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By the author of the Monika Paniatowski series.
What is the Chief Inspector Woodend series about?
Written by Alan Rustage under the pen name Sally Spencer, the Chief Inspector Woodend series is a crime series in which the main protagonist is based partly on a furniture dealer the author used to play dominoes with (nice anecdote).
DCI Charlie Woodend is Scotland Yard’s resident expert on the northern regions of England. He is in fact an outspoken Northerner who does his policing the old-fashioned way.
How to read the Chief Inspector Woodend Books in Order?
Every book in the Inspector Woodend series works as a standalone story, but the lives of the different characters evolve from one novel to the other.
- The Salton Killings – 1950s Cheshire, England. When the strangled body of teenager Diane Thorburn is found buried in the salt store, Chief Inspector Charlie Woodend is pulled in from London to investigate. He is convinced that Margie Poole, Diane’s best friend, knows more about Diane’s last movements than she is prepared to tell. Then Woodend’s inquiry turns up the death of another young girl a generation before. The similarities in the two cases begin to look more sinister than mere coincidence. Could there be a serial killer on the loose. . . ?
- Murder at Swann’s Lake – Swann’s Lake, 1960. When Robbie Peterson, a criminal-turned-club-owner, is found dead in his office, a six-inch nail driven deep into his skull, Chief Inspector Woodend and Sergeant Bob Rutter are brought up from London to investigate. Why was Robbie’s office broken into twice on the day of his funeral? What caused Robbie’s son-in-law to attack his own brother on the night of the murder? As the case unfolds, Woodend uncovers several crimes, but it is only as it draws to a close that he realizes the murder has nothing to do with Robbie’s criminal past—and everything to do with his domestic present.
- Death of a Cave Dweller – Liverpool, 1960s. When Eddie Barnes, lead guitarist of the rising group The Seagulls is electrocuted on stage at the Cellar Club in front of three hundred adoring fans, the Liverpool Police call in Scotland Yard’s Chief Inspector Charlie Woodend. But Woodend doesn’t understand why Eddie’s mother says that Eddie had a girlfriend, while his best mate insists that he didn’t. And who has been playing nasty tricks on The Seagulls, culminating in Eddie finding a dead rat—with a noose around its neck—in his guitar case? As Woodend battles with the complexities of the case, he is more than aware that if he does not find the murderer soon, there could well be another death.
- The Dark Lady – The night after the mysterious appearance of the legendary Dark Lady on the road outside Westbury Park, a German efficiency expert, Gerhard Schultz, is found battered to death in the woods and Chief Inspector Charlie Woodend is faced with his most puzzling case yet. Why did Schultz seem so frightened when his colleagues mentioned the legend of the Dark Lady? Did the workers at the BCI chemical factory—many of whom are known to hate the Germans—have anything to do with his death? How could Fred Foley, the tramp whose bloodstained overcoat was found close to the scene of the crime, have completely disappeared? And is this murder connected with one which occurred in Liverpool nearly twenty years earlier?
- The Golden Mile to Murder – The investigation into the brutal murder of a Blackpool policeman during the holiday season was never going to be easy, but the case is not Chief Inspector Woodend’s only problem. His new boss, DS Ainsworth, is just waiting for an opportunity to stick a knife in his back; and his invaluable assistant, Bob Rutter, has been replaced by a sergeant more intent on advancing her own career than helping him. Then, it appears, the Blackpool police seem to think it might be better if the killer were never found . . .
- Dead on Cue – With the newspapers screaming for a quick solution, this is a case no one wants to touch — so naturally it is Chief Inspector Woodend who finds himself left holding the baby. With his usual panache, Cloggin’-it Charlie quickly immerses himself in the world of television, meeting people he has previously only seen as characters on the screen, learning that while there may be honor among thieves there does not seem to be much on the set of Maddox Row. The question, it soon becomes apparent, is not who wanted to kill Valerie Farnsworth, but who didn’t. And will the murderer stop at only one victim? There are those in the know who are convinced that he won’t.
- The Red Herring – The discovery of the body of a young, red-haired schoolmistress, lying in a pig-pen with her face half-eaten away, is the beginning of a new investigation for Charlie Woodend. But it is to be an investigation he is soon ordered to abandon when Helen Dunn, the daughter of Wing Commander Dunn – and a pupil at the school where the dead woman taught – suddenly vanishes into thin air. While Woodend and Rutter race against time in the desperate hope of finding the girl alive, Woodend’s bagman, Monika Paniatowski, continues to work on the murder, under the supervision of the mysterious Chief Inspector Horrocks, a Scotland Yard man who seems to have only a mild interest in finding the killer. Are the two cases connected? Woodend begins to wonder. And if they are, who is it who seems to be blocking both investigations at every turn?
- Death of an Innocent – A man and a young woman are found blasted away by a rifle in a remote farmhouse on the Yorkshire moors. But where is the farmer, why did he have such swanky furniture in his living room, and who on earth are the victims? Charlie Woodend isn’t amused with the people who are getting under his feet as he starts to grapple with these questions, but his steps are abruptly halted when the Deputy Chief Constable decides that, this time, Woodend’s high-handedness has gone too far.
- A Death Left Hanging – There had never been a murder in Whitebridge like this one. What kind of man would decide to slash the throat of an inoffensive middle-aged widow who was already terminally ill? Why did he decide to place her lifeless body in the middle of a children’s bonfire, and then set it alight? It is the most difficult and complex case in Woodend’s career, but the two people he most relies on – DI Rutter and DS Paniatowski – are being torn apart by their personal problems.
- The Enemy Within – Though it is thirty years since Margaret Dodds was tried and executed for the brutal murder of her second husband, many troubling questions raised during the trial are still left unanswered. Why would she choose to commit the crime in such a way that the finger of suspicion would almost inevitably point at her? Why did she insist, even when all hope of reprieve had gone, that she was not guilty?
- The Witch Maker – To be Witch Makers in the moorland village of Hallerton is both a great honor and a heavy burden. It is he who, after years of painstaking apprenticeship, constructs the effigy of Meg Ramsden – he who ties it to the stake and burns it before a bitterly jeering crowd. But this Witch Maker – only the twenty-fourth in the 450 years of the ceremony – never lives to witness his moment of triumph. This Witch Maker is discovered tied to the Witching Post early one morning with a length of twine wrapped tightly around his neck. DCI Charlie Woodend prides himself on knowing how villages work – but has absolutely no idea at all what makes this one tick.
- The Butcher Beyond – With the help of Paco Ruiz a former policeman, living in disgrace since the Spanish Civil War Woodend embarks on an unofficial investigation which provides more questions than answers. Why was the dead man traveling under a false passport? Who are the men he was seen to associate with, but now deny all knowledge of him? Why does the local police chief seem determined to lead him up a blind alley?
- Dying in the Dark – Pamela Rainsford, found on a lonely canal path in the middle of a dark night, has not only been raped and strangled but her face has been hacked to pieces. At first, it seems a random killing, but as the case progresses, Woodend begins to suspect that the death of the mild-mannered, respectable secretary may have been a result of her own secret life.
- Stone Killer – Never before has DCI Woodend had to work under such terrible and terrifying pressure. He has just a few days, at the most, to find a flaw in the weighty evidence that led to Judith Maitland’s conviction as a stone-cold killer a few days to produce the real murderer. But what if Judith really is guilty as charged? What if she did, in fact, brutally butcher her lover, Clive Burroughs, in his own office, as the facts seem to suggest?
- A Long Time Dead – When Captain Robert Kineally went missing from Haverton American Army base in Devon in 1944, it was generally assumed he had lost his nerve and deserted. But now, twenty years after the war ended, a body found on the near-derelict base seems to tell an entirely different story. DCI Charlie Woodend has strong reasons for not wanting the case.
- Sins of the Fathers – The discovery of Bradley Pine’s body in a lay-by off a busy road clearly signals the end of his bid to win the local bye-election. But what is even clearer – from the state in which the corpse is found – is that this is no ordinary murder. Why would the killer run the risk of dumping the body in such a public place, DCI Charlie Woodend asks himself?
- Dangerous Games – When Terry Pugh’s headless body is found floating in the canal, DCI Woodend at first believes that Pugh had merely miscalculated the amount of rope he needed to hang himself. But why would Pugh commit suicide when he had a loving wife who was expecting their first baby and was just about to start an exciting new job?
- Death Watch – Angela Jackson, a young girl abducted from Whitebridge Corporation Park, has been missing for over twenty-four hours and, in the opinion of Dr Stevenson, the psychiatrist who Woodend turns to for advice, her kidnapper will first torture and then kill her. Woodend is aware of the damaging strains operating within his own team.
- Dying Fall – A charred body is discovered in an abandoned cotton mill, and the crime scene presents DCI Woodend and his team with many questions, but very few answers. Who would want to murder a harmless old tramp, a man with no friends – or enemies – in the world? And why, of all the methods he could have chosen, did the killer decide to cruelly burn his victim to death?
- Fatal Quest – ‘You should have worked out by now that nobody wants this case solved!’ These words, delivered by Eddie, a Liverpool thug brought down to London especially to put the frighteners on him, send a shiver down newly-promoted DS Charlie Woodend’s spine. Because Eddie is right. Nobody does seem interested in bringing the killer of sixteen-year-old Pearl Jones to justice. Not DCI Bentley, Woodend’s immediate boss. Not Deputy Commissioner Naylor, whose word is law in Scotland Yard. Not even the dead girl’s mother herself.
If you like Chief Inspector Woodend, you may also want to see our DCI Banks reading order. Don’t hesitate to follow us on Twitter or Facebook to discover more book series.This article was last updated on May 28, 2023.