Written by James Craig — Inspector John Carlyle sets out for an evening run from his central London flat. While crossing Green Park he notices a young girl sitting alone and silent on a bench. Sensing something is wrong, and unable to engage her in conversation, he calls his station for a squad car to come and collect her. The appearance of a well spoken young Englishman at the scene puzzles, but does not deter him, and the youngster is taken to Charing Cross Police Station to be examined by a doctor. The medical examiner tells Carlyle that the 10-year-old has been the victim of serious sexual abuse.
Carlyle has no option but to hand her over to Children’s Services, for whom he has neither regard nor respect. Before she is taken into care, he learns that she is from Ukraine. Via a friendly cafe owner, she mystifies the Inspector by announcing that she is, “A little princess who lives in Buckingham Palace.”
With the help of the imperturbable Sergeant Joe Szyszkowski, Carlyle sets out to play a dangerous cat-and-mouse game with Ukrainian gangsters, corrupt police officers and perverts of the lowest order in the highest levels of society. He finds it increasingly hard to distinguish between those he can trust and those who may be out to stab him in the back – both literally and metaphorically. His pursuit of the the truth leads him from the seedy streets of Kentish Town, over the manicured lawns of the best address in SW1, to the London Eye. Just when he thinks he is beaten, he receives help from a very unexpected quarter.
There is much to enjoy in Buckingham Palace Blues. Carlyle is a likeable hero, and his family life is perceptively described with compassion and a wry sense of humour. London is vividly and authentically revealed to us, in all its glory and occasional squalor. Carlyle’s boss, Commander Carole Simpson, is an interesting character. Her husband is ‘doing time’ in an open prison for serious fraud. She wearily – and warily – tries to support Carlyle in his campaign, but has to keep one eye on her own position, and the complex web of social and political allegiances which keep it in place.
The book begins and ends with extreme violence, and in between there are explosive collisions between the forces of right and wrong. If I have a criticism, it is that while the overall subject matter is as dark as it could possibly be, there is a certain breeziness in some of the descriptive writing which does not always sound quite right. Also, I did wonder about the ease with which Carlyle carves a path the length and breadth of the capital – and the continent – in his determination to bring the villains to justice. Yes, he is a determined and resourceful copper, but he is still only a DI! This is the third John Carlyle novel and devotees of the first two will certainly not be disappointed here.
It’s available for Kindle now, and in paperback from 2 August.
Constable & Robinson
CFL Rating: 3 Stars