While a really good writer can make almost any setting, no matter how familiar, seem new and exciting, there does come a point when you want something a little different, when you want to see a mystery set somewhere you haven’t been before, somewhere that hasn’t been the setting for hundreds of other mysteries, in print or on film. So often the setting becomes an integral part of the story, so that it couldn’t take place anywhere else, or the setting itself almost becomes a character in the story, so a standard place often leads to a predictable story. However, we have two new mysteries here at The Field Library which take place in settings very unusual for the mystery genre, and as a result, the stories themselves take on different dimensions.
Jane Harper, the author of the first mystery, The Lost Man, has written two other books set in Australia (The Dry and Force of Nature). This one, a stand alone, takes place in the unforgiving outback in central Australia. The three Bright brothers each live on their own ranch, three miles apart, each the other’s nearest neighbor. In December, Cameron, the middle brother, disappears. Months later, his two brothers, Bud and Nathan, find Cameron’s body lying dead at the fence that acts as a boundary for their lands. The family gathers to grieve, along with long time employees and recently hired ranch hands, but Nathan becomes suspicious about exactly how and why his brother died. Why would someone as experienced in the harshness of the summer outback have just wandered off under the hot sun? Could he have been forced to his death? And if so, there are very few people who could possibly have had a hand in his death, all of them related, one way or another, to Cameron and his brothers. Family secrets emerge as possible motives for murder under the brutal heat and isolation of the outback.
If the thought of so much dry heat is too much for you, you can turn to Watcher in the Woods, by Kelley Armstrong, for a complete contrast. Watcher is set in the secret town of Rockton, in the Yukon territory, a place off the maps, where many of the inhabitants are criminals or victims fleeing from civilization. Casey Duncan, our protagonist, is one of the three police officers who keep order in the town, and while she’s no stranger to violent crime there, she’s surprised that any outsider could find the place, let alone cause trouble there. A U.S. Marshal appears, demanding the officers release one of the residents to him, without specifying exactly who he’s seeking, and within a few hours, he’s been shot dead. The pool of suspects is limited to the people in town, including Casey’s sister who just arrived, and Casey and her fiance, the town sheriff, have to determine what the Marshal knew and who was willing to kill to keep it secret, before the killer strikes again. In a town of so many secrets, so many people hiding from the world, that’s not going to be easy.
Take your pick: Australia or the Yukon. You’ll enjoy a different world, and a different kind of mystery.