Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Crime novels to transport the reader

by Dietrich Kalteis
Many readers like to travel vicariously with a good book without having to move from the comfort of their armchair. Are there any crime novels that you particularly enjoyed that transported you to a place or time you had wanted to visit?

A good crime novel transports me, whether to another place and time and into some character’s world. Good writing does that, it draws you in and creates that world. Even a story set in my hometown needs to do that. Sam Wiebe’s Last of the Independents set in my home town is a good example.

And there are plenty of crime novels set in places I haven’t been or in other times in history. When it’s done right, the words on the page paint a picture and draw me in and transport me. And in a crime novel, there’s the thrill of experiencing what the story’s characters go through, things most of us would never do, a little like living on the edge without paying any of the consequences.

I recently reread Elmore Leonard’s Djibouti, one of his last about a film maker named Dara Barr, her grip Xavier LeBo and some happy-go-lucky pirates, al-Qaida terrorists and a Texas billionaire and his elephant gun. It’s often hilarious through Elmore Leonard’s quirky characters and sharp dialog. The story takes the reader around the waters of the Horn of Africa as Dara and Xavier get caught up in an attempt to blow up a hijacked tanker filled with enough liquified natural gas to take out the African city the book’s named after.  
Then there’s the classic Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith, set in Moscow toward the end of the soviet era. An excellent thriller that transports the readers, following chief inspector Arkady Renko through the streets and squad rooms of Moscow as he tries to solve the murder case of three corpses found in an amusement park. I’ve never been to Moscow, but this book makes it real and brings the setting to life because the writing is so convincing.

Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett takes the reader back to 1940 just ahead of the Allied Invasion of Normandy. A German spy in England, Henry Faber is called The Needle and obtains crucial information about the Allied offensive. Allied counter-intelligence came up with a scheme to convince the Germans the D-Day landings would occur in Calais. When the Needle finds out the landings will happen at Normandy, he tries to get the news to his command. He becomes a hunted man by the British, and must go on the run across Northern England and to Aberdeen, Scotland where he tries to rendevous with a U-Boat. This book just doesn’t let up as the Needle tries to escape.
James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice was published back in ’34, and has been turned to film a couple of times as well. It’s a story of lust, murder and betrayal that holds up and takes the reader back in time, tells of a drifter named Frank Chambers who stops at some out of the way California diner and ends up working there. When Frank falls for Cora, the owner’s wife, they start an affair and plot to kill her husband. After they succeed, the police suspect them, and Cora gives Frank up for a lighter sentence. When the case falls apart, Frank and Cora try to reconcile, but in Cain fashion, there’s no neat ending in store for either one.

My next one’s called Zero Avenue, due out in October. It’s about Frankie del Rey, a promising musician and leader of the punk band Waves of Nausea. Frankie makes ends meet by running dope for a local gangster. She falls for club owner, Johnny Falco. When he finds out from Ernie, the Waves’ bass player, about the gangster’s pot fields out by Zero Avenue along the U.S. border, Johnny rips off one of the fields in hopes of keeping the doors to his struggling club open. And he might have got away with it, if it wasn’t for Ernie finding out what he did and trying to rip off one of the fields on his own. Ernie gets caught and the trail leads back to Johnny and Frankie. The story is set during the early days of the punk rock scene in Vancouver. I had a great time reliving the music and researching the bands and music of that time, most of which was pretty obscure.

I’ve written stories set in different times and places, from dustbowl Kansas to San Francisco at the time of the big earthquake, and I like the fact-finding that gives me all the bits and pieces to make these settings come to life. I love a story that transports me, so I guess it’s natural that I’d enjoy creating them.


Gram said...

Andrew Garve's books always transported me...England, Russia. I'm thinking I must re-read a few.

John Lansing said...

It's one of the things I love about Ian Rankin. Glasgow is his city.

Paul D. Marks said...

I think the key is what you say here, "A good crime novel transports me, whether to another place and time and into some character’s world. Good writing does that, it draws you in and creates that world." It creates a world, even if it's a world you know or think you know.

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