Book Chook On Location: Mystery Series to Die For

23 Aug 2017

Have you ever fancied yourself as a bit of an armchair detective? If so, why not try some of these great mystery series which are all set in beautiful locations? As well as satisfying all the usual mystery criteria, these works are notable for their sense of place.  In many ways, the mystery itself is almost secondary to the bigger picture. Set in breathtaking locations, social, political and economic concerns are primary themes throughout these series. Many are set in close-knit communities, grappling with cultural or political changes, such as migration or developmental impacts. There is art and beauty in all, gastronomical delights aplenty and paths laid down by history. They all seek to explore the darkness and light of the human condition in some of the most beautiful places on the planet.
From the untamed wilds of the Shetland Islands, to the sights and smells of the canals of Venice or the grandeur and intrigues of Istanbul, immerse yourself in one of these thrilling mystery series. Who knows where you might end up?
Ann Cleeves - The Shetland series, featuring Detective Jimmy Perez, draws on the dramatic landscape of the Shetland Islands as a backdrop for a series of brutal murders. Oil exploration and the decline of traditional fishing grounds, along with the pace of rapid social change, are all issues running just below the surface.  Suspicion and buried secrets re-emerge as a community struggles to reconcile its past. (This series is also available from the library on DVD, starring Douglas Henshall, where you can see the island is all their harsh beauty).
Start with - Raven Black
Stephen Booth - The Fry and Cooper series is set in the Peak District in Derbyshire, an area dominated by two geographically distinct features, White Peak and Dark Peak.  The central characters of Detectives Ben Cooper and Diane Fry have a difficult and complex relationship, which develops alongside the moody and unsettled landscape of the district. Social and economic change and their impacts on policing and farming communities feature throughout.
Start with - Blood on the Tongue
Elly Griffiths - The Ruth Galloway series is set in the salty, misty marshlands of Norfolk, UK. The eerie location creates an often ghostly atmosphere which blends perfectly with the historical nature of many of her mysteries, from Bronze and Iron Age settlements to historical crimes from World War Two. As a forensic archaeologist, the central character of Ruth Galloway unravels the layers of history as she assists the local police with their investigations.  Cathcart the druid adds a nice touch of the mystic.
Start with - The Crossing Places
Donna Leon - The Commissario Guido Brunetti series is set in Venice.  Guido loves his city, his family and his wife's cooking. Explore Venice's waterways and fine buildings as Guido fights corruption in all its many variations, often stopping for lunches at home or the local trattoria.  Coffee, pastries, wine, paninis and grappa flavour the whole series, along with the concerns of climate change and migration and its impact on the Venetian landscape and culture - all with a clever dose of humour.
Start with - Death at La Fenice
Alexander McCall Smith - The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, featuring the charming Precious Ramotswe, is set in Botswana. Aside from the prolific wildlife and vastness of the landscape, the reader is able to experience the local Bakgatla culture.  With the granting of Botswana's independence in 1966 and the discovery of diamonds and its accompanying wealth, there has been a rise in education, healthcare and pensions, and a resultant celebration of local customs.  Along with many mystery series, cultural values are often depicted as clashing with rapid economic development, as they do in this series.
Start with - The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency
Peter May - The Lewis Trilogy is set in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. Similarly to the Shetland series, the bleak remote setting is the perfect foil for murder mystery and features Detective Fin MacLeod.  Along with traditional customs, such as the hunting of the gugas (gannet), the values of the islands' past Viking heritage remain firmly entrenched in modern island life and play out in a series of brutal murders.
Start with - The Blackhouse
Barbara Nadel - The Inspector Ikmen series is set in modern day Turkey, with many taking place in Istanbul. The legacies of the Ottoman empire still play a role in the social hierarchy of modern Turkish society.  The pressures of a large immigrant population, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, the delights of Turkish cuisine and the wilds of the Turkish country (eg. the fairy chimneys of Cappodocia), all provide layers to add to the intrigue, corruption and unique culture that makes this series a perfect escape.
Start with - The Ottoman Cage

Chris Ould - The Faroes series follows Detective Jan Reyna, newly arrived back in the country of his birth. The Faroes Islands are a group of eighteen self-governing volcanic islands between Norway and Denmark, and are truly spectacular.  The small communities have strong cultural traditions, which are often in conflict with modern Western expectations (eg. the traditional whale hunt, or grind).  Follow Jan Reyna on the ferries, through the mountain tunnels and across breathtaking clifftops as he searches for a killer.
Start with - The Blood Strand
Louise Penny - The Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series is set in the fictional village of Three Pines in Quebec.  Gamache explores corruption and betrayal in this bestselling Canadian series.  The heart of the village is the local bistro, serving a never-ending array of crossants, hot chocolate, pastries and French delicacies, with a cast of eccentric regular patrons. This series is one for all the senses, filled with art, music, literature and philosophy and a light dusting of snow.
Start with - Still Life
Yrsa Sigurðardóttir - The Thora Gudmundsdottir books are set in the chilly lands of Iceland, with one in Greenland. The majesty of Icelandic volcanoes and the ever-changing land of fire and ice contrasts with a country adapting to change after the global financial crash. Rejecting its previous obsession with financial gain, Iceland is re-inventing itself as a model for social and economic sustainability. Explore this sparsely populated country, with its lava and geothermal fields, its absence of trees and its stunningly dramatic fiords, as criminal lawyer Thora travels the landscape in search of justice.
Start with - Last Rituals
Martin Walker - Bruno, Chief of Police, is set in the Perigord region in the southwest of France, in the fictional town of St Denis. Bruno, as well as fighting crime, also seeks to outwit interfering European Union officials, while allowing the local townsfolk to continue their traditional lifestyles and customs.  Accompany Bruno as he cooks, hunts, grows his own vegies and enjoys the benefits of being one of the town's very eligible bachelors.
Start with - Bruno, Chief of Police
Qiu Xiaolong - The Inspector Chan series is set in Shanghai, during a time of great political and social upheaval as the city adjusts to life under Communist rule. Suspicion, betrayal and corruption are all themes running throughout, along with the challenges of authoritarian rule. This is a setting of contrasts, with the parks and gardens of the old city and its sprawling European villas, giving way to the harsher landscape of a modern city. This series is also enjoyed for its poetry and descriptions of local cuisine.
Start with - Death of a Red Heroine