Friday, October 28, 2011

The Environment as Character

Mysteries have so many subgenres.  Familiar ones are police procedurals, cozy mysteries (Murder She Wrote series), private eye (Robert Parker's series, such as "Spencer" or "Jesse Stone"), and more recently women sleuths (Sue Grafton's Kinsey Milhone).  

I've added another category to my mental list, and it's "environment as character" books.  Margaret Maron's Deborah Knott books make you feel as if you've lived in rural North Carolina all your life, and it's tempting to look up Colleton County on a map.  Not there, of course, but its tobacco fields and winding roads sure feel real when you put down a book. 

My book club picked Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter this month, and it introduced me to Tom Franklin.  I've seen his books and just not gotten to one -- so many books, so little time, as a cousin used to say.  Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is set in Mississippi, no surprise to those who used this expression to learn how to spell the state's name.  It's not just that the town of Chabot and its traditions and biases seem real.  It's that you can feel every bit of mud on your shoe and the thick humidity might as well surround you as the characters.  

There are books that give you the buzz of a city or roar of the shore, but there is something about the south, and Margaret Maron and Tom Franklin have nailed it.
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