Crime in the Wild

Category: Author Post

Mark Sennen is the author of many books including the recently published Tell Tale. Today he shares 5 crime novels with setting at the forefront.

The TV series Broardchurch has, apparently, led to an increase in people wanting to move to Dorset on account of the countryside. ‘Picturesque, haunting scenery’ The Independent said. ‘A beautiful part of England’ according to Charlotte Rampling (who plays a character in the show). I can’t disagree with the sentiment, yet in some parts of the world – hell, some parts of the UK – Dorset is more akin to a London Park than anything truly remote. And while the Broadchurch scenery may be ‘picturesque’, I’m not sure the landscape plays much part in constructing the narrative.

My DI Savage series takes place in Devon, a somewhat wilder county than Dorset. A large part of the action in the latest book – Tell Tale – takes place on Dartmoor and the geography of the area is very much in a supporting role. Without the rock-strewn moorland, the jagged coastline and the rolling farmland, the milieu would be – quite simply – flat. I tend to be a sucker for crime fiction where the author can provide me with an evocative setting. When the environment becomes a malevolent presence in the background it multiplies the atmosphere created by the actual story.

Here are five crime books which do just that:

 

No Country For Old Men – Cormac McCarthy. Set in rural Texas.

For me McCarthy is the master of descriptive prose concerning the landscape – or more accurately the wilderness. Whether it’s the beauty of the surroundings in All the Pretty Horses (one of my all-time favourite books) or the sterile wastelands (geographical and human) in Blood Meridian, he is a writer who can conjure pictures from words like no other. In No Country we are in the familiar McCarthy Tex-Mex landscape of the borderlands where a drug deal has gone very, very wrong. There’s a distinct lack of anywhere to hide and hardly anyone to turn to for help. Terrell Country, where the story starts out, is the same size as Devon and yet the population is less than one thousand. Not the place to be when you are being pursued by a serial killer armed with a bolt gun!

 

The Broken Shore – Peter Temple. Set in Victoria, Australia.

If you haven’t come across Peter Temple before he’s a fine author and The Broken Shore is a great read. The Australia we see here is far from the image portrayed in the tourist brochures, far from anything approaching paradise. We’re talking the outback, dirt roads, tough men, deprivation, racism and abuse. A barren, dry and lonely landscape – or is that the detective? We’re never quite sure.

 

White Heat – MJ McGrath. Set in the Canadian Artic.

In White Heat we’re on the opposite side of the planet from Australia and a world away in terms of climate. The little community, where Inuit guide and amateur investigator Edie Kiglatuk hails from, experiences temperatures which are a balmy minus forty degrees, and away from the settlement the landscape is harsh and deadly. It’s bad enough hunting a murderer, but when the environment is out to get you too you’re really up against it. White Heat has been compared to Peter Høeg’s Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow, however, at the risk of annoying my wife (who, like Høeg, is Danish), I much prefer McGrath’s writing.

 

Cold Granite – Stuart MacBride. Set in… um… Aberdeen.

Aberdeen? That’s not the countryside, is it? No, but when I first read Cold Granite I remember feeling that poor DS Logan McRae was battling through a wilderness where the rain teemed down and the air temperature rarely rose above freezing. Dreary granite tenements, soulless tower blocks, streets running with water. A nightmare jungle – concrete, yes – but as savage and brooding as the most remote outpost. This feels like a different Scotland than that of Rankin, somewhere never to be featured in a tourist board advert. The weather is relentless: rain, sleet, snow, ice, wind. And cold. Did I mention the rain? And the cold? If ever there is proof that the Scots are a different, hardier race than their soft south-of-the-border cousins, here it is.

 

The Hound of the Baskervilles – Arthur Conan Doyle. Set on Dartmoor.

‘Behind the peaceful and sunlit countryside there rose ever, dark against the evening sky, the long gloomy curve of the moor, broken by the jagged and sinister hills.’

So Dr Watson describes the moor in The Hound. No surprise this is on my list, I’m heavily biased towards the area after all. This classic story has all the elements needed for a tense and creepy tale: the ‘grim and grey’ Baskerville Hall, a murderer escaped from prison, the hellish sounding Grimpen Mire, and the ‘desolate, lifeless moor’.

Most people think of the various screen incarnations of Holmes when they think of The Hound, but it’s well worth returning to the original text as the story has stood the test of time. Conan Doyle paints the moor as much a thing to be feared and wondered at, as the eponymous hound. On a bright summer’s day it can be argued that he treated Dartmoor harshly. However, come the autumn, when the inevitable rain sweeps in and the cloud base lowers, the genius of his descriptions become apparent. Watson says ‘The longer one stays here the more does the spirit of the moor sink into one’s soul, its vastness, and also its grim charm.’ Having spent a good deal of time out there myself I can only agree!

Top Crime & Thriller Out This Week.

Category: Books

First and foremost–hope you all are having a fantastic Valentine’s Day, whether you are spending it with loved ones or curled up with a book (or both!).

Tell Tale – Mark Sennen

If you’re looking for new read to pick up this weekend, we’ve had some great titles release this week. First up is Mark Sennen’s Tell Tale–the fourth instalment in his DI Charlotte Savage series. If you’re an avid watcher of Broadchurch, you’ll love these books. We also have a blog post straight from Mark himself going up tomorrow so check back here for that! Tell Tale is out now in paperback, but don’t worry ebook folks, we got you covered too.

YOU – Zoran Drvenkar

Also out just this Thursday is You. No, not you–YOU! Zoran Drvenkar is back again (sorry, did you not catch Sorry?) with another brilliant thriller. Drvenkar’s poetic writing style sings through the translation and we know you’ll be hooked within the first ten pages. Albeit ten pretty terrifying pages. And looks like HarperAudio currently has the first chapter of the audiobook up for free listen!

The Road to Samarcand – Patrick O’Brian

And what’s more thrilling than a good old tale of adventure? We’ve got a shiny new cover on Patrick O’Brian’s long out of print The Road to Samarcand (and it’s looking pretty swanky if we do say so ourselves). The New York Times lauds it as ‘The best historical novels ever written.’ So if that doesn’t spark your interest perhaps the prospect of its three exclusive three prequels to Derrick’s adventures on the high seas will.

 

Let us know if you pick up any of these and send us a picture on Twitter! You can find us there and on Facebook @KillerReads.

Mark Sennen: Location, Location, Location

Category: Author Post

We’re very excited to welcome Mark Sennen to the blog today talking about setting the scene for Bad Blood

Bad Blood

 

There was, apparently, a writer called Doyle who set a story on Dartmoor. The story featured a large dog and a detective called Holmes. Other than that the South West of England has been rather neglected when it comes to crime stories. I maybe a little biased, but I find that surprising because the West Country is a great place to set a series and the location provides a unique setting.

Plymouth, the home patch for my protagonist DI Charlotte Savage and her colleagues in Devon and Cornwall Police, is a much maligned city. It’s the largest conurbation for a hundred miles in any direction and yet the grockles and emmets (Devon and Cornish terms for tourists) heading to the West Country overlook the place in their rush to get to quainter destinations. True, the city is not pretty – the centre was destroyed in WWII – but Plymouth Hoe and the Sound are stunning: no other urban location in the UK has such an incredible outlook.

The geographical area Devon and Cornwall Police have to cover is the largest in England. It’s a distance of 130 miles from Axminster in the east to Lands End in the west, another 30 miles if you include the Isles of Scilly (note never the Scilly Isles!). Within the area there are a huge variety of locales: from rocky coves, sandy beaches and sleepy villages to inner city deprivation complete with drugs, prostitution and high-level criminal activity. Devon and Cornwall are also the most popular areas of the UK to visit and as many as 11 million visitors descend on (or invade!) the region in a year. In addition Plymouth is home to the largest naval base in Western Europe and the only place the UK’s fleet of Trident submarines can be repaired and refuelled. With such a disparate range of social and geographical terrain the policing challenge is enormous.

Plymouth undoubtedly shares the same problems and vices with a dozen other similar-sized places, nothing unique there. What does makes the location special is its position. The city is surrounded on all sides. To the south lies the sheltered waters of the Sound and beyond the open sea. Not the piddling little sea which washes up on the beaches of Brighton or Blackpool or Scarborough but a heaving ocean, never without a swell, next stop: Newfoundland. Directly west of the city, over the natural boundary provided by the River Tamar, is Cornwall. The county is a patchwork of rolling fields and a few towns, a coastline built for smashing ships, little fishing villages built for sucking money from tourists. To the north east sits the upland area of Dartmoor, the moorland coming to within a couple of miles of the city boundary. Dartmoor is nearly 1000 square kilometres of rocky tors, ravines, bogs and moorland; a near wilderness where nobody can hear you scream. Lest that’s too unsettling, south of the moor and east of Plymouth lies the South Hams. This is a sort of softer and richer version of Cornwall, where signs advertising creams teas hang from every other farm gate and yachties and ‘London types’ frequent the ports of Dartmouth and Salcombe.

Within this milieu there are stories aplenty just waiting to be told. On Dartmoor there are nutters slicing up young hikers. In North Devon – far, far from the usual cream tea trails – there are hillbillies waiting for lost tourists to wander down some dead end lane. In Cornwall smugglers are running boats into isolated harbours and landing millions of pounds worth of drugs. On the mean streets of Plymouth hard men are staking out their patches and vying for control. On the waters of the Sound terrorists are waiting to attack the army and navy bases, causing, perhaps, nuclear catastrophe.

To be honest, the West Country – Plymouth in particular – is a writer’s dream, and I think there’s enough to keep me busy for a few more books at least!

By the way I’ve mapped most of the main locations in the latest DI Savage novel, Bad Blood, and you can explore them as you read the book on this link.

Bad Blood is out now!