When readers first meet Station Sergeant John Barlow in The Station Sergeant, he’s peddling his bike through the countryside of Northern Ireland in a raging downpour on the way to visit one of the farms in his Ballymena constituency. It’s a wonderful image, and one that sets the tone for what’s to come.
Barlow is a man not easily deterred, by nature or his fellow man. As a wily veteran of both the military (World War II) and the local constabulary, his hardheaded nature is a quality that serves him well and sets his direct supervisors—who are not quite comfortable with Barlow’s rough edges and rule-skirting approach to policing—on edge.
As The Station Sergeant opens, Barlow rides into a storm both literally and figuratively.
Mixed in amongst the crashing thunder, Barlow hears the distinctive sound of gunfire. Pushing on to the farm the shots appear to be coming from, Barlow happens upon the body of farmer Stoop Taylor. Given that Stoop was not the most popular man, the list of suspects is initially somewhat daunting.
The case would be challenging enough in itself, but adding to the uphill battle is the fact Barlow’s recently been saddled with a new District Inspector, one who appears ready to stop at nothing to see Barlow busted down in rank and transferred, if not outright booted from the force. Add into the mix the Dunlops, a local family of ne’er-do-wells and aspiring criminals, and Barlow has his work cut out for him. And that’s just on the professional front.