The 1930s saw an explosion in the publication of crime writing in Italy, but initially readers’ appetite for crime fiction was fed almost entirely by translated imports from the US, Britain and France. Even as publishers began promoting crime writing by Italians, foreign models and settings remained important, and several early Italian writers set their work in foreign countries. This article, which draws on both textual analysis and archival research, examines some foreign-set novels produced by Italian authors during the Fascist years, and seeks to identify the function and appeal of foreign settings in the depiction of criminality in that period. These books, peopled by exotic ‘Others’, comment on corruption, freedom of the press, cultural diversity, racial difference, policing, criminality, as much at home as abroad. The distant settings offered safety and freedom, as well as escapism or distraction, and the opportunity to experiment with genre.