Spotlighting Rural Crime Fiction

From The Daily Yonder:

Small-town crime is big.

There’s never been a time when readers of mystery and crime novels didn’t like stories in rustic and rural settings. James M. Cain’s 1934 crime novel The Postman Always Rings Twice was grabbed up by readers — and banned in Boston — for its torrid story of a murderous affair in a roadside California town.

Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot solved a murder in a small town in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd back in 1926. Even earlier, Arthur Conan Doyle put Sherlock Holmes and John Watson through their paces in a number of isolated estates and villages (small towns in the English countryside in particular have never suffered from a lack of fictional murders).

And, of course, Elmore Leonard brought the blueprint to the American West and the hills of Appalachia, as covered in our most recent edition.

But tales of small-town crime have become increasingly popular in recent years, and many books not only tell stories about murder and mayhem, but also about the kind of remote places that bear witness to those crimes.

One of the newest novels to explore this rich dramatic potential is Small Town Sins, published on August 1. It was written by Ken Jaworowski, an editor at The New York Times and is his first novel.

Jaworowski weaves three stories that only occasionally intersect: A nurse who befriends a dying teenager, a volunteer firefighter who finds and decides to keep $2 million, and a recovering addict who discovers new purpose — and a despicable target — after finding himself alone in the world.

Jaworowski said in an interview that there are reasons rural and small-town crime stories are so popular right now.

“There are a lot of rural stories out now — S.A. Cosby and Karen Dionne immediately come to mind — and I’d say that’s because they sell. Publishers want to make money, and rural readers are book buyers. I love New York City more than anything. I lived there for nearly a decade. But even I am a little tired of novels set in high-brow worlds populated by Yale graduates. So very few of us have been to a four-star French restaurant. But everyone has, at one time or another, been in a local bar. Readers can relate to such settings. And if your readers relate to your settings, it’s easier to draw them into the plot.”

Author Kelly J. Ford, whose new novel, The Hunt, is about a serial killer stalking an elaborate Easter egg hunt in small-town Arkansas, said in an interview there’s a universal appeal to rural crime stories.

“All small towns and rural areas have their eccentricities, but there seems to be a shared emotional experience that resonates and connect readers of these stories,” Ford said. “Even folks from larger towns or cities typically grow up in enclaves or neighborhoods, little universes with their own mythologies, criminals, and characters.

“There’s always that one family whose last name, when you hear it, whispers ‘Run.’”

A New Golden Age?

Some of today’s best practitioners of rural crime writing have been honing their craft for years. Next year will mark the 20th anniversary of the publication of The Cold Dish, the first of author Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire books. The series, now two-dozen books and counting, mixes humor, action, mysticism, and remote Western settings in its tales of modern-day Wyoming sheriff, Walt Longmire, who patrols one of the most sparsely populated areas in the United States. The books are the basis for the Longmire Netflix series. I love Johnson’s humor and always recall a detail that firmly established the books’ remote setting: In Longmire’s little town, cell phone service is dependable in just one spot in a particular parking lot.

Link to the rest at The Daily Yonder