I can’t think of another modern crime writer who does truly despicable villains quite like Nick Oldham. His years policing the semi-derelict housing estates behind the candy-floss, donkey rides and silly hat persona of Blackpool’s seafront taught him that the feral inhabitants thrown up by these estates are not victims of social injustice or poverty; neither are they the product of years of exploitation by cruel capitalists. No. In short, they are absolute bastards, and no amount of hugging by wet-behind-the-ears social workers will make them anything else. In Death Ride, Oldham introduces us to as vile a group of criminals as he has ever created. Led by Lenny Lennox, they are ruthless predators; pickpocketing, catalytic converters, dog-napping, abduction, sexual assault – and murder – frame their lives.
We meet them at a country fair in retired copper Henry Christie’s home village, Kendleton – high on the Lancashire moors – where he runs the local pub. While Lenny Lennox serves burgers from his catering van, his son and three other youngsters pick pockets, steal cameras and strip high end vehicles of their valuable exhaust systems. Ernest Lennox, however has gone a bit further, and abducted a teenage girl who resisted his advances, and to cover up his son’s stupidity Lennox senior has to take drastic action.
Christie has recently been used as a civilian consultant by his former employers, and his last case ended with him being brutally stabbed and left for dead. When the hunt for the missing girl – Charlotte Kirkham – becomes a race against time, Christie, partly crippled by his knife wounds, is drawn into the hunt. I am reminded of the words of Tennyson in his magnificent poem Ulysses:
“Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
In rather blunter terms, Oldham writes:
“If Henry was honest with himself, he felt the urge to drag Lennox out of the burger van and smash his face again, just for old times’ sake, even though he knew he didn’t have the physicality to put that desire into action.
The Lennox gang create carnage in Christie’s life – and the lives of those he loves – but about three quarters of the way through the book, there is an abrupt change of scene, and we are reunited with two characters from Christie’s past – FBI agent Karl Donaldson and ex special forces maverick, Steve Flynn. They say that revenge is both sweet and best served cold. Suffice it to say that Henry Christie enjoys his gelato.
The Henry Christie books have always had plenty of action and their fair share of grit and gore, but on this occasion, be warned. Nick Oldham goes into Derek Raymond territory here, with a dark and terrifying novel which explores the depths of human malice and depravity. Death Ride is published by Severn House and will be available from 7th March. For more about Nick Oldham and the Henry Christie books, click the image below.