Start with a bizarre picnic. Add in the tomb of an evil squire and Sherlock Holmes’s Hound of the Baskervilles then season with a sinister jester and a deadly manhunt. These are the strange ingredients which inspired The Cadaver Game, my latest novel featuring DI Wesley Peterson (out in paperback today).
The picnic in question took place in France in 1983 when a group of conceptual artists had an outdoor feast and then buried the leftovers (tables and all) in the earth until 2010 when archaeologists unearthed it as a scientific exercise. I was so struck by this story’s potential for introducing some colourful and possibly murderous characters – and also a touch of humour – that I couldn’t resist including it in my new book.
After this initial tantalising idea, more possibilities started crowding in. I’ve never regretted setting my crime novels in Devon, a county with a rich and varied history, and in the course of my research I stumbled on the story of an eighteenth century jester who worked for a country squire and swallowed live mice to entertain his master’s guests. I also encountered a squire who was reputedly so wicked that he was buried in a caged tomb so that his spirit couldn’t rise to torment the living. This squire, Richard Cabell, was a keen huntsman and it is said that his ghostly hounds still roam Dartmoor – a legend that inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous story, ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’.
The Cadaver Game begins with a man hunt that goes badly wrong. Then the decaying body of an unidentified woman is discovered in a rented house some miles away. Teenagers are taking part in an online game called Bloodhunt which they are eventually persuaded to play for real and, as a consequence, one of Wesley’s team suffers a terrible personal tragedy.
Writing The Cadaver Game was a real pleasure. Somehow historical wrongdoings and present day crimes seemed to blend seamlessly, and the plot twisted and turned nicely. I also enjoyed introducing my team of fictional conceptual artists to the deadly mix – perhaps it appealed to my Liverpudian sense of humour (something I share with DCI Gerry Heffernan of course).
I hope everyone enjoys reading The Cadaver Game as much as I enjoyed writing it. And if you ever visit the Napoleonic fort at Berry Head near Brixham, just close your eyes and imagine it in the dark. And watch out for those ghostly hounds!
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