Prime crime time in Lorne

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Just outside Oban, within sight of the Connel Bridge, there’s a burned-out car containing the charred remains of a human body.

A woman is missing – but is the body hers?

In a high stakes game of business and politics, what secret does the bustling port of Oban hide that is worth killing for?

That’s the teaser for Allan Martin’s latest West Coast crime thriller, The Dead of Appin, the third in the Oban-based Inspector Angus Blue series, following The Peat Dead and The Dead of Jura.

But why pick Oban as a setting for so many crime novels? Ahead of his book talk at Oban Waterstones on Wednesday June 8, we interview Allan Martin, and meet DI Angus Blue.

Why did you set your novels in this part of the world?

‘My grandfather’s family came from Colonsay, and my grandmother’s from Jura, so there’s always been a connection. As a gateway to the Inner Hebrides, as well as a busy port and centre of a varied hinterland, and some beautiful scenery, Oban offers lots of possibilities for stories.’

DI Angus Blue has lots of fans. How would you describe him?

‘He’s not a superhero. He’s a normal person and very human. He also has a strong sense of justice, which is more than simply an awareness of what the law prescribes. For Angus Blue, the basis of morality is accepting responsibility for your own actions. If he believes something is wrong he will say so, if he is ordered to do something which he considers to be wrong, he will suggest alternatives or refuse to do it.

‘Thankfully his boss, superintendent Campbell, understands this. However, other senior officers are not so sympathetic. In The Dead of Appin, new assistant commissioner for public relations Ramona Clegg arrives with a very different view of policing in which considerations of good or bad, innocent or guilty, play only a minor part. This will create more difficulty for Blue in the next book.

‘The three Angus Blue novels published so far all have a political edge to them. I think the biggest criminals in our society are big businessmen and corporations who rip people off and pay no taxes, and politicians who are mainly interested in feathering their own nests. Let me be clear, there are plenty honest business owners and some honest politicians.

‘But power and money seem to go hand in hand, and greed and corruption seem to be common at the highest levels in society. As well as a temptation to forget about moral or legal restraints. Therefore, rather than chasing crazed serial killers or ambitious gangsters, Blue tends to investigate crimes which have at their basis the anti-social activities of the rich and powerful.’

Did you research all the settings for The Dead of Appin?

‘Yes. I like my stories to be set in real places, so I visit every location myself. It’s a good excuse for us to go to some very interesting places. Nevertheless, it’s sometimes necessary to tweak the real geography a little to make the story work. However, I always add a note at the end saying just where I’ve fiddled with reality.

‘For instance, I wouldn’t want readers to turn up at Oban airport hoping to get a flight to Glasgow or Edinburgh (maybe one day that will happen). I should add that the biggest fictional location is the Oban Police Headquarters, which is a much grander affair than the real thing.’