By Vickie Kelber
When my husband and I travel, we enjoy bringing books with us that are set in the locale we are visiting. Often, they are classics that we enjoy re-reading. Twain’s Tramps Abroad and Trevanian’s The Eiger Sanction in Switzerland. Washington Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra in Andalucia. In Italy, we plodded through Stone’s The Agony and the Ecstasy and I, Claudius once again and I enjoyed Forster’s A Room with a View. Amsterdam brought us to Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. The Gaudî Key by Martin and Carranza entertained us in Barcelona as we explored the famed architect’s creations.
After we return, we like to read novels that take place in locations we have visited, particularly those that are especially evocative. We are both fans of mysteries and there are many authors who have developed entire series around detectives operating in specific international locales.
Our favorite is Donna Leon. Her novels are set in Venice and feature the intelligent and charming Commissario Guiseppe Brunetti and his wise wife, the professoressa Paola. In each of her 20 stories, Leon mentions many local landmarks and addresses by name and creates a good feel for the pace of Venice, as well as its sometimes quirky sense of justice. The fact that in the middle of an investigation, the commissario will frequently suggest that it is time to stop for “a coffee” has become a running joke for us, and, in fact, we stopped at his favorite local bar for a drink last time we were in Venice.
Edward Sklepowich has also written a series set in Venice featuring amateur detective Urbino MacIntyre. His style has been described as “Gothic”. I haven’t read his books yet, but three of them lie on my bookshelf to be read this summer. Next year, we will be returning to Italy and renting apartments in both Florence and on the Amalfi Coast. On my list to read between now and then are some by Iain Pears who has received good reviews for his Jonathan Argyll series featuring a British ex pat who serves as a member of the Italian National Art Theft Squad. Although she is now deceased, I want to sample some of Magdalen Nabb’s police procedurals featuring Marshal Guarnaccia, a member of the Florence carabinieri (police). Andrea Camilleri’s Sicilian Commissario Montalbano series completes my “to read” list.
When we traveled to Alaska, I discovered Sue Henry and her books set there featuring State Trooper Alex Jensen and sled dog racer, Jessie Arnold. Easy reads, her books evoke the cold climate of the location. Other mystery writers who have created series that take place in Alaska include Dana Stabenow and her Aleut detective, Kate Shugak, and Elizabeth Quinn with another female character, wildlife inspector Dr. Lauren Maxwell. John Straley is a male author of mysteries set in Alaska featuring Sitka PI Cecil Younger.
Of course, I think everyone is familiar with Steig Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy starting with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its heroine, Lisbeth Salander. His work is so popular that it is possible to book a tour in Stockholm that visits locations from his books. Want more Swedish procedurals? Try Henry Mankell and his detective, Kurt Wallender.
Another reader favorite is Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Detective Agency heroine Precious Ramotswe, Botswana, Africa. On the best seller list has been Martin Cruz Smith’s Arkady Renko series set in Moscow. An old favorite is the Parisian Maigret series by Georges Simenon who died in 1989.
PJ Brooke is actually a husband and wife team who have begun writing a detective series set in Granada. My husband enjoyed Blood Wedding; that is yet another title on my “to read” list! Seville, Spain is the locale for Robert Wilson’s Javier Falcon series, while Barcelona is home to Alicia Gimenez Bartlett’s detective, Petra Delicado.
And, speaking of that list, which must be pages and pages by now, Jeffrey Siger novels are on it. His crimes take place in Greece – both the mainland and some of the islands including Mykonos and Patmos. Mystery series that feature Amsterdam include those by Geert Mak and Janwillem van de Wetering.
Recently, I discovered Faithful Place by Tana French which is set in and around Dublin and went back and read her two prior novels. A new one is due out in August. Yes, you guessed it, it’s already on my list.
In addition to Alaska as a favorite setting, there are many mystery series that feature various locations in the US. Here are just a few of them. Michele Scott writes Napa Valley mysteries complete with recipes and wine pairings. Perri O’ Shaughnessy, who is actually sisters whose books I enjoy, feature attorney Nina Reilly who lives in the Lake Tahoe area. Marcia Muller’s Sharon McCone operates out of San Francisco. Stephen White sets his books in Boulder, Colorado. Archer Mayor, an assistant medical examiner, writes about Joe Gunther, a detective in Brattleboro, VT. Dennis Lehane, who many are familiar with from his books that have been made into movies, has a series set in Mystic River and feature the characters, Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro. The series was on hiatus for a while, but he published Moonlight Mile last year. JA Jance has a number of series set in different locales; character Joanna Brady operates in Arizona, Ali Reynolds in Sedona, and JP Beaumont in Seattle. Fly fisherman, chief of police in Loon Lake, Wisconsin is the main character in Victoria Houston’s books. Nevada Barr, a national park ranger sets her Anna Pigeon books in parks in which she has worked.
There is almost no redeeming value in Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series set in Trenton, NJ except they make me laugh!!!! Another series that sounds like fun but I haven’t read (yet…I keep adding to that list!) is Rita Lakin’s Gladdy Gold books about a 75 year old and her gang of Ft. Lauderdale retirees. Hunter Maddy writes a lighthearted Passport to Peril Mystery Series in which “senior citizens” encounter intrigue as they travel the world; descriptions of the settings are woven into the books.
Although he writes books of intrigue rather than technically a mystery series and writes about various international locations rather than one setting, I want to mention an author my husband enjoys, Daniel Silva. He first discovered Silva’s works in Portugal. Having completed the books we brought with us, we visited a bookstore in Lisbon that sold English books. The proprietor recommended Silva because “that is a Portuguese name”.
It is fairly easy to find books that feature a particular location. Just do a Google search for books or mysteries set in wherever. There are numerous websites, some hosted by local libraries that contain such lists. If your local bookstore can’t get the book for you, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books a Million, and Borders have websites that offer books and ebooks. If you don’t mind gently used books, try Amazon or Thriftbooks which does not charge shipping. Online, your shopping is not limited to just the US. I once wanted a book called Vanilla Beans and Brodo about life in the Tuscan hill town of Montalcino, Italy, a place where we had spent a month living on a vineyard. At the time, it was not available stateside, so I ordered it through Amazon.co.uk, Amazon’s outlet in the United Kingdom. It’s easy to learn about or relive a location through the joy of books.
Vickie is a former member of the Marco Island City Council and Artistic Director of the Marco Island Film Festival, and has been a volunteer for many island organizations. She is presently on the board of the Naples Mac Users Group. Prior to relocating to Marco, Vickie served as a school psychologist, Director of Special Services, and college instructor and also was a consultant to the New Jersey Department of Education.