In Part One of our Crime Fiction Tour of Britain, we began our guide to the state of British crime fiction in the South of England. Now for our follow up we pick up where we left off and tour the North of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. As usual, all book links are to the Goodreads page for that book.
Before we explore what British crime fiction there is in the rest of the mainland, we’re going to hop on a ferry to Northern Ireland as author Stuart Neville has got two different detectives for us to meet. First up is Ulster cop Jack Lennon . He has a cameo appearance in The Ghosts of Belfast, a novel about a troubled former paramilitary contract killer, out to get revenge, but then has several books of his own starting with Collusion. If that’s not enough, Stuart Neville has also written two books so far about DCI Serena Flanagan, a woman with a difficult childhood and health battles in adulthood, but has come through determined to continue fighting crime.
Before we leave Northern Ireland, there’s just time to check in on Detective Sergeant Sean Duffy. Where Stuart Neville brought us the aftermath of the Troubles, Detective Duffy’s creator, Adrian McKinty, takes us right back to the heart of it in the early 1980s when the IRA and the Ulster Volunteer Force were at their bloody work. This almost but not quite historical fiction is an interesting approach that takes us back to a difficult and unique period of Northern Irish history. The first book in the series is The Cold Cold Ground, and there are seven books to enjoy so far.
Next up, on the way up North we first come to the Midlands and the ‘Black Country’ – so named for the coal soot of the 19th century factories which this region was crammed with. We’re here to meet DI Kim Stone, created by Angela Marsons. In DI Stone’s first book, Silent Scream, the discovery of human remains at a former children’s home sends her on the hunt for a nasty serial killer. Her cases are not dry dispassionate puzzles, but edge of the seat hunts for ruthless killers, with Stone regularly in danger. It doesn’t seem like she gets much of a let up either, with 12 books in the series so far. I don’t normally comment on ratings, but there’s a lot of ratings on Goodreads, and these are some of the highest average scores I’ve seen for a book series.
Heading East we get to the Peak District to spend some time with two Detective Constables. There’s local boy Ben Cooper, and out of town newcomer Diane Fry – very different from each other but they eventually make a good team. The rural setting makes a nice change from the usual city or suburban locales, with real life locations featured in many of the books. The first book, Black Dog, came out in 2000 and author Stephen Booth has been writing them ever since – there’s nearly twenty for us to enjoy now. I’ve read a few of these, and like the combination of peaceful rural setting and puzzling but brutal crimes.
Leaving the Peak District we’re almost immediately into England’s capital of the north, Manchester, where we meet under cop Aiden Waits, created by author Joseph Knox. In the first book, Sirens, he’s in over his head in the shadowy Manchester underworld, trying to infiltrate the crime boss’s inner circle, while at the same time rescuing a politician’s runaway daughter. A tough ask, but Aiden Waits is the man for the job. Three books so far, but this is a fairly new crime fiction series so hopefully there will be lots more books to enjoy in the future.
Heading up to Yorkshire and we have two authors who are providing us with a scenic crime fest. The first of these is Reginald Hill, who delighted readers with his Dalziel and Pascoe (pronounced Dee-El and Pass-co) series over a 40 year period, starting with A Clubbable Woman in 1970. It’s a classic senior and junior detective pairing, with Dalziel an old school Superintendent and Pascoe, a comparatively junior Sergeant at the start of the series, a more modern detective. By all accounts, A Clubbable Woman is hard to swallow for some these days with its 1970s misogyny, so if you are not one of those readers that absolutely has to start at the beginning you could always dive into one of the later books – there’s 24 in total, so plenty to pick from!
If we want something a little more up to date, then we can turn to the Inspector Banks series, by crime writer Peter Robinson. In the first book, Gallows View, DCI Alan Banks is a classic fish out of water, having recently moved from London to escape the stress of city life. He’s described by the author as a “perceptive, curious and compassionate policeman”. The books have proven extremely popular with readers, and as of early 2020 there have been 26 books so far with the 27th on the way. Incidentally, as with a lot of crime fiction these days, both the DCI Banks and the Dalziel and Pascoe series have been made into successful tv series, proving the combination of criminal happenings and wild and beautiful scenery make a winning combination.
The last stop before we leave the North of England is the beautiful – though as it turns out crime-ridden – Lake District. Our guide here is author Martin Edwards, in his Lake District Mysteries series. The first book, The Coffin Trail, introduces us to the two main characters: historian Daniel Kind who has come up to the Lakes with his partner Miranda in search of escape and a new life, and DCI Hannah Scarlett. The idyllic valley of Brackdale is looking less of a perfect choice to move to when a young woman’s body is found on the Sacrifice Stone, a local pagan site. There’s six more books in the series to read if you enjoy this one.
Finally, we leave the North of England and head up to see what Scottish crime fiction is on offer. First off we hit the capital, Edinburgh and meet a classic figure in crime fiction – Detective Inspector Rebus, created by Ian Rankin. He’s an old fashioned, grumpy detective who likes to bend the rules, bringing him regularly into conflict with his superiors. Where Inspector Morse was a fan of classical music, Rebus is a big music fan and frequently links aspects of his cases to songs. The Edinburgh depicted in the Rebus books is a gritty one, highlighting rampant poverty, corruption and organised crime, giving Rebus entry into the “Tartan Noir” sub-genre. The first Rebus book is Knots and Crosses; in book seventeen, Exit Music, Rebus retires and that was due to be the last book in the series, but he was soon back due to popular demand and Rebus is now up to book 23.
Lastly in our British Crime fiction tour we make it to the far, far north, about as far as you can go and still be in the British Isles. I’m talking of course about the Shetland Islands, and the Shetland books by Ann Cleeves, featuring Detective Jimmy Perez. The setting of the books is almost another character, and we get to experience the community around one of the most distant and remote parts of Britain. It’s not just the mainland either as different books focus on different islands, such as Whalsay and Fair Isle, and both traditional and more modern ways of life. The first book is Raven Black, and there are eight crime fiction books in the series in total.
That’s all we’ve got time for in the way of Scottish crime fiction, though I feel there’s so many good books and authors it probably deserves a post all to itself. Hmmm…
So that concludes this British crime fiction tour. There’s so many more books and series I could have included – it really highlights the richness of the British crime fiction genre.