Peter Turnbull is really good at conjuring bizarre crime scenes…

August 25, 2012 at 10:42 pm (Book review, books, Mystery fiction, The British police procedural)

…such as the one he describes in The Altered Case.  It consists of five sets of skeletonized remains found in the Vale of York, buried in a remote field belonging to a local farmer. Even the story of their discovery is strange and haunting, a case of delayed reaction if there ever was one. 

The investigation into these strange circumstances is to be conducted by the York Constabulary, which is headed up by DCI George Hennessey. Hennessey’s right hand man is DS  Somerled Yellich. (That name is pronounced “Sorley,” by the way.)

Other members of the investigative team headed by these two are on hand, as they have been in previous entries in this series: Reginald Webster, Carmen Pharoah, and Thomson Ventnor.  Louise D’Acre is once again on hand as the forensic pathologist. One of the positive aspects of following a series like this one is that the characters that populate the novels come to seem like old friends. The reader is pleased to encounter them yet gain – for the most part, that is. With regard to the Hennessey and Yellich novels, each of the ‘regulars’ has his or her  cross to bear, either in the present or from the past. And then, of course, there’s George Hennessey’s secret lover….

I’ve said before that I like a mystery in which there’s and element of what I call ‘added value’ in the story. A good example would be the role played by the Pre-Raphaelite painters in Barry Maitland’s Dark Mirror. In The Altered Case, a mysterious family is likened to the equally mysterious disappearance of the Roman Ninth Legion,  If this reference sounds faintly familiar to you. it’s probably because it’s the subject of last year’s film, The Eagle. (The film was based on The Eagle of the Ninth, a novel by Rosemary Sutcliff.)

In one scene, in connection the current inquiry, Carmen Pharoah interviews a retired officer named Adrian Clough. It is he who likens the disappearance of the Parr family to the unknown fate of the Roman Ninth Legion. He begins the tale thus: “The Ninth Legion left Eboracum to go north to Caledonia….”  Eboracum was the Roman name for the City of York; Caledonia was what the Romans  called Scotland.

 Peter Turnbull previously wrote a series set in Glasgow and is now also writing one set in London. In this space, I’ve reviewed several other novels in the Hennessey and Yellich series: Chill Factor Once a Biker,  No Stone Unturned,  Deliver Us From Evil,  and Turning Point. In my write-up of Chill Factor I spoke about what a thrill it was to be reading one of these novels while I was actually in York. (Please forgive me for quoting myself):

This series by Turnbull benefits greatly by its setting: York, the cathedral city that dates back to Roman times…. 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.

One of my chief pleasures in reading Peter Turnbull resides in the fact that his prose style is quite unique – wholly his own, I would venture to say.  It has a somewhat antique flair, as when, instead of saying he doesn’t like winter, a  character articulates the sentiment thus: ‘I care not for winter….’ And there are the delightful introductions to each new chapter. Here’s the one for Chapter Four:

…in which Somerled Yellich and and Reginald Webster travel south, Thomson Ventnor meets a lady who is much befitted by means of upward social mobility and George Hennessey is at home to the too kind reader.

Commenting on my review of Turning Point, Martin Edwards says the following:

Peter Turnbull, whom I’ve known for fifteen years or more, is a very self-effacing individual, but a writer (in my opinion) of real quality. I’ve been familiar with his books since I was a student, and the P Division stories were quite prominent in their day. But he never ‘broke out’ and is now relatively little known. But he is a crime writer who deserves more recognition.

I was most grateful for this observation, from this most generous of writers whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. And yes, Peter Turnbull is as elusive as ever. Each time I review one of his books, I start the search anew: perhaps there’s now a website? Maybe even a Wikipedia entry! (There’s a Wikipedia entry for a Peter Turnbull, but alas, it refers to Scottish football player born in 1875.) Peter Turnbull was born in Rotherham, in South Yorkshire, in 1950. In his entry in Contemporary Authors online, a Gale database accessible through the library’s website, he is quoted as follows: “‘I would like my books to be an accurate historical record of UK society at the cusp of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.'”

From that same article, we learn that Peter Turnbull has had a most varied work life: trained as a social worker, he pursued that profession from 1978 to 1995, at which time he decided to become a writer full time. He has also been a steelworker and a crematorium assistant.  Also, at some point, he did a stint as a social worker in Brooklyn, New York. (I would really like to know more about that particular experience.)

I was delighted to learn that this author won an Edgar this year for his short story “The Man Who Took His Hat Off to the Driver of the Train.” Not sure how to get my hands on this, but will let you know when I do. Meanwhile, do pick up this or one of the other Hennessey and Yellich novels.  You’ll enjoy the best in British police procedural writing.

Peter Turnbull

4 Comments

  1. Sherri Kahl said,

    Hello,

    I too know Peter Turnbull.

    I spent some time with him 4 years ago.

    Sherri

  2. Richard Simpson said,

    Hello,

    Nice post about Mr Turnbull here. I am currently trying to get in contact with him as I work for a digital publishers, Endeavour Press, as we are interested in republishing some of his older works that have fallen out of print as eBooks. If you could possibly put me in contact with Mr. Turnbull or pass on my contact details that would be great.

    Best wishes,
    Richard Simpson
    richard.simpson@endeavourpress.com

  3. sedwith said,

    I was just looking to see if a man I once worked with was on the web anywhere. I just found your blog and I found Peter! Thank you. I must read his books and pen him a special line. So happy he is a successful writer.

  4. chris selby said,

    I was wondering if Peter was still writing novels as I like his books especially the Hennessey & Yellich series .I haven’t seen any new ones for a while.

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