The Chester Mystery Novels
Introduction: WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS
The "Chester Mystery" novels have been described as being a cross between "Morse" and the "DaVinci Code". Based in the police station beneath the Town Hall (rather than the Cheshire Constabulary headquarters), at present they are all not currently in print. Each of the plots follows the usual course of a classic Gentleman Detective investigation overlaid (as the protagonist sees it) with the efforts of an unseen hand to derail the investigations. Whether there is a "vast and dark" conspiracy ranged against the Detective or whether it is the product of his own paranoia is only to be resolved in the last book.
Dutton's view of the world is in part based on some rather outlandish "conspiracy theories", many of which are associated (at least in his own mind) with the city of Chester.
A sub-plot of the series has Detective Dutton trying to complete his book about the Earls of Chester which is a counter-factual history relating to Ranulf de Blondeville (see Arthur Counter-factual). In that fictional work Arthur of Brittany (Ranulf's stepson, and nominated heir by Richard Lionheart) survives the attempts of King John to kill him and goes on to become king of England from 1217 to 1258 (instead of Henry III).
A further series of sub-plots are Dutton's interest in historical mysteries. These include several "murders". As the story develops Dutton begins to believe that his current cases and his historical interests are not so separate as he thought.
- Dutton is descended from the Dutton family who were granted the right to hold the "Minstrel Court".
- Dutton's "ancestral home" was bought by the Dewar whiskey family in 1933 and shipped to East Grindstead where it was rebuilt (Dutton does not touch whiskey as a result).
- Dutton occasionally drinks in Duttons.
- Dutton lives in the Chester suburb of Handbridge (more specifically, in St George's Crescent, Queen's Park).
- Dutton's favorite breakfast spot is a cafe in the Garden Quarter of Chester.
- Dutton owns an original Louise Rayner print (see: Art of Louise Rayner) which he picked-up "for loose-change" in Boughton:
- "Up the jury-rigged stairs which looked like something intended to be temporary fix, but had somehow become a fixture, was a bright square room empty save for the collection of long-case clocks that stood shoulder-to-shoulder around the walls, and slotted between one with a rocking ship and another that waved the sails, he spotted the print."
- Dutton has an interest in A E Housman - because he believes that the "Eliptical Building" in Chester was based on Roman Astrology and Housman translated the classic work on the subject.
The interconnected plots (and a note of when they are set) are summarised as follows:
- 1 Mercury Falling (1984)
- 2 de Meschines Codex (1990)
- 3 Deadly Rosary (1993)
- 4 The Fischer King (1999/2000)
- 5 Deva Victrix (2007)
Mercury Falling (set: 1984)
In the middle of the "Cold War" our favourite Chester detective is woken from a recurring nightmare by a call from his chief and told he has a murder to investigate, and that if he gets to the Infirmary quickly he can interview the victim. The "victim" turns out to be a right-wing politician who has been dosed with a slow-acting but lethal poison and is saying little about which of his many enemies might be responsible. Matters are complicated by the interest of "state security" who maybe suspect this is part of a larger plot. Then the other bodies start turning up.. ..and the reason for the murder slips slowly into the past, yet the murderer has left an enigmatic calling card, just to ensure that the victim knows why he has been killed. This is the first case on which DI Dutton works with DS Balshaw (who meets Dr Patel in this novel). Dutton is given a clue that the answer to a deeper mystery is to be found in the opening credits of a television series. Novel also intruduces DI Duttons fondness for historical mysteries as throughout the book he makes references to his investigations of the "murder" of Richard of Avranches a Norman Earl of Chester.
Real-world events in 1984 that are mentioned in the novel:
- Konstantin Chernenko succeeds the late Yuri Andropov as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union;
- Miners Strike: A year-long strike action begins in the British coal industry;
- Brighton Bombing: The Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) attempts to assassinate Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the British Cabinet in the Brighton hotel bombing.
- Bhopal Disaster: A methyl isocyanate leak from a Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India, kills more than 8,000 people outright and injures over half a million (with more later dying from their injuries the death toll reaches 23,000+) in the worst industrial disaster in history.
- River Dee - blunt instrument;
- Heronbridge - blood loss;
- Roodee - decapitation;
- Grosvenor Bridge - drowning.
de Meschines Codex (Published in the US as "Fleshmongers Row") (set: 1990)
Dutton's historical hobby has him investigating the murder of "Morgan", associated with Morgans Mount, a watchtower on the City Walls. A visiting archaeologist is found dead in an abandoned city-center church, the letters "DCLXVI" scrawled in blood by his side, the letters "Lev 1928" tattooed on the back of his hand. A search of his hotel room reveals little more than that he is an avid fan of Charles Kingsley. It soon appears that his death has nothing to do with "Black Magic" but is the work of a book-collector eager to lay his hands on the last remaining copy of a work supposedly written by Ranulf de Blondeville one of the Norman Earls of Chester. Or is it quite that simple.. ..just what was in the book, where is it now and who are the members of the mysterious "Grosvenor Park Lodge - 1565".
Real-world events in 1990 that are mentioned in the novel:
- Reunification of Germany,
- Desert Shield,
- launch of the Hubble Space Telescope,
- the Baltic states declaring independence from the Soviet Union.
- Nelson Mandela was released from prison,
- Margaret Thatcher resigned as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom after over 11 years.
- Abandonned Church in "Fleshmonger's Lane": Newgate Street;
Deadly Rosary (1993)
Balshaw is just beginning to get over the death of Dr Patel when a series of horrific telephone calls start. An unidentified body in the Cathedral and a trail of bloodstains that makes no sense. Just what is the connection between Gladstone and Disraeli, Mallory and Irving and the untimely and violent deaths of the most prominent Chester City Guides. Just what has this got to do with the supposed escape of Edward II (first of the "Royal" Earls of Chester) from death with a red-hot poker, hidden messages in Ranulf Higden's Polychronicon and some mysteriously masonic errors of sculpture at the Town Hall. Unless DCI Dutton can solve the "riddle of the shrine" the murders will continue.
The Fischer King (1999/2000)
DCI Dutton is on the point of retiring, and DI Balshaw is concerned about his sanity, but what seems like a simple, but barbaric, "drug-related killing" starts to unravel into a complex tale concerning the last and lost few yards at the end of the Bayeux Tapestry, a ghoulish discovery at St Johns Church and a paper bearing Shakespeare's epitaph found in the wallet of a corpse which turns up in Stanley Palace. Just what is the meaning of the references to "Dinas Bran" that keep turning up and just who wants this case closed and why? There is a passing reference to the "Morse" novel "The Wench Is Dead" in terms of a reference to the unsolved April 1877 "murder" of Charles Moston, aged 21, who was found lying on his back on the towing-path of the canal near Waverton, in a dying state - Dutton believes that Moston actually survived, alive but paralysed by his spinal injury, until he was finally killed by the "post mortem" examination by a certain Dr Watson.
Deva Victrix (2007)
..perhaps a redemption, explanation and resolution can be found in the almost derelict corridors of the "County Asylum", where the local junk-shop owners are gathering "used equipment". Several threads come togrther around a lost play, the "Chester Tragedy". And what is link between the death of a demolition contractor with an interest in geneology (named FitzWarin, like one of Dutton's favourite outlaws) who was working both on the Asylum and on Freemason's Hall in Hunter Street. Or perhaps there are some locked doors that it is best not to open...
The following characters occur in more than one novel in the series:
- Richard Dutton: Detective, suffers from "Paranoid personality disorder" (PPD) a mental disorder characterized by paranoia and a pervasive, long-standing suspiciousness and generalized mistrust of others. Individuals with this personality disorder may be hypersensitive, easily feel slighted, and habitually relate to the world by vigilant scanning of the environment for clues or suggestions that may validate their fears or biases. Paranoid individuals are eager observers.
- Darren Balshaw: Dutton's sergeant and long-term sidekick. Balshaw comes from a maritime family in Liverpool and moves to Chester after a major drugs case in which he is required to travel to Amsterdam and impersonate a Liverpool drug dealer. As part of the "disguise" Balshaw gets the "interesting" body piercing, which Dr Patel is concerned will "chip her teeth". Balshaw is noted for his good looks, thick accent, very keen sense of smell and slight sadistic tendencies (especially towards women).
- Dr Patel: Darren Balshaw's girlfriend.
- Parry: Duttons boss.
- Ms Mosterd: Incidental Dutch tourist (nothing bad happens to her)
- McBride: Policeman, works for Special Branch in Chester. The vain and ambitious McBride is a long term rival of Dutton.
- Connor O'Caine: Forensic pathologist. Nicknamed "Cocaine" - but never within range of his hearing.
- Stanislaw: Polish Cafe Owner - owns the "Fat Friar", Duttons favorite breakfast haunt, in what will later be called the Garden Quarter. His son later opens a string of rather more upper class restaurants in Chester.
- Brian Sand: A psychopathic serial killer and one of Duttons cases prior to the events in the novels. Dutton has frequent nightmares about Sand.