When I’m not pounding the keyboard or plotting my crime novels I’m walking the coastal paths and by ways of Portsmouth, the Isle of Wight, the Solent area, and indeed the South Coast of England looking for a good place to put a body! A fictional one that is. I can’t pass a boatyard, beach or bay without thinking there must be a dead body or a skeleton here somewhere. One day I’m sure I’m going to be arrested or locked up as a psychopath and if that happens then I hope either of my heroes, the enigmatic and flawed Detective Inspector Andy Horton or the rugged ex-marine Art Marvik will come to my rescue because, in fact, it would be their fault if I found myself in such an awkward position.
The sea has always held a fascination for me, probably because I was raised in the coastal city of Portsmouth with its vibrant waterfront, its great contrasts of modern and historic, its diverse multicultural population, its international port, its historic dockyard, fishing fleet and the home of the Royal Navy. Portsmouth Harbour is one of the busiest in the World and the Solent offers up every kind of sailing vessel you could wish for from giant container ships to ferries, naval ships to leisure craft, fishing boats and even a regular hovercraft service. Once the sea is in your blood it never leaves you and it seemed only natural for me to turn to it for inspiration for my crime novels.
For me setting my crime novels against the backdrop of the sea has many advantages. For one thing it is never constant. In one day alone it can change from being glass-like calm to storm-tossed turbulent thus providing a great backdrop for pace in a novel and great settings for a climax. On the surface it can look perfectly safe and yet underneath, hidden from view, can be a sandbank, a rock, a wreck, a dangerous current all of which can cause havoc and kill, and be used to good effect in a crime novel. The sea is also completely uncontrollable. No matter how much you think or wish you can control it, you can’t. You need to respect and fear it. In life sometimes you need to go with the flow and other times to swim against the tide, the trick is in knowing when to do which. My detective, Andy Horton, hasn’t quite got it sussed, or when he thinks he has something happens to throw him completely off course, just as in life.
The great variety of locations also provides diversity of scenes within a novel. Horton can be on a stony or sandy beach, at an expensive marina or a rotting boatyard, on the police launch in the Solent or crossing on the ferry or the hovercraft from Portsmouth to the Isle of Wight.
While Andy Horton’s patch is Portsmouth, its immediate surrounding area and the Isle of Wight, and he sails and lives on board a yacht, Art Marvik chooses to travel by a powerful motor cruiser and his adventures take him further afield to Southampton, to the bays and marinas of the west country coastline and to the south east coast to Littlehampton, Eastbourne and Brighton.
Every known murder scene has a detective combing for clues. Every detective has a prime enemy – and it’s not always the criminal. For the detective, the first enemy is often the crime scene itself. It is here that the battle begins to uncover the grim truth about the murder. And a detective’s ‘nightmare crime scene’ has got to be a place where all the best clues could be swept away by the tide. There couldn’t be a better place to set a crime story or perhaps a worse depending on your viewpoint. For me though it’s the former with all its challenges and who better than to rise to them and solve the crimes than my flawed and rugged hero, DI Andy Horton.
Pauline Rowson is the author of the DI Andy Horton series of marine mystery police procedural crime novels and of the new marine crime series featuring former Royal Marine commando, Art Marvik as well as standalone thrillers, In Cold Daylight and In For The Kill.
The latest in the DI Andy Horton series, Fatal Catch, is published by Severn House.
The second in the Art Marvik marine mystery series, Dangerous Cargo, is published in May 2016 by Severn House