|The Rev Det Insp Blake Hartley & Sgt Ibrahim Kahn
(creator: John Waddington-Feather)
|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."
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. 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)
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.
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.)
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."
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."
The Marcham Mystery (2001)
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)
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."
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.
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.
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:
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?'
|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.|