It might not seem immediately obvious as a setting for death and murder, but the Cathedral Close in Salisbury has enjoyed a long history of crime authors using it as a backdrop for their stories.

Back in in 1947, Michael Gilbert, one of the founding members of the Crime Writers Association, published Close Quarters, in which a canon falls to his death from the cathedral gallery.

This was followed in 1973 by The Theft of Magna Carta, classic crime writer John Creasey’s tale of a daring and deadly attempted robbery from Salisbury Cathedral.

Now joining this illustrious list of authors is bestselling writer Jane Shemilt, who this week publishes her fifth novel, The Patient. It’s the sort of compulsive psychological thriller that might make you think twice about your walk home.

‘There were few streetlights along this path, the floodlit cathedral behind the trees cast shadows on the gravel,’ reads the opening page.

‘A woman had been murdered here at night a hundred years ago; on cloudy nights like this one, walking here felt dangerous.’

Shemilt herself knows her location well, having lived in the Cathedral Close as a child, and with her parents residing there for the best part of sixty years. When I caught up with her to discuss her latest novel, she explained how writing the book during Covid, she couldn’t return to visit the settings, but had to do so from memory.

She clearly had plenty to choose from: together with a friend who lived in the North Canonry, she recalled navigating her way back across the river after late night outs without a key to the cathedral gate.

Shemilt’s novel focuses on a relationship between a doctor and patient that puts both their lives at risk, and uses her knowledge of her locations to atmospheric effect.

The top of The Close at night, towards De Vaux Place, was somewhere she remembers being warned to steer clear of when growing up.

Elsewhere she draws on another childhood memory, of a child being swept into the water by the Old Mill at Harnham (Shemilt can’t remember if this was an actual event, or a terrifying warning from her parents when feeding the ducks).

Growing up in the Cathedral Close must have been an unusual experience. Shemilt described the privilege of living there, but also the disconnect from the outside world: a place that could easily feel claustrophobic once the outside gate was closed.

She talked too, of the ‘vast stone cliff’ of the cathedral itself: how she’d stand underneath, looking up with the feeling of fear that it might fall on top of her – feelings of fear that she now transfers onto her many readers instead.