Category Archives: Adrian Hyland

From Astrophysics to Biology*

ScienceScience and scientists have a particular way of thinking about their professions. Reputable scientists develop theories and hypotheses about the way something works. As best they can, they put those hypotheses to the test and accept what the data tell them. They don’t make too many assumptions, they don’t rely only on their own opinions, and they do their best (they are humans, after all) not to be too vested in one or another outcome. That’s how scientific research goes forward.

If you think about it, that’s exactly the kind of thinking that helps in detection too. The sleuth considers what the evidence suggests, forms a theory, tests that theory and accepts what the data say. Of course, it’s much more complicated than that, because sleuths deal with the complexity that is human life and human thinking. And that can muddy the proverbial waters considerably. Still, it’s little wonder that we see so many scientists in crime fiction.

In fact, there are so many fictional scientists out there that there’s only space in this one post for a few examples. You’ll notice, for instance, that I won’t be mentioning the myriad forensic scientists, medical examiners, pathologists, archaeologists, or physical anthropologists there are in the genre. Too easy! And too many! You’ll also notice that I won’t be mentioning the many social and psychological scientists (e.g. psychologists, educators, criminal law scientists, political scientists). Again – too many! But they’re out there.

There is, as you can imagine, quite a lot of chemistry involved in crime detection. Agatha Christie fans, for instance, will know that she had a background in chemistry, and it shows in her work. Poisoning plays a role in several of her stories, and quite often, chemistry provides the solution (yes, pun intended ;-) ) to the puzzle. Of course, Christie didn’t ignore other branches of science. In Sad Cypress, for instance, botany plays an important role in solving the murder of Mary Gerrard. Elinor Carlisle is charged with the murder, and she had motive, too. But local GP Dr. Peter Lord is smitten with her and wants her name cleared. So he asks Hercule Poirot to investigate. Chemistry and botany both help Poirot find out who the killer is.

Anyone who’s made wine knows that science is key to producing a delicious vintage. And no-one knows that better than Benjamin Cooker, noted oenologist and ‘star’ of Jean-Pierre Alaux and Nöel Balen’s Winemaker Detective series. Cooker is an expert on wine, so in Treachery in Bordeaux, he’s the first one Denis Massepain calls when he discovers that four barrels of his wine have been sabotaged. Massepain owns Château Les Moniales Haut-Brion, a very highly-regarded vineyard. If his winery turns out poor product, he’ll lose that all-important reputation. Cooker and his new assistant Virgile Lanssien agree to look into the matter. For help in this investigation, they turn to biologist and biological testing expert Alexandrine de la Palussière. With her expertise, they discover that the wine has been contaminated with brettanomyces, a yeast-like spore that can quickly ruin wine. What’s worse, this particular spore is highly contagious, so Massepain’s entire output is at risk. Cooker and Lanssien investigate to find out who would have wanted the winery to be ruined. And in the end, they discover the culprit.

Mining and oil drilling companies rely heavily on the work of geologists to help them take decisions about their businesses. For example, in Adrian Hyland’s Gunshot Road, Albert ‘Doc’ Ozolins has used his background in geology for a long time both as an independent prospector and for various companies. But he has his own ideas and theories about the land, and it’s gotten him into trouble more than once. One night after a drunken quarrel at a pub, he returns to his shack, where he is found murdered. At first, the police assume the murder is the result of that quarrel. But Emily Tempest, who’s just become an Aboriginal Community Police Officer (ACPO) isn’t so sure. Her temporary boss Bruce Cockburn warns her to ‘fall in line’ with the police account, but Tempest continues to ask questions. It turns out that Ozolins’ geological knowledge was dangerous for him.

In S.J. (now writing as Sharon) Bolton’s Awakening, we are introduced to wildlife veterinarian Clara Benning. She works at a wildlife hospital, and has particular expertise with all sorts of species of snakes. Her scientific knowledge proves to be of real value when snakes begin to cause a threat to the village where she lives. First, a mother discovers a deadly adder in her child’s crib. Then, another villager dies of an adder bite. But forensics reports show that there was much more venom in his blood than would be caused by one snake. Now, ACC Matt Hoare, who also lives locally, taps Benning’s expertise to get to the truth about this case.

Keigo Higashino’s series features Tokyo physics professor Manabu ‘Galileo’ Yukawa. In Salvation of a Saint, for instance, his knowledge proves to be extremely valuable when Junior Detective Kishitani and Junior Detective Kaoru Utsumi are faced with what looks like a suicide. Yoshitaka Mashabi seems to have killed himself with a cup of coffee laced with arsenous acid. Bit by bit though, the evidence begins to suggest that he was murdered. What the police find hard to prove is how he got the poison. They have some suspects in mind, including the victim’s wife Ayane Mita and her assistant/apprentice Hiromi Wakayama. But for different reasons, it’s not easy to show who actually committed the crime. That’s where Galileo’s expertise turns out to be useful. He is able to demonstrate exactly how the poison could have been administered and when it happened.

And then there’s Mark Douglas-Home’s The Sea Detective. This novel introduces readers to Edinburgh Ph.D. candidate Caladh ‘Cal’ McGill. He is an oceanographer and an expert in wave patterns, and wants to use those skills for personal as well as professional goals. He’s hoping to find out the truth about his grandfather Uilliam, who disappeared during a fishing trip years earlier. With his own expertise, as well as help from other oceanographers, he eventually finds out the truth. He also uses his knowledge in another case. Basanti and her friend Preeti were taken from their homes in India to Scotland as a part of the international sex trade. There, they were separated. Basanti has managed to escape the people who held her, but she hasn’t been able to find Preeti. Her search leads her to McGill, who is able to use what she remembers to find out what happened to Preeti and to go after the people who involved in Scotland’s human trafficking trade.

As you can see, natural science is a big part of crime fiction. I think Arthur Conan Doyle and his creation Sherlock Holmes would approve…

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from They Might Be Giants’ Science is Real.




Filed under Adrian Hyland, Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jean-Pierre Alaux, Keigo Higashino, Mark Douglas-Home, Nöel Balen, S.J. Bolton, Sharon Bolton

You Can Always Depend on Me*

Enabled DetectivesNot long ago, I had an interesting comment exchange with FictionFan at FictionFan’s Book Reviews and Cleo at Cleopatra Loves Books. Both blogs, by the way, are excellent resources for honest, interesting and thoughtful book reviews. If you love reading, you’ll want those blogs on your blog roll.

Our conversation was about what I’ll call fictional police enablers: supervisors who enable maverick cops. In real life of course, there are limits to what a police officer is allowed to do in the course of an investigation, and there are rules that govern how police are supposed to get evidence, deal with suspects and the like. And while those policies aren’t always followed, there are real consequences for cops who don’t.

In fiction though, it doesn’t always work out that way. There are plenty of fictional maverick cops, and although their supervisors don’t always like what they do, they usually keep those police officers from getting in real trouble.

We see this for instance in more than one of Arthur Upfield’s Inspector Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte mysteries. Bony works for the Queensland Police, and is often sent out to crime scenes in remote towns and rural areas. He knows very well that official police policy doesn’t always work in those places, and he knows even better that they don’t work among the Aboriginal people who are sometimes concerned in his cases. And Bony would rather solve cases than stick strictly to the letter of the law. So in that sense he’s a maverick. His unorthodox ways do get him into trouble with the ‘higher ups’ at times, but they don’t cost him his job. One reason for that is that he’s a brilliant detective. He gets the job done. Another is that despite the fact that his supervisor gets exasperated with his refusal to go along with policy, he knows that Bony’s the best at what he does. So he protects him.

Carol O’Connell’s NYPD homicide detective Kathy Mallory is another example of a maverick detective. She’s had a very dark, troubled background and matters were made worse when her surrogate father, police detective Louis Markowitz, was killed in the line of duty. Mallory is arguably a sociopath and has little regard for departmental policy. In many ways, you might call her a supervisor’s nightmare. But she is good at catching ‘bad guys’ and she is unafraid to go up against some very nasty people. What’s more, she’s protected by her mentor (and Markowitz’ former partner) Detective Riker. Riker knows about her past, and he has his own share of issues, so he has some sympathy for her. And that’s part of why he enables her, if you want to put it that way.

Fans of Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole will know that he’s broken just about every policy there is. He’s gotten too close to cases, done patently illegal things, and more. And that’s not to mention his struggles with alcohol and drugs. Despite all of that, he’s a brilliant detective. In fact, he’s about the best there is when it comes to serial killers and other ‘unusual’ sorts of murders. That’s part of why his boss Bjarne Møller protects him as much as he does. Møller knows that Hole will get the job done if he can just stay on a somewhat even keel (and sometimes, even if he can’t). What’s more, he knows that Hole’s colleagues respect his ability.

Adrian Hyland’s Emily Tempest seldom follows policy. As it is, she’s independent and sometimes rash. Add to that her knowledge of the part of Australia’s Outback where she lives, and it’s easy to see why she’s not much of a one to do what she’s told to do if it makes no sense to her. When we first meet Tempest in Diamond Dove (AKA Moonlight Downs), she’s just returned to the Moonlight Downs Aboriginal encampment after some time away. She gets involved in a murder case when the group’s leader Lincoln Flinders is murdered. In the process of finding out who killed the victim and why, she meets Superintendent Tom MacGillivray. He sees that Tempest has a lot of practical knowledge and that she’s smart and gutsy. That’s part of the reason he protects her, even enables her, when he can. There’s also the fact that she has a fairly strong instinct for tracking down leads. But MacGillivray can’t do much to enable Tempest in Gunshot Road. He’s been sidelined by injury, so Tempest comes temporarily under the command of Bruce Cockburn. She quickly finds out that Cockburn won’t enable her at all when the team is called to the scene of a murder at Green Swamp Well. Cocburn is satisfied that the death was the tragic result of a drunken quarrel. Tempest isn’t sure that’s true. And in this novel, she learns among other things that being a maverick can be costly.

And I don’t think it would be possible to discuss maverick police detectives without mentioning Ian Rankin’s John Rebus. Rebus fans will know that he is much more interested in finding out the truth about the cases he works than he is about following policy. There are plenty of instances in which he takes his own approach to dealing with ‘bad guys,’ tracking down leads and so on. Sometimes he’s enabled, mostly because the people he works with know he’s a very good detective, and that he won’t give up on a case. But even the legendary Rebus isn’t enabled all of the time. When he lets his temper get the best of him in Resurrection Men, he’s sent off to Tulliallan Police College as a last-ditch effort to ‘reform’ him. And he’s certainly not enabled in Black and Blue when he turns up some unpleasant truths about a ‘bent’ senior officer. He’s sent off to investigate the murder of an oilman instead of being assigned the more prestigious case of a killer who seems to be copying a serial killer from years earlier. That doesn’t stop Rebus though…

I know I haven’t mentioned all of the fictional police mavericks there are (I know, I know, fans of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch). But just from these few examples, we can see that some are more enabled by their superiors than others. Some push the limits of what they’re allowed to do more than others. And of course some stretch credibility more than others. But they arguably have in common that someone in authority sees that their detective skills and their integrity outweigh their unwillingness/inability to play by the book, so to speak. And as challenging as it can be, that’s reason enough for some people to protect a cop who doesn’t always ‘mind the manners.’

What do you think of the premise of the maverick cop who’s protected by someone in charge? Does it make sense?

Thanks, FictionFan and Cleo, for the inspiration!



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Lamont Dozier and Brian and Eddie Holland’s Reach Out (I’ll be There), made popular by The Four Tops.


Filed under Adrian Hyland, Arthur Upfield, Carol O'Connell, Ian Rankin, Jo Nesbø, Michael Connelly

Oh, How Absurd it All Seems Without Any Proof*

Physical EvidenceIn Adrian Hyland’s Gunshot Road, Aboriginal Community Police Officer (ACPO) Emily Tempest investigates the death of geologist and prospector Albert ‘Doc’ Ozolins. She’s under the command of Bruce Cockburn, who has very different ideas about how to go about solving the murder. Cockburn wants solid evidence – proof that can be used in court. But that’s not how Tempest thinks. Here’s what she says about it:


‘It’s not the sort of thing you can prove – not by whitefeller standards, anyway, not yet. But sometimes you just have to trust your gut instincts. Even an instinct’s got a basis in fact; it’s just more subtle.’


It turns out that Tempest’s instincts are sound, but what makes this dynamic interesting is that Cockburn has a point. A well-conducted police investigation requires solid evidence. You can’t solve cases just on intuition or instinct, even if it’s keen intuition and well-honed instinct. Any fan of crime fiction can tell you that there are a number of killers who aren’t prosecuted because there isn’t solid evidence against them.

Crime fiction fans can also tell you how annoying it is when a fictional detective solves a case based entirely on intuition. It’s not realistic, really, and many readers think of it as not ‘playing fair.’ In a realistic, high quality crime fiction novel, the detective uses reason and evidence to solve the case. The sleuth may have a ‘gut feeling,’ but in the end, it’s always supported with something more tangible.

Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot has been known to say that cases can be solved just by sitting on one’s chair and thinking. His point here is that chasing around after footprints, cigarette ash and so on doesn’t solve a case. And yet, he respects the need for real evidence. There’s an interesting example of the intuition/facts dynamic in The Clocks. In that novel, British agent Colin Lamb is in the town of Crowdean on his own business. He gets drawn into a case of murder when a young woman runs out of a house he’s passing, screaming that there’s a dead man in it. Lamb goes in to check and of course, she’s right. The case has enough unusual aspects that he thinks it may be of interest to his father’s friend Hercule Poirot. And he turns out to be correct, as Poirot begins to investigate from afar, as it were. On the one hand, Poirot doesn’t find physical clues. He doesn’t interview witnesses and so on; he deduces what happened. On the other hand, he depends on the clues and interview information that Lamb provides. And he knows that Inspector Richard Hardcastle, who is in charge of the police investigation, won’t be able to make a case against the murderer without evidence. His theory suggests where the evidence will be though, and in the end, Hardcastle finds what he needs to arrest the killer.

In Martin Walker’s Bruno, Chief of Police, the small French town of St. Denis is shaken when one of their own, Hamid Mustafa al-Bakr, is found murdered in his home on the outskirts of town. What makes this murder even more distressing is that al-Bakr had supported the French during the Algerian war, and was awarded the Croix de Guerre. If the word gets out that a military hero was killed, it might look very bad for the town. So police chief Benoît ‘Bruno’ Courrèges works with Captain Duroc of the local gendarmerie, and with the Police Nationale, to find out who the killer is. There’s only one piece of solid evidence at first, and it leads towards the Front National (FN), a far-right political party. But given Bruno’s knowledge of the town and its people, that explanation doesn’t account for all of the facts. It takes more evidence, plus some intuition, to put the pieces of the puzzle together. And in the end, Bruno finds out who murdered the victim and why. In this case, the solution comes from digging through evidence from the past.

In Jane Casey’s The Burning, DC Maeve Kerrigan and her colleagues at the Met investigate a series of killings. All of them have been committed by a murderer who’s been dubbed the Burning Man because he tries to destroy his victims’ bodies by fire. At one point, the police think they have the right person. But there isn’t solid evidence against this suspect, or at least not enough to make a strong case. So the cops’ intuition about the suspect hasn’t been correct. Then there’s a new murder, this one of PR specialist Rebecca Haworth. At first this looks like the work of the Burning Man. But some aspects of it are different enough that it could also be a ‘copycat killer.’ Kerrigan looks more deeply into the Haworth murder and finds that more than one person in Haworth’s life could easily have wanted her dead. In this case, solid evidence determines whether Haworth was a victim of the Burning Man or of someone else. It also clinches the case against the real Burning Man.

Lack of evidence presents a major problem at first in Frédérique Molay’s The 7th Woman. Nico Sirsky and his colleagues at Paris’ CID La Crim’ are faced with a series of killings. All of the victims are women at roughly the same time in their lives, but other than that, there’s not much they seem to have in common. And this killer has been careful to leave almost no physical evidence. Psychological profiler Dominique Kreiss offers insights into the type of person who’d commit such killings, but she can’t suggest one particular suspect. It’s not until the team gets actual evidence that Sirsky gets close to the truth about this case. Among other things, this novel shows how important things like forensics and physical evidence can be.

One reason the police place so much emphasis on scientific and physical evidence is that they know a case against the accused can’t be made without it. Any attorney will tell you that physical evidence (i.e. as opposed to witness testimony) plays a critical role in court cases. So a lot of legal novels hinge on getting and making sense of evidence.

Of course, physical evidence and scientific deduction can only go so far. Evidence can be manufactured, misunderstood, ‘planted’ or simply irrelevant. And tying pieces of evidence together takes a certain intuition, so evidence itself is not enough. But it plays a very important role in crime fiction.

Why? Well, part of the reason is that it’s realistic. But part of the reason is the work of Arthur Conan Doyle, whose birthday it would have been today. Conan Doyle created one of the most iconic of fictional detectives in Sherlock Holmes, and he had a very specific purpose in making Holmes the kind of person he is.  Conan Doyle was said to be fed up with fictional detectives who arrived at their conclusions by what seemed to be almost guesswork, rather than logic or deduction based on evidence. Sherlock Holmes was his response to that, and crime fiction has never been the same.



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Who’s 1921.


Filed under Adrian Hyland, Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Frédérique Molay, Jane Casey, Martin Walker

God Only Knows What I’d be Without You*

WF3It’s been…well…an interesting couple of days here at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist…. Since Tuesday, the area where I live has had record heat for the time of year (95°F/ 35°C) and high winds. With the ongoing lack of rain, it’s been the perfect recipe for wildfires, and we’ve had them. The ‘photos you see are of smoke and ash from one of the fires. Those ‘photos were taken from the balcony of my home, so although it’s not nearly as close as it looks, the fires have made their presence felt, to say the least. And even today, with the air calm and the temperature down, there’s still ash on people’s cars and particulates in the air. There’s still an acrid, oily smell of smoke in the air too.

But lest you worry for me, thanks for caring, but my WF2family and I are fine. We are safe and comfortable. Know why? A little bit of it is luck or whatever you want to call it. The winds didn’t blow the fires close enough to where I live for an evac order. But the big reason I am safe and comfortable is the tireless work of the brave and skilled members of the San Diego County Fire Department. Those people are heroes to me. They’ve been out on the line without food, sleep, showers and family time for three days now. And so have the dispatchers and others who keep everything connected and running smoothly. And all so that the rest of us would be safe. I know that’s their job, but if that’s not heroic, tell me please, what is?


I’ll bet most of us would agree that firefighters deserve our support, praise, thanks, whatever. They do work that most of couldn’t imagine doing. And there’s an argument that that generally positive (and well-deserved!!!) view of firefighters is a big part of the reason they’re usually depicted in positive ways in crime fiction. Here are just a few examples.

In Deborah Crombie’s In a Dark House, we meet Rose Kearny, one of a group of London firefighters who are called to the scene of a warehouse fire. All fires are serious matters, but this one is also very tricky in other ways. For one thing, the warehouse’s owner is MP Michael Yarwood, an outspoken member of the Labour party. That makes his ownership of the warehouse a delicate business. What’s more, the body of an unidentified woman is found in the remains of the building. Scotland Yard’s Duncan Kincaid and his lover Gemma James begin the work of finding out who the woman was and who killed her. Meanwhile, there’s another fire. And another. Kearny sees a link between them and despite pressure not to do so, reports what she has found to Kincaid. As it turns out, she’s exactly right about that connection. Those fires have everything to do with the past.

Nevada Barr’s Firestorm takes a look at the lives of firefighters in US National Parks. National Park Service Ranger Anna Pigeon has been working in Northern California’s Lassen Volcanic National Park. A wildfire – the Jackville Fire – has broken out and Pigeon is serving as a medic at a spike camp, a temporary camp located as close as safely possible to the fire. A drop in temperature and calming winds mean the team may be able to leave the area. But then a freak thunderstorm whips up winds and sends a firestorm sweeping through. Everyone dives for cover in individual shelters, and when the storm has passed, the group tries to assess the damage. That’s when Pigeon discovers that firefighter Len Nims has been murdered. As Pigeon works to find out who killed him and why, we get a look at what firefighters really have to deal with on a regular basis.

For another look at the firefighter’s life, you’ll want to read Adrian Hyland’s Kinglake-350. Admittedly it’s not crime fiction. It’s the story of Black Saturday, 7 February 2009. On that day, a terrible firestorm swept through the Australian state of Victoria, and Kinglake-350 is the story of the people who fought that fire and of those who lived through it. It’s a powerful read.

In Lilian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who Smelled a Rat, everyone in Moose County (‘400 miles north of nowhere’) is eager for the first major snowstorm of the year. It’s been a hot, dry summer and autumn, and the risk of wildfire is getting greater and greater. And the heat has been hard on everyone’s nerves. Then, a series of fires breaks out in the area. At first it’s put down to the weather conditions, which are tailor-made for fires. But then, the bookshop belonging to local dealer Eddington ‘Edd’ Smith is burned. What’s more, Smith himself is found dead. Now it’s clear that this is much more than a series of wildfires. Newspaper columnist James ‘Qwill’ Qiwilleran works with Police Chief Andrew Brodie to find out who’s been setting the fires and why, and who killed Edd Smith.

And then there’s Shelly Rueben’s The Boys of Sabbath Street. Artemus Ackerman, mayor of the small town of Calendar, wants to turn the Baldwin Theater into a museum of magic. To do that he’ll need the project to be bankrolled. So he’s hoping to put the most positive spin on his idea. But then there’s a fire on Sabbath Street, the same street where the building is located. Ackerman wants to know everything he can about the fire, because he doesn’t want it to lessen his chances of getting the museum of magic funded. So he sends his assistant and publicist Maggie Wakeling to get the facts. For that, she turns to Fire Marshal George Copeland. Then there’s another fire. And another. Now she and Copeland face the frightening reality that there’s an arsonist in their town. And Ackerman has to face the fact that the museum of magic may very well not materialise. As Wakeling and Copeland work to find out who’s behind the sabotage, readers get to see what the threat of fire does to an area and to people’s sense of stability.

There are lots of other novels too that focus on firefighters. By and large they present firefighters in a positive way, and that’s exactly as it should be. The ones who live in my area are heroic. My thanks to each of them.



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Beach Boys’ God Only Knows.


Filed under Adrian Hyland, Deborah Crombie, Lilian Jackson Braun, Nevada Barr, Shelly Reuben

Ah, Yes, I Remember it Well*

Strong Memories of BooksA recent comment exchange with Tracy at Bitter Tea and Mystery has got me thinking about what we remember when we read. And speaking of reading, you’ll want to visit Bitter Tea and Mystery often. It’s a terrific place to read excellent book and film reviews.

Once you’ve read a lot of crime novels, it’s easy to forget the details of what happens in them. There are just too many characters, events and other things for anyone to remember it all. So our memories become necessarily selective and even somewhat fuzzy. But some things simply stay in the memory. Sometimes it’s a scene, or a conflict. Sometimes it’s a character or an ingenious plot twist. We all have different ‘standout’ memories of what we’ve read, and there are a host of reasons for which one or another aspect of a novel stands out for us. Here are just a few examples. I hope you’ll share your own.

In Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Hercule Poirot has retired (or so he thinks) to the small village of King’s Abbot. He gets drawn into a murder investigation though when retired magnate Roger Ackroyd is stabbed one night. The most likely suspect is Ackroyd’s stepson Captain Ralph Paton, and there is solid evidence against him. But his fiancée Flora is convinced he’s innocent, so she asks Poirot to look into the matter. There are of course lots of detective novels in which a character protests a loved one’s innocence and persuades the sleuth to investigate. The standout in this novel (at least for me) is the plot twist at the end. It’s ingenious. There are other aspects of the story that are memorable but the plot twist is especially so.

Michael Connelly’s The Black Ice is the second in his Harry Bosch series. In it, Bosch hears of a suicide that took place on his ‘watch.’ What’s worse, the suicide is a fellow cop, Calexico ‘Cal’ Moore. It looks like an open-and-shut case of suicide, and the reason seems straightforward too. There’s evidence that Moore had ‘gone dirty,’ and could easily have committed suicide out of regret or if he thought he might be caught. But Bosch isn’t sure that this is a suicide. Some aspects of the case just aren’t consistent with that explanation. So he starts asking questions. That immediately gets him into trouble with the Powers That Be, who want this case kept quiet because it’s an embarrassment to the department. That doesn’t stop Bosch, though, and he continues to investigate. There are a lot of things that Connelly fans like about this series and this novel. One major thing that makes it memorable though, at least for me, is the finely drawn thread of conflict. There’s the conflict between Bosch and Moore’s killer. That conflict adds quite a lot of tension to the story. There’s also the conflict between Bosch and his superiors. That too adds to the story’s suspense. These conflicts are important parts of the story, but they are at the same time not so overdone as to be implausible.

Sometimes the most memorable aspect of a novel is one of its characters. In Catherine O’Flynn’s What Was Lost for instance, the character of ten-year-old Kate Meaney stands out. She wants to be a detective and in fact, has started her own agency Falcon Investigations. Together with her partner Mickey the Monkey, who travels in Kate’s backpack, she looks for suspicious activity and crimes to solve. And no place seems a more likely spot for suspicious activity than the newly-opened Green Oaks Shopping Center, where she spends a good deal of time. Kate’s quite content with her life. Her grandmother Ivy though believes that she’d be better off away at 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 persuades her, promising to go along with her for moral support. The two take the bus to the school, but only Adrian comes back. Despite an exhaustive search, no trace of Kate is found, not even a body. Twenty years later, Adrian’s sister Lisa is working at Green Oaks when she meets Kurt, a security guard there. The two form an odd sort of friendship and each in a different way go back to Kate’s disappearance. In the end, we find out what happened to Kate and part of what makes the truth so memorable is that Kate herself is unforgettable. She has a unique perspective, she’s interesting, and a look at the other characters in the novel shows how much a part of their lives she’s been.

For some books, setting and lifestyle stand out the most. That’s the case for me anyway with M.J. McGrath’s White Heat. Edie Kiglatuk is a very skilled High Arctic hunting guide. She gets mixed up in a case of multiple murder, greed, theft and political intrigue when she takes a client Felix Wagner and some friends on an expedition. Wagner is shot and the first explanation is that it was a tragic accident. Kiglatuk isn’t sure that’s true though, and begins to ask some questions. So does Derek Palliser, the senior of Ellesmere Island’s native police officers. Each in a different way, he and Kiglatuk investigate what’s going on and in the end, they find out the truth. One of the truly memorable things about this novel is its depiction of life in the High Arctic. Eating customs, living arrangements, daily life, etc., are all portrayed authentically.

That’s also the case with Adrian Hyland’s novels featuring Aboriginal Community Police Officer (ACPO) Emily Tempest. The mysteries themselves hold the novels together and so does Hyland’s writing style. But one of the real standouts of these stories (at least from my perspective) is their depiction of the Outback setting and the lifestyle there. Readers get a real sense of the cultures, the daily life and the physical landscape. Arthur Upfield’s Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte novels are a bit similar in that way.

And sometimes it’s one scene in a novel, whether it’s a dramatic scene, a funny scene or a poignant one, that stays in the memory. For example, in Donna Leon’s About Face, Venice Commissario Guido Brunetti and his team investigate a murder that’s tied in with illegal waste dumping. The Venice setting is distinctive and the mystery moves along. But for me at any rate, one of the standout memories in this novel is a scene between Brunetti and his wife Paula Falier. Early one morning, Brunetti wakes to find that it’s snowed. He can’t resist making a handprint in the fresh coating and then decides to put that snow-covered hand on Paola, who he thinks is sleeping.  She’s not, though:


‘’If you put that hand anywhere near me, I will divorce you and take the children.’
‘They’re old enough to decide themselves,’ he answered with what he thought was Olympian calm.
‘I cook,’ she said.
‘Indeed,’ he said in acknowledgment of defeat.’’


It’s a funny scene, but it also serves to highlight the importance of Brunetti’s family life in this series.

There are also several memorable scenes in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Tom Robinson, who is Black, has been accused of raping a White woman Mayella Ewell. And in the small town of Maycomb, Alabama, just the accusation is enough to put Robinson’s life in danger. Well-known attorney Atticus Finch defends Robinson, and as he looks into the case, he comes to believe that Robinson is innocent. He almost doesn’t get the chance to make his case though. On the night before the trial, he’s visiting his client at the jail when a group of angry men arrive. Their plan is to drag Robinson from the jail and pronounce their own kind of sentence. Finch’s children Jean Louise ‘Scout’ and Jem, and their friend Dill, have come to the jail in search of Atticus. When they see the men arrive, Scout runs towards her father and she, Jem and Dill end up facing down a lynch mob with Atticus. It’s one of the more powerful scenes in the novel. In part that’s because it isn’t violent, yet the tension is high enough to make it unforgettable.

We all have a different way of remembering what we read, and different things resonate with us in different ways. We may not remember everything about what we’ve read, and some of it may be a little fuzzy. But we all have those ‘standout’ memories that can be quite clear. So now it’s your turn. What are some strong memories you have from the crime fiction you’ve read?


Thanks, Tracy, for the inspiration!



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s I Remember it Well.


Filed under Adrian Hyland, Agatha Christie, Arthur Upfield, Catherine O'Flynn, Donna Leon, Harper Lee, M.J. McGrath, Michael Connelly