Why Yorkshire's a hotbed of crime in the world of fiction

Dalziel and Pascoe aren't the only detectives in fictional Yorkshire. Clare Littleford rounds up the suspects.

Think of Yorkshire as it appears in fiction and a whole host of images are conjured up. It's easy to picture Gothic ruins and towering mills in a rolling landscape; to think of the Bronts on windswept moors, or grim realism in mill towns, or a romantic yearning for innocent rural pleasures.

None of these are a complete picture, of course, but they do hint at something of Yorkshire's uniqueness; a strong identity encompassing a huge variety of broad histories and personal tales, covering every kind of community in a startlingly diverse landscape. And nowhere is this more apparent than in contemporary crime fiction.

If you're looking for police procedural mysteries set in Yorkshire, there are two names that dominate the bookshelves: Reginald Hill and Peter Robinson. Both authors are one-time residents of Yorkshire – Peter Robinson relocated to Canada while Reginald Hill is closer to home in Cumbria – but the Yorkshire they describe has that texture of familiarity that helps to bring the readers back, book after book.

Reginald Hill's creations may be more familiar to the casual browser – not least because Superintendent Andy Dalziel and DCI Peter Pascoe have their own BBC series – but Peter Robinson's Inspector Alan Banks is no also-ran. Both create novels that are by turn thrilling, entertaining and totally absorbing.

Reginald Hill's larger-than-life character Dalziel dominates his novels, with Hill's trademark skill of creating extraordinary characters at the heart of the series. Dalziel is the Fat Man in all senses; belligerent and uncompromising, he devours the challenge of each investigation. His odd-couple pairing with the more considered Pascoe is one of the delights of British crime fiction. The latest novel in the series, The Death of Dalziel, explores this pairing to great effect: as a bomb blast puts Dalziel in a coma, Pascoe steps forward to fill the Fat Man's shoes and, in the process, finds he begins to take on some of Dalziel's characteristics.

While Reginald Hill brings spark, wit and larger-than-life character to his novels, Peter Robinson's Inspector Alan Banks novels have an easy intelligence that draws the reader comfortably into the story. No huge characters dominate the stage; Robinson's skill lies in his ability to weave a complex story without ever seeming to lose the pace. In Piece of My Heart, Robinson brings together a murder investigation in the 1960s with Banks's investigation of a murder some 40 years later as the past refuses to stay buried.

A very different vision of the past – and of the police force – comes to life in what must be one of the most enduring representations of Yorkshire: Nicholas Rhea's Constable series, better known as ITV's Heartbeat. This may not be the gritty stuff we've come to expect from crime fiction – it doesn't really qualify as crime fiction in the murder-mystery sense – but it's entertaining stuff all the same. Nicholas Rhea works well in this lighter vein – another series he has created follows the antics of trough-collecting DI Montague Pluke, surely one of the more eccentric police officers in fictional Yorkshire. Pluke's latest adventure, chronicled in Prize Murder, kicks off

as he searches for the legendary Holy Trough of Blackamoor – and the fun continues from there.

On a darker note, Lesley Horton's DI John Handford pounds the mean streets of modern Bradford, and Horton doesn't shy away from controversial topics. Gritty and packed with suspense, the Handford novels tackle big issues without losing the thread of the story. In the latest in the series, The Hollow Core, Handford and his side-kick DS Kahlid Ali are called in when a woman is shot dead following a family outing; the family's connections to the BNP, upcoming local elections and rising tension within the local Muslim population all conspire as Handford and Ali search for the truth.

Horton isn't the only writer to tackle big social issues within a Yorkshire setting. Patricia Hall's engaging approach brings us a series that pairs DCI Michael Thackeray with reporter Laura Ackroyd. In Death In A Far Country, issues from the world stage come close to home. Perhaps occasionally using broad strokes where a more subtle touch could explore those complexities further, Hall nevertheless creates engaging stories.

These are just a sample of some of the crime writers mining the rich veins of Yorkshire-based stories. Other series, such as Stuart Pawson's popular DCI Charlie Priest series, the prolific author Robert Barnard's detective series featuring Charlie Peace, or work by other authors such as Roger Silverwood's DI Michael Angel series, or John Baker's varied work all point to just how much crime fiction is going on in Yorkshire. All these writers, in one way or another, explore what it means to have a strong local identity in a constantly changing world.