Crime Fiction Where You Least Expect It

Travel Blog  •  Julia Ross  •  01.03.08 | 11:00 AM ET

imageOne of my New Year’s resolutions is to break out of an entrenched non-fiction habit—memoirs and travel narratives are stacked 15-high beside my bed right now—and read more novels that convey a sense of place or culture. I’ve previously enjoyed crime fiction set in foreign countries, including John Burdett’s Bangkok 8 and Qiu Xiaolong’s Death of A Red Heroine, but had no idea the genre had expanded so much, and not only among those writing in English.

In an essay for the Barnes & Noble Review, Sarah Weinman looks at the explosion of international crime novels based in places as unlikely as Laos, Gaza and North Korea, and commends crime writers for exploring “contemporary sociopolitical concerns that American counterparts either ignore or don’t know about.” Italian authors, in particular, have gained a reputation for exposing home-grown corruption through their characters, she says.

Maybe I’m late to the party on this, but it seems there’s a whole lot to discover here. So, crime fiction fans, any other recommendations to lure me from the land of Pico Iyer and Paul Theroux?

Related on World Hum:
* Looking for Some Writing That Evokes a Sense of Place? Pick up a Good Whoodunit.
* Los Angeles: Three Great Books

Julia Ross is a Washington, DC-based writer and frequent contributor to World Hum. She has lived in China and Taiwan, where she was a Fulbright scholar and Mandarin student. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post, Time, Christian Science Monitor, Plenty and other publications. Her essay, Six Degrees of Vietnam, was shortlisted for "The Best American Travel Writing 2009."

3 Comments for Crime Fiction Where You Least Expect It

Ianf 01.03.08 | 12:51 PM ET

At a risk of inviting somewhat circular log-ick into Julia Ross’ argument, no less a prose authority than Clive James has already deconstructed the [“international/ foreign”] crime novel(s) as essentially travel guides. “Ideally, an author should turn out a sequence of detective novels that will generate a bus tour in the city where they are set.” Next argument, please, Julia.


“[...] finally there is nothing left of the books in the memory except the place they are set in.

Essentially they are guide books. Thats why a maverick detective from Edinburgh outranks a maverick detective from Glasgow, and why we cant get enough of the detective from Venice, and why even Elmore Leonard, who can get so much out of a small American city whose main drag consists almost entirely of franchises some of which, admittedly, come equipped with a dead body in the dumper out in back still gravitates towards Los Angeles as the natural stamping ground of Chili Palmer, who neatly reverses the cliché of the cop with criminal tendencies. [...]”

Janelle 01.04.08 | 3:09 PM ET

It’s not all crime fiction, but National Geographic Traveler does have a whole library of travel novels o help get you inspired.

Marilyn Terrell 01.11.08 | 11:55 AM ET

More from Nat Geo Traveler:  Don George is now writing an online monthly book review for us, and he recently picked Dead Man in Paradise by J. B. MacKinnon. which he called “part detective story, part memoir, and part travelogue,” about a real-life murder of the author’s uncle in the Dominican Republic.  He also picks Sylvia Sellers-Garcia’s debut novel, When the Ground Turns in its Sleep, about a mystery set in a Guatemalan village:

Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.