Constable on the Prowl
Constable on the Prowl was the second Constable book, published in 1980. The original edition, published by Robert Hale, is long out of print, and has become a collector's item, but Constable on the Prowl has already been reissued in a Black Dagger edition (see below) and is now available in a Kindle edition and matching paperback.
Constable on the Prowl followed Constable on the Hill, published the previous year, which had introduced Constable Nick as a newcomer to the village of Aidensfield. It is exceptional among Nicholas Rhea's books in that it takes place almost entirely at night: it brings together a number of incidents, anecdotes and reflections on the theme of night-duty - which does not seem to be Constable Nick's favourite part of his job:
For the police officer, night-duty is a time to reflect upon his duties, to ponder upon the meaning of life and to assess the value of the police service as a career. Alone in the midnight hours with nothing but dead leaves, stray cats and legends of ghosts and ghoulies to accompany him, the police officer goes about his multifarious tasks unseen and unpraised. In his solitude, he deals with all manner of incidents and problems, and there is no one to thank him or console him, although if he errs in the smallest way, it can be guaranteed that someone will see him and report his misdemeanour to a higher authority.This makes it sound as if night-duty is a quiet time, but there seems to be plenty to keep Constable Nick busy. The law of the period defined some offences as things which happened at night (burglary, for instance, could be committed only between 9 pm and 6 am (the same activity, during the day, was described as "housebreaking"); others, like poaching, were likely to happen during the hours of darkness.
And it is not all work. Out in the country Nick has plenty of opportunities to observe the wildlife - a barn owl or a badger - and the book also shows him settling in, getting to know his colleagues, like PC Alf Ventress and Sergeant Oscar Blaketon. There is company, and one or two practical jokes.
And of course there is Claude Jeremiah Greengrass; but why did he have to retreat hastily down a ladder from a lady's bedroom and what happened to his trousers and shirt? And can he really be innocent of taking a deer during the night, when he was seen emerging from the forest carrying a particularly fine set of antlers?
The Black Dagger reissue list was drawn up as a joint venture of Chivers Press and a sub-committee of The Crime Writers' Association. In their own words:
"It is designed to select outstanding examples of every type of crime and mystery story, so that enthusiasts will have the opportunity to read once more classics that have been scarce for years, while at the same time introducing them to a new generation who have not previously had the chance to enjoy them."So it was a particular tribute to Nicholas Rhea, and the popularity of the Constable stories, that the list included not only the first of those stories, Constable on the Hill, but also its sequel, Constable on the Prowl.
Constable on the Prowl is currently available in Áccent Press and Endeavour Press editions: it has been published in a number of editions and formats, many of which are out of print, though collectors may be able to find copies in secondhand and specialist shops.