Stuart Pawson 1940-2016
Stuart Pawson, a founder member of Murder Squad, died on 25th February 2016. His friend and fellow crime writer Martin Edwards pays tribute to “one of life’s nice guys, a quiet, kind man who also happened to be a terrific writer.”
I got to know Stuart shortly after his first book was published by Headline. We met through the Northern Chapter of the CWA – where I’ve met so many lovely people over the years – and he proved a great companion, always aided and abetted by his devoted wife Doreen. When Margaret Murphy formed the Murder Squad collective of writers in 2000, Stuart and I were founder members, and we took part in a wide range of enjoyable events together. I have an especially vivid memory of Stuart reading, in his deadpan way, a very funny and quite raunchy scene to the (seemingly) staid ladies of Knutsford,and receiving a rapturous response.
He was a very witty guy, and because he was also very retiring, his humour packed even more of a punch. He, Doreen and I spent about a week together at a memorable Bouchercon in Las Vegas – was it really thirteen years ago? – and travelled around in the area – a drive through the desert to the Hoover Dam sticks in my mind as a really fun day out. This is a photo Doreen took of the pair of us on the journey, and it brings back happy memories…
Stuart’s dry wit and his love of Yorkshire make his books about Charlie Priest – there are thirteen of them – not only entertaining but also distinctive. Once in a while I talked him into writing short stories, and they too are highly enjoyable. One sad day came, though, when Stuart phoned me and broke the news that Parkinson’s had been diagnosed. At that point, he didn’t want it to become public knowledge, and he did keep writing for a while, as well as travelling the world with Doreen on one cruise after another.
Eventually, however, the time came when writing was no longer his priority. He resigned from Murder Squad, although he continued to attend CWA lunches at Boroughbridge every now and then. I last saw him there, and he was very frail, but the trademark humour was exactly as it had always been.
I’ll miss Stuart a lot. For me, as I say, there are many personal memories to cherish. For all of us, he leaves a legacy of accomplished crime writing that will be appreciated for many years to come.
This tribute first appeared on Martin’s blog, where you can find many appreciative comments from around the world.
Stuart Pawson started writing seriously after a career as an engineer followed by five years with the probation service, mediating between offenders and their victims. His first book, The Picasso Scam, was well received by the critics, and that difficult second one was described as being ‘actually better than his excellent debut’, which gave him a great deal of satisfaction. He went on to complete a total of thirteen, all described on his website www.meanstreets.co.uk along with a memorial to the man himself.
D I Charlie Priest is on gardening leave - the neighbours have complained about his weeds – when the call comes. Ghislaine Curzon, girlfriend of one of the royal princes, is in Heckley to open the Curzon Centre, a new shopping mall and conference facility. But as she reveals the commemorative plaque at the opening ceremony it looks like someone has got to it first, defacing it with a single obscene word in foot-high red letters. The visiting dignitaries are aghast, and the chief constable insists on Charlie investigating the case.
Charlie would rather be investigating the burglaries perpetrated by a two-man gang armed with a pit bull terrier, but he welcomes the opportunity to meet Ghislaine at the family’s stately home in East Yorkshire. The jollities cease, however, when the mayor of Heckley is found dead.
The subsequent investigation involves Charlie visiting the mayor’s diminutive, flute-playing wife; the manageress of the mall and her anarchist student son; a half blind jockey and a cornucopia of characters from the rich farmland of East Yorkshire. It’s going to take more than standard police procedure to crack this case.
As usual, doodling pictures of his colleagues in his notepad is the only entertainment DI Charlie Priest expects to get at the monthly superintendents’ meeting, but this time he’s in for a surprise. After covering all the points on the agenda, DCS Colin Swainby - the ugliest policeman in the East Pennine force and unfortunate subject of Priest’s restless pen - stands to make a personal statement. He is to resign, quietly and without fuss, because certain allegations have been made against him. And those allegations involve a mysterious beautiful woman….
When an attractive woman is snapped in a passionate clinch with MP Edward Gross on the roomy backseat of his Rover Connoisseur, Ted, too, opts for a quiet exit, but his has a far more permanent outcome.
Charlie knows there must be a connection between these two incidents and it becomes clear he’s going to have to go to great lengths to prove it.
“OK, listen up...anybody who’s never done a murder enquiry but would like to, raise your hand”. Everybody calls me Charlie... I encourage it.... we’re a team, and I know that every one of them would risk his or her neck for me, and I for them. So says DI Charlie Priest as his reliable crew at Heckley Police Headquarters are presented with a bizarre murder that leads to the discovery of low-tech industrial espionage. But is selling your employer’s confidential records enough to warrant this particularly sadistic murder?
Priest is content in his work, and his home life shows signs of improving. When his girlfriend, a former world-class athlete known as La Gazelle, wins her comeback race his happiness overflows. But all is not well in his team of hand-picked detectives and old enmities begin to surface. The next victim is murdered in even more bizarre circumstances, and Charlie begins to wonder if he himself is a catalyst that motivates the killer. When his suspicions are confirmed he realises that he is embroiled in much more than a hunt for a murderer. And that the case has now become personal....
Joe Crozier, a businessman with a decidedly shady past, is enjoying a pleasant evening of being wined and dined in all the best places. But the congenial atmosphere is shattered when his host yet again tries to persuade him to sell his nightclub, the Painted Pony. Refusing this time, however, costs Joe more than he could have imagined. Bound and gagged, he takes a silent and deadly dip in the nearby river. Meanwhile, Charlie Priest is called to another murder scene – only to find that the victim is an old school friend of his, the famous mountaineer, Tony Krabbe.
But what could this amiable lecturer have done to deserve being attacked with his own ice-pick? And could the two cases be linked? As girlfriends from Krabbe’s past return to savage his carefully built reputation, Charlie’s own love life takes a turn for the worse. Charlie is both desperate to help his girlfriend and to seek out the truth in the murder cases, but can love and work make comfortable bedfellows... or will Charlie finally be pushed over the edge?
The sun is shining in Heckley, and DI Charlie Priest is wisecracking his way through the daily routine. Work is, if not quite relaxed, at least stress free. The biggest case on the books? A petty thief pinching underwear from washing lines of unsuspecting housewives. Charlie’s pretty confident he can handle it. And the detective has another reason to be cheerful - his love life is on the up. Local geology teacher, Rosie Barraclough has fallen for his charms and romance is the order of the day. But all good things come to an end and its not long before the clouds roll in.
Two people nearly die after eating contaminated food from a local supermarket and if that wasn’t enough, intelligence soon reaches him that an organised dog-fighting ring has set up operations nearby. Charlie’s relationship has reached a rocky patch too – Rosie has cooled considerably towards him and it seems she could be hiding something. When Charlie gets to the bottom of her change of heart he is somewhat concerned, but offers his help nonetheless. But, as he’s about to learn, sometimes helping only makes things worse....
A grey day in Heckley and all is not well. Colinette Jones is the prettiest girl in school: athletic, charming and with everything to live for. What’s more, she’s never late home. So when she fails to show up for her supper, and a body is discovered half a mile from her house, DI Charlie Priest knows he’s got to make the house call that every mother dreads. Elsewhere another woman breaks with routine in the most horrific of ways – found dead at the side of an unlit lane. Plain Laura Heeley, married to the boy from the next street, two kids within three years and a mundane existence punctuated by episodes of Emmerdale and her twice-weekly visits to the bingo. A single stab wound is the only evidence of violence.
What could connect the two women except their untimely demises? Could there be more to a spate of other seemingly motiveless attacks than meets the eye? And what is the link with a tragic Sixties rock star? Constricted by the foot-and-mouth crisis, the town takes on a claustrophobic air and Priest must trap the killer before he strikes again. But where to begin? Perhaps the fresh gales atop Britain’s highest peaks might get the old grey matter working...
- The other, earlier, Charlie Priest books are:
- Chill Factor
Some By Fire
The Picasso Scam