Crime fiction set in little villages or out in the country has a bit of a twee reputation, something for little old ladies but not for everyone else. I beg to differ. (I rarely beg, but in this case, it’s warranted.) The thing is, I used to live in London. I never had much money, so I generally had to live in the kinds of places that other people warned you about. The places full of authentic urban grittiness. In the mornings, there would be dark red splashes on the pavement on the way to the station. (Days later, posters appealing for witnesses would appear, but not often – stabbings became too commonplace to use up ink.) In the evenings, people would try and sell me illicit substances on the way home. I didn’t want them, though, I wanted a cottage in the country.
Now I almost have one – I’m in the country, at least. I don’t want to read about urban grimness. What I’ve noticed is that people with money pay to be insulated from the dark side of the city, but they’ll happily spend money going to some nice hotel for a murder mystery weekend, wait for one of their fellow guests to die and then speculate whether the butler did it. Well, me too.
It’s not easy to categorise writers into country and urban – some have their detectives work across the two – but some writers have a more distinctly country frame of mind: Louise Penny, for example, with her Canadian village of Three Pines, or Peter Robinson’s Inpsector Banks, in North Yorkshire, somewhere almost but not entirely Richmond.
The village setting is important – that small closed world that all the suspects belong to – and is not far distant from the classic country house mystery, so I include the majority of the Golden Age writers. For modern writers, however, I am on a journey of discovery. There must be life beyond Agatha Raisin (although M.C. Beaton is so prolific, perhaps she’s killed off the competition?)
So here I am, hunting for the perfect country crime book. I will read and pass on the verdict of the Rural Juror.