Retired Humberside Police detective turns crime writer as novel A Duty of Revenge is published

Quentin Dowse rose up the ranks of Humberside Police during his long career in major crime and murder inquiries. He talks to John Blow about his debut novel.

Quentin Dowse.
Quentin Dowse.

Retired senior police officer Quentin Dowse is quick to play down any suggestion that he is searching for a kind of vicarious justice in his debut detective novel, A Duty of Revenge, that may have eluded him during his own long career.

“This is a pure work of fiction, it’s all made up,” says the East Yorkshire man.

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“One of the things [other police] will definitely think is made up is that the hero is a superintendent, and when did they last do any work?

“So a lot of PCs, sergeants will say that.”

In fact he doesn’t actually want to talk about any of the big cases he worked on in his time in the Humberside Police force in case it would be distressing for the loved ones of victims.

His book, however, makes no such compromises.

Set in the late 1990s, it follows retired Hull-based Detective Superintendent Matt Darnley, who decides to tell the “whole truth” about his biggest case, an investigation into a gang of ruthless armed robbers responsible for both kidnap and murder.

Side-tracked by a local case involving a father avenging his daughter’s rape, Darnley “delivers his own justice and steps over the line”.

An ambitious journalist and a rookie police officer discover what he has done, forcing him to go even further out on a limb, arousing the suspicions of a fellow superintendent, who sets out to ruin his reputation.

During his investigation Darnley meets Debbie Pike, the cunning and manipulative wife of one of the gang and Graham Morley, a “timid and lonely computer nerd”. Both risk all seeking revenge for lives ruined by members of the gang.

But when he discovers the father of the rape victim is not who he seems to be, Darnley sees an opportunity to solve the run of robberies and murders.

Although it is all made up, Dowse, 66, did want to make sure some of the realities of policing shone through, so there are details of procedure and workplace chatter.

“One complaint, if you want to call it a complaint, from a lot of police officers is that when you’re watching the TV or reading a book [they think] ‘Well, that would never happen’,” says Dowse.

“So I wanted it to have a ring of truth.

“But as I wrote it, I began to realise why some of these things on television and in books do get a bit far fetched, because it’s hard to be as exciting as you’d like to be by keeping everything on the straight and narrow. My hero, or anti-hero, he steps off the straight and narrow, but did he do it for the right thing?

“And that’s one of the things I wanted to explore when I was writing the book. I didn’t before I started, but it came to me. I think in a lot of TV and books, everything is black and white – he’s the baddie, he’s the goodie, they’re the victim. And often, everything’s shades of grey in reality. So I quite liked that idea.

“And the other thing I wanted to explore a little bit is, when you’re going to court, every witness swears to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth – and how hard it is to get the absolute truth.

“There’s always gaps, there’s always missing questions,” he says. “There’s always anomalies and that’s what the defence sits on it in trials and things like that.

“You look at the intrigue around things like Brady and Hindley, still, (or) Fred and Rosemary West.

“These are all about the unanswered questions, aren’t they?”

Born in Scunthorpe, Dowse joined Lincolnshire Police as a cadet, then after training was posted to Cleethorpes. The northern area of the force became part of Humberside Police, founded in 1974, so Dowse opted to join the new force and was later promoted to a sergeant in the Beverley area in the early 1980s. He has lived in the East Riding since.

After that he became a rural sergeant in Pocklington (“that was entertaining”) before joining CID in Hessle and becoming a detective sergeant, giving him his first experience in that role on a murder inquiry.

He was then promoted to inspector, followed by stints at Queen’s Gardens in Hull as a uniform inspector, the Chief Constable’s staff officer and as a detective chief inspector, which was when he started running major inquiries and murder cases.

Dowse was promoted again to detective superintendent and posted all over the force before becoming chief superintendent in Beverley, acting as divisional commander for the East Riding.

He retired after 30 years of service and joined the NHS’s drug action team for 10 years in Grimsby. Finally, he was a part-time management consultant before hanging up his boots.

Dowse also holds a master’s degree in criminology.

It’s surprising he found time to even read during this time – he has enjoyed Michael Connelly and Lee Child’s Jack Reacher material – let alone think about his own writing.

So the process has taken him around 10 years.

“I’ve never tried before,” he says.

“I would think the ambition was born very early on when I was in the police. I’ve always read, as a kid, still do now, as soon as one book’s finished I pick another one up. Always fiction. Other than when I was at school or learning the law, I’ve hardly ever read non-fiction.

“I think (it was) once I got in the police and realised how many sad, mad, scary tales there are and everybody’s got them and they all share them. I just thought, I want to write a book. The ambition was born.”

A Duty of Revenge by Quentin Dowse is out now. ISBN: 9781800462434.