Dan Mallett wasn’t always a poacher. In fact, Dan went to school and trained as a banker. He was even employed by a bank, and seemed to be doing very well, much to his mother’s delight. She was married to a poacher, and she knew the highs and lows of that occupation. And then Dan’s father died; Dan threw over the banking business, moved home, and followed in his father’s footsteps.
Dan is certainly wily, finagling his way of scrapes and near apprehensions. He’s got more ways of slipping through the police’s fingers (and those of irate Yorkshire farmers and his neighbors) than anyone can quite believe. But a series of vandalisms at farms and garden greenhouses has the police’s eyes trained on Dan, and only on Dan.
Someone is blackmailing farmers and rural homeowners: pay up and pay monthly, or you’ll lose a crop, a barn, a greenhouse, or worse. It’s a protection racket, operating under the shadowy name of “AgriSecurity.” Dan, forced to “go to ground” because both the police and local farmers are after him, has to learn who’s behind this. He figures it our soon enough; what’s more difficult is gathering the evidence to prove it, and perhaps exacting some revenge.
Fire in the Barley by Roger Longrigg (writing as Frank Parrish) was first published in 1977. It’s the first in the Dan Mallett series, and it may be the only mystery series where the detective is a poacher. The story has lost none of its charm and mystery; the poaching scenes almost sound as if they were based on the author’s own experience.
Longrigg (1929-2000) wrote numerous mystery and suspense novels under different pseudonyms. He uses Frank Parrish for the Daniel Mallett novels, and Ivor Drummond and Domini Taylors for others. He’s also published under his own name, both fiction and non-fiction, about foxhunting and horse racing. Other Daniel Mallett novels include Snare in the Dark, Sting of the Honeybee, and Fly in the Cobweb.
Fire in the Barley is a well-told tale and just as fresh as it was 43 years ago. And a protagonist like Dan Mallett makes you want to read immediately the next book in the series.