Right to Kill by John Barlow – Review
By Sandra Callard
John Barlow is a new name in the healthy, if thoroughly saturated, realm of police procedural novels. Right to Kill is set in Leeds and its immediate locale, and it is obvious from the start that Barlow knows his stuff regarding the surrounding small towns and villages that are peppered around the ever-expanding city of Leeds.
The story centres on the double murders of two young thugs, heavily into drugs and the dealings of such. An original touch in the first murder is the use of a pencil, of all things, as a very effective murder weapon. The man in charge of the case is Detective Sergeant Joe Romano, and that’s a name to conjure with in the seedy byways of Kirklees, which borders onto Leeds proper. Romano, obviously of Italian immigrant descent, is a pleasant, intelligent individual, in his forties and recently divorced. He has also just returned from a foray into France where he worked, without much success, as an Interpol detective. However the local DCI has a great regard for Joe and puts him in charge of the case.
He is joined by the flamboyant, hard talking and drinking, half-Bangladeshi, Rita Scannon, and what a character we have here. She is the antithesis of DS Romano and because the first murder occurred bang on the border of Leeds and Kirklees it requires the cooperation of both constabularies. This is a partnership which should fail dismally but doesn’t, and in fact becomes a triumph as the two make a fascinating, amusing and very believable team. Rita takes over every situation but can occasionally be too precipitous, whereas Romano is a deep and intuitive thinker, but they respect each other’s skills and the slow blend of regard is well done by the author.
The thoughts of the murderer take us through the action of the murder in a very ingenious way, that gives the reader no clue as to age, sex or appearance. It is in itself a piece of cool, frightening and unexpectedly lethal piece of writing that sets the scene beautifully, as we absolutely know there will be further murders.
This book grows in power with the reading of it. The pace increases steadily, almost without the reader becoming aware of it. In the final pages of the book I became aware that I was reading very quickly as the tension mounted to apprehend the murderer. I have come across this anomaly quite often, and particularly with regard to crime books, as the story heads towards its climax. Certainly in this book it demonstrates so well the power of the author and his skill in empowering this.
John Barlow was born in West Yorkshire and, even though he now lives in Spain, his power of description of the lesser known and lesser loved areas of Leeds and Kirklees are startlingly vivid. I know every area, every pub and every landmark of Leeds that he mentions, and because I am a native I appreciate the vast research he must have covered to convey the areas so explicitly. Police detective novels are immensely popular at the moment and Barlow could well start a new series with Romano and Scannon’s exploits in Yorkshire. I’ll keep an eye out for more.
‘Right to Kill’ by John Barlow is published by Harper Collins, £14.99 hardback