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How the Isle of Portland inspired the 1950s set mystery DEATH IN THE COVE

Death in the Cove by Pauline Rowson

DEATH IN THE COVE is set in 1950 England, still reeling from the aftermath of war with austerity and rationing biting hard. It is the first in the Inspector Ryga mystery series with DEATH IN THE HARBOUR number two set in the port of Newhaven, East Sussex and DEATH IN THE NETS set in the fishing town of Brixham, Devon.

In DEATH IN THE COVE, Inspector Ryga, of 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.


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 (4) 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."

    The Inspector Ryga Mysteries


    Death in the Cove an Inspector Alun Ryga MysteryDEATH IN THE COVE is Inspector Ryga's first solo investigation outside of London, where he is despatched to solve the mystery of why a man in a pin-striped suit is found murdered in an isolated cove on the Royal Island of Portland in Dorset. Here he meets war photographer, Eva Paisley, for the first time. Ryga quickly realises that her observations could provide the breakthrough he needs in a complex murder investigation and the answer to the haunting circumstances that have sent the man in the pinstriped suit to his death.

    Death in the Harbour by Pauline RowsonThe second Inspector Ryga mystery, DEATH IN THE HARBOUR is set in the port of Newhaven, East Sussex where Ryga has to solve a puzzling and disturbing case of why an ordinary police constable was murdered and his sensible law-abiding wife has gone missing.

    Death in the Nets by Pauline RowsonNumber three in the Inspector Ryga series DEATH IN THE NETS is set in the small fishing town of Bridport, Devon. It's a cold wet January night in 1951, the body of a man stabbed through the heart, is found tangled up in fishing nets in Brixham Harbour, Devon. After a series of startling revelations, Ryga is tasked to discover why the dead man who left the town eleven years ago has returned and why someone hated him enough to murder him.

    The Inspector Ryga mysteries are published in paperback, ebook, Amazon Kindle, Kobo, Google Books and Apple Books.

    DEATH IN THE COVE and DEATH IN THE HARBOUR are also available as audio books on Audible, and from B7 Media, narrated by Jonathan Rhodes.

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

    SEPTEMBER 17TH, 2021 @ 6:25:12 BST

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