Today I am pleased to be handing my blog back to my fellow blogger, David Prestidge from Fully Booked for the second part of his guest post called Crime Fiction Road Trip.
The post is a tour of the UK and features 20 stops around the country stopping at towns and cities and looking at the detectives who investigate crime in those locations.
The Crime Fiction Road Trip was split into two parts. 10 stops for each part and you can find the link to part one – !!HERE!!
The itinerary for part two is:
- Blackpool – Henry Christie – Nick Oldham.
- Glasgow – William Lorimer – Alex Gray.
- Aberdeen – Logan MacRae – Stuart MacBride.
- Edinburgh – Tony MacLean – James Oswald.
- Newcastle – Kate Daniels – Mari Hannah.
- Leeds –Tom Harper – Chris Nickson.
- Nottingham – Charlie Resnick – John Harvey.
- King’s Lynn – Roy Shaw – Jim Kelly.
- Peterborough – Zigic and Ferreira – Eva Dolan.
- London – Bryant and May – Christopher Fowler.
I hope that you all enjoy this fascinating trip around the UK and I would also like to offer my thanks to David Prestidge for writing this fantastic guest post, thank you.
Crime Fiction Road trip: Part Two.
After a welcome couple of days off in Manchester, hopefully avoiding Aidan Waits or any of his gangster friends, we’re up and running on the second stage of our crime fiction journey around Britain. A pleasant fifty-or-so miles through Lancashire brings us to Blackpool. Endless sandy beaches, the Tower Ballroom, donkey rides, Kiss Me Quick hats, a bag of cockles washed down with a nice pint of bitter, yes? Maybe, but behind the Golden Mile, there are some of the meanest streets in the country. Blackpool always figures near the top in any chart of British social deprivation, and it is within the not-so-golden triangle bounded by Blackpool, Preston and Lancaster that one of our most intriguing coppers, Henry Christie, earns his corn. Created by retired police officer Nick Oldham, Christie first appeared back in 1996 in A Time For Justice. Henry Christie’s villains may live in social housing rather than gated mansions, but they are bad bastards nevertheless. The twenty-seventh in the series, Bad Timing is due out later in the year, and Christie is – more or less – ageing with the series. Somewhere to start? Try Bad Cops (2018).
After relatively short hops between towns and cities in central Britain, we must now gear up for a trip to Bloody Scotland, the scene of so many superb crime novels over the last twenty years or so. We have arrived on the Bonny Banks of Clyde to meet a senior Glasgow detective, William Lorimer. His creator, Alex Gray, doesn’t tend to allow her man to become involved in too much rough and tumble, but her plots are complex and often involve the subtle but deadly fallout from mundane personal relationships that go awry. The Lorimer novels could not be classed as Tartan Noir – Lorimer is far too decent, and there is so much poetry in the bond between himself and wife Margaret – but they are wonderfully well written. For newcomers to this superior series looking for a recommendation, I’ll suggest number fifteen in the series, Only The Dead Can Tell (2018)
Rather like professional football back in the day, before the foreign dollar corrupted everything, it was clubs from Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen that tend to be in the end-of-season mix. It is in the perpetual drizzle and bitter east wind of The Granite City that we find Logan MacRae. Stuart MacBride first drew him to our attention in 2011 with Cold Granite. MacRae is dogged, brave, accident-prone and has a verbally violent relationship with his boss DCI Steel. Her scabrous humour contributes to the considerable comic element of these books:
“ Come on, I saw her checking you out all through the briefing. Yesterday she thought you were a two-foot wide skidmark on the hand-towel of life, now she’s throwing you meaningful glances like they’re on buy-one-get-one-free!”
But MacBride is clever enough to let us see Steel’s less abrasive side. She is a Lesbian, and she and her partner have a little child, to whom MacRae is godfather, and there are several rather moving scenes describing this relationship. On the dark side, though, there is evil aplenty – beheadings, frightful child traffickers, eye-watering violence, and confirmation – if any were needed – that “hell is empty, and all the devils are here” In The Cold Dark Ground (2016) should convince you that these are books well worth reading.
A long drive south-south-west brings us to Edinburgh, but those readers expecting a reunion with John Rebus may well be disappointed. As good as the Rebus novels are, I have chosen a rather more recent creation. James Oswald has a day job – and what a day job! He runs a 350-acre livestock farm in North East Fife, where he raises pedigree Highland cattle and New Zealand Romney sheep. To relax, he writes about a young Edinburgh copper, DI Tony McLean and his brushes with not only the lowlife of the Scottish capital, but his encounters with things that Hamlet declared were “not dreamt of in your philosphy.” Don’t be misled. These are not crossover crime/supernatural novels. McLean’s gift – or curse – of being susceptible to things not entirely of this world, does not swamp Oswald’s superb police procedural narrative. But it is there, in the background, maybe, but still very potent. Of my favourite McLean novel, I wrote, “I have to tell you that The Gathering Dark is superbly written and gripping from the first page to the last, but it turns hellishly black and may trouble your dreams.”
We are heading south to visit the setting of perhaps the finest British crime novel of the second half of the 20th century. But actually, it wasn’t – the setting , I mean. Remember the doomed genius of Ted Lewis and Get Carter aka Jack’s Return Home? The atmospheric Newcastle settings? The industrial grit and grime in the original novel was more likely to have been based on Scunthorpe, close to Lewis’s childhood home on Humberside. No matter, Tyneside has a more recent champion in the person of DCI Kate Daniels. She is the creation of Mari Hannah, an adoptive Geordie. Daniels has, like many of the best fictional coppers, something of a hard edge. Her sexuality has not endeared her to her male colleagues any more than her determination and steely resolution to overturn the old saying, “bullshit baffles brains.” For a grounding in Mari Hannah’s world – a potent mix of superb Northumbrian scenery and urban noir, you could do worse than start with Gallows Drop (2016) which starts with a very modern corpse being found hanging from an ancient gallows.
Chris Nickson and Leeds? The two have, in the last few years, become synonymous. The former music journalist has Leeds stamped on his heart, and has put his home town at the centre of crime novels featuring several different characters, ranging from an 18th-century constable (Richard Nottingham) to a 1950s private eye (Dan Markham). For me, though, his most endearing creation is Tom Harper. The Harper novels straddle the later years of Queen Victoria through to the early 20th century. Harper is a tough but decent copper, with a strong sense of social justice, and an adorable family and, although he has risen through the ranks, he has never lost touch with the poor and downtrodden, nor with the cobbled streets on which they walk. One of the key things about the Harper novels is that they frequently refer to real-life political and social events, as in The Molten City (2020) where Harper has to manage protests by suffragettes and anarchists during a civic visit to Leeds by Prime Minister HH Asquith.
Some crime writers, it has to be said, write too much. No names, no pack-drill, as the old army saying goes, but there are other writers who have put quality far above quantity. No British writer quite fits that bill like John Harvey. He is also a poet and a dramatist, but most people will agree with me that his best books are the novels featuring Nottingham copper Charlie Resnick. Resnick, rather like Endeavour Morse is a loner, thought by his colleagues to be too clever by half, and socially alienated. Resnick, like Morse, finds solace in music, but his solitary vice is jazz. In Lonely Hearts (1989) Resnick (and his beautifully observed team of detectives, each with their strengths and failings) try to bring to justice a killer who operates behind the anonymous screen of a pre-digital dating agency.
We now aim for Newark, where the much-maligned King John spent his final hours, and we pick up the A17 to King’s Lynn. The historic Norfolk port town is the operational base of Detective Inspector Peter Shaw as imagined by Jim Kelly. I simply have no idea why Kelly’s name isn’t spoken of in the same breath as, for example, such contemporaries as McDermid, Billingham, James and Cleeves. In three separate series, featuring Peter Shaw, and then those involving Philip Dryden and. more recently, Eden Brooke, he has demonstrated an uncanny ability to weave recent history, the ghosts of landscape, and human frailty into a compelling narrative. Shaw is clever, intuitive, but terrified that his deteriorating hearing will sideline him professionally. In At Death’s Window (2014) Shaw becomes involved in a fatal struggle between rival gangs over a very precious commodity. Not Spice, Smack or Snow, but another ‘S’ – a rather tasty edible seaweed called Samphire, which is selling for silly money in the posh delis of Islington and Camden.
Our last two visits feature two partnerships, the first being detectives Zigic and Ferreira in Peterborough. Peterborough is a rather strange city. It has a wonderful medieval cathedral, but some would say that is a gem dropped in a cowpat. Harsh, perhaps, but since the 1800s Peterborough became, first, a centre of the brick building industry, then a smoky railway hub and, more recently, a vast web of anodyne new estates and dual carriageways, united only by their shared lack of charm. The city is on the edge of Fenland, which has become a byword for the exploitation of immigrant farmworkers, mostly from Eastern Europe. Eva Dolan wrote a blistering debut novel, Long Way Home (2014) in which Zigic and Ferreira, themselves both from immigrant families, investigate a shocking case of corruption, exploitation – and murder.
Tired, road-weary, but happy – 2113 miles after we set out – we are back in London to meet another inseparable pair of coppers – Arthur Bryant and John May. Author Christopher Fowler loves jokes, especially if they involve arcane cultural references, and so naming his detectives after a long-since-disappeared brand of matches is just the start. The pair are impossibly old. They have been investigating strange crimes in the capital since the days of the Blitz, but that doesn’t matter. Fowler’s own unique awareness of London’s geographical and architectural secret places makes every B&M novel a source of wonder and entertainment. Of Hall of Mirrors (2018) I said, “Christopher Fowler is a brilliant writer. He is, in my view, out on his own in the way he weaves a magic carpet from a dazzling array of different threads: there is uniquely English humour, the sheer joy of the eccentricities of our language and landscape, labyrinthine plotting, and an array of arcane cultural references which will surely have Betjeman beaming down from heaven.”
About David Prestidge and Fully Booked.
FULLY BOOKED is written and edited by David Prestidge. He is a former Assistant Headteacher, and for some years wrote for, and helped edit the website Crime Fiction Lover. He is married, with four grown-up sons, two grand-daughters, and lives in the Cambridgeshire market town of Wisbech. He is a great admirer of local writer Jim Kelly, but believes that The Nine Tailors, by Dorothy L Sayers, captures the essence of the Fen country like no book before or since.
His Desert Island choice of reading would be a collection of stories by Derek Raymond, if only because Raymond’s bleak vision of humanity would be very effective in persuading the castaway not to attempt foolhardy escapes. David is also fascinated by any kind of criminal activity – fictional or real – set in London, and in particular, the Ripper murders, the Tottenham Outrage, and the Shepherd’s Bush killings of 1966.
When he is not reading crime novels, David sits and admires his collection of guitars and mandolins, and wishes he had the musical skill to do them justice. Once a fully paid-up member of CND and the Anti Apartheid Movement, he admits that his politics have moved to the right in old age, but hopes that his sense of compassion and fair play remains untouched by this shift.
On a negative level, David admits to being lukewarm about graphic novels, interactive games and apps, most pulp fiction and – his greatest mea culpa – the passionate love affair many readers and critics have with anything Scandinavian, irrespective of merit. FULLY BOOKED can be found on Twitter and Facebook.