Not long ago, I did a post on the way some crime fiction authors use important monuments and places in their stories. It occurred to me after I wrote that that it can actually work the other way, too. Sometimes a place becomes iconic because of an author or a fictional sleuth and people visit that place (or those places) just for that reason.
One of the best examples I can think of to show what I mean is also perhaps the most famous address in crime fiction: 221B Baker Street in London. Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is such an integral part of crime fiction that millions of people have visited London just to see the places mentioned in the Holmes novels and stories. There are Sherlock Holmes walking and riding tours of London and many other opportunities to take in Holmes’ hometown. What’s interesting is that at the time of the stories, Baker Street didn’t have a 221B. The street was later expanded to include that number and others too but the address was fictional when Conan Doyle created it. The Sherlock Holmes Museum now has the 221B address (although technically speaking, it’s not precisely at that address, ‘though it is on the same block). Holmes fans from all over the world visit the museum every year.
The Venice-Simplon Orient Express was also made world-famous because of a fictional sleuth. Agatha Christie remembered an experience of being snowbound on a train (‘though it wasn’t this particular train) and, inspired by the real Orient Express, created what is arguably her most famous mystery. In Murder on the Orient Express (AKA Murder on the Calais Coach), wealthy American businessman Samuel Ratchett is stabbed on the second night of his three-day journey on the Orient Express. Hercule Poirot has been called to London to follow an urgent lead on another case and is traveling by the same train. At the urging of M. Bouc, a manger of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits, Poirot investigates the murder. The only possible suspects are the other passengers traveling in the same coach as Ratchett, so Poirot looks among those passengers to find out who killed Ratchett and why. The Venice-Simplon Orient Express is still in operation (or more precisely, is back in operation) although its route has changed slightly. But passengers can still savour the Orient Express experience. Erm – I don’t recommend traveling in the winter, though.
Agatha Christie’s own beautiful home Greenway in Devonshire has also become very popular with crime fiction fans. Visitors can stay nearby, tour the house and its collections and walk around the grounds. You can also visit the part of the estate that was the setting for Christie’s Dead Man’s Folly. In that story, detective novelist Ariadne Oliver agrees to organise a Murder Hunt for an upcoming fête and ends up involved in a murder case when the “victim” in the Murder Hunt is really murdered. Christie’s novels Five Little Pigs (AKA Murder in Retrospect) and Towards Zero are also set, as you might say, at Greenway.
Another famous crime-fictional address is West 35th Street, the home of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe. Wolfe rarely leaves his well-appointed brownstone so fans of this series are very familiar with the home. What’s interesting about this address is that it changes depending on which book one reads. In fact, the address mentioned one point is, well, in the Hudson River. The westernmost point mentioned in the novels is 9th Avenue. But the official Nero Wolfe Society, The Wolfe Pack (I love that name ) did some research and finally worked with the City of New York to establish 454 West 35th Street as Wolfe’s official address. There’s a bronze plaque there and the New York Times has included the brownstone in its literary map of New York City.
The Wolfe Pack, by the way, meets regularly to discuss the Rex Stout novels, so if you’re in New York City, you may want to check the group out. If you’re interested in a walking tour of Archie Goodwin’s favourite haunts (and those of Rex Stout), you can also take a walking tour of those places.
Some of the most starkly beautiful and breathtaking country in the United States is in the Navajo Nation, the home of Tony Hillerman’s Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee. It’s a very large area; fans of the series know that both sleuths often drive long distances throughout the Four Corners area of the country, where the states of Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico meet. And visiting Hillerman country, as you might say, isn’t a simple matter of finding a good hotel and taking a walking tour. To truly appreciate it is physically demanding and requires a special respect for the land, the people who live there, and their ways. But if you’re willing to do that, it’s unforgettable. Trust me. I’ve had the privilege of travelling through that area twice, once for a conference and once during a move. Words do not do justice to the beauty of the area. If you’re interested in the area but can’t travel there, you can check out Hillerman Country, which Hillerman co-authored with his brother, photographer Barney Hillerman. You can also check out Tony Hillerman’s Landscape: On the Road With Chee and Leaphorn, written by Hillerman’s daughter Anne Hillerman.
Teresa Solana’s series featuring Eduard and Josep “Pep” Borja Martínez takes place in Barcelona, another beautiful place. Trust me on that, too. Throughout the novels there are several places mentioned that fans of those novels can visit. I had the interesting experience of visiting Barcelona before reading Solana’s work, so as I’ve read those novels I’ve enjoyed the reminders of my trip.
Have you had the experience of being drawn to a place made famous in crime fiction? If you’re a writer, have you written about a place that particularly drew you there?
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street.