Marnie Riches on location
Marnie Riches is a well-travelled lady. Well travelled with lots of anecdotes and inspiration from her travels. She is the girl of her titles in many ways…When it comes to crime she is the Girl with no fear, the one who walks in the shadows killing characters as she goes and breaks all the rules in the process..
My series is mainly set in Amsterdam, though South East London and Cambridge also feature heavily. There are always additional forays to other European destinations, like Heidelberg, Berlin and Prague. Sometimes, the action travels even further afield to Manhattan, Cambodia, the Maldives and Central America. Crime knows no boundaries, so neither should my stories!
Having read the Stieg Larsson Millennium Trilogy in the mid-noughties, I realised that I too could write a crime-thriller set in an interesting European city, as I had studied German & Dutch at university and was already writing seriously. Amsterdam was a natural choice for me, as the lead setting, because I knew it and also because it hadn’t been used before in commercial crime fiction, that I was aware of.
Do you have a personal link to the places in your novel?
I lived in Utrecht, just south of Amsterdam, for a year and was a regular visitor to Amsterdam. I studied at Cambridge University and lived in that city for four years in total – both as an undergraduate and then for an extra year, working at Girton College in the fundraising office.
I lived in South East London for many years in my twenties. Many of the other locations in the George McKenzie novels are places I’ve visited on holiday. In The Girl Who Had No Fear, for example, half of the novel is set in Central America, inspired by my trips to Mexico.
Why is your setting good for crime fiction?
Amsterdam in particular lends itself to crime fiction, as it is a beautiful setting, with its golden age architecture and canal network, but it also has the red light district, where sleaze and drugs are openly on show and available to buy. Coupled with the fact that the Netherlands is the epicentre for ecstasy production, I thought that for someone like me who wanted to write about trafficking, murder and the morally grey areas in Western European society, Amsterdam was my number one choice for George McKenzie and Van den Bergen to conduct their sleuthing!
Exotic locations which turn out to be grim..
I’m really keen on the locations that are outside of Europe, because, despite their tropical beauty, they have fascinating, often alarming political histories and complex social problems. Cambodia, featured in The Girl Who Broke the Rules, has the genocidal heritage of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge to contend with. The Maldives, featured in The Girl Who Walked in the Shadows, is in political turmoil and is at risk from creeping Islamic fundamentalism, despite it being a top holiday destination for the wealthy.
The Dominican Republic featured in The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die and discussed in The Girl Who Had No Fear suffers from extreme poverty and poorly organised infrastructure, as does Mexico, which is a major backdrop to the action in The Girl Who Had No Fear. I’m interested in what goes on beneath the well-polished veneer shown to tourists. But the George McKenzie series is rooted deeply in Europe and I think the Netherlands, Germany and the UK will always be core locations for the stories.
Researching..fact or fiction?
If I haven’t visited a place – and I have been to most of the places I write about – I use Google streetview, research newspaper and academic articles about how local people live, study photographs… I like to see for myself how places are and interpret what I see. Sometimes, I’ll ask someone who has lived there to tell me about it. You can’t absorb a place’s smell, sounds and vibe from a photograph.
In my Manchester series, the first book of which – Born Bad – is due out early March 2017 in paperback as well as e-book (Booktrail: Whoohoo can not wait — *cough* sorry, as you were….) I have created fictitious areas of Manchester called Bramshott, Sweeney Hall, Parson’s Croft and Boddlington Park, simply because the book is about gangsters. I want to make it very, very clear to Manchester’s home-grown, bona-fide bad boys and girls that the criminal cast in this series is not based in any way, shape or form on real people and real goings on. The last thing I need is a gun-toting gangster getting the hump because I’ve portrayed him or her in an unflattering or libellous light, when in fact, it is entirely a work of fiction, not a documentary! Obviously, the fictitious settings should sound entirely realistic to readers because I am a Mancunian and hopefully know how to convey an authentic flavour of the place.
When I go to Amsterdam, I do love a trip round the red light district. I find it fascinating, which is why it appears in all of my George McKenzie novels.
Why do you love where you’ve set your novel?
I love the setting of Mexico in my latest George adventure – The Girl Who Had No Fear – as I’ve been to the Yucatan Peninsula and adored the glorious tropical scenery and ancient ruins, found the people warm and friendly, love the food, love the heat and am both fascinated and dismayed by some of the social and political problems that affect this location, given that it is used as a transit country by the drugs-guns-and people-trafficking cartels.
Many thanks Marnie for some fascinating insights!