Several years ago while I was still getting opportunities to travel internationally, I had a habit of preparing for my trips by reading fiction set in the country I was planning to visit. When I went to Russia in 1999, for instance, I read several of Martin Cruz Smith's "Arkady Renko" novels beforehand - including his classic Gorky Park. By the time I got to Moscow and St. Petersburg, I was able to identify several points of interest which Smith had referenced in his works, and it gave me a sense of recognition.
That same trip our group (social work students) also visited Stockholm, Sweden, and I did not find any appealing fiction to read ahead of time. Now, of course, I have encountered and read Stieg Larsson's wonderful trilogy beginning with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and many places that Larsson mentioned in his books are places close to the waterfront in Stockholm - streets that I walked and remember well.
In 2003 I was able to visit the United Kingdom for the first time. In preparation for the London portion of the trip, I read Edward Rutherfold's epic novel, London, which covers the rise of the great city from its earliest inhabitants. So much history has occurred in London, and Rutherford's book essentially made me a part of it. It was a great prelude to a brief visit.
That same trip my traveling companions and I decided to take the train to Edinburgh, Scotland, for a couple of days. Before leaving London, I purchased a detective novel by Edinburgh author Ian Rankin which had as its focus a fictional police detective named Rebus. Rebus was a non-conformist who continually served as a pain-in-the-ass to his superiors - much like another fictional policeman, Inspector Morse of the Thames Valley (Oxford) CID. It was a fascinating book, although I don't remember the title because I have since read several in the series.
We stayed at a bed-and-breakfast in Edinburgh that was run by a very pretentious lady who wanted payment in cash - to cheat the government out of their share. Her home was in a very nice part of the city. When she saw what I was reading, old snobby informed me that the author, Rankin, lived just up the street and around the corner. At another point in our visit, the home owner dropped a bigger name. J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, lived just up another street and around another corner.
(The other thing I remember about our hostess was that she nearly had a coronary when we ordered a take-out pizza for dinner. She refused to let us eat in our rooms - where we might mess up her spotless accommodations, and instead set a formal table at which we had to dine on our pizza.)
But, back to Rebus. He is an interesting character as fictional detectives go, and I was not surprised when I recently learned that a series (fourteen episodes in all) of his cases had been filmed in Edinburgh a decade or so ago. I found the shows on Hulu and last night completed watching the set. They were as well written and tightly plotted as the novels on which they were based - and, as the weather-worn detective traipsed about on the streets of Edinburgh, I saw many places that were familiar.
It was almost like making a second trip to Scotland - but much cheaper. And I didn't have to put up the money-grubbing name-dropper and her over-priced and sterile accommodations!