There’s something unlikely yet inevitable about the allure of fictional heroes and their fictive footsteps. Go abroad and you’ll find on offer plenty of guided walks to the digs and the dives of crime fiction lore, pubs in which some detective or the other never had a drink, crime locations where no person was murdered, mean streets that weren’t actually stalked by evil masterminds.
The last time I was in London I happened to pass 221B Baker Street and I couldn’t help thinking: so this is where the great Sherlock lived! Of course, he didn’t live there, but there’s a museum recreating his and Dr Watson’s apartment. Visitors are disappointed when they’re told it’s a mock-up, and that Holmes was a fictional character loosely based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s teacher—forensic expert Dr Bell—at the medical school in Edinburgh. Cashing in on curiosity, regular Sherlock Holmes walks are conducted (www.walks.com) tracking his adventures, mainly in West End. While in the UK, one can also take Agatha Christie tours—many stories are set around her coastal birthplace Torquay. The Scottish capital Edinburgh is, apart from Doyle’s birthplace, a tourist destination for Inspector Rebus fans, and multiple tours cover the books by Ian Rankin, many of them focused on Rebus’ and Rankin’s favourite pubs (www.rebustours.com). However, I’m waiting till there’s a Graham Greene tour before I go to England again—though he visited Goa in the 1960s, so I might as well just have a drink at the hotel he stayed at instead (incidentally, the Hotel Mandovi).
Hot spot: 221B Baker Street, the Sherlock Holmes museum. Jacques Loic/AFP
Elsewhere, you’ll find Swedish crime fiction trails (but of course!) and the pilgrimage hubs are Ystad with its Wallander tours (based on Henning Mankell’s novels; www.ystad.se) and Stockholm where Millennium Walks (book through www.ticnet.se) take you to places mentioned by Stieg Larsson. In Barcelona, there’s a walk centred around the globally best-selling bibliophile-mystery novel The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (www.iconoserveis.com) and further south in Africa, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency Tour apparently shows you offbeat Botswana (an interesting by-product of which seems to be Mma Ramotswe’s Cookbook of local food).
The big mama of modern crime fiction is America. In New York, you can visit locations from Martin Scorsese’s mafia films, as well as the Sopranos TV serial, and look for the West 35th Street brownstone of Nero Wolfe, the Greenwich Village of Kinky Friedman, and the 87th Precinct of Ed McBain (it’s NYC although he does fictionalize the city as “Isola” in the books).
But it is really California that is hallowed ground. The crook town par excellence, used by writers almost as a character in its own right, is Los Angeles. An esoteric blog project-turned-bus tour (Esotouric.com) takes you to Philip Marlowe locations, whose creator Raymond Chandler (the “Baba” of crime writers just like Hemingway was “Papa Hem” for non-crime writers) apparently loved showing visitors the settings for his fictional scenes. Video clips and old slides are screened on the bus to aid imagination, because things have changed over time and the infamous “mean streets” tend to be rather upscale. Sporadic tours feature the “psycho-geography” of James Ellroy’s LA-quartet of noir cop novels, out of which LA Confidential and The Black Dahlia have been beautifully filmed. If you’re more of a Sam Spade-type, then head to San Francisco for a tour guided by Dashiell Hammett experts.
Depending on the complexity of a tour, tickets cost anywhere between Rs300 and Rs2,500, although plenty of well-researched websites reveal the places for free (for example, those interested in Chandler, take a look at http://homepage.mac.com/llatker).
The only thing that remains a mystery is why there aren’t similar tours in India. Mumbai would be a good place to start, with tours to locations in books by Vikram Chandra, Suketu Mehta, Gregory David Roberts and Ashok Banker (according to rumours, Banker’s out-of-print trilogy of crime will be reissued soon). Kolkata is another logical destination: Just imagine seeing the city as it is depicted in the Feluda and Byomkesh Bakshi stories or in Amitav Ghosh’s The Calcutta Chromosome. If this is too much to ask for, could somebody—anybody—create a website compiling locations from crime novels such as Surender Mohan Pathak’s, which take you pretty much all over the country? That’d be a boon.
Zac O’Yeah is a Bangalore-based crime fiction writer.
Write to Zac at email@example.com