Several hours of motorway misery separate the gentle charms of the South West – our previous gazetteer article – from a region which is blessed with plenty of charm, though not all of it is as gentle. The dramatic North East gives us the rugged grandeur of its bracing coastline and the hard scrabble life in post-industrial Newcastle, Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Redcar.
Part 4: The North East
This was a land where coal mining and shipbuilding were the key industries for over a century and brought millions to the area in seek of work. Today those industries are nearly gone, and unemployment and deprivation are rife. But the local humour and warmth in spite of it all give the North East its own unique charm. The mix makes good compost for the growing crime fiction scene, to which Newcastle Noir is testament.
The region is often defined by its rivers – the Tyne and the Wear – but also by the sometimes baffling accents of Geordies and their near-neighbours in Sunderland, the Mackems. Perhaps the greatest crime film ever made in Britain was set in Newcastle with its iconic iron bridge. But the book Get Carter was based on isn’t featured here. Jack’s Return Home by Ted Lewis was actually set in the less fashionable Lincolnshire town of Scunthorpe. Read on and discover four of today’s North East crime writing heroes…
Mari Hannah knows violent crime at first hand. Her career as a probation officer was cut short by an assault while she was on duty. Today she writes, and is best known for her books featuring DCI Kate Daniels. Although she is a Londoner by birth she lives in Northumberland and values the landscapes of the North East – both rural and urban – as essential backgrounds to her stories. Kate Daniels is tough and resourceful, but still vulnerable in a professional world where women are still not on a par with the men and the successful ones can face downright hostility. Mari spoke to us about her debut novel in this interview, and you can link to reviews of her books Deadly Deceit and Killing For Keeps.
Howard Linskey confesses that he is a Geordie in exile rather but he continues to bear the cross for his beloved Newcastle United football team, watching from a safe distance in his new home of Herefordshire. The tough city of Newcastle is still the main setting for his crime books, though. These began with The Drop, where the dark and violent face of the Toon gets an unflinching and revealing light shone into its ravaged features. This book features gangster David Blake, who returns in The Damage. In No Name Lane, Linskey changed the focus from organised crime to serial killer mystery and moved his setting to nearby County Durham. You can also read our interview with the author here.
Despite – or perhaps because of – their near proximity to each other, there is desperate rivalry between Newcastle and Sunderland, particularly when it comes to sports. Sheila Quigley has written a series of highly regarded novels set in the village of Houghton-le-Spring which is, in local government terms, a district of Sunderland. The fictional Seahills Estate in the novels, which began with Run For Home in 2004, is based on the Homelands Estate in Houghton, where Quigley grew up. With Thorn in My Side (2010) we were introduced to a new central character, DI Mike York, and a major shift in location. The author left behind the humdrum world of a suburban council estate and took us to the atmospheric and haunted holy island of Lindisfarne, where the early Christian saints may be hallowed but where the sin of murder is the spark for a wonderful plotline.
Our trip to the North East ends in the southern reaches of Yorkshire – in the fishing mecca of Kingston-upon-Hull to be precise. David Mark is a former journalist who covered crime in the rough, tough Yorkshire city, known for its three day millionaires – trawlermen who earned a small fortune out on their boats, but spent their wages with a speed and profligacy to rival any Mediterranean playboy. Mark’s creation, DS Aector McAvoy, tries to police present day Hull, where millionaires are more or less completely absent. The only killings to be made today are brutal and bloody. His debut was in The Dark Winter (2012), with subsequent novels Original Skin (2013) Sorrow Bound (2014) and this year’s Taking Pity each contributing to his growing reputation. David Mark spoke to us about his work in this 2013 interview.