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ScafellWritten by Matthew Pink — Stephen ‘Sparky’ Markham is washed up in all kinds of ways. After a career in the forces, and a stint with the Metropolitan Police in London, he has pretty much dropped out, and has taken refuge in his inherited cottage on the fells above Wastwater, in the Lake District. Depending on his mood, he takes solace in his vinyl record collection, bird-watching, hill walking and a very expensive brand of single malt whisky. He lives a largely solitary life, except for occasional contact with a former police colleague from London, Charlie Slider. Slider now serves with the Cumbrian Force.

The badly mutilated body of a young woman is recovered from the edge of a lake, and Charlie Slider has to try and score a quick result for his boss. It is quiet time in the national newspapers, and they are all over the Cumbrian murder like a rash. Markham is taken into Slider’s confidence, and begins to make enquiries of his own. He discovers that the case is more sinister and complex than the police have feared. There are links to people trafficking, as well as big corporations. A manipulative managing director of an oil and gas company, has his sights set exploiting the potential of fracking the local fells for natural gas.

There is a most unwelcome reappearance  – in Kendal – of an unwholesome London villain who both Slider and Markham thought they had seen the back of. Dominic Leadbetter is a pathological liar, has committed a string of rapes, and has several corpses to his credit. But he has got away with every crime of which he has ever been suspected. Years earlier, Slider and Markham exercised their own brand of summary justice on Leadbetter, and to say that there is bad blood between the men is an understatement. Then, Slider disappears, leaving his wife frantic with worry, and Markham is more than convinced that his old friend is implicated in the high level villainy of the people smugglers and money launderers.

This self-published book is something of a curate’s egg. There is a stunning sense of place. The rain-washed Cumbrian landscape, the brooding silence of Wastwater and Markham’s own sense of alienation and isolation are brilliantly described. Pink’s writing is often lyrical – occasional too much so. It is almost inevitable that with a self-published work like this, the lack of an eagle-eyed editor is much in evidence. I could have done without a lengthy telephone conversation between Markham and a German colleague, where the German’s accent is reproduced phonetically, to unfortunate effect. The ending left me scratching my head, after one fairly crucial piece of plot resolution remained an enigma. That said, Sparky Markham is a sympathetic and convincing character, and his natural introspection and self doubt make him appealingly vulnerable. He is immersed in tragedies from his own past, but has a fierce sense of decency, and the courage to back it up with action.

Matthew Pink

CFL Rating: 3 Stars

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