Thursday, July 16, 2015

Around the World in Mystery: The Best Crime Locations

Part OnePart Two.

Many of the best mystery writers use geography not just as a backdrop but as a vital character in their stories.Today, I have three lists regarding which mystery books are the best at doing justice to locations.

C.J. Box: Top 10 US Crime Novelists Who 'Own' Their Territory

Box writes thrilling mysteries set in the still-untamed West. He provided this list of crime novelists who infuse their stories with time and place. The notes beneath each entry are my own: I realized I've read selections from eight of ten of these authors.

1. Washington DC through the eyes of George Pelecanos
Pelecanos is one of the best crime writers active and a deserving first entry on this list. He recognizes that DC reflects the dramas, the aspirations and the failings of the nation as a whole. For a broad sampling of DC's flavor, I recommend a short story anthology that he edited, D.C. Noir.

2. Montana through the eyes of James Crumley
Crumley has probably done more than any other author to reinvent noir, looking at crime far from the big city. His classic: The Last Good Kiss.

3. Los Angeles through the eyes of Michael Connelly
Box acknowledges Chandler and Ellroy for defining a bygone Los Angeles then praises Connelly for bringing alive contemporary LA through the tales of his troubled police detective, Harry Bosch.

4. New York and New Jersey through the eyes of Richard Price
If you can make it writing about the Big Apple, you can make writing about anywhere. The author of Clockers among other classics.

5. Louisiana through the eyes of James Lee Burke.
The stories of P.I. Dave Robicheaux brings alive Louisiana and The Big Easy. My recommendation as a first choice: Black Cherry Blues.

6. Baltimore through the eyes of Laura Lippman.
For those of you who, like me, can't get enough of the city of The Wire, Homicide and The Corner, you have more selections to slake your thirst in Lippman's thrilling and vivid mysteries set in Baltimore.

7. New Mexico through the eyes of Tony Hillerman
Hillerman was a pioneer of mysteries, extending the genre to previously unheard voices, in particular contemporary Native Americans. Many good choices among his works. Start with The Thief of Time.

8. Boston through the eyes of Dennis Lehane
Before reading Lehane's books I would never have thought Boston was so sweltering, passionate and gritty. Suggested titles: All of them. (Mystic Island is not really Boston, though)

9. Florida through the eyes of Carl Hiaasen
Hiaasen rose up in prominence with several Miami Herald colleagues during the nineties including Edna Buchanan and Dave Barry. Hiaasen nails the hypocrisy of Florida with a steel bolt, satirizing politics and business in a flat world where the con is always on. Where to start? Striptease. (Please don't see the movie.)

10. Chicago through the eyes of Sara Paretsky
 Paretsky's protagonist VI Warshawski packs a punch in the city of Sandburg.

Maxim Jakubowski: Top 10 Crime Locations in Literature.

Jakubowski is either a polyglot, polygamist or polymath. Or maybe he is all three. He is or has been a book editor, crime reporter, author of best-selling erotica and photography books, and now owns the mystery book store, Murder One. He is a judge for the Crime Writers Association awards and columnist for the Guardian. In his spare time he... no, he doesn't have spare time. Below, he presents the best locations in crime novels. The descriptions beneath each are my own.

1. Los Angeles in Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep (1939)
I can't read Chandler without getting Santa Ana dust stuck in my throat.

2. London in Derek Raymond's I was Dora Suarez (1990)
Great authors know their territory and London is a city with as many dead ends as thoroughfares.

3. New Orleans in James Lee Burke's The Neon Rain (1987)
Burke writes with sweltering, prickling energy that does justice to The Crescent City.

4. Paris in Fred Vargas's Have Mercy On Us All (2001)
Vargas brings alive the neighborhoods that make up the urban life of Paris.

5. Bologna in Barbara Baraldi's The Girl With the Crystal Eyes (2008)
The Gothic is not just in the church design. Here is a dark labyrinth of a town.

6. Brighton in Peter James's Dead Simple (2005)
The city of Brighton, time and again, has been a favorite location of British crime writers, so much so, it gets its own list (below).

7. Miami in Charles Willeford's Miami Blues (1984)
Ah, Miami, a city of combustibles placed under a torch-hot sun.

8. San Francisco in Joe Gores's Spade and Archer (2009)
The Maltese Falcon starts out with Archer's death. Here we get the prequel.

9. Oxford in Colin Dexter's The Dead Of Jericho (1981)
Architectural splendor, tortuous back streets and plenty of murders. For a more nostalgic look at the murderous town of Oxford, try the works of Edmund Crispin.

10. New York in Lawrence Block's Small Town (2003)
New York is an infinite canvas which Block brings to life.

Brighton, Brighton, Brighton.

Back when I did stand-up comedy I told a joke: I once owned a business. You know how they say the three most important things for success are: location, location and location. I had two out of the three. (rim-shot) I didn't say it was a funny joke. 

For crime fiction the three most important words are Brighton, Brighton, Brighton. Here is author Peter James's (mystery author, Brighton-based) list of the top ten books about Brighton, seven of which are mysteries. Again, descriptions beneath the choices are mine.

1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
An odd choice. Brighton is only briefly mentioned in the book. "In Lydia’s imagination, a visit to Brighton comprised every possibility of earthly happiness. She saw, with the creative eye of fancy, the streets of that gay bathing-place covered with officers. She saw herself the object of attention, to tens and to scores of them at present unknown. She saw all the glories of the camp – its tents stretched forth in beauteous uniformity of lines, crowded with the young and the gay, and dazzling with scarlet; and, to complete the view, she saw herself seated beneath a tent, tenderly flirting with at least six officers at once."

2. The Clayhanger family novels by Arnold Bennett
Sentimental, nostalgic and fun.

3. The West Pier by Patrick Hamilton
Greene praised Hamilton's book as the best about Brighton.

4. Brighton Rock by Graham Greene
All-time-great crime novel by an all-time-great crime novelist.

5. Murder on the Brighton Express by Edward Marston
Murder circa 1854.

6. The Brighton Trilogy by Peter Guttridge
A mystery writer looks at Brighton's criminal past and present.

7. The Death of Bunny Munro by Nick Cave
Another mystery set in Brighton's seamy side.

8. Dirty Weekend by Helen Zahavi
Sex and murder and revenge, oh my.

9. Sugar Rush by Julie Burchill
A YA novel set in Brighton.

10. Brighton Rock Picture Book: The Making of the Boulting Brothers film 1946-8 by Maire McQueeney
Greene's Brighton Rock not only gets a nod as one the best crime novels, but the making of the novel into a film gets an entry.

Martin Hill Ortiz, also writing under the name, Martin Hill, is the author of A Predatory Mind. His latest mystery, Never Kill A Friend, is available from Ransom Note Press. His epic poem, Two Mistakes, recently won second place in the Margaret Reid/Tom Howard Poetry Competition. He can be contacted at


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