A Run For the Border…

RunFortheBorderTom hid in the bushes, making as little noise as he could. They’d almost caught him a few weeks ago, but he’d managed to get away. Since then he’d been hiding out wherever he could. He knew he wasn’t safe as long as he stayed here. Sooner or later, they’d find him again and then he’d be done for. If he could just make it to the border, he figured, he’d be all right. And he was going to have to do it soon, too, because the weather was turning colder and colder. He couldn’t risk any populated places where there might be warmth, so unless he headed south, he’d likely freeze.

He listened carefully for a while, but he didn’t hear anything much. Just the occasional thwack as a pine cone hit the ground. Good. He was safe for the moment. He poked his head around the bush to be sure. Nobody there. Tom was getting tired, but he couldn’t afford to stop now. There were still a few hours of daylight left and he’d have to make use of them.

For a long while he moved along in a southerly direction, stopping now and then to listen for sounds that they might be following him. Once he heard voices calling to each other and hid until they went by. Finally he saw the sun start to dip behind the white spruces and the jack pines. He was going to have to find shelter for the night soon. Tired, hungry and very much afraid of being caught, Tom finally found a place to settle in. He hid among some white pine branches – not comfortable, but he was used to this by now – and tried to get some rest.

When Tom woke, the sun was just peeking over the horizon. It was early, but he wanted to get a move on. He had a long way to go and who knew how long it’d be before they’d pick up his trail. He shook himself a little and went in search of something to eat. There wasn’t much at this time of year, and he couldn’t afford to be seen going to a grocery store or a restaurant. So he foraged around until he found some chestnuts and one of the last of this year’s apples. That would have to do.

After he ate, Tom was ready to get going. He pointed himself south and spent half of the day making as much progress as he could. At least the weather wasn’t too bad. There’d been some snow, but he’d dealt with that before. It was cold, but there wasn’t much he could do about that. Just as the sun got to the highest point in the sky, Tom saw it straight ahead: the border!

He’d have to be very careful. A fugitive like him couldn’t just approach the Customs inspector, show his passport and go. He’d have to find another way. He waited for a while, watching everything from behind a convenient Douglas fir. No-one noticed him. Finally he saw what he wanted. An old pickup truck with a cover over its bed had joined the trail of vehicles on the Canadian side of the border. Tom glanced around quickly. Nobody was paying any attention. He quickly scurried up to the truck and dove onto the truck bed under the cover. It was tight and uncomfortable and not at all what he was used to doing. But he had no choice. The last thing he wanted was for anyone at the border to see him. It seemed to take forever for the truck to approach the border crossing, and Tom was getting a little claustraphobic stuck under that cover. But he stayed still and made no noise at all. It was the only way to get across.

After an eternity, the truck finally finished clearing Customs and crossed to the U.S. side. Finally!!! Safety at last! Tom felt a weight lifting off his shoulders as he thought about what he’d do next. It occurred to him that if he stayed in the truck, he’d get where he was going a lot more quickly than if he got out. And it wasn’t easy for a runner like him to hitchhike. So, despite his close quarters, Tom decided to stick it out for a bit.

The truck continued for about three hours and then came to a stop. Tom felt the driver get out and slam the cab door. Then he risked peeping out from under the cover. They were at some sort of hotel or motel – not the sort of place Tom could afford to be seen. He was going to have to take his chances somewhere else.

He got all the way the out from under the cover, hopped down from the truck bed and headed directly for the trees that lined the hotel’s property. At least among the trees he’d be less likely to be seen. Before long, he’d completely lost himself in some woods.

‘Shhhh!’ Mack hissed. ‘I hear something!’
Jared nodded and froze in place. For a short while there was no sound at all. Then they both heard it: a soft rustling of leaves.
‘That’s a gobbler for sure!’ Jared whispered. Mack agreed, but conversation wasn’t his thing, especially after a long, fruitless day of hunting. He pointed wordlessly ahead of him and both of them looked intently in the direction of the sound they’d heard. They’d been sitting for an hour with their backs against two big oak trees, just waiting for this moment.

In a moment, Tom came into view. Mack and Jared were fairly sure he didn’t know they were there. Jared pointed, and Mack nodded and aimed his gun. Bam! They’d gotten a beautiful big bird. Poor Tom! Too bad no-one told him that the US and Canada don’t celebrate Thanksgiving on the same day!

Happy Thanksgiving to all those who celebrate it. And to all of you, wherever you are, whatever you celebrate, all my best always. Know that I am grateful to you.


Filed under Uncategorized

Give Thanks For Your Protection*

Private SecurityThe police can’t be everywhere at once. What’s more, they are civil servants. This means that their duty is to protect the public, not the interests of a particular company or person. So, companies and people have often turned to private security and protection firms to fill that gap. For instance, banks, malls, gated communities and so on often hire security companies. People hire personal bodyguards too. And that’s to say nothing of the many people who sign up for home security systems.

With all of this interest in private security companies, it’s not surprising that we see them represented in crime fiction. There are a lot of examples of course; I know you’ll think of many more than I could. But here are a few to show you what I mean.

In Ellery Queen’s The French Powder Mystery, New York City Police Inspector Richard Queen and his son Ellery investigate when the body of Winifred French is discovered in the shop window of French’s Department Store. The victim was the wife of the store’s owner Cyrus French, and the evidence soon shows that she was shot on the store’s premises. So the Queens focus their attention on the French family and the store employees. It turns out that beneath the respectable surfaces of the family and the store lie several secrets. For one thing, Winifred French was having an affair with one of the members of the store’s board of directors. For another, it turns out that the store was being used to connect drug dealers and drug buyers. There are other things going on, too. So there are several possible suspects. One of the characters who figures in the story is William Crouther, the store detective. It’s his job to supervise the store’s security staff, monitor customers and so on. Because the murder happened in the store, the Queens depend on information he provides to establish the store’s security procedures and work out who would have been able to commit the murder.

Donna Leon’s Through a Glass, Darkly gives readers a look inside Venice’s glass blowing industry. In that novel, Commissario Guido Brunetti and Ispettore Lorenzo Vianello investigate when Giorgio Tassini is killed. Tassini was night watchman/guard at a glass blowing factory owned by Giovanni De Cal, and at first, his death is put down to tragic accident. But some things about the death don’t seem consistent with that explanation, so Brunetti and Vianello look a little more deeply into the case. Tassini was an outspoken critic of the way the glass blowing industry disposes of its waste, and there are plenty of people who wanted him to keep quiet about it. There are other reasons too why someone might have wanted to kill him. Among other things it shows how vulnerable a night watchman can be.

Catherine O’Flynn’s What Was Lost begins in 1984, with the opening of the Green Oaks Shopping Center. Ten-year-old Kate Meaney is especially interested in the mall, because she is a budding detective who thinks that malls are very likely places to detect crime. Kate spends a lot of time at the mall observing possible criminals and watching for suspicious activity. Her grandmother Ivy, though, thinks she’d be better off going away to school. So she arranges for Kate to sit the entrance exams at the exclusive Redspoon School. Kate doesn’t want to go, but her friend Adrian Palmer finally persuades her, promising to accompany her for moral support. They board the bus to the school together, but only Adrian returns. Despite a massive search for Kate, she’s never found. Everyone blames Adrian for her disappearance although he claims he’s innocent. Matters get so bad for him that he leaves town, vowing not to return. Twenty years later, his younger sister Lisa is working as the assistant manager for Your Music, one of the stores in Green Oaks. One night she meets Kurt, a mall security guard. They strike up a sort of friendship and soon, Kurt tells her about something unusual that’s been going on at the mall. Lately, the security cameras have been showing the image of a young girl with a backpack – a girl who looks just like Kate. Each in a different way, Lisa and Kurt go back to the past, so to speak, and we learn the real truth about what happened to Kate.

One plot thread of Gene Kerrigan’s The Rage concerns Vincent Naylor, a young man who’s recently been released from prison. He certainly doesn’t want to go back, so he decides he’s only going to take another risk if the prize is really worth having. He, his brother Noel, his girlfriend Michelle Flood, and some friends plan a coup that will set them up financially. They’re going after Protectica, a security company that transports money among banks and other firms. After careful preparations, the team targets a specific truck and goes through with the heist. The robbery itself goes off well enough, but then things begin to fall apart. In the end, they turn tragic, and Naylor decides to have his revenge for what happened.

Antti Tuomainen’s The Healer takes place in a dystopic future. Climate change and wars have created millions of refugees, and that’s only made life more difficult for Helsinki residents. The few police are overwhelmed with cases and can’t get to most of them. Even something as seemingly simple as buying food has become a struggle. This near-anarchy has led to the rise of a lot of private security companies that are hired to protect companies or individuals. Those who can afford it are therefore somewhat safe. Even the security companies are no guarantee, but they fill the vacuum left by the dwindling police force. In the midst of this chaos, poet Tapani Lehtinen discovers that his journalist wife Johanna is missing. He knows the police won’t be of much help, so he decides to find her himself. He begins with the story she was working on when she disappeared: the case of a man calling himself The Healer. The Healer blames certain corporations for the destruction of the environment and seems to have been targeting some of their executives for murder. Lehtinen believes that if he can find out who The Healer is, he’ll get closer to finding his wife. In this novel it’s interesting to see how people turn to private companies when they no longer feel safe in the hands of police.

We also see that in Deon Meyer’s Blood Safari, in which we are introduced to personal bodyguard-for-hire Martin Lemmer. He’s employed by a company called Body Armour, which provides personal protection services. Emma le Roux hires Lemmer to accompany her from Capetown to the Lowveld in search of her brother Jacobus. It’s always been believed that Jacobus was killed years earlier in a skirmish with poachers while he was working at Kruger National Park. But Emma has come to believe that he may be alive. Lemmer goes along on the trip and soon discovers that his client is likely in very grave danger. There are some extremely dangerous people who do not want the truth about Jacobus le Roux to come out. But Emma is determined to find out what really happened to her brother and by now, Lemmer would like to know too. So they continue on the search. Then, they are both attacked and Emma is gravely injured. Lemmer is now determined to find out who’s responsible, so he follows the trail on his own. He discovers that the truth has to do with greed, corruption and ugly environmental and sociopolitical realities.

Private security companies have been on the scene for a long time, although they’ve changed the way they operate and the tools they use. These are just a few instances where we see them in crime fiction. Over to you.

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from UB40’s Watchdogs.


Filed under Antti Tuomainen, Catherine O'Flynn, Deon Meyer, Donna Leon, Ellery Queen, Gene Kerrigan

Closed the Shop, Sold the House, Bought a Ticket to the West Coast*

Midlife Crisis MaleTransitions through adulthood are often challenging. Adjusting to a new phase in one’s life can be stressful and people have all sorts of different kinds of reactions to that stress. That’s arguably part of the reason people sometimes have what’s often been called mid-life crises. An interesting post from Marina Sofia at Finding Time to Write has got me thinking about how often we see that crisis in fiction in general and crime fiction in particular.

Marina Sofia’s post dealt with male mid-life crises, so that’s what I’ll focus on in this post. But women are by no means immune; that’ll be the topic for another post soon. For now, here are just a few examples of what can happen at that pivotal point in adulthood.

In Agatha Christie’s The Hollow, we are introduced to Harley Street specialist Dr. John Christow. He has a thriving career, a wife Gerda who adores him, and two healthy children. By all accounts he should be completely contented with his life; most people would call him very successful. But he’s restless. His mind keeps drifting back to an affair he had fifteen years earlier with Veronica Cray, who’s since become a famous actress. He’s in this state of flux when he and Gerda are invited to spend the weekend at the home of Sir Henry and Lady Lucy Angkatell. To his shock, he is reunited with Veronica during the visit; it turns out that she’s taken a getaway cottage nearby. Because they have a history together, she becomes a suspect when he is shot on the Sunday afternoon. Hercule Poirot has also taken a cottage in the area, and he works with Inspector Grange to find out who killed John Christow and why.

Karin Alvtegen’s Betrayal is the story of Eva Wirenström-Berg and her husband Henrik. They’ve been married fifteen years and as far as Eva’s concerned, they’ve had a contented life. But lately, Henrik has been distant and obviously unhappy. He’s restless and seems to have built a proverbial wall between them. Eva is hoping that a holiday might help them re-discover each other but then, she learns to her shock that Henrik has been unfaithful. She’s devastated at this and soon becomes determined to find out who the other woman is. When she does, she plots her own kind of revenge that has consequences she couldn’t have imagined.

In Geoffrey McGeachin’s Fat, Fifty and F***ed, banker Martin Carter faces this kind of crisis. His marriage is ending, which would be bad enough. Then he finds out that he’s being retrenched. With all of the things that had identified him being taken away, he’s reaching out for something new anyway. So on his last day at work, he can’t resist helping himself to a million-dollar payroll. Then he makes his escape in a police-issue 4WD and takes off. His plan is to meet up with an old friend and start over, but things don’t work out that way. First, he meets Faith, a librarian who’s got her own problems. Then there’s the matter of the bike gang. And that’s just the beginning…

Jodi Brett and Todd Gilbert are a successful Chicago couple whom we meet in A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife. They’ve never formally married, but they’ve been together twenty years and have built a solid home. Then, everything changes. Todd’s feeling restless, and begins an affair with Natasha Kovacs, a college student and the daughter of his business partner. This isn’t the first time he’s strayed, but what makes this time different is that Natasha wants it to be a permanent relationship. She becomes pregnant and tells Todd that she wants to marry and be a family. At first, Todd promises her that’s what he wants too; he even leaves Jodi and moves in with Natasha. But as time goes on, he begins to see that he doesn’t want a wife and family. He feels ‘hemmed in’ enough as it is. Besides, the realities of living with a woman so much younger have set in. Then, Todd is murdered in a drive-by shooting. At first, it looks like a carjacking gone wrong. But then, the police begin to suspect that someone hired the shooters. And given Todd’s business and personal decisions, there’s no lack of suspects.

Sometimes sleuths go through mid-life crises too. That’s what happens in Peter Robinson’s Watching the Dark. In that novel, DCI Alan Banks is faced with the murder of DI Bill Quinn. Quinn was a patient at St. Peter’s Police Convalescence and Treatment Center, and that’s where his body is discovered early one morning, pierced with an arrow from a crossbow. The case turns out to be very delicate, because compromising ‘photos are found in Quinn’s room that suggest he’s been having an affair with a much younger woman. Obviously the police Powers That Be don’t want to cast aspersions on the badge, so Banks will have to tread lightly. In the meantime, he’s got his own personal issues to face. His former wife Sandra has married again and started a new family. He’s no longer involved with his lover Annie Cabbot, either, although they work together professionally. His children are grown and starting their own lives, too, and although they love him, it’s a different sort of relationship. So Banks is facing the sort of restlessness that often goes along with periods of change in life. It adds another layer to his character.

Fans of Andrea Camilleri’s Salvo Montalbano series will know that he’s at a point of flux in his life. He feels himself getting older, but at the same time, he still has plenty of energy and good detective skills. He’s torn about his relationship with his long-time lover Livia, too. He does care about her, but at the same time, he’s just as well pleased that she lives in Genoa, and not in Sicily. He also sees himself changing as he gets older, and that’s not always comfortable either. Camilleri depicts that internal conflict as a series of debates between ‘Montalbano One’ and ‘Montalbano Two,’ and it’s an interesting way to show the way the mid-life crisis can feel.

The changes that middle age brings aren’t always fun. The question, ‘Is this all there is?’ can hit hard. So can the recognition of one’s own mortality. People generally make their way through the transition intact, but not always. And it certainly can add character depth and plot points to a novel. Which ones have stayed with you?

Thanks, Marina Sofia, for the inspiration. Now, may I suggest your next blog stop be Finding Time to Write. It’s a treasure trove of book reviews, poetry and beautiful visuals too.

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s My Life.


Filed under A.S.A. Harrison, Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Geoffrey McGeachin, Karin Alvtegen, Peter Robinson

In The Spotlight: L.R. Wright’s The Suspect

SpotlightHello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. In many crime novels, part of the suspense comes from the ‘whodunit’ of a case. But not in all stories. In some, we know right from the start who the killer is and the question becomes ‘whydunit.’ In those stories, there’s also engagement as readers want to find out whether or not the sleuth will catch the killer. Such a novel is L.R. Wright’s The Suspect, so let’s turn today’s spotlight on that story.

As the novel begins, eighty-year-old George Wilcox has just killed eighty-five-year old Carlyle Burke. He leaves the scene of the crime and returns to his home. Later he goes back to Burke’s home, notifies the police that he’s discovered the body, and RCMP Staff Sergeant Karl Alberg takes the case. News of the killing spreads quickly around the small town of Sechelt, British Columbia, and there’s all sorts of speculation about what might have happened.

What Alberg can’t seem to find is any real motive for murder. Burke wasn’t wealthy or known to have anything worth stealing. He had no family either, and had made no local enemies. And Sechelt is not the kind of place gangs or thieves typically frequent; so although it’s not impossible, it’s also highly unlikely that this is that sort of murder. So Alberg tries to narrow down the possibilities by looking into the question of who visited Burke on the day he was killed. That search naturally leads him to Wilcox.

Alberg learns that Wilcox and Burke have known each other for a long time. According to Wilcox, he hadn’t seen Burke for many years though – not until Burke moved to Sechelt, where Wilcox was already living. That fact, plus some other things he discovers, make Alberg begin to suspect Wilcox, but he’s up against some challenges. For one thing, there really seems to be no motive. The two men didn’t like each other, but that’s not a reason for an otherwise peaceful, garden-loving, law-abiding elderly man to commit murder. For another, there is no real evidence that connects Wilcox to the crime. Just the fact that he reported it doesn’t mean he is guilty.

In the meantime, Alberg has other things going on in his life. He has met and begun to date local librarian Cassandra Mitchell. They like each other very much, but they aren’t yet at the point in their relationship where they tell each other everything. So Alberg doesn’t tell Mitchell all of the details about the murder investigation. For her part, Mitchell has known Wilcox for some time. He’s an avid bookworm who serves as a volunteer reader at the local hospital. She’s struck up a friendship with him and that affects her perception of the case – and of Alberg.

Alberg is good at what he does, so little by little, he gets closer to the truth about why and by whom Burke was killed. Wilcox doesn’t make the mistake of underestimating Alberg, and as he sees that he’ll likely be caught, this begins to affect him as well. In the end, and layer by layer, we learn about the past history and events that led to the murder. And we see what all three main characters do with that knowledge.

In this novel, the main question about the murder has to do with motive. So an important element is the slow reveal of the past histories of Wilcox and Burke. To say more about that aspect of it would spoil the story. But I can say that bit by bit, as we get to know each character’s past, we also see what led to the murder. Readers who like character-driven novels will appreciate this.

The plot moves along as Alberg slowly gets to the truth about the killing. But it’s not a fast-paced, thriller-like story. Readers who prefer ‘high-octane’ plots will notice this. That said though, the slow revelation of the truth adds suspense, and the plot is not without its twists.

The story is set in British Columbia’s ‘Sunshine Coast,’ a place of small towns where everyone knows everyone. There are tourists, but not a massive influx. It’s got a relaxed pace of life, and Wright depicts that:

‘The tempo of life on the Sunshine Coast is markedly slower than that of Vancouver, and its people, for the most part strung out along the shoreline, have a more direct and personal interest in the sea.’
It’s certainly not the kind of place where a deliberate murder generally occurs. And because of the sort of place it is, there’s also a network of relationships among the people there, and that plays its role too.

The story itself is not a happy one. There is sadness in the history of it, and the fact that we know who the killer is doesn’t really make things better. For all that though, there are some funny moments. For instance, Alberg’s second-in-command has just gotten a perm, and there’s more than one joke about it. There’s also the matter of Burke’s parrot. It’s going to need a new home now that its owner is dead, so it takes up temporary residence at the Sechelt police detachment. And then there’s Isabella Harbud, the detachment’s receptionist. She has a habit of cleaning Alberg’s venetian blinds with vinegar, and also placing flowering plants there:

Every week, Isabella, you clean my venetian blinds with vinegar…And I appreciate it. It’s very nice to have clean venetian blinds. Only, Isabella, my office smells like a pickle jar. And when you add the smell from these flowers – they combine in the air and the result is nauseating.’…
‘I never thought of that,’ said Isabella. The question is, do you want clean blinds or nice, fragrant flowers that bring a whiff of summer into this joint?”

It’s a gentle kind of wit that gives insight into the culture of the place.

When we know the history behind the murder, we see that this is not a clear-cut case of ‘bad guy kills helpless victim.’ Nor is it really a clear-cut case of ‘good guy kills horrible monster.’ There is ambivalence here, and readers who prefer novels where are plenty of ‘shades of grey’ will appreciate that. There’s also an element of ‘What would you do?’

The Suspect is the slow revelation of the background of a murder. It takes place in a unique and beautiful part of Canada, and features characters who show themselves bit by bit as the story goes on. The answers aren’t clear-cut, and the story gives the reader the chance to ask, ‘What would I do?’ But what’s your view? Have you read The Suspect? If you have, what elements do you see in it?

Coming Up On In The Spotlight

Monday 1 December/Tuesday 2 December – Thumbprint – Friedrich Glauser

Monday 8 December/Tuesday 9 December – Vanish – Tess Gerritsen

Monday 15 December/Tuesday 16 December – The Snatch – Bill Pronzini


Filed under L.R. Wright, The Suspect

Well, There’s Just an Empty Space*

MissingPeopleSome of the hardest cases that professional detectives face concern missing persons. In part that’s because some people go missing because they want to leave. And even in modern times with modern technology, it can be difficult to trace a person who doesn’t want to be found. Besides, adults are legally allowed to go where they wish; in most cases it’s not a crime to go somewhere and not tell anyone. There’s also the fact that the police are reluctant to spend department resources on a case that has a perfectly logical explanation (e.g. someone simply wanted to spend a few days away). This means among other things that there may not be an immediate search for a person who’s gone missing. It also means that except in the case of children (a topic in its own right), professional detectives don’t always immediately devote the energy to a missing person report that they might to, say, a murder. It’s not that they don’t care; rather, it’s that those cases are much more ‘slippery.’

In Agatha Christie’s Third Girl for instance, Hercule Poirot gets a visit from a young woman who tells him that she may have committed a murder. But before she goes into any detail, she abruptly changes her mind, telling him that he’s too old to help her. She leaves without even giving her real name. With help from his friend detective novelist Ariadne Oliver, Poirot establishes that the young woman is Norma Restarick, who shares a London flat with two other young women. Between them, Poirot and Mrs. Oliver visit both the flat and the Restarick family home. Norma’s flatmates make it clear that they really don’t keep tabs on her and that she’s probably either spending a few extra days with her family, or has gone off on a tryst. Certainly they’re not overly concerned about her. Norma’s father and stepmother say that she’s gone back to London, and that they don’t really follow everything she does there. They’re willing to admit that she’s had a difficult time with her family lately, but at the same time, they’re not afraid for her. Poirot begins to dig a little deeper. After all, if there was a murder and Norma committed it, she needs to be found. And even if that’s not true, she certainly seems troubled and may be in danger. Poirot and Mrs. Oliver continue to search for answers and in the end, they find out what happened to Norma. They also discover the truth behind the murder she says she may have committed.

In Peter Robinson’s Cold is the Grave, DCI Alan Banks gets an unusual request from his boss Chief Constable Jeremiah ‘Jimmy’ Riddle. Riddle’s daughter Emily has had a bad relationship with her parents and has left home. She’s of legal age, so the police can’t look at it as a runaway case. But then her younger brother Benjamin discovers pornographic pictures of her online, and this frightens her parents. Riddle wants Banks to look for Emily, the idea being that if Banks goes as a civilian, he’ll draw less attention to this very private and difficult case. Riddle and Banks haven’t exactly had a good relationship in the past; in fact, it’s been more animosity than amity. But Banks is a father himself and he can understand Riddle’s concern. So he agrees to see what he can find out. His search for Emily takes him into some of London’s seamiest places – certainly places her parents wouldn’t have wanted her to be…

Karin Fossum’s When the Devil Holds the Candle concerns the disappearance of Andreas Winther. His mother Runi becomes concerned when he doesn’t come home as he usually does, and she goes to the police to report him missing. At first the police aren’t very worried, and they do their best to reassure her that all is probably well. There are, after all, any number of reasons for which a young man might take off for a few days and not tell his mother about it. But when more time goes by and Andreas still doesn’t return, Oslo Inspector Konrad Sejer begins to suspect that something might have happened to him. So he and his assistant Jacob Skarre start to investigate. One of their first stops is Andreas’ best friend Sivert ‘Zipp’ Skorpe. Zipp spent the day with him on the day he was last seen, and knows more than he is saying about what happened on that day. As Sejer and Skarre try to find out where Andreas Winther is and what happened to him, we see how difficult it is to look for an adult. Lots of people simply don’t worry about someone they haven’t seen lately. I know, I know, fans of Calling Out For You/The Indian Bride.

In Peter James’ Dead Simple, Ashley Harper contacts the police in the form of DI Glenn Branson. She’s worried because her fiancé Michael Harrison hasn’t been seen since his ‘stag night’ party. She doesn’t know what his friends were planning, and as it turns out, the police can’t ask them. Tragically, three of them were killed in a car crash and the fourth is in a coma. The only person who might know is Harrison’s best-man-to-be and business partner Mark Warren. But he was out of town and didn’t go out with the group. At first, Branson and his boss Superintendent Roy Grace think that Harrison might have changed his mind about the wedding and gone off. But by all accounts, he’s very much in love with his intended, and looking forward to the wedding. So the detectives dig a little deeper and soon find that Harrison might be in a great deal of danger. Now they’ll have to work as quickly as they can if they’re to have a chance of finding him.

Anthony Bidulka’s Amuse Bouche introduces readers to Sasktoon PI Russell Quant. As the story begins, successful businessman Harold Chavell hires Quant to find his fiancé Tom Osborn. According to Chavell, Osborn disappeared just before their planned wedding, and has gone alone on the honeymoon trip to France that they’d mapped out together. Quant wonders whether Osborn might simply have changed his mind about getting married, but he takes the case and travels to France. He goes to each place the couple had intended visiting, and finds some evidence that Osborn has been there recently and is fine. Then he gets a note saying that Osborn does not want to be found. When Chavell learns of this, he calls off the search and prepares to get on with his life. A short time later, Osborn’s body is found in a lake near a house the two owned. Now Chavell becomes the prime suspect in a murder case and asks Quant to help clear his name.

Not all police agencies are well-enough funded to have missing person departments. Some of them in fact hire missing person experts such as Donna Malane’s Diane Rowe. Rowe lives and works in Wellington, where she’s occasionally hired by the police to help search for people or match unknown remains to past reports of missing people. That’s what happens for instance in Surrender. In one plot thread of that novel, the remains of an unknown man are recovered from Rimutaka State Forest. Forensics evidence suggests the age (in his mid-to-late twenties) and the approximate time he disappeared (the mid-1970s), but nothing much else about him. So Rowe uses all of the resources at her disposal to trace the man’s identity and find out how and why he died. In My Brother’s Keeper, former prison inmate Karen Mackie hires Rowe to find her fourteen-year-old daughter Sunny, who’s been living with her father Justin. Justin has custody of the girl, but Mackie has no idea where he’s living or if he’s even using the same name. Rowe agrees to find Justin and Sunny if she can. But this isn’t just a case of a mother who wants to be reunited with her daughter. The reason Mackie was in prison in the first place was the murder of her son and the attempted murder of Sunny…

Except for people on parole, adults are generally legally free to go where they wish without necessarily letting anyone else know. So missing persons cases are very often complicated. They can use up a lot of resources, including time, and don’t always result in a ‘joyful reunion.’ But they can make for suspenseful and interesting crime novels. Which ones have stayed with you?

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Phil Collins’ Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now).


Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Bidulka, Donna Malane, Karin Fossum, Peter James, Peter Robinson