Work Title: Here, There & Everywhere: The Geography of Murder
Work Author(s): Edward Morris
Byline: Edward Morris
The most engaging mysteries are those in which location rises to the level of character. Surroundings, after all, tend to shape people's outlooks, aspirations, motives, and prospects. Authors ignore this reality at their own dramatic peril. The wiliest detective and the most elusive criminal is he---or she---who knows the home territory best, whether it be the actual streets of San Francisco or the artificial waterfront of mythic Cabot Cove.
For crime-story devotees who inquire, "Where is it?" before they ask "Who done it?" this year's harvest of newly published sleuthies is a trove of geographical delights.
For starters, there is the tiny, outwardly drab French town of Epineux-le-Rainsouin, created by Jill Culiner in Slanderous Tongue (Sumach Press, 978-1-894549-64-6). Culiner's unnamed narrator and de facto gumshoe is a Canadian woman who lives in the town on her modest but adequate inheritance. She is also an "amateur ethnologist" who views the communal goings-on with amused but emotionally detached fascination. In addition, she is having an affair with a married veterinarian. That no one else in this notoriously nosy community knows about the affair is a measure of how discreetly it has been conducted.
Then one day, Didier, the town's maintenance man, is discovered dead in his bathtub, apparently electrocuted by a dropped hair dryer. Although initially written off as an accident, it soon becomes clear that Didier has been murdered. But by whom? One of the many women he had taken to bed or a vengeful husband? Or might it have been by the owners of a nearby industrial chicken farm whose brutal practices Didier opposed?
Clues for the narrator to process virtually cascade from Epineux-le-Rainsoun's streets, gardens, ancient passageways, garishly refurbished houses, and the crones who peer out from their windows, shaking their heads in disgust. Culiner has invented a locale so rich in color and dramatic possibilities that it merits many a return visit.
Patrick Hyde's The Only Pure Thing (Beckham Publications Group, 978-0-931761-61-4) is set in Washington, DC. But it isn't the DC of federal politics and international intrigue. Rather, it's the city of street crimes, crowded courtrooms, overworked cops, and nightmarish homeless encampments. After homeless Cleveland Barnes is caught wearing the bloody shoes of a man whose...