Bad weather, great thrillers – the cream of Northern-set crime fiction

Find your new favourite crime author as Marnie Riches, crime writer and tutor on our Crime Fiction online course, tells us about some of her favourite crime fiction from the North.

There is something about the North that lends itself to a good police procedural. Who can resist a dark, twisting tale, set against a backdrop of biting cold, brooding clouds and torrential rain?

As far North as a reader can go, before venturing into Nordic Noir territory, Scotland has its own internationally-renowned crop of authors, including big names such as Val McDermid and Ian Rankin. Perhaps it’s the elegant Victorian architecture of Edinburgh or the old claustrophobic tenements of Glasgow that inspire many a gritty tale of murder most foul. I do love the Victorian, Edinburgh-set series by Oscar de Muriel, and can recommend that for those who enjoy historical fiction. At the commercial end of the spectrum, fans of tartan-noir can gobble up the gangland thrillers of Anna Smith, or devour the dastardly deeds in Ed James’s oeuvre.

But what about Northern England?

Well, starting on the West coast, my own writing (Born Bad, Tightrope, All the Pretty Ones etc…) covers Manchester, Cheshire and the Pennines. My old HarperCollins and Orion label mate, Paul Finch, also writes about the gritty Northwest, as does Golden Age-specialist, Martin Edwards, whose altogether cosier Lake District-set mysteries are highly critically acclaimed. If you’re looking for the latest, bright star in the northern crime-writing firmament, look no further than M.W. Craven. His Washington Poe books, set in Cumbria, have hit the Sunday Times Bestseller list repeatedly. Luca Veste has been penning a number of good quality, Liverpool-set thrillers for a number of years, and if you enjoyed Alex North’s Whisper Man, you should definitely check out Veste’s The Bone Keeper, which will chill you more than the Irish Sea wind.

Moving eastward (and a little to the South), I can’t fail to recognise the importance of Angela Marsons in putting the Black Country firmly on the crime-fiction map. Her Kim Stone detective series has garnered an enormous and fiercely loyal fanbase, which ensures her every release hits the top spot in the Kindle chart, as soon as pre-orders go live! Travelling north, beyond Derbyshire, the Pennines and over into Bradford, we find one of my favourite contemporary crime writers – A.A. Dhand. His Detective Harry Virdee series is fast-paced, dark as hell and incredibly interesting, exploring the Brown-on-Brown racism found in West Yorkshire’s grittiest city. The good news is that Harry Virdee is coming to a TV screen near you very soon as a major BBC drama. I’ll definitely be watching that!

For those looking for series set in the Northeast, they will find an embarrassment of riches hugging the East coast. Award-winning and bestselling Ann Cleeves has become a household name, partly thanks to the TV adaptation of her Vera Stanhope books. She’s in good company too, as Mari Hannah, LJ Ross and Trevor Wood all delight readers with their twisty tales of Northumberland, Newcastle and beyond.

Finally, it’s not just the big names that are worth reading. Journeying down the East coast to Hull, we find Nick Quantrill’s thrilling offerings, and continuing down the A1 to South Yorkshire, don’t miss the unforgettable Doncaster-set, Sean Denton series of the late, great Helen Cadbury.

As the publishing industry becomes ever less London-centric, with more of the Big Five publishing houses establishing offices and imprints up North, there are increasing opportunities for northern-set stories to be told. If you’re taking part in the New Writing North Writing Crime Fiction course, might yours be the next name to appear on a best-selling book cover?

Our 5-week online Writing Crime Fiction course, led by Marnie Riches, will equip you with the tools you need to create convincing characters and write the perfect crime. Starting 25 September 2023. Bursary places available for residents of Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland due to funding from North of Tyne Combined Authority. Find out more here.