Outstanding entries in two favorite crime fiction series (by authors who themselves are something of a mystery) Part Two: Peter Turnbull

October 6, 2013 at 11:14 am (Book review, books, Mystery fiction, The British police procedural)

[Link to Part One: Bill James]



Monday, 5 June, 10.00 hours – 19.45 hours

In which Reginald Webster acts upon a whim and by this doing causes an interesting development, and the courteous reader is privy to another demon in George Hennessy’s life, but also to the joys therein.

A superscription in this style appears at the start of each chapter of a Hennessy and Yellich novel. The reader may be ‘courteous.’ ‘gracious.’ or ‘dear’; the plot developments hinted at are expounded on and clarified as the chapter unfolds.

In Gift Wrapped, a series of cryptic postcards lead police to the unhallowed site of a burial. The body unearthed there belongs to one who has been dead for quite some time. Who is this person? And how did he/she end up beneath the soil at the edge of a field? From this strange discovery, many mysteries commence to flow….

Peter Turnbull is a somewhat elusive – reclusive? – -presence on the crime fiction scene. From the  Gale Database Biography in Context (accessible online  through the library’s website), we learn that he was born in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, in 1950. He was educated at Richmond College of Fine Arts, Cambridge College of Arts and Technology, the University of Huddersfield,  Cardiff University, where he received his certificate in social work. He was then variously employed as a steelworker and crematorium assistant in Sheffield and London, and as a social worker in Brooklyn, NY. (I am curious to know how this last came about, its duration, etc.)

The writing in this series is distinguished by its curiously antique style. I can readily accept that it might not be to everyone’s taste. (The same can be said of Bill James’s prose style in the Harpur and Iles series.) Here, for instance, is Detective Chief Inspector George Hennessey:

“Warthill and Gate Helmsley…it does sound like the rural north of England, which will now be in all its summer bounty and splendour.”

Do real people – never mind real police officers – actually express themselves in this somewhat flowery manner? Well, probably not, at least not any more, although I confess I rather wish they did!

Peter Turnbull is good at concocting ingenious plots, and in my opinion, this is one of the best that he’s ever come up with. As the story moves forward, all sorts of  twists and turns materialize, evoking those “Aha!” moments that are meat and drink to crime fiction fans. I certainly recommend Gift Wrapped – in  fact, I recommend any and all the books in this series. And you can jump in at any point, because in each novel, Turnbull briefly recapitulates the history of the main and supporting characters. One reviewer complained of this practice, calling it needlessly repetitious. I like it very much. You get a sense that the officers’ personal lives exist in a kind of eternal present, while they do battle with the ever changing face of evil in the world outside.

Here’s an example of Turnbull’s method. In this scene, George Hennessey is standing in his back garden of his home, seeming to converse with someone. But in fact, he is completely alone. What is going on?

The gentle and most gracious reader will, however, be saddened to learn that our  hero speaking to, apparently, no one at all is not the symptom of harmless eccentricity in a a man in his late middle years; rather he is fully sane and his practice of telling the rear garden of his day is the consequence of a dreadful tragedy and the second significant loss in his life.

We are apprised of this tragedy anew in each of the novels in the series.
As always, we can thank Stop! You’re Killing Me for a comprehensive list of the works of Peter Turnbull. In addition to Gift Wrapped, I’ve reviewed No Stone UnturnedChill FactorOnce a BikerTurning PointDeliver Us From Evil, and The Altered Case  in this space.

In  his comments on my review of Turning PointMartin Edwards, who blogs at Do You Write Under Your Own Name, had this to say:

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.

The P Division novels, an earlier series by Turnbull, are set in Glasgow, where the author lived from 1978 to 1995, at which time he decided to become a full time writer. I read several of them before getting into the Hennessey and Yellich series, and if memory serves, I greatly enjoyed them. Their titles and publication dates can be found at the Stop! You’re Killing Me link above.  crisp2  41S3D0IoVaL


If you’d like a taste of Turnbull’s writing, read “The Man Who Took His Hat Off to the Driver of the Train.” This nicely crafted little tale won the short story Edgar Award for 2012. Its mention of ‘walking the walls’ in York brought back happy memories of my visit to  that magical city in 2005.




Here is the only photograph I’ve ever been able to find of Peter Turnbull: 53811


  1. Susan said,

    I’m glad to know he is still publishing. It’s hard to find his books over here, though I am collecting in both series. I want to read the Hennessy and Yellich novels especially as I lived in York for a year in 2000. I can’t say I’ve read any yet, I keep hoping to find more in each series so I can read several in a row in way they were written, not mixing the series up, which I don’t really like in a mystery series. I should just get started and enjoy them!

  2. Yvette said,

    I’ve never heard of this writer Roberta, but if he’s as elusive as you say, then that explains it I suppose. Though I’ve never seen his books either. But as usual you have me intrigued. I liked the ‘samples’ of Turnbull’s writing you posted and so I’m adding this series to my TBR list. Now if only I could read 24 hours a day all would be well. 🙂

    P.S. I finally read a book you recommended a couple of years ago, EVENING IN THE PALACE OF REASON by James R. Gaines and I could kick myself for waiting so long to read it (okay, I admit, I was a bit intimidated). What a fabulous book! I talked about it on the blog and of course, I gave you proper credit for bringing the book to my attention in the first place.

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