I love a novel where the location seeps into every aspect of the story and becomes part of the fabric of the book, setting the atmosphere and tone for both the plot and the characters. In my new novel Dead to Her, it was a visit to Savannah, Georgia (which I absolutely fell in love with) that made me want to set the story there, and I don’t think the events of the book would work the same way in a different city. So, if you love a book where the location is almost a character in itself, then here are ten that may float your boat!
American Psycho, Brett Easton Ellis
Manhattan, New York
The hard coldness of the city reflects the hard coldness of the central character Patrick Bateman, serial killer extraordinaire, and the cutthroat attitude of being a success in New York in the late 80s that is the core of this controversial novel. There’s actually a map of the book’s New York so you can go to each of the restaurants (if they’re still open) that Bateman and his investment banker ‘friends’ frequented.
A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
18th century London and Paris
With one of the most famous and finest opening paragraphs in literary history, for me this is Dickens at his finest. Commonly quoted as the world’s best-selling novel, this tale of the interwoven fates of a pair of doppelgangers—one good, one bad—during the French revolution portrays London as old-fashioned and stifling, and Paris as simmering with rage, and like the two central male characters, the cities serve as reflections of each other.
My Sister the Serial Killer, Oyinkan Braithwaite
Gosh, I loved this much celebrated book. Darkly funny, swift and sharp, this tale of two sisters, one who cleans up the mess for the other who has a habit of killing her boyfriends, brings the Nigerian capital to life. Without lingering on long descriptions it’s more through their daily way of life, work, home and personal, that the reader gets an insight into life in the city.
L.A Confidential, James Ellroy
1950s Los Angeles
I love L.A. as a city that promises dreams can come true, but that could never be the case in a novel by James Ellroy. Nearly everyone in the book is dirty and corrupt, and Ellroy presents the seamy side of the city of angels, concentrating more on the dust of broken dreams than any success the city promises. The novel follows the intertwining paths of the three damaged cops trying to solve a mass shooting whose investigation leads them to pornography, organized crime, murder, and politicians, Hollywood stars, and other police officers. This is L.A. noir at its finest.
The Terror, Dan Simmons
Not only does Simmons’ painstaking research immerse you in the life of the captains and their crew on the ill-fated ships Terror and Erubus during their mission to sail the Northwest Passage, in this terrifying blend of history and the supernatural, a star character is the Arctic itself. The frozen sea, the groaning ice, the endless months of darkness, the endless shades of white. This book will chill your bones.
An array of Stephen King novels
Castle Rock, Maine
So, Castle Rock may not be an actual real place but it is to those of us who love so many of King’s novels. With its sibling fictional towns, Derry and Jerusalem’s Lot, Castle Rock brings to life small town Maine and King’s characterization of the inhabitants really shines. Although, being home to such horror novels as Cujo and The Dark Half, I’m happy to keep my vacations there between the pages.
Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh / Ian Rankin’s Rebus novels
Between these two writers you get a colourful vision of Edinburgh, my mother’s home town and the place I went to school. Irvine Welsh’s cult novel follows the lives of and thievery of a group of heroin addicts from the poorest housing schemes in the city, whereas Rankin’s famous Rebus solves murders and tries to keep the grey cobbled streets ‘clean’. Both of these authors should be on your shelves and take a visit to ‘Auld Reekie’ through their pages.
Moskva, Jack Grimwood
I’m a real fan of this part crime novel, part spy thriller follows MI6 officer Major Tom Fox as he searches for the British Ambassador’s missing teenage daughter leads to discoveries of corruption and a serial killer at large. Complex and packing an emotional punch this is a great novel. I was actually a British teenager in the Embassy in Moscow in 1985 and can testify to how accurate Grimwood’s portrayal of Moscow in the end of the soviet era is. Brilliant stuff.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, John Berendt
There’s no way I could do a list like this and not include the book – and the film adaptation of the book – that made me, and I’m sure millions of other readers – fall in love with Savannah, Georgia in the first place. This non-fiction book reads like a novel as it recounts the events of Jim Williams, a well-known antiques dealer in Savannah society and the murder that takes place in his house. Berendt brings us all the oddities and marvels of the city and her inhabitants, so much so that I’m sure I’m not the only one who felt like I’d been there already the first time I went.