Mike Rickett’s third novel, A Walk on the Wilder Side is published today. It is a departure from the first two in that it is set in 1970 in St Helens, a town in Lancashire, UK, not far from Liverpool. It is the beginning of a decade of change when life was completely different.
It is also a semi-autobiographical story because that is how Mike began his journalistic career and many of the events actually happened and many of the people were real, although names have been changed.
The central character is Keith Wilder, news editor for a press agency in the town and it is against this background on a dark, dismal, night in January when he receives a mysterious phone call asking him to go to lonely Bluebell farm on the outskirts of town. He discovers the body of a farmer who appears to have blown his brains out with a shotgun.
The killing is the beginning of a series of events in which both Wilder and the police receive taunting, sneering notes predicting that there will be further murders. Shortly after, a notorious drug dealer is found dead on Liverpool’s famous Lime Street. He too was murdered.
Despite that, life in a 1970 press agency goes on with characters like Richard Armitage, an older hack who has seen better days and Dot Sykes, a glamorous new recruit out to make a name for herself.
Meanwhile, Wilder’s teacher girlfriend, Amy Sunderland, is bent on unravelling the enigma of Keith’s father who vanished when he was born. Who was he? Why did he abandon Wilder and his mother? And has he re-appeared on Merseyside with a new identity?
In the meantime, a mysterious Mr Parker moves into the flat next to Amy. He appears to be stalking her in that he shows up wherever she is going. Then, one day, Amy returns to her flat to find that someone has left a message in lipstick on her dressing table mirror. It’s a heart with a knife going through it.
Wilder is also being stalked by a shadowy man wearing a trilby. An attempt to trap him fails and he escapes.
The police and Wilder decide to lay a trap for ‘Mr Trilby’. Dot Sykes volunteers to be a decoy and to impersonate Amy to lure the mysterious man to an ice rink, but the plan backfires and she is abducted.
Dot is held prisoner in a dingy room with iron bars on the windows. She hasn’t seen her captor’s face. She has no idea where she is.
Keith looks though his past stories and discovers a Howard Balmer whose business went bust after one of his stories exposed him. Is he ‘Mr Trilby?’
The following day Dot is confronted by ‘Mr Trilby’ who says she will shortly be recording a message for Wilder and that if she refuses, he will kill her. But Dot taps a message in Morse when she records it. Wilder and the police finally decode Dot’s Morse message and raid the house but ‘Mr Trilby’ escapes.
In a final climax ‘Mr Trilby’ tricks Keith into going to Bluebell Farm. When her gets there, he is threatened by a knife but is saved by Colin Parker, who shoots ‘Mr Trilby’ dead. It is then revealed ‘Mr Trilby’ is Howard Balmer. Keith leaves hospital and is met by Amy and Parker who reveals he is Keith’s father.
A paperback version will be published on September 1.