It is my pleasure to be the latest stop on the blog tour for Tell No Lies, the latest book from Lisa Hartley and also to be able to share a fascinating guest post written by the author herself about the setting in crime novels.
Over to Lisa…
In crime fiction, the setting of a novel can be hugely visible, almost a character in its own right, or it can fade into the background. Many British cities have fictional detectives associated with them: Ian Rankin’s John Rebus in Edinburgh, Stuart MacBride’s Logan McRae in Aberdeen, Val McDermid’s Carol Jordan (and Dr Tony Hill) in Manchester. London is the home of several crime series, including Mark Billingham’s Tom Thorne books, and it’s also the city I decided to set my Detective Caelan Small novels in.
I already knew I wanted to write about an undercover police officer. My previous books have been set in Lincolnshire, both in the city of Lincoln itself and also in a fictional nearby town. It’s an area I’m familiar with and feel comfortable and confident writing about. The problem is, a small town setting can be limiting. Is it feasible for a city the size of Lincoln to have undercover officers? I didn’t think so. I needed somewhere bigger, somewhere Caelan and her skills would really be needed. My reasoning was that London would be the perfect place for an undercover officer to be based because of its size and diversity. Also, I knew the Metropolitan Police have such units within their ranks.
London is made up of so many different areas, from the most affluent to the most deprived. It’s a city of contrasts, a place where you can make or lose a fortune. There are opportunities to make money, either legally or in the shadows. I wanted Caelan to be a part of both worlds. As she moves through the city, there are recognisable locations, and I hope they help ground the stories, making it easier to picture Caelan policing the streets. I don’t know London well, but I’m lucky in that my partner grew up around the city, and so I have someone I can go to and ask questions. Google maps and street view are also a huge help, and I have visited London a few times, so I’ve seen the “tourist” spots – heard Big Ben chiming the hours, rushed through some of the Underground stations Caelan uses. I wanted to try to capture the feel of moving around London without sounding too much like a guide book. Caelan lives in the city and it’s very familiar to her, so she wouldn’t be constantly noticing landmarks or marvelling at buildings she’d only previously seen in photographs as a visitor would. I have used some real locations, but some are fictional and appear only in the books.
Caelan’s world can be a dangerous place, and I didn’t think it would be fair to use a real location or premises in those situations. I want Caelan’s London to be believable, but not necessarily an exact copy of the real city. There’s a place in TELL NO LIES (it also appears in the previous book, ASK NO QUESTIONS) that I like to imagine exists, or at least that similar places do – a secret, subterranean office. Caelan has been summoned there on a couple of occasions, and I must admit, it’s a place I love writing about, because it encapsulates everything about Caelan’s job that appeals to me, and hopefully to the reader. Its location is secret, it’s well guarded, and it’s right under the nose of people passing by on a busy London street. The idea of the place was partly inspired by a visit I made to the Churchill War Rooms a few years ago. Formerly the underground bunker where Winston Churchill and his staff met and worked during the Second World War, it’s now a museum, and a fascinating, highly atmospheric place that made a huge impression on me. When I was imaging what such an office might be like, I thought back to walking through the warren of underground corridors and rooms and tried to capture some sense of it. To me, the sense of place in a novel doesn’t have to mean your characters walk around an exact replica of a real city. A blend of fact and fiction can be just as effective.
Tell No Lies was published by Canelo on 19th February.
A tortured body is found in a basement. Drug dealing and people smuggling is on the rise. Then police start going missing.
There seems to be no connection between the crimes, but Detective Caelan Small senses something isn’t right.
Plunged into a new investigation, lives are on the line. And in the web of gangs, brothels and nerve-shattering undercover work, Caelan must get to the truth – or be killed trying.
And then there’s Nicky…
With thanks to Lisa Hartley for the brilliant guest post and to Ellie Pilcher at Canelo for organising the blog tour.