Oline Cogdill

altIf you have the newest issue of Mystery Scene—and I hope you have—perhaps you've read my interview with Kelli Stanley, which I hope you have.

(That's the Spring Issue, 2011, No. 119)

My interview with Kelli, left, starts with a walking tour of Chinatown in San Francisco, continues during a two-hour lunch of dim sum and continues with another trip through Chinatown.

I never ate so well during an interview. And while I had a wonderful time talking with Kelli—and enjoying the wonderful dim sum—the walking tour was just as valuable. Kelli gave me an upclose and personal view of the Chinatown setting for her Miranda Corbie novel City of Dragons. (Stanely's next San Francisco-based novel is City of Secrets, which comes out in September.)

I've been to San Francisco several times—it is one of my favorite American cities. And Chinatown is a must-stop on each of those trips.

altBut this was the first time I glimpsed some of the side streets with all its colorful aspects. The click of mah jong tiles from behind the screen doors in the basements. The laundry that hangs from some of the balconies. The cooking smells that come from bakeries, restaurants and apartments. All that shows up in City of Dragons.

Kelli gave me a view of Chinatown that I have never seen and may not have seen on my own.

And that is what often happens with mystery authors—they show us a part of their world we may never have seen without them.

Regardless of whether a novel takes place in San Francisco's Chinatown or New York's Chinatown, as do those novels by S.J. Rozan and Henry Chang, or a Virginia winery as do those novels by Ellen Crosby, or a small Illinois town as do those novels by Denise Swanson.

It's one of the things that mystery writers do best. And each region, each city, even those individual neighborhoods have distinct personalities.

Take Los Angeles.

Michael Connelly's Los Angeles is different from Robert Crais' Los Angeles, which is different from Denise Hamilton's Los Angeles, which is different from Robert Ellis' Los Angeles. Each author's view of Los Angeles can overlap, of course, but each also brings a unique perspective to their area.

And that is one of the things I love about mysteries.