Murder in England, Marni Graff

             Murder in England - Marni Graff

Oxford. The name invokes classic images: ancient golden stone buildings such as the Bodleian Library, which alter dramatically in color according to the light, sitting nestled near bookstores, pubs and cathedral spires; the site of the discovery of penicillin and the founding of auto manufacturer Morris Garages; the home in various centuries of Donne, Shelley, Browning, Wilde, Auden, Tolkien and Lewis Carroll.
The town center features a tall clock tower and a bustling covered market, the latter a delightful maze of crooked cobble-stoned alleys sprinkled liberally with tiny upscale shops, redolent with the jumbled smells of fresh fruits, meats, flowers and baked goods. Its sidewalks overflow with students, tourists and locals, all avoiding the constant stream of busses and cars in the narrow roadways. This is Oxford: a honeyed city less than half a square mile, whose forty-odd colleges swarm with scholars and tourists, and which has captured the imagination of more than one mystery writer with its glimmering spirit, becoming less of a backdrop and more of a character in its own right.

As a seat of academia, the town is a natural draw for writers, including non-crime authors, who have called Oxford home, amongst them Kingsley and Martin Amis, William Golding, Graham Greene, John Fowles and Iris Murdoch. But Oxford also provides fertile ground for mystery writers, as evidenced by the continuing stream of writers who set their murders in the hallowed halls and lanes of the town.

Why the attraction? After my own visit studying literature at Exeter College, it became apparent to me while walking the twisted lanes and back streets, that the big city atmosphere inside what is really a small town, mixed with the ever-present struggle between “town and gown,” present any mystery writer with the perfect setting for murder and mayhem. For me, setting is vastly important, a secondary character, the landscape that affects my character’s movements and choices. My American protagonist, Nora Tierney, needed to solve at least one mystery in Oxford, so the series debuted with The Blue Virgin.
Being an admitted Anglophile, there’s not too much about Great Britain I don’t enjoy, but the other place I adore is the Lake District. Land of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Ruskin and the inimitable Beatrix Potter, it comprises almost nine hundred square miles of national park, the largest such area in England and Wales, all lying within the county of Cumbria.
This area is the most picturesque I’ve seen in England, with the bluest skies and fluffiest clouds. It contains England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike, and its largest lake, Windermere. There are shallow tarns, rising fells, sparkling ghylls and every species of tree found in Britain in its woodlands. The area’s unparalleled beatify beckons lovers of nature: hikers and campers, fisherman and boaters, artists and writers.

It was an easy decision when I was writing The Blue Virgin to picture Nora moving to the Lake District. I devised a way for that to happen, and she’s packing up for this move as the first book in the series opens.

Now in the second book, The Green Remains, Nora is settled into Ramsey Lodge for at least the next year, working alongside the illustrator of her children’s books, awaiting the birth of her first child in the lakeside village of Bowness-on-Windmere. And of course, she becomes involved in a murder investigation. The books a mix of cozy and police procedural, as Nora manages to ruffle the feathers of the investigating officers on the case.

My plan is to have Nora still be in the Lake District for Book Three, working title The Scarlet Wench. But after that, who knows? Bath beckons, as does Cornwall. And there’s always the thought that Nora will return to Oxford. Wherever I send her, I’ll travel alongside her, visiting my favorite places in my mind, checking facts and weather online, verifying seasonal flowers and local police procedures with great email contacts I’ve found. It’s a way for me to get in a visit without leaving my desk, one of the nicest perks of being a writer. 

Marni Graff is the author of the Nora Tierney mystery series, set in the UK. The Blue Virgin is set in Oxford and introduces Nora, an American writer, as she involves herself in a murder investigation to clear her best friend, who has been wrongfully accused of murdering her partner. The Green Remains follows Nora to the Lake District where she’s awaiting two firsts: the publication of her children’s book and the birth of her child. When she stumbles across a dead body at the edge of Lake Windermere, England’s largest lake, Nora sets into motion a series of events that will have consequences for herself and those she’s come to love.

Graff is also co-author of Writing in a Changing World, a primer on selecting and being a part of supportive writing group, as well as helpful critique techniques for many genres. She writes a weekly mystery review at Graff’s history includes working on movie and television scripts and providing onset medical consultation through her nursing background. For seven years she conducted interviews and wrote feature articles for Mystery Scene magazine.A member of Sisters in Crime,
Graff runs the NC Writers Read program in Belhaven. She has also published poetry, and her creative nonfiction has most recently appeared in Southern Women’s Review. Her books can be bought at or at 


Maureen Hayes said…
Oh, this sounds right up my alley! I adore all things English as well and I like the idea that you will be moving your main character at some point so I will be able to travel vicariously through her. The whole series sounds fascinating and I can't wait to get reading! thanks for sharing this with us, I love learning about new authors and great books!
Dottie said…
Marni,I love your use of words. You put a great deal of description into your writing making it easy to feel like you are there in the scene itself.

Marni said…
Maureen, I'm hoping moving Nora around will let me travel back to the UK soon! And Dottie, thanks for the comment~

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