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The murderous rise of Welsh crime writing

15 Jun 2024 5 minute read
CWA Banner/ Typewriter by ToastyTreat is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Sarah Ward

June is National Crime Reading Month, an initiative organised by the Crime Writers Association in partnership with The Reading Agency.

Welsh crime fiction has experienced a renaissance over the last few years with readers drawn to the stunning landscape and Welsh experience depicted in the twisty plots.

The rich history of the genre can be traced back to the origins of the genre with writers such as Abergavenny’s Ethel Lina White captivating Alfred Hitchcock with The Wheel Spins which inspired the film The Lady Vanishes.

If we widen the crime writing genre to include tales of horror and the supernatural, which often have a significant mystery element, we can also include the greats such as Arthur Machen and Roald Dahl as flying the flag for Welsh crime writing.

More recently, the writing collective Crime Cymru has been working to promote contemporary crime writers who have a ‘a real and present relationship with Wales’.

The collective has grown in size since its inception in 2018 to nearly fifty members whose books and short stories show the depth and diversity of Welsh writing.

Its popular annual celebration of crime writing Gŵyl Crime Cymru Festival draws writers from around the world to Aberystwyth to chat about all things murderous.

Rhys Dylan and Fflur Dafydd in conversation at Gwŷl Crime Cymru Festival with Alis Hawkins. (Photo courtesy of Mari Sion)


The Welsh countryside remains an inspiration to many writers living in Wales.

Clare Macintosh’s most recent book in the DC Ffion Morgan series, Game of Lies, is set in the mountains above Cym Coed, a fictional village in Snowdonia and draws on reality TV’s fascination with wild and challenging landscapes.

Simon McCleave also puts places in North Wales firmly on the map by highlighting the locations of his thrillers in the title such as The Menai Bridge Killings.

Cardiff writer Louise Mumford travels West for her psychological thrillers, her most recent novel, The Hotel, set in Poppit Sands while my next book, The Vanishing Act is set in the historic Glyn Cothi forest in Carmarthenshire.

Wales’s rich history also inspires gothic and historical crime fiction who draw on the nation’s past which might be unfamiliar to readers.

None So Blind, the first book in Alis Hawkins’ Teifi Valley Coroner series, is set to the backdrop of the Rebecca Riots and shows the anger and tensions at the tax imposed on ordinary people.

Susan Stokes-Chapman’s excellent The Shadow Key eighteenth century set thriller has something devilish going on in the quiet Welsh village of Penhelyg.

The Venetian Candidate by Philip Gwynne Jones is published by Little, Brown


Welsh writers are, of course, scattered around the globe and continue to promote the diverse talent coming out of Wales.

Philip Gwynne Jones’s Nathan Sutherland series is set in contemporary Venice, the city where lives and Jones makes frequent trips back to his birthplace to promote his books while Swansea author Cathy Ace, now based in British Columbia writes her popular Cait Morgan series featuring a Welsh Canadian academic.

Wilderness (Amazon Prime Video)

Welsh characters

It’s good to see when Welsh characters aren’t erased or anglicised as they’re transferred to the screen.

The Amazon Prime series based on Pontypridd writer B E Jones’s novel Wilderness remained faithful to the Welsh characters in Jones’s book.

As Jones says, ‘There was an interesting moment at the London preview screening when a reviewer asked, “Why is Liv Welsh in the show?”

The fantastic screenwriter Marnie Dickens replied, “because she’s Welsh in the book and the author is Welsh.”

It struck me that my own answer might have been, “Why not?” The fact the question was asked in the first place seemed to touch on the idea that we don’t necessarily see lots of Welsh protagonists outside Welsh – made TV shows, whereas Scottish and Irish accents are common.’

North America continues to be a draw as a setting for many Welsh writers, Morgan Greene’s most recent novel, Savage Ridge, set in the American Pacific Northwest was chosen as Welsh Waterstones Book of the Month.

True stories

Crime writing, of course, doesn’t just embrace fiction.

True stories continue to fascinate readers, such as No Ordinary Day by Crime Cymru founder member Matt Johnson which details the story behind the 1984 shooting of his friend and colleague Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan embassy.

Another excellent read is One-Armed Jack: Uncovering the Real Jack the Ripper by South Wales writer Sarah Bax Horton whose discovery of a Whitechapel police ancestor inspired her to propose a new suspect as the famous killer.

I hope I’ve inspired you to pick up some of these excellent books.

As we celebrate Welsh crime writing, it’s worth mentioning the wonderful bookshops and libraries who continue to promote the genre and ensure all our writing reaches the hands of readers. Diolch!

Sarah Ward is a crime novelist who writes gothic historical thrillers as Rhiannon Ward. The Birthday Girl, the first book in her Welsh based series, was described in the FT as ‘channelling Christie-esque tropes’. The Vanishing Act, the third book in the series, is out on the 4 July.

Sarah is a former Vice-Chair of the Crime Writers Association and is now on the committee of Crime Cymru, the Welsh crime writing collective. She is the National Crime Reading Month ambassador for Wales. More can be found about the initiative here.

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