Please Come to Boston*

If you’ve ever visited Boston, then you know that it’s a beautiful city, rich in history and culture. Greater Boston is home to some of the world’s finest educational institutions, museums, restaurants, and medical facilities. It’s little wonder, then, that the city is a popular tourist destination.

But Boston is by no means a perfect place. There’s plenty of crime there – at least if you read crime fiction. Whether it’s in an exclusive Boston hospital, or the seamy side of Dorchester, anything can happen…

As Michael Crichton’s A Case of Need (which he wrote as Jeffery Hudson) begins, Arthur Lee, an obstetrician at Boston’s Memorial Hospital, has been arrested for performing an abortion. It’s 1968, and that procedure is illegal in the United States, so this is a serious matter. Lee claims that he did not perform the abortion, and, in fact, counseled the patient against it. But the patient is Karen Randall, daughter of J.D. Randall, one of the most influential doctors at the hospital. What’s worse, Karen did undergo an abortion, and died because the procedure was botched. So, as you can imagine, Randall is determined that the police will pursue the case against Lee. Lee asks his friend, pathologist John Berry, to help him clear his name, and Berry agrees. He begins to look into what happened, and finds that some things are not consistent with a botched abortion and a doctor who lied about it. But it’s not long before Berry also learns that some very powerful people who want the case left alone. And the more he finds out about Karen Randall, the more he sees that her life was a lot more complicated than anyone knew.

Several of Robin Cook’s medical thrillers/mysteries take place in the Boston area, too. For instance, in Acceptable Risk, noted neuroscientist Edward Armstrong accepts an offer to work for a breakout biotechnology company called Genetrix. He’ll be working on a new psychotropic drug designed to combat depression. He and his research team have already been working in the area, and have some promising ideas, so it’s exciting that he’ll have a company to back his efforts. At the same time, Armstrong meets a Boston-area nurse, Kimberly Stewart. She’s renovating a home that’s been in her family for a few hundred years, and Armstrong takes an interest in the project (and in her). He’s even more interested when he learns that ergot has been found below the house’s basement. He persuades Genetrix to set up a lab for him and his team on the property, and they get to work. The end result is terrifying, and it shows just how much pressure there is on researchers to come up with ‘the big cure.’

In Aaron Elkins’ Loot, we meet Boston art expert Benjamin ‘Ben’ Revere. One day, he gets a call from his friend, pawn-shop owner Simeon Pawlovsky. He’s gotten a painting into his shop that he thinks might be valuable, and he wants Revere to authenticate it. Revere agrees and goes to the shop. To his shock, the painting seems to be a genuine Velázquez. Revere wants to do some research on the painting to help his friend establish its provenance and worth. Revere doesn’t want such a valuable piece of art to be left in the pawn shop, but Pawlovsky refuses to let it go. So, a reluctant Revere leaves it there, and goes to find out more information. When he returns two hours later, Pawlovsky is dead. It’s obvious that he was murdered for the painting, although it is still in the shop’s safe. Revere feels guilty for leaving his friend, and that’s part of what motivates him. He decides that if he can trace the painting from the time it was ‘taken by the Nazis for safekeeping’ until it ended up in the shop, he can find Pawlovsky’s murderer. The trip takes him to several different European places, but it all starts in Boston.

Much of Dennis Lehane’s Gone, Baby, Gone takes place in the working-class Dorchester section of Boston. In it, PIs Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro get a new case. Four-year-old Amanda McCready has gone missing, and a massive hunt hasn’t turned up any clues. Amanda’s Uncle Lionel and Aunt Beatrice McCready want Kenzie and Gennaro to investigate.  The PIs not sure what they can do that several police departments and a public alert haven’t done, but they decide to take the case. They  start with Amanda’s mother, Helene, but they don’t’ get much help there. She’s not exactly an attentive mother; in fact, she left the child alone on the night she was taken. As Kenzie and Gennaro piece together the truth about what happened to Amanda, the search takes them through several parts of Dorchester, and we see what life is like in this part of Boston.

And then there’s Donald Smith’s The Constable’s Tale, which takes place in 1758. When Edward and Anne Campbell and their son are found murdered, it looks on the surface as though they were killed by hostile Indians (which wouldn’t be surprising, given this is during the Seven Years/French and Indian War). But the Indians in the area (North Carolina) where the bodies where found are not enemies. What’s more, an unusual brooch with Masonic symbols on it was found at the scene. Local constable James Henry ‘Harry’ Woodyard decides to look into the matter more deeply. He thinks that, if he can trace the brooch to its origin, he can find out more about the murder.  So, he follows the brooch’s trail to Boston (and later, to Québec). The Boston that Woodyard finds is much more urban and sophisticated than his plantation is, and there’s resentment there against what is seen as British highhandedness. The American Revolution itself is twenty years off, but there’s already deep unhappiness at the status quo, and it’s quite the topic in Boston. It’s an interesting look at the Boston of that era.

Whatever era one’s in, Boston is an interesting city. It’s a world-class destination for education, medicine, and more. But that doesn’t mean it’s crime free…


Thanks to for the lovely ‘photo!


*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Dave Loggins.


Filed under Aaron Elkins, Dennis Lehane, Donald Smith, Jeffery Hudson, Michael Crichton, Robin Cook

19 responses to “Please Come to Boston*

  1. Bill Selnes

    Margot: Let me be the first to mention the Spenser series by Robert B. Parker. I raced through about 20 in the series enjoying the crisp witty conversations and wonderful characters. I did find the last few I read less interesting in plot. I never did see a Spenser on screen that was my image of the paper Spenser. I would like to have seen what Nick Nolte could have done as Spenser.

    I do have another mystery from Boston – Eight in a Box by Raffi Yessayan. It is hard to call entertaining the hunt for a serial killer who takes bodies away leaving behind bathtubs full of blood. What was startling was the ending.

    • I am so glad you mentioned the Spenser series, Bill. I feel a little foolish for having left that one out, so I’m extra grateful you mentioned it. Even though I’ve already put a Parker book in the spotlight, I may have to make an exception some time and put a Spenser novel in there. They really are entertaining books. And I agree: Nolte might have been interesting in that role.

      Thanks also for mentioning the Yessayan. I admit I’ve not read that, but that sounds like a memorable killer.

  2. Not in Boston, but your post made me think of the Jessica Fletcher series. Another post to make me ponder. Thanks, Margot.

  3. Now I’m fixating on what things “are not consistent with an abortion” would mean. And in 1968. Also, I’ve meant to ask you about your site name. You’ve published novels I assume? Are we able to buy or read one? I was just always wondering.

    • Thank you, FFP. If you’re interested in my books, you can click the tab at the top of my blog that says ‘My Books,’ and then choose whether to check out the Joel Williams mysteries (there are three of those) or the short story anthology In a Word: Murder, which I edited. I appreciate your interest in my writing.

      As far as ‘not consistent…’ goes, there are some medical signs Berry finds that suggest that a medical practitioner performing an abortion. It’s a part of how he tries to establish that Lee is not guilty.

  4. Col

    Bill beat me to the punch. Most if not all of my Boston reading has been with Spenser and Robert B. Parker.

  5. Kathy D.

    I used to love reading Linda Barnes’ Carlotta Carlyle, cab, driver, solving mysteries in Boston. Miss her.
    Ah, yes, Spenser. I liked his partner, a psychologist, but some readers did not. She was very New York, so I understood her.

  6. Margot, there was a time in the eighties when I was hooked to bestselling fiction which included Robin Cook and his (rather despressing) medical thrillers as well as the paperbacks of Henry Denker. I have not read “A Case of Need” by Michael Crichton, an author I often recommend to people. He could tell a good story and write it really well too.

    • Crichton really was a skilled storyteller, wasn’t he, Prashant? And he wrote different sorts of stories, too. It wasn’t just one character, or type of novel. And I read a lot of Cook’s work, too, when I was younger.

  7. Reblogged this on Author Don Massenzio and commented:
    Check out this post from the Confessions of a Mystery Novelist blog on the topic of the City of Boston featured in crime fiction.

  8. Boston is always Denis Lehane to me, so glad to see you giving him a shoutout!

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