Book #1, the Joe Romano crime series.

HQ/HarperCollins, 2021, UK/US.

When a small-time drug dealer goes missing, no one in Leeds CID shows much interest. But the young man’s mother is desperate, and DS Joe Romano promises he’ll do what he can. Recently divorced, and his son having just left for university, it’s not as if Joe has anything better to do with his spare time.

What he finds makes no sense, but raises a lot of questions. Are all lives worth saving? Or should they be weighed against the misery that they’ve caused? Is the well-being of a drug dealer really the concern of the police, or does he deserve everything he gets?

As the case escalates, Rita Scannon-Aktar, a half-Bangladeshi DS from the neighbouring Kirkless force, is brought in to help. Deeply embedded in the old mill towns of West Yorkshire they find a racist vigilante movement, one which not only feeds on the rising tide of English nationalistic fervour in a Brexit-convulsed northern England, but has declared open war on the region’s drugs culture.

As news of the case spreads, it seems that more and more members of the public support the idea of direct action. And that includes some members of the police. As events spiral out of Joe’s control, a web of person betrayal threatens his position on the Force. Then he becomes part of the story . . .

Set against a backdrop of the North’s grooming gangs and the drugs culture of the West Yorkshire valleys, RIGHT TO KILL is a fast-paced police procedural that asks whether everyone has the right to defend and protect – and to be protected.

Praise for RIGHT TO KILL:

‘A striking debut. John Barlow’s Right to Kill offers an intriguing plot and a gritty sense of place’ Peter Robinson, Sunday Times bestselling author of the DCI Banks series

‘The twisted big brother to Happy Valley . . . dark, chilling, deeply psychological and utterly gripping.’ Michael Wood, author of the DCI Matilda Darke series

‘Breakneck pace, terrific protagonist and a kick-ass sidekick . . . The sense of place just leaps off the page’ Neil Lancaster, author of the Dead Man’s Grave

‘A strong start to a new series . . . Joe Romano is a compelling lead’ Dominic Nolan, author of Vine Street


Book #2, the Joe Romano crime series.

HQ/HarperCollins,  2022, UK/US.

When DS Joe Romano first meets Ana Dobrescu she’s nervous, in serious danger, and clearly needs help. The next time Romano sees her, she’s dead.

There was nothing more he could have done, but that’s cold comfort for Romano. He’s determined to catch Ana’s killer. Although the prime suspect, her millionaire boyfriend, is in a coma.

With the help of his larger-than-life partner Rita Scannon-Aktar, Romano begins to piece together a puzzle that places Ana at the centre of something much bigger than they could have imagined.

But while they’re hunting a murderer, those higher up are more concerned about the money. So it’s up to Romano to get justice for Ana. And whatever she knew, he’ll just have to pray that she didn’t take her secrets to the grave.

HOPE ROAD (John Ray/LS9 Book 1)

John Ray, the son of crime boss Antonio ‘Tony’ Ray, is the straight one of the family. With a successful business and a lifestyle to match, he wants nothing to do with his father’s criminal world. But when a young woman is found dead in John’s car, together with a large stash of counterfeit money, he sets out to find the killer. Set in Leeds, HOPE ROAD is a novel about deception, trust and the boundaries of good and bad.


Plenty of twists… fast-paced… a fine novel… Rough Edges


A gripping read... The stuff of Great British grit and dark, dark humour... far more cinematic than a McDermid or a Rankin.


[JB: The John Ray/LS9 series was my first serious stab at crime writing. All three novels are procedurals, but the main investigation is done by John Ray, an amateur sleuth who is implicated or drawn into each crime because of his criminal family. Running in parallel is a police investigation, and there is tension between the two investigations because John’s lover is a police officer. The writing for this series was intended to transpose the voice and feel of American noir into a Yorkshire setting, which in retrospect might have been a touch pretentious... Nevertheless, I’m happy with the way the books turned out.

Incidentally, Book 1 involves a system for ‘passing off’ counterfeit money, something I’ve always wanted to do. As part of the research for the book, I met with several police detectives, and they were quite impressed by the scheme I’d devised!]

FATHER AND SON (John Ray/LS9 Book 2)

John Ray is called to the scene of a violent murder. The victim is an old associate of his father, local crime boss Tony Ray. There’s no obvious motive for the crime, but everybody agrees on one thing: don’t tell the police. The search for the killer takes John Ray back to events twenty years ago, and to another, even more heinous crime. It’s a gripping ride, but also a painful one for him personally, and he doesn't really know what he’s looking for. Until it’s too late. Plus, he’s not the only one looking...


Father and Son is an edgy, fast-paced, breathless thriller... I Prefer Reading


John Barlow is fast becoming one of my favourite authors... A.C. Flory


[JB: More densely plotted than Book 1, the series broadens out here, exploring issues surrounding crime families. It was whilst writing FATHER AND SON that I began to look into my own family’s criminal past, which includes an arms dealer who was found dead in mysterious circumstances after getting caught up in the theft of military equipment.]


Allegations of historical abuse have emerged at a Catholic boys’ home in the Leeds. They involve a prominent businessman, who is keen to get to the bottom of who is making the accusations. And he wants John Ray to do the looking. Discreetly. John soon begins to uncover a complex mystery involving blackmail, kidnap and murder. But there are still people within the police who are out to get John Ray for his past misdemeanours, and they are using this case to bring him down.


[JB: I enjoyed writing this one, especially the ending. But it also felt a bit like the final instalment, despite the fact that I had initially planned to write NINE books in the series. It was also the point at which I realised that self-publishing was not for me. The John Ray/LS9 series was my first venture into self-publishing, and coincided with the rise of ‘indie’ writers in the 2010s. Yet by the time book 3 was done I’d started to hate the whole process. I'm pretty relieved to be back with HarperCollins for the Joe Romano books.]


A novel for Mid-Grade / YA readers, ISLANDERS is a dystopian adventure about a boy's search for his father. It is set in a world devastated by germ warfare, in which biological mutations have shifted the balance of Nature in unpredictable ways.

[JB: This book began life as a commission for the New York-based media company Alloy Entertainment, which produces the SWEET VALLEY HIGH book series and films like THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS and THE VAMPIRE DIARIES. They paid me ten grand to write a first draft, then decided they didn't like it, and suggested I pay back the money. Which I never. Read all about the fun I had here, an article I wrote for Fair warning: it's embarrassingly arsey. I was quite pissed off with the people at Alloy by that stage. I got five hundred dollars for the article, so it felt like some kind of justice, whereas in fact it was just me engaging in very bad sarcasm instead of doing something more productive with my time.]


'Everything But The Squeal' makes you want to get on the next flight to Santiago de Compostela and find that restaurant to eat Cocido! Rick Stein

A travelogue, food book, and memoir about Galicia, northern Spain. First published by Farrar, Strauss and Giroux in the US. EVERYTHING BUT THE SQUEAL was a finalist in the Best Food Book section of the Cordon Bleu World Food Awards, 2010.

[JB: It didn't bloody win, though. On the plus side, the book did generate quite a lot of interest, despite its niche appeal, and led to some interesting work in the area of food writing, as well as to quite a lot of press around the world. I still do the odd speaking engagement about the book and/or related themes, and people still write to me about it. All things considered, a happy experience.]

Read a review at


Farewell My Lovely meets Californication.

Jack Storm PhD is a disgraced ex-college professor and unlicensed PI. Since getting turfed out of Berkeley for violent misconduct, Jack has finally found his true place in life: the gutter.

Jerry Picco, the world's greatest erotic actor, has gone missing, leaving a heap of debt, a career in nosedive, and a screen partner with plenty reasons to want him gone. Jack sets out to find him. The only clues he's got: a Polaroid of seven small men in the woods, and some story about a princess.

Crude rude and poorly written. Did not like any of the characters. Plot did not make much sense and the whole thing was not politically correct. Somebody on

[JB: This is modern re-telling of Snow White, involving midget porno stars and a fallen princess. I wrote it for fun, just to see if I could do the hard-boiled American idiom, and spoof it up a bit. In some ways it's the book I'm most satisfied with, perhaps because it's not every day you write a full novel as a bet with yourself. Not many readers have shared my satisfaction... Too much swearing, apparently. And the midget porn, obvs.]

INTOXICATED: A Novel of Money, Madness, and the Invention of the World's Favorite Soft Drink

Set in 1869, the novel is about a family of Yorkshire industrialists whose lives are turned upside down by the arrival of Rodrigo Vermilion, a foul-smelling hunchback dressed in rags. "INTOXICATED is a booze-swilling, cocaine-soaked novel of excess and madness in rural Yorkshire, set amid the great commercial developments of the late nineteenth century. It's a novel about drinking, about invention and re-invention, about home, language... and soft drinks." (Publisher)

First published by William Morrow/HarperCollins in the US, INTOXICATED was named as a BookSense Notable Title and an Editor's Choice at the Historical Novel Society.

[JB: This was the second of a two-book deal with Morrow/HarperCollins in NY. After EATING MAMMALS, I felt some pressure to write a similarly idiosyncratic book, and perhaps it shows. I researched the shit out of it, and got pretty obsessive about the writing process. The Washington Post and many other critics loved it, the NYT not so much...]


A collection of three novellas, all of them about mammals and all based (loosely) on fact. First, a story about a man who eats furniture for a living. Next, a tale about a winged cat named Thomas-Bessie. Finally, a romance between two pie makers, set in the Yorkshire village of Gomersal.

First published by 4th Estate in the UK and HarperCollins in the US.

[JB: I wrote title piece, EATING MAMMALS, just after I'd finished doctoral research. I'd spent the previous three years writing a PhD thesis on the phonetics and phonology of prosodic features in second languages, and increasingly found myself lying awake at night, staring at the wardrobe, and asking myself whether I could eat it. Anyway, I wrote the thing and sent it to the Paris Review; to my surprise they published it. In fact, it's not the kind of book I enjoy reading much, and is very different to the kind of fiction I was trying to write at the time (literary crime). However, George Plimpton loved EATING MAMMALS, and it was worth having it published just to spend some time with him and hear his recollections of Hemmingway, Capote, Mailer...]

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