Blast from the Past Crime Fiction Mark Bailey Reviews W J Burley

Blast from the Past – Wycliffe and the Pea Green Boat by W. J. Burley

Wycliffe and the Pea Green Boat by W. J. Burley
Wycliffe and the Pea Green Boat by W. J. Burley

Wycliffe and the Pea Green Boat by W. J. Burley

(First published in 1975; The 6th of 22 novels in the Wycliffe series)

About the author

William John Burley was born in Falmouth in 1914. Married with two sons, he worked as an engineer before a change of direction led him to study zoology as a mature student at Balliol College, Oxford. Afterwards, he taught biology at Newquay School.

WJ Burley began his professional writing career with books about an amateur detective (Henry Pym) before deciding to concentrate on the investigations of a professional policeman (Wycliffe). This series gradually trended away from being a pure police procedural to stories about a policeman with a more psychological approach.

W J Burley
W J Burley

In The St James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers, Burley summed up his work thus:

‘Most of my books are set in the far southwest, and they are concerned with the tensions which arise within small groups of people who live or work together in close proximity – the family in a country house; the partners in a family business; the people living in a village street or town square. My criminals are never professionals but ordinary people who feel driven by repressed emotions of fear, hatred or jealousy to commit crimes which in other circumstances they would find unthinkable. In my more recent books I have used actual locations in Cornwall and Devon, confusing the topography slightly in order to avoid the risk of seeming to represent actual people.’

The quality of the books (along with the TV adaption with Jack Shepherd being of as good a quality although divergent from the books for practical reasons – the act of compressing a Burley novel done to 50 minutes proved almost impossible) have kept the Wycliffe books in print unlike the rest of Burleys work.

W J Burley died in 2002.


Cedric Tremain is charged with murdering his father by booby-trapping his fishing boat. However despite all the locals are agreed that he is an unlikely murderer, the case against him is strong as he has motive, opportunity and know-how as there is some hard circumstantial evidence against him. But Chief Superintendent Wycliffe has a strong sense that something about the case just doesn’t fit. As he quietly continues his investigations a confusing picture emerges. Twenty years ago Cedric’s cousin was convicted of strangling his girlfriend and served fourteen years of a commuted death sentence. While the wheels of justice grind on Wycliffe breaks his holiday to search for a link between past and present to solve more than one murder.


This is an interesting Wycliffe story for 2 reasons.

Firstly, the TV version almost entirely drops the B-plot – the problem of plot condensing is really apparent here and you can see why after this episode the production team opted entirely for original stories using the established characters from the start of series 2 onwards.

Secondly, I feel this is one of the first of the true Wycliffe books as Wycliffe acts slowly & deliberately teasing the case together and getting people to show their guilt themselves. He functions with very little support from a team here relying almost entirely on his knowledge of human nature to untangle the tensions and jealousies of a community to get at the truth.

This last reason combined with the ability that Burley demonstrated repeatedly to pin down an image in just a few words makes this an excellent read.


Adrian McKinty Cath Staincliffe Christopher Fowler Crime Fiction Edmund Crispin Euro Crime Helene Tursten Ian Rankin Jo Nesbø John Harvey Mark Bailey Martin Edwards Peter James Peter Robinson Reviews W J Burley Year-End Review

Year-End Review: 2012

Of the new releases in 2012 (either in paperback or hardback), I would strongly recommend (in alphabetical order by author as I don’t want to choose an order)

  • Fowler, Christopher – BRYANT & MAY AND THE INVISIBLE CODE (10th novel about Arthur Bryant, John May and the Peculiar Crimes Unit – another strong Bryant & May novel with a very intricate plot with lots of twists and turns; some new characters (some of which are almost fantastical) are introduced to set up for the future which he has got a 2 book deal for starting with BRYANT & MAY AND THE BLEEDING HEART).
  • James, Peter – NOT DEAD YET (8th Detective Superintendent Roy Grace novel)
  • Nesbo, Jo – THE BAT (the 1st Harry Hole novel chronologically – it was nice to see the back plot to the later novels explored in more depth)
  • Rankin, Ian – STANDING IN ANOTHER MAN’S GRAVE (Rebus is back – I read it in a day and loved it)
  • Robinson, Peter – BEFORE THE POISON (not a DCI Banks book but it takes the well-used idea of somebody becoming obsessed with solving a decades-old murder and executes it very well)


Other 2012 releases that had good points were

  • McKinty, Adrian – THE COLD COLD GROUND (the 1st Sean Duffy novel set in 1980s Northern Ireland; yes I am biased as I go past most of the places in this novel on my train to work every day but this is an assured police procedural in the main – the next book (I HEAR THE SIRENS IN THE STREET) is just out as I write and if it is just a tad better then that is one of my 2013 best reads sorted)
  • Staincliffe, Cath  – DEAD TO ME  (the 1st Scott and Bailey tie-in novel by Cath Staincliffe; yes this is a tv tie-on but it captures the characters and is compellingly written)
  • Tursten, Helene – NIGHT ROUNDS (the 4th Irene Huss novel; this is a good novel but I have seen the first 6 Swedish TV movie adaptions so I spoilt it for myself).
  • Wanner, Len – THE CRIME INTERVIEWS VOLUMES ONE AND TWO (These are available most easily for Kindles but if you like tartan noir, they are a good insight into how authors minds work as they have interviews with 19 crime writers between the two volumes)


‘Blasts from the past’ series reread or read for the first time in 2012 are

  • Crispin, Edmund – the Gervase Fen series (I re-read these in the Summer. They are whodunit novels with complex plots written in a humorous, literary style with references to English literature, poetry, and music; my favourites are THE MOVING TOYSHOP (1946) and FREQUENT HEARSES (1950) – it is a crying shame that Crispin went 25 years between the penultimate and the last novel in the series).
  • Burley, W J – the Wycliffe series (I remember the tv series with Jack Shepherd well and recently bought them on DVD but had never read the books; yes they are dated and even the later ones read like those written in the 1970s (they were 22 written from 1968 to 2000) but they are also tightly plotted concisely written books with a great sense of place and a complex main character)
  • Edwards, Martin – the Lake District Mystery series (these were a new read for me and as said elsewhere on the website these are very classy page turners with a good sense of history and the area it is set in – the English Lake District)
  • Harvey. John – the Charlie Resnick series (I am just over halfway through re-reading this quality police procedural series set in Nottingham in the late 1980s and 1990s in the main – the last one was published a decade later in 2008)


Again, they reflect in the main my liking for police procedurals.