The cover of Late Checkout shows a gritty-looking urban landscape. Rather than just picking a cityscape at random, those excellent people at Books Covered remained true to the book and selected a shot of Stockport where much of the book’s action is set. Those who know the area will recognise the church as St Mary’s and the building to the left as Bank Chambers, both just off Stockport Market.
Although there are numerous examples of crime fiction set in Manchester, I’m not aware of much set specifically in Stockport. My first two Marie Donovan books had some scenes set in Stockport, but ranged more widely around north west England. Much of Late Checkout, though, is set in the town and wider borough of Stockport, and that will also be true of its forthcoming sequel, Dark Corners.
Stockport’s an oddly atmospheric place, although parts of it are just odd. The ‘heart’ of the town is an anonymous shopping precinct built literally over the top of the River Mersey (for years, a reliable pub quiz question was which Football League ground was closest to the Mersey, but Stockport County kiboshed that through repeated relegations). Beyond that, though, a network of streets wind up through different levels, so that your perspective on the place always feels slightly out of kilter. Joy Division recorded Unknown Pleasures here. We have a Unicorn Brewery which brews Unicorn Bitter. We have one of the largest brick-built edifices in the world in Stockport viaduct. We have a Hat Museum. And we have our own pyramid, just off the M60.
I was once the intended victim of a spectacularly inept attempted mugging in one of the alleyways connecting the lower and upper parts of the town. I was already walking away when the two teenage assailants were interrupted by an elderly lady with a shopping trolley. They both fled. I don’t know if that’s typical, but I don’t imagine there’s any more crime in Stockport than in other similar urban areas. Even so, we’ve had our share of killings over the years, sometimes gangster-related. One or two of those I’ve appropriated, in suitably fictionalised form, in past books—including in one case transposing the murder to the Mongolian steppe. The killings in Late Checkout, though, are entirely fictional. So are the locations in which they occur, but I’ve tried throughout, as I did in the two Marie Donovan books, to set them in a real and recognisable landscape. And however fictional they may be, they’re still probably no less likely than a Unicorn Brewery or a motorway-side pyramid.
Oh, and the title of this piece? That comes from some glorious sleeve-notes written by the ever-entertaining former Beatles publicist Derek Taylor for an album recorded in Stockport by the Liverpool group Scaffold. The notes conclude: ‘Good old Stockport. Thy ‘eart beats strong and thou hart more than ‘atmakers.’ So now you know.