Sleuthin’ in the Suburbs

Marilyn Stasio makes an appearance in the regional section of the New York Times, talking about all manner of protagonists (the full list of those namechecked by Stasio can be found here) who make their home just outside the confines of the five boroughs:

When P. D. James, the grand master of the well-made detective story, said,

“You can gain a far more accurate impression of what it is like to live

and work in a city from a mystery than from more pretentious forms,”

she probably wasn’t thinking about Great Neck. Or Upper Montclair. Or

any of the other thinly disguised locales found in dozens of mysteries

set in the suburbs of New York.

Genre fiction is no less revealing about small-town life, but let’s

face it — suburbia just doesn’t attract the same kind of dark, brooding

sleuths who are drawn to the mean streets of Big Bad City, U.S.A. What

we tend to get, instead, are the comedians, the cranks and the kooks,

more amateurish at the business of crime-solving, less hard-bitten and

far more lovable than their inner-city cousins.

Like several of Stasio’s earlier compendium-style pieces, this one’s a little too catch-all without an overarching sense of meaning, but an otherwise enjoyable essay was somewhat marred by this line about Susan Isaac’s suburban heroine Judith Singer:

Although Ms. Isaacs never revisited her wisecracking Long Island sleuth

(“Twenty-five years down the line, I didn’t want to be writing ‘Judith

Singer with Botox,’ ” she recently told Publishers Weekly), the

heroines of her later novels share many of Judith’s characteristics.

Looks like La Stasio has some catching up to do