Former Lancashire copper and now best-selling novelist Nick Oldham doesn’t muck about. By the time you have read the first half dozen pages of his latest Henry Christie novel, we have had a gangster shot dead in his own swimming pool, another very rich but rather ‘iffy’ businessman bludgeoned to death with a huge spanner he has been using to rebuild a WW2 aircraft – and Henry himself dodging bullets.
High speed back story for new readers (Where have you been? This is book 30 in the series!) Henry Christie, former senior copper, now in his 50s, rather tragic ‘love life’, runs a pub in Kendleton on the Lancashire moors, frequently engaged by his former employers as a civilian investigator, usually involving crimes committed by local gangsters operating a kind of triangle-of-death between Preston, Blackpool and Fleetwood. No kiss-me-quick hats here, just deprivation, drugs and violence.
As has been customary in the recent novels, Christie is signed back on to help with the two murders – a perfectly plausible move by the Lancashire Constabulary, as their staffing levels have taken a hit through Covid. Henry’s police ‘chaperone’ is DS Deb Blackstone. She is a feisty and competent officer who just happens to dress like a slightly deranged Goth, with spiked pink hair and all the trimmings.
Our man has other things on his plate, too. One of the regular groups to meet in his pub rather like rural Lancashire’s answer to The Thursday Murder Club, and the case they are currently working on is not so much cold as embedded in the permafrost. It concerns the murder of Lucas Grundy, back in 1941, and spice is added to the investigation by the fact that Eric, the murdered man’s brother is still alive, albeit aged 100. Christie learns from an elderly woman in the village that she believes Eric Grundy raped her, many decades earlier, but the crime was never properly dealt with.
A couple of days before Lucas Grundy was murdered, a Heinkel bomber, damaged in a raid, crashed on the moors nearby. Three of the five-man crew died at the scene and were buried in the local churchyard, but nothing was ever found of the other two. Was it possible that they were somehow involved in Grundy’s death, and how did they simply seem to disappear of the face of the earth?
As a humble reviewer, I can’t begin to comprehend how Nick Oldham keeps so many sub plots going at the same time without the narrative collapsing in confusion. One metaphor, I suppose, is that of the plate-spinning juggler, who manages not to break any of the plates, but stacks them neatly one on top of the other at the end of his performance. Oldham rounds off the action with his customary inventiveness and panache, but be warned – there is a particularly venomous sting in the tail. Demolition is published by Severn House, and is available now.
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