Located 97 miles to the west of London, Bath is a very old city. Reference to Bath causes most Americans think of Jane Austen, who lived there for a time with her family in the early 1800s. Yet there is scant mention of her in Cop To Corpse. Instead, Peter Lovesey brings a wealth of other fascinating facts and associations regarding Bath and the surrounding area into his narrative.
Lovesey sticks very close to the facts of the actual city. In this paragraph, he describes Walcot Street, where PC Harry Tasker was patrolling when he was shot:
Walcot Street was created by the Romans. It is believed to have formed a small section of the Fosse Way, the unswerving road that linked the West Country to the Midlands. It runs north to south for a third of a mile, parallel to the River Avon, from St. Swithin’s Church – where Jane Austen’s parents were married in 1764 – to St. Michael’s, where it morphs into Northgate Street. Located outside the old city walls, Walcot was once a village independent of Bath and still has the feel of a place apart. It was always the city’s lumber room, housing in its time, tram sheds, a flea market, slaughterhouses, a foundry, a women’s prison and an isolation hospital for venereal diseases. Now it goes in for shops of character and variable charm such as Jack and Danny’s Fancy Dress Hire; Bath Sewing Machine Service; Yummy House; Bath Aqua Theatre of Glass; and Appy Daze, Bath’s Premium Hemporium.
I googled that last one and yes, it does exist.
Here is a map of Bath City Center:
Click twice, and it enlarges nicely. Walcot Street is clearly visible, as is the Manvers Street ‘Nick,’ where Peter Diamond and his team have their headquarters.
The gas holder is a crucial landmark in Cop To Corpse. Most of us had no idea what that was; the exception was our British-born member Pauline, who recalled having seen many of them in the UK. Wikipedia defines a gas holder as “…a large container in which natural gas or town gas is stored near atmospheric pressure at ambient temperatures.”
As of last year, to the dismay of some, this structure was scheduled for demolition.
One of the smartest, most resourceful members of Peter Diamond’s team is former police reporter Ingeborg Smith. At one point, she and her boss are driving across the Avon River when one of Bath’s more arresting sights comes into view. It’s a railway viaduct built to resemble a castle – “one of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s oddest indulgences.”
It seems to me that the famous epitaph crafted for the great architect Sir Christopher Wren by his son could serve equally for Isambard Kingdom Brunel: “Reader, if you seek his monument – look around you.”
The Hobby Horse Celebration, a feature of the May Day festivities, also plays a part in this narrative.
Minehead is located to the west of Bath. Here is a schematic showing the principal cities and towns in the county of Somerset:
Ass you can see, there are many famous places in this county besides Bath: the city of Wells with its incomparable cathedral, the village of Cheddar with its incomparable cheese, fabled Glastonbury…. And then there’s Porlock. When the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge was living in the village of Nether Stowey, in Somerset, a knock on the door interrupted him while he was composing one of his greatest masterpieces, Kubla Khan. Coleridge claimed that the poem had come to him in a dream, possibly aided by opium use.
At any rate, his visitor had come from nearby Porlock to ask a quite ordinary favor him. When the business had been transacted, the poet returned to his labors, only to find that the vision had fled. The poem, never completed, is usually referred to as a fragment. It should be noted that not everyone gives credence to Coleridge’s version of events. Still, “the person from Porlock” has come to stand for any unwelcome interruption, especially of someone’s thought processes. I thought I recalled Morse using the expression in one of the TV episodes. Jeanne Matthews recounts the incident in her lively blog Buried Under Books.
Here’s a map of Bath and the surrounding area:
The village of Rode is southeast of Bath. Formerly called Road, the Usual Suspects remembered that place, for it was there that an infamous murder took place at Road Hill House in 1860. In The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, Kate Summerscale tells the story, which is both fascinating and heartbreaking. This book was our discussion selection in October of 2009.
The investigations in Cop To Corpse are fraught with jurisdictional disputes. Per reports of the sighting of a likely suspect in the shootings of police officers, Diamond and members of his team join Jack Gull and his Serious Crimes Unit in a stake out in a place called Becky Addy Wood in neighboring Wiltshire. In this forested area, Peter Diamond pays for his propensity to ignore orders issued by others. What happens to him in Becky Addy Wood comes completely without warning; he is injured but could easily have been killed. It’s one of the most spectacular, originally conceived scenes I’ve encountered in a work of crime fiction.
As a result of this incident, Peter Diamond hobbles through the rest of the book with the aid of crutches he’s “borrowed” from a local hospital. At one point, angered by the actions of DI Polehampton, a subordinate of Jack Gull’s, Diamond grabs a crutch and prepares to unleash his formidable temper. At that moment, he’s described as having “a limp almost as menacing as Anthony Sher playing Richard III.” A google image search yielded this photograph of the actor in that role: ‘Menacing’ does seem an apt descriptor….
At one point, a member of the Wiltshire police force is described as “a moonraker, Wiltshire through and through.”. My curiosity was piqued; to me, that word signified a James Bond film and nothing more. But there is more. The nickname of moonraker originates with a legend, recounted on the Haunted Wiltshire site.
For me, the novels of Peter Lovesey are greatly enriched by allusions such as these. And wouldn’t you know it, in all my travels to Britain, I’ve never yet been to Bath, nor seen any of the other worthy sites in Somerset. With luck, that will change, before long.