For quite some time now I have wanted to write a series of books set between the two world wars. This is era and considered by most to be the golden age of crime fiction and so setting something in that period always felt a little daunting – a bit like fishing in Agatha Christie’s pond. It’s also a time when the lot was happening and so it is a fascinating era.

It was a time of great social change and upheaval and, as far as investigations were concerned, forensic science was beginning to move forward and become established in the public consciousness and the police force itself was undergoing many changes mostly to do with education and the professionalization of training.

Many of the familiar tropes of crime fiction were also established during this period. The inspector and his sergeant bag man, quite literally carrying the murder bag for example. This reflected the mentoring practices of the Metropolitan police at the time. Despite it being a practice which has long been discontinued, it is still very appealing to crime novelists and the reading and viewing public alike.

Henry Johnston is a detective chief inspector and together with his sergeant, Mickey Hitchens, makes a first appearance in The Murder Book. From the early years of the 20th century it had been an established right for any police force in the country to be able to send for a murder detective from London to assist with serious crime in the area, the logic being that there were simply more detectives in London and what training there was tended to be focused there too. This meant that a skilled resource could be sent literally anywhere in the country, a mobile cohort that in different guises has formed the model for taskforces and serious crimes units right up to the present day.

In the first outing for this pair, The Murder Book, set in the summer of 1928, Henry Johnston and Mickey Hitchens are sent to Lincolnshire to investigate a triple murder. Much of the action takes place in the lovely market town of Louth and some of it in what was my father’s village of Thoresway.

It’s funny how childhood memories infiltrate and childhood places drag you back and I spent a lot of my childhood in Lincolnshire, though the family no longer lived there having moved south after the Second World War. The strange thing was, though my parents had moved less than a hundred miles, they always felt as though they had been exiled and so we made frequent trips back.

I will leave it to one of the inhabitants of Thoresway to describe Henry Johnston. Helen, has no reason to like Henry Johnston or to wish him in her village and this is how she first sees him

 

Inspector Johnstone was a slender man with a head of unruly curls; one small element of unrestraint that sat at odds with the rest of him, Helen thought. His eyes were grey and stern and hard as river pebbles and the set of his mouth, half hidden beneath the fox brown moustache was straight and tight and uncompromising.

Helen’s heart sank. This was not a man who would allow Ethan any quarter. This was a man of the law; a man, she thought, who would have taken Hansen’s side even if matters had been reversed and it was Ethan lying cold.

Even though he was not a physically heavy man, Johnstone dominated her parent’s small front parlour, his assurance and authority somehow making him seem broader and taller than he really was. Despite the warmth of the evening, he wore a black coat, long and plain and tight across his back.

 

I will be writing more about Thoresway village and the inspiration behind the book in later blogs. It’s a location I’ve used before, in my third novel, Bird, and have also returned to in an as yet unfinished novella called The Italian Boy. It is a place that remains very close to my heart.

 

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