Thursday, November 18, 2010

The top 10 crime fiction locations?

In an interesting article in today's (NZT) The Guardian that could spark some fun and interesting debate, preeminent crime fiction critic, commentator and anthology editor Maxim Jakubowski, who was The Guardian's crime fiction critic for ten years, and has played a huge part in crime fiction worldwide, discusses the importance of place in writing. "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," he says.

He then goes on to list the ten crime fiction locations, as evoked by specific novels and novelists, that he finds "most distinctive", being:
  1. Los Angeles in Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep (1939)
  2. London in Derek Raymond's I was Dora Suarez (1990)
  3. New Orleans in James Lee Burke's The Neon Rain (1987)
  4. Paris in Fred Vargas's Have Mercy On Us All (2001)
  5. Bologna in Barbara Baraldi's The Girl With the Crystal Eyes (2008)
  6. Brighton in Peter James's Dead Simple (2005)
  7. Miami in Charles Willeford's Miami Blues (1984)
  8. San Francisco in Joe Gores's Spade and Archer (2009)
  9. Oxford in Colin Dexter's The Dead Of Jericho (1981)
  10. New York in Lawrence Block's Small Town (2003)
You can read the full article, including Jakubowski's explanation for each choice, here.

How important is setting in crime writing? What other authors/locations do you particularly enjoy? Do you agree with Jakubowski's top ten? Who else should be there? Is Chandler's LA the best-evoked, or Connelly's? Or another LA writer? What about the original Sam Spade creator, Dashiell Hammett, for San Francisco? What are the other distinctive crime locations out there?


  1. I do love books that have a great sense of location, can't really comment on too much of the list though as I haven't read very many of those. I would agree with Colin Dexter's Oxford though.

    I have always loved Sara Paretsky/V I Warshawski's Chicago. I can't visit the city without recognising all the places that have been mentioned over the course of the series.

    As a plug for someone local I think Adrian Hyland has done a breathtaking job of depicting outback Northern Territory in both his novels set there, particularly Gunshot Road.

  2. A Loccation can live and breathe, just like a character. When done right it can add to the overall feeling in a way that makes you think that the novel couldn't be set anywhere else.

    I haven't read many on the list either, maybe I should.

    A couple of the writers that I think do a pretty good job on the loccation front are:

    New York in Lee Child's Gone Tomorrow
    L.A. in Robert Crais's Elvis Cole / Joe Pike novels

    On a NZ level. Paul Cleave does a nice job on Christchurch.

  3. Yes, it's too easy to think of places that should be included ... Ian Rankin's Edinburgh, and Donna Leon's Venice for starters. In both cases the contrasts, tensions and particular concerns of the locales play a part in the stories.

    So easy to think of places that could/should be included, I wonder if Max just did it to stir up controversy ...?

  4. I like Laura Lippman's Baltimore. I read some of her Tess Monaghan books around the time I was watching The Wire on DVD, and the two together really brought that city to life.

  5. Craig - Location can be such an important part of a crime novel!! In this discussion I'd like to include Alexander McCall Smith's Botswana and Deon Meyers' South Africa. In both cases, the setting adds so much to the novels!

  6. Location--location--location!

    Eliot Pattison's Tibet in _Skull Mantra_

    Giles Blunt's Canada in _Forty Words for Sorrow_

    Camilleri's Sicily in _The Shape of Water_

  7. I guess there are more male crime writers than female, so one female in his top ten pick is better than none. I think Paretsky could’ve gone in there somewhere with her mean streets of Chicago, but I believe she’s included somewhere in the rest of his selection (21 in all?) for the book. Thanks for the link.

  8. Lots of great suggestions. Other authors who really evoke a location/setting very well in tbeir novels: John Burdett's Bangkok in the Sonchai Jitpleecheep books; Tony Hillerman's Southwest USA in the Chee/Leaphorn books; Jack Kerley's Alabama in the Carson Ryder books; Stuart MacBride's Aberdeen in the DS Logan McRae books; Michael Stanley's Botswana in the Detective Kubu books; and many more.