The Rev Det Insp Blake Hartley & Sgt Ibrahim Kahn

(creator: John Waddington-Feather)


John Waddington-Feather
The Museum Mystery cover
The Rev Detective Inspector Blake Hartley is a full-time police inspector who is also (like the author) a non-stipendiary minister. He helps out at St John's Church, at Ingerworth in Yorkshire where he lives. He, like the author, had grown up in Keighworth (Keighley) where he remembers a happy working-class childhood, being both an altar boy and a chorister. But he soon found "it mattered who your parents were and where you were brought up. Which school you went to - even how you spoke. If you didn't fit you'd had it. The British class system stank then, and it still does in some parts."

In the 1950s he had done two years National Service in the Intelligence Corps (another resemblance with the author). We are told he had been awarded a Military Medal for rescuing a wounded comrade, but two pages later this has suddenly changed into the George Cross (odd, as this is only awarded to civilians).Then, in a later book, it has changed back to the Military Medal again.

After becoming a cop and marrying Mary, they had moved to live at Ingerworth. They have a grown-up son and daughter, both living away from home. Hartley had "come up through the ranks after years on the beat" and must be in his late 40s. He is a large man, over six feet tall, and healthy, clean-shaven, craggy and soft-spoken. His hair "was short and trimmed by his wife, but it was still a rich brown despite some flecking round the sideburns." On an off day, though, "He could easily have passed for a dosser".

He is happy to retain his Yorkshire accent that he deliberately exaggerates when confronted with "upper-crusty" people. He is very conscious of his working class origins, has a particularly dislike of "upper-crusts" and Freemasons, and is "not a liberal theologian"- could this be the author speaking?

He is a patient, unflappable character ("as cool as they come") who is very ready to stand up for himself. Confronted with a bossy Superintendent, he tells him with a beatific smile: "You're on my prayer list at church."
"That's good of you, Hartley," said Donaldson between his teeth.
"Part of my ministry, sir," he said, "looking after the spiritual welfare of the station."

According to Donaldson, Hartley is "quite a dreamer" with "a droll sense of humour". To another character, "He's quite a scholar.... a man of many parts." As one of the crooks realised, he is "someone to watch carefully. Someone who acted the fool, but was the sage." As his own sergeant knew, "in each enquiry he conducted his own personal war against evil.... He was a priest and policeman in one." Once he was on a case, "he never let go. No matter who we offended or how many rules he broke, he never let go."

Sergeant Ibrahim Kahn is one of the few Muslim detectives I know of. He is described as a deeply religious man, although, surprisingly, he seems ready to overlook some of his principles in the fight against crime, as, when working undercover, he was once prepared both to drink alcohol and take cannabis.

He was born in West Yorkshire like his boss, The Rev Insp Blake Hartley, and both share a love for the North Country and its people. His parents had come from Pakistan to Bradford in the early 1950s and Kahn had won a place at the local grammar school, and had then gone up to Oxford (where he'd won a blue at golf). After graduation he trained at the Police College, then served on the beat in downtown London for two years with the Met before going back north.

He hadn't long been married and now lived on the opposite side of town to Hartley. He is a bright and intelligent detective, but seems to spend most of his time combating Asian villains of whom there seem a surprisingly large number. But he "had no stomach for bodies. The mere sight of blood sickened him". He always remains absolutely loyal to his boss, and is ever ready to stand up for him.

The Rev John Waddington-Feather (1933 - ) is an Anglican priest, who has been a non-stipendiary minister (meaning unpaid, part-time) since 1969. Since 2001, when he was diagnosed with a cancerous kidney, he has been on regular dialysis. He retired through ill health in March 2012. It is, he says, "My Christian faith, and all which that means, (that) keeps me and many of my fellow patients going in the face of chronic ill-health and pain."

He was born in Keighley (the Keighworth of his books) in Yorkshire where he attended Keighley Boys' Grammar School before graduating in English and Medieval Literature at Leeds University. After university he served in the Intelligence Corps, where he gained his wings as a paratrooper. He was ordained, then became a teacher for many years, including being chaplain at Prestfelde School, Shrewsbury, and he also ministered in Shrewsbury Prison as a prison visitor for over thirty six years. He has also written plays, children's books, short stories, books about the Yorkshire dialect, collections of verse and hymns and edited the Christian Poetry magazine, The Poetry Church. He self-publishes his books at Feather Books of Shrewsbury, the town where he lives. He has a daughter in Australia.

The Museum Mystery (1999)
The Museum Mystery describes how The Rev Detective Inspector Blake Hartley, ably assisted by his Muslim sergeant, Ibrahim Khan, foils a militant extremist sect gun-running and murdering on his patch in the Yorkshire moorland mill-town of Keighworth. The villains turn out to be either Egyptian Arabs or important local people with Egyptian connections, who share in the worship of a mummified Egyptian goddess and are plotting "to promote their mad idea of restoring the religion of Ancient Egypt".

An undercover agent of the Egyptian police is one of those who get murdered. And wicked things are obviously going on in a mausoleum, "modelled exactly on an Ancient Egyptian temple", complete with altar. As a tramp tells Hartley, "There were candles on it. Black candles. An' them weirdos had put on masks or headpieces or summat, all like animals or birds. As if they were at a fancy dress do. Only they were deadly serious and jabbering away in some foreign language .... It looked like a fellow wi' a crocodile's head had come from nowhere an' was walking round t'altar -- and there were a woman tied to it!"

It's an improbable story set in a convincing Yorkshire background, some of it in buildings with which the author was very familiar. So, for example, the church shown on the cover of The Graveyard Mystery (see the photo) is actually Ingrow Parish Church, Keighley, which the author uses as the setting for Blake's Church of St Johns, Ingerworth.

There are some dramatic incidents such as the kidnapping of an undercover Asian policewoman, but it all seems so unreal that it is difficult to feel very involved. There is mention of "a sect which still carried out human sacrifice to the goddess it worshipped", yet the description of a mystical initiation ceremony is surprisingly tame. The author is known for his children's books, and you sometimes feel that this is still the audience that he has in mind, as when he writes, "The detectives were gob-smacked! They retired to the Railway Tavern with their tails between their legs."

Hartley seems to spend much of his time fighting off his incompetent superintendent's attempts to interfere in what he regards as his cases. So he is quite capable of concealing important information from Superintendent Donaldson, and is very pleased when told that Donaldson is going off to a London conference. Rather surprisingly Donalson admits to him "that the trip to London might bear fruit. Might gain him promotion. He'd waited long enough for it.
'Too long, sir,' observed Hartley. 'You should have left Keighworth years ago.'"

The author never seems quite sure what to call his hero, varying between Blake, Mr Hartley, Inspector Hartley, Blake Hartley and Hartley. And he names one of the characters Gary on one page and Pete on the next. But Hartley himself remains quite an interesting character.

The Bradshaw Mystery (2000 - apparently published a year after The Museum Mystery, although the author himself describes it as the first book.)
The Bradshaw Mystery sees The Rev Detective Inspector Blake Hartley called out to investigate the murder of Miss Bradshaw, and finding himself locked into a drug smuggling ring. The main suspect turns out to be Peter Fawcett, the dead woman's arrogant and wayward nephew. He was a man whom Hartley had his own reasons for detesting since the days that his mother had worked for Miss Bradshaw as her cook, and he had been constantly sneered at by Fawcett.

Hartley's Muslim sergeant, Ibrahim Khan, and his wife Semina (who herself has a couple of very helpful suggestions to make) help him secure the evidence that is needed to bust up the drug ring, and right at the end Hartley risks his own life to confront Fawcett in a melodramatic climax. The basic plot, though, is more credible than that of the other books (even if it does strain belief when we're told that Hartley's antagonistic boss, Superintendent Donaldson, was himself an unintentional drug runner!). It all makes an entertaining read, and you get quite involved with some of the characters, particularly with the developing antagonism between the two detectives and the mocking, patronising Fawcett.

There's some lively dialogue as the protagonists confront each other. When Fawcett offers Hartley and Kahn a drink ("A beer perhaps" is as far as he goes), Hartley replies, "No, thank you. We're not drinking."
Fawcett smiled. "Of course. Quite right. You are on duty."
"Not only that, sir. It's Lent. I give up drink in Lent."
Fawcett raised his eyebrows. "Ah, yes. I was forgetting. I'm afraid I'm very much a pagan, Hartley. I was never much good at that sort of thing. They tried hard with me at school. I even won a divinity prize of some sort. But your sergeant?"
"It's Ramadan," said Khan.
"A Muslim. I should have known better. I'm sorry," said Fawcett. He laughed lightly. "You'll gather I'm not very religious. Though I respect religious belief, of course."
"Of course," said Khan, and matched Fawcett's smile.

It's written with a nice sense of humour. So when a glamorous woman with a particularly low-cut top shows Khan over her antique shop, and cheekily tells him, "I've plenty on view", we are told: "She'd a cleavage you could have got lost in, and his attention switched from past antiques to present exhibits. His eyes moved from her body to her face. 'Yes, your display is very attractive,' he said."

As usual, Hartley felt that "the less his boss knew what was going on, the better", and the ever-present antagonism between him and Supt Donaldson holds the attention, even if it is always entirely credible, as when, surprisingly often, they discuss Donaldson's chance of his much-wanted promotion.

It is after Hartley discovers that Supt Donaldson has been accidentally helping the drug-runners that he tells him, "The fact is, you're over a barrel - and I want you off it. Because if I don't get you off it, Fawcett will go scot-free. And I want him ... badly. More than anything else."
Donaldson looked up. The tone of his inspector's voice had not escaped him.
"You've got something personal against him, haven't you?" he asked.
Hartley wouldn't reply. He simply rubbed more salt in.
"I wonder what Sir Henry Locke will say when he finds out?" he mused. Donaldson winced. "And the Chief Constable?" he added. His boss looked sicker. "As you rightly said yourself, sir, fools indeed rush in where angels fear to tread."
"Don't preach, Hartley. For God's sake, don't preach. It's bad enough as it is without you preaching. But what am I going to do? If you're wrong and I do nothing, I'm in a mess. If you're right, I'm in a bigger mess. And just when I was in line for promotion." He moaned softly himself and Blake Hartley thought for one terrible moment he was going to weep. But he didn't.
"You can always do another run, sir," said Hartley quietly.
"Are you serious?" said Donaldson. "Run drugs!"
"Aye, sir. It's the only way," Hartley continued. "Only by running the stuff next week, as if nothing had happened, can we nail Fawcett ... You'll bring in the vital evidence, sir. And we can make it appear as if you're a decoy and we've known about it all the time. You'll go up in the eyes of the powers that be no end sir. There's only Kahn and myself know the truth."
Donaldson brightened visibly. "You're right," he said. "If you pull this off I'll be eternally grateful, Hartley."
"If you get your promotion, sir, so will we. Our gratitude will know no bounds," said Hartley.

All this is fun to read, however unlikely it may be. It helps make this the most successful of the Hartley books.

The Marcham Mystery (2001)
The Marcham Mystery describes how when Sir Edward Marcham, an international banker and businessman is found dead in a sleazy part of Keighworth, his sordid past is exposed. Another similar murder follows, and Inspector Blake Hartley and his sergeant Ibraham Khan go on to uncover a pornography ring and much else, including ex-KBG agents running a weapons scam and bank fraud. It does not sound too likely.

Edward Marcham seems to have been detested by everybody, including his wife who could never forgive him for having made advances to his stepdaughter when she was only ten. He was a truly villainous figure but which of the many possible suspects was the killer? Hartley and his sergeant eventually solve the mystery but only after a series of unlikely coincidences and a unconvincingy melodramatic climax in which Hartley has to keep the murderer talking at length until rescue eventually arrives! It all sounds distinctly corny.

It does not make a very interesting or convincing story. In the end you even feel rather sorry that Marcham got himself murdered right at the start, for at least his appalling behaviour held the attention. The interplay between Hartley and his ambitious, class-bound boss, Superintendent Arthur Donaldson, whose main aim is to obtain his own promotion, and so is always very concerned to offend nobody, is still quite entertaining but gets repetitive. And it passes belief that Hartley could get away with telling him so little of what is actually doing.

The Graveyard Mystery (2005)
The Graveyard Mystery starts with one of the sidesmen rushing back into the vestry after a Sunday morning service to tell Blake Hartley that there is a body in the graveyard. The Reverend Detective Inspector thinks that he's having his leg pulled. However there really is a body on the grave and it turns out to be that of an Asian hit-man. The discovery leads Blake and his Muslim sergeant, Ibraham Khan, into a world of Mafia money laundering and drug smuggling, church robberies, and wife abuse.

It too sounds rather improbable, to put it mildly, and a melodramatic climax at the lip of the Grand Canyon is not too convincing either. You are left wishing that the author had made more use of his own first hand experiences. He has a staccato style of his own, accentuated by a use of extremely short paragraphs, so that although there is a lot of potentially exciting action, he often seems in a desperate hurry to rush from one incident to the next, without taking the opportunity to involve us really closely in what is happening.

He keeps on referring to people as being "upper crust". One of these is Major Redfearn: "By the cut off his jacket, his cavalry twill trousers and his clipped accent, Blake immediately sussed him as a military type. His shoes gleamed like mirrors and he sported a cavalry tie .... He glanced at Hartley's clerical collar and touched the neb of his cap In deference. "Morning, Padre, he said, in his clipped upper-crustian voice. 'Rum business, eh?' " He seems altogether too much of a stereotype.

The situations too often seem quite unreal, as when Blake questions Sgt Kahn about the corpse and is told, "He's the hit-man that the Karachi police tipped us off about. The one who came in under a false name." Hartley pursed his lips. The case was becoming more complicated even before it opened. And he was puzzled more by Khan's next remark. "The past has caught up."
"What do you mean, Kahn?" asked the inspector.
"Pakistan's past has caught us up, sir. There, the past and present are one for those who still live in the feudal past. This man is part of the past."
"So it seems," thought Hartley, as Khan explained. "He was sent from Pakistan to do a hit- job, for he's a professional, a paid killer."

It seems very odd that Blake Hartley didn't know all this already. And the ending, in which a bent policeman suddenly confesses all, does not seem too probable either. But just occasionally the author's own views seem to break through as when he talks about the "prejudice, hypocrisy, snobbery, self-interest" of one of the clergy and comments that there are many priests and preachers like that.

Yet, despite all the shortcomings, it still remains quite an entertaining book to read.

The Allotment Mystery (2006)
The Allotment Mystery starts with Tommy, an old friend and parishioner of Blake Hartley's, being found dead in his allotment. Hartley is determined to find the old man's killer and in so doing uncovers a biological weapons factory, which is also being used to make illegal drugs that are distributed worldwide, and the involvement of a Triad gang (!). There's even "a stocky thickset Chinaman with a hard impassive face. He had a livid slash running down one cheek and looked as if he'd walked straight out of a Kung Fu film".

It is an unlikely story, not helped along by the author's simplistic style: "Hartley said he was going to Tommy's home. His daughter would be wondering what had happened to her dad. When the inspector knocked there was no reply, which was strange. Tommy's terrier usually raised Cain when anyone knocked at the door.
He tried the door and it opened. Someone had let himself in. It wasn't Tommy's daughter as she arrived just as Hartley was about to enter the house. And the first thing they saw when they went in was Tommy's dog -- dead!
"My God! What happened to Mupsi?" she gasped.
"Sit down, lass," said the inspector gently and made her a cup of tea till she calmed down then he told her of her father's murder and she wept uncontrollably. He poured himself a cup , and while they drank he comforted her and tried to explain as much as he could about her father's death. Then they went round the house to check it out."

It all seems rather juvenile, what with its very short paragraphs and chapters and its use of large type. Only the occasional appearance of wordslike "Bugger off" suggest that the author had an older audience in mind. It is not helped too by clumsy repetitions as when Hartley learns on page 26 that Matthews, a new detective constable, is not a Mason, then has to be told all over again on page 40. Hartley (like the author?) has a thing about Masons and indeed about all "upper-crustians", one of his favourite expressions. Another example is when Hartley tells Donaldson that the person they are visiting "keeps a good whisky, Sir," on page 40 and then tells them again on page 41 that "he keeps a very good whisky, sir." And there are some half a dozen proof-reading errors too, with sentences like "He was also wearing and (sic) expensive gold watch".

The hostility between Hartley and his boss Supt Donaldson goes on very much as before, but nevertheless still has some entertainment value, as when we are told that Hartley prayed for him "ardently at times - that he (Donaldson) would get his promotion and move on". And when Hartley is told off by Donaldson for "drinking socially in public with your sergeant" he can more than hold his own:
"I will not have senior officers fraternising with those below them and that's final. Have you anything more to say?" barked Donaldson.
"Yes," said Hartley quietly. "When you and PC White meet at the freemasons lodge, I take it you never speak in brotherly accord?"
Donaldson was lost for an answer. He grew red in the face then blurted out lamely, "Get out, Hartley!"

There is a strong villain in the book too, a Dr McKinley, owner of the sinister chemical plant who has a young housekeeper who "made the most of what nature had amply endowed her with. Her figure it carried all before her yet there was enough behind to hold any male's attention, too."

Hartley himself still remains an interesting character, even if it is hard to accept that he could behave in a "most irregular way" and join in a robbery, or subsequently be silly enough to go on to McKinley's boat and, after being fed a generous breakfast, almost get fed to the sharks. But, as you would expect, McKinley has time to confess all before he "urged Hartley to finish his breakfast. 'We've given my pets their entree and we don't want to keep them waiting for the main course, do we?'
Hartley cleaned up his plate and drank his tea slowly. Then he asked for some toast.
'You're a cool customer,' said McKinley. 'I admire your nerves.' He rang the bell again and ordered toast which appeared minutes later. Hartley buttered it slowly and asked the jam. That, too, appeared and was plastered on his toast. It was the slowest slice of toast he ever ate."
He was of course playing for time hoping that a police launch was on its way. Needless to say, it was.


There is a page about the author on the Literary Heritage site, and an appreciation of his short stories on the Story site.




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The first books look very self-published, but there is an edition of The Bradshaw Mystery (see below) that seems much more professionally produced. Its cover is really stylish. And The Graveyard Murder is handsomely produced.
The Bradshaw Mystery cover
The Graveyard Mystery cover
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