Some books could take place anywhere, but some have a setting so strong that it is almost like another character. For your reading pleasure, here are four books featuring a strong sense of place (all reviews by staff member Chris Larson):
Haunting Jordan by P.J. Alderman
Port Chatham, Washington is an attractive town, with lovingly preserved historic houses and a picturesque waterfront. The townsfolk are friendly, laid-back, just a mite quirky, and they love to hang out at the local pub listening to live jazz. In the late 1800s, however, Port Chatham’s waterfront was a dangerous place where men were shanghaied into ships’ crews and women were kidnapped and sold into prostitution. The reader gets to know both incarnations of the town through dual murder mysteries, one set in each time period. Jordan Marsh, a therapist from Los Angeles looking to escape the cloud of suspicion that hangs over her after her husband’s murder, falls in love with the town at first sight and impulsively buys a run-down Victorian mansion to renovate. She quickly discovers that she is not the only inhabitant of the house, however. The ghost of the house’s original owner, Hattie Longren, a woman who was murdered in 1890, recruits Jordan to find out who killed her. Jordan’s own life will be in peril as she discovers the identities of two killers, one long dead, and one armed and dangerous.
The Blessing Way by Tony Hillerman
The vast and sparsely populated Navajo reservation is a land of canyons and colorful rock formations jutting from the desert. Law enforcement is provided by the Navajo Tribal Police, including Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, an officer known for solving crimes with his logic and his understanding of human behavior. Leaphorn is somewhat of an agnostic when it comes to traditional Navajo spirituality, but when a young man named Luis Horseman turns up dead and rumors say that he was killed by a Navajo witch, Leaphorn knows that trouble is brewing. With the help of an old friend, professor Bergen McKee, who has come to the reservation to research Navajo witchcraft and to find a missing colleague, Leaphorn discovers that the sightings of a Wolf Witch are cover for far more nefarious activities. For a fast-paced police procedural with a good dose of Navajo culture, you can’t beat Tony Hillerman. The Blessing Way is the first of eighteen books set on the Navajo reservation featuring Joe Leaphorn and, later, Jim Chee.
The Case of the Missing Books by Ian Sansom
On his first day as the new librarian in the isolated Northern Ireland town of Tumdrum, hapless Londoner Israel Armstrong injures his ankle, gets punched in the eye, is forced to spend the last of his cash, gets manure all over his pants, and is provided with lodgings in a chicken coop, all after discovering that the town library has been closed and he is expected instead to drive a near-derelict and bookless bookmobile through the Irish countryside. On the second day, he breaks his glasses, accidentally melts his credit cards, is forced to wear a borrowed t-shirt bearing an offensive slogan, and discovers that all 15,000 of the locked-up library’s books are missing. The townspeople range from irritable to incomprehensible, with their thick accents and local idioms, but Israel forges on through one absurd situation after another to discover what has become of the missing books. More fish-out-of-water comedy than mystery, this book will leave the reader laughing out loud, if not rolling on the floor with mirth.
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
Ghalas-at is a hilly, dolphin-shaped island, roughly 6 miles long and 3 miles wide, lying off the coast of California. Dolphins live in the sea surrounding the island, and otter frolic in the kelp beds. In the mid-1800s, Ghalas-at is inhabited by a small tribe of Native Americans, including 12-year-old Karana. After many villagers are killed in a battle with the Aleuts, a rival tribe who briefly came to the island to hunt otter, Karana’s people decide to find a new home on the mainland, but at the last minute, Karana realizes her little brother isn’t on the ship and dives overboard. The ship, in danger of being driven onto the rocks, leaves without them and Karana and Ramo are left alone on the island. Ramo is soon killed by wild dogs, but Karana learns to survive while waiting for a ship to come back for her. As the years pass, she builds herself a house, learns to make weapons, fights off the wild dogs, and eventually befriends their leader. Will Karana ever leave the island? Read this Newbery Award-winning classic to find out. For ages 9 and up.