For his tenth novel The Hard Way — having all the world to choose from as a final setting for their readers — Lee Child sent Jack Reacher to an isolate farm in the county of Norfolk. Agatha Christie’s Poirot could find adventure in the rivers of Egypt or on a railway through Euro-Asia, but Alan Hunter’s master detective vacationed in East Anglia. Following bombing raids over wartime London, frequent executions in Tudor duchies and a destructive 11-year rule of an English Republic; C.J. Sampson based their own historical crime novel, Tombland, in Norwich.
Norwich, to the eye of its beholders, doesn’t present as much grandeur as the rues of Paris, or feel like the imperial-modern goliath of central London. It is quiet, some might see it as peaceful, but doesn’t conceive the same Iberian fairness as Catalonia or the Algarve. It’s elegant, but only hints at the scenes of a pristine Dutch village with some of their pastel-coloured river houses besides the Wensum. Its temperature can rise, but not to the same heights of the Neapolitan coast. Its winters can be cold but can’t compare to the dark that clouds Reykjavik or Stockholm. It is a stereotypical rural county, and so, what have the open eyes of crime writers found that beckons them to its main city?
For his first historical crime novel, Martyr, the author Rory Clements connected to his home and history, lifting names from graves in Norwich Cathedral to title his cast of Shakespearian spies. That is how the working women of his fictional Tudor London became a homage to the old merchant traders that built up the city’s industry.
Francis Beeding (a pen name of two writers) found the county’s connection to the rest of the country so interesting, he wrote two great bestsellers — Death Walks in Eastrepps and The Norwich Victim — that combined the simplicity of the Norfolk lifestyle with the wild adventures of serial killers.
In broader scopes of design, S.T Haymon wrote and plotted the fictional city of Angleby based on her knowledge of Norwich. Having already written several books on East Anglian history, Haymon navigates through a map of fictional landmarks, such as the village of Mauthen Barbary in The Death of a Pregnant Virgin and the Brutalist fixtures of Bullen Hall in Stately Homicide. One could see the fixtures of the real city hall, newly built by the time of the books publishing, escaping the prose before curator Chaz Shelden is pushed from its Lion-mounted windows into a moat of eels.
Evidently there is an appeal to the city’s quaintness and isolation from Britain’s major capitals. From the historical past to the early-modern United Kingdom, we can see the deathly allure. It falls in line with Cabot Cove from Murder She Wrote, the county Midsomer from Midsomer Murders, and (a personal favourite) Amity Island from Jaws. It fits perfectly as the ancient foundation turned to havoc by one interloping act.
Norwich could be classified as a ‘nowhere’ land which amplifies the scale of one’s crime. Whilst being a city with so much rich potential to explore, it has been reckoned as an intellectual niche for crime writers. Read these aforementioned stories and you will see no greater testament to how Norwich is a gem for the crime writer to mine.
Finley Little was born in Worcester, England and is currently living in Norwich. He is a graduate of the University of East Anglia with a degree in English Literature with Creative Writing and is working on self-publishing several short stories. You can find him on his Instagram account @Fictioncanbestranger
We were honoured to welcome the award-winning Soviet-Ukrainian American and French novelist and artist Yelena Moskovich for the annual Noirwich lecture 2022. Read a transcript of their lecture here.Read more ⟶
The Crime Vault
National Centre for Writing