Location, Location, Location by Ian Moore

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Ian Moore

Ian Moore

I know this may appear an odd question, but what’s the first thing you think about when you’re planning a holiday? It’s the location, right? Where you want to go, whether that place suits you as a person or family, and what you want from the holiday. Will the place we’re going to give us what we need?

Well, that’s pretty much how I feel about the setting when I’m planning a book. Not only why would my characters be there, in that place, but how does it affect them as people?

I’ve come to regard the setting, not just as one of the three tenets of writing alongside character and plot, but as one of the actual characters itself, vital in terms of the narrative. The setting isn’t just your background, it’s a mood player, a behaviour pusher, a personality trait. Cathy and Heathcliff were products of the Moor; it was a part of them as people. Sherlock Holmes without the swirling, dense fog of Victorian London would lack the intrigue, atmosphere, and danger. Scandi-noir without the Scandi? Colourless.

All my books up until now have been set in the Loire Valley in France. The Follet Valley series, which began with Death and Croissants, are comedy cosy murder mysteries set in the countryside, and my new series, starting with The Man Who Didn’t Burn, is set in the city of Tours. The reason for this is partly because I live there, which obviously helps enormously with the cost of research mileage, but also because the Loire Valley is a crime writer’s dream. I actually started writing fiction because of the setting; the Loire Valley was my starting point.

I’ll give you a brief tour of the area through its history, and I’ll try to do it in chronological order, though my research is far from exhausted.

The Man who didn't BurnIn the 4th century Saint-Martin of Tours split his cloak in two and gave half to a beggar, his shrine in Tours is still a famous stop off on the Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage. A few hundred years later the Battle of Tours is regarded to have effectively shaped Western Europe. The Loire River was the border between the two armies in the Hundred Years War, where Joan of Arc made something of a name for herself and the Plantagenets defeated. The protestant Huguenots plotted the fall of the catholic monarchy. Leonardo da Vinci spent his last years here. A myriad of Renaissance chateaux was built as power moved from the area to Paris and the Loire became the monarchy’s playground. Napoleon and Talleyrand planned wars and treaties in Valençay, while Antonin Carème changed the face of cooking and became the first celebrity chef. There’s wine, cheese, the words of Rabelais, Balzac and Ronsard, the philosophy of Descartes, the inspired art of Rodin, Turner and Dépardieu. Then there’s more cheese and wine. Don’t get me started on the valley’s strategic importance for the US Army during the first world war, the border it created between Occupied France and Vichy France in the second, how the Louvre hid its treasures there or that Fritz the elephant, part of Barnum and Bailey’s Circus, ran amok in central Tours in 1902, was killed, and whose ‘remains’ are still housed in the Musée des Beaux Arts today.

Phew. When you list some of what’s gone on here, how have more people not written about the place?

Having said all that though, everywhere has history to some extent, everywhere has a story. How do you use it in terms of a character?

Look again at that list. That is almost two thousand years in a paragraph, the place has had its good times and its bad times, times when it was in favour, times when it was virtually shunned. That’s not just the description of a setting, that’s the ups and downs of a person. The main character in The Man Who Didn’t Burn is Matthieu Lombard, an Investigating Magistrate, a Juge d’Instruction. It’s a powerful position but Lombard is a man who needs to restart his life, whose identity, in terms of who he thinks he is, has been taken away from him. Like Tours itself, once so strategic and politically vital, now a showpiece, the old world. I wanted to make Lombard a microcosm of Tours itself. At times grand, at times haunted and with a dark underbelly that occasionally pokes through the calm surface. Or, he’s like the river Loire, apparently benign but with a dangerous current just below. The point is, he feels an affinity with the setting because they have so much in common. Lombard has a love-hate relationship with the city he lives in; part of him wants to leave but the pull is too strong, they’ve been through too much together. Like a marriage, Lombard and the city of Tours must work together and support each other. I wanted him to be as brooding as the medieval streets at night, as open as the wide modern boulevards at other times and as unpredictable as the valley’s climate. I wanted him to feel as old as the cathedral and as young as the university’s students. I wanted all of these things in a man who has lost his way and from a city that can both mock and encourage those changes.

It may all seem a bit ambitious, a bit high-falutin’, but Inspector Morse was the city of Oxford and vice-versa; Miss Marple was able to see the depravity and cruelty of the world through the tranquil prism of St Mary Mead. People are a product of their surroundings.

Finally, a thought. The French word for ‘Setting’ is cadre, which literally translates as frame. And like Van Gogh said, ‘A painting without a frame is like a soul without a body.’ Now put that in to crime novel terms, you can’t do anything without a body, can you?

(c) Ian Moore

About The Man Who Didn’t Burn:


When an English expat is brutally murdered, his charred corpse left on a Loire Valley hillside, the police turn to juge d’instruction Matthieu Lombard to find the killer.

Instead, Lombard discovers a wealth of secrets, grudges and feuds in the idyllic town of Saint-Genèse-sur-Loire. He begins to suspect that the remaining members of the Comité des Fêtes know more about the death than they are letting on.

But rather than towards an arrest, each clue he uncovers seems to point in one, unexpected direction: Joan of Arc. Is the answer to the murder hiding in the barroom gossip of the Lion d’Or? Or in another century altogether?

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Ian Moore is a leading comedian and TV/radio performer. He is the author of the bestselling Follet Valley series, which includes Death and Croissants and Death and Fromage; as well as two memoirs on life in France, À la Mod and C’est Modnifique. Ian lives in rural France and commutes back to the UK every week.

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