The Crime Readers' Association

Location, Location, Location By P.J Nash (Paul Morris)

11th September 2015

Rebus is Edinburgh. Edinburgh is Rebus. Morse is Oxford. Oxford is Morse. You can’t take the sense of place out of crime novels. In many books the main character and the place are so intertwined that the two are almost symbiotic. Rebus and Morse are two great examples. Both Rankin and Dexter use the cities where their respective detectives live in as metaphors for the human condition. Behind the pretty facades of the Royal Mile or the dreaming spires of Oxford we see that evil and beauty are in close proximity to each other. It’s not just cities that have this relationship – Peter Robinson has carried murder and mayhem to the bucolic scenery of Yorkshire. Successfully combining the rainy cobbled streets of market towns and the sleaze-ridden streets of Leeds. Robinson’s Yorkshire is the literary version of TV’s Midsomer Murders. He’s not the first to do this. Agatha Christie was a pioneer of nefarious activities behind the net curtains. I believe the contemporary word to describe this is ‘Ballardesque’ . J.G Ballard’s ‘Cocaine Nights’ is the ultimate guide to this term. So far we have looked at town, city and country. Whilst most authors place there characters in one specific location which determines their behaviour, there is one kind of character. The knight-errant, the deracinated hero, who turns up in town and rights wrongs, before disappearing into the distance. Here it would be assumed that the landscape or location would take a backseat, but this isn’t the case. The contemporary master of the lone hero is Lee Child (forgive him his Tom Cruise celluloid trespasses) Jack Reacher literally is a big character. And the landscape he bestrides is also of epic proportions. The USA is the only country big enough to contain Reacher. Surely no readers can really imagine Reacher and his folding toothbrush getting off a National Express in Exeter and then heading off for the Cotswolds? In the classic Reacher book, the town is not big enough for Reacher and the bad guys. Whether it’s an Iowa cornfield or a New York pavement, Jack Reacher’s adept at busting up the bad guys and serving up his own brand of rough justice. Reacher is at his best when he steps off a bus in an out of the way town (he has usually decided to visit because a blues singer or similar is from there/buried there) and runs fist first into the hired thugs of the local big man, even before he gets his first bucket of joe (coffee) Soon enough a trail of broken bodies are littering Main Street and Reacher is knocking on the door of Mr Big. See Killing Floor among others. In The Hard Way Reacher kicks ass on the streets of New York and then in rural England. Now there’s a mixture of locations. Great stuff.

Lawrence James is the central character in my debut crime novel, The Hunt for the Dingo. He’s a former Met detective who’s made the move to Australia. He’s changed countries but kept his job as a cop. He’d also the only white knight in a rotten organised crime unit where bribes and fitting up suspects were everyday occurrences. So he’s an outsider in several ways. Pitching him headfirst then into the arid expanses of the Northern Territory through a variety of circumstances seems to make sense.
The Australian landscape is something that has always inspired me and so was the canvas upon which I decided to set my first crime novel. So my character goes through a plane crash, gets shot at and shoots back. Maybe I’ve overegged the pudding, but what’s the point of writing fiction if you and your reader can’t have a few wow moments? After all nothing excites like excess. He also gains a sidekick. The role of the sidekick is an important one. It allows the writer to deliver key information and backfill the story. No wants to see Jack Reacher or Lawrence James poring over the microfiche at the library. Ideally the information on the protagonist is given as they are shot at by the baddies. Simmering romantic tension is also a possible avenue. In the Hunt for the Dingo, Lawrence James and sidekick Adrian Marsh get drunk and listen to jazz. Whatever characters do and wherever it is they do it is the key backdrop to these winning combinations that we all read and continue to enjoy…


PAUL MORRIS  who writes under the pen name P.J Nash was born in the English Midlands. He studied English and History at university and has worked in a number of jobs from construction labourer to proofreader and TEFL teacher.  He is the author of The Hunt for the Dingo (The James & Sandersen Files) a police thriller set in Australia. He is currently working on the follow up novel Dark Angel .

Twitter: @PJNashwriter


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