There are six books in Malcolm Pryce's 'Aberystwyth' series, each recounting the travails of private detective Louie Knight and his sidekick Calamity Jane. In the first book Aberystwyth Mon Amour, Louie and Calamity take on the case of Myfanwy Montez, the celebrated singer from the infamous nightclub The Moulin. Myfanwy's cousin Evans the Boot has gone missing, and it seems like a cabal known as the Druids might be behind his disappearance…
Pryce's private eye is Louie Knight, who true to the genre is a jaded but just gumshoe. Louis, along with his sidekick the teenager Calamity Jane, seek to tackle the heinous crimes committed in a town run from the shadows by mafioso-druids and sleeper agents disguised as everything from nuns to Christmas Santas.
Malcolm Pryce sets his detective series in the Welsh seaside town of Aberystwyth. His 'fabulous interpretation' mixes very British notions of seaside holidays – lost innocence, saucy postcards, and donkey rides – with more universally known characters from hard-boiled crime thrillers. In Pryce's words, "the concept [of the series] is basically a private eye from the American 1930s tradition, in Aberystwyth" (Pryce, in interview). This simple fish out of water premise combines with a deep-rooted affection for the town and its characters to create blackly comic and intensely entertaining mystery novels. In Pryce's words the series is his epic "love poem to the town" (in interview).
Why Aberystwyth? "[T]he truth is, I didn't choose Aberystwyth, it chose me" (Pryce, in interview).
Look at the light with which that scene is lit; the bleached spill from the take-aways and the lilac lightning of the meat wagons and the ochre sodium of the streetlights and the pulsing rainbows from the clubs and bars. It's oneiric; it's fantastic. …For the town seems to lend itself to endless re-invention, to fabulous interpretation… Griffiths, 2008
and with the world turned on its head at this strange angle, you know you're in Aberystwyth" Dafydd, 2008:62
The mix of genre and geography that produce Pryce's Aberystwyth reflect his own hybrid positionality in relation to the town. The author was born in Shrewsbury, on the borderland between England and Wales, and moved to Aberystwyth at the age of nine.
Interview with Malcom Pryce – On Being an Aberystwyth Outsider
…in one sense I was an outsider 'cause I had an English accent and a sort of English upbringing. But then if you go [to School in a place] from nine to eighteen, …you become just like any other kid, …you become sort of a local just in the way kids do. So I became an insider and an outsider in a way. So I understand all these Welsh references and Welsh aspects of the culture because I absorbed them in my formative years. But in the same time, I'm able to sort of look at them from like an external perspective.
In his teenage years Malcolm Pryce began to read crime novels, and through the iterations of the creative process, this genre inveigled its way into his own writing as an adult.
Interview with Malcom Pryce: Writing Crime Novels
In truth, it's not that I set out to specifically import a dime thriller private eye into Aberystwyth, it's not like I thought 'hey, that would be a fun thing to do', the concept developed actually...it started off as...many years before it started, it started off as a radio drama by somebody in a coma in hospital and in his comatose dream world there's an explosion in the town library, which was Aberystwyth library and the characters in the books are released and then they mingle and that went through numerous iterations and ended up as the one character who survived them all was the private eye and so it became a TV idea and then it became a novel with the private eye of Aberystwyth remaining as the core concept. It's not that I am steeped in the [crime] genre, I don't think you need to be because I think we all know the motifs and traits of private eyes just from having watched enough movies and I read all the Raymond Chandler novels as a teenager and loved them, greatly admired them; Chandler novels transcend the genre if you ask me but they also, at the same time, are its perfect distillation.
The integration of unlikely characters into a real geography works effectively for a range of audiences. For those unfamiliar with the town, a working knowledge of noir fiction and the strange consonants reverberating within the town's name itself is often enough to facilitate the possibility that 'there be dragons' at the end of their known world.
For those familiar with the town, the unlikelihood of such characters populating the town tickles the collective fancy, creating an alternate reality that is a pleasure to humour and pretend could be more real that first appears. Niall Griffiths, an inhabitant of the area for 20 years, puts it this way,
There's a strange draw to the place; get off the train and you can't go any further. Stand on the promenade and the next landmass is Ireland and, after that, America. Mountains pile up behind you and you feel that you can't go back into their bulwark mass but the sea, there, in front of you, is a blue world of possibility. And between that and the giant rocks is this small, intriguing town, its lanes and alleys and doorways a jumbled alphabet waiting to be re-assembled. …[Aberystwyth] is what you make of it; it supplies the materials, and what you build with them is entirely up to you. There are as many 'real' Aberystwyths as there are inhabitants of this peculiar, fascinating town. Griffiths, 2008:11-12
Due to Aberystwyth's unique location, the town can easily be seen as an island or bubble geographically isolated from, well, everywhere. As a result, many of its inhabitants - including Malcolm Pryce - find it diverting, and even necessary to indulge in flights of fancy.
Interview with Malcom Pryce: The Fantasy Island of Aberystwyth
There is a quality of sort of left of field oddness about the town who anybody who's been there somehow apprehends, but they're not quite sure what it is. But it's people… I mean, I get a lot of people who sort of thank me for having written these books, as if it's saying, you know, finally someone understands [laughs]. And so it's sort of… you can capture it in poetry or metaphor or elusion, you can't specify what it is. And I think I've tried to capture that, that strange quality about the town. It's like someone writes to me and say, oh, there's a bus from my village to Aberystwyth every morning at ten o' clock, but there's not one back. And why, you know, why is that funny? It just is. And it wouldn't be funny about other town, but it's almost what you expect from Aberystwyth.
There are six plotlines to explore for Malcolm Pryce's Aberystwyth. The first takes us around some of the more fictional plotpoints in the novel, whilst plotlines 2-4 focus on how and where Pryce's Aberystwyth coincides directly with real places in the town. Plotline 5 journeys to the north to Borth and Ynyslas, whilst plotline 6 takes us to Nant-y-Moch reservoir in the hills beyond the town.