Written by Douglas Watkinson — Nathan Hawk. The name conjures up a superhero or a big, bruising, bad guy, doesn’t it? Sorry to disappoint – meet Nathan Hawk, a former police officer with 30 years on the job, who was made to retire early because of ‘anger management disorder’ and now has time on his hands.
The quiet life in a Buckinghamshire cottage isn’t for Hawk, which is why he jumps at the chance to investigate a neat little case brought to him by his partner, local GP Dr Laura Peterson. An elderly patient has had a gold pocket watch stolen, pick-pocketed while he was in his local pub. This particular pocket watch is something special, with a provenance that puts it indisputably in the ownership of Heinrich Himmler just before he died.
In truth, there isn’t much to like about crotchety old Tom Manners, a widower who lives alone in a nearby village. Manners by name but not by nature, it seems, because the curmudgeonly pensioner doesn’t have a good word to say about anyone and at first Hawk wonders if the watch has really gone missing at all.
But as he investigates further, he begins to uncover some pretty unsavoury goings on, including people trafficking. Then the person he suspects of taking the watch turns up dead and suddenly, what started out as a simple theft, turns into something much more sinister… Whoever would have thought such things could be happening in the leafy lanes of rural England?
The settings are an integral part of this book and are lovingly drawn by a writer who obviously knows the place well. The action isn’t confined to chocolate box villages though – the Jericho Road of the title leads to Oxford. This is the fifth in the Nathan Hawk series although it is the first I have read. Newcomers need not worry, because this book works perfectly well as a standalone story.
Author Douglas Watkinson is an accomplished TV scriptwriter with a long list of shows to his name including some true classics – Z Cars, Lovejoy, New Tricks, Kavanagh QC and The Professionals. He is also a playwright and his crime writing displays an easy, engaging style and a knack for creating memorable characters in just a few sentences – no mean feat. I particularly liked old Manners, a grumpy old git straight out of the Scrooge mould, and snooty housekeeper Edith Barrowman. But my favourite by far is Hawk – he is a joy, and someone I’d love to share a pint with down the local. He’d also make a great TV detective – now I wonder who’d write those scripts?
Our hero’s sleuthing is interspersed with family crises (and with four children scattered around the globe, there are plenty of those). He isn’t a man to mince his words though and he hates it when his investigations are hampered by the demands of everyday life, some of which really get him riled. And you wouldn’t like Hawk when he’s angry – remember his ‘anger management disorder? He has ways to combat it though. Cue his imaginary map of the world, which he ‘pulls out’ and peruses whenever his temper begins to reach boiling point. Surely this is a first for a crime fiction character?
Hawk reminds me of Michael Fowler’s Hunter Kerr with a soupçon of Louise Penny’s Inspector Armande Gamache thrown in for good measure. All three are no-nonsense, dyed-in-the-wool coppers who won’t rest until they get to the bottom of things. I enjoyed my first excursion with Hawk and need to catch up on that back catalogue!
Armstrong & Jago
CFL Rating: 4 Stars