“This couldn’t be set anywhere else.”

Have you said that about a mystery series or a TV show? Is that right? Sure, some series have ties to particular settings. In my Big Picture trilogy, of course, I’m going to take readers to the Uffizi Gallery, the Louvre, the Met, the Vatican Musuems. It’s an art thriller, so no surprise there. But when all that’s needed is a small town, maybe in a certain country, then I’d like to propose that it’s the skill of the author that makes us feel that this series just had to be in this certain place.

On a recent cruise we docked in Scalloway, Scotland, situated on the coast of “Shetland Mainland” and took a bus over to Lerwick, on the east side. Lerwick is the capital of Shetland, an archipelago made up of 100 islands. The port city is home to 7,500 people. One of them happens to be Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez. I printed a map from the city’s tourism office, and we spent the morning on a DIY walking-in-the-footsteps of Shetland excursion. For a fan, like me, there’s nothing like going to the place where a series is set.

We started at Market Cross on Lerwick’s Commercial Street, which runs parallel to the waterfront seen in every season and most episodes. Minutes later we were in front of what we’d really come to see – Bain’s Beach and Jimmy’s house, The Lodberrie. Many episodes end with him and Cassie or Duncan enjoying a cold beverage and warm words of wisdom there. The foundation of the house is in the sea, making unloading boats easy. Back in the day, legal goods went to the shops and smuggler took goods like gin, brandy, tobacco to a maze of underground tunnels, safely away from customs men. They say Lerwick was built on crime, and you have to admire Ann Cleeve’s sense of irony to juxtapose a straight arrow guy like Jimmy Perez in a place like that.

Now that I’ve seen it for myself, it seems the series couldn’t be set anywhere else. Am I wrong? Is it really Ann Cleeve’s deft writing that made me feel that way? I hope you’ll enjoy these snaps and let me know what you think.

All the best,


  1. Lane, it’s part of why great authors draw us in, don’t you think? That ability to draw a setting with such reality it comes alive in our “reader mind” as Eudora Welty calls it, and we are transported there.

    Looking forward to visiting the art world with you!

  2. The first series that comes to mind is the Sean Duffy series by Adrian McKinty, set in the 80s in Northern Ireland. The Troubles drive the plots and characters in more ways than one, so yeah. It couldn’t be set anywhere else!

  3. Except for occasional news events like the Jan 6 hearings, I don’t watch TV so I can’t comment on the shows mentioned. However, I do believe that a really good writer can make a story feel as it it could only be set where they placed it. It’s something to strive for.

  4. Great post, Lane. I believe setting is nearly as important as character, and in fact, done right, becomes a character. Think of The Burg in Stephanie Plum novels, Seattle in the j.p. Beaumont novels, and absolutely, the Shetlands in Ann Cleeves’ books. I get a lot of comments from my readers about how much they enjoy the Cayman Islands setting and “revisiting” their favorite dive sites and restaurants. I thing setting is sometimes perceived as the least important of plot, character, and setting, but they’re like a tripod. A book doesn’t stand tall unless they’re all equally strong.

  5. I have never been to Oxford, but I understand there are Morse walking tours and I’d love to go. There’s something about being part of a beloved character’s world that’s so special. I’m trying to imagine Morse in New York City and can’t do it.

  6. Whenever I travel somewhere that has been the setting of a favorite book, I set off to explore. It all started with Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City. I would not leave San Francisco until i had climbed the stairs to Mrs. Madrigal’s home. I think Ann Cleeves was totally brilliant in setting Shetland (and in a lot of other things). Lucky you, Lane, and thanks for taking us back there.

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