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Why I set DEATH IN THE COVE on the Isle of Portland, Dorset

Death in the Cove by Pauline RowsonDEATH IN THE COVE is my twentieth crime novel and the first historical mystery I have written, my other nineteen crime novels are all contemporary with fourteen featuring my rugged and flawed detective, DI Andy Horton; three starring former Royal Marine Commando but damaged Art Marvik, an undercover investigator for the UK’s National Intelligence Marine Squad, and two standalone thrillers.

DEATH IN THE COVE is set in 1950 England, a country still reeling from the aftermath of war with austerity and rationing biting hard. Newly promoted to detective inspector, Ryga from Scotland Yard, is on his first solo investigation outside of London, to solve the mystery of why a man in a pin-striped suit is found murdered in an isolated cove on the Island of Portland in Dorset.


So why the Island of Portland?


Island of Portland, DorsetI first visited the Island of Portland in Dorset (4 miles long by 1.7 miles wide, jutting out into the English Channel on the South Coast of England) while researching for one of my Art Marvik, mystery thrillers and fell in love with it. It’s stunning and rugged coastal path, its quarry scarred landscape and hidden coves both inspired and captivated me.

I also have a bit of a thing about islands, after all I live on one (Hayling Island) and was born on one (Portsmouth) albeit both with land access. But then Portland connects with the mainland of Weymouth by road and in 1950 also by rail and ferry. The other island I visit regularly, and which is featured in my crime novels, is the Isle of Wight with no road access (or fixed link) as islanders call it. Therefore a ‘real’ island. But to return to Portland.

Portland Island Quarry landscapeI thought Portland a good setting for my first 1950 set novel because in the 1950s the famous stone quarries were still operating. The white Portland stone had been used on the construction of many renowned buildings, St Paul’s Cathedral and Buckingham Palace among them, as well as in the building of the large breakwaters arching into the sea protecting Portland Harbour and the naval dockyard, the latter also still in operation in 1950.

There was also a railway line in 1950 on to the island. The station closed to passengers in 1952, although regular freight kept the line in use until 1965. The platforms and canopies survived until the mid-1970s when they were demolished.

Portland Lighthouse which Inspector Alun Ryga visits Portland also has a remarkable lighthouse out on Portland Bill a rather windswept place, indeed my mother who was stationed on Portland Bill in the ATS during WW2 used to tell me how bleak it was. Portland Bill (the lighthouse) became a popular tourist destination after the first tarred road was laid in 1922 and during the 1930s a car park was also laid, while beach huts and cafes began to appear. Visitors to the lighthouse were welcomed, and in DEATH IN THE COVE Inspector Ryga visits the lighthouse where the head lighthouse keeper takes him up the lantern room.

    He turned on to the quiet road for Portland Bill. The small fields lay around him. The day had clouded over a little and the wind was getting stronger. It wasn’t long before the red and white lighthouse loomed in front of him. Judging by the number of cars in the car park it was popular with the tourists and to the left of it was a café and beach huts. He hadn’t thought that he’d be competing with tourists for the attention of the lighthouse keeper, but on enquiring he discovered there were three of them, and after declaring who he was he was soon directed to the head lighthouse keeper, a grey-haired man with a keen, weathered face and lean body in his early fifties, who introduced himself as Ivor Palmer. ‘If you’re fit how about climbing to the top?’ Palmer said, with, Ryga thought, a gleam of challenge in his hazel eyes. ‘It’s only a hundred and fifty-three steps.’ Ryga eagerly agreed. The view alone would be worth the exercise. He received a running commentary on the way up the spiral staircase.


    DEATH IN THE COVE is published in paperback, ebook, Amazon Kindle, Kobo.


    It is also available as an audio book published by B7 Media and narrated by Jonathan Rhodes.


    For more on the history of Portland visit https://www.portlandhistory.co.uk/

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    OCTOBER 14TH, 2019 @ 7:25:12 BST

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