5 Mystery Writers Whose Books Bring Cities to Life

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5 Mystery Writers Whose Books Bring Cities to Life
May is Mystery Month, an annual celebration of all things literary and criminal, giving fans of mystery and suspense novels have more to cheer than just warm weather. And for many of the best mystery writers—from Sherlock Holmes' creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to modern-day novelists like Sarah Paretsky—the cities their heroes (and anti-heroes) inhabit are not just sets for their dauntless detectives; they are also characters in their own right. 
By Maggie Fuller, AFAR Staff
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    Mystery Month
    We’ve compiled a list of five novelists whose sleuths do much more than track down crooks and uncover killers: they also take readers on a journey through the cities they defend. Whether you're interested in navigating the neon-lit neighborhoods of Tokyo or wandering the sweaty side-streets of Mexico City, these P.I.s (and, in one case, a small-time criminal) are the perfect companions for your next trip, real or imagined.
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    Tana French’s Dublin
    Dublin native Tana French's first novel, In The Woods, has all the right ingredients for a great mystery novel: There's a gruesome murder, a controversial motorway project pitting politicians against archeologists, and a detective haunted by the still-unexplained disappearances of his childhood friends in the woods beside an Irish housing estate.

    The book is the first installment of the "Dublin Murder Squad Series," and in each story, French follows a different character (each a member of "the Squad"), a set-up that allows her to explore not only Dublin but also the surrounding towns and working-class neighborhoods and even an all-girl’s boarding school. French’s novels will satisfy any Dublin-curious traveller hungry for a dose of suspense and sharp psychological insight.
    Image Courtesy of Penguin Books
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    Alex Segura’s Miami
    At the start of Alex Segura’s crime series, Pete Hernandez is at the end of his rope. He’s about to lose his job, he’s been dumped by his fiancée, and his father has just died. Pete hits the bottle, but before he can destroy what little he has left, an acquaintance implores him to find his missing daughter, Kathy, a young journalist who disappeared while researching the same contract killer whose story haunted Pete’s father before his death. This revelation propels Pete into a twisted chase for the truth through the gritty streets of Miami, far from the neon lights of Miami Beach.

    Segura (who is also an editor for the Dark Circle superhero imprint) is a natural with action and suspense, and his affection for his complex, vibrant, multi-cultural hometown can be seen on every page. Pick up Silent City and the sequel, Down the Darkest Street, and you’ll come to love his Miami too, no matter how dark the nights can get.
    Image Courtesy of Polis Books
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    Paco Ignacio Taibo II’s Mexico City
    Since 1958, Spanish author Paco Ignacio Taibo II has lived in Mexico City, a twenty-one million-strong metropolis he calls “the best city on the planet, in spite of itself.” In his work, Taibo explores the city through his most famous character, the one-eyed private investigator Hector Belascoarán Shayne.

    Shayne does his best for his clients; in The Uncomfortable Deadwhich Taibo co-wrote with Zapatista spokesperson Subcomandante Marcos—he makes his way through the city's urban sprawl while looking for an elusive murderer who is also being hunted by the Zapatistas. As he does in all his books, Taibo illuminates his adopted hometown's many facets and brings readers deep into the heart of Mexico City.
    Image Courtesy of Akashic Books
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    Steph Cha’s Los Angeles
    Juniper Song, the main character in author Steph Cha’s mystery series, is a fan of Raymond Chandler’s classic hardboiled L.A. hero Philip Marlowe. When a friend begs her to look into his father’s relationship with a young employee in Follow Her Home (the first volume in the series), Juniper relishes the chance to be a real-world P.I. The young Korean-American is soon chasing clues in an increasingly dangerous case that forces her to confront some painful truths close to home.

    Like Chandler, Cha brings Los Angeles to vivid life, though her L.A. is a decidedly different place: racially diverse and populated with women who refuse to be confined to the tired roles of victim or ‘femme fatale.’ Juniper Song’s adventures (three so far, including last year’s Dead Soon Enough) are a gift for Marlowe fans eager to explore today’s L.A.
    Image Courtesy of Macmillan Publishers
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    Fuminori Nakamura’s Tokyo
    Fuminori Nakamura has been making waves in Japan’s literary world for years, winning the Shincho Literary Prize for New Writers with his first novel, A Gun, and going on to win several other awards, including Japan’s most prestigious literary award, the Oe Prize, for The Thief in 2010. That novel was his first to be translated into English, and it catapulted him onto the world stage.

    Nakamura, who lives in Tokyo, writes stories about criminals rather than cops; his compact novels are an intoxicating cocktail of noir atmosphere, urban ennui, and piercing existential questions. The Tokyo that Nakamura depicts is a dark city with a neon glow that casts long shadows over his troubled young protagonists. For readers of psychological thrillers looking for a peek into the minds populating the Tokyo underworld, The Thief is a must.
    Image Courtesy of Soho Press
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