Everything comes from somewhere. For a while, though, it seemed as if all the great American mysteries were coming from somewhere else.
From the suntanned sleuths created by Raymond Chandler, Joseph Wambaugh or Michael Connelly, to the gritty Gotham gumshoes created by Ed McBain or Lawrence Block, the world of popular mysteries appeared to be dominated by Los Angeles and New York.
Except for a few notable exceptions named Paretsky, Sandford and Turow, the bicoastal fix was in.
No more. The hottest locale for crime fiction these days is right here — here in the country's midsection, where wheat fills the fields and screams fill the night. Is there a quality to the Midwestern experience to account for this? Something in the air, perhaps?
“Books set in Brooklyn and L.A. are often about people who are rootless, who want to go somewhere else. In the Midwest, though, the stories are about people who want to stay where they are — who like where they are,” says John Sandford, author of the best-selling Prey series.
Sandford lives in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. So does his fictional detective, Lucas Davenport.
“The area between the Rockies and the Appalachians is getting a lot of attention these days” in mystery fiction, says Sandford, whose 20th Prey novel, “Storm Prey” (Putnam), was published last week.
Other long-successful Midwestern mystery writers include Sara Paretsky, whose 13th novel featuring V.I. Warshawski, “Hardball,” was published last year, and Scott Turow. Turow's first novel, “Presumed Innocent” (1987), is set in a fictional Midwestern city modeled on Chicago; the sequel, “Innocent,” was published earlier this month.
So it's not as if the Midwest has never had skilled writers to chronicle its seamy underworld. It's just that for many years, the coolest fictional crime solvers seemed to have split for the coast — until now.
Chicago is where Michael Harvey sets his series featuring ex-Chicago cop Michael Kelly.
Kansas is where Gillian Flynn set her novel, “Dark Places” (2009), the most brilliant and gripping novel of any genre in recent memory.
Michigan is where Bryan Gruley set “Starvation Lake” (2009) and its upcoming sequel, “The Hanging Tree,” and Indiana is where Michael Koryta placed his new mystery, “So Cold the River” (Little Brown).
For these authors and others, the Midwest supplies a powerful sense of place. It dishes up rich histories and rooted families — all of which can be slapped away in an instant by a sinister creep.
“People in California,” Sandford muses, “don't live in a place so much as they do a condition.” For Sandford, great fiction is a homegrown Midwestern product, just like wheat and corn — and human corruption.