Readers of crime fiction can’t resist a good location for a murder. Colin Dexter’s Oxford, Ian Rankin’s Edinburgh, Ann Cleeves’ Shetland… there’s a long list of areas that people not only love to read about, but want to visit and see for themselves.
I’ve been writing about the Derbyshire Peak District for two decades now – ‘Black Dog’, the first novel featuring my police detectives Ben Cooper and Diane Fry, was written 20 years ago, and there have been seventeen other novels in the series since. I’ve found endless inspiration in the landscape and history of an area bursting with atmospheric locations.
Over the course of 18 books, I’ve managed to create quite a detailed fictional version of Derbyshire. I think of it as a parallel universe, with a lot of similarities to the real world, but a few differences too.
What I find magical is the willingness of readers to enter into this imaginary world. I created the fictional Peak District town of Edendale for my detectives to operate from, based on several real towns I know. This gives it a sense of familiarity – so much so that a reader once wrote to me to say: “It’s years since I was there, but I do know Edendale very well.” Quite an achievement, since it really only exists in my imagination!
I soon became aware how important the setting is. Every time a new Cooper & Fry novel is published, dedicated readers will head out into the Peak District to find every location I’ve mentioned, including the fictional ones.
Apart from Edendale itself, I try to use real, identifiable places as far as possible. Since Ben Cooper was promoted to detective inspector, he’s moved out of his old flat and bought a house in the real-life village of Foolow. Readers knew they couldn’t find the street Ben lived on in Edendale, but now they can go and sit on Foolow village green and try to work out which is his house (I might have to apologise to the residents of Foolow for that one day!).
This means readers can go and explore the landscape for themselves. But I hope they take notice of how many deaths there are in my books, because this can be a dangerous place…
My latest Cooper and Fry novel ‘Fall Down Dead’ is set around one of the most iconic locations in the High Peak, the mountain of Kinder Scout. This is a strange, alien landscape of bleak peat moors which has proved treacherous for many unsuspecting visitors. It was also the scene of the Kinder Mass Trespass in 1932, an act of civil disobedience which led to the countryside access we now take for granted, and the creation of our national parks.
In ‘Fall Down Dead’, a group of walkers marking the anniversary of the trespass get lost when fog descends and stray too close to the edge of a famous waterfall, the Kinder Downfall. One of the walkers doesn’t make it back down from Kinder alive – creating a difficult case for DI Cooper and his team to investigate, with no forensic evidence and only unreliable witnesses among the rest of the walking group.
An area like the Peak District, with its dangerous beauty and sinister history, will always be an inspiration for me. And I think it will always be irresistible for readers too. But please venture onto Kinder Scout with care, and preferably in good weather!