The Crime Readers' Association

Settings to Die For – Sally Spedding

13th February 2015

It has always been a particular setting which has fired the engine of my beginning either a new crime chiller or short story. A setting that hits my heart. Some have been discovered quite by accident, others from a nagging familiarity, especially in Wales and France.
Who hasn’t been to its Ardennes region and not been surprised by the flatness of the land where suddenly, a small, surreal mountain rears up often topped by a church whose realistic carvings prove to be anything but attractive? Or found themselves venturing too deep into silent, summer vineyards where hoofprints of wild boar, even wolves, remind the trespasser this is dangerous territory? Or watched in mounting dread the battle between sea and vulnerable homes along parts of the Welsh coast? Trodden the derelict, haunted lead and coal mines festering in the Valleys or, as in the paranormal Cold Remains, scarring rural Carmarthenshire?

I’ve always found the countryside unsettling. Where anything could happen and no-one will hear you scream. To me, the Rupert Bear books seem to crystallise this anxiety, where on the far horizon, something or someone is always popping up and gradually comes closer. Or suddenly springs from behind a nearby bush, intentions ambiguous.

And then comes the question, who, in my next book, will be in this particular place I’ve chosen? And why?

Malediction, set during the European Year against Racism in 1997, in a number of different parts of France, begins in the N.E department of the Meuse. Where neo-Nazis thrive, and the attractive, but no-longer young Colette Bataille is hunting for her student son who cycled on his own to the Pope’s Mass at Longchamp. However, he has found out too much about her lover, the handsome but damaged Robert Vidal, priest at her local church, and in her search, she’s drawn into a web of lies and murder, reaching the highest echelons of the ecclesiastical establishment and the military, challenging the myth of the saintly priest and his Church.

The late Brian Moore’s The Statement left a deep impression on me, where a devious, former Nazi thug is on the run throughout France, and sheltered in various monasteries. The reader is subliminally manipulated into wanting him to survive. Barely more than a novella, it takes some beating.

Malediction is not for the faint-hearted, and to tempt the American Market, my publishers re-clothed it in a new cover, showing a woman in jeopardy. Fair enough, but it’s the blood-coloured cross which to me, brought up as a High Anglican and now a borderline Pantheist, which says it all.

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