Exploring the dark side of wartime Cambridge
Jim Kelly, a crime mystery writer who lives in Ely, is kicking off a new series with his 14th book, The Great Darkness, which focuses on Cambridge during the Second World War.
Kelly won a Dagger (a crime writing Oscar) for his first series set in the small city, and then won the New Angle Prize for Literature for his second series based in North Norfolk.
“This is the start of a third, whole new series,” Jim told the Cambridge Independent. “A lot of people kept saying ‘why don’t you set something in Cambridge?’
“For a long time I thought it was a bit of a cliché: Cambridge, the colleges and the punts and stuff like that. I kept saying I didn’t want to do that because it would be almost impossible to write it and for it to feel fresh.”
Jim, 60, continued: “I thought about it for a long time and in the end I thought the only way I could do it was to try to create a Cambridge that no one’s seen before, so I did two things. One, I set it in the war, and the war in Cambridge was quite a big thing.
“I was very surprised to discover that Cambridge was quite central to a lot of things because while you had all the academic and scientific work going on in the city, you also had 10,000 evacuees, you had the military here – they moved quite a few Whitehall departments out here. Also, 1,200 houses were damaged by air raids killing 30 people.
“The second thing I did was to see it in a much darker way. The series is going to be called Nighthawk and the main character, Eden Brooke, is a detective inspector, who fought in the First World War.
“He is very much a night person – because of the war he suffers from insomnia and photophobia, a sensitivity to light.
“So you put those two things together – the war and the night time – it gives me the chance to see Cambridge quite differently, and I hope it gives it a really different feel to the tourist look.”
Jim, whose father was a Scotland Yard detective, added: “It’s called The Great Darkness because in the opening months of the war, they obviously introduced the blackout, and they had this one night where they tried to do a blackout over the whole of southern England.
“The RAF flew over to see whether it was effective, and it was called ‘The Great Darkness’. I just thought it was a fantastic title and the action starts on the night of The Great Darkness.”
The Great Darkness was officially published on Thursday, February 15, and Jim, a journalist for 25 years before publishing his first book in 2002, already has the second part in the series written.
He will be launching The Great Darkness at Heffers on February 27 and then at Toppings in Ely on March 1. Jim will also be at the Cambridge Literary Festival in April with fellow crime novelist Elly Griffiths.
He concluded: “I always wanted to write and I guess with dad being a detective, it was the natural kind of place to go. Oddly, the one thing I was not allowed to be was a policeman – my dad said that was not an option.
“So in a vicarious way, I’ve ended up being one.”