Best Settings for Detective Stories

Best Settings for Detective Stories
image_print
The thriller writer's best friend: confined transport arrangements
The thriller writer’s best friend: confined transport arrangements

Euphoria reasserted its position in my emotional pantheon this week, following a text from my mum that read: “New Foyle’s War on, Sam looks different, you could watch on ITV catch up.”

And watch it I did. Euphorically. There really is no greater comfort than listening to Honeysuckle Weeks discussing a tin of Spam with her compelling new husband, or watching Michael Kitchener glowering at someone in uniform, every syllable leaving his mouth weighed down with that noble air of social responsibility.

Like his Alex Rider novels, the setting of Anthony Horowitz’s Foyles War is wish fulfilment; the romance, secrecy and drama of second world war Britain, horrors removed, is an ideal stage on which to live out fantasies of espionage and heroism.

Inspector Morse, apparently floating over the roofs of Oxford.
Inspector Morse levitates over the roofs of Oxford.

Setting is of course key in these tales of crime and punishment. Take the Inspector Morse and Lewis series. The dreaming spires and secret-swathed colleges make for late night indulgence so gluttonous that the traditional accompanying tea and biscuit to such a scenario becomes almost redundant.  These ancient learning halls also facilitate the presence of Lewis’s serious, misplaced, and curious young Sergeant Hathaway, (James, not Anne), who would probably flail in the waters of most other television shows, thereby denying all of the crossword, architecture or theology obsessed the pleasure of a truly almighty crush.

In Britain we’re passionate about crime; not just on television, but in its literary forms too. I often notice people murmuring things like, “Honestly, I could make millions if I had time to sit down and write a story like that’”, in reference to the latest thriller. Indeed, my parents have long been ruminating over the potential of the starting point “I was taking out the bins one night, just the same as every other night, and then I saw a dead body lying next to the cat litter tray.” (Why we have a cat litter tray still in the garden remains an unsolved mystery.)

Wish fulfilment doesn’t just underpin the plotlines of these tales; it exists in the minds of Britons across the country, all mentally outlining but never penning that great addition to genre fiction.

To help all those poised, biro-bearing and royalty  hungry, over an expectant white paper pad, here are some ideas for the best places to set that bestselling mystery.

1) Rural North Wales

Mountainous, bleak, sea-shrouded, patriotic, arty, bardic – North Wales is a relatively overlooked gem of detective fiction potential. Those claustrophobic village controversies, the lifeblood of Midsomer Murders, could be created en masse, whilst the slightly farcical, cake-devouring sweetness of middle England would be lost in this bleak landscape. Just think about the characters: a lonely farmer, a woman who relies on dream-catchers for life support, a secret wrapped up in the Welsh language, never to be told.  Welsh crime novels really could start taking off.

2) Durham

Hailed as the Oxbridge of the North, Durham offers the mystery sparked by the grandeur of the stone walls of Oxford’s Magdalen, whilst bearing a distinctive charm of its own. Indeed, the town and gown complex exists here; the beginning of a seemingly endless yarn in detective story plot potential. From the cathedral green, looking down into the valley, Durham provides the kind of rugged, pagan experience those upmarket Oxford bars can’t supply. A perfect setting for the lonely hippy to meet his downfall, or the rune expert to fall from the highest peak of the Cathedral tower.

3) Barge Holidays

1940s crime novel does no favours for narrowboat holidays.
1940s crime novel does no favours for narrowboat tourism

Agatha Christie was, of course, onto something with the Orient Express:  the thriller knows no better friend than confined transport arrangements. Racking my brains, I realised that canal boat travel is the most compelling parallel in Britain today. In a highly amusing article in the Telegraph last year, Neil Tweedie said, in reference to his canal boat holiday “Like it or not on the canal boat, tempus doesn’t fugit.” And when tempus doesn’t fugit, one is left with dark brooding on the minutiae of your thoughts, a claustrophobic family setting, and a series of tense engagements with other canallers. The dark rippling water and grimy riverside pubs also paint the picture nicely.

4) The New W.I

I have long been tempted to join the Shoreditch Sisters, the groovy brand of the Women’s Institute for cool, edgy women. The circle itself provides a wondrous setting for intrigue, backstabbing (with or without the use of knitting needles), and ill-fated romances. The allure of Foyle’s War lies, in part, in its costumes. I imagine the costumes in this scenario would be a fun-fest of hip, like flipping through a procrastination-enhancing fashion mag. Murderous bliss.

Gwen Smith

Gwen Smith

Gwen is an English graduate from Durham University. She is currently interning for Litro, writing weekly blogs and helping with publicity and marketing. She also works as a school librarian, which provides her with regular opportunities to compare her dwindling intellect against those of people several years her junior.

Gwen is an English graduate from Durham University. She is currently interning for Litro, writing weekly blogs and helping with publicity and marketing. She also works as a school librarian, which provides her with regular opportunities to compare her dwindling intellect against those of people several years her junior.

3 comments

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *