Lock 13 features Chris Honeysett, a private detective whose cases I had never read before, despite this being the sixth in what is clearly a popular series. The previous episodes are Headcase (2005), Slim Chance (2006) Rainstone Fall (2008) An Inch of Time (2012) Worthless Remains (2013) and Indelible (2014). Honeysett, like his creator Peter Helton (more on Helton’s website here) is an artist operating near Bath in the south-west of England. His professional investigations do not pay all his bills, and he supplements his income by selling his paintings when he can, and teaching drawing and painting classes from his picturesque home, a former mill which he shares with his girlfriend, Annis.
Honeysett is engaged on an extremely dull – but possibly lucrative – case involving a gentleman called Henry Blinkhorn, an angler who, when his boat overturned in the Severn Estuary, tragically drowned. Or did he? The company faced with a hefty life insurance payout to the Widow Blinkhorn have their doubts, and Honeysett is hired to prove that Mr B is alive, well, and pulling several skeins of wool over the eyes of Griffins, the people who are taking the million pound hit over the death, or not, of the unfortunate fisherman.
A welcome distraction from the tedious observation of The Chestnuts, the Blinkhorn’s six-bedroom house in one of the many salubrious areas of Bath, comes when Honeysett’s regular model for his life drawing classes, a young lady called Verity, inexplicably disappears. With Annis – also an artist (and noticeably more successful) away painting a mural for a rich celebrity, Honeysett decides to delve into Verity’s disappearance but, as is the way with these things, he discovers that he may have bitten off more than he can chew. Verity was friendly with some rather disreputable characters, including a verminous colony of New Age Travelers who, when they are not meditating or actually traveling, have their grimy fingers in a lucrative drug dealing business.
It seems that young Verity has come into funds rather suddenly, and has realised her oft-longed-for ambition to buy a canal boat and remove herself from the stresses and strains of city life by taking to the water. By a rather fortuitous set of coincidences (both for himself and the plot) Honeysett manages to borrow a canal narrow boat in which he sets off to pursue the errant Verity. As both he and we quickly discover, “pursue’ may be over-egging the pudding, as the laws of canal boating restrict speed to 4 mph. As Honeysett makes his stately – and occasionally wayward – progress in the ironically named Dreamcatcher, he soon has a growing number of conundrums to solve. Who, for example, are the two mysteriously sunglassed gents who appear to be following him in their cabin cruiser? And what is the true story behind the tragic drowning of Neil, former owner of Dreamcatcher, in the murky depths of the titular Lock 13?
Sometimes a novel is so delightfully written that a reader can reach the last page with a smile and sense of contentment, despite the fact that nothing very dramatic or shocking, at least by the standards of some modern thrillers, has happened during the 200 pages or so which have made up the narrative. Lock 13 is one such book. Peter Helton (right) tells the story through the eyes of Chris Honeysett, and the style is fluent, conversational, occasionally erudite, often witty – but always very, very, readable. Established fans of the Honeysett series can feel duly smug that the amiable painter-sleuth has found another convert, and they can rest assured that I shall be working my way through the file of Honeysett’s previous cases. Lock 13 is published by Severn House, and will be available from 29th December.