Posted in Reading, Writing

Why the English Countryside Makes a Great Setting for Mystery Novels

This week I’m in conversation with my author friend Helen Hollick about why rural communities make such great settings for cosy mystery novels

Debbie Young with Helen Holllick
Taken when I first met Helen Hollick at the launch of my first book many years ago! We have since become firm friends.

When my historical novelist friend Helen Hollick took to writing cosy mystery stories during lockdown, I couldn’t wait to read them. I’d enjoyed her Jesemiah Acorne pirate series, and her Arthurian novels were among my mum’s favourite books. What’s more Jan Christopher, the heroine of her new mystery novels was a young librarian in a public library very much like the one I belonged to as a child.  

Like me, as an adult Helen moved from greater London suburbia to the countryside – in her case to Devon, rather than to my neck of the woods in the Cotswolds. Her latest Jan Treasure mystery embraces Devon life at harvest time. I’m pleased to invite Helen on to my blog to day to tell me a bit about why rural Devon – or indeed any rural community – makes such a great setting for cosy mystery stories.

affiliate link to book's page on Amazon store
Click the image to view the book on Amazon

Helen: Hello Debbie, thank you for hosting me – and Jan Christopher – today!

Debbie: Jan’s adventures alternate between her native suburban London Borough of Waltham Forest and rural Devon. Why does a rural community make such a great setting for a cosy crime story? 

Helen: I moved from London with my husband and daughter, (and the horses and the cats and a dog) to Devon in January 2013 – best thing we ever did!

During Covid lockdown I wanted to write something where I could use my experience of working as a London suburb library assistant during the 1970s. A cozy mystery seemed a good idea, so the Jan Christopher Mysteries came into being. Snag. I also wanted to write about Devon; not exactly autobiographical, but drawing on living in the countryside. Easy solution: alternate the locations.

I think a rural community setting appeals to readers of cozy crime because of the lure of a slower pace of life, and the huge advantage of a village community is that everyone knows each other – ideal for amateur sleuthing via murder mystery writers!

Array of four book covers of Jan Treasure series
And then there were four…

Village gossip is no mythical exaggeration. Often X who lives at the other end of the village will know what you’re going to do before you do yourself. It’s a sad fact, but I only knew my immediate next-door neighbour when I was back in London, no idea of anyone else in the street. Here, I know almost everyone in the village, even though my nearest neighbour lives almost ¼ of a mile away!

And the biggest appeal of all? Many people long to live in the countryside, away from the hustle and bustle, but have no opportunity to do so. To escape into an outdoor life via the pages of a book is the next best thing to actually doing it – and with the added bonus of working out ‘whodunit’, well, who can resist?

Devon field with tractor harvesting
Work in progress

Debbie: What does the rural setting offer that the urban one doesn’t?  – and vice versa?

Helen: North Devon couldn’t be more different to Waltham Forest – a sprawling north-east London Borough consisting of the towns of Chingford, Walthamstow, Leyton and Leytonstone. It’s one advantage: Chingford borders the County of Essex and can boast the inclusion of Epping Forest, where I used to ride and keep my horses.

When musing about writing a murder mystery, I knew that I did not want to write it as a police procedure series. I know very little about crime investigation, beyond what I watch on TV, and anyway, my mysteries were to be set in the 1970s when we didn’t even have mobile phones, let alone the internet!

Here in a rural community we rarely see a police car, but they are everywhere in a London town.

In the countryside, strangers are all too happy to chat to other strangers. Alas, it doesn’t happen in London, everyone is far too busy rushing about from A-B with ‘no time to stand and stare’. Country people can often be found leaning on a gate, thoroughly enjoying the view.

Timekeeping rarely seems to exist. There’s a Devon word ‘Dreckly’, it basically means ‘some time soon’. Soon could be this afternoon or next month… or the next.

So in a rural setting you have fewer locals to include as characters but a greater opportunity for the community to gossip.

One huge advantage for a murder mystery, in a small rural village is that it will take a while for a summoned policeman to arrive. In town, you’re probably talking within the hour – add a couple more hours for Devon. Which gives your criminals time to get away, and time for some quality amateur sleuthing.

Field after harvesting
Nearly done!

A village will probably only have one or two shops and pubs. Town will have several in a small area. Fewer cars in villages, so the ‘grockles’ (strangers/tourists) are more readily noticed.

Good tip for mystery writers: visitors’ cars are usually clean.

The locals get used to the muddy lanes and soon don’t bother cleaning their cars!) A murder committed in town will usually get immediate attention. In a village – well someone in authority will come along ’dreckly…

Debbie: Like Jan – and Sophie Sayers and me! – you’ve moved in real life from an urban to a rural setting. But your move to the countryside, like mine and Sophie’s, was permanent. Jan clearly appreciates the beautiful, peaceful scenery – we know this as the stories are written mostly in her voice. Do you think it might tempt her to move permanently to Devon, if Laurie can get a work transfer?

Helen: Oh that would be telling wouldn’t it? Although in the postscript of Episode One, A Mirror Murder, (with the p.s set in modern times,) a much older Jan is clearly not in London. Does she move permanently? When? How? And is she still with DS Laurie Walker? Ah…all that will be in another story!

Debbie: How do your real-life neighbours take to having a crime-writer living in the midst of their peaceful community? Have you ever been asked to solve any local crimes or misdemeanours?

Helen: No, to the second part of the question, thank goodness, although I’ve often had to search my fields for a missing horseshoe that one of the horses has lost. Or one of the dog’s toys – or, actually, even a missing pony! We have a couple of Exmoor ponies and they are frequent escape artists. We found them once, over half-a-mile away almost up at the village. I’m sure they were heading for the pub!

My real-life neighbours are wonderful. I must add that my quirky characters are all entirely fictional, apart from three people: Heather is my friend who is often involved with the village community shop. We have tea and cake together usually once a week and often discuss the next mystery. So of course she had to become the Devon shopkeeper in my stories. In A Meadow Murder I have also included pub landlords Hazel and Steve, primarily as a thank you for their wonderful hospitality at the Exeter Inn. Hazel, Steve and Heather gave their full permission to be used as characters, and I have assured them that they would always be ‘goodies’ and not victims!

I have heard that there’s often a fair bit of chatter in the village shop about my books … mostly good, I hope!

Loaded tractor proceeding down a Devon country lane
Jan takes a ride on top of a loaded tractor in “A Meadow Murder”

Debbie: My fellow bell-ringers at our parish church are always suggesting new murder ideas for me – 101 ways to kill someone with a church bell! Does your adopted home in Devon inspire you with new ideas for crime stories that are specific to rural Devon or to the countryside in general?

Helen: Oh yes! Read A Meadow Murder and find out! I came up with the plot last summer whilst watching our local farmer, Andrew, trundle up and town turning the cut hay in our top field. The field slopes so you can’t see the bottom at all. “What if…” I thought.

The cover image for Meadow Murder is actually my field. The deer and rabbits have been added, but we do see them there.

Debbie: Jan’s stories are set in the 1970s. Her home town in north-east London will have changed a lot – to what extent have things changed since then in rural Devon? How different would the stories be if Jan was a member of Generation Z, ie born between 1990 and the early 2000s?

Helen: A modern Jan would be very different –which is why the stories are set in the 1970s, ‘my’ years as it were. (I was born in 1953.) Technology is a big difference, nearly everyone has cars, phones, laptops today. Though not everyone has a good Internet connection – ours can be very sporadic. We get quite a few power cuts too. I really enjoy your Sophie Sayers mysteries, Debbie, but, well, I just couldn’t do it. Jan and Laurie and their families are from the ’70s and that’s that! The thought of writing modern day just doesn’t appeal to me at all. I guess nostalgia wins out for me – and I hope for my readers, too!

Debbie: Finally, thank you for allowing me to share below an extract from A Meadow Murder  to whet my readers’ appetites! 

3D stack of paperbacks of A Meadow MurderExtract from A MEADOW MURDER

The tractor was trundling off down the row, the baler scooping up the cut hay, packing it into slabs, automatically tying them together with two lengths of baler string and shooting the trussed rectangular bale out behind, before repeating the whole process. Mr Greenslade drove the tractor round the field in ever decreasing circles – or more correctly, odd-shaped squares. Down one row, along the bottom of the meadow, up the furthest row, across the top of the meadow, down the next row, along the bottom… coming at each turn closer to the middle of the field until there were only two rows left.

Our job, I discovered, was to follow the tractor and stack the bound bales in groups of six or eight in order to make the next step of loading them onto the trailer easier.

“Roll them,” Kevin advised when he saw me lifting a bale by the string. “Less likely for the twine t’ break an’ easier on your back. Roll with the lie of the land, downhill.”

It took a while to cover the entire field, walking up and down the rows – down was fine, up… the hill seemed to get steeper with each row. Funny how it didn’t look steep from the top, but imitated Mount Everest from the bottom. (Slight exaggeration, but you know what I mean!) At last the tractor came to a stop, with (and we all cheered) no more breakdowns. Scattered across the field as if they were some form of crude artistic sculptures, were stacks of hay, baking in the heat of the haze-shimmering, airless afternoon. We were all somewhat sweaty and grimy, with sore backs and smarting hands, despite wearing gloves. But the work was only half done. Five-hundred bales of hay had to be transferred into the security of the barn before those blackening clouds came any nearer.

If I thought anything we’d done so far was backbreaking, hard work, I soon discovered that I’d been wrong. Stacking the bales on the trailer was much harder, even though I had one of the easier assignments. Aunt Madge and I were on the flat bed of the trailer receiving the bales that the men tossed up. We had to stack them one layer at a time, with each layer criss-crossing, otherwise, if they’d been simply one atop the other the whole lot would fall down. The first three layers were quite simple, but as the stack got higher, the bales had to be tossed higher, and we had to climb higher to keep up with the enthusiastic (and apparently untiring) bale-tossing men. I say it was hard work (it was!) but it was also a laugh. Teasing and banter between us, laughing as the tractor pulling the trailer lurched across the field from each six or eight stacked pile of haybales to the next. I had never felt as stiff and tired before, nor had I ever felt as wonderfully alive and happy.

Aunt Madge jumped down as the fourth layer began to grow, aware that she wasn’t too confident at balancing on a lurching and swaying height, which left me to do the last two layers on my own, but I’d got into the swing of it by then, so didn’t mind.

I suppose the trailer took about seventy bales. (I can’t tell you exactly; I’m guessing as I lost count somewhere along the third layer.) Then the next fun bit… there was no way I could get safely down – balancing atop a trailer stacked high with bales of hay is a challenge, believe me. Outside of learning how to fly, or leaping into Laurie’s outstretched arms in the hope that he’d catch me (both not an option), there was only one thing for it. I made myself a hollow in the centre of the top layer to ride the trailer all the way down the lane.

“Duck your head under the low trees!” Laurie called as Mr Greenslade set off negotiating the gate and the fairly tight turn from the meadow into the lane.

I have to say, it was one of the most thrilling things I’d ever done – and this included those scary, whizzy rides at the fun fair! The trailer was slow, very bumpy and rattly, and I could hear the occasional grinding of complaining brakes holding back the tremendous weight as we went down the steep hill, but the view above the hedges to across the fields was magnificent, and the ride itself was, well I can only describe it as exciting.

ereader showing A Meadow MurderAbout A Meadow Murder 

Make hay while the sun shines?

Summer 1972. Young library assistant Jan Christopher and her fiancé, DS Lawrence Walker, are on holiday in North Devon. There are country walks and a day at the races to enjoy, along with Sunday lunch at the village pub, and the hay to help bring in for the neighbouring farmer.

But when a body is found the holiday plans are to change into an investigation of murder, hampered by a resting actor, a woman convinced she’s met a leprechaun and a scarecrow on walkabout…

A Meadow Murder is the fourth tale in the Jan Christopher cosy murder mystery series, the first three being A Mirror Murder, A Mystery of Murder and A Mistake of Murder… see what I’ve done there? Yes, I’ve created a proper puzzle for myself because now every tale in the series will have to follow the same title pattern of ‘A M-something- of Murder’ (Suggestions welcome!)

Based on working as a library assistant during the 1970s, the mysteries alternate between the location of Chingford, north-east London, where the real library I worked in used to be, (the building is still there, but is, alas, now offices,) and my own North Devon village, but ‘Chappletawton’ is a fictional version, larger than my rural community and has far more quirky characters.

The main characters in the series, however, remain the same: Jan Christopher is the niece, and ward, of Detective Chief Inspector Toby Christopher and his wife, her Aunt Madge. In A Mirror Murder, Jan (short for January, a name she hates) meets her uncle’s new driver, Detective Constable Lawrence Walker. Naturally, it is love at first sight… but will an investigation into a murder affect their budding romance?

“As delicious as a Devon Cream Tea!author Elizabeth St John

“Every sentence pulls you back into the early 1970s… The Darling Buds of May, only not Kent, but Devon. The countryside itself is a character and Hollick imbues it with plenty of emotion” author Alison Morton

About Helen Hollick

Headshot of Helen Hollick
Helen Hollick

First accepted for traditional publication in 1993, Helen became a USA Today Bestseller with her historical novel, The Forever Queen (titled A Hollow Crown in the UK) with the sequel, Harold the King (US: I Am The Chosen King) being novels that explore the events that led to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy is a fifth-century version of the Arthurian legend.

She writes a nautical adventure/supernatural series, The Sea Witch Voyages. She has also branched out into the quick read novella, ‘Cosy Mystery’ genre with her Jan Christopher Murder Mysteries, set in the 1970s, with the first in the series, A Mirror Murder incorporating her, often hilarious, memories of working as a library assistant.

Her non-fiction books are Pirates: Truth and Tales and Life of A Smuggler.

Helen lives with her husband and daughter in an eighteenth-century farmhouse in North Devon.



Posted in Reading, Travel, Writing

Travels with my Books #2: From the Caribbean to Exmoor with Helen Hollick

sea witch banner ad

As a longstanding fan of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride in Disneyland, which I first visited in the original theme park in California at the age of eight, I was delighted to discover when I first met Helen Hollick that one of the series of historical novels she writes has as its hero a charming pirate Captain Jesemiah Acorne whose adventures often take him to the Caribbean.

The smash-hit Jack Sparrow films came much later than the theme-park ride,  and I believe it’s the only case of the ride inspiring the film rather than the other way around.

Just like the ride and the films, Helen’s pirate novels plunge you into the Caribbean, amongst other places, including, closer to her home and mine, the rolling hills of Exmoor in Devon. I’m delighted to welcome Helen to my blog today to tell us all about her travels with her books!

headshot of Helen Hollick
Helen Hollick, author of historical, fantasy and contemporary fiction

Hello, Helen, and welcome! To set the scene, could you please your books’ setting on the globe

Now, this is going to be one of those ‘which one shall I use?’ moments. You see, my Sea Witch Voyages are set in various locations because they are, well, voyages aboard a ship – the Sea Witch – with a pirate and his crew. Captain Jesamiah Acorne finds himself getting into trouble from Jamaica to Devon, from Virginia to the Bahamas via Cape Town, South Africa! However, as it is rather cold here in the UK at the moment, let’s head for somewhere warm …Port Royal, Jamaica!

Please briefly describe the books you have set in the Caribbean.

When The Mermaid Sings is a prequel novella to my Sea Witch Voyages series telling the story of how Jesamiah fled his home in Virginia because of his bullying elder half-brother. He is seeking a sailor friend of his father – but ends up finding more than he bargained for: the ghost of his father, Captain Morgan, a mermaid – and the start of a life of piracy!

What makes Port Royal, Jamaica, such a great setting for fiction?

Back in the late 1600s Port Royal was known as ‘The Wickedest Town In The World’ because of all the pirates and privateers who dropped anchor in the harbour. So much looted Spanish treasure was taken there, even servants were well off financially.

Unfortunately, in 1692 a massive earthquake destroyed most of the town and killed thousands of people.

The harbour remained, but the town was never rebuilt – Kingston was established on the other side of the bay instead. I wanted to make When The Mermaid Sings a partial ghost story, so Port Royal was an ideal location for Jesamiah to go to.

What is your relationship with Jamaica and how much of your life have you spent there?

None at all! I’ve never been to the Caribbean – however, later in the series (Ripples In The Sand, Voyage Four and On The Account, Voyage Five,) I bring Jesamiah and his wife (he’s grown up since When The Mermaid Sings) to Devon, England, so I have many scenes set in and around Barnstaple on the North Devon coast, and on Exmoor, both of which I know very well as I live nearby!

What is special about the people native to Devon?

May I mention one real person in particular? My previous editor, Jo Field, now retired, used to live at Instow not far from Barnstaple. I used to live in East London, so visited her twice a year for a writer’s chinwag and a holiday. It was because of where she lived that I decided to bring Jesamiah (and his ship, Sea Witch) to Devon, and consequently I also fell in love with the place. In 2012 we won the lottery (on the opening night of the London Olympics) and decided to move to Devon.

I hadn’t realised, all those times that I came on the train to visit Jo, travelling from Exeter to Barnstaple, that I would be passing right by the house I now live in!

I can see a section of the Tarka Line railway as it winds through the Taw Valley from my bedroom window – it’s like looking down on my very own real model railway!

If your protagonist or other characters come from elsewhere, what challenges do they face dealing with the local people?

Jesamiah was born in Virginia, the son of an English privateer and a Spanish mother. I rather assume he would have a typical Colonial Virginian accent – which is quite far removed from the Devon dialect. When he first sets foot ashore at Appledore he has a bit of a job understanding some of the Devonshire words, as the following excerpt from Ripples In The Sand shows:


banner ad for Ripples in the Sand

The rain had started to lash down as Jesamiah kicked open the door to the Full Moon and negotiated his way through, taking care not to scrape or bump Tiola enfolded in his arms and wrapped in a swathe of blankets.

    The landlady, a homely woman in her early thirties, bustled from behind the counter concern bubbling from her as energetically as the wisps of hair escaping beneath her lace cap. “Oh my, the poor maid looks nigh on exhausted.” She shooed away an elderly man sitting before the fire, ushering him to another seat. “Set ‘er down ‘ere Cap’n. The girl’s lighted the vire upstairs an’ put a pan in t’warm the sheets. It be a nice corner room overlookin’ the harbour, it’ll do you cheerily.” She pursed her lips and tutted. “I suggest you keep them shutters closed ‘cross the smaller side winder though, sir. The view o’ the drang oft’n be not respec’able.”

     Grumbling beneath his breath the old man, as bald as a coot but with a great bush of a white beard, took his half empty tankard of cider along with his pipe and baccy pouch, and shambled to a settle near the window. He sat, sniffed disdainfully and wiped his nose on the cuff of his coat, which he ostentatiously drew closer around his chest, then turned the collar up against the draught. “It be goin’ t’snow on them moors,” he predicted. “Prob’ly ‘ere an’ all. Vruzzen in us’ll be.”

     “Drang?” Jesamiah queried, not recognising the word and struggling to understand the conversation. Tiola had a slight Cornish burr, but his ear was not attuned to this unfamiliar Devon dialect. He shrugged, guessed he would pick it up soon enough.

     The old man chuckled. “Nowt wrong with Cock Lane tha’ an ‘ealthy man can’t be makin’ good use ov.”

     Getting the gist of the statement Jesamiah raised an eyebrow, was about to repeat his ‘drang’ question, but let it pass.

The typical ‘pirate speak’ that we think of (‘arr’ and such) actually originates from Robert Newton who played Long John Silver in Treasure Island. He was a Cornishman so improvised his West Country accent. Many sailors – and pirates – came from Cornwall, Devon and Bristol, so all had a similar accent, including Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh.

What are the distinguishing features of one of the destinations you write about in terms of geography, geology, flora, fauna or any other detail you care to mention?

I will take us to Exmoor, as I know it better than Jamaica. (Although as I write this, in mid-January, I believe it is snowing up on the moors, so Jamaica would be warmer!)

Wild Exmoor ponies

Exmoor is a wild place – it is even home to the wild Exmoor ponies (we have three moorland bred ponies of our own on our farm). The moor was made famous by RD Blackmore’s Lorna Doone, and indeed I have borrowed the Doones and used their fictional descendants in Ripples and Account.

Valley of the Rocks, Exmoor (photo copyright Cathy Helms)

The north coast of Exmoor rises steeply from the sea, giving glorious views, although usually also windswept ones. There is a particular geological features of rocky outcrop that looks a little like the ruins of a castle. Many Victorian poets visited this incredible geological feature, Robert Southey in August 1799, was impressed, describing it as ‘… the very bones and skeletons of the earth’.

In On The Account, Jesamiah’s wife, Tiola Oldstagh (who is actually a white witch) spends the night on Exmoor, described in the following extract:

banner ad for On the Account

An hour after dusk had settled into the star-frosted night, Tiola fed another stick into her meagre fire. The wood was damp and it gave off more smoke than heat, but it was better than nothing up here on the windswept openness of Exmoor’s exposed coast. She was sheltered in the hollow behind the magnificent tor of rocks that separated the valley from the sea, three hundred feet below. A place steeped in myth, legend and mystery. It was said that the Devil had resided in a castle of rock with his many wives, but angered at their infidelity he had blasted the eyrie to pieces. All that remained were the bare, jagged bones; the skeleton rocks piled stone upon stone. Nothing but a story, an old tale to explain the strangeness of a natural glacial formation – the Devil did not exist, but Tiola was aware that something was lurking out there in the darkness, watching her.

     The stick flared into flame and the light caught the glint of an eye a few yards off. Tucking a loose strand of her black hair behind her ear, Tiola calmly added more wood to the fire and smiled to herself. This was the Valley of the Rocks, known also for the herds of feral goats that thrived on the coarse sea-salt grass. A huffed snort and a stream of misted breath evaporated into the cold air. A wild pony then, not a goat; one of the distinctive two-thousand-year-old Exmoor breed with their thick, weather-resistant, shaggy coats and light-coloured muzzles. Had she borrowed such a pony from the stables at Tawford Barton she would be at her destination by now, but her mission was secret and she wanted to know who had been watching her these past seven days, and had followed her, this night, up on to the moor.

What are your top tips for any readers planning to travel to the setting of your book?

To Jamaica – watch out for pirates, and parrots who have learnt to sample the beer from kegs in the taverns … of course, that only applies if you can also time travel back to the 1690s!

To Exmoor – take stout walking boots and something warm and dry to wear. Even on sunny days it is windy up there… but breathtakingly beautiful.

Helen Hollick hangs on to her hat on Exmoor!

‘Only in Port Royal…’ name three things that could only happen there!

  1. In November 1720 you would have seen the trial of Anne Bonney and Mary Reed, the female pirates who sailed with Calico Jack Rackham. Mary died in gaol, Rackham was hanged, but no one knows what happened to Anne.
  2. Time travel back a little further, and you could meet Captain Morgan, who was a privateer against the Spanish, but then became Governor of Jamaica … and yes, he is the Captain Morgan who gave his name to the rum!
  3. ‘Jamaica Gold’ – pineapples – used to be  highly valuable because Jamaica was one of the few places where they grew, were easy to harvest and transport back to the Colonies – and even England.
stone pineapple on a building
Spot the pineapple!

Because of its rarity, and the difficulty in keeping it fresh during a long sea voyage, the pineapple was regarded as the food of the wealthy. For the well-to-do, ‘visiting’ either for afternoon tea, or to dine, was one of the prime sources of entertainment. Social intercourse was a way to show off what you had, and an essential way to keep up with the local gossip and news. Status, and the ability to show it, was an essential element. Keeping up with the Joneses is nothing new!

The Colonial hostess would seek subtle ways to brag about what she had, and would take great pains to outdo her neighbours. Elegant furniture, sumptuous and elaborate gowns, exquisite china and silver tableware, fine linens, expensive tea… Food was displayed on platters and arranged in elaborate pyramid styles, often dripping with sugar. Dinner was a culinary delight and always extravagant.

The laid table would be kept as a surprise, behind closed doors until the moment to reveal all came. Fresh fruit was a grand thing to be displayed, but topping it all would be the pineapple. It was rare, expensive, and wonderful to look at, touch – and eat. It was the crowning celebrity-status glory of the feast.

Have you ever noticed stone pineapples outside houses? To have one on display at a dinner party meant you’d made it to the top of the tree – but fruit doesn’t stay fresh for long, so it soon became popular to place stone ones on gateposts and such to indicate a wealthy household, and also as a sign of welcome. So keep an eye out for the not-so-humble pineapple!

Are there any other authors’ books with the same setting that you’d like to recommend?

Dozens, but I am going to cheat and select Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier.  It was – still  is – a real pub, on Bodmin Moor, Cornwall, named by the Trelawney family who founded it in 1750, from the money they made in Jamaica – and for the smuggled rum which passed through on its way from Cornwall to London. Du Maurier wrote her story after being stranded there in thick fog one night.

Where is your latest book set?

Helen’s latest novel takes us to Chingfod, Essex

Somewhere completely different! A north-east London suburb, Chingford, where I was born in 1953, brought up and worked until the early 1980s. A Mirror Murder is a cosy mystery set in 1971 with the lead character, Jan Christopher, working (as I did!) as a library assistant.

I decided to give writing a murder mystery a go after being inspired by Debbie’s wonderful Sophie Sayers Series! (I confess, I am a little in love with Hector – although this might be because he owns a bookshop!)

Here’s an introduction to A Mirror Mystery:

Eighteen-year-old library assistant Jan Christopher’s life is to change on a rainy Friday evening in July 1971, when her legal guardian and uncle, DCI Toby Christopher, gives her a lift home after work. Driving the car, is her uncle’s new Detective Constable, Laurie Walker – and it is love at first sight for the young couple.

But romance is soon to take a back seat when a baby boy is taken from his pram,  a naked man is scaring young ladies in nearby Epping Forest, and an elderly lady is found, brutally murdered…

Are the events related? How will they affect the staff and public of the local library where Jan works – and will a blossoming romance survive a police investigation into  murder?

Where will your next book be set?

Which one? *laughs* I really must write the sixth Sea Witch Voyage – which starts in Gibraltar, and will feature Exmoor and Devon again – but also Spain, possibly Portugal and France as well, I’m not sure because I’m never quite certain where trouble will lead my Jesamiah…

I am also writing the second in my planned Jan Christopher Mystery series: this one will be set in Devon at Christmas. Great fun with lots of snow and murdered victims.

I’ll look forward to reading them all, Helen! Thank you so much for taking us on this virtual journey around your books today. 

(All images in this post are the copyright of Helen Hollick unless otherwise stated)


Helen Hollick taking inspiration from atmosphere at Instow, Devon

Helen Hollick and her family moved from London in January 2013 after finding an eighteenth-century North Devon farm house through being a ‘victim’ on BBC TV’s popular Escape To The Country show. The thirteen-acre property was the first one she was shown. She loves her new rural life, and has a variety of animals on the farm, including hens, ducks, geese, dogs, cats, Exmoor ponies and her daughter’s string of show jumpers.

First accepted for publication by William Heinemann in 1993 – a week after her fortieth birthday – Helen became a USA Today Bestseller with her historical novel, The Forever Queen (titled A Hollow Crown in the UK) with the sequel, Harold the King (US: I Am The Chosen King) being novels that explore the events that led to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy is a fifth-century version of the Arthurian legend, and she also writes a pirate-based nautical adventure/fantasy series, The Sea Witch Voyages.

Despite being impaired by the visual disorder of glaucoma, Helen is now branching out into the cosy mystery genre with a new series of quick-read novellas. The first in her Jan Christopher Mysteries series, set in the 1970s, is out now. A Mirror Murder  incorporates often hilarious memories of working for over a decade as a library assistant.

Her non-fiction books are Pirates: Truth and Tales and Life of A Smuggler. She occasionally gets time to write…

Click the link to order A Mirror Murder in ebook or print: 

Visit her website:

Like her Amazon Author Page:

Subscribe to her newsletter:

Follow her on Twitter: @HelenHollick

Next month: join Alison Morton for a trip to the fictitious land of Roma Nova, evolved from the ancient Roman empire in her series of alternative history novels – and for a trip to France in her new contemporary thriller, Double Identity

(To receive each new post in your email inbox, just type your email address in the box beneath the “Follow Blog” button in the sidebar to the right of this post.)