Gently North West by Alan Hunter

I first came across Inspector George Gently through the TV drama with Martin Shaw as Gently. There are 46 books in Alan Hinter’s Gently series and I’ve  read the first two , Gently Does It and Gently by the Shore and now the 14th book, Gently North West (first published in 1967). The full list of the Gently books is on Fantastic Fiction.  In the TV version Gently is based in Northumberland, whereas the books are mainly set in Norfolk.

Summary (Amazon)

There’s blood in the heather and a murderer on the loose when Gently pays a quiet visit to the Highlands of Scotland. Had Brenda Merryn not been such a strong-willed woman and had she not been so much in love with George Gently, driving all the way to Scotland for a holiday with Gently’s sister and brother-in-law might have been a bit of a challenge. Spying on a heavily armed private army of nationalists, being held at gunpoint on the hillside, being held prisoner in a filthy outhouse and becoming involved in a murder would be unthinkable. For Gently, it’s all in a day’s work and his holiday is put on hold while he stalks a murderer in the mountains, with Brenda by his side.

My view:

Gently North West is set in the fictitious village of Strathtudlem in Scotland in 1967 where Gently is on holiday with his friend, Barbara Merryn and his sister, Bridget and her husband. There is quite a lot of detailed descriptions not only of the Scottish Highlands but also of the route of Gently’s journey from London to Scotland. On their journey a man with a red beard nearly crashes into Gently’s car.

Then on their first evening in the Highlands, Gently and Brenda go for a walk and see the same man, standing high on a crag above the glen, peering at them through his binoculars.  The next morning, the body of Donnie Dunglass is found, stabbed in the back, face down on the heather near where Gently had seen the man with the red beard. He feels it is his duty to inform the local constabulary about the man he saw and so becomes involved in the search for the killer.

In this book there are several references that set the book firmly in the late 1960s with reference to the Scottish Nationalists ‘ activities during that time and even to Mary Quant. But what particularly interested me about Gently North West is not the actual murder mystery which I think is rather far-fetched, but the fact that Gently is no longer an Inspector working in Norfolk but is living in London, a Chief Superintendent with Scotland Yard. Obviously since the events in the second book Gently had been promoted several times!

Now I’m wondering if I want to read all the books to find out more about Alan Hunter’s Gently.

Alan Hunter was born in Hoveton, Norfolk in 1922. He left school at the age of fourteen to work on his father’s farm, spending his spare time sailing on the Norfolk Broads and writing nature notes for the Eastern Evening News. He also wrote poetry, some of which was published while he was in the RAF during the Second World War. By 1950, he was running his own book shop in Norwich and in 1955, the first of what would become a series of forty-six George Gently novels was published.  He died in 2005, aged eighty-two.

He dedicated Gently North West to his mother, Isabella Hunter, nee Andrews, who was from Culsalmond in Aberdeenshire. In his own words she ‘contrived to possess her son with an indelible prejudice for the land of heroes and poets. Rest her well where she lies and greetings to my unknown Scottish cousins.

Reading Challenge: this is the fifth book I’ve read that qualifies for the Read Scotland Challenge 2015.

Gently by the Shore by Alan Hunter: Book Review

Gently by the Shore is the second Inspector Gently book by Alan Hunter. George Gently is called in to investigate a murder in Starmouth, a British seaside holiday resort. An unidentified body was found on the beach. The victim was naked, punctured with stab wounds. Gently summarises it:

He had wandered into town, this enigmatical foreigner, he had taken lodgings, he had found a cafe to his taste and a prostitute to his taste; and then he had been, in a short space of time, kidnapped, tortured, murdered and introduced into the sea, his room ransacked and plundered of something of value. There was a ruthlessness about that … it bore the stamp of organization. But there was no other handle. The organization persisted in a strict anonymity. (page 92)

All Gently has to go on is his intuition. This man had been in disguise, no one seemed to know him or why he was in Starmouth. Gently by the Shore was first published in 1956 and reflects that period of time. Gently smokes a pipe and puffs his way through the investigate often in a haze of smoke when questioning suspects who also smoke. The account of a British holiday scene in the fifties brought back memories of childhood holidays (without any murders!) of sunny days on the beach, wet days in amusement arcades on the penny slot machines, the end-of-piers shows, beach cafes, deckchairs, and staying in Guest Houses, where you had bed, breakfast and an evening meal but weren’t expected to stay in your room during the day, the change-over on a Saturday with a mass exodus of one set of holiday makers before the next lot arrived.

It has a very ‘English’ feel about it:

Exceeding Sunday-white lay the Albion Pier under mid-morning sun. Its two square towers, each capped with gold, notched firmly into an azure sky and its peak-roofed pavilion, home of Poppa Pickle’s Pierrots, notched equally firmly into a green-and-amethyst sea. Its gates were closed. They were not open until  half past two. The brightly dressed strollers, each infected in some degree by the prevailing Sundayness, were constrained to the languid buying of ice-cream, the indifferent booking of seats or the bored contemplation of Poppa Pickle’s Pierrots’ pics. They didn’t complain. They knew it was their lot. Being English, one was never at a loss for a moral attitude. (page 145)

The fifties were also the period where the death sentence was still in force and Gently and the main suspect discuss the ethics of killing comparing a hired killer with the hangman. Gently maintains that the death penalty is an ideal – ‘to protect people on their lawful occasions’, and that his duty is to catch the criminal. The case is complicated by the involvement of secret agents, at which point I thought the plot became too contrived, and Gently is faced with solving:

… a planned execution, the details of which have been efficiently erased. (page 189)

But, solve it, he does!

My verdict is that this book doesn’t live up to the promise of the first one, Gently Does It, but I enjoyed the setting, the ethical discussions and the problem-solving aspects.

Gently Does It by Alan Hunter: Book Review

When I saw that Gently Does It by Alan Hunter was available as an e-book I bought it because I’d enjoyed watching the TV version with Martin Shaw as Chief Inspector George Gently. First published in 1955, this is the first in the Chief Inspector Gently series, set in Norfolk (unlike the TV version, set in Northumbria).

Product Description from Amazon

The last thing you need when you’re on holiday is to become involved in a murder. For most people, that would easily qualify as the holiday from hell. For George Gently, it is a case of business as usual. The Chief Inspector’s quiet Easter break in Norchester is rudely interrupted when a local timber merchant is found dead. His son, with whom he had been seen arguing, immediately becomes the prime suspect, although Gently is far from convinced of his guilt. 

Norchester City Police gratefully accept Gently’s offer to help investigate the murder, but he soon clashes with Inspector Hansom, the officer in charge of the case. Hansom’s idea of conclusive evidence appals Gently almost as much as Gently’s thorough, detailed, methodical style of investigation exasperates Hansom, who considers the murder to be a straightforward affair.

Locking horns with the local law is a distraction Gently can do without when he’s on the trail of a killer.

My thoughts

I really enjoyed Gently Does It. I liked the portrayal of George Gently, a patient, thoughtful policeman, never hurried or distracted, quiet and persistent. He eats a lot of peppermint creams and doesn’t follow normal police procedures, as he admits:

I oughtn’t to tell you this ‘“ I oughtn’t even to tell myself. But I’m a very bad detective, and I’m always doing what they tell you not to in police college. (page 36)

but he does get results. He takes his time and despite disagreeing with Inspector Hansom, from the local police force, he gradually works his way through the various suspects, all of whom have secrets that he winkles out.

About the Author (copied from the e-book version)

Alan Hunter was born in Hoveton, Norfolk in 1922. He left school at the age of fourteen to work on his father’s farm, spending his spare time sailing on the Norfolk Broads and writing nature notes for the Eastern Evening News. He also wrote poetry, some of which was published while he was in the RAF during the Second World War. By 1950, he was running his own book shop in Norwich and in 1955, the first of what would become a series of forty-six George Gently novels was published. He died in 2005, aged eighty-two.

There are more Gently books that I’m aiming to read. I love the titles and they’re all available as e-books!