The Surprising Book Genre That Could Spark Your Next Trip

Using settings as characters, the best mysteries can offer a vivid introduction to a foreign city or country. These stories will get you started on your next adventure.

The Surprising Book Genre That Could Spark Your Next Trip

A book spurred the writer to visit the Museum of Resistance at Oslo’s Akershus Fortress.

Photo by Nanisimova/Shutterstock

Before Oslo gained raves from foodies, before an explosion of new art museums, author Jo Nesbø lured me to Norway’s capital. While other tourists walked in Frogner Park enjoying Gustav Vigeland’s sculptures, admired the dramatic Snøhetta-designed opera house, or strolled along the harbor, I spent a summer morning absorbed in the Norway Resistance Museum, a recent addition to the 14th-century Akershus Fortress. That history museum is an unlikely first or even fourth stop for visitors to Oslo. But I was drawn there by a book, a mystery called The Redbreast, by Nesbø.

A lifelong love of reading mysteries has influenced my travels. One of the most popular fiction genres, mysteries cover the world and offer an entertaining and accessible introduction to foreign locales. They invite participation—you’re trying to solve the crime, too—in a way literary fiction rarely does.

Nesbø’s breakout 2006 mystery, The Redbreast, had impressed me with its daring, which included doing something verboten in the genre. (No spoilers here; to find out, read the book.) An investigation of neo-Nazi activities in the capital sparks the story; its backdrop is Norway during World War II. When I first saw the central Oslo map that opens the book, nothing was familiar. But after reading more of Nesbø’s mysteries, I wanted to see the city myself.

Similarly, mysteries tipped the scale when I was weighing a trip to Montreal or Québec City. What I’d read of Québec City in Louise Penny’s Inspector Armand Gamache series (particularly the sixth book, Bury Your Dead) led me to pick the smaller, less famous place. And Québec City, especially the Vieux-Québec, did not disappoint.

The following mysteries are by local writers who know their settings well and use them as characters to enrich the stories. Here are a few exceptional tales to launch your next journey.


“Entanglement” by Zygmunt Miloszewski is part of the Polish State Prosecutor Szacki Investigates series.

Cover courtesy of publisher



Historic squares and glass skyscrapers fill central Warsaw in Zygmunt Miłoszewski’s Entanglement (2007), in which State Prosecutor Teodor Szacki must solve a bizarre murder. The solution leads back to the days of the Communist secret police. Sardonic humor underscores an appreciation of the Polish as tough survivors.

As with the other mysteries cited here, through reading I met local characters, people often mired in boring jobs or poverty and molded by their location. I got the nontourist news, not the glossy brochure where it never rains, not the city-as-theme-park approach. Walking to avoid traffic and a metro strike, Szacki notes that if he led a foreigner along his route, blindfolded at times, “The tourist might go away with the impression that Warsaw was a very pretty city. Especially the section along Swiętokryska Street, Mazowieck and Kredytowa Streets with their beautiful tenement buildings, art supply shops (as if Warsaw were a city of artists), . . . the Zachęta Gallery (as if it were a city of art) . . . and Norman Foster’s Metropolitan building (city of fine architecture, ha ha ha).”

In Entanglement, Warsaw sounds intriguing. A place worth investigating and visiting. With clues to unravel—like a good mystery.

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Plan your trip with AFAR’s Guide to Poland


“The Lost Man,” set in Australia’s Outback, earned a starred review from Kirkus.

Cover courtesy of publisher

The Lost Man

Australian Outback

Melbourne-based author Jane Harper explores rural Australia in all of her mysteries. In her latest, The Lost Man (2019), the remote Australian Outback is the main character. The harsh climate and isolation of this sparsely populated territory shape the family this story focuses on. One brother is found dead from dehydration in the desert. Why did he abandon his water-stocked car? Harper’s description of his last desperate effort to find shade is a searing example of her keen use of locale.

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Reader’s tip: Harper’s The Dry and Force of Nature also make the most of their Australian outdoor settings.

Plan your trip with AFAR’s Guide to Australia


Garnethill is both neighborhood and mystery setting in the Denise Mina thriller.

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In her debut, Garnethill (1997), Denise Mina draws from her diverse background—from factory worker to criminology teacher—to create convincing, flawed characters in desperate situations while maintaining a wry sense of humor in her sharp observations.

For tourists, Garnethill is the location of the famed art school designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. But in Mina’s story, this rundown district near Glasgow’s center is a murder scene. Maureen, from a dysfunctional family with a capital D, must prove she did not kill her boyfriend. As damaged as the characters, Glasgow has its moments: “The light in Scotland is low in the autumn, gracing even the most mundane objects with dramatic chiaroscuro. Deep hard shadows from the tall buildings fell across the streets, litter bins stood on the pavement like war monuments, and pedestrians cast John Wayne show-down shadows as they stood at the traffic lights.”

Reader’s tip: Mina’s Garnethill is the first of a compelling trilogy, and her recent The Long Drop relates the true-crime story of a killer in 1950s Glasgow.

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Plan your trip with AFAR’s Guide to Glasgow


Natsuo Kirino was the first Japanese author to be a finalist for the Edgar Allan Poe Awards.

Cover courtesy of publisher



The world of Hello Kitty is absent in Out, a 1997 pitch-black mystery by Natsuo Kirino. Instead of pop culture or scenic relics, this is behind-the-scenes industrial Japan, land of mass production. Its characters work the night shift at a suburban Tokyo factory, filling bento boxes with lunches. Tokyo may boast the most Michelin-starred restaurants, but grabbing a prepared lunch from a convenience shop is more in line with real life for its residents. Protagonist Masako Katori, a middle-aged, unhappily married woman, and three female co-workers team up to solve a murder. Readers favoring cozy tales with twinkle-eyed amateur sleuths should look elsewhere. This is feminist noir. When Out was nominated for the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Allan Poe award for Best Novel, it was a first for a Japanese writer.

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Plan your trip with AFAR’s Guide to Tokyo


Stuart Neville’s debut novel won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the mystery/thriller category.

Cover courtesy of publisher

The Ghosts of Belfast


The Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville (2009) is set in Northern Ireland’s capital; the mystery’s original U.K. title, The Twelve, refers to the victims killed by Gerry Fegan, an IRA foot soldier. After prison, they still haunt him. When he can’t drink memories away, he goes after the men who ordered their deaths. Neville explores lingering effects of the Troubles and questions what decades of violence achieved. Here’s Lisburn Road, part of the city’s “Golden Mile”: “Designer boutiques, restaurants and wine bars passed on either side. Students and young professionals crossed at the lights. They think the city belongs to them now, Fegan thought. If the peace process meant they could buy overpriced coffee without fear, then perhaps they were right.”

Reader’s tip: Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe, a new true-crime/history book, explores the Troubles and is a perfect companion to Neville’s book.

Buy Now:

Plan your trip with AFAR’s Guide to Belfast

Want to read more with us? Join fellow literature lovers online at AFAReads, our digital book club.

>>Next: Your Year in Travel Reading: 12 Books By Female Novelists From Around the World

Pat Tompkins has written for AFAR about books, art, UNESCO World Heritage sites, and other topics.
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