The Stealers is the third thriller by Ashingdon writer Charles Hall, featuring the heroic Jack Crane. Together they form one of the most successful sequences of novels to be written by an Essex author.

The books are enjoyable slam-bang action sagas. What puts them in a league apart, however, is the central character of Jack Crane himself, a quiet, affable, ageing, ordinary bloke who just wants to enjoy retirement in his Essex garden.

Somehow, though, trouble keeps finding its way to Jack’s door. In the first book of the series, Bad Faces, Jack witnesses a fatal hit-and-run accident.

The young yob driver belongs to a brutal Southend criminal family, who lean heavily on Jack to keep him out of the witness box – even to the extent of sending a hit-man to rub him out. But they have picked on the wrong man. Jack has an SAS background. The mild-mannered, middle-aged bloke possesses unexpected combat skills.

The second book saw Jack taking on more bad boys (and the odd naughty girl) aboard the sea-forts off the Essex coast. The North Sea is soon bobbing with beaten-up bad guys.

The Stealers returns to Southend, where once again Jack is minding his own business, walking along the promenade, when a pathetic plea from a lady in distress once again lands him in trouble, big time. The lady is actually a frontwoman for a gang of car thieves, who then steal Jack’s beloved Ford Mustang. Big mistake. Jack is used to murderers and their ways, but stealing his beloved Mustang represents a whole new order of evil.

Drawing on his old SAS skills, Jack tracks down his car. But the car thieves are just a small branch of an evil crime syndicate, with far reaching tentacles.

He is helped in his battles by the young woman who got him into trouble in the first place.

Like all the women in Jack’s life, she is ambivalent. Jack, and we, are never quite sure whose side she is on, or what her agenda is.

Still, also like the other women in his life, she makes a refreshing change from gardening.

The action is fast-paced and exciting, although not for the most part very original. Once again, it is the character of Jack Crane, every middle-aged man’s fantasy alter-ego, that lifts it to a higher level.

Charles describes his hero as: “An ordinary enough guy who stumbles into the sort of violent situations that happen everywhere, and can happen to anybody. The difference with Jack Crane, and what makes him a hero, if you like, is that he does something about it.”

The author, a retired motorhomes salesman and semi-pro musician, took up writing as an enjoyable pastime, but continues to write because he has little choice. “The character of Jack Crane has taken me over,” he says. “I’ve grown very fond of him, and I just have to carry on writing about him.”

Charles denies that Jack is any sort of self-portrait. Yet in one way at least, Charles’s real life has been more dramatic than anything experienced by Jack Crane.

Charles is one of the few people left alive who have witnessed an above-ground nuclear explosion.

His experiences as a young serviceman who witnessed nuclear bomb tests in the Pacific are described in his first book, Megaton Mornings. Service friends who shared the experience are all now dead, many from early onset cancer. Charles Hall has gazed on Armageddon, and lived to tell the tale.

Readers searching for sub-text may read an implicit message in the Stealers – be glad to live another day, because someone or something is always out to stop you reaching tomorrow.

The Stealers by Charles Hall is published by Troubador @ £9.99 ISBN 978 1 78462 359 3