This begins very differently from any of the previous books in the excellent series. Instead of finding retired Lancashire copper Henry being barman and barrista in his moorland pub, or helping his one-time colleagues chase villains around the mean backstreets of Blackpool, we are in Cyprus, where Viktor Bakshim, head of an Albanian crime syndicate has his lair in a heavily guarded mansion. He has, naturally, a bodyguard of muscled young men in black T-shirts, but his security on the island is further enhanced by the Cypriot authorities’ determination (thanks to wads of used Euros) to “see no ships..”
Bakshim is old and frail, and his body is pretty much shutting down one function at a time, like shops on a run-down town centre. At the heart of his operation is his ruthless and resourceful daughter Sofia, and she looms large as the plot develops.
The problem for the wider authorities – including the CIA, FBI and MI6 – is that Bakshim is dead. At least, he is supposed to be. It seems, however, that a co-ordinated hit on the ageing villain was foiled by crafty switching of personnel between the Land Cruisers carrying him and his hoodlums. The DNA of all the deceased thugs has been established, except the most crucial one – Bakshim himself.
A shadowy operator called Flynn, a former colleague of Christie’s, who now has connections to official intelligence agencies, is on Cyprus trying to establish what Bakshim – if he is indeed still alive – is up to. After a chase and a shoot-out, Flynn manages to evade the protective heavies, and heads out to sea with his girlfriend. Meanwhile, also on the island, American agent Karl Donaldson, with a little help from his friends in London’s Metropolitan Police, has nabbed a Russian hitman called Sokolov – violent and brave, but none too bright – and wants to turn him for his own purposes.
Back in chilly England, Henry Christie is, once again, employed as a civilian consultant to his former employers, and is working with his new partner DS Debbie Blackstone on an historic – and grim – case of child sexual abuse. The case is harrowing, and there are no easy days, but at least there are no bullets flying. This all changes when the ultra-violent world of Albanian gangland comes to Lancashire. When the Bakshims visit a British criminal who has been working hand in hand with them, they find that their man in the UK has grown greedy, and is demanding a bigger slice of the cake. Bad move. All hell breaks loose.
Sofia has employed a violently competent hitman known as The Tradesman, a psychopath whose business front is running a crematorium for deceased pets. While Viktor and his daughter are spirited away from the carnage, The Tradesman goes on a murderous spree that leaves the Lancashire cops reeling and struggling to make sense of what is going on. Henry Christie gets caught up in the bloodbath, but remains physically unscathed. His heart (the metaphorical one) however, takes a severe hit as, yet again, his romantic illusions are shattered. This happens very publicly, and in a humiliating fashion, but the heartache doesn’t prevent him – almost accidentally – cracking the case wide open as he investigates an apparently trivial case of card fraud involving his pub.
In the aftermath, Flynn and Donaldson decide that the Bakshims have done enough damage, and are determined to act “off the books” and kill them. In a delicious twist, however – and I’ll stop there, because the ending is just too good for me to spoil things. Nick Oldham delivers the goods again with violence and mayhem sufficient to satisfy the most demanding reader, but – best of all – we have another outing for the most endearing of English fictional coppers. Henry Christie is frequently bowed, but never, ever broken. Transfusion is published by Severn House and is out now.