An homage to English literature, English bookshops, and England herself

Helen Hanff, she of 84, Charing Cross Road, once said that everyone goes to London looking for their very own version of it, and that everyone finds exactly the London they were looking for. I have always gone there in search of books, literary history, and stories. Like Helen Hanff, I found precisely the London I was looking for. On my first visit to Foyles, when I was fourteen years old, I bought a slim volume of Siegfried Sassoon’s war poem. The book has followed me through life since. On my latest trip, I bought Diana Athills Life Class. I once spent three weeks travelling all across the UK visiting some twenty bookshops, and it remains in my memory the best vacation of my life. 

It was right before my first novel The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend was about to be published, and it brought me to Hay-on-Wye. As I stood dazed amongst the bookshops (they counted twenty when I visited, a decline, one of them sadly said. But such were the times everywhere). For the first time in my life I asked myself if it was possible to have too many books. I have since answered that question with a resounding no, but it planted in my mind the first gem of the idea for Great Diddling, a village soon to be swimming in books and bookshops. 

When I wrote The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend, I had never visited the US. It was in a way my love letter to American literature and novels. I’ve always known I wanted to pay similar homage to British literature, having grown up with Charles Dickens and Jane Austen and the Brontë Sisters (I prefer Charlotte), and Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones, and Stephen Fry … but there’s no point in starting a list that’s impossible to finish (Oscar Wilde, P.G. Wodehouse, Dick Francis, Zadie Smith, and Sarah Waters …). Besides, it’s not just the book, it’s salt and vinegar crisps and warm ale, scones with jam and clotted cream, waiters using more endearments in five minutes than your partner does in a year (“There you go, love”), the cobbled streets, the small train lines with grandiose names (The Great Western, The Great Northern), the manic politeness (saying I’m sorry ten times in a two minute walk), the weather and the conversations thereof. I hope some of that warmth and fondness shines through in my book, even though it might be impossible to capture the entirety of an English village’s quirky charm. 

Is there anything quite as charming as a murderous English village? Great Diddling doesn’t think so

The village is determined to use the media attention brought by the murder to get more tourists to visit the area. Surely everyone likes a British murder mystery? And what can be better than a real life one? Several villagers sell their confessions to the tabloids to make some cash, and later on they decide to start a literary festival, combining a cozy British village with murder, scones, ale – and books. 

But no authors. When they fail to attract even a single writer due to the very short notice, they ask themselves: how many people really know what their favourite writers look like? Soon, Ian Rankin, Elly Griffiths and Margaret Atwood are coming to town, and there’s just enough time to coach three reluctant volunteers on how to become them. Their Books and Murder-festival might be off to a rocky start, but before the weekend is over, more than twenty bookshops will have been created in the village. There’s even a ball in the library of Tawny Hall. The villagers of Great Diddling lie, cheat and steal, and no one is more surprised than themselves when they appear to have pulled off the best literary festival any of the visitors have ever experienced. 

But actions have consequences. You can’t lie to the police and expect to get away with it. A modern-day murder investigation leaves no room for friendship, creative thinking or creating their own kind of justice. Berit might finally have found the idea for her next book among the crazy people of Great Diddling, but one of them is sure to be a murderer. And the police don’t care about her book either. 

Berit Gardner and DCI Ahmed must work together before the murderer strikes again. And somehow, and as the stakes grow, Berit must find a way to prevent any more murders while at the same time saving her new-found friends from the consequences of their actions. She’ll need all her creativity to work herself and them out of this plot hole. 

Adding DCI Ian Ahmed

DCI Ian Ahmed at the Devon & Cornwall police is called in to investigate the murder of Reginald Trent. He believes modern day police work is more a matter for Dr Watson than Sherlock Holmes. The lone genius days are a thing of the past. Today it’s all about teamwork. 

He’s just returned from a three-week hiking vacation. He’s eager to immerse himself in the investigation, allowing all other aspects of his life to be put temporarily on hold so that he can focus exclusively on the challenging demands of a large scale, high-profile murder investigation. 

And he’ll need all his skills and experience on this one. No one in the village is talking to the police, everyone seems to have hated the murder victim, and if that wasn’t enough, the entire village seem determined to use the murder for their own means. He soon has multiple suspects confessing the murders to several different tabloids. And that’s before the Great Diddling Tourist Board gets involved. 

One of my main aim with this serie was to create a truly modern, competent, sympathetic police counterpart to my amateur sleuth. Too often in cozy crime the brilliance of the amateur detective is established by having a mind-bogglingly stupid police officer. Not so in Great Diddling: Iam Ahmed is smart, astute, and believes that modern day police work is more about team work than the lone, brilliant detective, more doctor Watson than Sherlock Holmes. But make no mistake. That doesn’t mean he’s not brilliant.

But he’ll have his hands full with this crazy village. That’s for sure too.

An Explosive Tea Party

The first book of my new serie, Murder in Great Diddling, starts with an explosive tea party. The tea party takes place at Tawny Hall, the main house in the village, home to the Trent Family that’s been running Great Diddling for generations. The current owner, Daphne Trent, is organising the tea party to ease the tensions caused by her nephew, Reginad Trent, who’s suddenly arrived from London to wreak havoc with village relations. 

And tensions are running high in this far-from-idyllic Cornish village. Economic hardship and decreasing numbers of tourists (but not from lack of trying, and despite their most creative efforts) were causing concern even before Reginald Trent arrived, threatening to evict business and in general just behaving like an annoying Londoner. Even his aunt Daphne Trent can’t stand him. She has her own reason for fearing him: he’s threatening her book collection. It was founded by her grandfather and will one day belong to Reginald Trent, but not, as both of them very well know, before her death. She has full possession of it during her lifetime, to do with as she chooses. But that doesn’t stop her nephew. He’s threatening with all sorts of disagreeable legal action unless she hands over the most valuable items to him. 

Berit is undeterred by all these strong emotions. Conflict might scare other people, but for a writer it is just the thing that drives the story forward. She might not admire Reginald Trent, but the intense emotions he’s causing is helping her to see the villagers of Great Diddling more clearly. She sees everything, and scribbles furiously in her notebook, but even she is unprepared when the tea party turns deadly …