Of all the vacation spots you can imagine, I’ll bet Philly never placed in the top ten. Of all the reasons you might’ve considered Philadelphia for a vacation, I’m guessing mystery and the mysterious didn’t come to mind. Cheesesteakes, mummers, but not mystery. Right?
As a guy who was born and raised in the city of Brotherly Love, I think it’s a great place to vacation for a lot of reasons. One is that there’s plenty to recommend this city for the mystery lover. This is one of the reasons I chose to set my mystery series here and why my detective is a native Philadelphian.
We’ve got plenty of mysteries, not to mention political corruption and intrigue, and more than enough crime to appease your appetite (if that’s the diet you’re on). Philadelphia has always had a rough and tumble reputation (despite it’s Brotherly Love moniker). From The Unicorn Killer to the Lex Street massacre, from the South Street Stalker to the Frankford Slasher, Philly has its share of crime and the mysterious. It’s fertile territory for a mystery writer. How could I not be into mystery and set my series here? Murder on Camac is just the beginning.
Though other cities have a claim on him, Poe remains one of the most famous mystery figures to have lived in Philadelphia. He and his wife moved here in 1838. But more than just residing in Philly, during the years Poe graced these cobblestone streets, he was at his most productive and inventive.
So, what makes Philly a mysterious destination?
Some claim that the modern detective story was invented by Poe – and it’s with stories he wrote while he lived in Philadelphia. “Murders in the Rue Morgue” is credited as the start of modern detective tales and Philly was where it was penned. C. Auguste Dupin, Poe’s creation, and a detective thought to be a prototype for Sherlock Holmes – was invented here in Philly. Dupin solved cases quite creatively using a combination of techniques. He appeared in three of Poe’s stories. In addition to the Rue Morgue, Dupin solved cases in “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt” and “The Purloined Letter.”
When you visit this city, you can walk the same streets Poe did and maybe become as inspired. You might even visit the last home he lived in during his Philadelphia years – the Poe House at Seventh and Spring Garden Streets has been preserved and is a certified national historical building.
But the mysterious and the gothic in Philadelphia stretch further back in time than Poe and his years here. Gothic fiction (a mix of romance, horror, the supernatural, etc.) was thriving in Europe for a while before it reached America. When it crossed the Atlantic, a Philadelphian, Charles Brockden Brown, is the one who Americanized and urbanized the form in the late 18th and Early 20th Centuries. Others joined in the tradition including Robert Montgomery Bird, and George Lippard whose The Quaker City was the best selling novel in America for a while in the mid nineteenth century. Lippard was also a close friend of Edgar Allen Poe.
The Philadelphia literary scene was filled with the gothic and murder and mystery when Poe arrived. It was up to him to take it to a new level and Philly inspired him to do it.
We have plenty of other mystery greats living and working here. If you’ve never read a Lisa Scottoline novel you’ve got a treat in store. A Philadelphia lawyer, her protagonist is also a Philadelphia lawyer (go figure) who deals with absorbing problems and crimes. The Amanda Pepper mystery series by Gillian Roberts (who used to live here) features Pepper who’s a prep school teacher and finds herself in one crime ridden situation after another.
It was a natural for me to set this particular mystery series in Philadelphia for a lot of reasons. Murder on Camac is the first book in the series and though it has connections to the thirty year old death of a pope in Rome, takes place in Philadelphia’s center city area.
When the characters began to take shape in my mind, there was nowhere else they wanted to live but in Philadelphia. The P.I. is Marco Fontana, an Italian with roots in South Philly which is still has a touch of Italy but not so much as it was when Marco was growing up. Most of his family is still there with the exception of a brother or two. But even Marco moved to Philly’s central district where the gayborhood is located. No matter, trouble finds him anywhere and so do members of his family when they want to.
In Murder on Camac, readers get to meet Marco’s loyal band of friends and associates who work with him, give him acita, make his life fun and sometimes exasperating, but most of all form a family of the heart which keeps him moving along.
There are plenty of opportunities for short story writers here — the industrious mystery writer needs to dig in and find them. Of course, romance, science fiction, and more have blossomed from the fertile soil here. From short stories to longer tales, Philly has plenty to inspire you.
There’s never enough mystery and Philadelphia is right up there with the best in providing plenty of mysterious opportunities.