Detective Inspector Charlie Priest (“…as in Roman Catholic”) eats his banana and peanut butter sandwiches with honey because he can’t find condensed milk at the supermarket. He is head of CID in the mythical town of Heckley, situated in what was once called the Heavy Woollen District of Yorkshire, somewhere near Huddersfield and Halifax. (Fact is stranger than fiction: this part of the country is undoubtedly the Serial Killer capital of Great Britain. And for a hundred years this particular area supplied all the nation’s public executioners.) Charlie believes in doing things by the book. It’s just that, in the heat of the chase, he sometimes turns over two pages at once. And what does it matter if he loses a case once in a while, as long as he gets the one-liner in first? (His advice to a prisoner who tries to bribe him: “Never start a sentence with a proposition.”). A teenager in the seventies, he still hankers after the idealism of those days. Resolutely young at heart, he is equally at home at a rock concert, a football match or the opera, although he would probably prefer to be up on his beloved moors, with the wind in his hair. Up there, at least, nothing changes.
In the words of a critic, because critics are always right: “The character of Charlie is a winner, too: a good and intelligent man in a hard world, fighting villains on his patch with a mixture of common sense, determination and, above all, humour. He’s not perfect, which would be tedious and incredible, and he bends the occasional rule that gets in his way, but he clings to his compassion for victims of all kinds, and generally struggles to maintain his belief in humanity, despite being exposed to some distinctly rotten examples of the opposite.” (Crime Time)
Charlie was the youngest-ever appointed inspector in the local force, and is now the longest serving. He has a degree in Art, unusual for a cop, but it comes in useful for designing posters and he still dabbles at painting, producing large abstracts for the local gala, which earn him the good-natured derision of his staff. He has been offered promotion but he prefers the sharp end of policing. Senior officers tolerate his bohemian attitudes and indiscipline because he takes risks and produces results. A divorcee, Charlie has had a series of girlfriends but the expression unlucky in love was written for him. His tenuous love life is a thread running through the series, particularly the first four books, but they can be read in any order. He works long hours, and at the end of each day goes home to cook a meal, perhaps do some painting, and listen to his Dylan CDs or something more classical.