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Saturday, 22 October 2016

‘Blackwater’ by James Henry

Published by Quercus Editions Ltd,
14 July 2016. 2016. 
ISBN 978 1 78087 977 2

Blackwater is the first in what I believe is planned to be a period police procedural series.  Set in the garrison town of Colchester during the celebrations for the 1983 New Year, it introduces Detective Inspector Nicholas Lowry who is approaching forty, Detective Constable Daniel Kenton, a bright young graduate who had been fast tracked into CID, and WPC Jane Gabriel, a tall, attractive ex-model with short, bleached-blond hair. 

Colchester barracks is currently home to troops recently returned from the Falklands campaign.  But the war has been over for six months, and the heroic status of the young soldiers has given way to complaints from the locals about their unruly behaviour.  Many of these young soldiers are out on the streets drinking-in the New Year when a report arrives that one of their number has fallen to his death from a wall in the Castle Park.  Further away out of town, a headless body is discovered in six inches of water on a causeway linking Mersea Island with the mainland.  What, if anything, connects these two events?

We are told that the use of drugs by both the police and the military was common in that era.  The means by which army regulars cater for this need forms the backbone of this tale. 

Colleagues at the Mersea police station are more of a hindrance than a help. They are a law unto themselves and a thorn in the side of DC Kenton who has the strange idea that the person who commits the crime is the person who should be punished for it, rather than a local felon that the Mersea constabulary elects to punish because it suits them to do so.  Lowry is also frustrated by the Red CAP’s - military police –tendency to hijack witnesses and victims who are servicemen by taking them back into the Barracks or sending them overseas, thus preventing Lowry from questioning them.

Although Blackwater is a long (485 pages) and complicated tale, it is an easy read with a good mix of other characters.  These include Chief Superintendent Sparks who is about to get married for the third time, his – most of the time - friend Brigadier Lane, a piano playing Red Cap Captain, and numerous young soldiers and local yokels.  There is also a fair sprinkling of personal data.  At forty, Lowry has decided to give up smoking and boxing and take up bird watching.  One feels he might do better to watch his wife who is a nurse, or his young son: the one is having a fling with a doctor at the hospital she works in, and the other – who has grown up spending the odd night in the cells when both parents are out - is probably being bullied at school.  Anyone who likes period police procedurals is bound to enjoy this book.
Reviewer Angela Crowther

James Henry is the pen name for James Gurbutt, who has written three prequels to R D Wingfield’s popular Frost series. He works in publishing, 

Angela Crowther is a retired scientist.  She has published many scientific papers but, as yet, no crime fiction.  In her spare time Angela belongs to a Handbell Ringing group, goes country dancing and enjoys listening to music, particularly the operas of Verdi and Wagner.

Friday, 21 October 2016

‘The Cheltenham Square Murder’ by John Bude

Published by the British Library,
10 August 2016.
ISBN: 978-0-7123-5648-0

Regency Square in Cheltenham consists of spacious, elegant houses, and their diverse residents are all very reputable people. At the start of the book the inhabitants are described in some detail, and it seems that no body of people could be more respectable. They include a vicar and his sister, two elderly and religious unmarried ladies, a forthright spinster and her dogs, a bank employee and his wife, a local doctor, a retired man and his wife, a hypochondriac stockbroker, and an unmarried lady who is fond of travelling, whose house is being looked after by her author brother. The residents have several minor causes for squabbling, the most divisive of which is the desire of some people to cut down the large elm tree in the corner of the central garden, but they also have a mutual hobby, many of them are keen and skilled archers. There is only one person who does not fit into this highly decorous group, and that is Captain Cotton, with his noisy motorbike and his predilection for making advances to married ladies.

The inhabitants of Regency Square are horrified when one of their number is killed, especially when the murder weapon is a bow and arrow. It is one thing to read about violent crimes in the newspapers, quite another when it happens in their own square and they could become suspects. Fortunately, Aldous Barnet, the author who is looking after his sister's house, has a friend staying with him who is well used to dealing with murder mysteries: Superintendent Meredith of the Sussex County Police. The local police inspector is delighted to have Meredith's assistance and together they unearth many secrets concealed by the respectable residents of Regency Square, but it is not until another death occurs that Meredith discovers the truth behind the killings.

The Cheltenham Square Murder was first published in 1937. It contains a workmanlike murder mystery, a skilfully created setting and a cast of beautifully drawn characters, whose idiosyncrasies invest the whole book with gentle, mischievous humour and make the book a very enjoyable read.
Reviewer:  Carol Westron

John Bude was the pseudonym of Ernest Elmore (1901-1957). He was born in Maidstone Kent. He attended Mill Hill School until 1919, where he was a boarder. He attended a secretarial college in Cheltenham before becoming Games master at St Christopher Scool, Letchworth. While there he also assisted with the school's dramatic activities. His interest in dramatics led him to join the Lena Ashwell Players as stage manager, touring the country. Much of Elmore's early writing took place in dressing rooms during his spare time. He met his wife Betty in Maidstone. They married in 1933 and moved to Sussex, where he became a full-time author.
Other John Bude crime titles available as British Library Crime Classics include The Cornish Coast Murder, The Lake District Murder, The Sussex Downs Murder --and Death on the Riviera.

Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  The Terminal Velocity of Cats is the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013. Her latest book The Fragility of Poppies was published 10 June 2016.