Prize Murder by Nicholas Rhea

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Prize Murder by Nicholas Rhea

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Category: Crime
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: If you're a fan of the lighter end of the police-procedural genre (where the characters matter more than the plot) then this book makes an entertaining but not stretching read. If you prefer Ian Rankin, then don't even think about it!
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: October 2006
Publisher: Constable and Robinson
ISBN: 1845293754

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Detective Inspector Montague Pluke is searching for the legendary Holy Trough of Blackamoor when he discovers a body on the Yorkshire Moors. He would never have seen it had it not been for the fact that this part of the Moor had recently been burned off. A body could remain undiscovered for years in deep heather. His investigations bring him into contact with the Manchester police and involvement with an undercover sting operation.

I'm a fan of police procedural novels but this is very much at the light-hearted end of the range. The author, Nicholas Rhea is the creator of the popular Heartbeat television series and has written more than a hundred other books over the last forty years, some under various pseudonyms. Amazingly this would seem to be the first I've read, but if I had to compare him with another author it would be M C Beaton and her Hamish Macbeth stories or even her Agatha Raisin series. What they have in common is that the characters are more important than the plot.

We know what happens right from the beginning. Someone in Greater Manchester is targeting paedophiles (so that's alright then) and they disappear, presumably having met their deaths. Brent Fowler works at a leisure centre but he was moved from the swimming pool to the cafeteria after complaints about his attentions to little girls. There's even a suggestion that he's murdered a girl. He gets a letter saying that he's won a prize of a weekend away. He's not seen again until our hero discovers his body.

Our hero is an unlikely hero; deeply superstitious and obsessive about doing the right thing, he's more caricature than character and his clothing made me think of Sherlock Holmes with a mobile phone. He's endearing but not really believable. He's assisted by the good-looking Detective Sergeant Wayne Wain about whom we know little more than the fact that he's good looking and has an unimaginative combination of names. Pluke's wife, Millicent, performs good deeds and cooks nursery-food meals. You smile as you think that none of them would survive in the real world.

The plot is mildly entertaining but not taxing in any way. If you like this end of the police procedurals genre then it's probably more interesting than most. Nicholas Rhea was a policeman for thirty years until he retired to spend more time with his pseudonyms. He has knowledge of police procedures - that much is obvious - but it's nearly a quarter of a century old and an investigation of the type which Pluke mounted seemed anachronistic in an age of computers and mobile phones. That's me being picky though - this is not a plot or a book which you're meant to take too seriously.

What Rhea does have to perfection is North Yorkshire - the people and the countryside. It's a beautiful part of the world and the contrast between the rural splendour of the Moors and the seamy backstreets of Manchester couldn't be starker. He neatly catches the mistrust which Yorkshire people have for those from Manchester, but I'd have been happier with a more balanced portrayal of illegal immigrants.

If you enjoy the lighter end of the police procedurals genre then you could do a lot worse than this book, but if you take your crime a little more seriously then this doesn't compare in any way with the likes of Ian Rankin. If it is the type of book which you enjoy then you might also enjoy No 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith.

My thanks to the publishers, Constable Crime, for sending this book to Bookbag.

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