I like to read a lot of what the library categorizes as “Action/Suspense.” It seems that the majority of the books I have read are set in large cities. Daniel Silva’s excellent Gabriel Allon series travels the globe, with stops in London, Amsterdam, Paris and Rome. John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport works out of Minneapolis, and Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden has an office in Chicago. The entire Marvel Comic Universe is based in NYC, the home of Spider Man (Queens), Captain America (Brooklyn), the Falcon (Harlem), Daredevil (Hell’s Kitchen) and Doctor Strange (Greenwich Village), just to name a few.
So, do bigger cities deliver bigger literary thrills? Does a writer need a setting with a larger gene pool to spin a tale of global catastrophe? Or, look at it this way: Does a small setting guarantee a yawner? Would a private detective starve to death in a small town like Lansing, Michigan? (I think there actually might only be one agency here, so that’s a legitimate question.)
I’ve been writing a series of novels about a protagonist who puts on a mask to fight organized (& other) crime. I decided to set it in Chicago because I felt I needed a large pool of antagonists and situations from which to draw out my plots. I just could not see my protagonist doing his thing in a small town, as he would run out of crime to fight after one book. Being from the Midwest, I chose Chicago. (I even keep a map handy while writing, so I can at least get the geography correct.)
I would enjoy setting a novel in Lansing; my challenge will come from creating a character set and plot that will engage even the most jaded big city resident.