Blackwater by James Henry – 3.5*s



January 1983, Colchester CID

A new year brings new resolutions for Detective Inspector Nicholas Lowry. With one eye on his approaching fortieth birthday, he has given up his two greatest vices: smoking, and the police boxing team. As a result, the largest remaining threat to his health is now his junior colleague’s reckless driving.

If Detective Constable Daniel Kenton’s orange sports convertible is symbolic of his fast track through the ranks, then his accompanying swagger, foppish hairstyle and university education only augment his uniqueness in the department. Yet regardless of this, it is not DC Kenton who is turning station heads.

WPC Jane Gabriel is the newest police recruit in Britain’s oldest recorded town. Despite a familial tie to top brass, Gabriel’s striking beauty and profound youth have landed her with two obstacles: a young male colleague who gives her too much attention, and an older one who acts like she’s not there.

January 1983, Blackwater Estuary

A new year brings a new danger to the Essex shoreline. An illicit shipment, bound for Colchester – 100 kilograms of powder that will frantically accelerate tensions in the historic town, and leave its own murderous trace.

Lowry, Kenton and Gabriel must now develop a tolerance to one another, and show their own substance, to save Britain’s oldest settlement from a new, unsettling enemy.

My Review

I received this via Real Readers and given their (now thankfully changed) policy of sending out books without prior warning it’s sometimes a bit hit and miss as to whether it would be something I’d have chosen myself. As it happened I enjoyed this, and not having read any of the Frost prequels, came to this author blind and without any preconceptions.

The story is based in Colchester, a garrison town with nearby coastal areas, that play pivotal roles in the plot. The book created an immediate interest with opening chapters that introduce a headless body, a town vs army scuffle that results in a death and an illicit drugs deal. Combine this with a DI that is having problems of his own and there was enough to have me hooked. DI Nick Lowry is a great character and he along with his young protege DC Kenton, have a relationship that promises great things going forward, as it’s already pretty well drawn in this first outing.

I enjoyed the fact that it was set in the early 80’s for a number of reasons, not least because I can remember the era well. The book has enough of a nod towards earlier times, without being cliched. This is no Life on Mars meets the Sweeney, with stereotypical macho, homophobic and misogynist tendencies, though CS Sparks, Lowry’s superior, has a couple of physical encounters that Jack Regan would have been proud of. It’s really a period on the cusp of change when in theory women were starting to be seen as more than the tea makers and there are a couple of female officers that have promising roles. The other reason I like this, is because it is a straightforward police procedural with no hi-tech diversions. No DNA or CSI discoveries to complicate the issues, just straightforward old fashioned policing. The nearest we get to modern media are the use of computers and faxes!

It’s a story that also relies on standard progressive timeline to forward the action. As that action takes place over the course of roughly a week, there are a lot of characters, theories and actual action to keep track of. If I have any criticism of the book, it would be that that at times, it got a bit complex and convoluted. It does work, but you need to concentrate.

Despite the occasional heaviness, the story kept me engaged and produced a result I was not expecting. So as a debut for DI Lowry and his team, I think it went well, it has enough characters of interest to certainly merit a second outing to see how they progress. and I’d happily read any future titles.

I received a review copy via Real Readers in return for an honest review.

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