The Crime Fiction Alphabet meme has now reached the third stop on our chilling journey through the letters. Thanks as always to Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise for continuing to guide us on our way. Today’s stop is the letter C, so I’ve chosen Kerry Greenwood’s alliterative Melbourne-based sleuth Corinna Chapman as my contribution.
Chapman is a former accountant who decided after a few years that she just didn’t care about accountancy and numbers any more. So she took a risk and opened her own bakery Earthly Delights. She’s found a great deal of contentment doing what she does, and she does take pride in her work. And that’s one of the most appealing things about Chapman’s character. She isn’t perfect and she knows that. But she likes herself and doesn’t try to be anything else. It’s also worth noting that Chapman has a refreshing attitude about her appearance. She’s no sylph and she doesn’t dress like a fashion model. At the same time, she doesn’t long to look different. Here’s what she says about herself in the first novel featuring her, Earthly Delights:
“My mantra is that I am fat because I am fat and there is not a lot I can do about it. And I have the example of Kylie and Gossamer [More on them shortly] always before me. I could not get that thin if I starved myself for ten years, and that is a fact. We are famine survivors, we fat women and ought to be valued for it. We must have been very useful when everyone else collapsed of starvation. We would have been able to sow the crops, feed the babies and keep the tribe alive until spring came. If you breed us out, what will you do when the bad times come again? At the very least, you could always eat us. I reckon I’d feed a family of six for a month.”
This bit shows not just Chapman’s confident attitude about herself, but also her sense of humour, which is also appealing. Chapman lives and works in Melbourne, a large city with its share of big-city problems. She’s had heroin addicts outside her door, there’s plenty of crime and poverty and lots more. But Chapman doesn’t let it make her bitter; rather, she tries to have a sense of almost sardonic humour about it.
We also see that sense of self-confidence and sometimes humour as Chapman deals with her personal life. She doesn’t exactly have a close relationship with her parents, ultra-hippies who live in Nimbin in an earth house with no amenities. She doesn’t hate her parents but she is grateful to have been raised by her grandmother. Although we learn about this difficult relationship, Chapman doesn’t ruminate about it. Nor does she ruminate about her ex-husband James. She doesn’t hate him, but she doesn’t trust him and has no desire to remain “still friends” with him. Chapman has an earthy, pragmatic, mostly optimistic attitude towards life so her personal difficulties don’t swamp her.
Chapman has both her apartment and her bakery in a large Roman-style building called Insula. A non-conformist herself, she fits in well with some of the quirky and interesting characters who share the building with her. For example there are her two assistants Kylie Manners and Gossamer Judge, two young women with dreams of being in film and television. They’re both very thin, with several pierces, and both constantly change their hair colour. In fact Chapman has to pay attention to tell them apart. Also sharing Insula is Meroe, a Wiccan who owns an occult store called the Sibyl’s Cave. There’s also retired Professor Dionysus Monk, a bibliophile and a very courtly gentleman, as the saying goes. And then there’s Nerds, Inc, a group of computer wizards and gamers who are rarely seen by daylight, but whose presence is made clear from empty pizza boxes and junk food bags. There are more characters too who make appearances in the Corinna Chapman series. All of them are distinctive and sometimes eccentric but to Greenwood’s credit they aren’t caricatures.
Another very appealing aspect of Corinna Chapman’s character is her relationship with those characters. She is friends with them in an understated yet very loyal way. For instance, in Heavenly Pleasures, Chapman is very upset when neighbours Juliette and Vivienne Lefebvre’s chocolate shop is sabotaged. She cares about them enough to start asking questions and she discovers that the sabotage could be related to a new resident in Insula as well as to a case of possible “possession” and a missing girl. All of this presents more danger than Chapman would ordinarily seek but the Lefebvres are friends of hers and she is a loyal friend. In fact, you could really think of the residents of Insula as Chapman’s extended family. Without being melodramatic or overly sentimental, Chapman does step up when her friends are in need.
Although she is a compassionate and loyal friend, Chapman is an independent person. For instance, she has a positive relationship with her lover Daniel Cohen. They care deeply for each other. And yet she’s in no hurry to marry him, “settle down” and change her life. And Cohen doesn’t put any pressure on her to do so. He respects what she’s accomplished as her own person and so do I.
Chapman’s an amateur sleuth who, unlike the stereotypical “nosey amateur,” doesn’t particularly want to investigate crimes. She’s neither fearful nor callous, but she certainly doesn’t look for crimes to solve. And yet when she does get involved, she’s determined and in her way, passionate. Both her caution about getting involved and her determination are appealing, mostly because they make her a realistic character.
Chapman may not be a gorgeous private investigator who blazes into gun battles or a cop who always has the most brilliant ideas. But she is a smart, loyal, fun and interesting character. She’s pragmatic, quick-thinking and steadfast too. If she were a real person, I’d hope we’d be friends. It’s her character as much as anything else that leads me to recommend this series. If you haven’t “met” her yet, I hope you will.