Crime author Nick Quantrill writes for Northern Soul about his new novel and the star of his book: Hull.
From being voted the country’s worst ‘Crap Town’ to being crowned ‘2017 UK City of Culture’ in the space of a decade, Hull has been through the wringer. But this East Yorkshire city has so much to recommend it. The Dead Can’t Talk is my fourth Hull-set crime novel and the first to feature my new characters, Anna Stone and Luke Carver. Stone is a disillusioned police officer desperate to uncover the truth about her sister’s disappearance. Approached by Carver, a drifter she’s previously sent to prison, he claims to have information which promises to lead to the truth. As the trail leads from Hull and the Humber’s desperate and downtrodden to its great and good, an unsolved murder 25 years ago provides the basis for a conspiracy novel which links the past and present together.
Ahead of publication on May 12, here are five locations which feature in the novel and my home city.
On the face of it, Princes Quay is a drab and dying shopping centre on stilts, one that looks a lot like the Millennium Falcon. With a grim car park bolted on the top, it’s a fabulous place to pay homage to Ted Lewis, the finest crime writer from the Humber region. Finding herself with important evidence, Anna Stone is cornered and threatened with being thrown of the sixth floor of the shopping centre’s car park, not unlike Cliff Brumby in Get Carter. Fighting her way out, she realises the only person who will help is her Luke Carver. How could I resist the panoramic view of the city it offers? On the other side of the dual carriageway, the yachts in the marina gently bob on the water. In the distance, the Fruit Market is now home to new arts venues and start-up businesses. If there’s a beautiful corner in Hull, it’s there.
Hull Paragon Interchange
Used regularly for filming, the train station retains its architectural beauty and end of the line feel. You can’t arrive without noticing Hull will be 2017 UK City of Culture. You’ll also find a stature of Philip Larkin on the concourse. As much as he’s a divisive figure, he’s undoubtedly the city’s cultural figurehead. He may not be from the city by birth, but the place informs his work. Larkin’s presence is both a nod to the city’s past and its future. Behind the statue, the bar in the Royal Hotel is where you’ll often find the city’s writers holding meetings. In The Dead Can’t Talk, it becomes a temporary office for Anna Stone, particularly as she talks to one of her sister’s former colleagues at the newspaper. Unsure if she can trust Luke Carver, can she trust a journalist who might break rank and pursue the story himself?
Premier Inn, city centre
Situated on Tower Street on the east bank of the River Hull, this new-build budget hotel strikes me as a symbol of the infrastructure change Hull is seeing. It sits on what’s effectively wasteland, looking out hopefully to the Old Town where the action is, and possibly will be during 2017 and beyond. It’s the place Stone and Carver head to one night, anonymous and quiet, as their own places become out of bounds. They’re both outsiders; she’s on the fringes of the police force and questioning her beliefs, he’s ex-prison and ex-army and knows he has few future prospects. They’re both driven by justice, but have different attitudes to what constitutes justice, something they come to terms with as they share a room for the night.
Humber Bridge Country Park
A hidden gem, the park is a quiet haven featuring woods, meadows, ponds and an overgrown quarry. Favoured by dog walkers and those looking for a bit of respite from city life, it’s remarkable that this place exists so close to the Humber Bridge and the busy A63 dual carriage. It also contrasts nicely with the urban focus of the novel and, enjoying a walk there with my young daughter, it struck me as being the perfect place to hold a clandestine meeting. As Stone edges closer to the truth about her sister’s disappearance, Carver follows a suspect there and blows open the investigation.
The Lord Line building
The sense of being close to the water, and its influence on the city, runs through the novel as a constant thread. The echoes of the fishing industry, now long gone, are still felt in the present day and continue to shape people’s lives. Carver in particular feels these rhythms, heading to waterfront at St Andrew’s Quay when he needs to think and reflect. Next to him is the shell of the Lord Line building, one of the few remaining symbols of the trade, rotting away from the inside, imposing and dangerous. It’s an office block where the novel’s final scenes are set and features on the cover. Not everyone will get out of the building alive, but I was happy to give it some kind of purpose again and briefly place it centre-stage once more.
Hull is a difficult city to get a handle on, a place you need a reason to visit. It’s not a place that suffers fools gladly or avoids telling it like it is. Those traits are also present in Anna Stone and Luke Carver. In some ways they’re an odd couple, in other ways they make sense and complement each other. Work on the second novel featuring them is underway and takes place largely in the murky world of the city’s nightlife. It will definitely feature the sights, sounds and smells of the 2017 UK City of Culture celebrations, but where there’s glamour, there’s also grime, something that Northern cities like Hull know only too well.
By Nick Quantrill
The Dead Can’t Talk is available to buy here