Fifty States, fifty books. Sounds reasonably simple, doesn’t it?
I was reading my most recent book, A Cold Day For Murder by Dana Stabenow, which was set in Alaska when I had this thought. I’ve got near the top of my to-read pile two more books that make a point of saying where they are set in the blurb – Massachusetts and Washington respectively – and the thought occurred to me – why not do a Mystery Tour of the USA?
One of the best holidays that I and Mrs Puzzledoctor have ever taken was a drive from Illinois to Montana, with a prolonged stopover in South Dakota and, over the years, we’ve notched up a grand total of nineteen States – all commemorated with a fridge magnet – and the aim, in real life, is to collect all fifty. So here is an attempt at a virtual equivalent.
I’m not setting myself a time limit, as I have actually no idea how long this will take me, and I have no intention of just aiming for books that will satisfy the list. I’m going to set the rule that the majority of the action needs to take place in the given state – so I can’t count The Egyptian Cross Mystery for West Virginia, for example. I am going to give myself a head start and count books that I’ve already reviewed – oh, if someone could let me know, does The Siamese Twin Mystery make clear where it is set? Similarly, is The Spanish Cape Mystery set in New York or somewhere nearby?
If you want to keep track of my progress, then I’ve a dedicated page under my Challenges tab. I’ll post an update to the Challenges every couple of months, and I’m positive there will be calls for help for recommendations as we progress.
So far, I’ve covered the following:
And coming soonish are the following:
- The Square Root of Murder by Ada Madison
- A Spark of Death by Bernadette Pajer
Any suggestions are gratefully received, especially those where the location is fairly crucial to the plot. Also, if you think I’ve missed one from one of my back catalogue, do point that out to me too!
No go on The Siamese Twin Mystery, I fear. It’s set somewhere a couple of days out of New York near “Arrow Mountain” along the road from Tuckesas to Osquewa – neither of which, I believe, exist outside the fertile imaginations of the Messrs. Queen.
Ditto for The Spanish Cape Mystery. The cape, we are told, “lies on the Atlantic Coast.” Now THAT’s useful, cutting down the possible location to, oh, a couple thousand miles. Sounds like New England or remote (at the time) parts of New York’s Long Island, but I don’t think it can be pinned down further.
Sounds like an interesting challenge that you’ve set for yourself. I look forward to reading about your progress!
No one wries about Florida better than John D MacDonald, but he’s not really a traditional mystery writer though there are detective novel elements in some of them, kind of quasi private eye novels. If you’re willing to bend your rules a bit I’d say read THE DEEP BLUE GOOD BY – the first Travis McGee novel and amazingly modern for something written inteh 1960s. There’s also Carl Hiassin whose books are hysterically funny and wicked satires on everything that has gone wrong in that state. He’s also kind of borderline as far as traditional mystery writing goes. I guess both of them are more crime writers than mystery writers. BLOOD ON LAKE LOUISE by Baynard Kendrick has a great Florida setting that is intrinsic to the plot, but it’s very hard to find. It’s the usual kind of out of print book I know about.
Arizona and Utah: Try Tony Hillerman’s Jim Chee mysteries. Excellent and true to the tenets of the traditional mystery writing. You learn a lot about Navajo, Zuni and other Native American tribes of the Four Corners area.
Ohio: The books of Paul Gaus (aka P.L. Gaus) who writes abut crime in the Amish community in that state. Very different and very smart stuff, pretty close to a traditioanl mystery with an interesting amateur sleuth. All reissued by Penguin/Plume. Not sure if they are available in the UK.
Georgia: The books featuring Fever Devlin by Philip DePoy are very different, too. He’s a folklorist who stumbles upon puzzling mysteries involving stolen artifacts, missing people, and sometimes murder, in the course of his unusual research into the storytelling of the Appalachian people in the hills surrounding the college town where he lives and workd. Really under-appreciated books. Very American books that could only be set in that state. THE DEVIL’S HEARTH and THE WITCH’S GRAVE are top notch.
A couple more for your consideration:
New Jersey – I can think of two authors, offhand: Ann Waldron, who writes books set in Princeton, NJ (including “A Rare Murder in Princeton”) and Brad Parks, whose “Faces of the Gone” won the Nero Award for Best American Mystery last year.
West Virginia: only one will do: Rex Stout’s “Too Many Cooks,” with Wolfe and Archie solving a murder case at the “Kanawha Spa,” a luxury hotel based on the very real Greenbrier Hotel.
New Mexico: Frances Crane’s first Pat and Jean mystery, “The Turquoise Shop,” set in a New Mexico art colony based on Taos, N. M.
I’m sure there will be more going forward…
Thanks for choosing A SPARK OF DEATH, The First Professor Bradshaw Mystery, as your Washington read!
You’re welcome, Bernadette. It’s thanks to the recent review in EQMM and a recent holiday in the North West that made the review stick in my mind. The review will be up within a fortnight.
Thanks for the food for thought everyone. I’ll investigate the availability of some of these soon
I would second John’s suggestion of the Fever Devlin books for Georgia – the setting in the north Georgia mountains is as much a character in the plots as any of the human characters.
What about the Nevada Barr Anna Pigeon series http://www.nevadabarr.com/booklist.htm a tour of the USA in themselves. I remember reading the early books in the series quite some time ago and enjoying them, as well as the mystery the backgrounds (US National Parks) were interesting. Its a while since I’ve read any in the series and I seem to recall the mystery element not being as strong in some of the later books.
Just ordered (as I found them cheapish)
Track of the Cat by Nevada Barr (Texas again, but I like to read series in order)
The Blessing Way by Tony Hillerman (New Mexico – I think)
Faces of the Gone by Brad Parks (New Jersey)
Murder is Binding by Lorna Barrett (New Hampshire)
That should keep me busy for a while. Thanks for all the recommendations.
When you get to Montana, there’s Death of a Dude, which finds Nero and Archie heading west.