Let me be honest. I’m not a great fan of crime fiction. Hang on, let me qualify that. I’m not a fan of crime fiction which is only about the detection of a murder.
For me, the works that resonate are those which have an extra dimension in addition to the crime. I love the works of Tony Hillerman. He sets his crime novels in Arizona and New Mexico, and his two policemen are Navajo. Each book contains wonderful insights into their culture and beliefs, so much so that Hillerman has been declared a Friend of the Navajo Nation. It’s this extra richness in the reading which attracts me.
Ngaio Marsh is another writer with a strong sense of a colourful background. Or the selling point might be the maverick character of the detective, like Rebus.
It’s that "extra dimension" that I want for my own books.
I strayed into crime fiction accidentally, after years of writing fantasy and historical novels. To be honest there had always been a fair level of violence and mayhem in those stories. This time, I set out to write a novel about a woman researching her family history. Before I knew what was happening, dark deeds in the past became entwined with similarly dark deeds in the present, and I found I had a crime novel on my hands.
This was the start of Suzie Fewings series (Severn House). Besides the solution – or prevention – of a crime, the books are packed with ideas for researching family history. The focus is in the present, as Suzie and her family unravel both their genealogy and the modern crime. Two detective stories for the price of one.
I was still getting used to the idea of myself as a crime writer when, out of the blue, Lion contacted me to ask if I would write a crime series for them.
So what was to be my "extra dimension" now?
I have always had a strong sense of place. My earliest novels began with a particular site, usually in my native West Country. I looked for the story which could happen there. So a sense of place is the extra dimension in the new Aidan Mysteries (Lion Fiction). In particular, the sense of sacred space. Each of the novels will be set in one of the holy places of the British Isles. For the first, The Hunted Hare, it is Pennant Melangell, a remote pilgrimage site in North Wales, with a legend of a feisty woman and a hare. It’s one of those "thin places", where you feel that the physical and the spiritual come very close. The second, Death on Lindisfarne, is set – no surprise – on Holy Island off the coast of Northumbria. For Blood in the Well, which is currently taking shape, I shall be visiting some of the holy wells of Cornwall.
I hope that, as a reviewer said of one of the Suzie Fewings books, the landscape will itself become a character in the story.
Death on Lindisfarne by Fay Sampson is published by Lion Fiction, £7.99.