Graham Hurley on The Badlands of East Devon

Written by Graham Hurley

Graham Hurley is an award-winning TV documentary maker who now writes full time. He is married and has grown up children. He lived in Portsmouth for 20 years but now lives in Exmouth, Devon.

Here’s the thing.  Talk to any publisher, agent, bookseller, even reviewer, and they’ll all tell you that crime fiction is getting more noir by the week, by the day, by the hour.  Once upon a time, two anal rapes, a beheading, and a serial killer with a thing about suffocating his victims with a throatful of expanding foam, would just about cut it.  Now no longer.  I’m told a recently published tome in Japan, detailing exactly what you had to do to tear the head off an embryo while a pregnant woman was comatose with an armful of Fentonyl,  was withdrawn after mass protests from pregnant women.  But only just.


Even in my own little patch of crime fiction’s Matto Grosso, darkness is all pervading.  A couple of years ago, I finished a series of twelve crime fictions set in Portsmouth.  Pompey qualified nicely because it ticked all the noir boxes:  biggish city, huge drug problem, kids out of control, murderous assaults you could depend on at the weekend, plus a local guy who chopped up a body,  divided it between three bin bags, and chucked the whole lot in the sea.  Nature is no friend of the serial killer.  One by one the bags turned up on the beach at high tide, much to the fascination of a legion of dog walkers.  The favourite, devoured by a couple of warring Ridgebacks, contained his head.


After Pompey, we moved west.  Locating cutting edge crime fiction in East Devon is a serious ask, not because crime doesn’t exist in Exeter, and Exmouth, and Honiton, and even Colaton Raleigh, (it does) but because the honchos in the publishing biz thought I was having them on.  East Devon is ground zero for thatched cottages, cream teas, and serial happiness.  Where’s the room for serial disembowellings?  For pregnant women torched by their jealous boyfriends?  For killer jihadists, hot from the killing fields of Syria and Iraq?


In any event, persistence paid off.  I blagged a two-book contract, talked to various contacts, came up with a plan,  and wrote Book One, Western Approaches.  To everyone’s astonishment, it didn’t bomb.  Book Two, Touching Distance,  featuring a couple of serial killers with a twist, jollied the sales curve upwards (it’s just been bought by the French who are going to turn it into a movie).  While Book Three – Sins of the Father – is about to burst on a grateful nation. 


An old man nurses his memories in a shadowed mansion beside the river.  In a previous life, long before he became rich, he served in colonial Kenya.  Late one Saturday night, someone steals into the darkness of his house, eassd a trophy machete from his bedroom wall, and tries to chop his head off.  The dead man’s eyes, still open, tell the story of those last few seconds.  Terror, thinly diluted with disbelief.


A friend has just sent me his first reaction.  This is a reader with both feet planted deep in the swamp of today’s crime fiction.  Christ….” he wrote,  “…all this in leafy Devon?”


I’ve cut the message out and taped it to my study wall.  East Devon?  Never lets you down.


Sins of the Father is published by Orion Books on 20th November in hardback £18.99 and ebook £9.99. Touching Distance is published in paperback on 1st January 2015 £7.99.



Read Adrian Magson's review here


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