English villages aren't always quaint and perfect. Amidst the picturesque landscapes and the rowdy pubs can lie some pretty dark elements — like murder. Today, JL Merrow, whose Pressure Head impressed us with its M/M romance and characters who would "do Agatha Christie proud," dishes on the charms and complexities of life within an English country village, and warns us of the mysteries that lurk in the corners.
No, I’m not talking about a bar in Boston. I’m talking about something worlds removed from that scene—although curiously enough, associations with tea also spring to mind. I’m talking about the English country village.
There’s just something about an English village. Everyone knows everyone else’s business, but usually, they’re too polite to talk about it—except when they’re among close friends, when reputations can safely, and mercilessly, be torn to shreds. But beware: that young mum who arrived at the school gates smelling of alcohol may turn out to be your partner-in-gossip’s next-door neighbor, or her sister-in-law, or the friend she does a Zumba class with in the village hall. Or even all three. There’s an intricate web of connections in the average village, just waiting to trip up the unwary.
Talking of alcohol: another thing the English village is known for is its pubs. Ah, the English pub with its low-beamed ceilings, its horse-brasses and its punning signs. There aren’t quite so many as in days gone by: the village I used as the model for Brock’s Hollow (the scene of the crime in Pressure Head) apparently had 21 pubs in 1901, at a time when the population of the village was only around 2,400. Including children, who weren’t allowed into pubs. And women, who most likely weren’t made all that welcome either. At a rough guesstimate, we’re talking one pub for every twenty-five or so adult males!
Still, we English remain very attached to our pubs—and their names: woe betide any restaurant chain that buys up a village pub and tries to give it a generic name. Angry mobs of villagers nowadays wield petitions, not pitchforks, but are no less determined. I had some fun with the pub names in Pressure Head. You may, if you are British and of a certain age, recognize The Four Candles as a tribute to Ronnie Barker’s classic comedy sketch. (As a sign of how universally beloved this sketch is by Brits, apparently at Barker's memorial service in Westminster Abbey, the cross was accompanied up the aisle by four candles instead of the usual two.) The Duck and Grouse is a reference to a sign commonly seen on low pub ceiling beams, although there it’s usually “Duck or grouse.”
And what else is the English countryside renowned for? Why, murders, of course!
Well, not really, perhaps. But in the world of fiction, it’s downright perilous heading out to the sticks. Just ask the residents of those quaint little villages featured in Midsomer Murders, where several people seem to pop their rustic clogs each week. And this isn’t a new observation; Conan Doyle made it well over a hundred years ago:
"Good heavens!" I cried. "Who would associate crime with these dear old homesteads?"
"They always fill me with a certain horror. It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside."
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892)
Sherlock Holmes in "The Copper Beeches"
You have been warned.
- JL Merrow
Are you ready to dive into a suprisingly perilous and murder-filled village? Then be sure to grab your copy of Pressure Head in-stores and online today! For even more books that'll keep you on the edge of your seat, check out our Everything Romance Page!