Setting The Scene In Wessex: The Crime Novel & Drama, Part Two: 1945-2015
The crime-mystery/thriller genre remains today the most popular of all, even after two centuries. In this 2-part guide to local-interest works, we look at developments since 1945. (Part One, covering 1745-1945, is here.)  
The Post-WWII Era

The social upheavals of wartime had created a whole new class of criminal, and one of these was Neville Heath, the ex Borstal-boy turned what forensic pioneer Prof Keith Simpson calls in his Fifty Years Of Murder “disgraced officer material,” with a history of cheque frauds. He was also a ruthless “charmer” ladies’-man con artist, whip-wielding sadist and murderer. In 1946, he booked into the Tollard Royal Hotel overlooking Durley Chine on Bournemouth’s West Cliff as “Group-Captain Rupert Brooke”. Heath’s final murderous sexual assault was on a local WREN who had been convalescing at the Norfolk Hotel on Richmond Hill. Her sexually-mutilated naked body was found in Branksome Dene Chine, and he was arrested here soon after, charged with a similar previous murderous sexual assault. After a trial that focused on whether he was a psychopath, he was hanged, remorseless to the end.
In 1967, Hitchcock began a film called Kaleidoscope based on the Heath case, but the studio forced him to abandon it, as too upsetting for “fans.” Hitchcock left the US for London to make a similar story, Frenzy, written by Anthony Shaffer. Patrick Hamilton’s unfinished 1952-5 “Gorse trilogy,” the novels based on Heath (cf the surnames Gorse and Heath) were the basis of the 1987 ITV drama serial The Charmer, starring Nigel Havers and set 1938-40, though not locally.
However there is a 1980 novel based on the Heath case. “You just don’t think of murders happening in a place as ordinary as this,” says a character in Todd Mallanson’s Lady Killer, set circa 1946 “in the opulence of post-war Bournemouth.” Mallanson (probably a pen name of erotic fiction author Richard Manton, 19??-) was also a journalist and scriptwriter and the novel may be related to the 1980-1 Granada TV docudrama series Ladykillers, where in the episode "Make It A Double", Heath was portrayed by Ian Charleson.
As a novel, Mallanson’s version seems an attempt at a crossover of the pre-war detective story with its upper-class dastardly cad, the post-war variant with its hysterical, cowardly borstal-boy villain, and the modern American disturbed-serial-killer novel, the result being perhaps best described by its jacket blurb. (“A young married woman is the willing victim of a whipping in a hotel suite. Within days her dead body, naked and savagely beaten, is found tied to the bed of another hotel room.... a second girl is discovered among the leafy chines of the Bournemouth coast. Murder squad officers, taunted and misled by their quarry, work against time to save his next victim... .“)

Corpse Path Cottage by Weymouth-born Margaret Scutt [1905-1988] was her one crime story as she otherwise wrote historical novels [published 1947-9], while working in Poole as a teacher. It was published poshumously, in 2018, but was probably written in the decade after WW2, as it deals with a former POW who settles in the Dorset village of 'God's Blessing' and buys the rundown cottage of the title. The protagonist Mark is a would-be writer, and sets out to use the ideal setting for a fictional murder - only for a real murder to occur. ("Mark's life begins to unravel before he is able to help the police solve the mystery, uncovering in the process a tale of intrigue, bigamy and blackmail, and bringing into the open many secrets of the residents of God's Blessing, including Mark himself.")

Brat Farrar, an admired 1949 psychological crime novel about disputed identity by Josephine Tey (see Part I re her The Franchise Affair) is set on the south coast of England just after WWII. The story, perhaps inspired by the famous Victorian case of the Tichborne Claimant, has a long-lost heir returning to inherit, when he may in fact simply be a lookalike imposter. (This does not give too much away - for it is just the start of a series of murky dealings within the family.) There have been two screen versions, both with contemporary time-settings. The first, the 1963 Paranoiac, a loose adaptation starring Janette Scott and Oliver Reed, and directed by Freddie Francis, was exterior-filmed in widescreen b&w around Lulworth, with the cliffs which figure in the plot actually just east of Lulworth Cove; the second, a 1986 BBC serial shot on video, had exteriors shot nearby, around Kimmeridge, at Smedmore House, a large coastal estate (repeated shots of horse-riding along the clifftop); there is also an unidentified small overgrown quarry which figures in the climax, and Weymouth is seen as 'Westover,' the local town (shots of the quay). (Westover is in fact a historic district of Bournemouth.) A 3rd screen version, possibly starring Ben Affleck, is rumoured to be in development.

The 1963 film Paranoiac, starring Oliver Reed, based loosely on Josephine Tey's cult 1949 novel Brat Farrar, was exterior-filmed around Lulworth. The cliffs which figure in the plot are the Mupe Rocks east of Lulworth Cove, seen under the main titles [screengrab above]. They also figure in a climactic scene, below, with Janette Scott in a sports car dangling over the edge.

Most prolific of all Britain's post-war crime writers was John Creasey (1908-73), with 560 books under 20+ pen-names, representing series such as Sexton Blake, The Toff, Gideon of the Yard etc. JC settled in Bournemouth after WWII. (He stood in 1950 as Liberal candidate for Bournemouth West, unsuccessfully, then created his own All-Party Alliance.) He acquired a local publisher for whom he wrote a couple of mystery novels under the name “Richard Martin” - Keys To Crime (1947) and Vote For Murder (1948).
A more mainstream longer-lasting series was his 43 ‘Inspector West’ of Scotland Yard novels, such as Inspector West Leaves Town (1949), which is part-set in 'Hinton Magna', a mid-Dorset village “more sleepy even than most Dorset villages,” off the Dorchester-Blandford road. Inspector West visits after he is attacked in London by henchmen of the ‘Moriarty’ of kidnappers, who kidnaps and drugs VIPs and their wives. The regular police are as usual, helpless, in this case as the drugged victims are under the villain’s control. In Murder On The Line (1960), Cdr West investigates some “funny business down in the New Forest” at ‘Forest Junction’, where a signalman has been found dead on the railway.
"Melchester" is a name that has been used more than once to signal a Wessex setting since its original appearance in Hardy’s Jude the Obscure and later the comic strip Roy Of The Rovers. In Hardy, it was based on Salisbury. It was a setting in several of the crime novels of London lawyer Michael Francis Gilbert CBE (1912–2006), who was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America. In his first novel, Close Quarters (1947), Melchester is again a Cathedral city like Salisbury - the title is a pun on Cathedral Close, meaning an alleyway, which here is the scene of a suspicious death. (“…a young Scotland Yard detective is asked to interrupt his holiday to find out if the accidental death of Canon Whyte was indeed an accident.”) One commentator adds the novel relies greatly on the FW Croft-inspired railway-timetable-alibi trope. It was largely written during the war, when the author was a POW. It was to be the first of his ‘Inspector Hazelrigg’ series.
Melchester and its cathedral close would also be the setting of a much later MG novel, The Black Seraphim (1983), which has a young pathologist in town on a break encountering church politics with its internal rivalries. While his work is now largely out of print, Gilbert was once a prolific and much-awarded writer in various genres and there may be other works of local interest, though his not using a regular series hero makes detecting the literary setting more difficult.

The postwar rationing period of 1945-54, when shortages could be worse than during the actual war, prompted a black market, which inspired various stories. Smuggling had a long history in the region (cf Moonfleet), and saw a revival in the period of postwar austerity.

Nicholas Monsarrat's novella The Ship That Died Of Shame, set partly in wartime and partly during postwar rationing, was not set locally, but the 1955 Ealing film version was, using Poole and Weymouth harbours. The story had a motor torpedo boat crew falling on hard times postwar, and using their old MTB for smuggling.

Geoffrey Household contributed another timely contemporary crime story for the era of postwar rationing, this time not a thriller like Rogue Male, but a comic crime adventure akin to Whisky Galore, where smuggled liquor has to be got past the Customs men. Household's 1948 short story Brandy For The Parson takes its title from the Kipling poem about smugglers and has a young couple becoming entangled in a postwar rationing-era brandy-smuggling operation. It was filmed in Devon and Dorset in 1951. Long unseen, it was released on DVD a few years ago, at which time we did a separate webpage on it, here.

The Juvenile Crime Adventure
The juvenile branch of the genre came into being largely after WWII, with children’s-adventure novels and Saturday-morning matinee dramas. The main influence here was the Famous Five series [21 books, 1942-63] by Enid Blyton (1898-1968), who had a summer residence at Swanage, and used her own children’s unsupervised outings as inspiration for works such as Five On A Treasure Island [pictured], its setting of 'Kirrin Island' and its ruined castle with its hidden gold-ingots treasure a mashup geography-wise of Brownsea Island, Lulworth Cove and Corfe Castle; Brownsea would also be the basis of ‘Whispering Island’ in Five Have A Mystery To Solve. ABC-Cinemas Saturday-morning-matinee film versions of these produced by the Children's Film Foundation were also exterior-filmed locally (in 35mm b&w), as would be a 1970s Southern TV series of adaptations (in 16mm colour).
The Famous Five series established the template for the gang-of-children-outwitting-the-local-crooks adventure story. The 8-part serial was meant for showing at Saturday-morning childrens'-matinees, but was also edited into a feature. The CFF's 1963 followup, their 6-part adaptation of her 20th in the series, the 1962 Five Have A Mystery To Solve (1963), also filmed scenes locally, being set largely on 'Whispering Island', a private nature reserve which Blyton based on Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour, again with a treasure-dungeon featuring in the plot. (The island was then owned by a Mrs Christie, whose caretakers strongly discouraged all visitors, inspiring the plot here.)
Long unseen, the feature versions of both were issued on DVD in 2010 by BFI Video. A 1970s-set Southern-TV Famous Five 1975-8 colour series would also be shot locally, mainly in the New Forest area, covering the series except for the two above works, as the screen rights still belonged to the CFF. The series established the popular 1950s subgenre where a group of kids stumble across, and foil, a criminal gang.

Five On A Treasure Island (1942): A still from the 1957 Children's Film Foundation 8 x 15 mins serial, the first screen version of Enid Blyton’s first Famous Five adventure, shot at Corfe Castle, around Lulworth Cove and a few other spots in the Poole-Purbeck area. The still shows the Five and their adult helpers watching from 'Kirrin Island' (actually Corfe Castle) as the crooks are captured by the local Coastguard cutter (which for some reason is called the Gay Viking).
Below: notice how the island-castle setting is a combining of Corfe Castle with an imaginary islet off Lulworth Cove.


The Golden Age Revisited
Other post-WW2 works were more timeless, often harking back nostalgically to the Interwar Era as a different sort of Golden Age, i.e. not just one of the original literary flowering of the detective story, but more generally a mythic twenty-year “lost peace” period between the World Wars of 1919-39, a time when life was simpler, etc. However nowadays, modern works often look back with a similar nostalgia at the immediate post-WW2 period. Certainly after WW2 some crime writers carried on their pre-war series much as before. The Miss Marple and Nigel Strangeways series [1927-71 and 1935-66, respectively] fall into this category.
And just as such popular series-novels tend to downplay the implicit ageing of the characters over the decades, TV series adaptations for practical considerations - reusing in-period wardrobe and prop items - ‘freeze” the time-setting in a notional single year.
All 12 of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple novels were authentically filmed by BBC-TV 1984-92, which is why details are given here in the postwar section (see Part I under the Interwar section for the novels) because the TV versions froze the setting of all 12 in the postwar rationing era. For this long-running series of telefeatures (some over 2 hrs), Nether Wallop in Hampshire was the home village 'St Mary Mead'; Bournemouth appears as a postwar-rationing-era "Danemouth" in The Body In The Library [novel written 1942], with parts of the Carlton, Highcliff and Royal Bath Hotels portraying 'The Majestic,' the story's large seafront 5-star hotel. A Murder Is Announced [novel 1950] (which touches on the matter of some people after the war drifting around trying to reinvent themselves) was filmed in the west Dorset villages of West Milton-Powerstock (as “Chipping Cleghorn”). “Lymstock” in The Moving Finger [novel 1942] was portrayed by locations above and around Lyme Regis. Various west Dorset and east Devon locations appear in Sleeping Murder. Somerley House near Ringwood was used for The Mirror Crack'd From Side To Side [novel 1962] as St Mary Mead’s local manor house.
Christie claimed in her autobiography (written sometime before 1964) “This village is as real as it could be ….. there are several villages remarkably like it, even in these days.”

Among the postwar entries in Nicholas Blake’s Nigel Strangeways series [see Part One], The Cumulated Fiction Index notes the 1953 The Dreadful Hollow is set overtly in Dorset (though in a fictional village, ‘Prior's Umborne’). As well as teaching at several schools in Dorset, the author lived at Lyme Regis, and would be buried next to Hardy. Blake’s 1963 The Deadly Joker (currently due for a reprint) is not one of his Strangeways series. It is set in the fictional Dorset hamlet of ‘Netherplash Cantorum’ based on the central-Dorset hamlet of Plush, where the author and his wife stayed in 1960, the novel being dedicated to the real-life owners of its local inn, The Brace Of Pheasants. Many of the scenes take place in the local pub in this story of writers trying to outwit an increasingly nasty practical joker.

The Brace Of Pheasants restaurant-inn, in the central-Dorset hamlet of Plush, the fictionalised setting of Nicholas Blake’s The Deadly Joker.

Death To Slow Music (1956) by (John) Beverley Nichols (1898-1983), better known for nonfiction books, was the 3rd (of 5) in his 'Horatio Green' private-detective series, where his great detective solves cases by recognizing tiny details as clues. This one is set in 'Seabourne', a typical-sounding seaside resort (the local Council wants to demolish the elegant seafront Regency Theatre to build a matchbox-shaped block of modern flats). There has been a murder at the Ghost Train exhibit on the Pier, which the local paper calls “the most macabre murder of the century.” The novel’s dedication credits Somerset Maugham’s ‘kindly interest’ for the continuing series, while 20th C. Crime & Mystery Writers says the series was discontinued because the books were not well received, despite being “remarkably elegant novels, meticulously contrived and controlled.”
The 'Inspector McLean of Scotland Yard' series of 62 novels by the prolific pulp writer George Goodchild (1888–1969) includes a couple set in Dorset: McLean To The Dark Tower Came (1951), and McLean Disposes (1958).
The End Of The Track (1956) by prolific crime writer "Andrew Garve" (= Paul Winterton, 1908-2011) has a New Forest game warden suspected of murder after a blackmail attempt.
In the whimsical ‘Gervase Fen’ series by ‘Edmund Crispin’ [= Robert Bruce Montgomery, 1921-78] about an Oxford professor and gentleman-amateur detective, two of the novels possibly have settings of interest here. Holy Disorders (1945) is set in “a small west-country cathedral town” (Salisbury?) during WWII, while The Long Divorce (1951) is set in the unspoilt but well-heeled film-set type village of ‘Cotten Abbas’ which sounds Dorset-ish (cf Cerne Abbas) but from the description is in SW Hampshire. (The author himself was a Devon resident.)
Some novels in the detective series by Vivian Collin Brooks (1922–2003), featuring Inspector Baker, Chief Inspector Rupert “Rip” Irving and Sgt Shirley are of local interest. Although the author, a journalist, lived elsewhere, VCB's pen-name indicates her interest in the area: ‘Osmington Mills’ is the name of a Dorset coastal village just E of Weymouth. Some early series entries are set on Wight, such as Unlucky Break and The Case Of The Flying Fifteen (1956), set around Cowes Regatta. Apparently set in Dorset (with some fictional village names etc) are: No Match For The Law (1957), Misguided Missile (1958), Trial By Ordeal (1961), Headlines Make Murder (1962), Traitor Betrayed (1964), and Death Enters The Lists (1967). [There are others whose setting could not be verified: At One Fell Swoop (1963), Dusty Death (1965), Enemies Of The Bride (1966), Sundry Fell Designs (1968), Many A Slip (1969), Ghost Of A Clue (1970).]
Show Me A Lawyer (1960) by ‘Peter Bryan’ (=??), a satiric novel of the legal profession, focussing on a provincial barrister and his ‘trials’ (in more senses than one) is set in ‘Starmouth.’ This is described as “a town peopled by retired army officers and aged maiden ladies …. [with] ancients of both sexes wrapped in rugs and seated in bath chairs gazing blearily out to sea” [p14]. As Peter Bryan was the pen name of a practising provincial solicitor who had to keep his real identity under wraps, any assumption that ‘Starmouth’ is really England’s then ‘star’ resort, 1950s Bournemouth, ‘the Queen of The South’, remains speculative, though the book is listed as being of local interest in local library collections.
One of the ‘Martin Cotterel’ series [1953-7] by John Trench (1920-2003) appears locally set. (The author, 'an advertising copywriter, author and amateur archaeologist,' was not local, but holidayed at Swanage.) Dishonoured Bones (1954) is set on the ‘Isle of Albany’, where the body of a lord is found in a quarry. The Isle of Portland of course makes a suitable setting for an amateur sleuth who is an archaeologist by profession. ‘Martin Cotterel’ is described in Detective Fiction: The Collector's Guide as “a youthful archaeologist with only one hand. He is erudite and mischievous” (He lost the hand in WW2, and has a metal one.) The Guide adds, “What makes him permanently interesting is the exceptional quality of his three novels which still make exhilarating reading. They have zest and wit and offer puzzles of substance and complexity.”
A tv version starring Alan Dobie and Judi Dench was made in 1964 for the BBC’s 1964-69 anthology series Detective.
The prolific Gladys Mitchell [see Part I] continued to use the area as a setting through the postwar decade with the same mix of actual and made-up place names. Her Death And The Maiden (1947) is set around Winchester and the River Itchen, and Echoing Strangers (1952) is also said to be set in Hampshire. The stone circle central to The Dancing Druids (1948) was acknowledged by her to be inspired by West Dorset’s Nine Stones at Winterbourne Abbas, and Merlin's Furlong (1953) is also set in Dorset. ‘Seahampton’ is another fictionalised seaside-town setting in the mainly New Forest-set Twelve Horses And The Hangman's Noose (1956).

Some crime writers from this postwar era have vanished into obscurity, their work out of print and their biographical details unknown. An example is Leonard R. Gribble (1908-85), who wrote dozens of nonfiction crime works as well as crime novels, mainly under various pseudonyms like “Dexter Muir”. His 1948 The Pilgrims Meet Murder, written as part of his “Superintendent Slade” series, was part-set in Dorset.

Another was Arthur Hobart Mills (1887-1955), a prolific once-popular, now forgotten author. (Wiki: “Despite favorable reviews, frequent impressions, and global translations of many of his earlier books (The Broadway Madonna, The Gold Cat), Mills eventually became known as a genre author of cheap crime and adventure novels. His work has been largely forgotten.”) He had his final home in Hampshire, his final few novels being crime mysteries set in the New Forest: Last Seen Alive (1951), Your Murder Is Up (1952) [and possibly his last, The Maliday Mystery, 1954]. Also from this era, Murder Is A Furtive Thing (1950) by Raymond Boyd (19??-), is listed as set in Dorset by the Cumulated Fiction Index.

Another is Vincent Hill (19??-), whose The Cunning Enemy (1957), one in a series narrated by its PI-hero, is part-set in Poole and Purbeck.

Prolific Devon-born author Victor Canning (1911-86), who would become a cult genre author in the 70s [qv] when Hitchcock adapted one of his novels, did not live locally but set parts of several of his earlier crime works in the area. His 1956 The Hidden Face (US: Burden Of Proof) is part-set on the IOW, where the narrator, serving a sentence for murder, is ‘sprung’ from Parkhurst Gaol on the Isle of Wight and travels across Britain to find the real murderer. Jailbreaks from Parkhurst also feature in two Canning short stories, "It Never Pays Off" and "Breakaway".

The League Of Gentlemen (1958) by John Boland (1913-76) has a chapter set in Dorset, at the ‘Army Command Training Centre’ in ‘Mulverton’, which provided a nervy, satiric key scene in the 1960 hit film version with Jack Hawkins. This was perhaps the first film to have down-on-their-luck former war veterans deciding to use their military skills in a major criminal enterprise. Its cynical tone of postwar disappointment (this being the motive for the planned heist) and amoral ex-officer characters anticipated a major change in social attitudes that would develop in the 60s.

The BBC's Miss Marple
On its 150th anniversary in 1988, the Royal Bath Hotel claimed it had “shed its Miss Marple image”. The reference was to its being used as a location for the Miss Marple BBC series 1984 episode The Body In The Library, originally written in 1942 but set in the postwar era (rationing is mentioned in the script, but there is no sign of WWII defence works when Miss Marple walks on the beach). It is set partly in the resort of "Danemouth", Christie's name for Bournemouth, where the BBC was partly filmed, at the Marriott Highcliff Hotel.
  All 12 Miss Marple novels were authentically filmed by the BBC, 1984-92. (Joan Hickson declined to continue the series using the Marple short stories.) Though written over a period of over four decades, the tv versions for production continuity reasons were meant to be ‘frozen’ in terms of dress, cars etc circa 1948, but some episodes like The Mirror Crack’d (filmed at Somerley House near Ringwood) used 1950s cars.

The BBC's longrunning series of telefeatures starring Joan Hickson as Miss Marple, were set circa 1948. These used locations in the region for a number of episodes, in Hampshire and Dorset.

The 1960s

The late 50s and early 60s saw public concern over large numbers of Teddy Boy gangs, dressed in long Edwardian-style jackets and tight trousers and often armed with sharpened bicycle chains. Around the same time, there were clashes in seaside towns between groups of duffle-coat wearing Mods and Rockers, the latter identifiable by their motorbikes and all-leather outfits. A gang of leather-clad Rockers led by a Teddy Boy played by Oliver Reed pursuing the lead couple forms the plot of the first half of an odd hybrid film made in 1961 by the Hammer Studio in Weymouth and Portland. In its 2nd half, The Damned turns into a Cold War sci-fi horror about experimental radiation effects, based on The Children Of Light, a 1950s Cold War SF novel by an otherwise unknown author, Henry Lionel Lawrence (1908-90). But before that, it offers a chilling portrait for its time of a biker gang who rob and terrorise for ‘kicks’ (a common trope of the era) and are not afraid of either the police or the military.
Directed by US expatriate Joseph Losey (a 50s refugee from the Hollywood blacklist), the studio disliked the hybrid result and only released it in 1963 in a cut-down 87-minute version in the UK, while in the US it was only released two years later in a version titled These Are The Damned which was 10 minutes shorter, to fit the bottom half of a double bill. It’s since become something of a cult film. According to Edith de Rham's 1991 biography of Losey, what attracted such a major director to a "genre" project like this was partly Dorset itself: "He was also drawn to the two locations, hand-picked in Dorset: Portland Bill, a strange, bleak peninsula, and Weymouth, the old-fashioned seaside town." The film has more location work than other such films of its era - see stills opposite.

The Damned: Oliver Reed as the teddy-boy gang leader, and Shirley Ann Field as his accomplice.

The Damned (1961/63): the first half of the film is a contemporary drama about a gang of youth running amok in a seaside town area. Shot in b&w widescreen, the film opens on Weymouth Esplanade and ends up in the Portland quarries and caves, via a chase across Portland's St George's Church at Reforne, with a finale partly on the Causeway across the Fleet lagoon.

The Damned: A genre-crossover drama of a couple, on the run from a Weymouth teddy-boy biker gang, who stumble into a secret government experiment in the Portland quarries and caves.

In the 1960s and 70s, the most prolific and notable of detective-story authors living in the area continued to be Gladys Mitchell, she having retired from teaching in 1961 to Corfe Mullen near Wimborne. (She had a brother who was a magistrate at Wimborne, while her other brother lived at Beaminster in west Dorset.) There, she wrote around a book a year till her death here in 1983. (See Part I for details of her earlier work.) After 1961 she was able to explore, at leisure, the Wessex landscape including its associated mystical aspects. "In Praise Of Gladys Mitchell" by B. A. Pike, published in Armchair Detective, 1976, notes: “… on her retirement she moved to the country, to Corfe Mullen in Dorset, where she was able to pursue two of her principal interests, the investigation of pre-historic sites and the study of mediaeval architecture. She had long been an enthusiastic student of Freud; and she attributed her interest in witchcraft to the influence of her friend Helen Simpson.” (Her fellow author Simpson, who with Frances Iles had co-sponsored her joining the Detection Club, was Australian but had spent time in the area, standing as Liberal candidate for the IOW just before her death in 1940.) TJ Binyon in his 1989 genre study Murder Will Out [p27] adds that, if anything, the occult plays an over-large part in the novels: “Mrs Bradley is as much a witch as a psychiatrist.”
Of the post-1960 Mrs Bradley novels written after GM retired to Dorset, Say It With Flowers (1960) concerns an archaeological find by a Wandles Parva farmer, with clues at the village’s Druid-sacrifice stone leading to another body in the tower of the abandoned local manor house. Adders On The Heath (1963) is set in the New Forest, complete with the famous ponies worked into the plot. In Skeleton Island (1967), the setting, with its disused old lighthouse, convicts, etc. is based [as the jacket blurb says] on the Isle of Portland. Three Quick And Five Dead (1968) is set in the New Forest, where a serial killer is strangling young women in the woods near Mrs B’s village. Dance To Your Daddy (1969) is set around real Dorset places. Here, to help a possible relative in difficulty, Mrs B heads out to ‘Galliard Hall’ past Corfe Castle, near Chapman’s Pool and Dancing Ledge, where the body is found. Gory Dew (1970), despite its boxing theme, is set largely in a Dorset village (‘Heathcote Fitzprior’), and it’s been suggested [in Rodney Legg’s Mysterious Dorset] the title may come from an 1863 criminal case in the Dorset village of Bradford Abbas, where red stains in the soil supposedly marked the grave of a murdered gypsy. Fault In The Structure (1977) is set in the New Forest while Uncoffin'd Clay (1980) is “set in north-west Dorset” [blurb], in the village of ‘Strode Hillary’ as well as the New Forest. Lovers, Make Moan (1981), with its open-air Shakespeare play, may be inspired by the real-life theatre on Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour (Compton Acres landscaped gardens in Poole has also been suggested). In Death Of A Burrowing Mole (1982) the idea of searching for Royalist gold in the ruins of ‘Holdy Castle’ near the coast can only be inspired by Corfe Castle. (The hardcover blurb notes “the castle is easily identifiable, so no metal detectorists, please!”)

Death Is So Final (1962) by Alex Fraser (19??-) is set on Wight, where a ‘reporter and lady friend are in grave jeopardy when odd character tries to take over; murder trial follows.’
A last gasp of the old upper-class detective novel, Death At The Chase (1970) is one of the ‘Inspector Appleby’ series [1936-] by ‘Michael Innes’ (= John Innes Mackintosh Stewart, 1906-94), otherwise an English professor and author of academic nonfiction works such as a study of Hardy. It is set at ‘Ashmore Chase’ somewhere in southern England, reminiscent of the village of Ashmore in Cranborne Chase in NE Dorset. Inspector Appleby is by this time retired Scotland Yard Commissioner Sir John Appleby living at ‘Long Dream Manor’ in the Chase, and his son Bobby is now the sleuth in the family, dealing with (what else) the country-house murder of a rich old miser surrounded by bickering relatives.
Though he has declined to give details, presumably for the same legal reasons that he made the novel’s setting Sussex, John Fowles (1926-2005) said that his 1963 The Collector was actually based on “a bizarre real-life incident that happened in the 1950s” in Dorset.
Hardy’s social-realist novel Tess Of The D’Urbervilles, which documents the long back story leading up to a domestic murder, became the basis of a novel set in the 1950s and 60s. Tess is a 1993 feminist rewrite by Emma Tennant (1937-) of Hardy’s tragic 1890s masterpiece, here with its main storyline updated to the 1950s-60s, with consequent changes to the storyline and characters’ situations, e.g. Tess’s estranged husband becomes a rock musician. This modern Tess is the grand-daughter of the original model, the actress Gertrude Bugler, who originally played Tess on stage, in whose mother the unhappily married Hardy took a personal interest.



The Mrs Bradley Mysteries:
Gladys Mitchell’s novels have remained mainly unread in the US, with only 16 of the 88 issued there. (Publishers there reportedly found them too odd.) However, in 1998-9, BBC America and PBS co-produced a short series (pilot plus 4 episodes) starring Diana Rigg as a more glamorous version of Gladys Mitchell’s sleuth, starting with the first novel, which bends genre conventions, Speedy Death. For production reasons, all 5 episodes are set in the late 1920s, when the first story was written. The series depicts her not at all as the “crone” the author originally described. (In fact, as the novels continued over five decades, 1929-83, the author had to play down the heroine’s original age.) Here, she is a wealthy and independent woman in her 50s, who divorced her husband as she was bored, who talks to the camera, and who arrives at each crime-scene-to-be in her chauffeur-driven Rolls, her chauffeur being her assistant. Unfortunately, we don’t see her home village of ‘Wandles Parva’ and the other locales are generic with no identifiable settings.

Real-Life 60s Crimes In The Headlines
A number of well-publicised 60s criminal cases had local links.
The decade’s most talked-about (and written-about) heist, the 1963 Great Train Robbery, had several local connections. Ronnie Biggs had lived in Swanage for 3 years and had been convicted at Dorchester of burglaries; after the robbery, 100 police searched Poole's Upton House manor on a tipoff he was hiding there. (He was actually then in Australia.) The first two arrests were made in Bournemouth by local CID DI Charles Case, after a local landlady, a police officer’s widow, got suspicious. There were rumours for years that much of the loot the pair had stashed here remained unfound, and in 1974 a house in Westbourne was nearly demolished following a tip-off. (Nothing was found.) Some of the robbers as well as the detectives in the case wrote memoirs on the case, including the Superintendent in charge, Malcolm Fewtrell, writing The Train Robbers (1964) and spending ten years on the national lecture circuit before retiring to Swanage. However there don’t appear to be any fictional treatments of the local-interest aspects.

The 1965 death of former world light heavyweight champion boxer Freddie Mills, who was born in Poole and grew up in Bournemouth, was a real-life crime mystery of the time. It was supposedly a suicide (he was shot in the head with a rifle found in his car) The theory put in a book by a friend of his, fellow boxer Peter McInnnes, is that the retired boxer turned London club owner was killed by protection racketeers who decided to make an example of him when he couldn’t pay up. There don’t seem to be any direct novels or dramas about the case (though Mills himself appeared in a few films), but seems to have inspired the character stereotype of the boxer who is being blackmailed or pressured by gangland types. Another theory was that he was the serial killer nicknamed Jack The Stripper, a case which has inspired various novels and films.

The 1970s

With the social upheavals and lifestyle experimentation of the late Sixties, 70s works tended to be more socially aware, often reflecting a darker view of human nature.
The 1970 class-war-meets-the-detective-mystery stage play Sleuth by former barrister Anthony Shaffer (1926-2001) is set in Wiltshire near Salisbury, entirely at ‘Cloak Manor.’ This is the stately home of well-off writer Andrew Wyke, creator of the "great detective, St-John Lord Meridew," both of whom are believers in the superiority of the fictional detective over the real-life ‘Inspector Plod’. The central character is said by T.J.Binyon’s genre study to be inspired by John Dickson Carr’s "Sir Henry Merivale" series of the "the puzzle school of detective fiction." Shaffer and his twin brother, the playwright Sir Peter Shaffer [Amadeus etc] had also co-written detective novels postwar, while they were still at Cambridge.
Here, Wyke has invited his ex-wife’s new man down for the weekend to plot a deadly stratagem which unfolds in twists and turns throughout, in a coup-de-theatre manner, as one kind of work turns into another. Its underlying themes of the English class system under pressure from the nouveau riche and the sexual revolution are the motivational framework for genre ‘rules’ being broken. (To say more would be criminal.) Shaffer, who also scripted The Wicker Man and Frenzy as well as adapting the Ustinov-as-Poirot big screen films, commented: "The Christie mysteries project an image of England that died 30 years ago, a heavily class structured society, one so snobbish the butler never did it. He wasn’t a gent. The murdered, murderee, and the detective were all gents – or ladies….. The mystery needed a new coat of paint. You can tell any story you want with a mystery device, even an idea that’s complicated and difficult.”
John Fowles’s 1974 short story collection The Ebony Tower contains “Poor Koko,” about a writer staying in a cottage in North Dorset, where he is confronted by a burglar from the younger generation, who turns literary critic in the worst way a writer can imagine.
A small seaside-resort town became a sinister setting in an adult novel about childhood and human nature, The Children Of Dynmouth, written in 1976 by Irish novelist and poet William Trevor (= William Trevor Cox, 1928-) after moving to Devon. Usually classed as a psychological novel, it is set in the fictional west Dorset seaside town of ‘Dynmouth’, where a neglected teenager spies on adults and blackmails them to get them to provide resources for a festival project of his, his accusations of (possibly imaginary) wrongdoings causing upsets throughout the town. It won the Whitbread Best Novel prize, was dramatised in 1987 for BBC-TV Screen Two telefeature series from a script by WT, and has been republished by Penguin Modern Classics.

More traditional works continued to appear.
Victor Canning's rather oddball 1972 tale of kidnap and a fake psychic after a family inheritance The Rainbird Pattern, regarded by some as his best work (it won the CWA Silver Dagger and was nominated for the ‘Edgars’), has a setting ranging from Chilbolton in Hants to Salisbury to north Somerset. It was filmed by Hitchcock in 1976 as Family Plot, with the setting relocated to California. His 1973 thriller The Finger Of Saturn is mainly set in north Dorset, where a wife who vanished returns to her husband’s estate with amnesia.
Set in the region are the 1977-93 ‘Dan Mallet’ mystery novel series by ‘Frank Parrish,’ one of various pen-names of the prolific and versatile Roger Erskine Longrigg (1929-2000). Formerly known as ‘Ivor Drummond,’ author of globe-trotting caper thrillers, FP in his youth attended Dorset’s Bryanston School near Blandford Forum. Featuring a “homespun” poacher-hero, the Dan Mallet novels turned inside out the stock genre view of Wessex country folk as comical or creepy yokels who speak a quaint Mummerset dialect. Here, it is the countryman using his country skills who outwits the big-time criminals who underestimate him. (He puts on his best country-yokel manner ”straight out of Thomas Hardy” for “the nobs.”)
The CFI lists as Dorset-set Sting Of The Honeybee (1978), Bait On The Hook (1983), and Caught In The Birdlime (1987). These are respectively numbers 2, 4 and 7 in the series, and the use of the same setting, the village of “Medwell Fratorum” near the town of ‘Milchester’, implies the 6 others in the series are also set in Dorset: Fire In The Barley 1977, Snare In The Dark 1982, Face At The Window (aka Death In The Rain) 1984, Fly In The Cobweb 1986, and Voices From The Dark 1993.
Another country type who uses his country knowledge to turn the tables is the hero of Running Scared (1978), a poacher framed for a gamekeeper’s murder, by ‘John Mathewson’ [= local writing tutor John Craggs, 19??-], in this man-on-the-run thriller set in the New Forest, now reissued as an e-book on Lulu.
A different type of hero is the academic who gets involved in solving crimes with obscure literary or historical clues. Grave Matters (1973) by 'Margaret Yorke' (=Margaret Nicholson, 1924-2012) is 1 of 5 novels featuring her sleuthing Oxford don Patrick Grant, which here has him visiting Salisbury and 'a quiet backwater village in Hampshire', investigating the suspicious deaths of an elderly headmistress and her friend. An ancient mystery is part of The Nine Spoked Wheel (1975) by J.R.L. Anderson (John Richard Lane Anderson, 1911-81), who wrote crime mysteries as well as books on history. One of these nonfiction works was on the ancient Ridgeway route that passes Avebury. His 1975 novel is part-set at Avebury, where a body is discovered under one of the megaliths being moved. (Such a discovery did happen in 1938, though foul play was not suspected.)

Sleuth (1972): Set in Wiltshire, entirely at ‘Cloak Manor,’ home of an old-fashioned detective novelist, the 1972 film starring Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine was filmed in Dorset, at Athelhampton House and Gardens. The maze seen was added for the film, as were the gargoyle-gnomes along the driveway in the opening shot.


'Lady Killer', the 1973 pilot episode for the ATV series Thriller written by Brian Clemens, about a possible 'bluebeard' husband played by Robert Powell, was exterior-shot and set in the Purbecks. The screenshot shows Pulpit Rock by St Alban's Head.


The 1980s

Mysteries and thrillers continued to flourish through the 1980s, with two strands developing around the middle-of-the-road approach. The first was a continuation of the traditional cosy detective story, which had become more self-consciously playful, almost a self-parody as a means of sustaining its now long-familiar tropes, to compensate for its lack of realism, made increasingly obvious by the new grittier, more realistic strand with its forensic detail. The second, newer strand often reflected current socio-political anxieties about the secret state, nuclear politics and the environment, etc. Wessex as an ancient ‘unspoilt’ landscape under threat from nuclear power, pollution etc made a suitable setting for the new subgenre of the eco-thriller.
The final stage in any genre’s lifespan is for it to survive as a parody of itself, and the detective novel certainly lends itself to this. One such spoof series which has some local interest is the 'Simon Bognor, Board Of Trade special investigator' series by travel writer and biographer Tim Heald (1944-2016). The author (an ex-chair of the Crime Writer's Association) was born in Dorchester, educated at Sherborne, and now lives in South Somerset. The series [10 titles to date, filmed by ITV in 21 parts 1981-2] belongs to this more modern self-conscious 'literary jape' school of detective fiction, with facetious place and character names, cf Red Herrings (1985) is set at 'Herring St George' near 'Whelk', and so on. The first, Unbecoming Habits (1973), had been inspired by some research he did for a scholarship at Sherborne. The next, Blue Blood Will Out (1974), was inspired by an early freelance editorial job helping Lord Montagu of Beaulieu write his autobiographical The Gilt And The Gingerbread, on 'how to make money out of living in an ancestral pile,' (in this case, turning his stately pile into the Beaulieu Motor Museum in the New Forest). This overlapped with his "Doctor Tudor Cornwall" series, such as Death And The D'urbervilles (2005). Cf, "As head of the Criminal Studies department at the University of Wessex, Doctor Tudor Cornwall has murder on his mind. One violent death that has always bothered him is that of Thomas Hardy's Alec D'Urberville, so he decides to rewrite it in the style of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle." [Alec was killed by Tess in 'Sandbourne', Hardy's name for Bournemouth.]
And for sporting enthusiasts, Dead Ball (1988) by Barry Cork (19??-), the first in his 1988-92 series of 5 detective stories (all with a golfing theme, set in different counties) featuring golfing ace ‘Inspector Angus Straun’ concerns a terrorist threat to a tournament run by the ‘Royal West Wessex Golf Club,’ wherever that may be. (An article on Wessex-set crime novels by Amy De Gruchy in Dorset The County Magazine #79 noted how the Dorset setting was then still mostly a disguised one in mystery novels.)
Victor Canning's 1982 Vanishing Point is part-set on the estate of the protagonist’s long-lost parents, at “Avoncourt, Wiltshire”.
Also set in Dorset is Anne Morice's Death In The Round [1980], #14 in her 'Tessa Crichton' series [1970-82], about an actress, wife of a Scotland Yard detective, who is an amateur sleuth, here investigating the suspicious death of the owner of a bankrupt acting troupe.
On the side of the straight-faced traditional approach was the work of Baroness PD James (1920-2014). She was the one author preserving the 'country house weekend murders' detective-story setup through this period, with two detective series, each of which uses a local setting. The author was not local but would often visit her daughter-in-law and her editor who live in the Purbecks. She says all her novels begin with the setting, i.e. where the first body can be found.
The Skull Beneath The Skin (1982), in her short-lived Cordelia Gray series, is [despite the author’s token disclaimer] obviously based on Brownsea Island, being set on a Dorset islet which is the home of a repertory theatre company and has a 'Castle' style stately home. Here, novitiate private investigator Cordelia gets out of her depth as a bodyguard to an actress on “blood-stained” ‘Courcy Island’, an offshore isle near ‘Speymouth’ [=Swanage + Weymouth?], with its own Brownsea-style Victorian-makeover Tudor castle, bird sanctuary and open-air theatre.
In her more enduring Adam Dalgleish series, the poetry-writing Scotland Yard Commander visited Dorset in The Black Tower (1975). This is set at a stately home near Wareham, in use as a monastic convalescent home near a clifftop folly-tower, where Dalgleish is convalescing. (He is the son of a clergyman.) The 1987 ITV version used the real Clavel Tower [painted black for filming] overlooking Kimmeridge Bay, and as the main setting of ‘Toynton Grange’ (“an enclosed world seething with malice”), nearby Encombe House. The author later became patron of a trust that helped save the Purbeck clifftop folly tower from erosion.
The PD James stories are examples of the type of mystery where many of the scenes are cryptic red herring scenes featuring the supporting cast (all suspects at this stage) – in the tv adaptations Dalgleish is off-stage for much of the running time.
Prolific crime novelist Eileen Dewhurst (1929-) set several novels in the region. Her Bournemouth-set 1982 Whoever I Am is a whodunit set at a clifftop nursing home, where her sometime-actress heroine is asked by the Secret Service to impersonate a resident at the deadly Eastcliff rest home. Her 1984 There Was A Little Girl, in her DI Neil Carter series, is set in the New Forest following the murder of a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl who had been living a double life in London after having been sexually abused as a child. DI Neil Carter spends his honeymoon in the New Forest undercover to get at the truth. Her 1986 A Private Prosecution, considered by some her best, concerns a mutilating serial killer known as “the Monster” loose in a south coast seaside town. Here, the place names are firmly generic: the seaside town is ‘Seaminster,’ which also has an East Cliff and a West Cliff, while nearby is ‘Midchester’. Her later 'Phyllida Moon' series, about an 'actress and private eye', included Roundabout and Double Act, both set in the small coastal town of Seaminster.
One of the Professor Gideon Oliver series by American mystery writer Aaron Elkins (1935-), Murder In The Queen's Armes (1985) has the hero, a globe-trotting pre-CSI ‘forensic anthropologist’, visiting the Charmouth hotel in West Dorset which was part of the future Charles II’s 1651 escape route and encountering a mystery suiting the American professor’s talents as a 'skeleton detective' consultant to US police forces. Here, he is on his honeymoon when an archaeological mystery concerning a skull fragment presents itself.
The 1986-92 ‘Peter Marklin’ series by former London ad-agency TV-director Norman Sharam (1932-), who after relocating to Devon, wrote a series of 7 mystery novels under the pen name ‘Neville Steed.’ These feature a Studland-area antique-toy shop-owner who gets involved in crime mysteries. (A real-life vintage-toys museum nearby at Arne may have given the author the idea of having the hero own the fictional ‘Antique Toy Emporium’.) In the first novel (John Creasey Award winner 1986), Tinplate, the hero is forced into DIY sleuthing to avoid ruin after a £22K consignment of toys is stolen, leading him to investigate a Lulworth landowner with the help of the man’s former girlfriend. The series, narrated in first-person and using larky Cluedo-style character names but real place-names, continued with Die-Cast (1987), Chipped (1988), Clockwork (1989), Wind Up (1990), Boxed In (1991), Dead Cold (1992). (The last title refers to a record-cold Dorset winter, the author evidently having run out of toy metaphors.)
Two of the 1969-87 Inspector/ Supt Masters & Sgt/Insp Green series of 28 novels by Douglas Clark (1919-93) are set locally. Masters is a toxicology expert, reflecting the author’s own background with a pharma company, but the types of crime go beyond poisons. In Poacher’s Bag (1980), Masters and Green visit Wiltshire undercover to investigate the death of his mother-in-law’s fiancé. In Dead Letter (1984), they are on the the trail of a corrupt high-ranking local policeman involved in a drug-smuggling ring and a murder. Masters and Green set out with 2 undercover policewomen for the large seaside conurbation of the transparently named adjoining resorts of ‘Chinemouth’ and ‘Ponde’ (read Bournemouth and Poole), posing as a holiday foursome (though the local CID are soon following them) for an undercover investigation into a drugs-related murder involving local police collusion. They discover the innocent resort façade is being used as cover to shield a large drug operation. Crossing a chain-link ferry (as at Studland) the trail leads through marram-grass dunes to the spot where the body is buried, and all ends without any melodrama – this being an English police procedural.
In contemporary literature, a favourite English literary theme bridging horror, science fiction and the mystery genres has been the atavistic return to ancient barbarian’ practises as civilisation breaks down. The 1982 novella Queen Of Stones by Emma Tennant (1937-2017) claims to dramatise an actual fatal disappearance during a schoolgirl outing in Purbeck in 1981, speculating a dark secret: “imagine that Virginia Woolf has rewritten Lord Of The Flies” (London Review Of Books). The story setup is reminiscent of Picnic At Hanging Rock, complete with implication it is a true story. A party of schoolgirls on a sponsored walk from Beaminster are lost in a sea fog for a time and on their return are unable to explain what occurred during the missing time. In this instance, the explanation is not to be found in the power of aboriginal nature so much as in an atavistic collective reaction to a terrible crime. It’s actually said to be inspired by a strange rumour that after the 1929 fire that gutted Lulworth Castle all the maidservants drowned themselves in the sea by climbing up on Durdle Door rock-arch and falling into the sea.
Antiquarian bookseller Roy H Lewis’s (1913-96) ‘Matthew Coll’ series has a hero who is ‘an antiquarian bookseller and former British military intelligence agent, in Dorset’. The 5 novels are A Cracking Of Spines 1980; The Manuscript Murders 1981; A Pension For Death 1983; Miracles Take A Little Longer 1986; Death In Verona [not set locally] 1989 - all seem to be all out of print.
Smuggling had been a major part of local crime for several centuries, and had reappeared as a romantic or underdog crime during the postwar rationing era. But the 1985 10-part BBC drama serial The Collectors, novelised by Evan Christie, dealt with modern-day smuggling, against a social background of Thatcherite economic opportunism. (Everyone here is well-heeled in smart leisure or business outfits.) Set at the major cross-Channel port of ‘Wrelling’ in Dorset, it used Poole Customs HQ on the Quay, and many other local sites in this drama about a Customs & Excise team led by new boss Peter McEnery. He finds himself seduced by a beautiful decoy acting for a cannabis smuggling racket.
In the short-lived police serial Rockliffe's Folly (BBC 1988), a spinoff from the popular London-based series Rockliffe's Babies, the fed-up Scotland Yard detective played by Ian Hogg moves to the provinces for a change of pace, transferring to the Wessex Police Force, and finding the country has plenty of crime problems of its own. Weymouth portrays the central setting of "Maidenport," the police station seen was Dorchester's, and Bridport was also used for town scenes, along with the surrounding countryside of SW Dorset.

Right - Cover of the novelisation of BBC serial The Collectors, showing Peter McEnery as the Customs boss. The 1985 drama serial was shot in Poole, using the Customs HQ on the Quay, Upton House as a casino; the Mansion House (restaurant); the 16th-C. King Charles Inn; a Lilliput church hall; Poole yacht club [doubling as a yacht club in Cherbourg]; Lake Pier in Hamworthy and Sandbanks esplanade. In the surrounding area, Hurn Airport appeared, as did Studland Beach, Creech Grange in the Purbecks [as a French chateau], Sturminster Marshall’s livestock market, and Weymouth.




The 1980s-90s

This period also saw the start of several local-interest detective-procedural series which began in the late 80s and continued into the 90s.
Curse The Darkness [1991] by Lesley Grant-Adamson [1942-], #5 in her 'Rain Morgan' series about a gossip-columnist amateur-sleuth, is part-set in Dorset.
The ‘Detective Chief Inspector David Webb’ series by Anthea Fraser (1930-), secretary of the Crime Writers' Association 1986-96, began in 1984 and would eventually run to 16 novels by 1999. These are set in Wiltshire, where DCI "Spider" Webb is based at the town of ‘Shillingham’ police, near the villages of ‘Westridge,’ ‘Broadminster,’ ‘Erlesborough,’ ‘Honeyford’ etc. Reviews indicate portraits of these communities are central to the novels. (Publishers Weekly: 'Fraser's rendering of an English community is again impeccable.’; Kirkus: ‘competent, civilized police procedural, enhanced by sensitive probing of snarled relationships and a nicely drawn small-town ambiance.’)

The series began with A Shroud For Delilah (1984), A Necessary End (1985), Pretty Maids All In A Row (1986), Death Speaks Softly (1987), The Nine Bright Shiners (1987), Six Proud Walkers (1988), and The April Rainers (1989), continuing through the 1990s with Symbols At Your Door (1990), I’ll Sing You Two-O (aka The Lily-White Boys) (1991), Three, Three The Rivals (1992), The Gospel Makers (1994), The Seven Stars (1995), One Is One And All Alone (1996), The Ten Commandments (1997), Eleven That Went To Heaven (1999), The Twelve Apostles (1999). The somewhat literary-sounding titles are because most of them are from the lyrics to the folk song ‘Green Grow the Rushes-O.’

The 1987-93 ‘Detective Superintendent Douglas Roper’ of the Dorset Police police-procedural series by Essex-born author Roy Hart (1930-) began with Seascape With Dead Figures (1987), set in a fictitious seaside town, ‘Redbury’, with Roper called in to investigate a suspicious cliff-fall ‘suicide’. A Pretty Place For A Murder (1987) is set inland in the village of ‘Cort Abbas’, A Fox In The Night (1988) deals with a suspicious death in a local river, and the village of ‘Newby Magna’ is the setting in Remains To Be Seen (1989). The setup is that the local villages only have a constable or two, and to investigate suspicious deaths Roper has to be brought in as CID – what the Americans would call a homicide detective. While the village names are fictional, Roper himself seems based in Bournemouth, and a blurb for a later novel refers to him as ‘Bournemouth's head copper’. The Superintendent Douglas Roper & Inspector David Price series would ultimately run to 9 novels, with 5 more in the 1990s: Robbed Blind (1990), Breach Of Promise (1991), Blood Kin (1992), Final Appointment (1993), and A Deadly Schedule (1994).

The longest-running local interest crime drama series was ITV’s Inspector Wexford, which more than spanned the 1990s by several years on each side. After a slightly shaky start, Inspector Wexford (properly, The Ruth Rendell Mysteries with Inspector Wexford) became a regular Sunday-evening drama series with 55 episodes 1987-2000. The stories (23 novels plus short stories, 1964-2011) by Ruth Rendell (1930-2015) had a setting that had originally been farther east, in Sussex, but with the town of ‘Kingsmarkham’ being portrayed on-screen by the Hampshire market town of Romsey and star George Baker playing the protagonist with a distinctive ‘Wessex’ country accent, the setting in effect migrated westward after 1987 to tie the novels more in with the popular tv versions. Rendell has said Baker was so right for the part she couldn't get him out of her head when writing the later novels. The tv series itself refers to Wexford being in 'the Hampshire Constabulary.'
The production also often used other sites in the area: Bournemouth for its variety of architecture, Southampton for larger-scale urban scenes, Highcliffe Castle (then still dilapidated), Burley in the New Forest, the Dorset Coast Path etc. One of the episodes set in the New Forest seems to have been inspired by a real-life 1986 crime reminiscent of the ‘In Cold Blood’ case in America, where robbery quickly turned into murder. At Burgate House near Fordingbridge, 5 members of a New Forest family were surprised at the dinner table by 3 masked robbers (caught after a nationwide manhunt), with the wife raped and strangled and the others bound and burnt alive with petrol.

Wexford Christopher Ravenscroft as DI Mike Burden and George Baker as Chief Inspector Wexford outside Romsey Abbey.


Seascape With Dead Figures: This police-procedural was the first of Roy Hart's 1987-93 ‘Detective Superintendent Douglas Roper’ of the Dorset Police series, continued in 8 other novels.


The 1990s
More series with women protagonists began to appear. Don’t Leave Me This Way (1990) by Joan Smith (1953-), the 3rd in a series featuring lecturer sleuth Loretta Lawson, is part set in and around Lymington and the New Forest, as she searches for a missing member of her disbanded women's group whom she had let sleep on her couch. You Belong To Me (1994) by Dorset-resident author ‘Elizabeth McGregor’ (= Mrs Elizabeth Cooke 19??-), a psychological thriller set on an island off Dorset, in which ‘One woman takes over the identity of another with deadly consequences.’ American writer Teri Holbrook’s debut novel, A Far And Deadly Cry (1995), is set in ‘Fetherbridge’, a ‘remote Hampshire village’... ‘a village that is not quite as sleepy as it seems,’ where an expatriate American historian is living, despite the locals blaming her for a previous killing.
The 1996 black-comedy film Intimate Relations, starring Julie Walters and Rupert Graves, plus Bournemouth actress Amanda Holden and her husband comedian Les Dennis, was promoted as ‘a true story … of obsession, sexual abuse and murder’ based on a real-life double murder that happened near Minstead in the New Forest in 1956, when a Poole landlady and her daughter were murdered by their lodger with a commando knife after he raped the underage daughter during a picnic outing. The names were changed and the setting was relocated, presumably as the story claimed the murderer was having affairs with both mother and underage daughter. The victims’ surviving relative objected to this and the murders being turned into a comedy, especially as the killer was later repeatedly allowed out to assault others, and an Echo editorial at the time suggested a box-office boycott.
The 1997 BBC 2-part adaptation of the 1996 novel The Beggar Bride, by Devon-based journalist turned author Gillian White (1945-), about a woman who becomes a bigamist to help pay for child care, was partly filmed at Somerley House near Ringwood, with a finale shot on the Dorset coast.
The 1990s also saw the genre’s perennial taste for extravagant plots full of twists and turns continuing.
Into The Blue (1990), by Hampshire-born Cornwall-resident author Robert Goddard (1954-), the first of several mystery novels featuring grumpy expat Harry Barnett, is part-set in the Weymouth-Portland-Chesil area. In order to return some personal effects to the family of a young woman acquaintance who mysteriously vanished on Rhodes, Harry [played in the 1997 tv version by John Thaw] comes back home and must get past initial culture shock at a somewhat changed England to follow up the mystery, as he himself is a suspect in the disappearance. Goddard would set a later novel locally, at Avebury, his 2005 child-abduction mystery Sight Unseen.
The Inspector Morse series by Colin Dexter (1930-2017) included one part-set locally: Morse gets onto his latest case while on holiday in Dorset in The Way Through The Woods (1992). He has gone there due to the area’s literary associations and visits Dorchester’s Kings Arms Hotel (a Hardy site), Moreton Cemetery (grave of TE Lawrence) and stays at Lyme Regis, in the seafront Bay Hotel. While on his own in Lyme, Morse meets (over his morning Times) a provocative woman who calls herself Louisa Hardinge after Hardy’s own lost love. However like Hardy, he fails to follow up his interest, only to have the matter return to haunt him after his return home to Oxford. The novel was considered so well-written it led to a reviving of Morse tv adaptations with this single drama. Ironically, the entire Dorset sequence was dropped from the tv adaptation, but it covers most of the first 60pp of the novel. (Dorset Magazine's Jan 2013 issue had a feature on 'Morse's Vacation In Lyme Regis'.)
The Touch Of Innocents (1993) by Michael Dobbs (1948-) has some key early scenes set in Dorset, in ‘Westchester’ and ‘Bowminster’, the local newspaper being the Wessex Chronicle. The plot has an American tv reporter crashing her car in Dorset and coming out of a coma in Bournemouth hospital to be told her baby died. This being a thriller (aimed firmly at the US market, said Private Eye), it has of course been snatched - by the daughter of the Defence Secretary to sell it overseas (to a US politician?), with the heroine being threatened by officialdom (including local CID) when she tries to get her child back, part of a vast cover-up stretching all the way to the Cabinet. The heroine has thus to battle endlessly against heroin addicts, rich Arabs, bent doctors, corrupt editors, nobbled Whitehall officials, etc etc. (The author claimed his book documented the plight of working mothers.) Dobbs was a West Dorset MP turned political novelist (of House Of Cards fame), now relocated from his farmhouse near Bridport to Wiltshire, he is now Baron Dobbs of Wylye [SE Wilts].
Called To Account (1994) by John Harman (19??-) is a thriller-cum-romance set in Poole and the surrounding area, with a female accountant getting involved with a drug-squad officer in Bournemouth investigating drugs being smuggled in via Poole Harbour and upriver to Wareham. It ends with a hostage-taking on Wareham Quay and a shootout in Wareham Channel marshes. Wimborne also features, as ‘Winbourne’ [the old spelling].
Stiff Competition (1998), the debut novel of Bournemouth-resident car collector Michael Shenton (19??-) is a satiric novel about 'comping' (competitions to win prize cars, a long-time interest of his). In this case, rivalry between car-competition entrants leads to murder, in a comic novel 'set in Southampton and the New Forest', where the hero meets a 'coven of comping witches'.



The 1990s - The 2000s
The most prolific local crime writer of the 1990s and 2000s (also ‘England's bestselling female crime writer’), Minette Walters (1949-), attended Godolphin School in Salisbury, was a prison visitor for 12 years at Winchester Gaol, and later bought a house in Romsey and then a manor house outside Dorchester, and often uses the surrounding area in the crime novels as a setting or part-setting. The author says she loves ‘writing the nasty bits’, calling these books her ‘dark fantasies’ (Radio Times used the phrase ‘morbid fantasy’) and they do seem to be the darkest of all depictions of the area, with a variety of gruesome brutalizations of women a central feature.
Her first crime novel, The Ice House (1992), is set largely at ‘Streetch Grange’, a thinly disguised Creech Grange – the Purbeck stately home. Other local settings include Salisbury in The Dark Room (1995); coastal Purbeck in The Breaker (1998) – with a front-map of Hounstout and Chapman’s Pool bay, where the naked body of a pregnant woman is washed up, while her toddler is found wandering in Lilliput in Poole; Weymouth and Portland are used for parts of her miscarriage-of-justice tale The Shape Of Snakes (2000), set in 1978-9; an ‘isolated’ fictitious Dorset village near Durdle Door beset by New Age caravanners in Fox Evil (2002); a large part of Disordered Minds (2003) is set in Bournemouth, in the suburb of ‘Highdown’ on the Poole boundary; The Devil’s Feather (2005) is part-set at a country house outside Dorchester. The Scold's Bridle (1994) was also set in Dorset, using fictional place names (‘Learmouth’, Fontwell’, Long Upton’) mixed with real ones like Southbourne and Hengistbury; the 1998 BBC TV adaptation was shot largely in and around Poole, using the Civic Centre, Quay etc..
The ‘DI Nick Holroyd’ series by former librarian Ann Quinton (19??-) is set in Dorset. In the pilot for the series, This Mortal Coil (1998), “In an English city, a contract killer leaves a business card from the "Coil Shuffler" on his victims…. Rachel Morland, a physiotherapist and vicar in training, brings detectives Michael Croft and Nick Holroyd a clue … and becomes a target herself…. a fiendishly tough mystery, vivid characters, and evocative English atmosphere…. medieval architecture, euthanasia, modern religion, and the importance of reputation to both good guys and bad.” In Put Out The Light (2001), “Trouble is afoot in Dorset, and Detective Inspector Nick Holroyd is right in the middle of it… the women of the area are being terrorized by the Wessex rapist. .. his stepsister has joined a nearby commune…. Meanwhile, Nick faces a personal problem on the romance front….” . In Bought With Blood (2002), “A paedophile is on the loose in Casterford and a group of vigilantes is on the rampage causing trouble for DI Nick Holroyd and his team… Meanwhile, some letters by Thomas Hardy are discovered, which refer to an unknown novel by him... the events may all be connected." [synopses from Booklist]. There may be others in the series, but the author writes an overlapping series set in her home country of Suffolk, making it difficult to tell.
The Missing Postman, filmed by BBC Scotland in 1996 from a Mark Wallington novel, could be classed as a human-interest crime story. The novel is initially set in this area, though in a fictional town, 'Holmouth.' A postman forced into early retirement as he doesn't drive decides to deliver his final postbag full of letters himself on his bike and becomes a wanted fugitive for theft from the Royal Mail. Author/scriptwriter Mark Wallington (of 500 Mile Walkies fame) grew up in the area, and Poole and the nearby parts of Dorset doubled for other locales during the postie's epic cycle ride north, a silent protest against automation which makes him a national hero, causing the government not to press charges in the end.



Above - The Scold's Bridle (1998 BBC), largely shot in the Poole area.



Above and below - The Missing Postman (1996 BBC), largely shot in Poole and the Purbecks.


The 2000s

Local police got their own major CSI/manhunt case in 2000-1 with the Bournemouth bomber/blackmailer case, the subject of a 2009 hour-long documentary-drama reenactment made, with official police cooperation, by Tern TV as part of their Real Crime series, as The Tesco Bomber. We have a separate page on this, put together when the idea of a 'CSI Bournemouth' was mooted by one of the US franchise's producers, here.
Booker Prize nominated writer Julian Rathbone (1935-2008) attended a public school in Dorset, returning to the area after living for years in Europe, when he moved c1980 to Thorney Hill in the New Forest. There he began a series of thrillers starring Chris Shovelin, Bournemouth-based private eye [set mainly abroad]: Homage (2001) and As Bad As It Gets (2003). His final illness prevented his continuing the series.
Tim Heald’s more recent series [see 1970s section], featuring 'Dr Tudor Cornwall, Reader in Criminal Studies at the University of Wessex', includes the local-interest title Death And The D'Urbervilles (2005). (“As head of the Criminal Studies department at the University of Wessex, Doctor Tudor Cornwall has murder on his mind. One violent death that has always bothered him is that of Thomas Hardy's Alec D'Urberville, so he decides to rewrite it in the style of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This task is complicated by a real-life contemporary murder that bears some uncanny resemblances to the nineteenth century fiction.”)
The thriller Bourne Evil (2005) and its sequel Bourne In The Shadows by Christchurch writer Sally Ash (1965-) are both set in Bournemouth, ‘in the world of antique shops around Pokesdown.
The ‘Adam Dalgleish’ series [see 1970s above] of Baroness PD James continued unchanged, the author still using her visits to Dorset to set the scene here. For his final (?) case, Dalgleish returns to Dorset. The setup in these late stories is not the traditional one that the detective just happens to be staying in the country area where the murders occur. Instead he is the head of a Sensitive Crimes squad sent out by ‘the Yard’ to handle VIP murders, justifying why a man of his exalted rank is chasing rural murderers. The Private Patient (2008) is set at ‘Cheverell Manor,’ a stately home which has become a cosmetic surgery clinic, with other scenes set at an adjacent stone circle where a witch was burned, and ‘Huntingdon Lodge,’ a house on the Purbeck clifftop. As always, one carefully contrived murder is followed by another before the case is solved by discovery of a motive reaching back decades. The only story aspect indicating this is 2008 and not still the 1970s (or indeed, the genre’s 1930s heyday) is the use of email.
Despite the tv series ending in 2000 due to George Baker's age, the 'Inspector Wexford' series by Ruth Rendell continued to appear right through the 2000s, with The Babes In The Wood (2002), End In Tears (2005), Not In The Flesh, The Monster In The Box (2009), and into the next decade [see below].
Sallyann Sheridan’s first novel, If Wishes Were Horses (2009) is a murder mystery largely ‘set in and around Lyme Regis, Beer and Honiton,’ about an 80-year old ‘who decides to embark a new career as a murderer’.

The 2010s
The Stonehenge Legacy (2011) by Sam Christer, a thriller about a Druidic cult plotting a celebrity human sacrifice in a huge ancient labyrinth under Salisbury Plain, is set in Wiltshire (Stonehenge as well as police HQ at Devizes) and northeast Dorset (manor house at Tollard Royal).
The blurb for Un-natural Selection (2011; 2014) by James Donnelly (1957-) notes "Set in Dorset, the towns and places mentioned in the book are real." Set around Poor Common on the outskirts of Parley just outside Bournemouth, this work of 'modern speculative fiction' revolves around an ABC [Alien Big Cat] scare, where human agency may be involved. A CID man and a Forest [sic] Ranger investigate, separately then together, a series of attacks [opening chapter downloadable here].
Despite his age, ex Inspector Wexford seems not to have completely given up detective work after all, coming out of retirement in his 80s. The 24th and last novel, No Man's Nightingale (2014), has Wexford called out of retirement by his old colleague Mike Burden when there is that classic genre setup, murder at the local vicarage, in this case of Kingsmarkham's new female vicar.
ITV's hit drama serial Broadchurch [2013-17] scripted and co-produced by tv writer Chris Chibnall (1970-) (who has lived in the area for over ten years), about the hunt for the murderer of a local child, was filmed partly at West Bay and neighbouring Bridport, portraying the seafront portion of the fictional Dorset resort of Broadchurch. (It is mentioned as being near "Lyme", so the setting is close to the filming location; the police here are the fictional "Wessex Police.") The drama is an English counterpart to the cyle of Scandi-noir tv dramas that began with the Danish hit The Killing, which broke with tv convention by limiting itself to a single murder. (We have a blog post with more detail on this aspect: see "ITV Makes A Killing In Dorset".)
The 2013 8-wk x 1 hr drama serial was meant as a one-off, ending with both lead characters at odds with themselves, each other and their future employment in the police looking unlikely. But it proved so popular (final audience of over 9 million) that the final end credits announced 'Broadchurch will return'.
After winning various awards, the 2nd series, again part-shot in Dorset [June 2014], reunited the major characters, with the plot setup kept secret, and in the meantime a novelisation, co-authored by Chibnall and London thriller writer Erin Kelly, was published in 2014. Series two was accompanied by a series of Kindle e-book "singles," with readers reportedly searching the print versions for clues as to how the series would continue. Series two had a mixed reaction (with the courtroom scenes particularly criticised as unrealistic), Series three, set three years later, concluded the trilogy in 2017.

ITV's Broadchurch starring David Tennant and Olivia Coleman: the beach where the body is found became a tourist attraction.

Broadchurch: The community establish a shrine on the beach. Much of the drama's focus was on the impact of the killing on the local community.

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