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Tuesday 12 October 2021

‘Whitethroat’ by James Henry

Published by Riverrun an imprint of Quercus Editions Ltd,
8 July 2021.
ISBN 978-1-2940-110-3 (HB)

Whitethroat is the third book featuring DI Nick Lowry and the old Queen Street Police Station. Like the first two books it is set in and around the garrison town of Colchester in 1983 – we’ve now reached November - and like them it conveys a wonderful sense of the atmosphere and topography of the area.

Lowry has finally parted from his wife though his new relationship with Becky leaves much to be desired. He has fallen back on alcohol and valium to help him survive the uncomfortable no-man’s-land he seems to be inhabiting. Lowry’s team hasn’t altered, but DC Daniel Kenton is on sick leave needing drugs and alcohol to cope with the after effects of seeing a young girl throw herself in front of a train. DC Jane Gabriel is rapidly losing interest in him.

Up at the barracks, Lowry’s sometime friend, Royal Military Police Captain, James Oldham, is still playing his piano whilst doing his frightening best to keep the troops under control. His peace is disturbed when nineteen-year-old Lance Corporal, William Cousins, is found shot dead in full dress uniform outside the Hippodrome in Colchester High Street.  All the signs point to a dual fought between two soldiers in love with the same girl. Lowry and Oldham agree the military should sort the matter out.  Time is short because the soldiers are about to be deployed to Northern Ireland.

As the investigation spreads out, a local lad is found dead, and Lowry and his team become involved. They find themselves trying to unravel the resurgent business interests, resentments, and rivalries between two individuals, entrepreneur Howard Osgood -it’s his nephew who has been killed - and a black Mauritian travel agent, Gordon Topize. Both men are renowned for sailing close to the wind. Social issues between the posh, white, Marcus Hughes-Roper and Gordon Topize rachet up the tension. The body count increases.

In Whitethroat James Henry has skillfully woven several additional threads into this long - 437 pages - and complex story. DCS Stephen Sparks’ third wife, Antonia, is expecting his first child. When Antonia falls, and her own and the baby’s lives are at risk, the drama highlights the bond between Sparks and Lowry. Indeed, other than for Pushkin the cat, I think this is the most emotion we see from Lowry. I’m not sure if his unresponsiveness results from his valium habit or, given that we are in the early eighties, he finds it easier to relate to other men rather than to women and children. Certainly, Lowry’s non-existent relationship with his young son needs urgent attention.

Other issues remain unresolved. Will Lowry and DCS Sparks be investigated about the death of a witness? Will DC Daniel Kenton be chucked out of the force for buying and using drugs?  Will Jane Gabriel ever get to have that drink with Lowry, or will she just have to keep practicing her piano? James Oldham also plays the piano but is he looking in another direction - one that might get him dismissed from the army? Many readers, including myself, will be waiting to see where next James Henry takes his characters and the dilapidated police station.

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, and enjoys windsurfing and long lunches. 

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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