Book review

Vengeance, by R.C.Bridgestock

In case you should not already be aware [and I wasn’t, hitherto], the author is not one person with 2 initials, but an amalgam of 2 people: Robert [Bob] and Carol Bridgestock. Both have extensive knowledge of police work: Carol was a civilian supervisor, and Bob retired with the rank of Detective Superintendent, so between them, they have nearly 50 years of police experience; as well as the current principal, Detective Inspector Charley Mann [a sly joke, given that she is female?], for whom this is the fourth story, they have also created the “down-to-earth detective”, DI Jack Dylan, featuring in seven stories to date. The crime in this story, when it first occurs, is inexplicable, and shocking for the casualties & onlookers: after a wedding at a church in the real small West Yorkshire village of Slaithwaite [pronounced Slowit: that’s ow as in Ow! That hurt!], when the participants are being lined up for the obligatory photographs, a lone gunman bursts onto the scene and shoots the bride’s father dead; the best man is mortally wounded. Amazingly, two of the male guests have the presence of mind to challenge the gunman & give chase, overpowering him and giving him such a damn good thrashing that he no longer presents a viable threat, almost requiring hospital treatment himself.

Initially, this seems to be a motiveless killing, given that both victims are upstanding members of the community, but the fact that the gunman, a locally known itinerant drug addict, was carrying a large amount of cash on him, suggested that this could be a ‘hit’, but for what possible reason? Gradually, patient & persistent enquiries by DI Mann & her team establish the connections which suggest a possible motive. Family connections, as is often the case, provide the majority of clues, but there is also an organised crime element which is, sadly, never far from the surface in the modern world.

I wanted to give this a positive review, given that I have a very tangential connection to the authors, despite not knowing them personally, but I feel there is work still to be done here: they know the procedures and, presumably, the technicalities & hierarchies well enough, but I can’t help feeling that the prose style is that of an enthusiastic amateur—I still can’t decide whether calling the defence barrister in the case Mr Pompous is clever, or simply whimsical; without quoting examples [I can assure the reader, there are many], I lost count of the number of times my eyebrows raised upon reading something which just felt odd, or unusual, or even clumsy. That said, the plot was well thought out, and the perpetrator was not immediately obvious, once the reason for the murders was revealed. The paperback I read was published in 2022 by Canelo, London, ISBN 978-1-8043-6056-9.

Book Review

Photo by Ian Cylkowski on Unsplash

A Dedicated Man, by Peter Robinson

This is only the second DCI Banks story, first published way back in 1988, and it is quite a different Chief Inspector Alan Banks we find here from the one with which we [those of us who have watched the excellent TV dramatisations] have become familiar: for a start, he is described as being short, dark and wiry—“in appearance rather like the old Celtic strain of Welshman”, not like the tall, well-built Stephen Tompkinson, who fills the role admirably; plus, he smokes—initially a pipe, then later, when he realises he can’t get on with it, cigarettes—as does everybody else, copiously. Perhaps, by the time he reached the small screen, his character [and peripheral ones] had been subtly tweaked because of health concerns; but it has been some years since I watched early episodes of this canon, so I am prepared to be corrected on that. His familiar colleagues are also conspicuous by their absence: perhaps they were introduced in later stories.

He is also still happily married, living at home with his wife & 2 children: a situation which will deteriorate, sadly, as the stories progress. Banks is still conscious of his outsider status, having only lived in the area [a fictitious area, perhaps in West Yorkshire, possibly based on Helmsley, in North Yorkshire] for 18 months, after relocating from London, but he is also aware that he can use that to his advantage, a notion originally suggested by his superior, the unusually kindly Superintendent Gristhorpe. I was surprised how firmly rooted in the classical & folk traditions his music tastes are, because in later stories he has comfortably embraced a more contemporary catalogue, albeit clinging to what I would, as a “baby boomer”, consider to be the sine qua non era, the 1970s. Murder is always shocking, wherever it occurs, but seemingly more so in small, quiet country areas, where life seems to progress at a comfortable, safe, leisurely pace, so when a retired, but still relatively young University lecturer is found dead by a local farmer, partially buried by a stone field boundary wall, Banks initially struggles to discover a credible motive and, thereby, a likely suspect for the crime.

The victim only had a small social circle, and an evidently loving wife, and no-one was prepared to say anything negative about him: he was the eponymous dedicated man, which makes Banks’s job significantly more difficult, so the enquiries progress slowly; but this makes for a very enjoyable [for me, anyway] pace of narrative, and plenty of opportunities for the reader to speculate on the identity of the killer. Unfortunately, a local teenager takes it upon herself to pursue her own line of enquiry when she feels that Banks hasn’t taken her concerns sufficiently seriously, and suffers drastic consequences as a result. Banks is convinced that the key to solving this murder lies in the past lives of the possible suspects, but as ever, seemingly, people are reluctant to open up about that, for a variety of reasons. Not for the first time in a murder mystery, Sherlock Holmes’s wisdom is invoked to give Banks the final clue to the puzzle, and the killer is identified at an opportune moment although, sadly, not for the previous victims. This is a recent reprint, for which I am grateful, because I always enjoy the opportunity to broaden my knowledge of characters with whom I have become familiar, to learn how their story arcs develop. The paperback I read was published in 2018 [1988], by Pan Books, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, London, ISBN 978-1-5098-5704-3.