November 30, 2023
Settings as Character

Settings as Character

Five Settings with the Energy of a Main Character

Crime stories often hinge on their settings, with some locales exuding as much presence as any flesh-and-blood character. This exploration highlights five instances where the setting in crime fiction and its screen adaptations virtually takes on a life of its own, becoming an indispensable part of the narrative.


Let’s delve into the foggy, cobblestone streets of Victorian London as depicted in Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.” While Holmes and Watson solve mysteries, it’s the city itself that sets the stage for intrigue. The gas-lit alleys and the sounds of horse-drawn carriages create an atmosphere of mystery and suspense that is almost palpable.

Shifting gears to a more modern setting, “The Wire,” a television series set in Baltimore, presents the city as a complex, living organism. The show explores the interplay between law enforcement, drug trade, and the socio-economic realities of the city. Baltimore’s neighborhoods, from the bustling docks to the troubled streets, are not just backdrops but active participants in the storytelling.

On the literary front, James Ellroy’s “L.A. Confidential” paints a vivid picture of 1950s Los Angeles. From the glamorous Hollywood studios to the seedy underbelly of the city, the setting is integral to the story’s mood and themes. The city’s dichotomy, mirroring the characters’ own moral complexities, plays a crucial role in driving the narrative forward.

Another compelling example is the isolated, frigid landscape of the fictional town of Kiewarra in Jane Harper’s “The Dry.” The setting of a drought-stricken Australian town is not only a backdrop for the mystery but also an active force in the story. The oppressive heat and the vast, open landscapes heighten the tension and mirror the characters’ internal struggles.

Lastly, the whimsical yet foreboding world of Twin Peaks in the eponymous TV series by David Lynch and Mark Frost deserves mention. The small, seemingly idyllic town, with its dense forests and mysterious inhabitants, becomes a character in its own right. The peculiar, often surreal atmosphere of Twin Peaks is essential to the show’s unique blend of mystery, horror, and whimsy.

These examples underscore how settings in crime fiction and adaptations can transcend their traditional roles, becoming as integral to the story as any character with dialogue and action. Each setting, with its unique personality and influence, contributes significantly to the depth and complexity of the narrative, making them unforgettable elements of their respective stories.

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