Written by Nick Oldham — Charlie Wilder finishes off a jail term in HM Prison Preston, Lancashire, and is released with tag on his ankle. In theory, it will enable the authorities to track his movements. He is met at the prison gate by his brother Luke. Within an hour – for a large bundle of used notes – the electronic tag has been removed, and the brothers are celebrating the auspicious occasion in a brothel. Before the day is through they’ll have dispensed summary justice on a prison officer who had made Charlie’s life a misery, negotiated a franchise in a profitable prostitution racket, and committed armed robbery and murder in order to get the start-up money for the said enterprise.
Things start to go pear-shaped when Charlie realises that his long time girlfriend, Annabel, has not only failed to play the role of chaste temporary widow, but has managed to get herself pregnant by none other than Charlie’s mate and former gang member – Johnny. Detective Superintendent Henry Christie is in a pub enjoying a consolatory Jack Daniels prior to going home to his lady-love, when the peace is disturbed by a young woman – hysterical and covered in blood – who claims that she has escaped a beating, but that her boyfriend is in terrible danger. It is Annabel and this is Charlie’s payback for her tryst with Johnny.
So, Henry Christie is drawn into the pursuit of Charlie Wilder and his gang. He is partnered, bizarrely, by no less than the Chief Constable of Lancashire, Robert Fanshawe-Bailey. They are former colleagues but their careers have taken different directions. Because the skeleton crew of police officers on weekend duty are stretched to the limits dealing with disorder the length and breadth of the county, FB decides to get his hands dirty and help Christie pursue Wilder. Christie is no spring chicken himself and his boss is portly and completely out of condition. They find themselves approaching an isolated hillside farm, where there is no mobile signal and personal radio communication with police HQ is patchy at best. What follows is dramatic, and ultimately tragic.
Readers of the earlier Henry Christie stories will know not to expect elegant prose. Plots in this series are usually straightforward in that we know who the bad guys are from the outset, and it is just a matter of how Henry is going to track them down. Those looking for snappy dialogue or introspective musings on the meaning of life will be disappointed. Although these may seem like criticisms, they actually point up the strengths of the book. The action is frenetic, the descriptive writing – particularly when painting the habitually cold and rain-soaked Lancashire countryside – is first rate.
I do wonder if some of the bloodletting is unnecessarily graphic, particularly in the treatment of Annabel, but less squeamish readers may have no problems with it. Also, even if you were unaware that Nick Oldham is an ex-copper, you will be left in no doubt about his thoughts on the current parlous state of police manpower, particularly in rural areas. The final few paragraphs may hint that Henry Christie’s retirement is imminent, but this is a barnstorming read, full of blood and guts, fire and anger – and as English a police procedural as you will read all year.
Edge is released on 31 December.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars