A MURDER mystery set in the picturesque surroundings of the Mere at Ellesmere is featured in a newly-published collection of short stories, following a link-up between a professional author and members of a local readers’ group.

Historical fiction writer Leslie Scase has based the story – Death near the Water’s Edge – on a real-life Victorian tragedy in the town more than 150 years ago, and his tale also mentions a topical local issue – improving the town’s economy.

Mr Scase, who lives in Shrewsbury, was commissioned last year to write the story to mark the 20th anniversary of the Ellesmere Library Readers’ Group

It forms part of an anthology of five stories published by the West Midlands Readers’ Network which works with libraries, independent bookshops and readers’ groups across the region.

As part of an annual project, the Network matches five authors with selected groups to work in partnership by discussing story ideas, themes and setting.

The writer then sets to work to produce a bespoke story.

Last year’s collaborations were disrupted by the Covid-19 lockdown, preventing Mr Scase meeting members of the group in person. Instead he devised a questionnaire asking members of the group for their thoughts.

“I just hoped they weren’t going to ask for a contemporary horror story loaded with gory scenes and strong language,” he said. “I’m pleased to say that they didn’t. My remit was fairly wide and I was able to set the story in my favourite Victorian period. I wasn’t required to set it in Ellesmere, but I felt it would be a nice touch to do so.

"The Mere itself would prove an obvious backdrop and I thought I would give a mischievous nod to a topical issue relating to the town.”

Mr Scase, a retired civil servant, is member of the Crime Writers’ Association and author of ‘Fortuna’s Deadly Shadow,’ a crime thriller set in the heyday of Victorian Britain. His second novel, ‘Fatal Solution’, is due to be published in paperback and e-book format in April, with support from the West Midlands Readers’ Network.

He said writing the short story for the Ellesmere group had been “an honour and a challenge; an honour because the story was marking an important anniversary for the group, and challenge because I’m not really a writer of short stories.”

Sue Ardill has led the readers’ group since it was formed in 2000, and said: “We’re delighted that Leslie has been able to produce a gripping and very well-written ‘whodunnitt’, and it’s very appropriate that the story is actually set in Ellesmere.

"It’s unfortunate that because of the pandemic, we were unable to sit down and work with the author as usually happens, but I’m sure everyone in the group will be thrilled with the result.

"It was a privilege to be chosen for this prestigious short story project in our 20th anniversary year and we’re very grateful to Leslie and the Readers’ Network.

"We had only had 10 to a dozen members in the group when it started 20 years ago and our numbers have virtually doubled over two decades.

"Hopefully, it won’t be too long before the Covid restrictions are lifted and we can resume our monthly meetings at the library and have a real celebration with Leslie as our guest of honour.

"In the meantime, our members are still receiving two books every month to read and review, and we have set up a Facebook group to keep in touch and exchange comments.”