Book Picks by George J. Demko
Take a tour of the nefarious northeast New England with these mystery book picks.
One of the most enjoyable and accurate ways to explore a city, region or even a country is via a good crime novel. The nature of the genre requires the setting to be one that is disordered by a crime and returned to order by the smart sleuth. Thus, the geography should be important and must be real. Surprisingly, many of the best known writers ignore their place.
Bucolic and lovely Vermont has little crime but a remarkably talented mystery writer in Archer Mayor. His Brattleboro policeman is human and his landscapes are brilliant. A relatively new writer, William Jaspersohn, has created an unusual P.I. in pitcher-turned-sleuth Peter Boone who loves the northern reaches of the state and conveys its beauty to the reader. An excellent series set along the tiny seacoast of New Hampshire by Brendan Dubois is redolent of salt water and crusty new Englanders.
Massachussetts has a plethora of excellent place-sensitive writers. My favorite is Philip R. Craig who writes about Martha’s Vinyard with true expertise. It is possible to acquire more local knowledge about the island than locals by reading his series. Jane Langton has a masterful touch with her delightfully illustrated books set in Boston/Cambridge, Concord, Nantucket and even abroad. Linda Barnes does Boston better than anyone (she also has a New Orleans series) and her distaff, taxi driver ‘tec knows every neighborhood of Boston from the Combat Zone to the burbs. Bill Tapply also captures Boston as well as the surrounding fishing regions and states with a very outdoorsy touch.
If one prefers the academic places in this region of intellectual strength, J.S. Borthwick has a superb series set on a usually wintry campus in Maine. Pamela Thomas-Graham has begun a new Ivy League series, with the first one, A Darker Shade of Crimson, set at ” Hahvahd” and the second, Blue Blood, set at Yale. Both writers debunk the myth of genteel professors and monastic halls of learning.
There is a tier of Yankee writers who are on my second team (remember, this is about place writers) including Robert Parker, Charlotte Macleod, Harry Kemmelman, and Jeremiah Healy.
And although I focus on current writers it is impossible to ignore Phoebe Atwood Taylor who’s Asey Mayo, Cape Cod series is a superb way to explore this Atlantic protrusion. Rick Boyer’s mysteries in the Boston suburb of Lincoln are also worth a read.
Buy Patricia Highsmith Mystery Books at MysteryBookstore.com
A Selected New England Mystery Reading List
- Bellows Falls by Archer Mayor
- Shattered Shell by Brendan Dubois
- A Fatal Vineyard Season by Philip R. Craig
- The Dhortest Day by Jane Langton
- Flashpoint by Linda Barnes
- Muscle Memory by Bill Tapply
- The Down East Murders by J.S. Borthwick
- Blue Blood by Pamela Thomas-Graham
- Billingsgate Shoal by Rick Boyer
George J. Demko is a professor of geography at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. and a specialist in international mysteries and the locus operandi of crime fiction. He is the author/editor of 15 books including and many articles on social science problems in foreign countries.