The Crime Readers' Association

Choosing the setting for crime novels – Pauline Rowson

21st February 2014

Every known murder scene has a detective combing for clues.  Every detective has a prime enemy – and it’s not always the criminal.  For the detective, the first enemy is often the crime scene itself.  It is here that the battle begins to uncover the grim truth about the murder.  And a detective’s ‘nightmare crime scene’ has got to be a place where all the best clues could be swept away by the tide.  There couldn’t be a better place to set a crime story or perhaps a worse depending on your viewpoint.

The location for my crime novels is the Solent area on the South Coast of England.  Here my rugged Harley Davidson riding detective, Inspector Andy Horton, pitches his wits against the criminal classes, which takes him, and others in the team, into the harbours of Portsmouth, Langstone, Chichester, and across the Solent to the Isle of Wight.

For me the location has many advantages. The sea is never constant.  In a day it can change from being calm to turbulent thus providing a great backdrop for pace in a novel and great settings for a climax.  It’s also dangerous, misleading and evil, like many villains, and although it can look safe on the surface, below it can be a sandbank, a rock, a wreck, a dangerous current all of which can cause havoc and kill, and be used to good effect in a crime novel.   The sea is also completely uncontrollable.  No matter how much you think or wish you can control it, you can’t but you do need to respect and fear it.  In life sometimes you need to go with the flow and other times swim against the tide, the trick is in knowing when to do which.  My detective, Andy Horton, hasn’t quite got it sussed, or when he thinks he has something happens to throw him completely off course, just as in life.

The sea provides great inspiration.  Many of the marinas and harbours around the Solent are featured in my novels.  I can’t pass a boatyard, beach or cove without thinking there must be a dead body or a skeleton here somewhere.


The great variety of locations also provides diversity of scenes within a novel.  Horton can be on a stony or sandy beach, at an expensive marina or a rotting boatyard, on the police launch in the Solent or crossing on the ferry or Hovercraft.  In choosing a waterfront location such as Portsmouth I also have the contrast of a modern city with a historic one complete with a Roman Fort in Portsmouth Harbour; a nature reserve and Sites of Special Scientific Interest rubbing shoulders with modern tower blocks, as well as a diverse multicultural population, commercial ferry port, historic dockyard, fishing fleet and home of the Royal Navy – what more could a writer wish for?


Pauline Rowson is the author of the DI Andy Horton mystery series set in the Solent area on the South Coast of England. Her crime novels have received critical acclaim in both the UK and the USA. There are ten in the DI Horton series with the eleventh, Shroud of Evil, being published in April 2014.  Death Lies Beneath (DI Andy Horton 8) is published in paperback on 27 February 2014.

For further information visit Pauline Rowson’s Official Website

You can also follow Pauline Rowson on Twitter and on Facebook where the DI Andy Horton novels have a Facebook page.

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