When you read a novel, it takes you on a journey to a different time or place. Being an avid reader of crime fiction, my early journeys to Chicago were in the company of Sara Paretsky. I walked the streets with her VI Warshawski. We shot down North Michigan Avenue and headed out to Wrigley Field for the fifth inning. Chicago opened up to me in those books – not always gloriously.
Donna Leon showed me around the small islands of the Venetian Lagoon and Ian Rankin has taken me on numerous tours of the dark closes of Edinburgh, as well as its swankier New Town.
Crime writers have less to lose than many other authors in describing the underside of the cities. After all, their readers don’t expect a fairytale, and their escapism is a different kind from the happy-ever-afters of the perfect beach-read.
Perhaps we get more accurate portrayals of cities or countries by crime writers than in guidebooks or from travel apps.
Take Mexico and the Maldives, for instance. These are sexy holiday destinations, popular with everyone from honeymooners to scuba divers. But when thousands of holidaymakers are packing their sunscreen and swimsuits, do they know of the catastrophic numbers of journalists killed in Mexico in the past few years? Or how journalists in the Maldives are fleeing in fear of their lives?
Ad-hoc, non-scientific research, through the medium of asking friends and family, suggests not. And when that information is received, it is with some shock.