Crime fiction is well-known for its contribution to the literature of place. Think of your favourite writer, and you will almost invariably link their work to a particular setting, whether it’s Donna Leon’s Venice, Peter Temple’s Victorian country towns or Sara Paretsky’s Chicago. Crime and geography seem to often go hand in hand.
The night air was thick and damp. As I drove south along Lake Michigan, I could smell rotting alewives like a faint perfume on the heavy air. Little fires shone here and there from late-night barbecues in the park. On the water a host of green and red running lights showed people seeking relief from the sultry air. On shore traffic was heavy, the city moving restlessly, trying to breathe. It was July in Chicago.
Sara Paretsky, Indemnity Only
Paretsky is writing in the tradition of hard-boiled detective fiction; like Chandler and Hammett, she sets her novels in the dark, grimy streets of American cities. Henning Mankell writes bleak, deeply unsettling crime novels from Sweden; claustrophobically small towns, icy tundras and silver birch forests are his settings. Ian Rankin, author of the Rebus series, shows his readers parts of Edinburgh that tourists never see while Donna Leon describes Venice in all its architectural beauty and grandeur, revealing the corruption and ugliness beneath the gilded surface.
I am interested in the emphasis given to setting and atmosphere in crime fiction; they seem to play such an integral part in the genre. I’m not sure why this is so, and I’d welcome comments on this. Do you have a favourite crime writer whose work is closely tied to a particular place? And why does this setting seem to be so important to their fiction?