The Great Debate: City vs Country

Article | Issue: Feb 2022

Irish bestseller STEVE CAVANAGH and Australian newcomer PETER PAPATHANASIOU have both received plenty of critical acclaim for their recent crime novels.

But while they both pen action-packed tales full of fascinating characters, they split when it comes to choosing their best locations.


The Devil's Advocate

When I began writing my ‘Eddie Flynn’ series, I wanted to set it in a particular city: New York. It’s one of the greatest cities in the world, you see it on the movies and TV, and the pace of the city seemed to suit the book I wanted to write. I thought it would be great to spend some time there, even if it was only in my imagination.

I write about a former con artist who’s a trial lawyer. Unlike lots of legal thrillers I tend to focus on a very intense situation which takes place over a few days. In those heated moments there’s lots going on, and that helps keep up the pace. To place the story in the fastest city in the world, it is the perfect spot.

By setting my books there, I think the reader does a lot of the work for me, because everyone has a mental image of New York.I don’t think you can ever, in fiction at least, render a place truthfully. You can give details about the city, little quirks that people might not know. But it is a fictional place in the reader’s mind; the buildings taller, smells accentuated, colours richer, more people.

I’m a city boy, that’s probably the other reason I chose the city. The countryside scares me because there’s nobody there. Or maybe there are people there but they’re hiding.

My latest book is set in Alabama, because I wanted to have a little bit of that Southern Gothic theme. It was fun to write but I had to do more work making that little town real.

Steve Cavanagh is a Belfast lawyer turned bestselling, CWA Gold Dagger-winning author of the ‘Eddie Flynn’ series. 



When you close your eyes and try to picture Australia, I think most people, me included, probably see the Outback. You picture vast open spaces, endless horizons, red dirt, blue sky, heat. I think that’s the image most people have of Australia. That, and probably beaches.

I also thought the Outback is very cinematic. I try to imagine what my story might look like onscreen. You have those big distance shots, then closing into something really tight and in that tightness comes that menacing nature of the Outback as well. You’ve got characters who are questionable or colourful. You often get a lot of people who are on the run, potentially they’re hiding out back there. You’ve got all manner of dangerous critters that can take you out. The heat, the flies, it just makes for such great material.

I grew up in Canberra, and it’s not a huge city. We’ve got kangaroos that come down from the mountain nearby onto our front lawn. I’ve found brown snakes in the backyard, and lace monitors, those big lizards. So, I guess that influenced me. I live in a more rural setting even though I’m in a city. And with a crime book you’ve often got a small number of characters, and to me that was more conducive with a sparsely populated location.

In the city you have lots of people walking around so, even if you focus on a small group of characters you wouldn’t have that same dynamic. There’s more distraction. Whereas in a small town when two people walk past each other they’ve got a reason to stop and talk, or potentially have a go at each other.

Choosing my Outback setting was a combination of travelling around Australia over the years and experiencing the vastness of those spaces where there’s the thought of ‘man, if my car breaks down here I’m going to maybe be in trouble’, and then living in London. I started writing The Stoning while I was in London, and there was a sense of homesickness. The sun goes down at 4pm, it’s grey and wet, and I wanted to transport myself to a more familiar place. So I started to write about hot, empty, desolate, far-flung places that I might not have felt the need to write about as much if I was here surrounded by them. It was that yearning that got the story out of me.

Peter Papathanasiou is a Canberra author who was born in a small village in northern Greece and raised in Australia.

Author: Steve Cavanagh

Category: Crime & mystery

Book Format: Paperback / softback

Publisher: Orion

ISBN: 9781409185901

RRP: $22.99

Reader Comments

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all reviews

The Latest List