Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Judas Sheep: Stuart Pawson

The Judas Sheep is the third book in the Charlie Priest series by Stuart Pawson. It was published in 1996. There are now thirteen books in the series, the last published in 2010.

I read the first two books in the series, The Picasso Scam and The Mushroom Man, a few years ago. I liked both of them very much, and plan to read further books in the series.

Excerpt from the book description at the author's website:
Detective Inspector Charlie Priest of the Yorkshire force is officially on leave, but his superiors call him in when Mrs Marina Norris’s chauffeur is found dead by a blast to the head with a Kalashnikov. Charlie is the first to learn that Mrs Norris herself hasn’t been home since the murder, though her husband, a tobacco millionaire, seems unfazed by this fact. Charlie’s certain there’s a link between the murder and the disappearance – but leads are sparse and he has to come off the case.

Soon he’s back in harness again, this time on the trail of drug smugglers on the Hull-Rotterdam run.
Description of Charlie Priest at the author's website:
He is head of CID in the mythical town of Heckley, situated in what was once called the Heavy Woollen District of Yorkshire, somewhere near Huddersfield and Halifax. (Fact is stranger than fiction: this part of the country is undoubtedly the Serial Killer capital of Great Britain. And for a hundred years this particular area supplied all the nation’s public executioners.) Charlie believes in doing things by the book. It’s just that, in the heat of the chase, he sometimes turns over two pages at once.
There is much more interesting information on the series and the author at that site.

The books about Charlie Priest are police procedurals. Charlie is a likeable fellow; he has a life outside of work, but he takes his work seriously. The books are told in the first person, narrated by Charlie. The first person narrative alternates with sections following the criminals told in third person. I like this style, and Pawson does it very well. The story is told with understated humor, especially in the portions from Charlie's point of view.

I was a bit disappointed in this book, it did not live up to my expectations. As in many police procedurals, the police are investigating several crimes, which later turn out to be interrelated. The reader knows a lot about the crimes and who is committing them along the way, so there are no real surprises at the end. I kept expecting some surprise or twist at the end. It is more a "how will they catch them" than a "whodunnit".

I seem to have forgotten that the first one in the series followed the same framework; I saw reviews for The Picasso Scam that commented on this. There are advantages and strengths to telling the story this way. The reader gets profiles of the criminals also and can see their motivations. In some ways, a more rounded story.

Charlie is such a nice person, you could almost think that this is a cozy (based on my description). He gets along with his co-workers and his superiors. But there are gritty elements. The crimes are serious and the criminals are immoral and depraved. Descriptions of crimes are not sugar-coated, but neither are they over-emphasized.

I don't want to scare away potential readers of this series. I firmly believe the Charlie Priest series is a great series. I have several more in the series and I will be reading them. This one just wasn't my favorite. The author says that they can be read in any order; I would recommend starting with the first one, The Picasso Scam.


Prashant C. Trikannad said...

A new writer and series for me, Tracy. Thanks for writing about Stuart Pawson's work. I like the first-person narrative in crime-fiction though I'm not sure if it alternates with the third person. Pawson appears to have pulled it off, though.

Anonymous said...

Tracy - I know what you mean about wanting to be at least a little surprised. Still, I'll confess to liking the police procedural format. And it's interesting that this takes the first-person perspective. Sometimes that works beautifully...sometimes not. I'm glad it worked for you in this case.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Thanks for that TracyK - I must admit, I think that I might also find this approach to the procedural too lacking in mystery or anyway surprise for my liking though such a long-runnign series must be making a lot of other people happy!

TracyK said...

That is what I think too, there are a lot of people enjoying this series, so I am continuing with it. We will see what the next book brings.