About Frances Evesham
If you love Agatha Christie-style mysteries, cosy crime, clever dogs and cake, then you’re in the right place…
One day, Frances Evesham walked on a peaceful Somerset beach and discovered a unique nine-legged Victorian lighthouse. Her first Agatha Christie-style murder mystery, Murder at the Lighthouse, was born that day.
Like many of her readers, Frances loves Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, and Murder She Wrote, and the grand tradition of whodunnits with intriguing puzzles to solve, villains who must be brought to justice, and amateur private investigators.
The Exham-on-Sea contemporary crime series is set in a small seaside town very like Frances’ own home, surrounded by the wonderful rolling hills, green levels and narrow roads of the West Country. It’s the perfect place to indulge my obsessions with beautiful places, cake and chocolate, overgrown dogs, and aloof, self-possessed cats.
In her spare time, Frances collects poison recipes and other ways of dispatching my unfortunate victims. She likes to cook with a glass of wine in one hand and a bunch of chillies in the other, her head full of murder―fictional only.
What readers are saying about the Exham-on-Sea Murder Mysteries
‘If you like Miss Marple this amateur sleuth will enthral you.’
‘A series to watch out for.’
‘A very enjoyable light hearted read in the Agatha Christie tradition’
‘An entertaining and intriguing escape for those of us who like to solve murders!’
Find out more about the iconic locations of the Exham-on-Sea Series
Nine Wooden Legs
The waters of the River Parrett meet the Bristol Channel at Burnham on Sea. Notoriously dangerous, with a huge range of 40ft, the tide in the area is the second highest in the world. The builders of the nine-legged Low Lighthouse also had to contend with shifting sands and mud-flats that would soon destroy the foundations of a conventional stone building. Wooden stilts were an ingenious solution that make the lighthouse unique in the UK.
The Victorians built the Low Lighthouse in 1832, a time of enormous interest in technology and travel, to replace the Round Tower. This was a tall building originally situated next to the Church, funded by the local curate on condition the Burnham fishermen and residents paid for its upkeep.
The Low Lighthouse fell out of use in the 20th century but was recommissioned in 1983 and now flashes every 7.5 seconds.
The Victorians built another lighthouse, the Tower or High Lighthouse, at the same time, and the two buildings worked together to lead navigators through the River Parrett. The Tower is now a private house.
The Grade 11 listed Low Lighthouse is a wooden square, constructed on strong oak legs, with a single, dramatic, vertical red stripe. Set at a height of 36ft, the light reaches 23ft above the high spring tides and shines out over 9 miles.
Murder at the Lighthouse
The Low Lighthouse stars in the first Exham on Sea Mystery. Libby Forest finds a body on the beach under the lighthouse and discovers her unexpected gift for investigation, helped by Bear, the gigantic Carpathian Sheepdog and Fuzzy, her aloof marmalade cat.
The Somerset levels
The Somerset Levels was once submerged by the sea. There are even rumours of a tsunami, in 1607, when the Bristol Channel over flowed and submerged 200 square miles of land, according to a BBC news item in 2014.
It was reclaimed from the water during the seventeenth century and a network of ditches, known locally as ‘rhynes’ continue to drain the land – although it can be overwhelmed, as it was during the floods of 2014.
The Levels now sustain both dairy and arable farming, as well as a rich selection of wildlife, especially birds.
Ham Wall, the destination of the cyclists featured in Murder on the Levels, is a wetland nature reserve on the Levels, near Glastonbury, with an old railway track running through the centre, now used for cycling and walking.
Bittern, great white egret, bearded tits and hobby falcons are treasured visitors, alongside congregations of starlings that rise en masse in winter, swooping through the skies in a spectacular murmuration.
From Murder on the Levels
‘She followed the cyclists’ route through corkscrew lanes beneath a broad blue spring sky filled with blackbird song, head whirling with plans for packaging, marketing, future outlets and exotic new chocolate flavours.
Beyond an open gate, clumps of sedge and willow lined the placid waters of a stream. Moorhens ducked in and out of overhanging branches and a pair of geese honked in the distance.
She fiddled with the satnav, turned the car and set off, soon rewarded by miles of green fields stretching out as far as she could see, criss-crossed by drainage rhynes. No wonder the cycling club loved their She put her foot down on the accelerator, watching out for more treacherous bends hidden by withy, and soon found herself on the single road to the village. The surface was smooth, newly laid, the road recently raised several inches to combat any future flooding. The fields of pasture nearby were bright with spring green and grazed by contented cows.
An ancient island
Once, Glastonbury Tor was an island rising from the flooded Somerset Levels.
Back in Neolithic times, it’s believed monks cut out the maze-like circular paths seen best from above, that still lead up the hill where St Michael’s Tower now stands.
Now the Tor rises mysteriously and beautifully out of the early morning mist, beckoning visitors and residents alike to climb to its peak and view the magnificent Somerset countryside on every side.
Myths and legends abound. Are there secret tunnels under the Tor, some leading to Glastonbury Abbey, others to Deer Leap, an ancient monument consisting of standing stones, similar to Stonehenge?
Only two rocks remain in a field, and no one has yet discovered those tunnels.
The Tor sits on a point where ley-lines meet, connecting it with Avebury and Stonehenge, and there are many reports of strange lights that hover above the Tor. Some people claim to have seen ghosts.
Then, there are the tales of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. As a local says in Murder on the Tor, ‘we’re fond of our Glastonbury legends around here. We all know King Arthur’s buried under the Tor.’
Was Glastonbury the original isle of Avalon?
Discovered in the late nineteenth century, and now preserved under replaced soil, Glastonbury Lake Village dates far back, to the Iron Age, and was built in 250BC. The Museum of Somerset in Taunton displays many artefacts made of wood and metal from the Village.
Less certain is the connection between Glastonbury and Joseph of Arimathea, Jesus’ great uncle. The story goes that he arrived in Glastonbury tired, and threw down his staff. On that spot, the Holy Thorn Tree grew – and a branch is sent to the Queen every year. He’s also rumoured to have buried the Holy Grail just below the Tor. A nearby spring runs red and may (or may not) bestow eternal youth.
The cathedral was built around 1175, and it’s the smallest cathedral in England but nevertheless contains around 300 medieval statues.
It’s full of character.
The 1390 clock, which strikes every quarter hour, sending knights running in a circle above the clock face.
Cracks once appeared in the lead covered wooden spire, and a set of beautiful scissor arches were installed as a solution. They’re often assumed to be recent additions, but William Joy designed and built them in 1313.
Across the road from the cathedral is Vicars’ Close, a medieval close. Walking along the cobbled street, between two rows of grade one listed houses, built for the Vicars Choral in 1348, it’s possible to hear the talented students from Wells Cathedral Music School practising.
Now in need of conservation, it will be the focus of work over the next decade, in order to protect its unique character.
The Cathedral Library, featured in Murder at the Cathedral, lives inside the building. It was built in the fifteenth century, and is reached by a staircase from the East Cloister.
In the carefully temperature-controlled library are shelves of books published before 1800.
From Murder at the Cathedral
‘Early copies of the King James version of the Bible, illuminated manuscripts from the sixteenth century, books of maps, translations of religious books into different languages. All that sort of thing….
Some of the books are attached to chains,
‘You see, one end of the chain is attached to the book and the other end to the shelf. The position of the chain makes it easy to pull the book from the shelf and read it, but it prevents people borrowing a book, wandering away with it, and forgetting to bring it back.’
‘Like forgetting to return library books?’
‘Exactly. You’d be amazed at the number of upright citizens with old library books in their houses; books they should have returned years ago. Well, the canons of the 17th century were just as bad. Hence the chain.’
Exmoor National Park, in the South West of England, covers 267 square miles. Two thirds of the park is in Somerset, the rest in Devon, and it’s believed to have started life as continuous oak woodland.
Full of spectacular scenery, it includes moorland and farmland, oak woodlands, heath and bog, a host of beautiful villages tucked among the combes or valleys between the hills, and the towns of Minehead, Dulverton, Lynton, Porlock and many others – including Dunster, whose castle stars in Murder at the Castle.
There are 37 miles of coastline within the National Park, sheltered enough to allow stretches of almost inaccessible woodland, especially near Porlock.
The highest coastal cliff in England is in Exmoor; Great Hangman, at 800ft.
Exmoor ponies, a race of wild horses, roam freely on Exmoor, alongside red deer, otters, bats and butterflies. Fast-running, clear rivers cross the land, allowing salmon and trout to spawn while cattle and sheep graze the land, as they have for centuries.
Writers and poets have often based themselves in the region. William Wordsworth lived there for a year, Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote part of ‘the Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, and Richard Doddridge Blackmoor included much of the landscape in his adventure novel, ‘Lorna Doone’.
Gallox Bridge, featured in Murder at the Bridge, is a medieval packhorse bridge, built over the River Avill in Exmoor, alongside a ford designed for carts, to carry wool to the town of Dunster.
The name is a corruption of Gallows Bridge, named after the gallows that once stood nearby, at the disposal of the lords of Dunster Castle when they wished to condemn a thief to death.
Dunster Castle existed in Norman times, originally owned by the de Mohuns. It suffered from devastation under Cromwell in 1650 and was remodelled bur the Luttrell family in the mid-nineteenth century.
It commands a wooded hill in Exmoor, with wonderful views across to the Bristol Channel, and contains gorgeous terraced gardens, a working watermill and a Victorian underground reservoir.
Inside the castle, the untouched Victorian kitchen features a rare original Victorian kitchen table. One half is a normal, wooden table, but the other side is metal. Underneath, a series of steam pipes used to heat the metal top as a griddle.
How many kitchen maids suffered nasty burns from touching the unprotected surface, as they fried eggs and bacon for a household of forty people?
A complete set of working servants’ bells still hang outside the Victorian kitchen.
In the butler’s pantry, by the upstairs kitchen, a speaking tube that once allowed the butler to speak to kitchen staff, downstairs in the servants’ quarters, and a dumbwaiter lift moves up and down between floors.
The speaking tube plays a vital role in Murder at the Castle.
A man in green walks mysteriously through the stable block, now a shop, and pushes items off the shelves. Footsteps and voices are heard at night, marching feet climb the hill, and a woman once reported seeing a robed figure at the foot of her bed. Ghost tours are available, for brave visitors to the castle.