Mystery writers all have their favorite settings and today I’d like to kick-start a discussion about writers who set their mysteries in New York City and how they create characters who embody that upscale yet gritty setting—from Rhys Bowen’s Molly Murphy, an early 20th-century immigrant who wants to be a private investigator to Lawrence Block’s Bernie Rhodenbarr, a burglar and bookseller, in New York City.
In the late 1980’s, when I first read Greenwich Killing Time and When the Cat’s Away, I had no idea that someday, like Kinky Freeman, I would have a hyphenated identity as a singer/author. Friedman’s books delighted me with their quintessential New York flavor, irreverent humor, and day-glo colorful characters.
Walter Mosely’s Leonid McGill, a black ex-boxer and old-school private investigator, is an outsider in today’s glitzy New York. In these books, Mosely uses the city as a foil for his struggling hero. Here, McGill describes himself at the beginning of The Long Fall:
I was wearing a suit and tie. Maybe my shoe leather was dull, but there weren’t any scuffs. There were no spots on my navy lapels, but, like that woman in the corner, I was obviously out of my depth: a vacuum-cleaner salesman among high-paid lawyers, a hausfrau thrown in with a bevy of Playboy bunnies.
I no longer live in New York City, but I visit as frequently as I can, especially when working on a new book.. I thought I knew the city until I began to write about it (both Ask the Dead and The Last Matryoshka are set at least partially in New York) but it would take more than one lifetime to plumb these depths. Still, I try not to be intimidated by what Agatha Christie had to say on this topic: It is ridiculous to set a detective story in New York City. New York City is itself a detective story.
Visitors – please share your own experiences writing or reading mysteries set in New York!
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