Return to the Lake District: The Serpent Pool, by Martin Edwards

April 25, 2010 at 1:39 am (Book review, books, Mystery fiction, The British police procedural)

I’ve been a fan of Martin Edwards’s Lake District mysteries since  The Coffin Trail came out in 2004. In these novels, Edwards makes the most of this setting, which is both picturesque, laden with legend, and  at times a bit eerie. Here among the towns and villages of this fabled region of Cumbria, various dramas play out. Some concern crime; others are about love – or rather, frustrated longing. I liked the way in which the characters, their fates inextricably entwined, shift in and out of focus as the story moved forward.

DCI Hannah Scarlett has been relegated to the cold case squad – or at least, she herself thinks of it in those terms. A misstep earlier in her career is the cause of her current reassignment. While she investigates a murder from the past, murders are occurring in the present. And Hannah is also dealing with turbulence and instability in her personal life. She feels a strong bond with Marc Amos, a rare book dealer with whom she shares a long term relationship. A bond, yes – but are they actually still in love? Hannah has to fight her growing feelings for Daniel Kind, a newly unattached writer and historian. Meanwhile, Marc finds himself drawn to Cassie Weston, the comely new assistant in his shop.

While all this is going on, Lake District literati are getting ready for a festival celebrating the life and work of Thomas de Quincey. De Quincey wrote an amazing meditation on MacBeth, in which he enters into the minds of the hapless king and his scheming wife in a way that is positively unnerving. De Quincey is perhaps best known, though, for two other essays: On Murder, Considered as One of the Fine Arts and Confessions of an English Opium Eater.

Thomas De Quincey

Daniel Kind is researching a  book on De Quincey; here are some of his thoughts:

‘Depressive, impecunious, and brimming malicious wit, De Quincey was a reckless fantasist whose ill-health fed his addiction to drugs and voyeuristic love of violent crime. If he were alive today, he’d never  be out of the tabloid headlines.

There’s a brooding, introspective mood to this novel, but Edwards occasionally lightens the atmosphere with flashes of wit. Here he is describing the glory – and danger! – of the famous full English breakfast:

‘Fern squeezed a sachet of HP sauce over her breakfast. Her plate was as big as a Michelin tyre and crammed to overflowing with eggs, bacon, sausage, baked beans, fried bread and black pudding. There was something pleasingly shameless about the Bar’s commitment to clogging its customers’ arteries. It was good business, at least in the short term until they were wheeled into intensive care.

Folks, I’ve had this breakfast, and I don’t expect to get closer to Heaven while still residing on this planet. Alas, I only had it the once – then it was back to the thin gruel mandated by my physicians – sigh…

Anyhow – back to the topic at hand: The Serpent Pool was an enjoyable addition to a fine series of crime novels. (I also very much liked Waterloo Sunset, part of Edwards’s  series about Liverpool solicitor Harry Devlin.)


Martin Edwards’s blog, Do You Write Under Your Own Name, is well worth checking out; it is chock full of reviews and fascinating facts about Britain’s vibrant crime fiction scene. And of course, it is wonderfully well written.


Left to right: Stuart Pawson, Ann Cleeves, and Martin Edwards

Along with Stuart Pawson and Ann Cleeves, Martin Edwards participated in a panel discussion presented for us lucky participants in  Mystery Lovers England and Scotland, a Smithsonian tour which we took in 2006.  I also met Edwards briefly at Bouchercon two years ago.


  1. kathy d. said,

    Does this series need to be read in order of publication?

    Ah, yes, a cholesterol-filled breakfast. Haven’t had one in a long time. During my childhood, my dad, who was of Irish background, used to make scrambled eggs, bacon and kidneys and buttered toast on Sunday mornings; I haven’t seen a kidney since.

    I never indulge in this but stick to cereal, not quite gruel, but not much fun.

    A friend of mine calls eating prime ribs of beef–which he only does once a year at a friend’s holiday dinner–“a heart attack on a stick.”

    This series looks good and enticing. How is Ann Cleeves’ writing?

    • Roberta Rood said,

      I thoroughly enjoyed Raven Black & White Nights by Ann Cleeves, & have reviewed them both. And yes, I do think that the Lake District mysteries benefit by being read in series order. Thanks for your comments; that’s amusing about the “heart attack on a stick!”

  2. Kay said,

    Roberta, I’m so glad you highlighted Martin Edwards’ Lake District series. I love it. I say that and admit that I have only read THE COFFIN TRAIL. I have the others though and mean to read them soon. Love his blog too.

  3. Matin Edwards said,

    Thank you , Roberta. I am glad you enjoyed the book and I remember that day in Harrogate with much pleasure.

    • Roberta Rood said,

      Thanks so much, Martin.


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