Cardiff crime scene: what makes the city inspiration for writers?

The Welsh writer John Lincoln Williams talks about his new book, the inspiration he gets from living in Cardiff and his approach to writing fiction.

Grey In The Dark can be found in Cardiff’s bookstore.

When John Lincoln Williams was looking for inspiration for his latest crime novel, he started to get a sense of his lead protagonist as he wandered around the upmarket developments of Cardiff Bay.  

“I’ve always loved crime novels with a strong sense of place whether it be Raymond Chandlers Los Angels in the 1940s or Ian Rankins Edinburgh,” explains John. “So I wanted Genthin Grey novels to be set in a really recognizable locality.” 

Gethin Grey is a lawyer whose office in Cardiff Bay is where his clients find him. “I gave him two strong female assistants Bex and Lee and I called their company Last Resort Legals.”  

“I hope you enjoy it!”John Lincoln has something to say to readers.

Whether it’s the more industrialized and densely populated south, including the capital Cardiff, or beautiful North Wales, the multicultural back alleys of Tiger Bay and Cardiff’s old docks, or the remote wind-blown farmhouses of Snowdonia, all have become favored haunts for Welsh crime writers.

“Welsh crime fiction trends to be either urban-based – Cardiff back streets etc – or rural and the rural is very strong,” said Paul French, a British author.

Crime novels set in Wales have a unique impact, such as Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go, C L Taylor’s The lie and Belinda Bauer’s Rubbernecker, all The Sunday Times bestsellers, and they have made the culture of crime writing in Wales richer and more developed.

“I think most Welsh set crime writing is by writers living and working in Wales or with Welsh heritage – John Williams for instance,” said Paul. “A few others end up writing about Wales because the subject interests them – Nadifa Mohamed’s brilliant recreation of the Tiger Bay area of Cardiff and the case of Mahmood Mattan.”

People who are familiar with Cardiff can recognize these places from the description in the novel.

Grey in the Dark is the second in the series of crime novels by John Lincoln, a follow-up to the well-received Fade to Grey. And in this book, the main character is investigating yet another miscarriage of justice.  

In this novel, too many people loved Kelly Rowland and one of them killed her, but was it the man who went to prison for her murder? Her brutal murder has been the talk of the South Wales valleys. Even the conviction of a neighbor, a builder called Morgan Hopkins, failed to stop the gossip.

John Lincoln wanted to avoid some of the clichés of crime fiction. “I decided not to have to a policeman, as are so many cops in crime fiction. I would quite like to have had an old-fashioned private detective, but really that’s too unrealistic these days, to have a private detective trying to solve a murder,” said him.

“So I came up with the idea of having my protagonist be a lawyer who investigates possible miscarriages of justice.”

Grey In The Dark was placed in the best-selling crime fiction section.

The story followed Gethin Gray as he came across his biggest case in years. When the family of suspect Morgan paid him and his Last Resort Legals team to re-investigate the case, Gethin was delighted. But when a new lead took him undercover into a support group that helps recovering addicts, Gethin was forced to confront his own demons.

John Lincoln said, “I’ve always liked the way that a good crime novel can give you a whole picture of a society from top to bottom, the lowlife and the highlife”

Moving from the former mining towns of the valleys to the shiny new waterfront developments of Cardiff, taking in adult puppet shows and piercing parlors, derelict mines, and country clubs, Grey In The Dark lays bare a world in which sex and money collide and everyone has their secrets, according to the publishers.

“The books are full of Cardiff color, lots of locations that people who know the city will recognize. It’s quite a gritty portrait of the city I hope it’s an appealing one too,” said John Lincoln.