The Ink Penn

Why am I reading books set in Devon, Oxford and the Cotswolds?

Because in addition to London, those are the locales I’ll soon visit in Great Britain. One of my greatest travel pleasures is preparing for a trip by reading fiction, especially mysteries, set in the locales I visit.

I prefer books to hold in my hands, but for international travel, only my Kindle will do. Because I read British mysteries nonstop, finding a select few set in Devon, Oxford and the Cotswolds required an entertaining internet search. That effort netted me several authors to consider.

The first is Agatha Christie, an old standby. I’ve read her books here and there through the years, but more often watch Poirot on PBS. We’ll visit Greenway Estate, her home near Dartmouth. Several of her novels—The A.B.C. Murders, Five Little Pigs, Towards Zero, and Dead Man’s Folly—use the estate and the surrounding area as settings, and the television version of Dead Man’s Folly was filmed there.

A new to me author whose mysteries take place in the Dartmouth area is Kate Ellis. I’ve downloaded The Merchant’s House, the first book in her series featuring Wesley Peterson. From her website, I gleaned lots of ideas about sites to see while in the Dartmouth area and was prompted to write her. She wrote back and gave me an introduction to the buildings, businesses, and towns she describes in her books, only with different names. I think I’ll make a list of all of them and try to check them off as I go.

Because I’ve watched Inspector Morse, Inspector Lewis, and Endeavor on PBS, I feel as though I already know bits and pieces of Oxford. I can’t recall ever reading Colin Dexter’s novels, though, so I’ve downloaded the first three Morse books for the trip.

Before this search, I’d already stumbled across Faith Martin’s mysteries set in Oxford. I’m still early in the series and intrigued by DI Hillary Greene living on a narrowboat on the Oxford Canal. I’ve always dreamed of chartering a narrow boat—with a captain—and touring the countryside that way. So far, I’ve enjoyed Murder on the Oxford Canal and Murder at the University, and reading about her narrowboat is probably as close as I’ll get to vacationing on one.

When I googled books set in the Cotswolds, I was rewarded with Victoria Henry’s How to Find Love in a Bookshop. It’s a bit of a romance and mystery blend, and its setting is a blend of Oxford and the Cotswolds.

Oddly, I hadn’t turned up any mysteries set in the Cotswolds until author Kate Ellis suggested I try Rebecca Tope’s mystery series. Every one of her books has Cotswolds in the title, so who knows why Google didn’t surface them during my search? My Kindle now contains a four-pack of the Cotswold series.

Though I don’t often read nonfiction, I’m also working my way through Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island. I say “working my way,” not because it’s a slog, but because I can easily pick it up and put it down, unlike the several novels I read each week. I love this description: “a delightfully irreverent jaunt around the unparalleled floating nation of Great Britain, which has produced zebra crossings, Shakespeare, Twiggie Winkie’s Farm, and places with names like Farleigh Wallop and Titsey.”

I’ve packed my suitcase and my Kindle, and I’m eagerly anticipating my upcoming trip across the pond. Stay tuned for more information about the trip.

Kathy Manos Penn is a Sandy Springs resident. Her latest book, “Lord Banjo the Royal Pooch,” and her collection of columns, “The Ink Penn: Celebrating the Magic in the Everyday,” are available at the Enchanted Forest and Amy’s Hallmark, and on Amazon. For more information, visit,  follow Kathy on Facebook, or write her at

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