Are villages more poisonous places than towns? Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, thought the country more wicked than the city, and so does Anthony Horowitz, the screenwriter who has taken over the popular series Midsomer Murders (featuring a fictional Oxfordshire village with a higher homicide rate than the Bronx).

“English villages are special places where hatred and mistrust and suspicion and anger and bitterness have a natural place to grow,” opines Mr Horowitz, who also wrote the compelling Foyle’s War.

He echoes Agatha Christie’s view that villages are toxic because everyone has something to hide – and villagers often know each other’s hidden vices. And many years ago, an Irish author, Brinsley MacNamara, wrote a book with the telling title The Valley of the Squinting Windows. The valley in question was full of noxious busybodies spying on one another.

But surely this is overstated: in villages and small towns, people can also be kind and caring. You don’t often hear of some lonely person lying dead undiscovered for months, maybe years, in a village or small town. A certain “nosiness” also means looking out for neighbours.

One of the interesting aspects of small-town life is that inhabitants observe one another age gradually, and take into consideration the small changes that come with age. The churches are also a focal point of smaller communities and can provide a network of fellowship.

Maeve Binchy once explained to me why villages and small towns make for a great setting for writers. Interlocking relationships can be better explained, she said, and coincidences seem more plausible when a villager walks down the High Street than when she joins the throng at Piccadilly Circus.

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