mcdermid-northanger-abbeyInteresting, this.  The Austen Project asks best-selling authors to rework the six Jane Austen novels with modern settings, the first being Joanna Trollope’s Sense and Sensibility. Why? Well why not? Literal circumstances – dates, times, places – may change, but the wit and finesse of Austen’s characters is timeless.

One of her darker novels – with at least a ghost of a mystery at its heart  – is Northanger Abbey, so who better to pick up the gauntlet than the wonderful Val McDermid? This is a really enjoyable read and certainly no pale re-write.

Seventeen-year-old Catherine ‘Cat’ Morland has led a sheltered life in rural Dorset, bereft of romance and excitement. When her wealthy neighbours, the Allens, invite her to the Edinburgh Festival, she is sure adventure beckons. There, she meets Henry Tilney, a pale, dark-eyed gentleman whose family home, Northanger Abbey, sounds thrilling. She also becomes friends with Bella Thorpe, a fellow fan of supernatural fiction: her banker brother, however, is somewhat less appealing. When Cat’s invited to stay at Northanger, her imagination runs riot: an ancient abbey, crumbling turrets, secret chambers, ghosts…and Henry! What could be more deliciously romantic?

The real world outside the pages of a novel proves to be altogether more disturbing, however, than the imagined world within…

Val McDermid is a major figure in British crime fiction. When I last looked, she had written thirty-two bestselling novels, including a book for children (My Granny is a Pirate).  She’s won a host of awards, including the CWA Gold Dagger, can be read in thirty languages and has sales of over ten million. Perhaps her best-known creation is the troubled, but brilliant criminal psychologist Tony Hill, as seen on TV in the memorable series Wire in the Blood.

Val is also an articulate and forthright cultural pundit and despite her Scottish origins, we Mancunians still think of her as one of our own. And we always will.