Category Archives: Alan Orloff

I Must Be Strong and Carry On*

Funeral CustomsPeople who die usually leave behind friends, colleagues and loved ones who need to go through the process of grieving. And for a lot of people, that process involves a funeral or memorial service. Many people find that a ritual service helps them accept the death and begin the difficult process of letting go. And each culture has its own way of letting go of those who’ve died. Since death is so much a part of crime fiction, it’s no surprise at all that we see many examples of funerals, memorial services and so on in the genre. There’s only space in this one post for a few examples, but I’m sure you can think of more than I could, anyway.

Agatha Christie’s After the Funeral (AKA Funerals Are Fatal) starts with the funeral of patriarch Richard Abernethie. As is the custom at that time and in that place, the family members gather at the Abernethie home Enderby after the service. Among the mourners is the family lawyer Mr. Entwhistle, who’s been through this before with other clients. He knows the ritual very well and at the expected time, he informs the family of the terms of Abernethie’s will. At this gathering, Abernethie’s younger sister Cora Lansquenet says that he was murdered. At first, everyone hushes her up and even she tells the group to pay no attention to her. But secretly everyone wonders whether she was right. When she herself is murdered the next day, it seems clear that she was. Mr. Entwhistle asks Hercule Poirot to look into the matter, and Poirot agrees. In the end he finds out the truth about both Abernethie’s death and that of his sister. It’s interesting to see how people’s beliefs about what is ‘the proper thing to do’ at funerals comes into play at the beginning of the novel even though Christie doesn’t depict the service itself.

In Arthur Upfield’s Death of a Swagman, Queensland Police Inspector Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte visits the small town of Merino to investigate the murder of stockman George Kendall, whose body was found in an isolated hut. He’s just arrived when one of the town’s most respected citizens Ted Bennett dies of a heart attack. Bony’s in the process of looking into the Kendall case when there’s another grisly discovery. Transient worker John Way’s body is found in the same hut, and it seems he committed suicide. Bony doesn’t think that’s true though, and certain aspects of the two deaths seem to connect them. It turns out that Bony’s right, and in the end he finds out what really happened to both men, and how it’s connected to the death of Ted Bennett. On the day of Bennett’s funeral, a storm threatens, and it’s interesting to see how everyone rushes to make sure all of the decencies are observed before the storm hits.

Burial customs play an important role in Tony Hillerman’s The Ghostway. In that novel, Navajo Tribal Police Sergeant Jim Chee investigates the disappearance of sixteen-year-old Margaret Billy Sosi, who went missing from the school she attends. Chee believes that this case is related to another case he’s investigating, the disappearance and later murder of Albert Gorman. Gorman was a Los Angeles Navajo who’d moved to the Reservation. Chee is right that there’s a connection, and the trail leads him to Los Angeles, where he finds out important things about Gorman’s history. He also finds out the truth about why Gorman’s been killed. At one point in the novel Chee goes to the home of one of Gorman’s kinsmen where he believes Gorman may have been hiding out. That’s when he discovers that Gorman’s dead. The body is prepared in the traditional Navajo way, but there are just a few things about that preparation that aren’t consistent with tradition. That’s what begins to put Chee on the right path. This novel also discusses Navajo beliefs about the dead and about rituals used by those who come in contact with the dead.

One of the story arcs in Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn series concerns the death of Kilbourn’s first husband Ian. He was a rising politician who was murdered one night when he stopped to help a young couple whose car wasn’t working. When he refused to take them to a party, the young man, Kevin Tarpley, murdered him. Tarpley was convicted and imprisoned for the crime. In A Colder Kind of Death, Tarpley is shot while he’s exercising in the prison yard. Then his wife Maureen, who was with him on the night of Ian Kilbourn’s murder, is also killed. Now suspicion falls on Kilbourn. It’s soon shown that she had nothing to do with the killings, but she still wants to deal with the grief that that this experience brings up. Part of the way she does that is by looking at old footage of her husband’s funeral. That process helps both her and her son Angus, who is also dealing with his father’s murder. It’s not vital to the case, but it’s interesting to see how each of them reacts to the footage, and what each remembers about the funeral.

Alan Orloff’s Diamonds For the Dead is the story of the death of Abe Handleman, who had a fatal fall down a flight of stairs. His son Josh returns to the family home in Northern Virginia to arrange his father’s funeral. That’s when he discovers that his father had a cache of very valuable diamonds – and they’re missing. What’s more, his father’s best friend Lev Yurishenko tells Josh that his father didn’t die accidentally, but was murdered. At first Josh doesn’t want to believe it, but the missing diamonds seem to support that theory. So he begins to ask some questions. He finds out that there was more to his father than he knew. He also finds out the truth about his father’s death. As a part of this novel, we see the traditional Jewish custom of burial as soon as possible after the death. We also see the custom of sitting shiva – a week-long period of mourning that’s observed in traditional Jewish homes.

Police sometimes attend funerals and memorial services of murder victims, particularly if they believe they can get some insight into who the killer might be. That’s what happens for instance in Jane Casey’s The Burning. DC Maeve Kerrigan and her colleagues at the Met are investigating a series of killings committed by a murderer who tries to destroy his victims’ bodies by fire. When the body of Rebecca Haworth is discovered, it looks at first as though she may be the so-called Burning Man’s latest victim. But little pieces of evidence suggest otherwise. Partly to follow up on that possibility, Kerrigan is asked to focus on the Haworth case. She attends Haworth’s funeral and in one moving scene, she gets the chance to speak to the victim’s parents. She knows it’s the worst possible time to ask them any questions, but she also wants to solve the case as quickly as possible. In the end, something she sees at the funeral gathering helps Kerrigan to put some of the pieces together.

Funeral and memorial rites often help people let go and we see that in Timothy Hallinan’s A Nail Through the Heart. American ex-pat Philip ‘Poke’ Rafferty is a Bangkok-based travel writer who has a reputation for being able to find people and solve problems. So Australian Clarissa Ulrich seeks him out when she goes in search of her Uncle Claus. The two were close when she was growing up, but she hasn’t heard from him and she’s worried for him. Rafferty agrees to ask questions and is soon drawn into an ugly case of murder, awful hidden secrets and more. One murder in particular hits Rafferty very hard. His wife Rose, who’s a former bar girl, and his foster daughter Miaow, who’s a former street child, both understand that this is tearing Rafferty apart, and will only get worse. They are also products of the Thai culture, and have a set of culturally-based beliefs about death and about letting go. With their help, Rafferty goes through a particular ritual, and it’s clear that it has a cleansing effect on him.

We see a similar effect in Angela Savage’s Behind the Night Bazaar. PI Jayne Keeney is an ex-pat Australian who lives and works in Bangkok. She goes north to Chiang Mai to visit her friend Didier ‘Didi’ de Montpasse. During her visit, Didi’s partner Nou is murdered. The official police theory is that Didi is responsible and one night he is killed in what police say was an incident of violently resisting arrest. Keeney doesn’t believe that though. She thinks the police are covering up the real reason for both killings and she begins to ask questions. Her search leads her to the Thai sex trade, human trafficking and corruption. In the end she finds out the truth about these deaths and she’s able to officially have her friend’s name cleared. At the very end of the book, she finds her own way to ritually let go of Didi in a poignant memorial scene.

Funerals and memorial services are woven into crime fiction partly because in real life, they often help people start the healing process. Of course they can also be useful for detectives. And that’s not to mention the many times that funerals are used to cover up illegal activities (there’s an interesting case of that in Geoffrey McGeachin’s Blackwattle Creek). They are deeply rooted in our various cultures. I’ve only had space for a few instances from the genre. Your turn.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Eric Clapton and Will Jennings’ Tears in Heaven.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alan Orloff, Angela Savage, Arthur Upfield, Gail Bowen, Geoffrey McGeachin, Jane Casey, Timothy Hallinan, Tony Hillerman

I Make Such Pretty Speeches*

SpeechesDo you feel comfortable speaking in public? No? Well if you don’t, you’re not alone. The most common fear, so we’re told, is the fear of speaking in public. But the fact is that nearly all of us have to make a presentation, give a speech or in some other way speak in public at least sometimes. You might think that sleuths, both real and fictional, wouldn’t have to do this but they do. In fact, the ability to speak comfortably in public can make a real difference in a case even if it doesn’t lead to major clues.

In Henning Mankell’s Faceless Killers for instance, Ystad police inspector Kurt Wallander and his team have a very difficult case on their hands. Johannes and Maria Lövgren have been brutally attacked on their rural farm. Johannes is dead, but Maria lives long enough to say the word foreign before she too dies. There’s a lot of simmering resentment against foreigners in Sweden and this lurid case will not help matters at all. In fact it leads to another death. So Wallander has to do the best he can to put out the proverbial flames in all of his public comments. He doesn’t relish the prospect of making public speeches; he’d rather be solving the case. But if he doesn’t talk to the press, the anti-immigration hysteria will only get worse, and so will the perception that the police aren’t doing anything to solve the murders. So a couple of  times in this novel, Wallander has to update the media on what the team is doing and at the same time discount the theory that the only solution to the case is to go after foreigners and immigrants.

We see a similar use of public speaking skill in Jørn Lier Horst’s Dregs.  When the gruesome discovery of a left foot clad in a training shoe is made near the Norwegian town of Stavern, Inspector William Wisting and his team are put on the case. Soon afterwards, another foot is discovered. Then there’s another discovery. Soon, there are several theories about the deaths. One is that a twisted kind of killer is at loose, and that of course makes the locals very uneasy. So one of the jobs that the police have to accomplish is to reassure everyone that people are safe, and that the police are doing everything possible to find out what happened to the victims To that end, Wisting has to give more than one public speech to the press. He’s hardly frightened of doing so, but he is concerned about giving the right impression. So he thinks carefully about what he’s going to tell the media, and he considers his presentations before he gives them. In order to try to find out whom the feet might belong to, Wisting’s team looks at all of the people reported missing in the last year. As it turns out, most of them come from the same elder care home, so the team starts to focus its investigation there. What’s more, most of the people have a connection that goes back to the days of World War II, so there is a possibility that these deaths are connected to some long-ago events. Wisting’s public speaking doesn’t solve the crimes, but it does keep people calm enough to let the police do their jobs.

There’s quite a lot of public speaking in Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn series. Kilbourn is a political science expert and an academician. So of course as a professor she does her share of public speaking in class, at conferences and so on. But it goes further than that. As the series featuring her goes on, she gets a position at NationTV on a political discussion show. And in A Killing Spring, it’s that forum that allows her to unsettle the killer of a colleague Reed Gallagher enough for that person to admit guilt. She arranges to make it clear to the killer that she knows what happened to Gallagher, and it’s very interesting to see how she uses the very public nature of NationTV to do so. This series also shows how dangerous public speaking can be. Perhaps I shouldn’t mention this in case some of you are really nervous about speaking to an audience but in Deadly Apperances, the first of the Joanne Kilbourn novels, her friend Androu ‘Andy’ Boychuk is poisoned during an important political speech. Trust me, though; poisoning isn’t common during speeches. Really. It’s not.

One of the hardest things to do – even harder really than simply speaking in public – is to be funny in public. Standup comedians have to do ‘double duty.’ They have to be comfortable speaking in public and they have to think of material that will keep people laughing. That’s what Alan Orloff’s Channing Hayes faces in Orloff’s Last Laff series. The Last Laff is a comedy club in Northern Virginia that’s co-owned by Hayes and Artie Worsham. In Killer Routine, one of the comics Heather Dempsey disappears just before she’s supposed to do her routine. At first it looks as though she got too nervous at the last moment and simply fled. But Hayes doesn’t think so. Heather is the sister of Hayes’ fiancée Lauren Dempsey, who was killed in a tragic car accident, so he feels a special need to find Heather and see that she’s all right. It turns out though that he’s not the only one looking for Heather. She’s been keeping some secrets of her own, and Hayes will have to look more closely into her life if he’s going to find out what happened to her. At the same time, he’s been battling back from that same car wreck that killed his fiancée. He’s had to deal with guilt, grief, physical wounds and more, so he’s been very uncomfortable about going on stage again. This novel gives an interesting look at what it’s like for a nervous comic to take (or re-take) the stage.

Even mystery novelists have to do their share of speaking in public. Just ask Martin Canning, whom we meet in Kate Atkinsons’s One Good Turn. He’s a crime fiction writer who’s scheduled to appear as part of a panel at the Edinburgh Arts Festival. Canning isn’t much of a one at all for public speaking. He’d rather live in the dream world he’s created with his novels than in the real one most of the time. But his agent has convinced him that he’ll benefit greatly from the publicity that comes from making public speeches. So he agrees to go. When he gets to Edinburgh, Canning witnesses a car accident between a blue Honda and silver Peugeot. Both drivers get out of their cars and within seconds they’re arguing. Then, the driver of the Honda wields a baseball bat and tries to attack Paul Bradley, the Peugeot driver. Canning, who’s never done a courageous thing in his life, throws his computer case at the Honda driver and saves Bradley’s life. Feeling duty-bound to be sure Bradley is safe, Canning accompanies him to the local hospital. That’s how Canning gets drawn into a case of murder, deception and theft. In the light of the rest of the story, joining in a panel of crime writers, even in public, is not so scary…

But many people do find public speaking quite difficult. Do you? Which novels have you read where it plays a role?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from James V. Monaco and Mack Gordon’s I Can’t Begin to Tell You.

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Filed under Alan Orloff, Gail Bowen, Henning Mankell, Jørn Lier Horst, Kate Atkinson

Those of Us With Ravaged Faces, Lacking in the Social Graces*

Attractiveness and UnattractivenessCrime fiction confronts us with our own prejudices. And one of those prejudices has to do with what we consider attractive. Of course people’s definitions of what’s attractive vary, and each culture has its own view of what ‘counts’ as ‘beautiful.’ But just about everyone is drawn to the physically appealing rather than to people who are considered unattractive. That’s why it can be very refreshing when a major character (in crime fiction, that’s usually the sleuth) is not what people think of as physically attractive. That takes writing skill.

Gladys Mitchell’s Mrs. Bradley, for instance, is hardly what one would call beautiful. In The Mystery of Butcher’s Shop, she is described as

 

‘A small, shriveled, bird-like woman who might have been thirty-five and who might have been ninety, clad in a blue and sulphur jumper like the plumage of a macaw…’

 

Her clothes are notoriously unattractive and she’s sometimes described as having saurian features or a reptilian smile. She is not what most people would find physically appealing, but she is a brilliant detective. She’s a psychoanalyst who has a thorough understanding of motivation and personality. And in this novel, that helps her to find out who murdered local squire Rupert Sedleigh and how his body ended up in a local butcher shop. Interestingly enough, Mrs. Bradley was portrayed by the emphatically not saurian Diana Rigg in a television series and it’s very interesting to see that Mrs. Bradley’s (lack of) taste in clothes and her unattractive appearance were given an overhaul for that series.

Rex Stout’s Archie Goodwin doesn’t fare too badly as far as appearance goes but his boss Nero Wolfe could hardly trade on his looks. Wolfe fans will know that he weighs a seventh of a ton. That’s heavy by just about anyone’s standards. Archie later says that Wolfe weighs

 

‘…between 310 and 390…’   

 

And although Wolfe isn’t depicted as hideous-looking, he doesn’t win clients over with his handsomeness. Still, when Wolfe is on the case, it’s easy to forget (even when Goodwin mentions it) that he’s much heavier than most people consider attractive. In Fer de Lance, for instance, he and Goodwin solve the unusual murder of Peter Barstow, president of Holland University. They first learn of this case when Maria Maffei visits Wolfe and asks for him to help find her brother Carlo, who has disappeared. When Carlo Maffei is found dead, it comes out that he had designed the special golf club that was used to kill Barstow. So now Goodwin and Wolfe have to find out who paid Maffei to create this design and killed him before he could reveal what he knew.  In this novel and in other novels in this series, clients don’t come to Wolfe because of his appearance; they come to him because he’s very good it what he does. Wolfe may not be physically attractive but we really do forget that when he’s on the case.

Most people probably wouldn’t call Ann Cleeves’ Vera Stanhope ‘a looker.’ She’s somewhat overweight, has eczema, and although she keeps clean, she doesn’t exactly take a lot of pains with her appearance. Stanhope is aware of the fact that she’s not conventionally beautiful, and sometimes that makes her self-conscious, as in Silent Voices. That novel begins with Stanhope going for a swim at the local gym/spa. She specifically chooses early morning for her doctor-prescribed workout because she’d rather not be there at the same time as the club’s usual habitués, young women who are tanned, thin and have beautiful faces. During this trip Stanhope makes a horrifying discovery. When she goes to the steam room after her swim, she finds the body of social worker Jenny Lister. Once she’s on this case, it’s easy to forget that Stanhope is not what you’d think of as ‘pretty’ at all. Instead, she’s intuitive, thoughtful, determined and a very good detective.

Reginald Hill’s Superintendent Andy Dalziel isn’t exactly magazine-cover material either, physically speaking. In A Pinch of Snuff, for instance, Hill says that Dalziel’s face is

 

‘…as heavy and ugly as a slag heap.’

 

What’s more, Dalziel’s overweight and makes no effort to behave in what most people would call a socially acceptable way. But he is a sound human being with real intuition. What’s more, he’s loyal, ethical and a very good detective. Although he’s often called, ‘the Fat Man,’ his appearance really doesn’t matter in terms of his ability to solve cases. In this novel for instance, he and Inspector Pascoe investigate the Calliope Kinema Club, which has a reputation for showing extreme and sometime violent pornography. It’s all legal though, or it least it seems so until Pascoe’s dentist suspects that one of the actresses has been actually hurt or worse. When Pascoe looks into it though, the actress seems to be fine. Still, Pascoe isn’t quite satisfied. Then the club’s owner Gilbert Haggard is murdered, and the club is wrecked. Now Dalziel and Pascoe have to find out what was really going on there that would lead to murder.

And then there’s Alan Orloff’s Channing Hayes. He’s a standup comic who survived a terrible car accident that claimed the life of his fiancée Lauren Dempsey. In Killer Routine, he’s just getting back into the ‘standup life’ as co-owner of The Last Laff, a Northern Virginia comedy club. Then, Lauren’s sister Heather disappears one night just before she’s supposed to go onstage at the club. Hayes is worried about Heather so he starts asking questions and before he knows it, he’s up against Heather’s difficult parents, dangerous ex-boyfriend and several other people in her life who don’t seem to want her to be found. Hayes has a scarred face and a withered left hand because of the accident, so most people who meet him wouldn’t exactly call him gorgeous. Hayes knows this and it sometimes makes him self-conscious. But it doesn’t take away from his ability to find out what happened to Heather Dempsey. And as the story goes on, it’s easy to forget that Hayes isn’t conventionally good-looking.

All too often, media images tell us what we’re supposed to find attractive and what physical qualities we’re supposed to admire. And all too often, that means the marginalisation of those who don’t fit those images. I’m glad that crime fiction doesn’t fall into that trap and I respect authors who have the skill to create strong and sympathetic characters who aren’t conventionally attractive.

 

 

 

*NOTE:  The title of this post is a line from Janis Ian’s At Seventeen.

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Filed under Alan Orloff, Ann Cleeves, Gladys Mitchell, Reginald Hill, Rex Stout

How Do You Measure, Measure a Year?*

Measuring the YearIt’s interesting how the end of the year often gets us into a reflective mood, whether or not we make and keep New Year’s resolutions. It’s often a time for taking stock of oneself – well, it is for me anyway. And no, I promise this isn’t going to be one of those ‘Best of 2012’s Reading’ posts. You’ll be reading enough of those as the next weeks go by. Besides, I don’t like to ‘stay within the lines’ like that. But here are a few things I’ve noticed about my crime fiction reading this year. If they help you make some reading choices, then I’m glad to have been of service.

 

 

Book That Has Caused Me to Re-Think My Assumptions

 

Angela Savage – Behind the Night Bazaar

Y.A. Erskine – The Brotherhood

Roger Smith – Dust Devils

Martin EdwardsAll the Lonely People

 

Most of us, myself included, have a set of assumptions about, well, everything. About people from other groups, about how to make the world better, about how to solve the world’s problems. But those assumptions can blind us to the fact that very few of life’s problems and inequities have an easy solution. All of these books present difficult issues (e.g. poverty, human trafficking, questions of racial equity) that do not have an easy solution. And these authors are all to be commended for not offering pat solutions. All of these novels have caused me to question what I always believed, and that’s a good thing. The book that has most caused me to really question myself though is Angela Savage’s Behind the Night Bazaar. In that novel, PI Jayne Keeney investigates the murders of her friend Didier ‘Didi’ de Montpasse and his partner Nou. The trail leads Keeney to some ugly truths about child trafficking and the sex trade. I think we’d all agree that something has to be done to keep children safe and to stop human trafficking. But Savage shows us, without preaching, that there isn’t a simple solution. Not until we question what we assume to be true can we look at the source of these problems and try to solve them. This isn’t an easy, light book, but it stays with me in part because it has invited me to stop and re-think everything I always ‘knew’ about human trafficking.

 

 

Book I Am Very Annoyed at Myself For Not Reading Yet

 

Michael Connelly – The Black Box

Ben Winters – The Last Policeman

Deon Meyer – Seven Days

Vanda Symon – The Faceless 

 

Here’s the thing. There are only twenty-four hours in a day, and seven days in a week. And one has to eat and sleep and pay bills, etc…   So there simply isn’t enough time to read it all. I am a fan of all four of these highly talented authors, so it has nothing to do with my interest in their books. It really doesn’t.  I will read all of these books. However, I am most angry with myself for not yet reading Vanda Symon’s The Faceless. Symon is the highly talented author of the Sam Shephard series, and I was very much looking forward to this standalone release. I still am. I promise, Vanda, I will read it. Very soon. Folks, if you haven’t yet read it, give it a try. Symon will not disappoint you.

 

 

Pattern in My Reading That I Didn’t Even Notice

 

I Have Read More Canadian Crime Fiction This Year.

I Have Read More French Crime Fiction This Year.

I Have Read More Australian Crime Fiction This Year, Mostly Written by Women.

I Have Read More Thrillers This Year.

 

Did you ever catch yourself in a new pattern that you weren’t even aware of? Well, this year I found myself, and I promise it was unplanned, branching out in all sorts of different reading directions. I’m glad for that, as I am a better informed crime fiction fan for it. I’m all for ‘stretching oneself’ as a reader. And I am truly grateful for those who’ve helped me do that this year. The pattern that I’ve most noticed – that seems the strongest – without me even being aware of it is that I’ve read a whole lot more crime fiction by Australian women writers than I had before. This year I’ve read some terrific work by Sandy Curtis, Virginia Duigan, Y.A. Erskine,  Kerry Greenwood, Wendy James and Angela Savage, among others. I’m so glad I ‘met’ these wonderful ladies from down under. To all of you, thanks for sharing your work with us, and it is my great pleasure to mention it on my blog. Want to read some terrific crime fiction by Aussie women writers? Sure ya do! Check out Fair Dinkum Crime, which is the source for all Australian crime fiction. And check out the Australian Women Writers challenge. Go ‘head. You’re in for a real treat!

 

 

New Character I’ve Met This Year That I’d Love to Have a Drink With

 

Anthony Bidulka’s Russell Quant

Angela Savage’s Jayne Keeney

Donna Malane’s Diane Rowe

Alan Orloff’s Channing Hayes

 

All of these sleuths are absolutely terrific characters whom I’m really happy that I met. They’re all smart, interesting and I’m sure they’d be a lot of fun to know in person. My vote, by a slim margin (‘cause they’re all great characters) is Anthony Bidulka’s Russell Quant. Quant’s smart, thoughtful, interesting, and knows lots of cool places to eat and drink. I could truly enjoy sharing a bottle of good wine and swapping stories with him. His would probably trump mine by a long shot. Check out all of these protagonists, folks – they’re all worth getting to know.

 

 

Author Whose Next Release I Am Most Eager For (Fingers are Drumming and I’m Waiting……Still Waiting…)

 

Paddy Richardson

Adrian Hyland

William Ryan

James Craig

 

All of these authors have wowed me with their novels. And now that I’ve gotten hooked it’s really very unfair to keep me waiting. Come on, you folks!! Next novel, please!!!!!!  There are a few other authors who’ve gotten me hooked (e.g. Elizabeth Spann Craig and Donna Malane), but I know when their next books are coming out, so I’ll be patient. But I am especially eager to read the next book by… Adrian Hyland. Hyland’s Emily Tempest series is one of the finest series I’ve read, and I really truly hope there’ll be a new one soon. A-a-a-hem, Mr. Hyland!!!

So there you have it. A few reflections on my own reading as we face the last few weeks of 2012. Now, please don’t ask me which book I’ve liked most of all I’ve read this year. First of all, the year isn’t over yet. Secondly, I couldn’t narrow it down.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jonathan Larson’s Seasons of Love.

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Filed under Adrian Hyland, Alan Orloff, Angela Savage, Anthony Bidulka, Ben Winters, Deon Meyer, Donna Malane, James Craig, Martin Edwards, Michael Connelly, Paddy Richardson, Roger Smith, Vanda Symon, William Ryan, Y.A. Erskine

I Know That It’s Time For a Cool Change*

Did you ever have the urge to make a major change in your life? Sometimes people make those big changes because they’re not happy with the way their lives are going (a job one dislikes for instance). Sometimes a tragedy or setback such as a death or job loss can force a major change. Either way, making a major change can be just as challenging as it can be positive.  Even if it’s a change for the better, and a change one’s chosen, it’s never easy to leave a familiar way of living life. And that’s part of what can make that kind of major change an interesting backdrop or plot point for a crime fiction novel. The anxiety of a major change (and sometimes the reasons for it) can add an interesting thread of suspense to a story.

For example, Agatha Christie’s Murder in Mesopotamia begins with a major change in the life of Amy Leatheran, who works at Miss Bendix’s Nursing Home. One of her maternity patients, a Mrs. Kelsey, is moving with her husband and brand-new baby to Iraq, and Leatheran accompanies her to look after the baby. Once they arrive in Baghdad, the family no longer needs Leatheran’s services so she plans at first to return to England. Then she gets an interesting proposition. Dr. Giles Reilly, whom she meets in Baghdad, is acquainted with a noted archaeologist Eric Leidner, who’s leading a dig team about four hours from Baghdad. Leidner is in need of a nurse/companion for his wife Louise, who’s been troubled by what some people call fancies: hands tapping at windows, faces looking into windows and so on. Reilly thinks that Leatheran may be the right choice for this position, so he puts the idea to her. After a bit of thought she agrees to make this change. And it is a major change. Leatheran’s used to living in England and it’s hard to get accustomed to the different lifestyle and culture she encounters in Iraq. But she’s not the fearful kind, so she plunges into her new work. Then one afternoon Louise Leidner is killed by a blow to the head. Hercule Poirot is travelling in the area on his way back to London. He’s persuaded to take a little time and investigate the murder. He finds that Louise Leidner’s fears were based on her past, and that her past has a lot to do with the murder.

Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone finds he has to make some major changes in Night Passage. He and his wife Jenn have ended their marriage, and although they both knew the marriage wasn’t healthy, they both have to deal with their feelings for each other. Stone deals with his by drinking. A lot. In fact he drinks his way out of his job as an L.A.P.D. homicide cop. He gets a chance for a fresh start when he is interviewed for the job as chief of police of Paradise, Massachusetts. It’s a small town on the other side of the continent and it’s about as different from his L.A. life as one can get. Even though he shows up drunk for the interview, Stone is surprisingly offered the job and takes it. He starts over in Paradise only to find that he’s plunged into something very ugly. First he gets into a feud with local thug JoJo Genest. Then, the body of a young woman is discovered. In the meantime, Stone finds proof of what he’s suspected: he wasn’t exactly hired to perform high-quality police service. He was hired because the town council thought he would be easily manipulated. They’re wrong though and in the end, Stone uncovers what’s really going on in Paradise and how that is connected with the death and with the reason the town needed a new police chief in the first place.

In Rebecca Tope’s A Cotswold Killing, Thea Osborne has to face another kind of change. A year ago her husband Carl was killed by a careless driver and she’s been grieving since that time. As she slowly starts to deal with the loss, Thea decides to make a major change and take up a job as a professional house-sitter. Her first clients are Clive and Jennifer Reynolds, who live in the Cotswold village of Duntisbourne Abbots. They’re going on a three-week cruise and are very anxious that everything should run smoothly at the house. Thea takes the job but it’s soon clear that this isn’t an ordinary house-sitting job. Clive Reynolds has given her a long list of exhaustively detailed instructions for just about everything in the house, garden, yard and fields. Thea’s a little put off by the long and particular “to-do” list but she gets started. On the first afternoon, she gets a visit from a neighbour Joel Jennison, who says that he’s stopped by to let her know where they are if she needs anything. Sometime late that night, Jennison is murdered and his body left in the pond at the Reynolds’ home. Thea knows nothing about detection but she is curious and besides, Joel Jennison was the only villager who’d taken the time to welcome her. So she begins to ask questions. Thea soon finds that Jennison’s brother Paul was killed only six months earlier. Now it seems as though something strange and very, very dangerous is going on in this village and that one of the reasons the locals are cold to her is that they know more than they’re saying.

A family death also brings great change for Alan Orloff’s Josh Handleman in Diamonds for the Dead. Handleman lives in San Francisco where his life is at a crossroads. His marriage has ended and so has his job. Then he gets word that his father Abe has died after a fall down the stairs at the family home in Virginia. So Handleman goes to Virginia to plan his father’s funeral and settle his estate. That’s when one of Abe Handleman’s friends tells Josh that his father’s death was not an accident – he was murdered. What’s more, Josh discovers that his father had a cache of very valuable jewels, and they’ve disappeared. Now he’s anxious about his future, dealing with his feelings about his father’s death and trying to find out who killed his father.

In Martin Edwards’ The Coffin Trail, we meet Oxford historian Daniel Kind. He’s become very successful not only as a scholar but also as a television personality. Then his girlfriend Aimee commits suicide and Kind has to entirely re-think his life. He meets a new woman Miranda and they begin a relationship. Kind needs a major change in his life so he and Miranda take Tarn Cottage in the Lakes District, hoping to settle into a quieter life away from the stress and frantic pace of life in London. In the meantime, DCI Hannah Scarlett is facing a major change of her own. She’s been named to head the newly-created Cold Case Review team. Although it’s seen as a demotion, Scarlett is a dedicated cop and wants to do her best. She and her team take up the case of the murder of Gabrielle Anders, whose body was found on an old sacrificial stone near the village of Brackdale. At the time of Anders’ death, everyone thought she was killed by Barrie Gilpin, who himself was killed in a tragic fall not long afterwards. Scarlett has never thought Gilpin killed Anders. So she and her team look into both deaths. As it turns out, Tarn Cottage used to belong to Barrie Gilpin and Kind even knew Gilpin. So in his own way, Kind gets involved in this murder investigation too. The anxiety both Scarlett and Kind feel about the changes in their lives add a thread of interest and suspense to this novel.

Simon Beckett’s forensic anthropologist David Hunter has to face that same anxiety at change in Whispers of the Dead. Hunter feels strongly the need to get out of his native London for a time. His relationship with his girlfriend Jenny has ended although he still has feelings for her. And because of the events in Written in Bone, the previous entry in this series, Hunter has the need to heal both physically and psychologically. So he decides to do some research at Tennessee’s Anthropological Research Laboratory. He’s settling in for his stay there when a decomposed body is found near a remote cabin not far from the laboratory. Then another body is found. Now Hunter finds himself involved in a complicated investigation that will use all of his forensics skills.

And…speaking of major changes and things new, Elizabeth Spann Craig’s new series has just been launched! Today is the release date for Quilt or Innocence, the first in her Beatrice Coleman series. In that novel, Beatrice Coleman has just retired from her career in Atlanta. She takes the opportunity that major change brings and moves to Dappled Hills, North Carolina, to be near her daughter Piper. Her plans to settle into a more relaxed lifestyle and enjoy retirement soon get scuttled when she is “volunteered” for the local quilting guild. It’s not long before Coleman finds out that the members of this guild do as much mean-spirited gossiping and backstabbing as they do quilting. Then one day she finds the body of one of the guild members. As if that’s not enough she herself begins to get threatening notes. It seems that someone is targeting the guild members, so Coleman has to find out who the guild’s enemy is before she becomes the next victim. Congratulations, Elizabeth, on your release and I wish you much success. Folks, if Elizabeth’s other two series, her Myrtle Clover series and her Memphis Barbecue series (which she writes as Riley Adams) are any indication, this is going to be a fine cosy series!

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Little River Band’s Cool Change.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alan Orloff, Elzabeth Spann Craig, Martin Edwards, Rebecca Tope, Riley Adams, Robert B. Parker, Simon Beckett