Meanwhile, At The Peculiar Crimes Unit…
I use real locations for most of my stories. It helps to get some sense of size and space when you have a lot of people moving around, so that the reader can visualise events more easily. Early Bryant & May readers will know that I used to have the PCU occupying the upper part of the tube station at Mornington Crescent. It’s a barely-noticed tube station of shiny maroon tiles, and was only open on weekdays. Most of the older stations had rooms above them. I’m told that for many years the tube station at Chalk Farm had a police arsenal above it and a gay bar below it. At South Kentish Town the platform was turned into a sauna when it closed down.
I moved the PCU to King’s Cross because it’s a rich and colourful area, and I housed them in another former pub. The Hoop & Grapes was an old school boozer that became a series of failed cocktail bars and has now had a fresh lick of paint to become part of a science institute, so the PCU has finally ended up in a building where it’s conceivable they might really be. The place is considerably larger than it appears (Keith Page drew an excellent cutaway drawing of it for ‘London’s Glory’). I envisage Raymond Land’s office to be on the other side of the picture above, overlooking the frequently rowdy Caledonian Road. The street itself has undergone a major makeover.
Gone are the dope shops and borderline brothels, in have come smart bars and restaurants, although they’re still quirkier than those in usual London streets. There’s George, the Greek cockney who runs the cobblers called ‘Achilles Heels’, the Italian-Albanian SuperMario, who runs ‘Gran Sasso’ and always sticks a candle in your breakfast if it’s your birthday, Wichet, who created a beautiful florists and the restaurant Supawan, which serves the best Thai food in the capital, then there’s Housmans, the left wing bookshop, the Spanish Quarter and the bar that recreates 18th century punches, the quirky little shop that repaints old shoes and handbags for you, the pie shop ‘Piebury Corner’, the Scottish Stores, formerly a strip joint, behind whose walls were hidden a complete Edwardian pub – now restored to its full glory – a mosque, also once a pub, a Vegan store and of course several more pubs.
It’s the perfect place to site a unit, cosmopolitan, streetwise and noisy but never really threatening. How it will be affected by Brexit is uncertain, but at the moment nearly everyone has staff shortages. It seems unlikely that young Britons will step in and do the job half as well as so many talented, energetic employees from around the world.
Of course, Arthur Bryant has a tendency to blow the unit up, and in case he does too much damage I have a back-up plan, although first he has to deal with his worst crisis – but that problem will all become clear when ‘The Lonely Hour’ comes out in March!