Forget Nordic and Tartan Noir. From drug dealers in Cardiff to PIs in Aberystwyth, Crime Cymraeg is a broad church with something for everyone.
Wales is curious mix of busy port cities, kooky university towns, coastal tourist traps and rural isolation. It has a thriving capital city next to some of the most deprived areas in the UK, the post-mining legacy of the Valleys. It has a glorious national park, with mountains and lakes, award-winning beaches, and a heavy reliance on state jobs, manual labour and hill farming. It has a rich cultural history, from bardic poetry to male voice choirs to the Welsh language revival during the latter half of the twentieth century. It is the birthplace of Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey and the peerless Aneurin Bevan, founder of the National Health Service.
No wonder this varied nation has produced such a diverse range of crime fiction. I’ve been reading a lot of Welsh crime fiction while researching The Amy Lane Mysteries – here are some of the highlights of the genre.
Good People by Ewart Hutton features Detective Sergeant Glyn Capaldi, exiled from Cardiff to the Middle of Nowhere, West Wales. Told in the first person, Glyn navigates small town life and the incestuous, self-protecting community while first trying to establish if a crime has even been committed, and then fighting to uncover the truth. Uncomfortable at times, this book makes you suffer alongside Glyn and agonise with him over his decisions.
For lovers of rural policing, ambiguous moral choices and towns full of liars.
Barry Island Murders by Andrew Peters comprises a series of short stories recounted by retired Chief Superintendent Williams of his early days policing Barry Island – a seaside resort near Cardiff, home of British sitcom Gavin and Stacey. An old school copper in a small town where everyone knows everyone, this is a highly-amusing foray into 1960s Barry life.
For lovers of alcohol-soaked retired detectives, nostalgia hunters and the truths of a seaside town.
Five Pubs, Two Bars and a Nightclub by John Williams is a collection of interweaving tales about low-level gangsters operating in Cardiff. From the nightclub owner who wants to open a mosque to wannabe terrorists planting a bomb during a funeral procession, these are truly crime stories rather than mysteries or whodunnits. Featuring ordinary people eking out a living in a less than legal fashion, Cardiff’s underworld is a community where everyone’s somehow connected.
For lovers of broken-hearted gang runners, disillusioned activists and conniving journalists taking a walk on the wild side
Aberystwyth Mon Amour by Malcolm Pryce is the first in a noir series set in an alternate Wales, where the Druids run the mobs and no one ever got over the war in Patagonia. This black comedy has a quirky tone reminiscent of Jasper Fforde (who recommended this book to me) and pokes fun at Welsh life with an affectionate pat on the head. Once you’re immersed in the strange reality, the world comes together to shed light on contemporary Wales through a humorous eye.
For lovers of down-on-their-luck private investigators, Druidic conspiracies and precocious teens with a plan.
You can find more Welsh crime fiction on my Goodreads list – please add and vote for your favourites, or share in the comments.