April 2018

Warm-Up: Globetrotting with a Crime Novel

Crime fiction and travel don’t usually go hand in hand, unless you’re stranded at the airport and you happen to pick up a crime novel to pass the time. But for me reading crime fiction is a quirky and unique way to travel around the world. Yeah, there are travelogues and guide books about different places around the world and different countries. They describe the famous sites and tourist attractions, they can tell you what to see, where to go, what’s hot and trendy. They introduce you to some of the history and customs of the place you’re reading about… However, they can’t tell you what it’s like to live in that place, they can’t describe the atmosphere of a residential neighbourhood or a back alley that leads to a market…

Time and location are important factors in crime novels. Crime fiction isn’t just about the detective and the perpetrator, the crime and whodunit and why. Places and time periods play an important role in the crime fiction – they set the tone and the atmosphere of the book. The location of the story is like an important character in a book – it too has a role to play. In addition to playing an important role in the story, locations and time periods place restrictions on the plot e.g. if the crime novel is set in medieval times the crime cannot be solved by dusting for fingerprints or analysing DNA samples. The author has to find his/her way around it and be faithful to the location and time period he/she chose to set the story in.

I remember reading an interview with Michael Connelly (the author of the Harry Bosch series) where he was asked to recommend a book by Raymond Chandler who influenced his work. Connelly recommended The Little Sister, not one of Chandler’s most remembered books, but he recommended it because of the amazing descriptions of Los Angeles – a thing Chandler was famous for. In Chandler’s and Connelly’s books Los Angeles isn’t just a place where the plot is set, it’s a living, breathing organism that affects the story.

  Because of the mentioned effects a place has on a crime novel a reader of crime fiction can find out a lot about what it’s like to live in a specific part of the world. Crime fiction also focus on the everyday life of their protagonists. They describe residential neighbourhoods, bazaars, shopping malls, flea markets, places of worship, mention street names and driving routes. Oftentimes they mention restaurants, fast food places, coffee/tea shops and so on. For example Musso & Frank grill is featured several times in the Harry Bosch series.

Perhaps crime fiction isn’t the most conventional way to find about a place you’d want to travel to, but it’s certainly an interesting one. Perhaps on this readathon you could give it a go. Pick up a crime novel of your choice; it doesn’t matter where or when it’s set. It can be about murders in ancient Rome, medieval England, feudal Japan, or 21st century crime in the Gaza Strip, or 1990’s L.A. It can be set in your home town or place where you currently live, which gives you an opportunity to see that location through someone else’s eyes, or some faraway place. Whatever you chose I hope you enjoy the book’s atmosphere and its location.

Thanks for reading! Jelena from Nessa’s Box of Wonders