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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.

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