I Thank the Lord I’m Welsh*

Wales is a beautiful country with a unique language, culture, and history. And, in the last few decades, there’s been a concerted effort to maintain that culture and teach that language. As you’ll know if you’ve lived there, or even been there, it’s a bilingual country (it’s been officially so since 1998).

But, if you read crime fiction, you’ll soon see that Wales isn’t exactly a peaceful, crime-free place. And it’s interesting to see how the country and its people are portrayed in the genre. Space doesn’t permit more than a quick peek at a few examples; I’m sure you’ll be able to add others.

One of Rhys Bowen’s series takes place mostly in the fictional Welsh town of Llanfair, in Snowdonia. These novels (there are ten) feature Constable Evan Evans, who was originally from Llanfair, but moved to Swansea as a child. When he gets fed up with life in the city, he decides to move ‘back home,’ where he’s now sometimes known as ‘Evans the Law,’ to distinguish him from others with the same surname. He re-acquaints himself with life in the small town in Evans Above, the first novel in the series. But it doesn’t turn out to be nearly as idyllic a life as he had imagined it would. This is a small-town series, but it’s not a ‘frothy,’ light series. Among other things, it shows how social changes such as immigration, culture clash, family structure changes, and so on don’t affect just the larger cities. They even find their way into small villages.

In The Earth Hums in B-Flat, Mari Strachan introduces readers to twelve-year-old Gwenni Morgan. She lives in a small Welsh village in the 1950s, and is just on the cusp of coming of age. Gwenni’s a creative thinker; some people call her a dreamer. She’s certainly not obsessed with clothes, boys, or an active social life. Everything in Gwenni’s life changes when one of the town’s residents, Ifan Evans, goes missing, and is later found dead. For various reasons, Gwenni wants to find out the truth about his death, so she starts to ask questions. As she searches out the truth, she also makes some life-changing discoveries about her own family. Strachan’s second novel, Blow on a Dead Man’s Embers, also takes place in a small Welsh town, just after World War I.

Babs Horton’s A Jarful of Angels has two timelines. One begins in 1962, in an isolated Welsh village, and is the story of four children: Lawrence ‘Fatty’ Bevan; Elizabeth ‘Iffy’ Meredith; Elizabeth ‘Bessie’ Tranter; and William ‘Billy’ Edwards. These children don’t have much in common, but there aren’t a lot of other children in town. So, they spend their share of time together. During one eventful summer, they slowly begin to learn some of the town’s secrets, including some things that several people would much rather no-one find out. The other timeline begins some forty years later, when retired detective Will Sloane decides to return to his native Wales. He knows he doesn’t have a lot longer to live, and he wants to spend his last days in his own country. More than that, he finds a clue that’s related to mystery he was never able to solve. A child went missing, and was never found. Sloane was on the team that investigated, and everyone made efforts to find the child, but they had no success. Now, with this new clue, Sloane is hoping he can finally get some answers. As the children’s story moves forward, and Sloane’s backwards, we slowly learn how these children are connected to the secrets people are keeping. We also learn how all of that is related to Sloane’s investigation.

There’s also Cathy Ace’s WISE Enquiry Agency series. This series, in the traditional whodunit style, features four women (one Welsh, one Irish, one Scottish, and one English) who set up an investigation agency. The stories mostly take place in the Welsh town of Anwen by Wye.

One of Elizabeth J. Duncan’s series features Penny Brannigan, who emigrated from Nova Scotia to the small Welsh town of Llanelen, where she lives now. She’s the owner of the Happy Hands Nail Care shop, and as such, gets to hear a lot of what’s going on in town. And, because it’s the sort of place where everyone knows everyone, she knows most of the town’s residents. This is a lighter, cosy, series, but it’s not ‘frothy.’

Just in case you were wondering whether all Welsh crime fiction takes place in small towns and villages, think again. Stephen Puleston, for instance, has two crime fiction series. One of them features Inspector Ian Drake, and takes place in North Wales. The other is set in Cardiff. This series features DI John Marco of the Queen Street Police. These novels are sometimes-gritty, fast-paced thrillers, rather than the more traditional-style whodunits.

And I couldn’t do a post about crime fiction set in Wales without mentioning Hinterland (AKA Y Gwyll). This noir television drama takes place in Aberystwyth, and stars Richard Harrington as DI Tom Matthias. One of the interesting things about this particular show is that it’s actually filmed twice: once in English, and once in Welsh. And even in the English version, there are occasional (subtitled) Welsh words and comments.

There are, of course, lots of other mentions of Wales and of Welsh characters in crime fiction. For instance, Ellis Peters’ most famous sleuth, Brother Cadfael, is Welsh. In fact, his Welsh identity plays a role in more than one of the novels in this series. And Cathy Ace’s other sleuth, Caitlin ‘Cait’ Morgan is also Welsh, although she now lives in Canada.

Wales may not be a large country. But it’s got a rich, long history, and a language and culture of which its people are proud. And it certainly features in crime fiction. Which crime novels set in Wales have you enjoyed?

ps. Thank you, wales.com, for the lovely ‘photo!

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Catatonia’s International Velvet.

47 Comments

Filed under Babs Horton, Cathy Ace, Elizabeth J. Duncan, Ellis Peters, Mari Strachan, Rhys Bowen, Stephen Puleston

47 responses to “I Thank the Lord I’m Welsh*

  1. I love the little I have seen of Wales and really should explore it in more detail. The moody clouds and wild landscapes do lend themselves well to crime fiction.

  2. I love Wales it is beautiful. I couldn’t watch any of the Hinterland series as it was filmed too dark to see at times, and it was so depressing.

  3. Many of these books sound very good, Margot. I have read the first of the series by Cathy Ace, The Case of the Dotty Dowager, and I enjoyed it.

  4. cathyace

    Well – there’s lovely – a BIG, LOUD shout-out for Wales. Thank you, Margot, and thank you, especially, for your kind words about my work (and for the comment made by tracybham). 🙂

    • It’s a pleasure to mention your work, Cathy, it really is. And I appreciate your kind words, too. Very glad you enjoyed the post!

      • cathyace

        The plaudits go to you, Margot. There’s a good deal of wonderful writing both set in Wales and coming from Welsh writers. You might be onto something here…we might even replace Scandi-noir as the “next big thing”! 😉

        • You know, I could see it, Cathy! And the thing I like is that there’s a nice variety in Welsh crime fiction. Dark and gritty if that’s the way you like it, traditional if that’s your preference, and cosy if you want it. Something for everyone, really. 🙂

        • cathyace

          I couldn’t agree more, Margot. I think it’s great that pretty much every type of preference for a specific “niche” within the sub-genres can be met. 🙂

  5. I don’t remember reading any mysteries set in Wales, and sadly, I’ve never visited Wales either. I should change that!

  6. kathy d.

    I loved Gwenni Morgan in “The Earth Hums in B-Flat,” and liked the book and Mari Strachan’s second book, too. Keep waiting for more fiction from this talented Welsh author.
    I must read some of Cathy Ace’s books and Babs Horton’s. Didn’t know about them.
    I love Hinterland, just watching the scenery is worth it. And I like that brooding, complicated, handsome loner detective. And the actor, too.
    One series also set in Wales is by Harry Bingham starring police detective Fiona Griffiths. She has problems which sometimes surface, but she’s smart and grave. This series is a good one, but it has more violence than I’d choose, but it’s well worth reading.
    It also takes one on virtual rides through various areas of Wales, on country roads and through towns, giving good descriptions.

    • I recommend both Horton and Ace, Kathy. Both are skilled writers, and offer a good look at Welsh life, among other things. Thanks, also, for mentioning the Harry Bingham series. That’s another fine example of a series set in Wales, and I’m glad you filled in the gap.

  7. Verge Le Noir

    My best buddy is from Wales, I hope to visit someday it sounds like a great crime fiction setting, which reminds me; I should give that sheepshagging bastard a call. Great post as always Margot.

    • Thanks, Verge. And you know, I always think it’s worth giving an old friend a call. As to Wales, I do hope you get the chance to visit. And it is a great setting for a crime novel, in my opinion.

  8. Col

    I recently read Alis Hawkins – None So Blind set in Wales at the time of the Rebecca Riots, a bit different from my normal reading but a great book.
    I do have some Cardiff based crime on the pile from Mike Thomas and some older stuff from John Williams. Malcolm Pryce’s “Aberystwyth” books might be of interest, but I’m not yet convinced after reading the first.

    • Thanks, Col, for those suggestions. It sounds as though you have some really solid Wales-based crime fiction there. And I really would like to try, especially, Thomas and that Hawkins. I appreciate the reminder.

  9. Janet F

    Margot

    What a lovely post! Having been brought up in Chester it was fascinating to read. I still have family living in North Wales and Chester so I get there from time to time. Sadly I am quite ignorant of Welsh crime fiction but your post has me keen to remedy that.

    Wales is a beautiful country and many a day trip with my parents and siblings – castles and beaches – was had into North Wales with occasional holidays around Llangollen or Tenby. Anglesey is also well worth a visit. As is the Gower Peninsula in the south or Snowdonia in the north. The Brecon Beacons are lovely.

    Welsh culture with the history, various Eisteddfords (sorry if the spelling is wrong) – I remember seeing ladies in traditional dress during the season – shows off the Welsh love of music and, of course, the Hay-on-Wye Festivals – especially interesting for the book lover.

    Thank you for bringing up wonderful memories. Wales is certainly a great country to visit.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Janet. I didn’t know you had family in Wales! It sounds as though you have some lovely memories of visits to Wales. And I’m glad you got the chance to see some of the beauty of the country, and to attend some festivals. I would love to attend Hay-on-Wye; perhaps sometime I will.

      • Janet F

        I hope you do. I’m sure you would enjoy it.

        Indeed I do have family in North Wales. I suppose having been brought up around Chester it was quite natural for them to move into Wales. Chester borders Wales so it wasn’t to far for them to go!

  10. Diolch yn fawr! Great post! Can I just (cheekily) add my own Welsh-set crime novel? None So Blind is set in 19th century Cardiganshire and is the first in the Teifi Valley Coroner series. See my website http://www.alishawkins.co.uk for more details! Thanks again for the post which I shall tweet.

  11. It looks and sounds like a beautiful place. I’m so glad you spotlighted Wales today, because I know little about the place. Thanks, Margot!

  12. Lovely post Margot – I was bought up on the Welsh boarder and spent many holidays on windy Welsh beaches! I have A Jarful of Angels on my kindle from an earlier mention of this intriguing sounding novel

  13. I’m ashamed to say that I can only remember reading one book set in Wales – The Case of the Dotty Dowager as mentioned above! I don’t know why – it’s certainly not been intentional since I love Wales and the Welsh people – my Celtic tribesfolk! 😉 I’d have said there wasn’t much crime fiction from, or based in, Wales but your post proves me wrong…

    • Ah, yes, FictionFan, you do have that common Celtic heritage… 😉 You know, there never is enough time to read everything, or even know about everything out there. Those pesky things like sleep, work… 😉

  14. I know parts of Wales well, have spent time there, and have read a couple of the books you mention – but thinking about it, have read far more books set in many other countries… I should put that right, and your post and comments have given me a potential list, thank you.

    • Lucky you, Moira, to have had lots of experience in Wales. It is a lovely place, and I like the fact that there’s such a beautiful variety of fiction set there. Glad you enjoyed the post.

  15. It’s lovely to see Wales in focus on your blog, Margot. I’m part Welsh, and although I’ve never lived there I’ve had many happy holidays in Wales. I also want to mention Harry Bingham’s Fiona Griffiths’ series. I haven’t read any of the books you listed – yet!!

    • Thanks for the kind words, Margaret; I’m very glad you enjoyed the post. It sounds as though you’ve got some great memories of visiting Wales; that’s all the more special if you’ve got connections there. And thanks for mentioning the Harry Bingham series; I really must spotlight one of those books, and I appreciate the reminder of them.

  16. Pingback: Writing Links 6/19/17 – Where Genres Collide

  17. A belated thanks for this wonderful post, Margot. It’s fab to see Welsh crime being celebrated and I’ve enjoyed reading all the comments as well.

    I have John Williams’ Cardiff Trilogy waiting for me somewhere in my TBR pile. Your post has inspired me to bump it up the list 🙂

    • Thank you, Mrs. P. 🙂 – And there’s no such thing as ‘belated’ here; the party never stops. And about the comments? I couldn’t agree more; I always learn far more from people’s comments than anyone could ever learn from mine. I need to check that Cardiff trilogy, too….

  18. Dear Margot, or whatever your name is, I am none other than Detective Tony Pastry of New Scotland Yard. My informant has told me that you are the Red Herring, the notorious art thief. And my informant is very reliable: He recently sold me the Moon for £500 and a pint of mild. He’s very big in NASA, you know. He has also informed me that the Pink Panther films are not fictitious but are in fact a series of documentaries about a real Inspector Clouseau. Since then I have modelled my entire career on Clouseau’s achievements and it has not been easy, I can tell you. If you do not immediately hand yourself in at the nearest police station, I will have to come and put you under arrest.

    • I think you might be well advised, Mr. Pastry, to check your informant’s information. It’s my understanding that he’s being very well-paid to give you all sorts of information that may or may not be true…

      • Dear Red Herring, my informant is of the highest calibre. Through his contacts in the Louvre, he was able to procure me exclusive ownership of the Mona Lisa, for a small service charge, and when I next visit Paris I intend to collect it. And who will be laughing then?

        • I wish you well, Mr. Pastry, getting your hands on the Mona Lisa. It will be, well, very interesting to see what happens to you and to your informant then…

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