Are cities Capitalizing on Fiction?


The latest Emerging Issues column in Nation’s Cities Weekly explores the topic of detection fiction novels that are set in in American cities.

Decades ago, American detective novels were mainly set in New York City or Los Angeles. One observer puts the proportion at fifty percent. Ellery Queen and Nero Wolfe and Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald dominated the detecting field.

Not anymore. Now, murder mystery stories are set in lots of places, reflecting the vitality of local cultures, growing interest among readers in the varieties of American life, and the ingenuity of writers who are rooted in distinct places.

Local color matters and the color in a lot more places matters. For fans of this sort of entertainment, this is a great boon.

For example, Sara Paretsky’s altogether wonderful V.I Warshawski sleuths her way around some seedy parts of the city of Chicago. Phoebe Atwood Taylor‘s Asey Mayo mysteries are set on Cape Cod. The detecting among the Old Order Amish in Wayne County, Ohio is handled by a college history professor in P.L. Gaus’ novels. Walter Mosley opened a new perspective on Los Angeles with the Easy Rawlins series.

Share your favorite city or town murder mystery— or the ways your city is capitalizing on locally-set detective stories to create a sense of place or events — by entering a “Comment.”

5 comments on “Are cities Capitalizing on Fiction?”

  1. Let’s not leave out some smaller towns. Archer Mayor’s detective, Joe Gunther, hails from Brattleboro, VT. There must be some other regional series out there.

  2. What a great idea, I love city novels… the Devil in the White City… I think that’s the title was of the 1890 chicago exposition and a serial killer story merged. The history of the development and politics of the exposition was really great. Recommend the book highly for that part, the mystery is solved at the end seemed a bit anteclimatic.

  3. The list is not complete without Robert B. Parker’s wry detective novels set in Boston.

    Stockholm becomes vivid in Stieg Larsson’s trilogy The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girls Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. Also Henning Mankell’s detective fiction from Sweden.

    More when I think on it some more ….

  4. And let’s not forget Laura Lippman’s Baltimore, James Lee Burke’s New Orleans, Alan Furst’s Paris–along with the wonderfully atmospheric renderings of various other European cities in the pre-WW II period, and Phillip Kerr’s Berlin from the same era.

  5. Thanks for the column on mystery series set in diverse locations. I am a librarian in my “day” job and since you asked for suggestions from our region —

    Denver has two fine mystery series I’ve enjoyed:

    Robert O. Greer is a pathologist and author of the CJ Floyd Mystery series:
    The Devil’s Hatband
    The Devil’s Red Nickel
    The Devil’s Backbone
    and at least 3 others.

    Manuel Ramos is an attorney and author of the Luis Montez mysteries:
    Ballad of Rocky Ruiz
    Ballad or Gato Guerrero
    The Last Client of Luis Montez
    among other works.

    And I very much enjoyed the novel Citizen Vince by Jess Walter, set in Spokane, Washington, but I can’t verify if the locations are authentic, since I haven’t visited the city. There’s an elections thread running through the novel, including a great bit where a state house candidate visits Vince’s favorite bar to stump for votes.

    Have a great week,

    Lynne Fox
    City Council Member, Ward 3
    Thornton, Colorado

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