Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

US Confidential: John Sutherland on Cities and the Crime Novels That They Inspire

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

US Confidential: John Sutherland on Cities and the Crime Novels That They Inspire

Article excerpt

When my son enrolled in junior school, among his first assignments was to learn by heart the capitals of all 50 states of the Union. Harder than it would seem, given states' preferences for selecting weak cities to stop strong cities getting stronger.

But the best US geography lesson could be taught using crime novels, the cities in which they're set, and the urban characters they bring with them.

The currently hot TV series Dexter ("serial killing is fun--if you do it ethically"), based on Jeff Lindsay's novels, has the zany Miami feel one associates with co-Floridans Carl Hiaasen, Tim Dorsey and Dave Barry (and what, without peeking, is the Florida state capital? Not Miami).

Chicago? Gritty V I Warshawski (Sara Paretsky) and even grittier Jack Daniels (J A Konrath). Detroit? Elmore Leonard's early stuff: unbeatable. New York? More than you could shake a stick at: but let's settle on Lawrence Block's series: tough, world-weary, the city of eight million people, all with different ways to be murdered. Boston? Dennis Lehane and Terri Gerritsen are the laureates of that city's guilt-ridden Catholic conscience.

"Hyperlocalisation" is a distinct trend in US and British crime writing of the past 50 years. That is, crime writers' practice of rooting their narrative not just in some metropolitan setting, but in one which is loaded with a "solidity of specification" (as Henry James called it) far in excess of what that narrative strictly requires.

It originates, I suspect, in mass tourism. …

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