Monday, 31 March 2008

The Hartlepool Detectives

After a damp day spent wandering round Durham (including its stunning cathedral, which I’d never visited before) last Friday, it was off to Hartlepool for the third Victorian mystery event. I’d never been to the town and I’ve long associated it with a not very glamorous football club, Hartlepool United. (Useless bit of trivia – Reginald Hill’s father used to play for them, but when Reg published his first Dalziel and Pascoe novel, it was set in the world of rugby, not soccer.)

In recent years, Hartlepool has undergone a makeover, with a lot of money spent on regeneration. Denise Sparrowhawk, who was in charge of the event, told me that the new(ish) library was a massive improvement on its predecessor, which occupied a traffic island and was therefore not especially well visited. The move to an airy and convenient building prompted a big upsurge in customers – proof, surely, that there is a real demand for good libraries, even in the age of cheap book-buying. It’s simply a matter of providing an attractive venue, with an enthusiastic staff and a really extensive stock of books, as well as other things such as computers (the latter are important these days, but books are the key element!) Well, perhaps it isn’t entirely simple. But it’s something worthwhile to aim for, and the dividends from proper investment can be enormous.

I was startled to learn that two members of the cast for the mystery event had not met the other two members before that very evening. One couple were students at the local sixth form college, who had become interested in murder mysteries after attending a previous mystery event at the library. As it turned out, young Adam and Rachel were terrific actors and I’m sure that their parents, who were in the audience, were very proud of their performances.

One other thing about Hartlepool. The audience did very well with their solutions to the mystery. It’s obviously a great place for detectives. Yet has a crime novel ever been set there? If so, I’ve never come across it.

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