Jimmy Costello

(creator: James Green)

James Green
James Cornelius Costello (known as Jimmy) had been a corrupt London CID detective sergeant (who had been encouraged to take "early retirement") and altogether a "bad catholic" as described in the first (and possibly the best) book of the series.

"He had been "something special as a detective. He had a mind like a steel trap on wheels, and it only ran in one direction while he was working." He looked "an ordinary sort of man whose face and body looked crumpled, like his clothes. A tired man with sad eyes who had "become a penitent, someone trying to atone for sins". He was "middle aged, of medium height, with a lived-in face and short grizzled hair" and of stocky build. But he was always potentially dangerous, at times not just violent but, some said, mad: "He'd do you in without a second thought if you worried him." He is far from being an attractive hero, even if you cannot but admire his drive and dedication. He is in his mid to late fifties.

James Green (1944- ) grew up in Coventry in Warwickshire. He left school at sixteen and, after working as coal-miner, farm-worker, motor-cycle courier and building labourer, qualified as a teacher at St. Mary's College, Twickenham and, like his two brothers, eventually became a Catholic primary school headteacher. During his teaching career he had earned an Open University B.A. and a research M.A. in Education.

In 1997 he left teaching because of ill health to become a full-time writer and has since published numerous books and articles. These include a series of crime thrillers featuring the reformed Catholic gangster, Jimmy Costello, which are reviewed below. He then moved on to a series of novels about the development of the US intelligence services. He is married, had three children (of which two survive) and now lives in Nottinghamshire. He is a practising Roman Catholic. I would welcome a better quality photo of him (please get in touch via my guest book).

Bad Catholics (2008)
Bad Catholics is the very violent but gripping story of how ex-Catholic altar boy Jimmy Costello took to thieving and subsequently became a corrupt and violent London CID Sergeant who, when his wife died suddenly of cancer, savagely beat up a top villain, was quickly retired and then disappeared. Three years later, he returned to London and found work as odd job man and "security" at Barts, a shelter for the homeless run by Catholic Sisters. When one of the volunteers is murdered, police investigators realize Jimmy is back and want to know why. The most powerful crime lord in London, helped along by bent coppers, is also after him. But he is busy solving the (now two) murders.

The story certainly holds the attention, although there is so much jumping around to different incidents that you need to study the date and location given at the start of each chapter very carefully to avoid confusion. However, the Catholic background rings true and Jimmy's own Catholic experiences as a 12-year-old altar boy come to life, as when after being shouted at by the priest in church, his mother immediately takes him home in protest.But when his mother tries to explain to him that that Jesus had been a Jew, he couldn't believe it: "If God was a Catholic then Mary and Joseph had to be Catholics and Jesus was God's son so He had to be a Catholic."

There are other interesting characters too, such as Sister Philomena who runs the shelter and who had previously been headmistress of a convent school in Uganda at the time of Idi Amin. The soldiers who totally destroyed it and then took the girls off with them were led by a smart young well-educated young captain who, after shooting a young nun in the face, had told her that he was a Catholic: "If I survive all this I shall go to Confession to a suitable priest, say my penance and then begin again to be a good Catholic". For him, even shooting the nun had been one of "God's good little acts" as it had saved her from the attentions of his men. They are certainly arresting events, and it is a book that never fails both to appal and to hold the interest. As for Jimmy, he ends up by fleeing for his life and going off to study for the priesthood! You can't say that nothing happens.

Stealing God (2009)
Stealing God describes how Jimmy Costello is now studying to be a priest at the marginal Duns College in Rome ("which was one temporary office, and some headed notepaper") where he had sought admittance to escape the "pain that had been crucifying him for five years" which he had come to realise "only deep contrition and a firm purpose of amendment could hold .... in check". He was able to self-finance his course because, after his wife had died of cancer, he had sold their small London house. However, his rector told him, "You do not strike me as being at all suitable for the priesthood" but had her own reasons for keeping him on. These come to light after a visiting Chinese Archbishop dies in mysterious circumstances, when Jimmy is hand-picked by the Church authorities to look into the case. With local police Inspector Ricci (whom he distrusts and dislikes), Jimmy follows the investigation from the streets of the Holy City via Glasgow and an old friend, back to Rome where they stumble on a devastating, if not too convincing, plot to blow up the entire Vatican in an atomic explosion and so lead to the headquarters of the church being moved to the USA!

Despite an interesting start and a strong storyline, with some violent action, it all gets increasingly unlikely. Jimmy "hated crowds, in fact he hated Rome. But then again, what did he like?" But, in a world of violence and corruption, he was stiil "a man to fear". His past as a corrupt policeman is never far away, and he is still torn by the memory of his old fanatical efforts "to be a good Catholic, to be a good husband and father, to be a good parishioner" that clashed so strongly with his life in the CID. This conflict is potentially more interesting - and a lot more realistic - than the machinations of the plot involving not just the removal of the pope but the fixing of the conclave to choose his successor, that would lead to the blaming of Islamic terrorists and "the start of World War Three, with America waving the flag." No wonder Jimmy is left puzzling what he should do next.

Yesterday's Sins (2010)
Yesterday's Sins sees Jimmy Costello on the run in Copenhagen, where he has a placement (prior, it is said, to him training as a Roman Catholic priest) with a characterful German priest called Father Udo who also turns out to have a very unconventional past. Meanwhile someone has put a bomb in the car of Charlie Bronski (a totally unscrupulous retired USAF Major who loves to experiment with food and write cookery books in his wife' maiden name) but had arranged things so that Charlie had time to get out before being blown to pieces. It turns out that Charlie too has had a violent past, and when he seeks help from his former employers, they ask him to do them a favour by killing Jimmy Costello. As he was convinced that "only Charlie mattered. Everyone else, absolutely everyone, was expendable," he is happy to accept the challenge.

One way or another, it's a story full of mystery and violent surprises, involving as many as three different secret services. You really never know what is going to happen next, so the interest never flags when Jimmy himself is present. Charlie and his attempts to deceive his wife are sometimes rather less interesting. But the way he gets his eventual come-uppance is another big surprise.

Jimmy still likes to attend Mass regularly - when he can - but he is well aware that "he had never been a good man. He had tried to change, he had tried hard .... His were small talents: a talent for causing pain and a talent for working things out .... He had no talent for big things: for goodness, for sacrifice. Maybe you had to be born with those. He was what he was, and he always would be." He is what Udo describes as an "onion-Catholic": peel away the layers of ritual and the like, and there is nothing there. All Udo (who himself wants to believe but can't) can advise him to do is "find a way to live and then get on with it." But to Jimmy "it wasn't God that was the mystery. It was his bloody sense of humour".

Broken Faith
Broken Faith describes how Jimmy Costello, is sent to Spain to investigate when a senior cleric is accused of being part of ETA, the Basque terrorist movement. But a murder occurs as soon as he gets to Santander, and, working with the attractive female Inspector Suarez of the local police, he soon meets some lively (or perhaps I should say deadly) crooked characters (including a tough thug from his London days who tells him that he got an Open University degree in English Literature while he was last in prison, after which he had taken to writing a series of crime novels featuring most of the villains he had known who, he said, had "seemed more pleased than anything to think they were getting written about"! He'd included a character based on Jimmy too, but tells him, "You got killed in chapter four of the first book".)

Jimmy's enigmatic female boss at the Collegio Principe in Rome, Professor McBride (whom he refers to as "Attila the Hun's big sister" and says is "about as straight as a spiral- staircase") orders him back to Rome but he happily ignores her and flies to London, determined, with the help of supposed journalist Rosa Sikora, to uncover the murderer. He is very much alone in the world, his missionary priest son having died in Africa, and his daughter and her family living in Australia but, once he is on the trail, he never gives up.

It is another arresting and strong story told with a vigour and humour that holds the interest throughout. It too is very violent, and sudden unexpected death seems always just around the corner. Jimmy may be a "toxic bastard" but he still regularly attends Mass although his religious beliefs seem less and less relevant to the story - or to his behaviour. But he happily explains that when a particularly nasty character committed suicide, she had "put herself outside God's mercy. She was guilty as hell and refused to seek forgiveness so hell is where she'll be now doing hard time and she'll go on doing it for ever. Happy endings all around". But, however unattractive he can be ("He wasn't bent any more, just a bit more broken"), you want to go on reading the series if only to find out what happens next.

Unholy Ghost (2014)
Unholy Ghost describes how Jimmy Costello, fixer for the Catholic Church, had always liked Paris, but had never got the chance to spend time there. Now his boss in Rome, Professor McBride, wants him to go back. It sounds a simple job: find the missing owner of a piece of valuable property that was hidden in a convent, now being closed. But Jimmy is not the only one looking. What is he looking for and who else wants it so badly? Then Prof McBride get shot and it is not certain that she will live, so Jimmy finds he is on his own and having to deal with "the Paris convent, an old whore who was also a blackmailer, a missing daughter, and Nazi loot with a very nasty American connection." It makes an intriguing story that holds the interest right from the start.

Jimmy is as violent as ever (even though he insists that "he wasn't a tough guy, not any more"), yet is still searching for the religious faith that he wishes he had: he "wanted to believe, wanted it so badly to be true, and wanting it so much he could never be sure that if he believed it would be no more than self-delusion." As far as the investigations were concerned, he felt he was on a losing streak: "it was slowly dawning on him that he was still only detective sergeant material, a clever plodder" who "bloody well killed people. The wrong people." He realised that he was "not James bloody Bond. He wasn't one of those blokes in books who crash into stuff like this, kill the baddies and save the world." Yet he still really wanted to save the world although he knew "it was a stupid idea but there was nothing else. Without McBride I'm just crashing about, filling in time, trying to play the good guy."

He could not help thinking about the time to come "when there was no future, when you closed your eyes for the last time, or someone close them for you - what then? The same old question. Was it finally the end or was it another beginning? And which did he hope for? It was a tough call." Meanwhile his current exploits were "a mess, a total, bloody disaster." And, by the end, he loses all hope: "there was no one and nothing. When it ended it ended. There was nothing else, nothing to look forward to, nothing to hope for, no reason to go on." It is a miserable ending, both for him and the reader. But then he was always far from being a conventional hero.

There is an informative article about the author on Wikipedia.

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Stealing God cover
The covers are certainly striking.
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