Books and short stories set in Madison, Wisconsin

There are lots of novels and short stories set in New York City and Los Angeles, but very few are set in Madison, Wisconsin.

This list is a Quintessential Madison work-in-progress featuring books and short stories that take place in Madison. The location has to play a role in what happens: A mere mention of Madison isn’t sufficient. The author, however, does not have to be a Madison native or even live here — but undoubtedly she or he will have spent some time in Wisconsin’s capital city.

If you know about a novel or short story that isn’t on this list, please join the conversation by sending an e-mail to nadinegoff@uwalumni.com

Novels and short stories set in Madison, Wisconsin:

Dean Bakopoulos – My American Unhappiness

A former buyer for Canterbury Booksellers, Bakopoulos set his second novel — about a 33 year-old scholar who asks almost everybody he meets, “Why are you unhappy?” — in Madison, where his protagonist sometimes hangs out at Nick’s on State Street.

Marv Balousek – Honey, This Is Trudy

A mystery novel based on the life June Dieckmann, whose colorful career as a police reporter spanned 40 years at the Wisconsin State Journal: “Trudy McMahon is a tough crime reporter in the late 1940’s, a time when many other women reporters were covering food and fashion. When two bodies wash up on shore near the university campus, Trudy’s search for a scoop brings her closer to the killer in a case that involves a lot more than just a simple murder plot.” Source

Melissa Falcon FieldWhat Burns Away

“Upon relocating to snowy Madison with a distant physician husband, New England native Claire Spruce is besieged by a dark past when her first love finds her again.”

Susan GlossVintage

“Though the Madison portrayed in Vintage is fictional, it bears a strong resemblance to the real thing. Violet’s shop is near the location of Good Style Shop, and she recalls going to the King Club, a former downtown nightclub. The book also features a fashion show at a place that sounds like the High Noon Saloon.” Source

Tate Hallaway – Garnet Lacey series (“Vampire Chick Lit”): Tall, Dark &Dead; Dead Sexy; Romancing the Dead; and Dead If I Do.

“What I love about this is that when I sat down to decide where I was going to set the Garnet Lacey books, I picked Madison both on purpose and somewhat randomly. Let me explain. I love Madison and I make a yearly pilgrimage to State Street and surrounding environs. It’s a very funky, cool place where I could quite easily imagine vampire and other paranormal things hanging out (and not being bothered much, since it’s such a eclectic, accepting town in many ways.)” Source

Nancy Kopp – Final Justice

Final Justice is set in [Madison] Wisconsin. Attorney Ann Monroe agrees to represent the young victim of a hate crime after his assailants are acquitted in a criminal trial. Meanwhile, an extremist fundamentalist group known as the Lambs of God has begun targeting Ann and making threats against her as payback for her interference in its protests at a local Planned Parenthood clinic. As the threats turn into attempts on Ann’s life, she begins to realize that there may be a connection between her two cases.

Jane Mankiewicz – Wooden Nickels

Short story set in Madison during the late 1960s and early 1970s; published in The New Yorker on May 8, 1978. The main character makes love “in the mud of the Madison Arboretum.”

Lorrie MooreA Gate at the Stairs

“Still, if Moore is annoyed when locals see Madison in the story, she has only herself to blame. In the Isthmus interview, she insisted that Troy “couldn’t be Madison.” And yet one of her characters notes that rhythm & blues singer Otis Redding died there, and where else did that happen but Madison? Where else is the Freedom From Religion Foundation based?” Source

Mukoma Wa Ngugi Nairobi Heat

A murder in Madison. Then Detective Ishmael receives a mysterious phone call: “If you want the truth, you must go to its source. The truth is in the past. Come to Nairobi.”

Ann PackerThe Dive from Clausen’s Pier

“‘The Dive From Clausen’s Pier’ takes us beneath an act of surface heartlessness and immerses us in quandaries we all recognize. How are we to act when our allotted choices are these: betrayal or self-betrayal? What is the relationship between love and loyalty, and how much of each can we expect?” wrote New York Times reviewer, Rob Nixon. Moving between Madison, Wisconsin and New York City, Packer’s book is filled with accurate observations of familiar places, including Miffland, State Street, and the Dane County Farmers’ Market.

Terry Patchett (1949-2015) & Stephen Baxter – The Longest Earth

In 2015, Madison, Wisconsin Police Officer Monica Jansson returns to the burned-out home of one Willis Linsay, a reclusive and some said mad, others dangerous, scientist. On the mantelpiece Monica finds a curious gadget – a box, containing some wiring, a three-way switch and a…potato. It is the prototype of an invention that Linsay called a “stepper,” a device that can be used to travel to a series of parallel worlds that are similar to Earth.

Doug Reed – Half

“This is the story of vampire Phil Half, who was once the Ninth Count von Helfert. His castle-dwelling days are so far behind him he can barely remember them. Now he works a soul-sucking second-shift job watching the servers for an insurance company on the east side of Madison, Wisconsin. At least his mortal coworkers know that someday their job will end. For an immortal vampire, there’s no such assurance.” Source

Stuart Rojstaczer – The Mathematician’s Shiva

“Spanning decades and continents, from a crowded living room in Madison, Wisconsin, to the windswept beach on the Barents Sea… an unexpectedly moving and uproariously funny novel that captures humanity’s drive not just to survive, but to achieve the impossible.”

Fred Schepartz – Vampire Cabbie

“Being a 1000-year-old vampire doesn’t suck. Fabulously wealthy, Al Farkus lived the high life until he lost his fortune in the stock market crash of 1987. Suddenly, he faces the indignity of having to work for a living. But what kind of job would be appropriate for a vampire? Driving a taxicab, at night, of course! Al had found the perfect job, but then the job fell through, and he finds himself stranded in Madison, Wisconsin.”

Debra Spark Good for the Jews

“Good for the Jews is a smart, funny, sexy novel set in Madison, Wisconsin, during the Bush administration. Part mystery and part stranger-comes-to town story, Good for the Jews is loosely based on the Biblical book of Esther. Like Esther, Debra Spark’s characters deal with anti-Semitism and the way that powerful men—and the women who love them—negotiate bureaucracies.” Source

Angie Stanton – Waking in Time
Two University of Wisconsin students move backward and forward through time from 1927 to the present. Classified as a Young Adult Romance, this book may also appeal to UW-Madison alumni, who will enjoy the well-researched descriptions of campus life and geography over a period of more than eight decades.

Wallace Stegner – Crossing to Safety

“Afternoons, we felt our way into that odd community, half academic, half political, that was Madison in 1937.”

Two couples meet during the Depression years in Madison, Wisconsin, and become longtime friends despite vast differences in upbringing and social status.

This page was last updated on 3/30//2017