Mystery novels are set in dreary, foggy urban areas—at least in my expectations. Damp air should chill the characters, drizzle should seem perpetually threatening, and thunder should often rattle the buildings—and nerves of the characters.
Perhaps this results from mystery writing's beginnings with Poe and the English. I rarely picture Sherlock Holmes on a beautiful day. I can only picture him working in the fog. And this setting becomes part of his character: he uses logical induction and, occasionally, deduction to slice through that fog for a single, blistering moment when he identifies the criminal.
Do you feel the same way about the setting in mysteries? And do you feel irony when a mystery takes place amid sunshine or in a pastoral setting?
I do. The mayhem in Paul Levine's novels, set in southern Florida, feels surreal, with the sunshine running counter to what we expect. The resulting irony gives the violence an abstract quality, perfect for it being the vehicle through which Lassiter struggles with ethical quandaries, both of his own and others.
In Gail Lukasik's novels, set in bucolic Door County, Wisconsin, the violence takes on an eerie cast. Someone probably known to everyone in the small-town world lurks in the woods and threatens every character. The familiarity of the small town is substituted for the anonymity of the big city; weather becomes more happenstance and less a representation of character; and violence seems to stem from something deeply awry, not simply a part of urban reality. The resulting irony, for me, makes the violence feel more acute and personal.
Chris Culver's The Abbey is set in Indianapolis. This fascinating choice means we are in between big city grittiness and bucolic pastoralism. And the Midwestern setting—outside of Chicago—makes it unique among mysteries. Of the three novels discussed in this post, this one feels the least ironic, relative to reader expectations, in its setting. Perhaps this results from Culver moving into uncharted territory, one that neither conforms to nor is opposed to the expected setting for mysteries. This is one of the reasons I felt such freshness coming from the pages of this book.
Do you share my feeling about the expected setting for mysteries?
Do you agree that when mysteries do not conform to this expectation, irony of some sort results?