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UnforgivingWritten by Nick Oldham — Detective Superintendent Henry Christie returns in another episode of his career fighting outlaws on England’s wild North-West frontier in Lancashire, including Blackpool, Preston and the surrounding areas.

Unforgiving is a police procedural, but if that bestows any sense of dryness, then think again. The story is drenched in blood, sometimes that of the good guys and sometimes that of the criminals. It is very violent, and very graphic.

Henry Christie is on his last legs – as a serving police officer, that is. After a disastrous episode on a Lancashire hillside when the principle fatality was none other than the Chief Constable of Lancashire (read our review of Edge), the sands of time are finally running out. When a young female special constable goes missing presumed murdered, a local gangster casually shoots up an unmarked surveillance van, and a raid on a flat goes spectacularly wrong, the powers that be lose their patience. Christie is pushed sideways into human resources to serve out the weeks until his retirement. In short order, his nameplate is removed from his office door, and the locks are changed.

Things are not all doom and gloom for Christie, as his fiancée is the landlady of a popular and thriving country pub, so he settles down to prepare for the post-police life of making decent coffee and pulling pints. It is at this point that a parallel plot-line converges with Christie’s future prospects in dramatic fashion. Jake Niven is a firearms officer with a wife and children, but he commits the big no-no of having a passionate affair with a female colleague from the same team. His wife finds out, and as she takes her engagement and wedding rings to a jeweler for valuation, her visit coincides with an armed robbery on the premises. No prizes for guessing which firearms officer is first responder, and when the gunsmoke settles, one of the robbers is dead, another critically wounded and – more significantly – Niven’s fellow police gunman has been mortally wounded.

Niven survives the subsequent police grilling, but his relief is short lived as his wife kicks him out. He meets Henry Christie by chance in a Blackpool pub, who is drowning his own sorrows at the end of his active police career. The two men swap hard-luck stories, and their lives become interwoven. The repercussions of the foiled jewellery heist are profound for all those involved and their families. As both Niven and Christie try to make fresh starts, events conspire to make their lives as difficult as possible. Criminals with grudges against both men decide that it is payback time, and while revenge is certainly best served cold, the action is white hot.

This is about as far from a rural-bobbies-on-the-beat Sunday night family drama as it’s possible to get, and the spectacular violence will not appeal to everyone. Likewise, it is said to be notoriously difficult to write effective sex scenes, and although readers must judge for themselves if the examples in this story are any good, I could have done without them as they added little to the narrative.

As befits a former copper, Oldham’s grasp of procedural detail is second to none, both when it all goes according to plan, or when everything goes pear-shaped. It is a riveting read, and Henry Christie is a perfectly believable – if not entirely lovable – central character. Be warned – just when you think that everything is done and dusted, we are left with the mother of all cliff-hangers in the final pages.

Severn House

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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