“Tunbridge Wells is just the perfect place to hide deceit and skulduggery”

Nusrat Ghani
MURDER HE WROTE: Crime writer William Shaw

I confess, that though I write books that are set in the county, I’m not a Kent native. I live in Sussex, just across the border. But the more I learn about the place, the more I realise what a unique county it is, stretching from the busy outskirts of London to the lonely shores of Dungeness.

Dungeness, which I write about a lot, couldn’t feel further away from the capital. It feels like another world entirely.

Kent’s coasts, on which The Trawlerman and my other books that feature Detective Sergeant Alexandra Cupidi are set, face out to Europe.

They are as close as Britain gets to having a real borderland. These shores have been contested territory, defended against invasion by Iron Age forts, invaded by Romans, Picts and Jutes. They are lined with Napoleonic fortifications and canals and Second World War concrete.

When I researched The Trawlerman I travelled out to sea passing over wrecks of Spitfires and Dorniers. These days they are the shore on which refugees attempt to land their inflatables.

But inland things soften and the county changes its character entirely. I love the idea of my protagonist, Alex Cupidi, a Londoner by birth, driving around this unfamiliar, giant county, discovering new places in it just as I have.

The Trawlerman brings her to Tunbridge Wells – in particular to the lush countryside around it. If Kent’s a county that can be a little rough around the edges, Tunbridge Wells and places like Bewl Water and Sissinghurst show a more stately, calmer side. Here Kent lives up to its reputation of being the ‘Garden of England’. Among the impressive parks and country houses, there is a sense here of a timeless, unspoiled part of England.

Which is useful when it comes to writing crime. I hope the people of Tunbridge Wells won’t mind me saying that its environs are exactly the kind of place that no reader would expect anything really nasty to happen. This is a more orderly territory than Kent’s coasts. The Pantiles has a reputation for being… well, very nice.

“The fact is, crime writers love to make bad things happen in beautiful places. It’s part of the fun of it”

So, of course, they’re the perfect place to hide deceit and skulduggery, which is precisely what Alex Cupidi hopes to discover there. (I’m not the first to use this ruse. Sherlock Holmes did something similar when making his mysterious ‘cyclist from Tunbridge Wells’ both the suspect and the victim in his story The Valley of Fear).

The fact is, crime writers love to make bad things happen in beautiful places. It’s part of the fun of it.

Don’t worry. It turns out in my plot Tunbridge Wells is safe. Just as Sherlock Holmes’ cyclist turns out not to be the murderer at all. What goes on near Tunbridge Wells turns out to be… well, I won’t tell you. You’ll have to read the book for yourselves.

And maybe if you do, The Trawlerman will eventually end up on the bookshelves of Hall’s Books in Chapel Place – one of the best second-hand bookshops I’ve ever visited. And, thinking about it, probably not a bad place to make a murder happen either…

The Trawlerman by William Shaw is published by riverrun and out now priced from £6.55


William Shaw Photo: © Kitty Wheeler-Shaw

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