The best books that draw readers in with immersive settings of time and place

Why am I passionate about this?

Even though I have not lived in the Midwest for fifty years, I remain a Midwesterner. It is in how I speak (adding an “r” to wash), what I like to eat (Cincinnati chili), and explains my favorite smell (the inside of a barn). Both as a reader and writer, I want to know where the story is “from.” What does this place look like? Smell like? What is the cadence of the characters’ speech? All this translates into an immersive experience and that is something I look for both in a book I pick up and in one I write. 


I wrote...

Funeral Train

By Laurie Loewenstein,

Book cover of Funeral Train

What is my book about?

Already suffering the privations of the 1930s Dust Bowl, an Oklahoma town is further devastated when a passenger train derails—flooding its hospital with the dead and maimed. Among the seriously wounded is Etha, wife of Sheriff Temple Jennings. Overwhelmed by worry for her, the sheriff must regain his footing to investigate the derailment which rapidly develops into a case of sabotage.

The following night, a local recluse is murdered. Temple has a hunch that this death is connected to the derailment. But as he dissects the victim’s life, he discovers a tangle of records that make a number of townsfolk suspect in the murder. Funeral Train is the second in my Dust Bowl mysteries series.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Night Bell

Laurie Loewenstein Why did I love this book?

Hazel Micaellef, 62, a police officer in a small town in Ontario, is divorced, overweight, has back problems, and drinks too much. I am from a small town and divorced. Liquor is not my vice. I am, however, completely at home in the fictional and slightly seedy Port Dumas where locals have long memories. When human bones are found on land that formerly housed orphans, many of the town’s ugly secrets bubble up. The plot is complex and the setting immersive. I would not necessarily want to live in a place like Port Dumas…but I have.

By Inger Ash Wolfe,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Night Bell as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The new novel in this acclaimed series is brilliantly paced, addictively suspenseful—the author's best yet. Hazel Micallef (played by Susan Sarandon in the recent film of the series' debut, The Calling) has become one of crime writing's most memorable detectives. The Night Bell moves between the past and the present in Port Dundas, Ontario, as two mysteries converge. A discovery of the bones of murdered children is made on land that was once a county foster home. Now it's being developed as a brand new subdivision whose first residents are already railing against broken promises and corruption. But when three…


Book cover of Metropolis

Laurie Loewenstein Why did I love this book?

Set in the Weimar Republic of post-WWI Germany (think the musical Cabaret), Kerr’s Berlin is tawdry and raw. Bernie Gunther is a homicide detective tracking down a serial killer who is murdering maimed WWI veterans—legless men begging on wheels called cripple-carts or klutz wagons. Told in first person, Gunther’s observations about his surroundings are harrowing. “On summer nights, the Tiergarten sometimes looked like a stud farm, there were so many whores copulating on the grass with their clients…Violent murders were commonplace.” The smells, tastes, and sounds of the place hit me full force and made a distant time and place spring to life. From the first sentence, I was pulled into this world that I knew little about.

By Philip Kerr,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Metropolis as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"[Metropolis is] a perfect goodbye--and first hello--to its hero...Bernie Gunther has, at last, come home."--Washington Post

New York Times-bestselling author Philip Kerr treats readers to his beloved hero's origins, exploring Bernie Gunther's first weeks on Berlin's Murder Squad.

Summer, 1928. Berlin, a city where nothing is verboten.

In the night streets, political gangs wander, looking for fights. Daylight reveals a beleaguered populace barely recovering from the postwar inflation, often jobless, reeling from the reparations imposed by the victors. At central police HQ, the Murder Commission has its hands full. A killer is on the loose and though he scatters many…


Book cover of A Private Disgrace: Lizzie Borden by Daylight

Laurie Loewenstein Why did I love this book?

I am a total sucker for crime books that include blueprints of the house where a murder took place… and specifically for books about Lizzie Borden and what she did (or did not do) on August 4, 1892. I really can’t explain my preoccupation. A Private Disgrace delivers on the blueprints and much more. I have read it many times over. The author was born twelve years after the murders in Fall River, Massachusetts. Lincoln heard from her parents how Lizzie Borden was tried and acquitted for butchering her father and stepmother with an axe. The author knows the town intimately and uses her insider knowledge to formulate plausible answers as to who committed the murders and why. And Lincoln thrusts us directly into the murder house with her vivid depictions. The stifling heat of the August day, the family’s three consecutive meals of left-over mutton, the stink of the slop pails, and the claustrophobic layout of the narrow house—all plunge the reader into this particular place and time.

By Victoria Lincoln,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Private Disgrace as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

~Winner of the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award for Best Fact True Crime Novel of the Year, 1967~

A Private Disgrace is the single best account of the ghastly murders which took place in Fall River, Massachusetts on August 14, 1892.

Lizzie Andrew Borden (b.1860 – d.1927) was tried and acquitted in the 1892 axe murders of her father and stepmother in Fall River, Massachusetts. Media coverage of the case created a furor throughout the United States reminiscent of the Rosenberg, Claus von Bulow and O.J. Simpson trials. No other suspect was ever charged with the double homicide, and…


Book cover of Piranesi

Laurie Loewenstein Why did I love this book?

This is a novel overflowing with mysterious overtones. Its tidal surge licks at the reader’s heels and lures us in. The story is told by Piranesi, who inhabits a place he calls the House. The House is composed of a series of vast rooms populated with marble statues, and, on the lower floor, an ocean is imprisoned. We are tasked with unraveling the world that guileless Piranesi inhabits. We don’t know how long he has lived there and neither does he. He has devised his own calendar system and tries to number the vast rooms of the House but we sense there is a lot he is misinterpreting. Why do I love this book? It sets out a trail of clues that eventually make sense of Piranesi’s nonsensical world. It is a puzzle to solve constructed of splendid images and doesn’t every mystery reader crave a juicy puzzle?

By Susanna Clarke,

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked Piranesi as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the 2021 Women's Prize for Fiction
A SUNDAY TIMES & NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

The spectacular new novel from the bestselling author of JONATHAN STRANGE & MR NORRELL, 'one of our greatest living authors' NEW YORK MAGAZINE
__________________________________
Piranesi lives in the House. Perhaps he always has.

In his notebooks, day after day, he makes a clear and careful record of its wonders: the labyrinth of halls, the thousands upon thousands of statues, the tides that thunder up staircases, the clouds that move in slow procession through the upper halls. On Tuesdays and Fridays Piranesi sees his friend,…


Book cover of City of Thieves

Laurie Loewenstein Why did I love this book?

Can there be any bleaker setting than Leningrad during the German siege in 1942, when starving citizens lick glue from the spines of books for food? Yet, despite the bleakness, this novel brims with humor and insight. It is structured as a quest undertaken by two prisoners: 17-year-old Lev, arrested for looting, and Kolya, a Russian soldier accused of desertion. A Russian colonel promises them freedom if they can breach the siege lines and return in two weeks with a dozen eggs for his daughter’s wedding cake. Along the way the pair encounters, among others, cannibals, German soldiers, Russian partisans, young women kept as sex slaves, and a hen who turns out to be a rooster. In the end, it is a moving story of friendship, bravery, and coming of age in a time of terror and chaos. The episodic telling of the tale draws me in as does the changing nature of the cocky and unreliable Kolya who transforms into a man of courage.

By David Benioff,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked City of Thieves as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the critically acclaimed author of The 25th Hour and When the Nines Roll Over and co-creator of the HBO series Game of Thrones, a captivating novel about war, courage, survival - and a remarkable friendship that ripples across a lifetime.

During the Nazis' brutal siege of Leningrad, Lev Beniov is arrested for looting and thrown into the same cell as a handsome deserter named Kolya. Instead of being executed, Lev and Kolya are given a shot at saving their own lives by complying with an outrageous directive: secure a dozen eggs for a powerful Soviet colonel to use in…


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Oaky With a Hint of Murder

By Dawn Brotherton,

Book cover of Oaky With a Hint of Murder

Dawn Brotherton

New book alert!

What is my book about?

Aury and Scott travel to the Finger Lakes in New York’s wine country to get to the bottom of the mysterious happenings at the Songscape Winery. Disturbed furniture and curious noises are one thing, but when a customer winds up dead, it’s time to dig into the details and see what ferments.

Is there any truth to the Native American legends that cluster near Seneca Lake? Is the warrior’s disapproval of wineries growing legs? Aury will need to pour over the clues to unearth the mystery before the winery’s reputation is crushed. With the annual wine festival just around the corner, Aury harvests more than she bargained for when the killer tries to bottle her up for good.

Oaky With a Hint of Murder

By Dawn Brotherton,

What is this book about?

Aury and Scott travel to the Finger Lakes in New York's wine country to get to the bottom of the mysterious happenings at the Songscape Winery. Disturbed furniture and curious noises are one thing, but when a customer winds up dead, it's time to dig into the details and see what ferments.


Is there any truth to the Native American legends that cluster near Seneca Lake? Is the warrior's disapproval of wineries growing legs?


Aury will need to pour over the clues to unearth the mystery before the winery's reputation is crushed. With the annual wine festival just around the…


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