motorcycle and rail from Patagonia to Yukon to Europe and across Siberia, he now spends his time by reading, thinking, and writing in his blog. A widower since 2011, he has three daughters, seven grandsons, and five great-grandchildren. He lives in Victoria. Editor’s note: Jaime Smith has also reviewed a book by Wendy Cairns, John Cairns, David Ostrow, & Gavin Stuart for The British Columbia Review, and his own books Foxtrot and Stardust are reviewed by Peter Ward and Sheldon Goldfarb.


The British Columbia Review

Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie

Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies.

“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster

Vancouver Police superintendent Rob Rothwell

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This