Yesterday evening we went on a canal cruise that involved a very good dinner, consumed in excellent company that included crime writer Kate Ellis and her husband Roger (picture getting on to the narrow boat). The round trip along the Macclesfield Canal began and ended at Bollington, on the Cheshire side of the border with Derbyshire. There can be few more restful or enjoyable ways to travel.
And yet. Canals have been a scene of fictional crime more often than you might guess. I’ve even been responsible for one short story myself, ‘To Encourage the Others’, which included a canal-side murder.
Philip Scowcroft, an indefatigable researcher and expert on the genre, recently sent me a copy of an article he wrote some years back on the subject of ‘Canals and Waterways in British Crime Fiction’. Classic titles cited include The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers, the first great spy story of the last century, and The Pit-Prop Syndicate by the alibi king, Freeman Wills Crofts.
Among the many other titles Philip mentions are Death in Little Venice (2001) by Leo McNair, and Joan Lock’s historical mystery Dead Image, as well as a book I have read, Night’s Black Agents, by the under-rated David Armstrong. The Llangollen Canal features in Andrew Garve’s The Narrow Search, and a fictionalised Stourbridge Navigation in Marjorie Eccles’ Requiem for a Dove. The most famous book in this sub-genre is, though, surely Colin Dexter’s acclaimed The Wench is Dead, which is distantly based on a real-life case.