The pandemic made it hard – okay, impossible – to travel. But long before quarantines and vaccine passports and lockdowns, reading was the best way to escape into a new place. And there’s no better way to get to know a city intimately – from high society to dark underbelly – than digging into a nice, long series of mysteries. These four series (minimum 18 installments!), which take readers from the canals of Venice to the winding alleyways of Edinburgh, are particularly rich.
The star: Los Angeles
The series: Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series (24 books and counting)
Book No. 1: The Black Echo (1992)
Connelly paints L.A. in all its seedy, monied glory, from ghettos and film sets to strip clubs, mansions and freeways – so many freeways. Bosch navigates it all like a born-and-bred Angelino, tracking the changing city from the Rodney King riots (which happened the same year Bosch made his debut) through the pandemic, when the long-retired detective is still doggedly working through cold cases. Because as he likes to say, “Everybody counts or nobody counts.”
The star: Eastern Townships
The series: Louise Penny’s Inspector Armand Gamache series (18 books and counting)
Book No. 1: Still Life (2005)
Okay, so Three Pines is a fictional town – based on Penny’s adopted home of Knowlton, in southeastern Quebec – filled with delightfully quirky, and quite often murderous, characters. But even at the risk of, say, being electrocuted in the middle of a frozen lake, Penny’s portrayal of village life still makes you want to move there. And at least you can die knowing Gamache always gets the bad guy.
The star: Edinburgh
The series: Ian Rankin’s Detective Inspector John Rebus series (24 books and counting)
Book No. 1: Knots & Crosses (1987)
Over 35 years, Rebus has watched his beloved town transform, sometimes for the good (the creation of the Scottish parliament), sometimes for the bad (gentrification). Through it all, Edinburgh Castle looms over everything much the way perennial brooder Rebus looms over his fresher-faced colleagues on the Lothian and Borders police force. Be warned: The series will leave you with an overwhelming urge to hit up Rebus’s favourite pub, the Ox (yup, it’s a real place), for an IPA or a slug of whisky, then go searching for a curry takeaway.
The star: Venice
The series: Donna Leon’s Commissario Brunetti series (30 books and counting)
Book No. 1: Death At La Fenice (1992)
Even Leon admits the tourist mobs have made Venice nearly unvisitable. And plenty of them come because of the diligent, family-oriented commissario, clutching copies of Brunetti’s Venice: Walks with the City’s Best-Loved Detective. (There’s a Brunetti cookbook, too.) No wonder: It’s hard to resist Leon’s portrait of Venice’s campos and crumbling palazzos and endless corruption as it literally sinks into the sea.