Reading on those long cross-country roads (Photo: Getty Images)
A classic drive from coast to coast requires a lot of music, ideally a convertible, and definitely a pile of mysteries to keep you company at night in those lonely motels. (The lonely motel out on the open road is, of course, my fantasy, having seen “Psycho” too many times.)
And if you can’t get on the open road? These books are the next best thing. In every part of the U.S., there are writers creating iconic characters that unlock the secrets of a certain society, or culture, or crime.
I’ve suggested one book for each writer, but all of them have written plenty of others, including a series featuring favorite cops and PIs.
BOSTON: “Promised Land: A New Spenser Mystery” by Robert B. Parker
Robert B. Parker’s private eye, Spenser, and his sidekick, Hawk, the coolest black dude in the business, uncover bad guys at an astonishing speed in Boston’s back alleys and bars. Spenser, who first appeared about 1973, never seems to age, nor does his girlfriend, the shrink, Sarah Silverman. He also cooks and drinks a lot of Scotch.
BOSTON: “Mystic River” by Dennis Lehane
While you’re still around Bah-ston, you’ll want to read at least one of Dennis Lehane’s complex, brooding, dark books. There’s a reason this was made into an award-winning movie.
WASHINGTON, D.C.: “The Big Blowdown” by George P. Pelecanos
To truly appreciate our nation’s capital, you’ll need a book by George Pelecanos, who writes brilliantly about Washington and also wrote much of “The Wire” for HBO.
FLORIDA: “The Lonely Silver Rain” by John D. MacDonald
Amid the glitz of Miami and the heat of the swamps, nobody will make you laugh more than Carl Hiaasen. Yet for sun-bleached potboilers, one of my favorites is the late John D. MacDonald, whose wonderful tales have recently been reissued. His Travis McGee, who lives aboard a boat called the Busted Flush, is one of the great tough and tender intellectual private eyes and was solving crimes decades back when Florida was in the grasp of greedy developers and drug kingpins.
Related: 5 Must-Read Books That Define Brazil
LOUISIANA: “In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead” by James Lee Burke
During a stop in New Iberia outside New Orleans, let James Lee Burke show you around ancient villages where the food is Creole, the music Cajun, and the drama unreal. His hero, Dave Robicheaux, is a man haunted both by the past and by his concern for his beloved daughter, Alafair.
CHICAGO: “Critical Mass” by Sara Paretsky
This ain’t no Miracle Mile — although you’ll be reading Sara Paretsky to see the seedier side of the Second City. One of the best of the women crime novelists around, Paretsky knows and loves the rough side of Chi-Town and isn’t afraid to put her private investigator, V.I. Warshawski, through it.
AMERICAN WEST: “The Cold Dish” by Craig Johnson
Walt Longmire, the hero and the sheriff of Craig Johnson’s series is subtly played by Robert Taylor, an Australian, on TV. But in these pages, he’s pure old-school American cowboy: a man of few words with a big hat, desperate to find out what happened to his dead wife, bringing out the wide-open drama of the land while he does it.
CALIFORNIA: “The Black Box” by Michael Connelly
The Golden State is a golden goose for mysteries. In some respects, it’s where true noir was born: in Los Angeles with Raymond Chandler, who understood, as does his hero, Philip Marlowe, the meaning of the phrase “a sunny place for shady people”; in and around Santa Barbara for Ross Mcdonald, whose Lew Archer taught us the grim side of the state flush with cash; and up to San Francisco for Nick and Nora Charles, the elegant hero and heroine of Dashiell Hammett’s legendary books. But for modern crime California, go for Michael Connelly and his Harry Bosch novels.
“Out of Sight” by Elmore Leonard
You get the feeling I’ve left a few things out? Probably more than a few because the U.S. is jammed with good crime writers, none better, of course, than the late great Elmore Leonard, whose spare prose and delicious characters, both comic and tragic, changed the fiction landscape. Leonard features his home state of Michigan but also Florida and the crazy movie business of Los Angeles.
NEW YORK CITY: “Disturbed Earth” by Reggie Nadelson
A city like none other is a category unto itself.
Writers have been coming here since Washington Irving was a kid. Edgar Allan Poe, often credited as the father of detective fiction, lived in Greenwich Village and wrote terrifying stories, so brilliant that the top prize for mystery writers is known as the Edgar.
My favorite one-off is “The Alienist” by Caleb Carr, a writer and historian whose novel about a late l9th century serial killer is much more than a simple crime tale. You can walk lower Manhattan with the book in hand: Gramercy Park, where the hero lives; 880 Broadway, next to Grace Church where he works; SoHo, where the seedy bars and brothels around Prince Street are featured in the book.
I know a little about the New York end of things, not just because I’ve lived here all my life, but because my own crime novels are set in the city. My Artie Cohen is a New York detective (an immigrant like the rest of us, in his case, born in Moscow) who solves his crimes in Brooklyn out on Brighton Beach and in Red Hook, as well as the fringes of Manhattan. Here, even a decade ago, there was a whiff of the old city, a city of bodies found dead on the piers, and the High Line, now a wonderful park, was an abandoned jungle.