Chill Factor by Peter Turnbull

May 2, 2007 at 12:42 pm (Book review, books, The British police procedural)

Having recently fallen prey to a particularly sharp hunger for a British police procedural, I picked up CHILL FACTOR by Peter Turnbull. I was virtually certain I would enjoy it, and I did. Turnbull writes a good, brisk procedural; his books are short – usually 200 pages or less – and they pretty much follow the classic form of this sub-genre. Detective Chief Inspector George Hennessey and his ever-reliable and resourceful Detective Sargeant, Somerled Yellich, are called upon to investigate the bizarre death of Gary “Hammer” Sledge. The body, with no signs of any violence done to it, lies on the grass in a city park in York, in full view of passersby. In fact, it is not until one of those passersby passes by again several hours later and sees the body still lying in the park, in the exact same place and position as it was several hours earlier, that anyone realizes that what they are seeing is not someone asleep, but rather someone sleeping The Big Sleep!

The investigation takes many twists and turns before our intrepid duo solves the case. One thing I really like about mysteries this short is that there is not enough space for the plot to become hopelessly convoluted. Also, Turnbull writes excellent dialog, and some of the secondary characters in this book are quite memorable. I am thinking in particular of an insouciant teen-ager named Heather Lyall. She refers to her mother and father as Dumb and Mad respectively; that is, when she’s not calling them both “the relics.” Turnbull calls Heather one of life’s survivors; the reader has no doubt that this is true. This girl keeps pretty rough company, but she is always ready and able to give as good as she gets. I was especially intrigued when, upon being asked for another girl’s name, she informed the rather gobsmacked Yellich that said girl was “yclept Sylvia.” Had she studied Chaucer in school, one wonders? In fact, Heather was a product of Catholic schools – pity the poor nuns! She also has a thing for mnemonic devices; here are a few she tries out on Yellich:

“Scout Masters Hate Eating Onions” is for the Great Lakes: Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario.

“My Very Easy Method Just Speeds Up Naming People” is for the planets in the solar system.

There are loads more where they came from. Poor Yellich was fast approaching overload by the time the interview was over!

The somewhat disparaging Kirkus reviewer describes Hennessey and Yellich as “plodding.” I don’t agree at all; I positively enjoy the time spent in their company.Turnbull touches lightly on the rather poignant private life of both protagonists without turning the book into a soap opera. (Do I think there are crime writers who are guilty of this sin? Oh, yes!)

This series by Turnbull benefits greatly by its setting: York, the cathedral city that dates back to Roman times. At one point, someone inquires as to whether living in York is like living in a museum. For sure, this ancient place is a veritable treasure house. You roam the narrow streets of “the Shambles,” where many of the low structures (kept low by law, I’m told) date from the Middle Ages; then look up! You see the astonishing Minster, the largest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe, towering above everything. All passionate readers know the special joy of reading a book set in a place you happen to be in. I had that pleasure with regard to York in the fall of 2005. I don’t remember which book in this series I was reading at the time, but I do remember my delight in reading about “walking the walls” and heading into snickelways (narrow alleys between buildings) while I was actually doing those very things myself.

Turnbull has an older series, presumably discontinued, set in Glasgow. If and when I get to that Scottish city, I will surely have a book from that series tucked under my arm. Until then, I’ll stick with Hennessey and Yellich as they roam the streets – and snickelways! – of York, searching for clues and culprits.

[Remember to visit Stop! You’re Killing Me – www.stopyourekillingme.com – for up-to-date series information.]

3 Comments

  1. The small, tightly wound British police procedural lives! THE EDGE, by Clare Curzon « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] Now the subject of cozies is a whole other kettle of fish, one I don’t want to flail around in at the moment. (Can one flail around in a kettle – of fish, or of anything else?) I think of cozies as being relatively low on violence; at least, the author endeavors to keep the violence offstage and allude to it in general terms, omitting the lurid particulars. The books I’m talking about can feature some rather shocking, explicitly described crime scenes. (My current favorite writer of the short, tight procedural is Peter Turnbull.) […]

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