Murder at the Seaside

Murder at the seaside has long been a popular sub-genre of English crime fiction. Within this framework the setting and topography of Mayhem-on-sea can vary widely. The 1930s Brighton written about by Patrick Hamilton is very different from Raymond Flynn’s North Sea Eddathorpe of the 1990s or the Edwardian resort of Andrew Martin’s The Blackpool High-Flyer.updated-seaborough-picture-no-people

Seaside resorts provide a rich source of atmosphere for the writer. A contained world that comes complete with its own architecture and language. Grand Hotels along the esplanade, seedy Sea View boarding houses, the pier and pavilion, boating lake and prom. Locations from cliff-tops, Winter Gardens, crowded arcades or empty beaches offer endless possibilities for the finding of bodies.

Sending your characters to the seaside is a useful device whereby they join groups of strangers and meet with unexpected situations. Even Jane Austen wrote a mystery sub-plot within Emma – complete with clues – about what Jane Fairfax got up to in Weymouth.

Here are a few of my favourites: Dorothy L. Sayers’ Have His Carcase is the second of her novels to feature the crime novelist Harriet Vane. Harriet is taking a solitary walking tour along the south-west coast when she finds a body that is later washed out to sea before officialdom can arrive. Under some suspicion, she stays at the nearby resort and Lord Peter Wimsey soon follows to help her discover whodunit.

Published in 1932, Have His Carcase has been criticised for including racial stereotypes we wouldn’t countenance now but it is very much of its time and should be enjoyed as such. The novel gives a fascinating impression of the well-heeled at the seaside between the wars. An age when the best hotels had their own orchestra and exhibition dancers; tennis coaches rubbed shoulders with penniless companions, elderly residents and card-sharps. The famous Miss Marple novel, The Body In The Library covers a similar setting equally well.

The wonderful Death Walks At Eastrepps was published a year earlier. Written by Francis Beeding – a pseudonym for Hilary St George Saunders and John Palmer -Eastrepps is loosely based on the charming Norfolk resort of Cromer.  There’s a post on this murder mystery on our archive blog (now ended)  at

Agatha Christie’s N Or M? features her engaging sleuths Tommy and Tuppence Beresford and sits somewhere between detective novel and spy thriller. Set in the spring of 1940 in a sleepy south coast resort. The Beresfords, now middle-aged, are staying in a boarding house and secretly searching for a German agent, a Fifth Columnist among the seemingly ordinary residents.

This is a rattling good yarn which gives an interesting insight into the times. The plot twists and turns with suspicion shifting to one character after another. It’s hard to think of anyone as good as Christie at making an everyday scene suddenly become sinister. By one of life’s strange coincidences Agatha Christie named one of her characters Bletchley and made a reference to code-breaking. At the time of publishing in 1941, Bletchley Park – Britain’s legendary code and cypher establishment – was, of course, top secret. Questions were asked!

Eileen Dewhurst’s Phyllida Moon series first appeared in the 1990s and has an intriguing premise. Phyllida Moon is a gifted repertory actress who moves to the quiet south coast town of Seaminster. There she begins a new life working for a private detective agency and sleuthing in character. This may sound as though it requires a considerable suspension of disbelief but Eileen Dewhurst writes so well that this is effortless to do. Her plots are very original and raise interesting questions about the nature of identity. She is very good on the psychology of her characters and setting.

Curtain Fall by the same author features another series character, Inspector Neil Carter and is also set in a resort. If you want to know what seaside summers were like in the 70s, in the last days of regular end-of-the-pier shows – this is a great read.  Lyrical, elegiac atmosphere combined with a first-class plot.

Our mystery, A Seaside Mourning is set in the autumn of 1873, when  Inspector Josiah Abbs and Sergeant Ned Reeve are sent to investigate a  murder.

At the small town of Seaborough on the Devon coast, a wealthy spinster has died suddenly in suspicious circumstances. Some local businessmen have ambitious plans to see the seaside resort expand. Was Miss Chorley killed because she stood in their way? Or beneath the elaborate rituals of mourning, does the answer lie closer to home?

Behind the Nottingham lace curtains, residents and visitors have their schemes and secrets. As Inspector Abbs makes an enemy, the two detectives race against time to solve a baffling mystery. When a second body is found, Abbs and Reeve must untangle the past to find answers. Not realising that uncovering the truth may prove dangerous…

Available in paperback and eBook. Just click on the link to start reading or to order:

Walking the Old Ways

I’ve just started a new blog Walking the Old Ways – a celebration of rambling in the British countryside.

The Old Ways – the ancient tracks and footpaths that criss-cross our landscape, worn there by the passage of walkers and riders over centuries. The old paths used by people to get to their parish church and farm fields. The droving routes taken by animal herdsmen over centuries. The coffin paths along which the dead were taken on their last journeys. The prehistoric routes and Roman roads. The trails that we wander on to this day.

And not just paths – this blog will be a celebration of the wide open spaces where we may roam away from the beaten track. The mountains and moorlands, the fells and fens, where your only companions might be the wild birds and the creatures of the ground.

Back in the 1970s, I wrote a magazine article entitled “Walking the Old Ways”, urging that we preserve our ancient paths and countryside. I first heard the phrase “Old Ways” from an old Gypsy I encountered on an old path. It’s gained some currency in recent years with the publication of Robert MacFarlane’s excellent book The Old Ways.

These old paths are vital, for they are a hugely important part of our history, which should be valued as much as archaeological sites such as Avebury and Stonehenge.

We’ll also be looking at what you might see when you go out for a walk…

I’m John Bainbridge. I’ve walked these paths for nearly sixty years. I’ve written about them in a host of country magazines. I’ve fought to save them as a volunteer for the Ramblers Association and as a former chief executive of the Dartmoor Preservation Association. I campaign for the wild places to this day…

I also believe in and campaign for the Right to Roam.

These days I write books, both volumes about the countryside and novels. I’ve had two successful blogs (archived now if you want to read them) Freedom to Roam and Over the Hills.

You might like to try my walking books: Wayfarer’s Dole, The Compleat Trespasser, Footloose in Devon and Footloose with George Borrow. All except the last available in paperback or as eBooks on Kindle.

Why not come along for the walks?