Have you heard the old joke about the husband who comes home late one night, opens the bedroom closet and finds a half-dressed man hiding there? “What are you doing in my closet?” the husband asks. “Everybody’s gotta be somewhere,” the man answers.
It’s a groaner, but its silliness holds a kernel of truth. Everybody does have to be somewhere, even fictional characters. I find it hard to relate to a character, unless I can place him or her in a setting. Consider Miss Marple ambling along the village streets of St. Mary Mead, Dr. Zhivago riding across the frozen Russian landscape, or Jane Eyre scuttling through the dark and dreary rooms of Thornfield Hall. Would they be as alive, as compelling, if their environments were not compellingly described? Not to me. So when I decided to set the first Angelina Bonaparte mystery, Truth Kills, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (I qualify this with the state because a taxi driver in the deep South once wondered if that was in Hawaii!), I found it natural to include local landmarks in the story.