Bonfire Night in Cambridge is celebrated by huge numbers of residents at an event on Midsummer Common. The display contains so much build up, and such a sustained crescendo that the oohs and ahs have nowhere to go by the end. After that, the vast bonfire is lit, and that’s pretty awe inspiring in itself.
But for me, it’s not just the spectacle put on by Cambridge City Council that’s so special – it’s the phenomenon of 25,000 people converging on the open space. I love to watch the crowds spilling down the streets leading to Riverside, and funnelling through the entrances to the Common, all drawn to the same spot. Then glancing round whilst the display’s in progress you see a multitude of upturned faces, lit by the pyrotechnics. Turning north you can view the showers of multi-coloured sparks reflected in the inky river next to the boathouses.
In terms of crime fiction, bonfire night offers lots of inspiration and possibilities. The occasion’s used as a device in Agatha Christie’s Murder in the Mews, and gets a passing mention in Robert Galbraith’s The Silkworm too. There’s the issue of lots of loud bangs which cover other noises. And then there are the crowds of people all bunched together, their focus on the sky above them, rather than their surroundings, and lots of empty houses, unoccupied for that crucial half hour. And when any large, mixed group’s amassed there’s always the possibility of overhearing a secret, and of seeing people together you didn’t know were connected.
So, as usual, lots to enjoy about the 5th of November, beyond the display itself!