Written by John McAllister — John Barlow is in his element as Station Sergeant in Ballymena, Northern Ireland. It is the late 1950s/early 1960s, and up to now the biggest crimes committed in this decidedly rural area appear to be cattle rustling, and drunk and disorderly. So, when farmer Stoop Taylor is murdered, it is likely to upset the local crime figures and raise the blood pressure of the higher ups at police headquarters. As Barlow is first on the scene, he is soon in the thick of things.
Taylor was a mean and unpopular man, with a German wife and a 15-year-old son, but the case appears open and shut when a mysterious figure spotted leaving the scene of the crime is captured – and turns out to be Frau Taylor’s German husband…. 0r is he her cousin? Perhaps something is being lost in translation, and it is up to Barlow and his team to get to the bottom of it all by any manner of means.
The Station Sergeant is a neatly painted, affectionate portrait of a long-forgotten style of policing, where a clip on the ear and a boot up the backside were valid forms of punishment. Barlow is an engaging character with his own unique style of fighting crime. He is a winning mix of grumpiness, generosity, kindness and above all honesty. Yes, his methods may bend the rules a little, but this is a man who would never take a bribe. He is a great local copper, although unfortunately, his new boss seems set on shifting Barlow on to pastures new. Luckily, our hero has other ideas. Barlow is based on a real life bobby who was well known in the Ballymena area, and it is obvious that the author, who is also from Ballymena, held him in great esteem. He is portrayed as an astute and intelligent officer who pieces together the clues to catch the culprit – though not without some errors, detours and dead ends along the way.
This is a book that will appeal to lovers of lighter UK crime shows like Heartbeat and George Gently, because it neatly encapsulates an era where fighting crime was achieved by using intuition and local knowledge, rather than the use psychological profiling or the latest technology. That gulf is neatly highlighted in an early scene where, after finding Stoop’s mangled body, Barlow has to cycle in the pouring rain to the nearest property with a telephone to report the crime and call for reinforcements.
The Station Sergeant is only the second novel published by Irish-based boutique publishing house Portnoy Publishing and it is a pleasing addition to the crime fiction fold. John McAllister has previously written a collection of short stories featuring Station Sergeant John Barlow, and I hope that we will see more of this quirky policeman in the future. While not a novel likely to appeal to fans of hardcore, gritty crime, this is a book that evokes a long forgotten era and way of life, cleverly combined with the classic elements of a rip-roaring, good old fashioned whodunit.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars