You are probably aware of the fact that R D Blackmore’s 19th Century novel Lorna Donne is set on Exmoor but who would have thought that Exmoor would provide the setting for a Swedish crime noir thriller from acclaimed author Hakan Nesser? Well it does in his book ‘The Living and the Dead in Winsford’.


The story is told from the point of view of Maria Holinek, a Swedish TV presenter, who, for nefarious reasons has found herself spending a winter on Exmoor. She is alone apart from her faithful Rhodesian Ridgeback dog Castor. At the beginning of the book she vows to outlive her dog – is this good or bad news for Castor? Among the many other questions to be answered are why is she here, where is her husband Martin, and what dark events really happened with Martin and his fellow writers in Morocco all those years ago?

This is a psychological rather than an action thriller or detective novel. A lot of the novel unfolds as Maria walks her dog over Exmoor, particularly around Winsford Hill, Tarr Steps and Selworthy Beacon. She often spends evenings in The Royal Oak at Winsford and, of course in the lodgings she has rented on . The Exmoor environment is meticulously described and you can easily walk in the footsteps of Maria and Castor taking in the Caratacus Stone, the ponies on Winsford Hill, the grave of Elizabeth Williford-Barrett (which is in reality based on a memorial to Micheline Elizabeth Rickard) and learn the supposed reason why Selworthy Church is painted white!


The author, Hakan Nesser, did visit Exmoor a number of times and spent the winter of 2011/2012 at a holiday home on the edge of Winsford Hill while writing the book. He also returned to Winsford when the novel was first published. This is, no doubt, why the Exmoor details are so authentic and you can easily work out where Maria’s fictitious Darne Lodge is located.


I found it an intriguing read, quite slow initially but the pace is suddenly picked up near the end with a last minute twist. Is every mystery neatly explained. Well, no, but that is the nature of Exmoor! So why not book a stay with us, explore Maria’s Exmoor (not necessarily in winter) and you could be inspired to write your own novel!