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The Lure of Foreign Locations for the Mystery Genre

Some of my favorite authors of mystery/romance/suspense/thriller/crime novels write about and/or live in foreign countries. Give me a novel, especially a series, located in the English or Scottish countryside, Quebec, Australia, or Sweden and I’ll read everything the authors have ever written. Why? I just do. Maybe I find the quaintness and slower action of a mystery that takes place in a small hamlet in the countryside a nice balance to the fast-paced urban mystery set in a metropolis of concrete and steel. Maybe it’s because I love picturesque places with a history; after all, isn’t that why people travel. Maybe it’s because I personally favor living in smaller, established communities where you can still walk to shops and restaurants without having to live in the city. I have experienced living this way, and I prefer it. Walking may be the key here. We spend so much time with our eyes focused on where we’re driving that we no longer actually take in the details of our environment. Now, my favorite authors transport me with the fruits of their own imagination; sometimes fictional towns, sometimes real; all with secrets to unfold. But, that story must still appeal to my need for forensic detail.

P.D. James, the late reigning monarch of British mysteries, was my adult role model for the genre. (Of course, as a child it was reading Nancy Drew mysteries.) Through her detective novels, James provided my first introduction to British crime-solving, and encouraged my fascination with the British Isles. Scotland Yard’s Deputy Chief Inspector, Adam Dalgliesh, was the protagonist in fourteen of her novels which chronicled his rise through the ranks of London’s Scotland Yard. Because the novels had Dalgliesh traveling all over England, I fell in love with the island’s diversity for picturesque scenery and its sea, who’s natural propensity for violent activity mirrored the murders that were arranged there.

One of my favorite authors, Louise Penny, a Canadian, has her Chief Inspector Gamache novels nestled in the fictitious tiny Quebec village of Three Pines. I can actually feel myself enjoying daily walks and meals at Gabri’s and Olivier’s bistro with the neighbors, and reading at Myrna’s bookstore. I enjoy the French she incorporates throughout her prose and the way she alternates the criminal investigations between Three Pines and the Sûreté de Quebec’s urban headquarters. It’s always interesting to compare the politics involved in crime-solving between the U.S. and foreign criminal justice systems.

Another favorite, Author, Elizabeth George actually lives between Washington State and the English countryside. Her D.I. Thomas Lynley mystery novels create a sense of place located in fictitious towns and hamlets that feel so authentic, you want to visit there. I’ve learned a great deal about life in the English countryside, as well as about British crime-solving from her novels. Her mysteries weave fully-fleshed character studies and insights into social issues throughout her plots. Lynley’s partner, Detective Sargeant Barbara Havers, may not dress the part, but her off the grid investigative skills place her on par with the best of female crime-solvers.

Scottish born Val McDermid’s suspense/thrillers will chill you to the bone on a summer’s night. The on again-off again relationship between her characters, Tony Hill and Carol Jordan, provide the vehicles for profiling and crime-solving. Although her plots have varied international locations, including the English countryside, her chilling writing style is captivating.

Swedish author, Helene Tursten and her Inspector Irene Huss novels juggle a crime-solving female police inspector with her role as a wife and mother while giving readers an interesting taste of Swedish life and scenery. If you enjoy police procedurals you will like her novels.

Australian author, Kate Morton writes historical fiction/mystery/romance novels. Her suspense-filled novels are located in country settings full of crumbling castles and exquisite gardens where long-buried aristocratic family secrets twist the fates of lives forever. Her novels alternate back and forth between different locations and years, drawing readers into her elaborate details of scenes.

Okay, this is cheating a little, but Kathy Reichs, also known for the T.V. adaptation of her novels in the series “Bones,” created the character Temperance Brennon, a forensic anthropologist who works crime scenes between Charlotte, N. C. and the Laboratoire des Sciences Jucidiares et de Medecine Legale for the province of Quebec, Canada. This is one forensic scientist who’s really caught between the crime-solving politics of two countries. Fortunately, when she’s on call in Quebec, so are the crime scenes which give readers a taste of Quebeçois life

It’s really tough when you’ve read everything to date in a series and are waiting for the next book to come out. Multiply that times all my favorite authors, and I’m constantly waiting for more. The other thing is—I read too fast.

Pat Concodora writes as P. J. Woods and is the author of the Harper Simone Novels. You can keep up with Pat at her website: or her professional website for editing manuscripts at:

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