I’m in Brighton for the weekend; what a beautiful and inspiring city it is. I love the justaposition of the natural beauty of the sea and the beach against the wierd beauty of the Royal Pavilion and the garish beauty of the pier, all next to bits that can only be described as seedy. No wonder so many writers find inspiration here. My head tells me that I’d be infinitely productive if I could look out on this sea every day. My heart tells me that as I find the Peak District equally inspiring, it’s not an inspiration issue. But when in Brighton, what better thing to do than round up my three favourite Brighton-based crime novels.
An oldie but an infinite goodie, and I have to admit that I only recently actually read the novel as part of the Masters. I do enjoy a bit of Graham Greene though, particularly as to how evocative he is when it comes to setting and this is no different. He captures all those sides to Brighton without making it jarring or obvious and it has some of the most evocative description of a place that I think I’ve read.
They came in by train from Victoria every five minutes, rocked down Queen’s Road standing on the tops of the little local trams, stepped off in bewildered multitudes into fresh and glittering air: the new silver paint sparkled on the piers, the cream houses ran away into the west like a pale Victorian watercolour; a race in miniature motors, a band playing, flower gardens in bloom below the front, an aeroplane advertising something for the health in pale vanishing clouds across the sky.
Isn’t that just lovely? The way he’s used the verbs… just magnificent. And despite the fact the description is from a Brighton years ago, it all still stands.
Of course next to this beautiful entry is poor old Hale being hunted to his death – for me that side by side of setting and storyline could only work as well as it does in a city like Brighton.
The Zig Zag Girl
It’s no secret that I am a massive Elly Griffiths fan, and although the Ruth Galloway mysteries remain my favourite set, I do have a penchant for these Stephens and Mephisto mysteries. They’re set in Brighton in days gone by – but as with Brighton Rock, I don’t think the Brighton of then is unrecognisable as the Brighton of now, which makes it both comfortable and exciting. I love the feeling of being able to visit places that I’ve read about it crime fiction.
The series combines good old-fashioned murder mystery with the prospect of magic – what a great idea to set a crime novel amongst magicians and showpeople, where anything goes and what you see is not always what you get.
I’ve been reading Peter James’ novels since time began… at least, that’s what it feels like as they’re infinitely familiar while always being entertaining. What keeps me coming back to Roy Grace’s world has always been his personal mysteries though; what happened to his wife? And then, later on, without wanting to give too much away, what will happen with his wife?
The crimes are modern, and I know James is meticulous in his research and writing as he has really close relationships with the Brighton police themselves. This all brings a realism to the novels. The Brighton here isn’t as picturesque as Greene’s or Griffiths’, and to a certain extent I think that’s a shame. By missing that, you’re missing a central facet to the city… that uneasy agreement between polite society and a thriving underbelly.
But they’re entertaining, and they keep me coming back… does anything else matter?
Do you have a favourite Brighton-based novel? Not necessarily crime… give me what you’ve got and comment below!