The next best thing to reading or re-reading our favourite authors is reading about them. This applies just as much to crime novels as any others and happily, there are several excellent studies of the genre. This new publication is unusual: various contributors – crime fiction writers, critics and editors – have selected cities and towns in Europe and North America which are associated with fictional detectives and provided essays on the works with maps of locations and photographs of buildings and landscapes, even pictures of actors who have played the parts of the detectives.* There are also very informative extra items in the form of links to other media eg details of films and TV series, so that at last we know that Henning Mankell does actually devise the plots for the Swedish TV Wallander series: we can settle family arguments about how many times Humphrey Bogart played Philip Marlowe and we can wonder why the BBC has only ever shown two of the eighteen Montalbano episodes made by Italian TV.
Relevant websites and other addresses are supplied,a most useful service if you would like to sign up for a 3-day round trip ‘In the Footsteps of Wallander’, track down Maigret locations in provincial France or see how little the Abbey Church of St Peter’s in Shrewsbury has changed since Cadfael’s time.
The contributors all approach their task in slightly different ways, so while many try to be quite inclusive – Martin Edwards’s chapter on Morse and Oxford also runs briefly through the list of seven other crime writers connected with the city (but misses out Veronica Stallwood’s 11 Kate Ivory novels) – some concentrate only on the one or two authors most closely associated with the location – Maxim Jakubowski writes of Raymond Chandler in Los Angeles but not Michael Connelly or Robert Crais. It’s good to read a little about authors we haven’t previously explored and to resolve to try their books in the future (Peter James and James Lee Burke, in case you’re wondering). There’s a welcome guide to other exotic settings for crime and mystery fiction, with author recommendations.
It’s terrific to enter the worlds of our heroes from a slightly different perspective, learning interesting facts about characters and their creators. The maps are a little generalised and vague – more detail would have been nice, as would more location photographs, but these quibbles apart this book is a browsing treat for crime fiction obsessives, particularly those who appreciate novels which have a particular atmosphere and a powerful sense of place, a strong national identity but international appeal.
Following the Detectives is published by New Holland Publishers, price £17.99 (http://www.newhollandpublishers.com/followingthedetectives) Discount available to readers of this website.
*The nearest things to this previously were:
Scene of the Crime: A Guide to the Landscapes of British Detective Fiction by Julian Earwaker & Kathleen Becker (Aurum Press 2002, available second-hand). This excellent, well-illustrated guide dealt only with the UK, dividing the country into areas eg East Anglia, The Midlands. There’s a huge section devoted to London and the authors helpfully identify fictional towns and villages used in many popular books.
Scene of the Crime: The Importance of Place in Crime and Mystery Fiction by David Geherin (McFarland & co Inc 2008). An American publication, not readily available in the UK.