Raise the Blade locations: 1 – Edgbaston Reservoir

It occurred to me recently that I’d never really blogged in depth about the Birmingham settings in ‘Raise the Blade’, which is a shame for two reasons. One, Birmingham is full of amazing – and often surprising – locations, and two, they’re really important to the book. So, to set the record straight, and hopefully provide something of a guided tour around the city’s less-well-known nooks and crannies, I’ll be writing about various locations over the next few weeks.

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The first is Edgbaston Reservoir, which forms the backdrop to the discovery of the very first body in ‘Raise the Blade’. I first came across the reservoir in the mid-1980s, soon after I’d moved to Brum, when a couple of friends took me there for a walk. I was pretty cynical at first; the suburb it’s set in is leafy enough, but tends towards streets lined with houses rather than huge open spaces that you can use for long walks. Just how much of a lake could there be in such a relentlessly urban location, I naively thought. Well, it just shows how wrong you can be. A short stroll down a path between two properties took me to a whole new world. A world of wide open vistas stretching out all the way to the city centre skyscrapers and beyond; a world of yachts and ducks and great-crested grebes; a world of trees that feels a million miles from the busy, traffic-choked streets just a few hundred yards away.

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The reservoir was built (or at least commissioned – I don’t suppose he lifted a shovel himself) by Thomas Telford, the great canal engineer, in the early nineteenth century, and it was built for one purpose – to provide water for Birmingham’s vast network of canals. A small stream was dammed, and water was also piped from another reservoir around three miles away, and together they formed a lake covering some 58 acres – although the overall site including a round-the-lake footpath, grassland, woodland, and the dam, covers as much as 70 acres.

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Although the reservoir itself is open to the cross-city views and skies, the surrounding trees give it an enclosed, secluded feel, particularly in summer when the leaves are fully out. At the end furthest from the dam, large houses back onto the site, their gardens barely visible over high fences, often topped with wire. It was this location in particular that I used in ‘Raise the Blade’. Rotton Park Road, with on-street parking, is only a few hundred yards away, and the path from there slopes downhill, so it would be easy enough for a strong murderer to drag a body into the undergrowth. In the book, one of the fences has been damaged – enough for the foxes to get through – and this is presumably where the murderer gains access to Mrs Rai’s garden, and where hapless victim Brian finds the body and decides to hide it, setting the book’s characters off on a chain reaction of their own.

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This is just one of Birmingham’s many hidden gems. Dashing past on the surrounding streets you’d barely know it was there, which is another reason why it might be useful for disposing of unwanted evidence. All that nice deep water (40 feet, apparently); all those trees. And when the leaves are out, it’s barely overlooked. Of course, I’m not condoning leaving dead bodies there myself, but all things considered you can see why Duncan did!

You can find out more about the reservoir, its facilities, and the various events it hosts at the Birmingham City Council webpage here. And to find out more about ‘Raise the Blade’, its victims, and the other locations I used, head for my webpage here.

All photos in this article are my own. Thanks for reading – there’ll be another unusual location along soon.

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Location shots

Several months ago, you may remember I shot off to Birmingham to take some photos of the locations I’d used in ‘Raise the Blade’.  They came out remarkably well and I was able to use some of them for a display at the book launch, which seemed to be quite popular.

Now, for those of you who couldn’t be at the launch, I’m posting some of them on here, complete with appropriate snippets from the book itself.  Hopefully it’ll give a better idea of the various settings I used, and the atmosphere.  Although I have to say it’s very hard to drum up spooky evening atmosphere in Highbury Park on a gloriously sunny morning… but you’ll just have to blame the weather for that!  Best laid plans…

Anyway, here, in no particular order, are the shots:

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Edgbaston Reservoir: The property backed onto the reservoir, so presumably that fence in the distance, beyond the clump of conifers, was where Brian had got in…

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City Centre Gardens: ‘Over there’ proved to be behind them, in the narrow space between bench and road, bounded by thick bushes and a low brick wall…

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Birmingham & Worcester canal: …stuck on the towpath with nothing but trees for miles.  Or at least that’s what it looked like, although in reality they were only a mile or so from the centre of town…

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Highbury Park: It was quiet tonight.  A duck quacked, and out in the water something plopped, but there was nobody else about…

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“Floyd Road, Hall Green” (not a real location, but might look something like this): The house looked ordinary enough – one neat semi in among all the rest.