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English Crime Fiction

THE SANDRINGHAM MYSTERY . . . Between the covers

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I found this novel intriguing in two ways. Firstly, the action takes place on my home turf. I live in Wisbech (well, someone has to) and Spalding, Sutterton, Sutton Bridge (just over the border in Lincolnshire), and Sandringham in West Norfolk are all very familiar. Christina James (real name Linda Bennett) writes:

“I was born in Lincolnshire, in England, and grew up in Spalding. I’ve had a lifelong fascination with the South Lincolnshire Fens, with their huge skies, limitless landscapes and isolated communities; I have always been interested in the psychology of the people who have lived there over the centuries. I have now put some of this interest and fascination into the fictional world of Detective Inspector Tim Yates.”

I believe she now lives in Leeds, but the Lincolnshire (South Holland is the administrative district) landscape is as vivid as if she were just still standing there.

Secondly, she employs two narrative viewpoints. The first is centred on DI Tim Yates – obviously one of the good guys – but the second is narrated by a rich industrialist called Kevan de Vries, and we are not sure if he is on the side of the angels or the devils.

Kevan de Vries lives in a palatial country home called Lauriston, in the village of Sutterton. Almost by accident (police are investigating a suspected burglary) a package of forged UK passports is discovered in the cellar, but de Vries claims he has no knowledge of how they got there.  Then, a more shocking discovery is made, in the shape of skeletons which, when examined, appeared to be those of black people. They have been there since the 19th century.

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For all his riches, de Vries had not been able to buy happiness. His wife Joanna has terminal cancer, and their autistic son attends a boarding school in nearby Sleaford. The couple spend much of their time on the Caribbean island of St Lucia, while the business of running the huge processing plant in South Lincolnshire is largely left to a manager called Tony Sentance who, surprisingly, de Vries loathes and abhors. So, does Sentance have some kind of hold on de Vries?

Screen Shot 2022-11-17 at 18.46.47Tim Yates’s life is made even more complicated when the remains of a young woman are found on the Queen’s estate at Sandringham, across the border in Norfolk. It should be none of Yates’s business, except that the dead woman was wearing branded work clothing from Kevan de Vries’ factory. Meanwhile, a mysterious diary dating back to Victorian times, and found in the cellar at Lauristan, reveals that the controversial colonial politician Cecil Rhodes had connections with the family who owned the house at the time.

When Yates investigates the connection between the girl whose remains were concealed on the royal estate and the de Vries factory, he comes up against a wall of silence which convinces him that the dead girl was caught up in a trafficking and prostitution racket linked to the huge numbers of Eastern Europeans who came to work in the area during the years of *freedom of movement.

*The tens of thousands of people from Poland and the Baltic states who arrived in Eastern England in the 2000s transformed towns like Boston, Spalding and Wisbech. The owners of food processing factories and farmers grew rich, and the immigrants found they could earn far more for their labours than they could back home. There was a downside to this, in that along with the hard working immigrants came unscrupulous people who made fortunes exploiting cheap labour, renting out multiple-occupancy homes and – worst of all – establishing a thriving slavery and prostitution network.

This is an enjoyably complex novel which works on one level as an excellent police procedural while, on another, takes a long hard look at how powerful people – both now and in times past – exploit the most vulnerable in society. The Sandringham Mystery is published by Bloodhound Books and is available now.

STAY BURIED . . . Between the covers

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Screen Shot 2022-10-01 at 19.38.56Writing as Katherine Webb, the author (left) is a well established writer of several books which seem to be in the romantic/historical/mystery genre, but I believe this is her first novel with both feet firmly planted on the  terra firma  of crime fiction. Wiltshire copper DI Matthew Lockyer, after a professional error of judgment, has been sidelined into a Cold Case unit, consisting of himself and Constable Gemma Broad.

He receives a telephone call from a most unexpected source. His caller is Hedy Lambert, a woman he helped convict of murder fourteen years earlier. The case was full of unexpected twists and turns, none more bizarre than the identity of the victim.  Harry, son of Emeritus Professor Roland Ferris had left home as a teenager and, seemingly, vanished from the face of the earth. Then he returns home to the Wiltshire village where his father lives. This variation on the tale of The Prodigal Son, takes a turn for the worse, however, when Harry’s dead body is discovered, and standing over it, clutching the murder weapon, is Ferris’s housekeeper Hedy Lambert. Problem is, it’s not Harry Ferris.

After a few days it transpires the the murder victim is actually Mickey Brown, a Traveller, who superficially resembles Harry. Despite the absence of any plausible motive Hedy Lambert is convicted of murder and found guilty, condemned almost entirely by  convincing forensic evidence. Now, Lambert has telephoned Lockyer from her prison to tell him that the real Harry Ferris has returned to his father’s house. Lockyer visits Longacres, Ferris’s house in the village of Stoke Lavington, to find the old man at death’s door with cancer of the blood and Harry Ferris totally unwilling to co-operate with the re-opening of the murder case.

As the story develops, we learn more about Lockyer and his background. His parents are what Americans call hardscrabble farmers, elderly and increasingly unable to make a living out of the farm or see any fruits for their lifetime of hard work. The obvious person to take over the farm was Lockyer’s brother Chris, but he is long dead, having been stabbed in a fracas outside a local pub. His killer has never been brought to justice.

One of the many admirable qualities of this book is that Kate Webb doesn’t take any prisoners in her portrayal of rural Wiltshire. Yes, there are obviously some beautiful places, but there are also farms which are bleak, wind-swept and run-down; there are villages and small towns with rough and tumble pubs which are no strangers to violence. Please don’t expect the sun-kissed limestone cottages and trim thatched roofs of Midsomer; this is Wiltshire in winter from a literal point of view, and metaphorically it is darker territory altogether.

On one level, Stay Buried is a superior whodunnit, as by the half way point Kate Webb has presented us with a tasty line-up of possible killers. There is Paul Rifkin, Ferris’s factotum, the real Harry Ferris, Tor Gravich, the young research assistant who was in Longacres at the time of the murder, Sean Hannington, a violent Traveller thug with a grudge against Mickey Brown, Serena Godwin, and even Roland Ferris himself. Or are we being led up the garden path, and is the killer Hedy Lambert after all? The eventual solution is elegant, complex and unexpected. On another level altogether, the book is a forensic examination of the nature of grief, guilt, and the corrosive effect of harbouring a desire for revenge.

This is excellent crime fiction, with a central character who has the quirks and flaws to make him totally credible. The geographical backdrop against which DI Matt Lockyer does his job is painted ‘warts and all’, lending a psychological darkness to proceedings. Stay Buried is published by Quercus and will available as listed below:

Kindle – 27th October 2022
Audiobook – 27th October 2022
Hardcover – 19th January 2023
Paperback – 29th July 2023

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LIGHTS DOWN . . . Between the covers

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Screen Shot 2022-07-06 at 18.26.33For those new to this wonderful series, here’s the back story. Enora Andressen is an actress  in her early forties. She has won fame, if not fortune, by starring in what used to be known as ‘art films’ – often European produced and of a literary nature. She has a twenty-something son, Malo, the product of a one-night-fling with a former drug boss, Harold ‘H’ Prentice. ‘H’ and Enora have become reunited, after a fashion, but it is not a sexual relationship. In the previous novel, ‘H’ is stricken with Covid, and barely survives. That story is told in  Intermission.

Curtain callTaking an extended break from her nursing of ‘H’ down at Flixcombe, his manor house in the south of England, Enora returns to her London flat. She is contacted by Rémy Despret,  a film director with whom she has worked many times. He is a charming as ever, but seems to have lost his touch regarding viable screenplays. He pitches his latest – Exocet – to Enora, but she thinks it is rubbish, and turns him down. She also suspects he is using his yacht to smuggle drugs, and may be in serious trouble with some very dangerous people. She also meets her agent, Rosa, who tells her she is representing  a woman who has written a potentially explosive – because real identities are thinly concealed –  novel about the extra marital affairs of a senior politician.

Enora receives a chilling ‘phone call from the woman who is in charge of things at Flixcombe. Not only is ‘H’ suffering physically from Long Covid, it seems he has developed dementia. When Enora drives down to see for herself, she is staggered to find that ‘H’ has no idea who she is. In the previous books, ‘H’ has been a force of nature. Physically imposing and nobody’s fool, the former football hooligan, has to borrow from Shakespeare, been a criminal Caesar:

“Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men.
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonorable graves.”

sight-unseenNow, sadly, he is much reduced physically and mentally and is given to such bizarre behaviour as appearing naked at windows. Also, his money is running out. Huge sums of it went on private nursing care during his battle with Covid, as he absolutely refused to go into an NHS hospital. Incidentally, readers will always conjure up their own mental images of the characters in books they read, but I occasionally play the game of casting books ready for imaginary film or TV adaptations. My four penn’orth has a young Anne Bancroft as Enora, and Bob Hoskins as ‘H’.

Off ScriptWith the help of long time friend and former copper Dessie Wren Enora discovers that the ‘bonking politician’ novel has more sinister undertones than being simply a kiss-and-tell story. Graham Hurley makes it convincingly up to date with the inclusion of the Russian state-backed mafia and PM Boris Johnson, although with the latter, the story has been overtaken by events.

Undaunted by Enora’s rejection of Exocet, Rémy Despret has come up with an idea which she finds much more interesting. Evidently Flixcombe was used during WW2 as base for Free French intelligence agents and propagandists and the  ‘Vlixcombe‘ movie has already attracted  backers with the big money. If the project comes off, there will be a starring role for Enora, and enough money to keep at bay the predators circling the ailing ‘H’ Prentice. But then there is a murder, things begin to unravel, and Graham Hurley writes the most astonishing ending I have read in many a day.

I make no apology for my enthusiasm for  Graham Hurley’s writing. Not only was his Joe Faraday series one of the most intelligent and emotionally literate run of police procedurals I have ever read, but the sequels featuring Faraday’s former sergeant Jimmy Suttle were just as good. Hurley is also a brilliant military historian, and has written several novels centred around particular conflicts in WW2. His book Kyiv seems particularly relevant just now, and if you read it, it will give you a huge insight into the subtext of the Ukraine-Russia relationship which is barely mentioned in current news coverage.

Lights Down
is published by Severn House and is available now. If you click on the cover images above, a review of each novel should open in a new tab.

 

THE FIRE KILLER . . . Between the covers

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My excuse is that I am a one-man-band here at Fully Booked, and notwithstanding  the occasional erudite contribution from Stuart Radmore (who has forgotten more about crime fiction than most people will ever know), there are only so many books I can read and review properly. My first experience of Peterborough copper DI Barton  is the fifth of the series (written by Ross Greenwood), The Fire Killer. Peterborough is a big place, at least for us Fenland townies, but is rarely featured in CriFi novels. I am pretty sure that Peter Robinson’s DI Banks grew up there (The Summer That Never Was) and Eva Dolan’s Zigic and Ferreira books are certainly set in the city.

Peterborough is a strange city in some ways. Its heart is divided in three. One third is its medieval heritage and its magnificent cathedral; another third is its railway history, while the final slice belongs to the fact that some anonymous civil servants decided, in the 1950s, that it should be a ‘new town’. Hence its sprawling suburbs, divided by interminable dual carriageways and countless roundabouts, stippled with anonymous housing developments, most with the faux-pastoral suffix – choose your own – such as Meadows, Leys, Gardens, Fields and even Waters. I digress. No matter that Peterborough isn’t quite sure whether it is in Cambridgeshire or Northamptonshire, this novel is rather good.

We are in standard police procedural territory here. DI John Barton is large, bald, busy, rather unglamorous, but a decent copper. He and his team are called in to investigate a body found in a skip that has been deliberately set alight. The body is eventually identified as that of a young woman whose life has unraveled after she had fleeting success as a fashion model. Barton and his ‘oppo’, Sergeant Zander, are sure that the culprit lives in one of a row of four shabby terraced houses not far from the skip, but which one is the home of the arsonist?

Screen Shot 2022-05-20 at 19.51.23Ross Greenwood (right) has fun inviting us to make out own guesses, but also makes the game a little more interesting by giving us intermittent chapters narrated by The Fire Killer, but he is very wary about giving us too many clues. The dead girl, Jess Craven had been involved with a very rich dentist with links – as a customer – to the London drug trade.

There are a couple of other mysterious blazes, but when one of Barton’s suspects meets a horrifying end in another fire – but this time in a torched Transit van – the search for The Fire Killer just seems to be chasing its own tale. The rich dentist, Stefan Russo, is clearly hiding something, but he is ‘lawyered up’ and even though he has some very questionable contacts in London, the police are unable to get close to him.

Then, there is a breakthrough – or at least Barton thinks it is – and someone confesses to being The Fire Killer. As readers we can judge how much of the book is left, and it is clear to us that Barton has some work still to do before he closes the case. There is, as we might predict, a very clever twist in the tale, but when an exhausted Barton finally goes off for a family caravan holiday in Sunny Hunny (Hunstanton), we suspect that at the back of his mind there is still a some doubt about the true identity of The Fire Killer.

John Barton is an excellent creation, and this book is cleverly plotted, with one or two spectacular bursts of serious violence. It is published by Boldwood Books, and will be available in paperback and Kindle from 30th May.

LAST SEEN ALIVE . . . Between the covers

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Screen Shot 2022-04-16 at 20.05.42Last Seen Alive is the third  book by Jane Bettany (left) featuring the Derbyshire copper DI Isabel Blood. The story begins when Anna Matheson, a single mother who works at a large confectionery firm, fails to pick up her infant son from the child minder after a social event at work. Lauren Talbot, the child minder, raises the alarm late at night, but precious hours elapse before morning comes and the police are able to start making enquiries.

I wonder where crime stories would be without the ever-reliable assistance of dog walkers? Inevitably, it is one such who makes the grim discovery of a body which turns out to be that of Anna Matheson. She has been strangled, but there is no evidence of sexual assault. Isabel Blood’s team begin their investigations at Allwoods – the successful firm where Anna was marketing manager. The firm is jointly owned by Fay Allwood – widow of Barry – and their son, Ross. Suspicion initially falls on a member of the management team, James Derenby, who has been unsuccessfully trying to date Anna for some time, but this is, apparently, a blind alley.

Isabel Blood is convinced that the key to the mystery lies in discovering who was the the father of Benedict – the dead woman’s baby son. Anna Matheson had steadfastly and consistently refused to reveal his identity – even to her own mother. What follows is an intensely complex voyage of discovery for the detectives, as they encounter what becomes almost a criminal version of Who Do You Think You Are? Old secrets are revealed and – like creatures scuttling away from the light when a large flat stone is lifted – many people try to avoid their past indiscretions being made public.

DI Blood is an interesting character. Lord knows, there are probably as many Detective Inspectors in crime fiction as there are real ones, so what makes her stand out? Thankfully, she is happily married, comfortable in her own skin and, praise be, we don’t have regular updates about her CD collection. Like many of her fictional counterparts, she is constantly being admonished by her boss for becoming too involve with cases and doing more investigating than inspecting. Another reason for the empathetic portrayal of the Derbyshire detective is, I suspect, that she and her creator are in more or less of the same age and, perhaps, family circumstances.

Last Seen Alive is elaborately plotted, totally convincing, and as good an example of a contemporary English police procedural as you are likely to find. It is published by HQ Digital (Harper Collins), is out now in Kindle, and will be available as a paperback on June. If you want to read my review of the previous novel Without A Trace click the link.

TRANSFUSION . . . Between the covers

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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..”

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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.

For more about Henry Christie and Nick Oldham,
click the author’s picture below.
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CRIME ACROSS ENGLAND. . . 6: Worcester and Bath

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Just 50 miles or so from the town of Shrewsbury is Worcester and it is here, more or less inhabiting the same time frame as Cadfael, we find Under-Sheriff Hugh Bradecote and his rough-hewn assistant, Serjeant Catchpoll. Worcester, at that time, was a busy market town, and it would be many years before the Benedictine Priory would be transformed into what is now Worcester cathedral.

WolfBRTAuthor Sarah Hawkswood is a serious academic historian, and she has set the series against the political and military turmoil that prevailed during the reign of King Stephen, and his war with the Empress Matilda. Such was the insularity of even relatively large towns like Worcester, however, that national events can take weeks and months to impinge on the lives of townsfolk and villagers. Hawkswood paints a picture of a time that was a brutal struggle for the majority of the population. Disease, hunger, violence and intemperate weather were constant threats, but in these novels we come to appreciate the rhythm of the seasons and the wildness of the landscape beyond the scattered villages and hamlets.

Best of all, though, is the fact that these are great crime novels, with tantalising plots and storylines in the great tradition of detectives and detecting. Sarah Hawkswood’s website is here, and you can also read detailed reviews by clicking on the cover images in this feature.

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Screen Shot 2021-11-14 at 19.45.58To Bath now, and a character created by (I think) Britain’s longest living (and still writing good books) crime author. Peter Lovesey was born in Middlesex in September 1936 and, after National Service and a career in teaching, he published his first novel in 1970. Wobble To Death was the first of a hugely successful series of historical novels featuring Sergeant Daniel Cribb and his assistant Constable Thackeray. Older readers will remember the superb BBC TV adaptations starring Alan Dobie (left) as Cribb. The stories were also dramatised by BBC radio.

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But Cribb was very much rooted in London, and we must look at a more modern detective, plying his trade in the ancient town of Bath, with its Roman baths and glorious Georgian heritage. We first met Peter Diamond in 1991, in The Last Detective. The title refers to Diamond’s outright reluctance to adopt modern technology, as he sees gadgets and gizmos as the enemy of good old fashioned police work. Lovesey describes his man:

Difficult to tell whether Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond, on duty in the gardens, was overt or covert. If he had been in the race, you might have taken him for one of the jokers in fancy dress. He might have stepped out of a nineteen-forties film, a sleuth on the trail of Sydney Greenstreet. The gabardine trench coat and dark brown trilby, his so-called plain clothes, weren’t plain at all in twenty-first century Bath.”

In The Last Detective the naked body of a woman is found floating in the weeds in a lake near Bath with no one willing to identify her, and neither marks nor murder weapon. Diamond’s reliance on tried and trusted methods  are tested to the limit. Struggling with a jigsaw puzzle of truant choirboys, teddy bears, a black Mercedes and Jane Austen memorabilia, Diamond doggedly stays on the trail of the killer even after this bosses have decided there’s enough evidence to make a conviction.If you click the image below you can read my review of the 2020 novel, The Finisher.

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CRIME ACROSS ENGLAND . . . 4. York and Preston

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NecroEver onwards, and ever northward to the ancient city of York. For all that it houses the magnificent medieval minster and has a history going back to the Eboracum of Roman times, fewer people remember that York was also a great railway city, and there can be no more appropriate place to house the National Railway Museum. Like many men now in the autumn of their years I was an enthusiastic trainspotter back in the days of steam, so it is – I hope – perfectly understandable that I have chosen the Jim Stringer novels by Andrew Martin for this stop on our trip. Martin introduced Stringer in The Necropolis Railway (2002) when Stringer is very much at the bottom of the railway hierarchy, and working in London, but by 2004 in The Blackpool Highflyer, Stringer has married his landlord’s daughter – the beautiful Lydia – and has been promoted to a job in York.

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The next four novels see Jim rising steadily through the ranks of railway nobility, but in 1914 the world changes for ever, and Jim, like tens of thousands of other fathers, husbands, brothers and sons, answers the country’s call and joins up to fight the Kaiser, but with his expertise as a railwayman. The Great War, while not as completely global as the conflict that followed just twenty five years later, was not confined to the blood-soaked farmlands of France and Flanders. After solving a front-line murder in The Somme Stations (2011) Jim goes east in The Bagdhad Railway Club (2012) and Night Train To Jamalpur (2013) and emerges some years after the war, more or less unscathed and back home in York, in Powder Smoke (2021)

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Andrew Martin is many things – steeped in railway lore from his childhood, Oxford graduate, qualified barrister, performing musician, born in York and writer of novels light years distant from crime fiction. If he were ever to have a tombstone inscription, I do hope he would include (in brackets) “also known as Jim Stringer”. Stringer is a brilliant creation; not a ‘bish-bash-bosh’ hero, for sure, but a man with a well-defined moral compass and a gimlet eye for wrong-doing – be it in railway procedure or life in general.

Although I don’t quite belong to Jim Stringer’s era, when I read his books I am back in my relatively blameless youth (remember when Philip Larkin said sex was invented) and I am on a station platform somewhere in the Midlands, probably showered with soot from a venting steam engine, pen in one hand, notebook in the other, and with a school satchel containing sandwiches and a bottle of pop slung over my shoulder.

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We now face a long haul over The Pennines and, just after the ancient town of Skipton, we trade the white rose for the red, and pass into the County Palatine of Lancashire. It is just possible that we might pass within a stone’s throw of a moorland pub called The Tawny Owl. Were we to call in for refreshment we might be serves by a fifty-something chap called Henry Christie. More than likely, though he will be out somewhere between Preston and Blackpool ‘helping police with their inquiries’. In Henry’s case, however, this is not the standard police cliché for being ‘nicked’ but is to be taken absolutely literally, as retired copper Christie has a new role as a consultant to his former colleagues.

ATFJHis creator, Nick Oldham, knows of what he writes, as he is a former police officer, and the 29th book in this long running and successful series is due out at the end of November. So, what can readers expect from a Henry Christie story? It depends where you start, of course, because if you go back to the beginning in 1996, Peter Shilton was still in goal, but for Leyton Orient, England lost to Germany (on penalties, naturally) in the Euros semi-final, the trial of men accused of murdering Stephen Lawrence collapsed and John Major was in his second term as British Prime Minister. In A Time For Justice Christie is a relatively junior Detective Inspector – and someone who is seriously out of favour with his bosses, and has to tackle a cocky mafia hitman who thinks the English police are a joke. As the novels progress over the years, Christie rises through the ranks, but he is still someone who is viewed with some suspicion by the few officers who outrank him – the chief constables and their assistants.

NOHenry Christie is always hands on, and he has the scars – mostly physical, but one or two mental lesions – to prove it. His personal life has been a mixture of love, passion, tragedy and disappointment. His geographical battle grounds are usually confined to the triangle formed of Preston, Lancaster and Blackpool. This is an area that Oldham (right) himself knows very well, of course, thanks to his years as a copper, but it is also very cleverly chosen, because it allows the author to play with very different human and geographical landscapes. The brooding moorland to the east is a wonderful setting for all kinds of wrong-doing, while the seaside town of Blackpool, despite the golden sands, donkey rides, candy floss and cheerful seaside ambience, houses one of the worst areas of deprivation in the whole country, with run-down and lawless former council estates controlled by loan sharks, traffickers and criminal families of the worst sort.

What comes as standard in this superb series is tight plotting, total procedural authenticity, some pretty mind blowing violence and brutality but – above all – an intensely human and likeable main character. Click on the images below to read reviews of some of the more recent Henry Christie novels.

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CRIME ACROSS ENGLAND . . . 3: Scunthorpe and Leeds

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Screen Shot 2021-10-30 at 18.48.53A trip to Scunthorpe might not be too high on many people’s list of literary pilgrimages, but we are calling in for a very good reason, and that is because it was the probable setting for one of the great crime novels, which was turned into a film which regularly appears in the charts of “Best Film Ever”. I am talking about Jack’s Return Home, better known as Get Carter. Hang on, hang on – that was in Newcastle wasn’t it? Yes, the film was, but director Mike Hodges recognised that Newcastle had a more gritty allure in the public’s imagination than the north Lincolnshire steel town, which has long been the butt of gags in the stage routine of stand-up comedians.

Author Ted Lewis (right) was actually born in Manchester in 1940, but after the war his parents moved to Barton-on-Humber, just fourteen miles from Scunthorpe. Lewis crossed Screen Shot 2021-10-30 at 18.54.40the river to attend Art college in Hull before moving to London to work as an animator. His novels brought him great success but little happiness, and after his marriage broke up, he moved back to Lincolnshire to live with his mother. By then he was a complete alcoholic and he died of related causes in 1982. His final novel GBH (1980) – which many critics believe to be his finest – is played out in the bleak out-of-season Lincolnshire coastal seaside resorts which Lewis would have known in the sunnier days of his childhood. In case you were wondering about how Jack’s Return Home is viewed in the book world, you can pick up a first edition if you have a spare £900 or so in your back pocket.

There is a rather arcane conversation to be had about the original name Jack’s Return Home. Yes, Carter’s name is Jack, and he returns to his home town to investigate the death of his brother. But take a look at a scene in the film. Carter visits his late brother’s house, and amid the books and LPs strewn about, there is a very visible copy of a Tony Hancock record, Check out the discography of Tony Hancock LPs, and you will find a recording of The East Cheam Drama Festival and one of the plays – a brilliantly spoof of a Victorian melodrama – is called …….. Jack’s Return Home.

You can find out much more about Ted Lewis and his books by clicking the image below.

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Before we leave the delights of ‘Scunny’, here’s a pub quiz question. Three England captains played for which Lincolshire football team? The answer, of course, is Scunthorpe United. The three captains?
Kevin Keegan – Scunthorpe 1966-71, England captain 1976-82
Ray Clemence – Scunthorpe 1965-67, England captain once, in a friendly against Brazil
Ian Botham – Scunthorpe 1980-85, England (cricket) captain 1980-81

Ouch! Anyway, back to crime fiction and we start up the Bentley and head into darkest Yorkshire to meet a policeman and his family in the city of Leeds.

Nickson

Screen Shot 2021-10-25 at 19.01.43Does Chris Nickson preach? Absolutely not. This is the beauty of the Tom Harper books. No matter what the circumstances, we trust Harper’s judgment, and we can only be grateful that the struggles and sacrifices that he and his wife endured paid – eventually – dividends. The books are relatively short, but always vibrant with local historical detail, and I swear that I my eyes itch with the tang of effluent from the tanneries, and the sulphurous smoke from the foundries. We also meet real people like Herbert Asquith, Jennie Baines and Frank Kitson. Chris Nickson takes them from the dry pages of the history books and allows our imagination to bring them to life. For detailed reviews of some of the Tom Harper books, click the author’s image (left)

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