I started to feel guilty the other week.  As the train to London pulled into Preston. The feeling returned on my way back to Scotland.   Immersed as I was in Dutch Literature Month, immersed as I always am in German literature, why haven’t I read much from “home” i.e Lancashire?  No idea.  And then I started to count the number of  Lancastrian authors, known to me.  I struck most of them from the list, having checked current boundaries.  When did Lancashire shrink so much?  I could have sworn that Warrington was Lancastrian (not since 1974 apparently) and there’s this place called Greater Manchester that sliced huge swathes of land from my home county.  Let’s not talk about the war eh? That would be the War of the Roses.  The one that the red rose won!

I was in Lancashire at the time of the 1974 land robbery and vaguely remember the red roses getting hot under the thorns. It was and remains simply criminal!

Which brings me nicely to Peter Guttridge, another ex-pat Lancastrian, born in Burnley.  Not a criminal per se but he does write crime novels.   I shall declare this upfront. We know each other.  You may remember I once accosted the poor man.  He was very gracious and it resulted in a good natter about the makeup of good crime fiction.

None of which influenced me as I read City of Dreadful Night and none of which will influence what I’m about to write.

Simply put, it is brilliant.

City of Dreadful Night is not Guttridge’s first novel.  He has previously written 6 comic crime novels, the Nick Madrid series. Neither is City of Dreadful Night comic.  It is the first in a planned trilogy set in a Brighton that bears more resemblance to the darkness of Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock than to the sunny seaside town of my memories.  And while the criminal gangs have their part to play, most of the corruption is within the forces of law and order: the police force and, quelle surprise, politicians and their spin doctors.  

I’m not going to tell you much about the plot, but I will say that Guttridge ingeniously blends the contemporary thread which starts with a police raid gone wrong with the real Brighton Trunk murders of 1934.  (See footnote *1.)  Throwing in a few scurrilous rumours about Mr Graham Greene to boot. (Please forgive the American pun.)

I will tell you about how well written this is.  Dual narratives, one in third person (contemporary female point-of-view), one in first (contemporary male).  A third strand involves a lost diary, written during the investigation into 1934 case (male, and not at all aligned to 21st century sexual politics).  Completely absorbing …

with a clever marketing strategy.  The novel will stand alone although for me the realistically cynical ending has more than a whiff of unfinished business.  So just how quickly can I get my hands on book 2, The Last King of Brighton?

 

Further information:  Peter Guttridge on writing City of Dreadful Night

Footnote *1 :  July 1934 A woman’s torso is found in a trunk at Brighton ralway station’s left luggage office.  Her legs and feet are found in a suitcase at King’s Cross.  Her head is never found, her identity never established, her killer never caught.

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P.S A good start for my new Lancastrian reading trail.  But in view of said problems with Lancashire’s boundaries, I need help.  Can you recommend some good reads that are written by Lancastrians or are set in Lancashire?

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