Thriller set in Spain, both in the past and in the present
Talking Location With author Laurence Anholt – Literary LYME REGIS
19th June 2021
#TalkingLocationWith… Author LAURENCE ANHOLT talks about literary Lyme Regis, the setting for his new murder mystery series THE MINDFUL DETECTIVE. The Mindful Detective, Vince Caine, lives in Lyme Regis and investigates in and around the region.
I recently took a genealogical DNA test, and the results resembled a topsy-turvy atlas – my mother was Anglo Scottish, my father was Dutch, but it turns out that my distant ancestors migrated from Persia, before dispersing in various directions across Europe. Perhaps this explains the olive skin and dashing good looks… or more credibly my love of sunshine and travel!
I suppose it’s quite arbitrary then, that I settled 35 years ago, in this lovely area around Lyme Regis, the ‘Pearl of Dorset’. This is where our kids were raised, and where I have written (and occasionally illustrated) more than 200 books, which are translated into 30 languages.
This part of the West Country is known as the Jurassic Coast and it is unlike anywhere else I know. The Undercliffs are noted for fossils, but also for the alarming landslips which force the trees to grow in wild, twisting formations – not unlike some of the locals. I love to walk the coastal paths among the deafening birdsong. In my mind, this is the closest thing to virgin rainforest in the UK.
My studio sits high on a hill, overlooking a snaking river and verdant valleys, which roll and tumble to the cliffs at Lyme Bay. It’s hard not to be inspired by this setting, and my current project, an adult murder mystery series called The Mindful Detective, features an unlikely cop named DI Vincent Caine, who lives alone in a cabin on the Undercliffs. Caine is a Buddhist, so for him, the ever-shifting topography is a constant reminder of Impermanence!
Lyme Regis has a rich literary heritage – remember Louisa Musgrove crowd-surfing off the Cobb in Jane Austen’s Persuasion? Then there’s my favourite writer of all time, Thomas Hardy. It gives me a visceral thrill to walk the same leafy lanes and footpaths as he trod, and to visit his cottage near Dorchester. Of course, the Undercliffs also form the backdrop to John Fowles’ French Lieutenant’s Woman, and the iconic scene from the 1981 film adaptation, featuring Meryl Streep in a black hoodie awaiting her errant lover, as the waves crash around the Cobb, is embedded in our collective consciousness.
Excuse me while I drop a name or two – I knew John Fowles pretty well. He was a friend of my dad’s, and quite a character. John either loved people or he hated them; with little in between. Fortunately, I was a keen young writer when we first met and we got on like a house on fire. In fact my family and I featured in his cheekily divisive book Lyme Worthies, in which half the fun for Fowles was to tease those pompous townsfolk, whom he did not consider ‘worthy’!
A particular memory of the great man, is when I was working on a children’s picture book called Stone Girl, Bone Girl about Mary Anning, the proto-feminist Victorian fossil hunter – later the subject of Tracy Chevalier’s Remarkable Creatures, and immortalised more recently, for better or worse (mainly worse in my opinion) by Kate Winslet in the 2021 movie Ammonite.
John Fowles was getting on at this time, but he was a polymath who knew plenty about palaeontology. As I arrived with an armful of Fowles novels to be signed, the literary legend welcomed me at his ivy-clad doorway. To enter his rambling villa called Belmont was like stepping into the eccentric and fascinating mind of the man himself. I followed along seasick corridors and up winding stairways to his study at the top of a tower overlooking the Cobb, where we talked all things Anning for many hours.
Stocky and heavily bearded, John scuttled about opening drawers, showing me fossils and original engravings. Then the phone rang on the landing outside. John’s housekeeper had gone home for the evening and we were alone in the house, so he excused himself and went to take the call. I wandered around his study, admiring his vast book collection and his slightly creepy collection of anthropological artefacts. I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation – the illustrious author was talking to a BBC producer about some fabulous TV project in development. The phone call went on for half an hour and when he hung up, I expected John to return. Another ten minutes went by and he didn’t appear, so I peeped into the landing, but he was nowhere to be seen. Not knowing what to do, I set off to hunt him down. I roamed all over the labyrinthine house and was about to make a silent exit, when I stumbled into a vast kitchen on the ground floor. There was Fowles, hunched over a cup of tea. He had completely forgotten I was there. When I said hello, he clearly thought I was an intruder because he almost leapt out of his skin. I gently reminded him why I was there and a beaming smile settled on his face – ‘Mary Anning, dear boy? I can tell you all about Mary Anning!’ Over the next couple of hours, he repeated almost every word he had said before, while my wife wondered if I would ever return. All I can tell you is that it was even more fascinating the second time around. John promised to write a foreword for my book, but sadly passed away before it was done. But I cherish those signed novels, and my memories of a rather lengthy brush with genius.
I don’t know what the great novelist would have made of my Mindful Detective stories, but he would definitely have approved of the fabulous cover illustration on Art of Death, by my talented friend, Paul Blow, which features my intrepid detective duo striding along the Cobb, deep in sleuthing ruminations.
The eponymous Mindful Detective, DI Vincent Caine (known to the local yoof as ‘Veggie Cop’) is the most unlikely of all detectives – a longhaired empath who feels too much for his own good. Every case is painful for Caine because he really, really cares. But Caine is slow and intuitive, like a native tracker, and at the end of his mindful trail the killer lies waiting.
Inconveniently, Caine has fallen head over heels in love with his crime fighting partner, DI Shanti Joyce, and that’s something Shanti doesn’t need right now. Following a painful divorce and having screwed up a case in Camden Town, Shanti has relocated to the West Country with her mum and eight-year-old son, Paul. The truth is, Shanti is sick of men and deeply cynical of Caine’s mindfulness and meditation. She prefers a cheeseburger and a car chase… if only Caine wasn’t so damned magnetic (these vegans are dead lean aren’t they?)
To use a Caine phrase, Shanti and Caine are a Yin Yang duo. Without realising it, they have developed a symbiotic approach to crime solving.
And there’s another thing – back in Camden, Shanti was used to a nice Saturday night stabbing, but since she met Caine, she seems to be dragged into the strangest of crimes, like that bizarre murder in the Somerset art gallery in Art of Death. To her chagrin, Shanti and Caine have become known as ‘the go-to team for weird shit in the West Country.’
And now it’s the height of summer and Shanti and Caine are called in to solve the biggest, weirdest crime of their careers. Strange as it might seem, the charismatic lead singer of mega-group, Stigma has been microwaved by his own guitar, live on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival. No problem, you would think – there were 175,000 witnesses, you might say. But that killer is elusive, and soon the intrepid duo are chasing down dodgy divas and drug-fuelled roadies, amidst the pulsating festival beats.
Don’t tell my accountant, but the whole series is an excuse for me to carry out extensive research in my favourite West Country locations – in this case, the magical Glastonbury Festival; the, mystical backdrop of the Tor, and the ancient and somewhat psychedelic setting of Glastonbury Town.
Will the unlikely mix of Joyce’s down-to-earth pragmatism and Caine’s intuitive sleuthing skills solve this most musical of murders? Is the future of the world’s greatest festival in peril? What happens when two consummate professionals are forced to share a tent in the steamy heat of summer? If you want to find out, you’d better pick up a copy of Festival of Death. And while stocks last, I’m giving away complimentary karma with every copy!
In the meantime, I’m hard at work on the final chapters of Solstice of Death, the third in the series, to be published in December 2021. This story features a bizarre ritualistic murder at the midwinter solstice at Stonehenge – yet another iconic West Country destination, and the setting for Hardy’s great love scene in Tess of the D’Urbervilles, where Tess and Angel Clare spend a final night amongst the brooding stones, before she is hauled away to meet a horrible Hardyesque ending.
I’m delighted to say that the Mindful Detective is off to a great start, with talk of a TV series and other intriguing possibilities. Unlike my nomadic ancestors, I am blessed to be comfortably settled here in the West Country, where I sit, gazing out across Lyme Bay, pencil in hand, dreaming up intrepid excursions in my mind.
Laurence Anholt is the author (and occasional illustrator) of more than 200 books for every age from babies to big people. The MINDFUL DETECTIVE series, published by Constable Little, Brown is his first venture into serial murder.
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