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detective sites

Scene of the Crime: 5 Iconic Detective Sites

Every fictional detective or private eye has to do his or her job somewhere, and while some of these “somewheres” are imaginary, many detectives have strong connections to real-world locales—like London for Sherlock Holmes, or San Francisco for Sam Spade. If you’re an avid fan of mystery novels and crime series, you might be interested in visiting the following detective sites.

I would be reluctant to recommend visiting some of the fictional locations if they were real: Cabot Cove, Maine (of Murder, She Wrote) and Midsomer County in England (of Midsomer Murders) would surely have far higher per-capita murder rates than Baltimore or Chicago. Fortunately, these detective sites are imaginary. And the corresponding places used for filming are popular visitor areas. So check out the crime scene and enjoy.

Sherlock Holmes: 221B Baker Street, London

Who among all detectives is more iconic than the original Sherlock? When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the stories, Baker Street did not have a 221 or 221B address, so he was free to invent a plausible address for Sherlock without impacting any existing location. But when Baker Street was lengthened in the 1930s, its addresses increased into the 200s, and the building that would logically incorporate 221B Baker Street was a large bank. Now, if you visit the area, you’ll find a plaque on the building wall and a nearby Sherlock Holmes Museum.

What Else to Do and See: Do I really have to go into any detail about what to do and see in London?  As Samuel Johnson said, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” For ideas, see SmarterTravel’s London travel guide.

Getting There:  221B Baker Street is just around the corner from the Baker Street Underground station. Many bus routes along Baker Street and Marylebone Road stop nearby.

Sam Spade: Burritt Street, San Francisco

By now, nobody worries about a “spoiler” for The Maltese Falcon, the film noir that originated the urban legend of the tough but incorruptible private eye, with Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade as the archetype. One of the film’s major themes was discovering who shot Spade’s partner, Miles Archer, ultimately revealed as one Brigid O’Shaughnessy. A wall plaque posted on Burritt Street, an alleyway just off Bush Street near Powell, proclaims it to be the actual spot of the shooting. Also, Sam Spade reportedly ate at a real restaurant, John’s Grill on Ellis Street between Powell and Stockton, which has devoted a room to Spade/Falcon memorabilia, including a falcon statuette. It’s all still there.

What Else to Do and See: Learn more about San Francisco.

Getting There: Both sites are within a few blocks of Union Square, served by the Powell Street BART and Muni Metro station, the Powell Street cable car lines, and numerous surface lines.

Brother Cadfael: Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England

If you haven’t read The Cadfael Chronicles by Ellis Peters (Edith Pargeter) or seen the TV series with Derek Jacobi, you’ve missed out on one of the most entertaining detectives in all of crime fiction. Often credited with originating the “historical crime novel” genre, the series features a monk, Brother Cadfael, who solved a string of mysteries in the years 1135–1145 while serving as an herbalist in the local monastery. Both geographical and historical settings are accurate. Capitalizing on the popularity of both books and TV series, the town of Shrewsbury eagerly adapted the town center into something of a Cadfael theme park. The main attraction is Shrewsbury Abbey, where the fictional Cadfael supposedly lived.

What Else to Do and See: Nearby visitor centers within easy driving range include Stratford-upon-Avon, Coventry, Wroxeter Roman City, and Ironbridge, touted as the “Birthplace of the Industrial Revolution.”

Getting There: Shrewsbury is northwest of London near the Welsh border. It’s about a 170-mile drive from London, or you can take a train.

Jessica Fletcher: Mendocino, California

Yes, Jessica’s home base was supposed to be the aggressively quaint New England village of Cabot Cove, but the filming location for most of the outdoor takes in Murder, She Wrote was actually across the continent in Mendocino. Although small, Mendocino is a major summer tourist destination and stopover point for folks driving ultra-scenic Highway 1, with lots of hotels and restaurants.

What Else to Do and See: The Northern California coast is a major visitor attraction. On the way to/from Mendocino you can try a new language at ditzy Boonville, take a quick excursion on the Pudding Express forest railway at Fort Bragg, and check out the awesome giant redwoods at several state parks along highway 101.

Getting There: Although Mendocino has a bus line, you’d have to take several different and very infrequent buses to get there from any major California city. Basically, you have to drive; from San Francisco head up U.S. 101 to Cloverdale, then State 128 to State 1 and up the coast. From Eureka or Oregon, head down U.S. 101 to Leggett, then down State 1.

Inspector(s) Barnaby: Wallingford, Oxfordshire, England

By now, two different Chief Inspectors Barnaby, the original and his cousin, have solved crimes out of the Criminal Investigation Department in the central police station at Causton, the mythical county town of the equally mythical Midsomer County. The town of Wallingford, in Oxfordshire, was deemed sufficiently quaint to stand in for Causton, and the former RAF Staff College, in Bracknell, serves as the police station. Location filming was also done in dozens of nearby villages in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire. An actual village, Midsomer Norton in Somerset, apparently has no connection other than the name.

What Else to Do and See: You’ll definitely want to stop at Oxford and possibly explore the nearby Cotswolds, where you will find more quaint villages than you need.

Getting There: If you’re interested in a good overview of the region, rent a car: Wallingford is about 50 miles west of central London and 40 miles west of Heathrow, and you’ll want to explore the area. The nearest train station to Wallingford is Cholsey, about a mile away, on the Great Western main line from Paddington.

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