In the footsteps of LJ Ross, DCI Ryan and ‘Borderlands’

Travel Talk

Northumberland – November 2019

The Silver Travel Book Club read for November 2019 is ‘Borderlands’ by LJ Ross. This is author Louise’s 14th crime thriller with DCI Ryan at the forefront of the hugely popular series, all set very firmly in the Newcastle and Northumberland area that is her home territory.

Borderlands by LJ Ross After uncovering a fresh wave of corruption within the ranks of Northumbria CID, Detective Chief Inspector Ryan was looking forward to an uneventful summer. But, when a young woman is shot dead on the remote army ranges of the Northumberland National Park, Ryan is called in to investigate.

Meanwhile, violent crimes are being committed across sites of historic importance in the North East, the perpetrator leaving only a graffitied symbol as their calling card. As the body count rises, Ryan and his team must unravel the mystery behind its meaning – before it’s too late…

Murder and mystery are peppered with romance and humour in this fast-paced crime whodunnit set amidst the spectacular Northumbrian landscape.

Your intrepid Literary Editor Andrew felt duty-bound to follow in the footsteps of the author and her characters, to try and bring the story to life for readers and also to celebrate HF Holidays being the new Book Club sponsor.

Louise clearly knows the Northumbrian landscape intimately. Here’s where the clever plot is given literary wings:

‘In the daylight, she knew there would be sweeping hills rising up on either side of the river, with the mighty Cheviot towering above them all. There would be forests in shades of green, and  barren moors in a patchwork of brown and gold, littered with the carcasses of abandoned tanks and artillery weapons , now rusted with age.’

She is Private Jess Stephenson, on a night-time live-fire tactical training exercise which ends in tragedy.

Otterburn Camp, Northumberland The Otterburn Ranges were situated in a remote corner of the world, covering ninety square miles of the Northumberland National Park, in the northernmost uplands where England met the border with Scotland.’

On a cold, drizzly November day, I had seen abundant shades of green, brown, orange and gold on the spectacular drive across from the northern Pennines, through to the Northumberland National Park. And I had a definite sense of remoteness as I approached the entrance to Otterburn Camp, the wind howling over the barren moors of the military ranges.

I took a photo of the Camp, where DCI Ryan and his colleagues interview army personnel after the tragedy at the start of the book. I shouldn’t have been surprised that I was hunted down as I made my escape, a large truck emblazoned with MOD markings and lights flashing as I was waved to the side of the narrow moorland road. A copy of ‘Borderlands’ and an explanation that I was indulging in a spot of literary stalking was enough to secure my release, and I was sent on my way with helpful directions for a shortcut to Otterburn village.

Cheviot Hills, Northumberland The road was scenic and winding, taking Ryan along the underside of the Northumberland National Park and through the Cheviot Hills to the ancient village of Otterburn, a mere sixteen miles from the Scottish border. In days gone by, it had been the site of a major battle between the English and the Scots.

I saw the site of the ancient battleground, admired the pretty village and took refuge in The Border Reiver Village Store, a hearty bowl of soup providing some comfort after my Campside trauma.

Nourished, I followed DCI Ryan in reverse at the start of his investigation. ‘Soon after, he was on the road, covering the short distance from his home in the picturesque village of Elsdon to the Otterburn Army Training Camp, six miles further west in the Northumbrian heartland.’

After his first interviews of army personnel, Ryan returns to ‘the historic village of Elsdon, with its quaint stone houses and pele tower, and felt a sense of calm begin to descend.’

Elsdon, Northumberland I felt a similar sense of ease as I strolled around this charming rural village, its central green surrounded by solid stone houses, gentle hills in the distance and, sloping away from the green, a beautiful church and further beyond, Elsdon Tower. Here is one of the finest examples in the Borders of a medieval tower house, built in the 14th century and standing in rugged simplicity as a symbol of the Northumbrian countryside and its turbulent history.

Detective Sergeant Frank Phillips helps DCI Ryan with the Otterburn investigation. Phillips lives ‘in the pretty market town of Wooler’ with DI Denise MacKenzie and their foster daughter Samantha. I stayed overnight in the town, hunting in vain for ‘bacon stotties, fresh out of the oven from a mobile van that passed through Wooler every morning’, and also failed to find the ‘small, traditionally-styled fish and chip van ‘Fishy on a Dishy’ that tended to park itself on the High Street, in time for the lunchtime crowd.’  

DCI Ryan senses that a serial killer might be on the loose. I followed in his investigative tracks, to smart Rothbury (‘the other lass went missing from…here’ says Phillips to Ryan, poring over a map in their car).

Rothbury, Northumberland A separate plot strand starts developing in and around Newcastle, where violent hate crimes are being committed, the perpetrator leaving behind a menacing graffitied symbol as their ‘calling card’, and where the life of an ex-soldier who served in Afghanistan is spiralling out of control.

I won’t spoil the story, but the Duddo Stones also play an important role: ‘the Duddo Stone Circle, an ancient Early Bronze Age site of five large sandstones arranged in a circle just north of the tiny village of Duddo, less than five miles from the Scottish border.’ Silver Travel Advisor colleague and local Northumbrian resident Steve Newman will visit these and tell you all about them in a separate article.

Borderlands’ is a fast-paced thriller with vivid characters, a clever plot and some dry humour. But most of all, it’s a love letter to the author’s home territory, the story bringing north Northumberland to life for the reader; ‘there was both beauty and isolation in that part of the country, which had allowed rare species of birds and mammals to flourish without man’s interference – and the hills and crags, burns and lakes provided endless opportunities for quiet contemplation for those who sought it.’

LJ Ross – Louise – started her professional life as a lawyer. But she pursued her dream to write and is now an international bestselling author, best known for creating atmospheric mystery and thriller novels, including the DCI Ryan series of Northumbrian murder mysteries which have sold over four million copies worldwide. She has now also embarked on a new series of thriller novels based around the central character of ‘Dr Alexander Gregory’, whose work as a psychological profiler takes him around the world. The first book, ‘Impostor’, is now available and is set in the beautiful hills of Ireland’s County Mayo.

HF Holidays Nether Grange, Northumberland The Silver Travel Advisor Book Club’s new sponsor is HF Holidays. I visited their charming Nether Grange Country House in the quiet harbour village of Alnmouth during my literary road trip.  From here, looking out across a golf course and the sea, there is easy access to the medieval town of Alnwick, the Farne Islands, Lindisfarne, magnificent Bamburgh Castle, the Northumberland National Park and much more. And with Nether Grange as your base, you can explore the countryside, relax or enjoy one of dozens of activity-based holidays in this atmospheric corner of the country.

Silver Travel Advisor recommends HF Holidays.

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Andrew Morris

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