Written by J.M. Hall

God's Own Country makes the perfect setting for crime fiction and entertainment.

I’m writing this during playtime, sitting sat in my office at the school where I work. The school is the highest one in England, on the tops between Bradford and Halifax. I could use many adjectives to describe the view from the window, the one I’d settle for is inspiring. It’s what you might call Classic Yorkshire. Over in the east are the dim outlines of Ingleborough and its neighbouring peaks, on clear days the White Horse of Kilburn, on the flanks of the Yorkshire moors, is visible to the North West. And below, stretching away, an urban carpet: the houses and mosques and mills of Bradford.

But my mind is more on the school playgroundon break time. A fifteen-minute microcosm of life, a maelstrom of emotions: love, jealousy, disappointment, hope… incandescent anger, breathtaking exultation. All played out against the backdrop of that amazing and inspiring view.

The children it has to be said are largely unaware of the vista. And the staff watching them, overseeing the myriad games of chase and Doctor Who and Unicorns are looking out for one thing. The negative. The play fight gone too far. The isolated individual crying by the grit station. The game of football that can erupt into carnage with a single kick. Afterwards, back in class, it’s not the successful and happy games that grab the attention and fuel the interest. It’s the darkness.

The negativity.

All set against that amazing backdrop.

And in this, I find a good analogy for crime fiction. Tales of darkness fascinate, stories of the very worst that humanity has to offer compel. And I find if those stories are set against a backdrop that’s striking and uniquethey’re given a whole other dimension. I see it in iconic crime fiction, from the country houses and villages of Agatha Christie to the foggy London of Sherlock Holmes. Yorkshire not only has such striking backdropsit has them in abundance and variety- perhaps more than any other place in England. There’s cliffs and seas that easily rival Cornwall, the moors and uplands are as wild as anything Dartmoor or the Lake District can offer, Holderness and its coast have wide bleak expanses of field and beach on a par with those of Norfolk and Suffolk. Then there’s a whole variety of city settings, from the Victorian industrial through to brutal seventies concrete. And away from the urban noise, there’s a further element. The mystical and mythical … gothic castles, skeletal abbey ruins … stone circles and the unmistakable bumps of plague-abandoned villages. Not to mention the caves and potholes, great striding viaducts, vast housing estates, solitary farms and lonely moorland pubs.

It’s not a cosy landscape—never that. It’s far from the calm classic idyll shown on place mats and calendars. For all their faces stare out from tea towels and biscuit tins, let’s not forget that the Bronte sisters died young, as a result of living in the harshest of environments. Many’s the time I’ve had to push my Headteacher’s car up a lethally snowy hill; when the gales roar across the tops the very stones of our school vibrate and hefty slates lift like carpet tiles.

All of this gives the writer of crime a whole array of settings for corpses to be found and investigations prosecuted—from the soaring expanses of Spurn point, a decaying mill in Sheffield or Keighley, to the rocky, treacherous slopes of Whernside. The choices are rich and abundant and reflected in a wealth of contemporary crime fiction. There’s the dales, with Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks stories and the Dales detective series of Julia Chapman. Francis Brody has used a whole pallet of settings from Harrogate to Haworth in her historical Kate Shackleton stories. The Sheffield area is seen in the D.S Tyler works of Russ Thomas, Hull and its surroundings in the McAvoy series of David Mark. Bradford, with its decayed Victorian grandeur has inspired a whole dark urban genre of its own, showcased in the stories of Liz Mistry, Lesley Chapman, A.A. Dhand and Saima Khan. It’s a rich and growing list.

Today is grey and bleak. Looking from my window I see the landscape beyond the playground muted by curtains of rain, giving the whole outlook a damp indistinct quality; the pylons and houses, the fields and drystone walls.

It's easy to imagine a body huddled somewhere out amongst the grey.

Perfectly plausible to imagine some dark story unfolding in those terraced streets or isolated cottages.

Playtime’s nearly over.

And I can hear a change in the sound of the voices outside. A discordance. Shouting. And now a teacher’s whistle.

Something’s kicking off…

RRP: £8.99
Released: March 30 2023




J. M. Hall

Book Reviews
About Us
Contact Us

Privacy Policy | Contact Shots Editor