The Best Geographical Mystery Writers: An Honor Roll

I have been asked many times to provide recommendations for the best geographical mystery writers. Here are my current favorites:

Philip Craig: Set on Martha’s Vineyard and truly superb. Sometimes solves crimes by using knowledge of the island’s geography.

K.C. Constantine: Set in the coal/steel regions of Pennsylvania. Depressing and very rough language used but remarkable for conjuring up the economic distress and the ethnic mosaic of the region.

Tony Hillerman: When he stays in Navajo country no one can match his sense of place and knowledge of Navajo culture.

* Arthur Upfield: Australia comes alive under his masterful touch – my very favorite! Captures environmental issues, racism and more in his superb works. He was very far ahead of his time and what a geographer!

James Lee Burke: You can smell the ozone and Cajun cooking in his tough Louisiana novels.

Linda Barnes: Her cab-driving, female P.I. knows every nook and crook in Boston by neighborhood. Excellent geography of Boston.

Nevada Barr: She specializes in crime in national parks and her ranger, Anna Pigeon, conveys a love and knowledge of place in each one and usually a very useful map if you visit the location.

Sara Paretsky: Does for Chicago what Barnes does for Boston. Superb urban geography.

Margaret Maron: The South rises again in her Carolina series. She captures the changing nature of the region and its culture clashes.

Carolyn Roe: Ms. Roe has invented a superb sleuth in her blind, Jewish physician, Isaac- in 14th century Spain. She conjures up the time, the place and the culture in a magnificent manner.

* Ellis Peters: The Welsh-English borderlands come alive in the medieval period with Brother Cadfael. Wonderfully evocative of time and place.

* Robert van Gulik: Transports the reader to Tang-dynasty China to witness Judge Dee’s sleuthing prowess. His own drawings and maps grace most of his stories

Donna Leon: Her novels set in Venice are literate, intelligent, and mature, as is her wonderful detective Brunetti. Her novels are more effective than any tourist guidebook

Lindsey Davis: Falco, the Roman detective, explores the corners of the Old City and the Empire. Wonderful historical geography.

Dana Stabenow: Her Alaska crackles with excitement generated by Kate Shugak, her Aleut sleuth. Her knowledge of native lore and Alaskan landscape is truly special.

Archer Mayor: Small town northern New England, particularly Vermont provides a colorful and important setting for his very thoughtful and realistic novels.

Dorothy Gillman: Her delightful, little old Mrs. Pollifax requires some suspension of reality but the adventures are fanciful, even if outrageous, and the geography is superb. Before you travel abroad, find and read the appropriate Mrs. Pollifax novel!

S.J Rozan: Her Chinese-American P.I. is fun and the changing   Geography of new York is her stage.      

Barbara Wilson: Her lesbian sleuth travels the world and really gets her geography right. Her "Murder in Transylvania" is outstanding for its political geography.

Les Roberts: Cleveland’s ethnic and racial diversity are well used in trailing the exploits of his Slavic sleuth.

Laura Lippman: Her zany "rowing" detective takes the reader to every neighborhood in and around Baltimore. Truly excellent cultural geography of the city.

P.D. James: The queen of the British mystery and one of the most talented novelists of our time. She once stated that “What gives any mystery writer the claim to be regarded as a serious novelist is the power to create a sense of place and to make it as real to the reader as his own living room” (NYT Book review, 1/28/90).



George J. Demko, June 2006

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