New England Mysteries

This column is dedicated to a discussion of mystery writers who know their place! One of the most enjoyable and accurate ways to explore a city, region or even a country is via a good crime novel. The nature of the genre requires the setting to be one that is disordered by a crime and returned to order by the smart sleuth. Thus, the geography should be important and must be real. Surprisingly, many of the best known writers ignore their place. So, let's begin this issue with New England and work our way across the country and the world.

Bucolic and lovely Vermont has little crime but a remarkably talented mystery writer in Archer Mayor. His Brattleboro policeman is human and his landscapes are brilliant. A relatively new writer, William Jaspersohn, has created an unusual P.I. who loves the northern reaches of the state and conveys its beauty to the reader. An excellent series set along the tiny seacoast of New Hampshire by Brendan Dubois is redolent of salt water and crusty new Englanders.

Massachussetts has a plethora of excellent place-sensitive writers. My favorite is Philip Craig who writes about Martha's Vinyard with true expertise. It is possible to acquire more local knowledge about the island than locals by reading his series. Jane Langton has a masterful touch with her delightfully illustrated books set in Boston/Cambridge, Concord, Nantucket and even abroad. Linda Barnes does Boston better than anyone (she also has a New Orleans series) and her sleuth, ex-cop and part-time cab-driver, Carlotta Carlyle, knows every neighborhood of Boston from the Combat Zone to the "burbs." Bill Tapply also captures Boston as well as the surrounding fishing regions and states with a very outdoorsy touch.

If one prefers the academic places in this region of intellectual strength, J.S. Borthwick has a superb series set on a usually wintry campus in Maine. Pamela Thomas-Graham has begun a new Ivy League series with the first one set at "Hahvahd". Both writers debunk the myth of genteel professors and monastic halls of learning.

Although I focus on current writers it is impossible to ignore Phoebe Atwood Taylor whose "Codfish Sherlock,"Asey Mayo, series character of her Cape Cod series is a superb way to explore this Atlantic protrusion. Rick Boyer's mysteries in the Boston suburb of Lincoln is also worth a read.

There is a tier of writers who are on my second team (remember, this is about place writers) including Robert Parker, Charlotte Macleod, Harry Kemmelman, and Jeremiah Healy.

GJD

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