Lucky you: No Welsh grammar today – you’re off the hook! Give your thanks to murder and mayhem and the exceptionally hot weather….
It’s the last day of May, already, and therefore the last day of Britain’s 2018 National Crime Reading Month! Have you discovered any new exciting authors and books this year? I’m still in the middle of reading my way through a shelf (or two, rather) of recently acquired crime fiction jewels. Which I would have done anyway, crime reading month or not. And I do not intend to stop reading tomorrow.
So let me take this opportunity to write about a genre that has always been one of my favourites (yes, I once was an overseas branch of the Famous Five!). What I enjoy most about crime fiction, beside a good dose of suspense, are striking characters, witty dialogues, a well-researched background, and of course the thrill of following the investigators around in their pursuit to find the murderer. Pure magic! I’m not so keen on all the gory details of murder though…
In 2016, I wrote my MA thesis about Welsh crime fiction, i.e. crime fiction by authors born in and / or living in Wales. What I wrote was basically a comparison of Welsh-language crime fiction and Anglo-Welsh crime fiction between the years 2000 and 2014. If you do read Welsh and would like a look at the result of my research, it’s right here. (And if you don’t read Welsh (yet), the same here‘s one more worthy reason among many to learn it. You won’t regret it, promised!)
Where are you, Welsh crime fiction?
When I first set out to compile my reading lists for this mammoth project, it had all sounded pretty straightforward. But after browsing through the catalogues of libraries and publishing houses for a bit, it became apparent that finding the right books and authors would require some serious investigating, too: Welsh crime fiction doesn’t come as a separate category, neither on actual nor on virtual book shelves.
Cross your heart: How many detective novels by WELSH authors have you read? How many WELSH crime-fiction authors can you name?
I’m sure that I didn’t find – and still haven’t found – them all. But I’m getting closer. For my MA thesis I managed to come up with 19 Welsh-language crime fiction writers and 38 Welsh-language crime novels, as well as around 60 Anglo-Welsh authors and over 300 books between them, all of them published in the first quarter of the 21st century. Over a period of three years I managed to read most of them and I’m really glad I did because there are some real treasures among them.
Here are two of my favourites!
Meet Dela Arthur!
These two historical Welsh-language novels seemed a good choice in this context because they were actually published in Welsh AND English. Translated by the author herself!
Gwen Parrott is one of my favourite Welsh writers anyway. I love her stories for their striking characters and their authentic background. These two novels take us back to the 1940s, to rural Pembrokeshire where we meet a most remarkable protagonist:
Dela Arthur is a teacher and a determined young lady – intelligent, observant and sensitive, and with a natural talent for the art of deduction. As a female amateur detective she is also a rare breed within the realms of Welsh-language crime fiction where female investigators are few and far between.
In Gwyn Eu Byd (English: Dead White) Dela is only just arriving in the remote village of Nant yr Eithin in Pembrokeshire where she is going to take up the position as schoolmistress. It’s the winter of 1947, it’s bitterly cold and it’s the middle of a terrible snow storm. On her way to the schoolhouse Dela is forced to break into a lonely farmhouse for shelter. Which is where she discovers two corpses in the bedroom. As Aneurin, the local bobby, is not much help, Dela has no choice but to start investigating herself. She is supported by Enzo, a former Italian POW and a policeman by profession – a relationship not without romantic tendencies. Her experiences as a teacher to evacuees in the Valleys and as a firewatcher during the German air raids on Swansea have made Dela a clearheaded and practical person, so she is soon able to construct her own theories and does not hesitate to put them to the test. And in the middle of it all there’s a sudden new arrival: Lena claims to be the former schoolteacher’s sister. But what is she looking for in the village? Trust Dela to find out….
In Cyw Melyn y Fall (English: Beyond the Pale) our heroine is back in the Valleys to spend the holidays with her foster parents. But the joy of their reunion is soon overshadowed when a little girl goes missing. Dela joins in the desperate search for little Brenda, which leads to a completely unexpected and gruesome discovery: A constable finds the disfigured body of a neighbour who had been suffering from syphilis. To Dela’s horror someone she knows and trusts is accused of the murder and she makes it her businesss to prove his innocence. Her sensitive investigations help unearth a number of secrets and jealousies within the small community, and not everyone is happy about that. All of a sudden Dela’s life is in danger, too.
I do hope that Gwen Parrott will eventually continue this series about Dela Arthur. There are plenty of potentially loose ends to grab for further evaluation and knit into further adventures (how about Dela’s firewatcher past?). In the meantime, you can try your hand at writing your own historical detective novel: Gwen Parrott tells you how in this article about Writing a Believable 1940s Setting.
So….what are YOUR favourite crime novels in Welsh, by Welsh authors, or located in Wales? Do let me know!
Wela i chi nes ymlaen!