Nathan Hawk is a 50-something, recently retired policeman living in the kind of village where the locals live in upmarket thatched cottages and spend long hours eating lunch, dinner or just plain drinking in a series of picturesque pubs. In chapter 1, a couple who run one of these pubs are shot and killed on the way home after closing up for the night, and the night's takings are stolen. Things are not what they seem, however, as the husband is on weekend release from serving a jail sentence for stealing a couple of million pounds. He has protested his innocence, but has he got the money stashed away somewhere? Or has his less-than-affectionate wife used it for a foreign hideaway?
The official police investigation of the deaths is rather complacent, so almost against his will, Nathan finds himself discovering plenty of unpleasant truths about his neighbours over the ensuing days. Nathan is the sort of man whom people like, and confide in, so he rapidly uncovers a range of suspects, including a drug-dealing window-cleaner, the owner of a local dating agency and a voyeur who has rigged up secret cameras in other people's houses.
While Hawk travels between Aylesbury and Oxford, and various pubs in-between, chatting to assorted ladies, villains, and shady characters, we learn that his beloved wife died six months ago, that he has four grown-up children who keep in touch with him by email from far-flung parts of the world, and that he has a hankering for the local doctor. Added to the mix is a young Japanese house-guest.
The plot proceeds in an easy if mechanical style. The author is a (pseudonymous) TV script writer, and it shows. The enthusiastic cover endorsements are by various actors known for playing cops, and the reader can't shake off the feeling of reading a TV pilot, in that characterisation is sacrificed for what can be described visually. One can imagine each of the children featuring in a future episode, and Hawk having a series of girlfriends, as he solves various future crimes in the Olde-English localities.
In sum, a pleasant-enough read, but a book without much of a heart. I think Hawk will be a popular TV detective, if a series ever is made – but a book that is too mechanical to make me desperate to read the sequel.