Forgotten Classics: Cornish Author Katherine Stansfield’s Choice
Katherine grew up in Cornwall, and though she now lives in Cardiff, she can’t stop writing about her former home. Her historical crime series, Cornish Mysteries, blends real crimes with local folklore.
Here, Katherine talks about The Earth Hums in B Flat by Mari Strachan – a book she thinks everyone should read.
Mari Strachan’s debut novel is set in the 1950s in a small community in north Wales rocked by the disappearance of local man Ifan Evans. Gwenni Morgan, a twelve-year-old with a love of detective stories, doesn’t have much faith in the local constable and so sets about solving the mystery herself. Though the protagonist is a child, this is very much a novel for adults, and Strachan does a brilliant job of treading the fine line between convincingly depicting a child’s view of the world and flagging to readers the more adult-orientated aspects of the case our heroine can’t quite see, all through the limitations of Gwenni’s viewpoint. She’s a fantastic example of a non-traditional sleuth who showed me that a detective figure can act as a function of plot, a role, rather than having to be an official title: ‘detective’ is a hat we writers can give any of our characters, even if they lack officially-sanctioned authority. This novel was crucial for my way in to writing crime fiction. Shilly, one half of the detective duo in my Cornish Mysteries series, is an illiterate farm worker in 1840s Cornwall; like Gwenni, Shilly lacks authority and power in her world, and her lack of worldliness can impact on her ability to read clues. And yet she brings to a crime plot her own talents, and – I hope – a voice as distinctive as Gwenni Morgan’s.
Katherine’s latest novel, The Magpie Tree, is out now: Jamaica Inn, 1844: the talk is of witches. A boy has vanished in the woods of Trethevy on the North Cornish coast, and a reward is offered for his return. Shilly has had enough of such dark doings, but her new companion, the woman who calls herself Anna Drake, insists they investigate. Anna wants to open a detective agency, and the reward would fund it. They soon learn of a mysterious pair of strangers who have likely taken the boy, and of Saint Nectan who, legend has it, kept safe the people of the woods. As Shilly and Anna seek the missing child, the case takes another turn – murder. Something is stirring in the woods and old sins have come home to roost.
This is the second novel in the Cornish Mysteries series; the first is Falling Creatures.