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Following the Detectives: Real Locations in Crime Fiction edited by Maxim Jakubowski

Taking twenty key locations in crime novels and investigating what the areas mean to the authors and their detectives, this book contains a mine of useful information. From Inspector Morse’s Oxford to Wallander’s southern Sweden, from Brunetti’s Venice to Marlowe’s LA – each of the locations gets an essay by various crime cognoscenti summarising the authors’ uses of their chosen setting, together with sidebars on other detectives based there, films set there, useful websites etc, illustrated with book covers, stills and graphics. These are bookended by an introductory essay, and a survey of other world crime series. All good stuff.

Then there are the maps … At the end of each section is a map of the area or city in question, with a few key locations and street names marked, plus some small text boxes with pointers to locations specifically used in the books being analysed. This was where the book fell down for me, for the maps were so bland, so lacking in detail that they were hardly worth bothering with.

Take Laurence Block’s New York where his two most famous creations, Bernie Rhodenbarr and Matt Scudder work – A lot of Scudder’s work takes place in Brooklyn – but there’s no text box pointing to this borough, which isn’t even named on the map, and three of the eleven boxes on this map are general explaining Hells Kitchen etc. I could make similar comments about Sara Paretsky’s Chicago – no real landmarks on this map apart that aren’t associated with baseball;  around Dennis Lehane’s Boston, Harvard doesn’t exist; and neither does the Eiffel Tower in Simenon’s Paris.  Added to that some of the maps would have been better turned on their sides so there was less wasted space at the sides, and a bigger scale to fit in more detail. I just felt that putting in more real landmarks really helps to fix the location, how the districts link together etc, and just a handful of literary references per map was not enough.  There was no scale either – so no good for planning a walking tour!  The Editor missed a chance to compliment the essays, which were mostly interesting and informative, with really great maps.

That said(!), this book would make a great present for crime afficionados, and has introduced me to a couple of new authors and their detectives that I haven’t read yet, just don’t buy it for the maps. (6.5/10)
Book selected from a list to review by Amazon Vine.

BTW the quote in the title line of this post is from Elvis Costello’s song Watching the detectives.

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Following the Detectives: Real Locations in Crime Fiction editor Maxim Jakubowski

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