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Crime mystery set in Northumberland, plus a chat with the author

4th August 2017

Cragside by L J Ross, crime mystery set in Northumberland.

This is No. 6 in the #1 bestselling series featuring DCI Ryan (or, Detective  Chief Inspector  Maxwell Finlay-Ryan to give him his full name), written by L J Ross, who is successfully pursuing a self publishing career, having turned down a traditional publishing deal! She is the author who knocked The Girl on the Train off the bestseller top spot (link). She has sold well in excess of 1,000,000 (yes, a million) copies of her books to date and her star continues to rise! All her novels to date are set in Northumberland.

Crime mystery set in Northumberland

Cragside is a cosy crime mystery set in the house and grounds of the eponymous imposing Cragside estate, built by the Armstrong family in Victorian times and now run by the National Trust. You can really sense the influence (which L J Ross goes on to mention below) of Agatha Christie in the author’s work.

Crime mystery set in Northumberland

This novel works well as a standalone book but perhaps what a reader might miss is the build up of the various relationships within the series. DCI Ryan is about to tie the knot with his partner Anna and so there is a human strand that gently weaves its way through the narrative. The two have come to rent a house on the Cragside estate due to earlier events involving serial killer “The Hacker”. Now, at a summer party thrown by current Cragside owners, the Gilberts, a pleasant evening turns very sour, as the Gilbert’s personal butler, Victor Swann is found dead.

The death seemed to occur during a power outage – a clever use of detail – because Cragside still tries to run on the gadgetry for hydroelectricity, installed by the Victorian builder of the house. But power surges, when using modern technology, can rupture the antiquated system, so everyone in the house is more than careful about timing the use of state of the art gadgets. It seems that Victor may have stumbled to his death down a flight of steps, it doesn’t look particularly suspicious.

TF’s Tina with L J Ross

However, the investigating team starts to have niggling doubts about whether this is a pure accident or whether there is something more sinister going on. They start to probe beneath the veneer of the motto: “We’re like family, at Cragside”. A second death – in brutal circumstances – certainly gives them the ammunition to take the investigation in a new direction. Operation Lightbulb is soon underway, and it is a pertinent title for the investigations as Cragside was the first building in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity!

There are plenty of characters who might be in the frame for having motive for murder – people trying to cover their tracks (remember, bleach does not mask blood residue!) and there is certainly someone astutely observing  the comings and goings of the investigation team. It is also clear that an explosion on the Valiant, a ship being constructed back in the 1970s over on the Tyne shipyards, is potentially part of the picture…. How does DCI Ryan get to the bottom of what is going on???

A very readable mystery set in the heart of Northumberland.

Tina for the TripFiction Team

#TalkingLocationWith… L J Ross, who takes us to the setting of the novel, Cragside, near Rothbury, Northumberland.

Northumberland and its neighbouring counties have been inspiring novelists for years, whether in the fantasy pages of Game of Thrones or as the backdrop for crime and mystery thrillers such as my own DCI Ryan series. I was born in the region and have a long childhood of happy memories to draw upon when I think of places like Bamburgh Castle or Hadrian’s Wall – the challenge is to translate their beauty into the written word. Thankfully, I visit my home county every few weeks so my son can spend time with his grandparents and we take a new journey of rediscovery each time.

The Iron Bridge at Debdon Burn. Photo Credit: TripAdvisor

Recently, that journey took me to Cragside, a palatial mansion house belonging to the famous Victorian industrialist William Armstrong. Its setting is like something from the pages of Tolkien: a whimsical house with Rhenish gables, turrets and towers stands atop a craggy rock face surrounded by acres of dense coniferous forest. Beautifully landscaped gardens lead from the house all the way down to a small river called Debdon Burn. An elegant iron bridge spans both sides of the valley and is just one reminder of Armstrong’s legacy. Cragside is sometimes referred to as the ‘Magician’s House’ for good reason; its owner was much more than a fabulously wealthy engineer with interests spanning arms and ship-building on the Tyne. He was a vanguard, an inventor whose house was the first in the world to be lit by hydro-electricity provided by water from his own man-made lakes, using Joseph Swann’s ground-breaking lightbulb. The interior is filled with ‘modern’ conveniences, including a lift shaft to assist the servants in their daily tasks across the higgelty-piggelty house which spans several floors.

As a child with a penchant for Agatha Christie whodunits, it was impossible not to see the possibilities in such a house, particularly wandering through its numerous corridors and ante-rooms. As an adult and a writer of murder mysteries no less, it could not fail to be a wonderful inspiration for a fictional story. In Cragside, I set out to write a modern-day whodunit with a generous dose of local history, whilst retaining the claustrophobic, closed-community setting that is part and parcel of any good mystery. The characters are all entirely fictitious but their descriptions of the house and grounds are as close to reality as I could make them, for I wanted the reader to see it as I saw it for the first time all those years ago and understand why it is so unique. There is an ethereal quality to the place which lends itself to storytelling but, as an author, it is always important to preserve the difference between reality and fiction when referring to real-life settings. For instance, should anybody wish to visit, they will find Cragside is being wonderfully looked after under the custodianship of the National Trust but, in my book, the house is owned by a wealthy private family which suited the storyline.

Over the course of the first five DCI Ryan books, I have been very fortunate to have garnered two UK #1 bestsellers and another three top five bestsellers, along with almost a million readers. For a former lawyer and new mother who had some small idea of writing a book that, perhaps, family and friends might read, this came as something of a pleasant shock! Now, so many kind readers write to me to tell me of their trips to some of the places I have mentioned, or to tell me about other places I might have forgotten. The North-East is alive with fabulous coastlines, castles and sweeping countryside as well as being steeped in history – of which Armstrong has played a part. Although the DCI Ryan mysteries were never written to attract tourists, I am delighted that so many people have been motivated to visit and discover it themselves.

Thanks so much to L J Ross for sharing ‘her’ Northumberland inspiration and who is a driving force behind burgeoning tourist numbers in the county! 

Follow L J Ross on Twitter, Facebook and via her website and of course you can buy all her books through TripFiction.

And do come and join team TripFiction on Social Media:

Twitter (@TripFiction), Facebook (@TripFiction.Literarywanderlust), YouTube (TripFiction #Literarywanderlust), Instagram (@TripFiction) and Pinterest (@TripFiction)

Fancy reading more books set in Northumberland? Try any of the author’s other books or perhaps of fictional history based on a real event? Wedlock by Wendy Moore, Cousins by Salley Vickers and this is our full database of books set in Northumberland

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  1. User: Sandy Maxwell

    Posted on: 06/08/2017 at 5:33 am

    Great set for books. Is there a date set for Cragside to be published in audio?


    1 Comment

    • User: tripfiction

      Posted on: 06/08/2017 at 9:46 am

      Note from the author: Hello, the first five books are all out on Audible and Cragside is being produced at the moment 🙂


  2. User: A Price

    Posted on: 05/08/2017 at 9:19 pm

    I have enjoyed all these books and really enjoyed Craigside until the end when the details of the wedding let it down – you can’t get married on a beach in England, it’s not legal


  3. User: Brian Hatcliffe

    Posted on: 05/08/2017 at 5:42 pm

    Have read the first three of your fantastic books but the libraries in Poole do not stock them at the moment so I will have to continue on Amazon x


  4. User: Sue Harbottle

    Posted on: 05/08/2017 at 3:42 pm

    Really enjoy these novels, (at least I hope it’s fiction as I live in Northumberland). It’s really good to be able to picture the settings. Murder, Mystery & Romance … what more could you want.


    1 Comment

    • User: tripfiction

      Posted on: 05/08/2017 at 4:31 pm

      I hope, too, that they are fictional, we, too are based in Northumberland….