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The inspiration behind SERPENT’S POINT

Inspiration was in short supply during lockdown, with cancelled research trips and opportunities for observing humanity cut to a minimum. However, the enforced isolation did give me more time to research into the past (which, luckily, is one of my favourite occupations).

            For a long time I’ve been keen to include the discovery of Roman remains in one of Wesley Peterson’s cases but it’s always been assumed that the Romans took very little interest in the part of South West England where my books are set. Most archaeological evidence suggested that they set up a legionary fortress in Exeter (or Isca Dumnonia) in the first century AD then, faced with the need to support military campaigning in Wales and the North, the majority of troops were withdrawn and the former fort became an administrative centre for the region.

            Evidence of a Roman presence has been found in north and east Devon but, other than that, it seems as though the Romans regarded beautiful Devon as a backwater. However, from time to time tantalising discoveries are made –  a fragment of a hypocaust at Exmouth, a bronze figure at Sidmouth and a section of Roman road at Ipplepen (heading roughly in the direction of my fictional villa). Perhaps one day there will be a major discovery like the one I’ve described in this book. Archaeologists can dream!

            While I was carrying out my research I was fascinated to learn about curse tablets – typically thin sheets of lead incised with a scratched curse and folded before being deposited in a temple, grave or sacred spring. Some have been found in the springs at Aquae Sulis (modern day Bath) and, being a crime writer, I couldn’t resist introducing a curse into my plot. While I was planning Serpent’s Point, I particularly enjoyed watching Mary Beard’s fantastic TV series Meet the Romans and I was delighted to discover that Roman tombstones often reveal more about the people they commemorate than simple names and dates. They sometimes include interesting information about the life of the deceased – and in some cases they even tell the story of how he or she died. The Roman Heritage Museum housing Marcus Flavius Livius’s tombstone exists only in my imagination but many Roman finds from Exeter can be viewed at the city’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery. I’m ashamed to say that I’ve forgotten much of the Latin I learned at school but perhaps I’ll give myself a refresher course so I can better understand these intriguing relics of the time when Rome ruled Britannia.

            To move on to Wesley’s modern day mystery, over the years I’ve been writing I’ve been in the habit of keeping newspaper reports of interesting crimes for future reference. One case that caught my attention was that of a woman and her two children who vanished without trace from South Devon in the nineteen seventies. I often find inspiration from real life crimes and this case proved that, without a body, it is very difficult for the police to obtain enough proof of foul play to obtain a conviction. Hundreds of people go missing each year and the vast majority turn up safe and well. But, inevitably, a few might have met a tragic end, possibly at the hands of someone they trusted just as in Serpent’s Point.

            I do hope you enjoy Wesley Peterson’s latest investigation – and the deadly mystery of Serpent’s Point.