So Forget What You’ve Heard, What You Think You Know*

An interesting post from FictionFan at FictionFan’s Book Reviews has got me thinking about the way we perceive certain places. FictionFan’s post mentioned Glasgow, and the reputation it’s gotten over the years for being gang- and thug-ridden. And plenty of crime fiction set in Glasgow has played on that reputation. The fact is, though, that modern Glasgow is a lot more than a gangland. Yes, of course, there are thugs there, as there are in any big city (and plenty of smaller ones, too!). But Glasgow has highly regarded universities, fine dining, parks, museums, and all of the other things you’ll find in a major city. The ‘gangland’ reputation just doesn’t fit the city. Authors such as Val McDermid, whose 1979 takes place in Glasgow, show Glasgow’s many sides. Denise Mina’s Garnethill trilogy and, of course, the work of William McIlvanney also show a broader picture of Glasgow.

A lot of people think of Hollywood as just the film industry, rich film stars, hugely expensive restaurants and mansions, and so on. But that part of Los Angeles is a lot more than the film industry. And even the film industry has changed since the ‘Golden Years’ of the early 20th Century. Stuart Kaminsky’s Toby Peters series takes place in the 1940’s and captures that ‘Golden Age’ atmosphere, and that’s appropriate for that series. But that’s not really Hollywood (or Los Angeles, for the matter of that). Hollywood is also insurance brokers, car washes, small, family-owned stores, and a lot more. And Los Angeles is even more complex and diverse. Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller (and now, Renée Ballard) series present a more complete and balanced picture of Hollywood and Los Angeles. So does the work of Robert Crais, whose Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series also takes place in that area.

If I say ‘Las Vegas,’ my guess is, the first thing you’ll think of is gambling and casinos. It’s also got a reputation for being Mob-run. And it is true that the city has some history with the Mob. But the reality is, Las Vegas isn’t really the ‘Mob town’ a lot of people imagine. Today, the big casino resorts are owned by large corporations like MGM Growth Properties and the Blackstone Group. The famous Las Vegas Strip has, of course, casino resorts, fancy restaurants, and so on. But most of Las Vegas is a city like a lot of other cities. There are small shops, run-down areas, nicer areas, bus stops, supermarkets and schools, like anywhere else. To be honest, almost all the Las Vegas-based crime fiction I’ve read (and read about) has a focus on gambling, casinos, the Mob, and heists. It’d be interesting to read a novel that gives a broader view of the city. I’m open to suggestions…

One of the things people don’t always remember about Toronto is just how diverse it really is. There are people from all over the world, and smaller communities within the city that represent dozens of different cultures. It’s not just made of First Nations people and descendants of French and English settlers. There’s world-class dining, sports, and entertainment – and also homelessness, poverty, and more. Robert Rotenberg’s and Ian Hamilton’s novels give readers a sense of the complexity and diversity of the people who live in Toronto. And Jill Edmondson and John McFetridge explore some of the sides of Toronto that don’t get into the tourist brochures.

Mumbai is, of course, the home of the very lucrative Bollywood industry. And a lot of people think of that when they think of Mumbai. But the reality is, there’s a lot more to Mumbai than just Bollywood. For example, although Bangalore/Bangalaru is the biggest hub of India’s high-tech industry, Mumbai is also an important high-tech hub. It’s also India’s commercial capital. And it’s a place where many people from other parts of the country go to pursue their dreams. It’s a large, complex city, and more diverse than you might think. So, novels that just focus on the poverty in the city miss some important aspects of it. So do novels that just show us the glittering life of a Bollywood star. Kalpana Swaminathan’s Lalli novels, and Vaseem Khan’s Ganesha novels show several different sides of Mumbai, and give the reader an authentic look at life there.

There are plenty of other places, too, that are much more than (or very different to) their reputation. That’s why a well-written story gives readers a real look at the setting for the story. Which cities do you think are a lot more than people may believe?

Thanks, FictionFan, for the inspiration! Now, please treat yourself to a visit to FictionFan’s great blog. Well-written reviews and great commentary await you.

ps. The ‘photo is of Las Vegas’ famous Strip. There’s a lot more to the city than that…


*NOTE: The title of this song is a line from Danny Gokey’s More Than You Think I Am.