Inspector Lynley Mysteries in Lancashire
What do the glitzy lights of Blackpool have in common with a quiet university campus in East Lancashire and a manor house in the Forest of Bowland? Murder, that's what...
DEEP in the Forest of Bowland lies the fictional village of Winslough, a tranquil, isolated location chosen by popular American crimewriter Elizabeth George. Her Lancashire novel Missing Joseph is one of the highly successful Inspector Lynley mysteries - recently televised, starring Nathaniel Parker and Sharon Small. With its old stone cottages and narrow streets surrounded by heather moorland, Winslough is based on picturesque Slaidburn.
Against this wintry Lancashire backdrop, toff Inspector Lynley investigates the death by poison of village rector Robin Sage, with the help of his chippy sidekick Sergeant Barbara Havers. Was it an accident or murder, and was Sage the intended victim?
'The setting is crucial to my novels. Until I have the setting, I generally don't have the novel at all,' Elizabeth George says. 'I knew I was going to write about Lancashire - the Lancashire witch country. My story grew from the idea of a good person with a secret that was worth committing murder to protect.' Although based in glamorous Huntingdon Beach, California, Elizabeth always visits the UK locations she chooses several times during the course of writing a novel.
'I make sure that if there is any description in my novels, I have actually been there and walked in that place.' The murderous mayhem continues in the Lune Valley. Windswept Morecambe and the city of Lancaster are the setting for local author Zoe Sharp's first two crime novels.
Her heroine Charlotte 'Charlie' Fox is a twenty-something self-defence instructor with a motorbike and an attitude. In Killer Instinct, the feisty Charlie is reluctantly drawn into a murder investigation surrounding the death of a teenager at a new nightclub in Morecambe where she has been hired as a bouncer.
The sequel, Riot Act, shows Charlie needing all her training as an ex-Special Forces soldier when house-sitting for a friend on an estate on the outskirts of Lancaster. Charlie Fox is an engaging heroine, and these novels are enjoyable not only for readers who enjoy pacy, action-packed thrillers, but also for those who prefer their crime fiction more intimate and characterdriven. Charlie's adventures continue in several further stories around the globe, but she returns to her home in Lancaster briefly in Road Kill, when a good friend is killed in a motorbike crash.
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Further south in Blackpool, is the headquarters for born and bred Lancastrian author Nick Oldham's graphic police thrillers. A police officer himself for 30 years, Nick writes tough and authentic crime fiction. Living in the little village of Belthorn, near Blackburn, as a child, on a clear day he could see right to Blackpool Tower, 40 miles away. 'Blackpool has a lot of faces, and that's what's always fascinated me,' he said. 'Eighteen million visitors a year, and 99% of them never see what goes on behind the seafront.' Backlash is set during a party conference at the Winter Gardens.
Oldham's series hero Inspector Henry Christie, newly returned to uniform duties after years as a detective, and his plain-clothes replacement D.I Jane Roscoe together must contain a race riot while a serial killer plans his next victim and politicians meddle in local policing. The action moves to Fleetwood for Psycho Alley, in which Inspector Christie, harddrinking, hard-swearing and inexplicably attractive to female colleagues, searches for a predatory child-killer.
The Ribble Valley and East Lancashire hills are home to the highly distinctive Detective Inspector Percy Peach, creation of Lancashire's most prolific crimewriter, J.M.Gregson. D.I Peach's comedy appearance - a miniature Oliver Hardy - and flippant manner hide a devious cunning and incisive ability to root out the truth.
Although the series of eleven novels began as general police procedurals in an undetermined locality, the stories are now firmly set in vividly realised Lancashire settings centred on Blackburn, which Gregson fictionalises as Brunton.
From Brunton's police headquarters Peach investigates crime from Clitheroe in Witch's Sabbath to Preston and the Ribble Valley in The Lancashire Leopard, and from the academics of the University of East Lancashire (A Little Learning) to shifty squatters in derelict terraces (Dusty Death).
Gregson's affectionate and spirited portrayal of the old cotton towns develops though the series, along with Peach's relationships with policewoman Lucy Blake, and his ineffective and prickly superior, Superintendent Tommy Tucker.
Finally, the fictional Rossendale village of Kelton Bridge is the location chosen by Shirley Wells, Lancashire's newest crimewriter, for her series featuring forensic psychologist Jill Kennedy and Detective Chief Inspector Max Trentham. Shirley, an experienced author in other genres since 1983, moved to the Lancashire Pennines in 2004 and immediately 'turned to crime.' Into The Shadows introduces Jill Kennedy, retreating from a high-pressure job with the police in Preston after her profile helped convict an innocent man of serial murder.
The peaceful hamlet midway between Burnley and Rochdale in the shadow of the Pennines, and a career writing self-help books seem to offer a more gentle life, but very quickly Jill becomes entangled in a shocking murder in the close-knit community, and the serial killer she thought she had left behind in Preston still haunts her.
This engrossing and well-written mystery will be followed in May this year by the sequel A Darker Side. According to Shirley: 'To me, this area offers a perfect backdrop for crime novels - the stunning scenery consists of dark brooding hills, disused mill chimneys, old quarries .... Inspiring!'
So watch out, gentle readers, wherever you are - from remote moorlands to famous coastal resorts and red-brick mill towns - there's no escaping Lancashire's crime scenery!