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Book recommendations needed

September 2, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

Mafalda_merciHello everyone,

Could you please recommend me books set in Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas or Utah? If you know some set in Amarillo, Chicago, Las Vegas, Saint Louis, Sacramento, San Francisco or Santa Fe, that would be great too. It can be literary fiction or crime fiction.

Many thanks. The comment section is all yours!



Here are the recommendations received, sorted by place:



McTeague (SF) by Frank Norris

California Fire and Life by Don Winslow

Fun and Games by Duane Swierczynski

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? by Horace McCoy

Watch Me Die by Lee Goldberg

The Postman Always rings Twice by James M Cain

Oil! by Upton Sinclair

Build My Gallows High by Geoffrey Homes

Hell hath No Fury by Charles Williams

Joe Lansdale’s Hap & Leonard novels

This Book Will Save Your Life by A.M.Homes

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood

Book Lover by Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack

Golden Days, by Carolyn See

The Crying of Lot 49, by Thomas Pynchon

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

In Dubious Battle by John Steinbeck

Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream by Joan Didion (essay)

Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion

A Way of Life Like Any Other by Darcy O’Brien

Anita Loos

The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac

Storm, by George Stewart

Charlie Chan novels by Earl Derr Bigger

Martin Eden, by Jack London

What Makes Sammy Run? by Budd Schulberg

Bret Harte

Ambrose Bierce


Plainsong, or any other, by Kent Haruf


The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson


Mark Twain

Chronicle of the Mound Builders, by Elle Marie

New Mexico

Tony Hillerman’s mystery novels.

SIlko’s Ceremony by Leslie Marmon

House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday


Point Omega dy Delillo


The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck


Jim Thompson

No Country for Old Men by Mc Carthy

Kinky Friedman


Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey

A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Executioner’s Song, by Norman Mailer



The Chicago Way by Michael Harvey

In Babel by George Ade

1001 Afternoons in Chicago by Ben Hecht

Aleksander Hemon

Herzog by Saul Bellow

Sister Carrieby Theodore Dreiser

Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet

Sara Paretsky’s mysteries

Beautiful Children by Charles Bock.

Las Vegas

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson

Last Call by Tim Powers

Saint Louis


The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler

Run, River, by Joan Didion

San Francisco

Dark Passage by David Goodis

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammet

The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth

The Magician’s Tale, by David Hunt (William Bayer)

The Continental Op by Dashiell Hammet

Santa Fe

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather


  1. September 3, 2013 at 1:02 am

    McTeague (SF) by Frank Norris (no wonder people are terrified of the dentist)
    California Fire and Life by Don Winslow (who knew that fire investigation was so damn interesting.
    Fun and Games by Duane Swierczynski (High octane adventure)
    They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? by Horace McCoy
    Watch Me Die by Lee Goldberg (PI novel)


    • September 3, 2013 at 9:09 pm

      I have Fun and Games and I’m interested in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
      I’ll look for the other ones.


      • September 3, 2013 at 9:22 pm

        They Shoot Horses also has the merit of being extremely short.


  2. September 3, 2013 at 1:07 am

    California cont.
    The Postman Always rings Twice by James M Cain
    Oil! by Upton Sinclair
    Build My Gallows High by Geoffrey Homes


    • September 3, 2013 at 9:09 pm

      Thanks. I have Build my Gallows High. I didn’t remember it was in California.


  3. September 3, 2013 at 1:12 am

    Hell hath No Fury by Charles Williams
    Joe Lansdale’s Hap & Leonard novels
    Many of Jim Thompson novels (I know you’ve read some)


  4. September 3, 2013 at 1:14 am

    Another San Francisco: Dark Passage by David Goodis


    • September 3, 2013 at 9:10 pm

      Another one to check out. thanks


  5. September 3, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    Turns out I have nine books in the California category on my blog. Who knew I had written so much on books about a place I’ve never seen? http://pechorinsjournal.wordpress.com/category/places/california/

    Ross MacDonald leaps to mind anyway, as does of course the divine Chandler but you already know him.

    I think Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon is set in San Francisco.

    Bukowski for Hollywood.

    Definitely second Joe Lansdale, and the Hap and Leonard novels are good. I also liked his stand alone novel The Bottoms.

    Possibly also McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men for Texas.

    The McCoy that Guy recommends is probably my favourite noir.

    Utah, I think Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage set there. It’s a classic pulp western, hugely influential and widely thought to be Grey’s best. I’ve read it and it’s fun, though it certainly ain’t literary fiction. There are likely other westerns for some of the midwestern locations.

    Last Call by Tim Powers is a sort of urban fantasy/weirdness thing set in Vegas. No idea if you’d like it to be honest, but i did many years ago.

    I can’t believe I had to use google before remembering this one, but Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

    More if I think of it.


  6. September 3, 2013 at 3:59 pm

    Hi Emma, Here are my suggestions.

    California (San Francisco) – The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth (Literary fiction – novel in verse)

    California (Los Angeles) – This Book Will Save Your Life by A.M.Homes (Literary Fiction)

    California (Los Angeles) – A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood (Literary Fiction)

    California (Los Angeles) – Book Lover by Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack (Romance fiction / chicklit)

    California (Sacramento) – The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler (Literary Fiction / Chicklit)

    Illinois (Chicago) – The Chicago Way by Michael Harvey (Crime fiction)

    Utah – A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle (Half of the story is set in Utah)


    • September 3, 2013 at 4:13 pm

      You beat me to proposing The Golden Gate – what a delight that is!


    • September 3, 2013 at 9:16 pm

      Hi Vishy,
      Thanks for all the recommendations.
      I loved This Book Will Save Your Life.
      I’ve read The Jane Austen Book Club but I didn’t remember it was in Sacramento.
      I’m curious about the Conan Doyle.


      • September 4, 2013 at 6:06 am

        Nice to know that you enjoyed ‘This Book Will Save Your Life’ and ‘The Jane Austen Book Club’, Emma. Hope you like the Conan Doyle book too. If you get a chance, do try ‘The Chicago Way’ by Michael Harvey. Because you like stylish crime novels, I think you might like this. It is stylish and cool has a great story, some wonderful characters and some interesting references to classical literature. It is a very satisfying read.


        • September 4, 2013 at 9:58 pm

          Thanks Vishy for pushing forward the Chicago Way. I like your description of it.


  7. September 3, 2013 at 4:17 pm

    I’ll second A Study in Scarlet. It goes well with the Zane Grey I mentioned, as part of a villainous Mormon diptych (nineteenth century writers really didn’t seem to like the Mormons much).


    • September 3, 2013 at 9:16 pm

      Good to know. I’m curious about this one.


  8. September 3, 2013 at 4:39 pm

    Okay, okay. If you really must narrow it down to just 10 states and seven cities:

    California: Golden Days, by Carolyn See; The Crying of Lot 49, by Thomas Pynchon; East of Eden, The Grapes of Wrath, Cannery Row, and In Dubious Battle by John Steinbeck; lots of stuff by Joan Didion (the essay “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream” and the novel Play It As It Lays especially); A Way of Life Like Any Other, by Darcy O’Brien; anything by Anita Loos; The Dharma Bums, by Jack Kerouac; Storm, by George Stewart; Earl Derr Bigger’s Charlie Chan novels; Martin Eden, by Jack London; What Makes Sammy Run?, by Budd Schulberg…
    New Mexico: Tony Hillerman’s mystery novels.
    Utah: The Executioner’s Song, by Norman Mailer
    Sacramento: Run, River, by Joan Didion
    San Francisco: The Magician’s Tale, by David Hunt (William Bayer)


    • September 3, 2013 at 9:24 pm

      Thanks Scott.

      I find Pynchon daunting, so I’m not sure about this one.
      I’ve read Cannery Row and I want to read The Grapes of Wrath.
      I’ve also read a collection of essays by Joan Didion. It’s a French edition entitled Amerique. It was difficult because I didn’t know what was behind some of the articles. (lack of knowledge of politics and local news items)
      I’ve only read On the Road (twice and wasn’t impressed twice.)
      Tony Hillerman is wonderful and I plan on reading one of his soon.

      I need to check out the other ones.


      • September 3, 2013 at 9:29 pm

        There’s a review of Crying at mine. One of my favourites of my own reviews funnily enough. It’s about 150 pages or so, so even if daunting is at least short.

        Didion is a wonderful writer. I’ve not read that one, but I’ve read her Miami and her prose style was excellent.


        • September 3, 2013 at 9:32 pm

          I’ll have a look at you review. Thanks for mentioning the number of pages, that helps. It could be the opportunity to try a Pynchon.
          Didion writes very well, that for sure but I found the articles difficult, even in French.


      • September 4, 2013 at 5:37 am

        Emma – The Crying of Lot 49 is almost certainly the least daunting of Pynchon’s novels, and a great (and little, and very funny) novel about Southern California – a real classic. My wife read Didion’s Amerique, which is a collection from her books of essays, and also found it a bit difficult for the same reason you did, but “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream” just gets Southern California more perfectly than anything I’ve read. I’m not surprised you didn’t like Kerouac; generally, I don’t either, but The Dharma Bums has some nice depictions of California landscapes, especially the High Sierra. That Carolyn See book is a favorite – where else but in Southern California could someone write an optimistic novel about nuclear holocaust?

        I’m curious to know why these states and these cities – not that you should feel any obligation to provide an explanation…


        • September 4, 2013 at 9:57 pm

          Ok, you and Max have sold the Pynchon.
          About L’Amerique. I realised when I read this book how our mental background is affected by news items. It was confirmed when I read Aiding and Abetting in English: I read the whole book without knowing it was based on a real case. In the Didion, I could feel the amount of invisible knowledge you have when you live in a country. I could read tons of books about America, I’d never get the built-in culture you acquire when you are born and live in a country. I expect the same experience when I read 1974 by David Peace.

          To answer your question, I’m planning a trip and anticipation is part of the pleasure.


          • September 5, 2013 at 8:32 pm

            A trip? Wonderful. If you any need non-literary recommendations for the West, let me know.


            • September 5, 2013 at 8:33 pm

              I’m terrible at reading non-fiction books but my husband likes them. So yes, recommendations are welcome.


            • September 5, 2013 at 9:43 pm

              I don’t think Scott meant non-fiction. More like:

              “Do not miss the City Museum in St. Louis! Its name is not accurate. You will have to see it to believe it.

              Do not eat St. Louis-style pizza. Do eat St. Louis-style barbecue.”

              Etc. I gotta million of these for Chicago and St Louis.


              • September 5, 2013 at 9:46 pm

                All right, my mistake.
                They’re welcome as well.


              • September 6, 2013 at 8:12 am

                Correct – not non-fiction, but travel recommendations like the ones you’ve mentioned. Take Utah’s Route 12 and that obscure little corner of old Route 66 near Kingman. Luncha at Olancha. Hog Island oysters. That sort of thing.


              • September 6, 2013 at 8:51 am

                Leave as many recommendations as you want, I’m highly interested in hearing about things that aren’t in travel guides.


  9. September 3, 2013 at 8:15 pm

    Well, for Chicago you might try “In Babel” by George Ade (1903): lovely understated short stories. There’s also Ben Hecht’s “1001 Afternoons in Chicago”: a collection of newspaper columns about Chicago in the ’20s, but more like short stories.

    And for San Francisco, Dashiell Hammett’s “The Continental Op”: sharp, hard-boiled stories that defined the genre.

    I have only short stories to suggest; sorry!


    • September 3, 2013 at 9:02 pm

      Thanks for this. I like short stories, more than chunksters, so the suggestions are welcome.


  10. September 3, 2013 at 9:33 pm

    I’m updating the post with your suggestions.


  11. September 3, 2013 at 9:55 pm

    I cannot believe no one has yet mentioned – or perhaps written – the great Amarillo novel. Who here knows the detective novels of Kinky Friedman? That’s my best guess.

    Jonathan Franzen tried to write the great St. Louis novel. I predict you want to read it about as much as you want to read Pynchon. A lot of great writers are from St. Louis. They couldn’t leave it fast enough.

    There are huge numbers of great non-fiction books about the American West and California – explorers, mountain men, cowboys, lunatics, Mark Twain – but they veer kind of far from your request.

    Bret Harte, Ambrose Bierce, and Twain are the big early names in Western short fiction. Then the deluge – lots of writers.

    Now for Missouri, it’s Twain again. Tom Sawyer and so on.

    You would likely enjoy Aleksander Hemon’s writing about Chicago, the Chicago he experienced as a refugee from Bosnia. He gets a little postmodern, though, so a whole book might not work for you.

    Chicago has been a surprisingly underwritten city. Or maybe there has been plenty of writing, but surprisingly few masterpieces. How about Saul Bellow’s Herzog? Or Sister Carrie. Glengarry Glen Ross.

    Sara Paretsky’s mysteries are set in Chicago.

    The most famous Santa Fe novel is Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop. You might be interested in Leslie Marmon SIlko’s Ceremony or N. Scott Momaday’s House Made of Dawn, about Native Americans in New Mexico.


    • September 3, 2013 at 10:29 pm

      Now you know what you have to do: write a marvellous novel set in Amarillo. 🙂 Time to enquire about cattle markets.

      I had to google Kinky Friedman, I thought you were making fun of me with that name. I’m sure Guy knows him.

      I think I’ve read The Corrections but I’m not sure. (that’s the kiss of death for a writer, IMO) I tried The Twenty-Seventh City and I abandoned it. So Franzen? I’m not going to rush to him again.

      I’m sure there are great non-fiction books but I’m not good at reading them. Each time I try my mind wanders after a few pages and it takes me ages to finish one. That’s something I regret, I’d learn more if I were able to read these.

      I can see that no one has suggestions about St Louis, Amarillo or Oklahoma.

      I should read Twain, but not in English. Tom Sawyer is with The Three Musketeers. Too many cartoons on TV when I was little, I feel I know the book which is absolutely not true. (The song of the cartoon said “Tom Sawyer, c’est l’Amérique”)

      I’ll check out Aleksander Hemon, I’m interested in his perspective. (like the Zachary Karabashliev I read recently) It’s hit or miss with postmodern fiction. Sometimes I like it, sometimes I don’t.

      Thanks for finding something set in Santa Fe, you’re the first.

      And thanks for the theatre recommendation, I love plays, as you probably know.


  12. September 3, 2013 at 10:41 pm

    The Grapes of Wrath, in the beginning, is actually an Oklahoma novel.


    • September 3, 2013 at 10:45 pm

      Of course. It’s about Okies leaving for California during the Great Depression.

      It’s on my should-read list. I read The Pearl in school and it put me off Steinbeck until 2010 when I read Cannery Row.


    • September 4, 2013 at 5:42 am

      Yes, I was going to say, something of a two-for-one – Oklahoma and California – with The Grapes of Wrath. For some Steinbeck in the more radical vein of The Grapes of Wrath, I read In Dubious Battle last year and thought it was great.


  13. September 3, 2013 at 11:38 pm

    I think most of Kinky Friedman’s novels are set in Greenwich Village (by the way, I know Ratso Sloman, and you’ll be relieved to know that he’s not as clownish as Kinky paints him).

    Another Chicago novel nobody mentioned: “Native Son,” by Richard Wright, one of the seminal black novels. And if you like plays, the classic is “The Front Page,” by Ben Hecht (him again), and Charles MacArthur.

    If “Tom Sawyer” is off-putting (and it shouldn’t be, but that’s life), you might consider Twain’s “Pudd’nhead Wilson,” also set in Missouri: one of his richer, odder books.


    • September 4, 2013 at 9:41 pm

      Thanks for the recommendations. I’ll check them out.
      Tom Sawyer isn’t off putting, it’s been put off because of its familiarity. It would be an opportunity to read it.


  14. September 4, 2013 at 2:36 am

    Chicago, Illinois: The Man with the Golden Arm by Nelson Algren; The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

    Arizona (both on my TBR, but haven’t yet read them myself…): Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy; Half-Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls

    California (in and around SF): Gina Berriault, including particularly The Lights of Earth, The Son, and Afterwards (originally: A Conference of Victims).

    I will soon read Blood Meridian and then can tell you whether it lives up to the hype that has me frothing for it. (I really liked The Road, found All the Pretty Horses good but less than great and only a slight step down from that for No Country For Old Men. In other words, I can recommend McCarthy, just not this book, yet.)


    • September 4, 2013 at 9:48 pm

      Thanks for the recommendations.
      I’m tempted by Nelson Algren. I’ve always been curious about de Beauvoir’ s lover. That’s what he is first in my mind. (For once, it’s a man in this position, not a woman)
      I’ve never read McCarthy. I picked up his books several times in bookshops but never bought one.
      I’m not good with SF, I’ve had several disasters with them.


      • September 6, 2013 at 1:40 am

        You are more than welcome. And to clarify, SF means San Francisco (as that was on your list) rather than sci-fi, which I have no competency to recommend. Gina Berriault’s novels are not far from novellas and are beautifully written.

        But you have a wealth to choose from. So much so, I may steal some ideas. Happy Reading!


        • September 6, 2013 at 1:10 pm

          Sorry for the mistake, I’ll check her out. I like short books.


  15. Brian Joseph
    September 4, 2013 at 10:13 am

    I see that that Upton Sinclair’s Oil was recommended but the Jungle was also set mostly in Illinois. Everything else that I thought of was already recommended above.


    • September 4, 2013 at 10:01 pm

      I feel like a kid in a candy store with all these great recommendations. I don’t know how I’m going to keep the TBR at reasonable level.


  16. leroyhunter
    September 4, 2013 at 10:51 pm

    Great – but unbalanced – recommendations. Am trying to think of books that fit the sad, empty states.

    Nevada? Point Omega dy Delillo (De Lillo? I forget) is set in Nevada, but it’s late-stlye-obsurantist-Delillo so has a health warning.

    There must be a great book set in Arizona!


    • September 4, 2013 at 10:52 pm

      Yes and Texas seems to inspire crime fiction.


    • September 4, 2013 at 10:56 pm

      There’s Barbara Kingsolver for Arizona. I’ve read them.


  17. September 5, 2013 at 5:29 am

    Illinois: The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson
    Colorado: Plainsong, or any other, by Kent Haruf
    Missouri: Chronicle of the Mound Builders, by Elle Marie

    there are great ideas here on this map: https://maps.google.com/maps/ms?msid=216254007243021660638.000498cefa0b63b848a15&msa=0&ll=38.891033,-92.109375&spn=36.078375,86.572266

    you can also search in goodreads via Google: books set in… in Goodreads


    • September 5, 2013 at 8:32 pm

      Thanks for the recommendations and the link, Emma.
      I’m on Goodreads but I didn’t think to look up there to find books set in a specific location.
      I also like the idea of reader writing down the first titles that come to their minds. It’s usually a good sign.


      • September 5, 2013 at 10:52 pm

        these are books I read/plan to read for the US State challenge myself


        • September 5, 2013 at 10:56 pm

          I didn’t know about this challenge. Have fun! (How is the Tour de France going?)


  18. September 6, 2013 at 8:05 pm

    wish could help but rarely read us fiction ,all the best stu


    • September 6, 2013 at 9:54 pm

      Thanks for the message. Why don’t you read American lit?


      • September 6, 2013 at 10:18 pm

        Just rarely appeals to me that said just reading stoner and have read naked singularity this year too many books from around the world appeal


  1. December 17, 2013 at 11:01 pm

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