It is a tricky case for even the most hardened crime novelist to crack: how can you keep your books gritty and realistic when the place you have chosen as a backdrop to the drama no longer has a fully functioning police station?
That is the conundrum facing Stephen Booth, the English author who recently published his 15th crime novel set in the Peak District. Featuring the detectives Ben Cooper and Diane Fry, the series sees the duo solving murders from their base in the heart of the region’s sprawling national park.
There is just one problem: the last fully staffed police station in the Peak District National Park, located in the picturesque town of Bakewell, closed to the public on 12 June. It means that anyone reporting a non-emergency in the area, which covers more than 550 square miles, must now dial 101 or go online.
For Booth, who frequently speaks to serving officers to get a sense of their day-to-day concerns and featured a closed police station in his 2013 book Already Dead, the news did not come as a surprise. But he said he did not feel “under pressure” to close his fictional police station, joking that “it doesn’t cost anything to run”.
He added: “When you’re writing fiction you do have to make a lot of compromises with reality. My characters are based in a fictional town called Edendale which bears some similarities with Bakewell and Buxton, but fortunately the police station there is beyond the control of the Police and Crime Commissioner.”
The writer said that maintaining the artificial “parallel universe” inhabited by his detectives was important, as readers often write to him to complain that they’ve “heard enough about austerity” in the news and would rather not think about it when they reach for their bedtime book.
“In crime novels you can’t really try to be too authentic in the details – in the real world, a police investigation is actually quite tedious,” he added. “Your characters would spend most of the book sitting in the office doing paperwork, which people don’t really want to read about.”
Booth, who lives in Nottinghamshire near the Peak District, said he had his own first-hand experience of crime earlier this year when his offices were burgled. The thieves made off with a laptop and cash, but the police did not manage to find the culprits.
The decision to close the Bakewell station was taken as part of efforts to identify savings of £27m over the next five years. Announcing the closure in January, Derbyshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Alan Charles said it came down to “a question of bobbies or buildings”. His office said he was unavailable for comment.
Although a Safer Neighbourhood Team is still based at Bakewell, there are no “reactive officers” – those who respond to crime reports – at the station. The nearest detectives are based at Matlock and Buxton, both located just outside the national park, which attracts more than 8 million visitors a year.
A spokeswoman for Derbyshire Constabulary said: “Before our public enquiries desks were closed, a lot of research was done into how many crimes were actually reported via the front desk, and it was very minimal. The majority of crimes are reported via the non-emergency 101 number.”Reuse content