Fall in Philadelphia*

As this is posted, it’s 335 years since William Penn founded the US city of Philadelphia. As you’ll know, Philadelphia played a major role in early US history, and it’s still an important city, both culturally and in other ways. Did you know, for instance, that Le Bec Fin, one of the world’s top restaurants, is there? So are lots of other wonderful places to eat. And that the ‘Philadelphia sound’ had a powerful influence on popular music? And that the US Postal Service got its start there, when Benjamin Franklin set it up?

If you’re kind enough to read my blog on anything like a regular basis, then you’ll know that I spent most of my adult life in Philadelphia before more moving west, and I consider Philadelphia home. I’ve even set my next Joel Williams mystery mostly in Philadelphia. A standalone I’m writing is also set there.

And that’s the thing. Philadelphia is a great city in many ways, but it’s certainly not peaceful and crime-free! Just a quick look at crime fiction should show you that plenty of (at least fictional) mayhem happens there.

For example, Jane Haddam’s series features Gregor Demarkian, a former FBI agent who lives in an Armenian section of Philadelphia. He often gets drawn into mysteries through his association with the local parish priest, Father Tibor. The cases he gets involved in take him to many of Philadelphia’s different sections, and into its suburbs, too. In that way, Haddam shows clearly the diversity in the city. Each different part has a different ‘feel,’ and many of them are almost their own little worlds, where everyone knows everyone.

Gillian Roberts set her series featuring Amanda Pepper in Philadelphia. Pepper teaches English at Philadelphia Preparatory School (AKA Philly Prep), and gets drawn into more than one murder mystery. In Caught Dead in Philadelphia, for instance, Pepper gets an unexpected visit from Philly Prep’s part-time drama coach, Liza Nichols. Nichols asks if she can rest at Pepper’s home for a bit before going to the school later in the day. Pepper agrees, but when she gets home after her own work day, she finds Nichols dead. As you can imagine, she’s the first suspect, but Detective C.K. McKenzie is soon able to establish her innocence. This means, though, that someone else is guilty – someone who was in Pepper’s home. So, there’s a real sense of urgency about finding the killer.

Lisa Scottoline’s series is also set in Philadelphia. The Rosato and Associates/Rosato and DiNunzio novels feature the high-powered law firm, Rosato and Associates, owned by Benedetta ‘Bennie’ Rosato.  The series ‘stars’ various different members of the law firm in the different novels. The first, Everywhere That Mary Went, introduces Mary DiNunzio, who’s on track to become a partner in the firm. She soon finds that someone is stalking her. As if that’s not enough, her secretary is killed by a car that’s been following DiNunzio around.  Now, the firm is dealing with the murder of one of its own, as well as the very real risk that someone has targeted one of its junior attorneys.

Patricia Abbott’s Concrete Angel shows what life in Philadelphia was like in decades past, especially for those with means. The story begins in the late 1950’s. Evelyn ‘Evie’ Hobart grew up with little in the way of money or privilege, but she is beautiful and seductive. She is also acquisitive, and has always wanted ‘things.’ One night at a dance, she meets Hank Moran, who comes from a family with money and reputation, and it’s not long before they’re married. Now, Evie lives among the ‘better’ people in one of Philadelphia’s wealthy suburbs. It’s the sort of community where women take day trips into the city to shop, belong to clubs and societies, and focus on their well-appointed homes. Evie’s not really happy with her new life, though, since for her, the ‘spark of life’ comes from getting and having things, especially when she hasn’t paid for them. She’s caught more than once, but at first, everything’s kept quiet because of the family’s reputation and money. Finally, though, it becomes too much, and she is sent to The Terraces, an exclusive ‘special place’ where she can be ‘cured.’ Not much changes, though, and her daughter, Christine, grows up in that toxic environment. Evie does whatever she has to do to take what she wants, whether it’s money, jewels, men, or anything else. Christine can do little to stop her mother, until she discovers that her three-year-old brother, Ryan, is being drawn into the same dysfunctional web. Now, she resolves to free herself and her brother from their mother.

Most people think of Craig Johnson’s Sheriff Walt Longmire series as distinctively Wyoming. And it is. But as fans can tell you, Longmire’s deputy, Victoria ‘Vic’ Moretti, is a native of Philadelphia, and a former police officer there. She still has connections to the city, too. In fact, the third Longmire novel, Kindness Goes Unpunished, actually takes place there. At one point (in Death Without Company), here’s what Moretti says about herself:

‘‘I’m from Philadelphia, where we vote early and often, and everybody on the jury has a vowel on the end of his name.’’

Moretti is nothing if not unvarnished…

And I wouldn’t want to do a post on crime fiction in Philadelphia without mentioning Jerry Bruckheimer’s TV series, Cold Case, which aired in the US between 2003 and 2010. The show features a team of Philadelphia homicide detectives whose specialty is re-opening and investigating murder cases that have ‘gone cold.’ There are also, as you can imagine, story arcs about the detectives’ own lives. Admittedly, the show isn’t always – ahem – completely true-to-life. But it has a distinctive setting, and explores several of the different cultures in the city, as well as aspects of the city’s history.

See what I mean? Philadelphia is a vibrant city, rich with history, art, music, good food, top universities and medical facilities, and more. But peaceful? Crime-free? Well, perhaps not…


*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of song by Daryl Hall and John Oates.


Filed under Craig Johnson, Gillian Roberts, Jane Haddam, Jerry Bruckheimer, Lisa Scottoline, Patricia Abbott

24 responses to “Fall in Philadelphia*

  1. I don’t think I’ve read any books set in Philadelphia – none spring to mind anyway. One day I’d like to do a challenge to read round some of the great cities of the world… but maybe I should wait till I get some of my existing challenges out of the way! However, I’ll be reading your books when they come out, so that should tick Philly off my list… 🙂

    • Aww…that’s very kind of you, FictionFan 🙂 – I hope you won’t be too disappointed. I actually like the idea of reading round some of the world’s major cities. Heaven knows there’s enough great crime fiction out there that takes place in cities from Inverness to Cape Town, and Sydney to Cairo and back. It might make a terrific challenge. But then, as you say, there are so many challenges out there, whether they’re formal or not. It’s hard to fit them all in.

  2. Wow, I have read almost all of those books. I cannot believe it. I have read 24 of Jane Haddam’s Demarkian series (some not set in Philadelphia of course). Patti Abbott’s Concrete Angel is a wonderful book. The only one I haven’t read is Caught Dead in Philadelphia, and I have had a copy of that on my TBR pile for years.

    • I’m not surprised you’ve read so many of Haddam’s books, Tracy. It’s a terrific series. And I couldn’t agree more about Concrete Angel. It’s beautifully done. I do recommend Gilian Roberts’ Amanda Pepper series. It’s a nice look at private school life in the city.

  3. Darn, Margot, you spoiled my “Longmire” response! While reading the post the fact that Longmire’s deputy, Vic, hails from Philly popped into my tired old mind. “Ah,” I muttered to myself and my two goldendoodles, “there’s my comment.” And then–DRATS!–there it was in black and white. Nothing seems to get by you! 😉

    • 😆 Sorry, Michael. Can’t help that I like the Walt Longmire series – and Vic Moretti. Nice to hear you have godendoodles; they’re great dogs, from what I know of them (I don’t have a goldendoodle, myself).

  4. You’ve whetted my appetite for more Longmire. I know what I’ll be feasting on this evening. Thanks. BTW, my blog had the be reconfigured. Here is the new address and fresh start.

  5. I loved Cold Case, particularly the episodes that investigated long-ago crimes, when they did the flashbacks.

  6. Great read for an Australian who knows nothing much about Philadelphia. I must admit I have not read any of these books but will give them a go. I have to say I really loved Cold Case when it was showing here.

  7. Col

    Some of Duane Swierczynski’s early books are set in Philadelphia, The Wheelman and The Blonde definitely. I think he’s a native of the city.

  8. I’ve never visited Philadelphia! Thanks, Margot, for providing the means to travel there through the wonderful world of books.

  9. Kathy D.

    Wow! I guess this post is a polemic against W.C. Fields who famously said, “I went to Philadelphia and it was closed.! There is a lot happening in that city.
    I have good friends there so I know the city is alive and kicking. One friend loves Lisa Scottoline’s books set among the women lawyers at Bennie Rosato’s law firm. Those books are just so much fun, full of wit.
    Not so much the stand-alones. The series is good for total relaxation.

    • I think it is a well-written series, Kathy, and I’m not surprised your friend is a fan of Scottoline’s work. And, yes, there is a lot happening in Philadelphia. And that includes crime fiction that takes place there…

  10. Spade & Dagger

    I think the Philadelphia Experiment is the only ‘story’ I have read from there – so that’s another mystery fiction venue to add to the list 🙂

  11. Pingback: Writing Links 10/30/17 – Where Genres Collide

  12. Kathy D.

    I meant to say that I like Scottoline’s books, too, especially the humor.

  13. I associate Philadelphia with you, now, Margot, and that’s the simple truth! But, like Tracy, I am a massive fan of the Jane Haddam books, love the whole series. And I do remember reading the Gillian Roberts books years ago – they were excellent, I must look her out again.

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