Crime writer returns to Bowness

Martin Edwards had returned to the scene of the crime. Many crimes in fact, committed in this, the most gentle and genteel corner of the UK, the Lake District. Distinguished author, a member of the Murder Squad collective of crime writers , he’s won the CWA Diamond Dagger, the highest honour in UK crime writing. And in 2015 he was elected eighth President of the Detection Club; his predecessors include G.K. Chesterton, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Agatha Christie.

And here he was, back in Bowness, back at the very hotel where he stayed on a reconnaissance mission while writing about some foul deed some years ago. Martin was the guest of the Bowness Book Club at the Burn How Hotel and his audience of mainly female literati was curious to know how a mild-mannered gent like him could come up with such dastardly plots and gruesome characters.

He’s a prolific author, with a published list that includes The Life of Crime – a brand new history of crime writing; The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books;  and Howdunit: A Masterclass in Crime Writing by Members of the Detection Club. There have been more than 80 short stories and dozens of anthologies. Ian Rankin has said:Martin Edwards is not only a fine writer but he is also ridiculously  knowledgeable about the field of crime and suspense fiction.  He wears  his learning lightly and is always the most congenial company.  He is  also a great champion of crime writing and crime writers. And Richard Osman has called him “A true master of British crime writing.

But this audience was most interested in the eight Lake District novels, featuring DCI Hannah Scarlett and the historian Daniel Kind, well-crafted, three dimensional characters, like all of his creations. For this matters, along with the plot, and the setting. So why the Lake District? ”I needed a location, and I loved the Lakes. It was a wonderful opportunity to explore the area looking for places and settings.” It was also a large enough area to be plausible, with crimes committed across the county of Cumbria, from the north west coast, across to Keswick, and down to Ambleside and Coniston. Unlike the tiny village of Midsomer with its preposterously high proportion of murders. The most recent, The Crooked Shore, is set partly in Bowness, it turns out.

Martin was born in Knutsford, educated in Northwich, and still lives in Cheshire, at Lymm, with his wife Helena. They have two children, Jonathan and Catherine. “I always wanted to be a writer, from the age of eight, after discovering Agatha Christie, who remains a favourite.” But after his parents persuaded him that writing might not be a lucrative career, he studied law at Balliol College, Oxford,  and qualified as a solicitor before having his first book published. Was it a runaway crime success? “It was actually about the legal aspects of buying a business computer,” he confesses.

His first novel, first in the series of Harry Devlin books, was set in Liverpool where he worked as an employment lawyer,  getting to know the city very well, and seeing it transform over a decade or so. All the lonely people was the title; the others subsequently had titles which were lines from pop songs, including Waterloo Sunset and Eve of Destruction. The Lake District series is, likewise, topographically detailed although Martin sometimes plays around with the landscape, creating, for example, an extra valley between Kentmere and Longsleddale in one book. Another, with murderous goings-on in the Coppermines valley above Coniston, is eerily familiar to his audience tonight.

The Lakes’ novels are contemporary, but Martin became fascinated with the “golden age” of crime in the period between the two world wars, and produced a ground-breaking study of classic detective stories written during this period,  The Golden Age of Murder. The book has won the Edgar, Agatha, H.R.F. Keating, and Macavity awards for the best non-fiction book of the year, and was also shortlisted for both an Anthony award and the CWA Gold Dagger for non-fiction.

Len Deighton described it as “illuminating and entertaining” and said it “provides a new way of looking at old favourites.” British novelist Ann Cleeves described it as “a wonderful non-fiction book”. So Martin then created his own series of books, set in and around London in the 1930s and featuring Rachel Savernake, a wealthy heiress and amateur sleuth. Though in one of the stories, she does venture north to the moors above Hebden Bridge and Hardcastle Crags.

Martin himself was setting off across the Atlantic after leaving Bowness, to an award ceremony; his books are hugely popular in America. His Lake District audience was enchanted; writers have been using this area as a setting for centuries and this one had found inspiration right here, in Bowness.

The Bowness Book Club meets every month at the Burn How Hotel. Next month it’s poet Kerry Derbishire, on Weds May 17