“I have always felt that one of literature’s virtues and attractions is that it can powerfully evoke places and times and bring them to life alongside plot and characters. Hardy’s Wessex springs to mind, as do Thomas Mann’s Venice or the Saint Petersburg of Dostoevsky and the teeming London of Dickens. But I would argue that crime and mystery fiction offers the perfect blend of storytelling and sense of place, where characters and atmosphere prove of unique appeal: the location works as an extra, indispensable character and is indivisible from the sometimes breathless action taking place in the narrative. Think of Stockholm and Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander, Sara Paretsky’s Vic Warshawski and the mean streets of Chicago, Montalbán’s Pepe Carvalho and Barcelona, Alexander McCall Smith’s Botswana or Mankell’s Wallander in Ystad. What with the tsunami of popularity that crime and thrillers have enjoyed over recent years, there are now few places on the map that are not associated with a specific detective or cop. These are some I find most distinctive.”
1. Los Angeles in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep (1939)
Although Michael Connelly is fast becoming the bard of modern Los Angeles, Chandler remains the pioneer whose iconic Philip Marlowe novels define the city’s mean streets and sprawl. From rich mansions to backstreet dives, shady bookstores and cheap hotel rooms, Chandler captures the essence of a city in flux between affluence and despair with tarnished knight Marlowe at the helm.
2. London in Derek Raymond’s I was Dora Suarez (1990)
From Sherlock Holmes onwards, London has been mapped by successive generations of crime writers, but none has evoked the loneliness of lost souls whose dreams have been shattered by the big city like Raymond in his Factory novels. His anonymous avenging angel figure of a cop is based in Soho’s Poland Street and roams a familiar but grim landscape which no tourist would ever contemplate visiting. A bleak but unforgettable view of London.
3. New Orleans in James Lee Burke’s The Neon Rain (1987)
This was the first novel in which Burke introduced his ex-Vietnam vet anti-hero Dave Robicheaux as he roamed ceaselessly through the humid streets of the French Quarter, the Garden District and the adjoining bayou country in search of justice while wrestling with his own demons. The shimmering prose catches the smells, colours and unique atmosphere of the Louisiana city. The decline of the Crescent City has been chronicled in his following books, all the way to hurricane Katrina.
4. Paris in Fred Vargas’s Have Mercy On Us All (2001)
The French capital in which Vargas’s Commissaire Adamsberg investigates is the real Paris – the small popular ‘quartiers’ with their bars, small local businesses and merchants, neighbourhood restaurants and secret histories – not the Paris of the Eiffel tower and the Champs-Élysées. Her idiosyncratic and at times whimsical plots allow her sleuth to look behind the facade of bourgeois Paris and unveil a hotbed of intrigue and crime, a striking web of darkness behind the facade of the City of Light.
5. Bologna in Barbara Baraldi’s The Girl With the Crystal Eyes (2008)
Italian cities are not just striking monuments and a crowd of churches. Baraldi’s colourful serial killer chiller in the tradition of Dario Argento’s “gialli” film thrillers transforms the cobbled streets of Bologna into a shuddering symphony of darkness. The whole city turns into a gothic world of shadows when night falls, a place where Hannibal Lecter and Hitchcock would feel right at home. Emo psychogeography at its most striking.
6. Brighton in Peter James’s Dead Simple (2005)
The best British crime writers thrive when they associate a character with a city (Ian Rankin’s Rebus with Edinburgh, John Harvey’s Resnick with Nottingham) and Peter James’s cop Roy Grace has put the Brighton of Graham Greene into the shade. His investigations, assisted in a major way by the fact James spends a day a week on average with the local police force, explain why Brighton, behind its gentle facade, is in fact one of the UK’s capitals of crime. From sea front to back alleys, posh areas and rundown streets, Roy Grace’s Brighton has become a portrait of England today.
7. Miami in Charles Willeford’s Miami Blues (1984)
Maybe it’s the weather that warps the mind, but Florida is a bedrock for fictional crime. Local authors from John D MacDonald to Carl Hiaasen, James Hall and Vicki Hendricks have all dissected the often bizarre manifestations of evil and retribution, often inspired by real life, but the late Charles Willeford, with his Hoke Moseley series, best captures the quirky, violent, contradictory place that is Miami. Drugs, beaches, crazed immigrants, rednecks, cults, alligators and crooked cops, it’s all here in abundance. Anyone who’s spent time in Miami airport will recognise the madness in a trice.
8. San Francisco in Joe Gores’s Spade and Archer (2009)
Steve McQueen and Bullitt and the Haight-Ashbury of hippie days have created an indelible image for the city on the bay in the public mind, but it is also the stamping ground of Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade, one of crime’s iconic sleuths. Ironically, the fascinating city is best recreated in all its teeming complexity and contrasts in Gores’s latter-day prequel to Spade’s adventures, in which he fills in the gaps that Hammett left. The treachery of Chinatown, the looming shadow of the Golden Gate bridge, the darkened warehouse districts, and the sharp contrast between haves and have-nots fix San Francisco like a fly in amber.
9. Oxford in Colin Dexter’s The Dead Of Jericho (1981)
What with the sheer number of fatalities in Oxford during the course of the Inspector Morse novels, many tourists might still believe it to be one of the UK’s most dangerous cities, but there is no denying that Colin Dexter put the city on the fictional map. Quiet campuses. the architectural splendour of academia and its buildings, warm country pubs, opulent houses, working-class shabbiness all come together to construct a convincing image of the city, to the extent that there are now numerous local tours based on the world of Morse which attracts visitors by the busload. How crime fiction put a city on the map!
10. New York in Lawrence Block’s Small Town (2003)
One of American mystery writing’s treasures, Lawrence Block is a New Yorker through and through, despite many years of travel. Small Town is his paean to Manhattan, a sprawling narrative that moves effortlessly between Greenwich Village, Hell’s Kitchen, the Upper East Side and all points in between and could almost be used as map in your peregrinations through the canyons of the Avenues and side streets. He seizes the unique vibrancy of the city, alongside a gripping plot.
Full article and photo: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/nov/17/crime-top-10-locations-fiction