Martin Edwards is an award-winning crime writer whose fourth and most recent Lake District Mystery, featuring DCI Hannah Scarlett and historian Daniel Kind, The Serpent Pool, was published in 2010. Earlier books in the series are The Coffin Trail (short-listed for the Theakston’s prize for best British crime novel of 2006), The Cipher Garden and The Arsenic Labyrinth (short-listed for the Lakeland Book of the Year award in 2008.) He has also written eight novels about lawyer Harry Devlin, the first of which, All the Lonely People, was short-listed for the CWA John Creasey Memorial Dagger for the best first crime novel of the year. The latest Devlin novel, Waterloo Sunset, appeared in 2008.
Reviewers on both sides of the Atlantic have responded warmly to Edwards’ novels. London’s Guardian noted of his work, “First rate…Martin Edwards writes terrific crime novels,” while Kirkus Reviews observed, “Edwards always gives top value.” Publishers Weekly termed The Serpent Pool “absorbing, while Booklist noted that “book lovers, especially fans of nineteenth-century writer and opium addict Thomas de Quincey, will enjoy the latest Lake District mystery.”
Lawyer by day, writer by night, the prolific Edwards has additionally published a stand-alone novel of psychological suspense, Take My Breath Away, a much acclaimed novel featuring Dr Crippen, Dancing for the Hangman, and a collection of short stories, Where Do You Find Your Ideas?, as well as a study of homicide investigation, Urge to Kill. In 2008 he was elected to membership of the prestigious Detection Club. In his spare time Edwards posts daily to his blog, Do You Write Under Your Own Name?
Martin, many thanks for taking time from your busy schedule (not said lightly with the above description of activities fresh in mind) to speak about spirit of place with Scene of the Crime.
First, perhaps you could describe your connection to your both Liverpool and to the Lake District, settings for your two series.
I’ve worked in Liverpool, setting of my series about lawyer Harry Devlin, since the 1980s, and it’s a fascinating city, teeming with atmosphere and characters. The typical Liverpudlian is shrewd, witty and skeptical about authority, and the place itself is packed with history. As for the Lake District, setting for my more recent series featuring DCI Hannah Scarlett and historian Daniel Kind, it is, quite simply, one of the loveliest areas imaginable. Only thirty miles across, but full of small communities and, of course, possessing an extraordinarily rich literary heritage. I live about an hour’s drive away, and research trips are always a joy, especially when I can get away from the tourist traps and enjoy the solitude of the quieter valleys and fells.
Did you consciously set out to use these locations as a “character” in your books, or did this grow naturally out of the initial story or stories?
Both Liverpool and the Lake District are so rich in character that one can hardly write about them without imbuing the story with a flavour of the place. I was influenced by the fact that – amazingly – neither had been used before as the setting for a British crime series, and I felt that writing a series would enable me, over the course of several books, to explore the society I was describing in a broader and fuller way than is possible in the course of a single novel.
There is a big difference between an urban locale such as Liverpool and a rural setting like the Lakes. This influences the way the action develops, the way the characters behave – everything about the book, really. The difference in setting is reflected, to some extent, in a different style of writing.
How do your protagonists interact with their surroundings?
Harry Devlin is a native of Liverpool and in the latest book in the series, Waterloo Sunset, he is coming to terms with the changes in the city – a place transformed since the dark days of the 1980s into European Capital of Culture in 2008.
Hannah Scarlett is a detective based in the Lakes, but Daniel Kind is an incomer, and at first, in The Coffin Trail, the region is seen through his eyes. He has fallen in love with the Lakes – as many people do – but he also finds that the area has its darker side.
Has there been any local reaction to your works?
My books have, fortunately, enjoyed a terrific reception both in Liverpool and the Lakes, from the Press and also from local readers. They also sell well in countries such as Italy and Germany, in translation, and in the US, so I guess the appeal of the settings is pretty much universal.
Have you ever made any goofs in depicting your location or time period? Please share–the more humorous the better (we all have).
I once referred to railings around Liverpool’s Sefton Park, in a Harry Devlin book called Yesterday’s Papers. I don’t know why I did this, as I’d strolled around the Park a good many times. Perhaps I persuaded myself that all parks must have railings somewhere, but I’ve not discovered any in Sefton Park yet!
Of your Liverpool and Lake District novels, do you have a favorite book or scene that focuses on the place?
I very much enjoyed writing Waterloo Sunset, and the scenes featuring Antony Gormleys’ strange statues of Iron Men on the beach near Waterloo are, I think, quite evocative. Of the Lakes books, I became fascinated by Coppermines Valley at Coniston, and this features in The Arsenic Labyrinth. I’m afraid both the beach and the valley became crime scenes….
I admire many of the Victorian novelists, including Elizabeth Gaskell, whose Cranford is a fictionalized version of Knutsford, the town where I was born. Among crime writers, I am a fan of Agatha Christie, Ruth Rendell, Reginald Hill and many others. I think the influence of other writers has been indirect rather than obvious, certainly so far as depiction of place is concerned.
What’s next for your protagonist?
The fourth Lake District Mystery, The Serpent Pool, has just been published, and I’ve started work on the fifth.
Martin, once again, many thanks for joining us at Scene of the Crime.