Crime Fiction Alphabet: T is for Once a Biker by Peter Turnbull

I’ve chosen Peter Turnbull’s Once a Biker, a Hennessey and Yellich mystery to illustrate the letter T in Kerrie’s Crime Fiction Alphabet. For a full list of his books see Fantastic Fiction.

Synopsis from the book jacket

When a death bed confession leads to the reopening of a murder case, it doesn’t bode well when both victims were members of the same bikers’ gang twenty years ago. As Detective Chief Inspector Hennessey and his team try to investigate, it seems the vow of silence is still as strong as it was all those years ago, and many ex-gang members refuse to discuss those days of dangerous initiation rites and violent dares. But, when an ex-member is suddenly found murdered, it seems that someone is determined to keep old secrets dead and buried…

My view

This is the 16th Hennessey and Yellich mystery, a police procedural set in the city of York. Once again I have jumped into a series that is well advanced in the sequence, but Once a Biker works well as a standalone. Chief Inspector George Hennessey is nearing retirement – ‘His pension was calling his name more and more loudly with each day that passed.’(page 15)  But he is still very much in charge and leads his team, Detective Sergeant Somerled Yellich, Detective Constables Thompson Ventnor and Reginald Webster (new to CID) in uncovering the murderer.

Tony Wells, dying of cancer in a hospice tells Gillian Stoneham, a counsellor, the whereabouts of Terry North’s body, buried in Foxfoot Wood outside York. Both Tony and Terry had been members of a bikers’ gang known as the Dungeon Kings. The post-mortem reveals that Terry had been killed by a blow to the head. There were fractures all over his body but no facial injuries. The pathologist Dr Louise D’Acre describes it as ‘a very dispassionate execution, but somebody wanted to hurt him before they killed him.’ (page 20)

One of the biker chicks had been murdered three weeks before Terry had been reported missing and Harry the ‘Horse’ Turner, a gang member had been convicted of her murder. Released from prison he now maintains that he was innocent and Hennessey believes him, but first he has to penetrate the bikers’ code:

“Don’t grass on your mates”. They are still bikers in their hearts, early middle-aged as they may be. Once a biker, always a biker. (page 62)

I know nothing about bikers and their gangs, but learnt a lot from this book, enough to make me glad that I didn’t – if the initiation ceremony is dangerous, the biker’s chicks’ leaving ‘ceremony’ is very brutal and shocking.

There is a very strong sense of place in this book, as George Hennessey walks to and from his office in Micklegate along the medieval city walls. I liked the chapter headings giving a short preview of the contents, in a similar vein to a Dickens’ novel, such as this for chapter 4 Wednesday, 19 June, 10.10 hours – 13.40 hours in which life in the biker gang is recalled.’ (page 71) In places the dialogue also has an old fashioned feel and the use of words, such as ‘forenoon’ adds to the formality not found in most of today’s crime fiction books. I liked it.

There is an intriguing ending to this book involving George Hennessey which made me realise that I have missed something in not reading the earlier books in the series, something I hope to remedy.

  • Paperback: 201 pages
  • Publisher: Severn House Paperbacks Ltd (Jun 2008)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 9781847510266
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847510266
  • Source: Borrowed from the library

4 thoughts on “Crime Fiction Alphabet: T is for Once a Biker by Peter Turnbull

  1. Margaret – Now that’s a fine choice for “T.” Ordinarily a novel with a focus on biker gangs wouldn’t necessarily be my cuppa, but this sounds intriguing….


  2. A novel with biker gangs wouldn’t usually call me either, but you mak this sound very interesting and the author’s name does ring a distant bell. I’ll be checking the library catalogue too.


  3. I’ve read some by this author, but I think a different series, a Glasgow or Edinburgh series of police procedurals? Very good, anyway. Apparently they were used as a model for the Taggart TV series. (But not credited – bit like Ed McBain/87 Precinct/Hill St Blues.)


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