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Top 5 books about the British seaside, chosen by crime writer William Shaw

Sailing accidents, seedy goings on, murders... it's not always good to be beside the seaside

Brighton Pier. Image: Callum Parker on Unsplash

The British seaside has proved a fictional hotbed over the years. Here are crime writer William Shaw’s five picks of the best books set there.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier 

It’s not all buckets and spades at the British seaside. A kind of darkness lies at the edge, and no book distills that more perfectly than Rebecca. Did the first Mrs De Winter really perish in a mysterious sailing accident? All is not well at Manderley.  

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens 

The Thames estuary is muddy and misty, it’s very literally where what London’s detritus ends up. Dickens knew it well. He depicts a North Kent coast that is full ghosts and convicts, and Miss Havisham’s house in Rochester becomes a scene of glorious decay.  

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

The British seaside is a place of ‘Kiss Me Quick’ hats, a place we go in the hope of losing our inhibitions and having passionate sex while still remaining British. In McEwan’s novel, set in 1962, a young couple check into a seaside hotel in Dorset to consummate their marriage. The sex is awful, inept and humiliating and haunts their relationship. 

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Brighton Rock by Graham Greene 

Before gentrification, the i360, the Green Party and the crumbling of the West Pier, Brighton was a place where burglars sold their wares to fences and criminal gangs ruled the racetrack. Greene’s deliciously seedy fantasy is set against the decrepit glory of what was then a cheap English holiday town.  

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

The classic whodunnit is set on an imaginary Soldier Island lying just off the Devon coast. Inspired by the real-life Burgh Island, a place that Christie loved – she had her own retreat built on it – its mixture of classy accommodation and tidal isolation makes it a perfect place to kill in quantity. 

The Wild Swimmers (the latest instalment of the DS Cupidi series) by William Shaw is out on 23 May (Quercus, £20). You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.
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