County making a killing


Crime writer Tony R Cox (pictured with his latest book) investigates Derbyshire’s deadly attraction for artsbeat

What is it about Derbyshire that nurtures such strong, current productivity in crime fiction, the most popular genre?

Crime fiction exists only where there is a belief in the power of good over evil, where the hero will always defeat the villain. 

Why is Derbyshire such a special county for authors who love a good murder?

I asked the opinions of several authors who base their novels in and around the county or live here: Sarah Ward, who has had three crime fiction novels published; Steven Dunne, whose Reaper series continues to reap plaudits; Roz Watkins, whose A Devil’s Dice has been optioned for a TV film and was The Times’ crime book of the month for April; and Jo Jakeman, whose debut, Sticks and Stones, is about to be published. 

I have just had my third thriller, Vinyl Junkie, published by Fahrenheit Press.

The answer, it seems, is a combination of two factors: the disparity of the landscape and the people. 

In reality murders are infrequent; in the world of crime fiction, murder and death are the core factors. They share the same element of the human psyche: killing can be brutally physical, accidental or cold-blooded – the reader still ends up with a dead body.

Derbyshire is unique. Nowhere else has a Dark Peak and a White Peak, Dales, heavy engineering and industry,
ex-mining areas, flowing meadows and hills, a network of major rivers and canals, grand country houses and is, of course, the home of the Industrial Revolution. 

The people have been shaped by this terrain. Derbyshire is composed not of amorphous masses and commuters, but of close-knit communities, even in Derby and larger towns.

Perhaps Sarah summed it up: “Derbyshire is a safe community and when something horrible happens that community clings together.” 

And Roz echoes this with her belief that personal life will inevitably weave its way into fiction, with one of her experiences being an unpleasant incident in which she thought her dog had unearthed human remains. 

Stephen Booth, the ‘godfather’ of Derbyshire Noir with his Cooper and Fry series, has mined the geography, culture and heritage of the county, and probably deserves an award for promoting tourism.

Steven Dunne has a deep affection for the county: “Derbyshire is the perfect home for a dark thriller because it provides a compelling contrast between a busy modern city like Derby and the peace of the Peak District, and my detective, DI Brook, moves between the two.

“The contrast provides light and  shade, reflecting good and evil and the two sides of the human psyche but, interestingly, their roles are interchangeable, the Peaks being equally capable of brooding menace.”

Jo Jakeman supports this analysis: “As a writer it’s easy to be inspired by the landscape and the people of Derbyshire. As readers, it’s nice to read about places you know, but, equally, for those who don’t know Derbyshire, these books paint such a good picture (albeit, with so many dead bodies).”

My Simon Jardine thriller series feeds off my experiences as a cub reporter on the Derby Telegraph in the 70s. I hope to capture the places and activities, and my characters embody the constant evolution. By using crime fiction as my vehicle I can transport the reader into an era that isn’t just violent murder, but a time of love and happiness as well as drugs and greed. Derby was a microcosm of life: it was a bustling large town, but it comprised, and still does, separate and diverse communities.

Why Derbyshire Noir? Probably because a beautiful, exciting county attracts the very best authors. It’s as simple as that.