Category Archives: Anthony Bidulka

Come See About Me*

Character DetailsI’m very honoured and excited that Confessions of a Mystery Novelist…  has been awarded the Very Inspiring Blog Award by Moira at Clothes in Books and by Rebecca Bradley. This means a lot to me, especially since those two blogs are a rich source of inspiration for me. Do please visit them and have a look round. They are both worthy of prominent places on any crime fiction fan’s blog roll.

7-things

One of the things that come with this award is the request to share seven things about yourself. I’m not going to do that, as I’ve already overloaded this blog with things about me. And besides, this is a blog about crime fiction, not about me. But these generous awards have got me thinking about fictional characters, and how much we learn about them.

It’s a delicate balance for an author, deciding how much to share about the characters in a novel. On the one hand, characters who are too ‘flat’ simply aren’t interesting. They don’t ‘feel’ like real people and that’s off-putting. On the other hand, is it really important that a given character once slipped and fell in mud during a rainstorm? Depending on the story, probably not.

And that’s what’s arguably the most important factor in sharing information about characters: relevance to the story. Character information that matters to the story is important. So is information that makes a character distinctive and human. If it’s not as relevant, perhaps it doesn’t need to be there. Let me if I may give you a few examples from crime fiction to show you what I mean.

Agatha Christie is not generally as well known for depth of character as she is for other aspects of writing. But in some of her novels, she does provide some rounded, ‘fleshed-out’ characters. Five Little Pigs is one of them. In that novel, famous painter Amyas Crale is poisoned one afternoon. The most likely suspect, and for very good reason, is his wife Caroline. She is duly arrested, tried and convicted, and dies a year later in prison. Sixteen years later, the Crales’ daughter Carla asks Poirot to re-investigate the case. Carla is convinced that her mother was innocent, and wants her name cleared. Poirot takes up the challenge and interviews the five people who were ‘on the scene’ on the day of the murder. He also gets written accounts from each of them. From that information he figures out who really killed Crale and why. One of those people is Cecilia Williams, who was governess to Caroline Crale’s half-sister Angela Warren at the time of the murder. One fact about Miss Williams is that she is an ardent feminist. Her feminism and resentment of most men comes through in quite a lot of what she says and the way she behaves. It’s important to the story, too, as it gives her a possible motive for murder. Crale was having an affair when he was murdered, and didn’t do much to hide the fact, and Miss Williams thought that her employer was deeply wronged. Christie doesn’t tell us everything about Miss Williams. We don’t know for instance whether she has a good head for heights; it doesn’t matter to the story. But her feminism is important, so we learn about it.

We don’t know every detail about the childhood of Andrea Camilleri’s Salvo Montalbano. We don’t know for instance which teachers he liked best and which ones he really disliked. That isn’t really important to understanding his character and motivations. But we do know that one of his school friends was Gegè Gullatto. This is important because it explains the relationship the two men have now. Gullatto is a local crime boss and drug dealer who has several ‘business operations.’ Since they’re on opposite sides of the law, you’d think that he and Montalbano would regularly come into conflict. But that’s not what happens. They have a long history, and each respects the other. Besides, co-operating from time to time is helpful to both. For Gullatto’s part, he knows that as long as he keeps his ‘enterprises’ more or less under control, the police won’t give him a hard time. And Montalbano knows that he can depend on Gullatto to make sure that his employees don’t cause real trouble, and Gullatto is often a source of helpful information about what’s happening in the underworld.

You could say a similar sort of thing about Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti. We don’t know all of the details of his childhood. We don’t know which toys he liked best or who his very first girlfriend was. But we do know that his father was in the glass-blowing industry. That information helps us understand the way Brunetti goes about investigating the death of a glass-blowing factory night watchman in Through a Glass, Darkly. Giorgio Tassini dies one night while he’s on duty at the factory that employs him. At first it looks like a terrible accident, but there’s soon reason to believe that he was murdered. And that’s not far-fetched, since he’d been very vocal about toxic waste dumping on the part of the glass blowing industry. As Brunetti and his team investigate, we see how he uses what he knows about the industry, and how his memories of his father’s work play a role in his thinking.

In Gail Bowen’s The Wandering Souls Murders, academician and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn is preparing for her daughter Mieka’s engagement party. The party will be a weekend-long affair, hosted by Lorraine Harris, the mother of Mieka’s fiancé Greg. Matters get complicated when Christy Sinclair, the ex-girlfriend of Kilbourn’s son Peter, comes back in the family’s life and travels to the Harris home with the family. Christy has several issues to deal with, and Kilbourn had thought that Peter was well rid of her. But that doesn’t seem to be the case; in fact, she even says that she and Peter will be getting back together. Then one night during the party, Christy dies in a boating incident. At first the death looks like suicide. But it turns out that this was a case of murder, and that it’s connected with other recent deaths. We don’t learn every detail about Christy Sinclair. We don’t know which bands she likes best or what size shoe she wears. Those details aren’t really key to this mystery. But we do know that her home town is Blue Heron Point, and that matters a great deal. Bowen tells us the things we need to know about this character without ‘overload.’

Anthony Bidulka’s Tapas on the Ramblas begins when wealthy heiress and business executive Charity Wiser hires Saskatoon PI Russell Quant to find out who is trying to kill her. She suspects that it’s one of her family members, but she doesn’t know which one. Quant agrees to take the case and joins the family for a cruise. The idea is that he’ll ‘vet’ the various members of the family and then tell his client who’s guilty. The cruise turns out to be disastrous, with more than one death. In the end though, Quant finds out the truth about what’s been going on. As the novel goes on, we get to know several of the members of the Wiser family. We don’t know every detail about each one; that would be ‘information overload.’ But what does matter is that as Charity’s grand-daughter Flora puts it, the family is not, ‘physically adventurous.’ That’s important because it plays a role in the resentment the family feels towards Charity, who’s spent years putting together family holidays designed not to appeal to them (e.g. white-water rafting, cattle-herding at a dude ranch, and Formula One driving). The members of the family have only gone along with these plans because they’re all desperate for their share of the Wiser fortune. That piece of information about the family, and the fact that Charity takes advantage of it, matter to this plot.

And in the end, that’s arguably the key to what the author decides to share with readers. Some details about characters matter if they’re important to the plot – if they move it along or add to it. Others help make a character distinctive, and that adds to a story too. Sometimes it’s hard to choose which details serve those purposes and which don’t, but when an author gets it right, it makes for memorable characters.

 

Thanks, Moira and Rebecca.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Lamont Dozier and Brian and Eddie Holland, made popular by the Supremes.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Anthony Bidulka, Donna Leon, Gail Bowen

Don’t They Know It’s the End of the World*

RebuildingFor obvious reasons, a lot of crime novels include characters who are dealing with a great loss or trauma in their lives. Sometimes those characters are protagonists; sometimes they’re not. Either way, the author has to choose how to depict that coping process. And it is a process. On the one hand, most people understand that it takes time to pick up the pieces of life when something awful happens. On the other, there’s also pressure to move on and start living again. Sometimes that pressure is internal (e.g. ‘I really shouldn’t feel this way. I need to get on with my life.’). Other times, the pressure comes from well-meaning family members, friends, co-workers, etc. (e.g. ‘Come on, you really should start dating again/get back to work/etc.’). That process and the tension that comes with it can add much to character development in a novel, and it does reflect reality. Here are just a few examples. I’m quite certain you can think of many more than I could.

Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder is a former member of the NYPD. His career with the police ended after he targeted two armed thieves who murdered a bartender. In the process of going after them, he accidentally shot a young girl Estrellita Rivera. The shot was ‘clean,’ and no-one really blames Scudder. Even the victim’s family members understand that it was a terrible accident, but an accident. Still, that incident has permanently altered Scudder’s view of himself and of life. Despite pressure to move on and see the shooting for what it really was, Scudder has his own way of dealing with it, and it’s not a quick, easy process.

Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn Shreve has had to endure her share of life’s blows. As the series featuring her begins, she’s living with the loss of her husband Ian, who was murdered one night when he stopped to help two young people whose car had broken down. In the course of the series she continues to pick up the pieces and work out a new kind of life for herself and her family. It’s not always easy, either, particularly as she forms new intimate relationships. But that process adds to her development as a character.

Peter Temple’s Jack Irish is a Melbourne PI/sometimes-lawyer with his own share of sorrow to bear. He was a full-time attorney when a disturbed client shot his wife Isabel. Irish knows he wasn’t at fault for the murder, but it left him devastated all the same. At first he drowned his sorrows in far, far too much drink. But in Bad Debts,as the series begins, he’s begun to climb out of the proverbial bottle and get back to being alive. As the series moves on, we see that on the one hand, the process of living with what happened to Isabel is not easy. Irish grieves in his own way, and people have sympathy for him. On the other hand, life has not stopped. There are people in Irish’s life who care about him and who don’t want to see him completely disintegrate. They don’t pressure him with comments such as ‘You really ought to start dating again,’ or ‘Snap out of it!’ But they do encourage him to be a part of the human race again if I may put it that way. It’s interesting to see how they influence Irish.

In Åsa Larsson’s The Savage Altar (AKA Sun Storm), we first meet Stockholm attorney Rebecka Martinsson. She’s originally from Kiruna and although she had her own reasons for leaving, she puts them aside and returns for the sake of an old friend Sanna Stråndgard. Sanna’s brother Viktor has been murdered, and it isn’t long before the police begin to suspect that Sanna might be the killer. She claims she’s innocent, and asks Martinsson to act for her. In the course of the investigation, Martinsson goes through a traumatic incident that continues to affect her after the end of the novel. As the series goes on, she slowly starts living again. On the one hand, the people around her do have sympathy for her, and their first response is concern for her well-being. On the other, there is pressure for her to return to work and pick up her life again. There’s even awkwardness because she’s not ‘back to normal,’ whatever that means. Martinsson knows that coping is not going to be that simple, if it’s even possible, and it’s interesting to see how she slowly builds a new life in her own way.

Anthony Bidulka’s PI sleuth Russell Quant lives and works in Saskatoon, although he also travels quite a lot. On two levels, Quant deals with personal loss and tragedy as this series goes on. First, of course, there’s the fact that his cases bring him, and sometimes those he cares about, up against real danger. Quant is not superhuman, and some of his experiences leave him with real emotional trauma. Then there’s the matter of his personal life. On that level, Quant has to cope, as we all do, with the ups and downs of relationships and the deep sadness when they end. In some ways, he’d like very much just to pick his life up and move on. But as he learns, life’s not that simple and it can leave lasting scars. In this series, Quant’s friends and family members find ways to help him pick himself up and go on. So in that sense they do put what you might call pressure on him. But it’s not the uncaring, ‘Get it together!’ sort of pressure that often just makes things worse. Instead, they remind him that life is generally a very good thing, and rely on him to take their cue.

In Split Second, Cath Staincliffe explores the way families move on after tragedy strikes. One day, Luke Murray is riding a bus when three fellow passengers begin to bully him. Jason Barnes, who’s also on the bus, intervenes and for a time the harassment stops. Then Luke gets off the bus, and so do the bullies. Jason does, too, and the bullying starts again. Jason continues to stay involved and the fight escalates all the way to Jason’s front yard. When it’s all over, Luke’s been gravely injured and Jason is dead of a stab wound. As the police work to find out who the bullies were and what the story is behind the incident, Jason’s parents Andrew and Val have to cope with the worst thing that can ever happen to any caring parent. Everyone is sympathetic, but as time goes by, we can see how they begin to feel pressure to pick up their lives. It’s not overt pressure and you could argue that they bring most of it to bear on themselves. But there is tension as they struggle to find a way to re-build themselves. In the meantime, Luke’s mother Louise faces that sort of pressure too. Her son is in a coma from which he may not recover, and everyone understands her deep sense of sorrow. At the same time, her daughter Ruby has a life ahead of her, and Louise still has to be there for her. That tension between accepting that dealing with grief is a process, and the pull to pick up the pieces, certainly plays a role in this novel.

It does in real life too. Life doesn’t stop just because a horrible thing has happened. And sometimes balancing that with the very normal and healthy need to grieve is difficult. OK, over to you.

 

 
 

*NOTE:  The title of this song is a line from Arthur Kent and Sylvia Dee’s The End of the World, made popular by Skeeter Davis.

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Filed under Anthony Bidulka, Åsa Larsson, Cath Staincliffe, Gail Bowen, Lawrence Block, Peter Temple

We Dress Our Days in Silken Robes*

SpasIf you’ve ever wanted a getaway day at a spa, you’re not alone. Day spas and resort spas are popular places to unwind and relax. And they offer all sorts of health and beauty treatments that people swear really make a difference. But if you think that spas are all peaceful and healthy, then perhaps you’re not a fan of crime fiction. Because plenty of crime fiction takes place in spas and spa-type resorts.

In Agatha Christie’s Hickory Dickory Dock (AKA Hickory Dickory Death), for instance, Hercule Poirot investigates a series of odd thefts and other goings-on at a student hostel. Poirot visits the place one evening and gets to meet some of the people who live there. When he recommends calling in the police, one of the residents Celia Austin confesses to several of the thefts. At first it looks as though the matter is solved. But two nights later, Celia dies of what turns out to be poison. Now Poirot and Inspector Sharpe are faced with a case of murder. It turns out that there’s more going on at the hostel than it seems on the surface. One part of the trail leads to Sabrina Fair, a salon and spa that’s owned in part by one of the hostel’s residents, so the police pay the place a visit. That trip doesn’t solve the murder or explain everything. But there is a clue there, and that visit gives readers a look at the inner workings of a spa.

Even though Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe rarely leaves his home, he makes an exception in Too Many Cooks. Wolfe has been invited to give the keynote address to Les Quinze Maîtres, a meeting of the world’s fifteen greatest chefs. The meeting is to take place at the exclusive Kanawha Spa in West Virginia, and Wolfe reluctantly allows himself to be persuaded to make the trip with Archie Goodwin. One evening, master chef Phillip Laszio is stabbed. Suspicion falls on another master chef Jerome Berin. But Wolfe doesn’t think he’s guilty. So despite all his determination to keep out of the matter, Wolfe and Archie Goodwin look into the case. Throughout the story, we see how an upmarket resort works, and how much work is put into making things look…effortless.

An upmarket spa is the setting for Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s My Soul to Take, and it isn’t a very restful one. Spa owner Jónas Júlíusson has hired Reykjavík attorney Thóra Gudmundsdóttir to represent him in a lawsuit he’s pursuing. He wants to sue the former owners of the land on which his spa is built, because he claims the land is haunted and the former owners never told him about it. Thóra doesn’t believe in ghosts, but she is interested in the fee. Besides, a stay in a posh spa is appealing. So she agrees to take the case. While she’s there, the body of another spa guest Birna Hálldorsdóttir is discovered on a beach not far from the resort. It doesn’t take much police investigation to learn that there was a relationship between the victim and Jónas Júlíusson. So he becomes a suspect in her killing. Now he asks Thóra to continue to continue to represent him, this time in the murder case. She agrees and looks into the death more closely. It turns out that several people in the area are keeping some dark secrets from the past, and that they have everything to do with the victim’s death.

In River Deep, Priscilla Masters introduces us to Shrewsbury Coroner Martha Gunn. As Coroner, she is responsible for investigating cases of sudden and violent deaths, homicides and deaths that occur in prison. So she and her team take the case when the body of an unknown man floats out of a basement after the Severn overflows its banks. The owner of the house James Humphreys claims not to know the dead man, and there seems no connection between the two. So the team will have to dig deeper into this case. At one point, Gunn decides to follow up on a particular lead. The person she wants to see works at a very upmarket spa, and Gunn wouldn’t mind taking a one-day break. But this person might recognise her as the coroner, so Gunn uses a carefully chosen outfit and some washable hair tint and a different sort of hairdo. That disguise is enough to let Gunn go to the spa and pursue that lead, although she’s nervous about being caught out. And her spa trip is luxurious, if risky.

Jill Edmondson’s Toronto PI Sasha Jackson pays a visit to a spa in Blood and Groom. Christine Arvisais hires Jackson to find out who killed her former fiancé Gordon Hanes. She tells Jackson that Hanes’ family and friends blame her for the murder, but she’s innocent and wants to clear her name. Jackson takes the case and starts looking into the victim’s background and other connections. In doing so she finds that there’s more than one suspect. But she doesn’t automatically take her client’s innocence for granted. So she looks into Arvisais’ background too. Health and beauty spas are perfect places to find out gossip about people, so Jackson treats herself to a day at the same spa that Arvisais and her mother use. While she’s there she learns something that puts her client into an entirely different light. It doesn’t solve the murder, but it’s an important piece of information.

And then there’s Anthony Bidulka’s Sundowner Ubuntu. In that novel, Clara Ridge hires Saskatoon PI Russell Quant to find her son Matthew, whom she hasn’t seen in twenty years. Quant wants to begin locally, but learns that the trail leads to the Chobe Lodge spa in South Africa, where Matthew’s boyfriend Kevan is a masseur. At first Quant’s reluctant to take a potentially dangerous trip like that. Among other concerns, he wonders whether the South African police might be better equipped to handle the matter. But his client insists and is willing to pay, so he he makes his plans. It turns out that Quant’s first instincts are right; this is a dangerous trip and the Chobe Lodge spa is anything but a restful place to relax in the proverbial lap of luxury. And when Quant finds out the truth about Matthew’s disappearance, the case takes on a whole new dimension.

See what I mean? Spas can be refreshing and relaxing. They can pamper clients as few other places can, and lots of people find them irresistible. But safe? Erm….not always. So if your weekend plans include a stay at a spa, do be careful won’t you? You never know what could happen… ;-)

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s I’ve Loved These Days.  

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Bidulka, Jill Edmondson, Priscilla Masters, Rex Stout

But Times Have Changed and Things are Not the Same, Baby*

TimesHaveChangedToday’s savvy crime fiction fans want stories that reflect real life. I don’t just mean characters who behave in believable ways, although that’s important of course. I’m really referring here to other kinds of credibility. Here’s just one example. Suppose for instance that a character travels. It would be very difficult to do that, especially internationally, without that travel being documented. And if a character is a suspect in a crime, the police will at some point have access to those records. So a plot in which the police couldn’t find that information wouldn’t be credible. To take just one more example, consider the process of obtaining and showing identification. Of course it’s possible, if one has the right connections, to get forged documents. False documents are also given to certain top-secret government operatives and to people who participate in witness protection programs. And there’s the whole issue of identity theft, especially online identity. But for most of us, it would be difficult, perhaps even impossible, to go through our daily lives pretending to be someone else.

In some ways, this adds to the challenge of modern crime writing. In Sherlock Holmes’ A Scandal in Bohemia, for instance, Sherlock Holmes is approached by the King of Bohemia, who is about to be married. He’s concerned because his former lover Irene Adler has a compromising ‘photo of them. If it comes to light, the marriage plans will be scuttled. Holmes finds out where Irene Adler is and although she ends up, if you will, with all of the proverbial cards, the king is able to go ahead with the wedding. This story arguably couldn’t really happen today. For one thing, the king is only worried about getting that one ‘photo. With today’s online digital photography and online social media, the king would have no hope of keeping that ‘photo secret.

The major premise of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (AKA Ten Little Indians) is that a group of people is visiting Indian Island off the Devon coast, stranded by a storm. They’ve each been invited under a different pretext but as they soon find out, they were brought there deliberately. And when, one by one, they begin to die, it’s clear that there’s a murderer among them. As it’s written, it’s a very suspenseful story in part because there seems no escape from the danger; the people on the island really are cut off. Today’s crime writer would have some challenges writing a story with that scenario. After all, almost everyone has mobile ‘phones. It’s harder to be completely stranded than it was. It’s certainly possible, but today’s author would have to work to make it plausible.

Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s Roseanna concerns the murder of Roseanna Mcgraw, a young woman from the US state of Nebraska. She is murdered during a cruise of Swedish cities, and one of the first challenges the police face is identifying her. It takes quite some time to connect the dead woman with the woman who was reported missing in Nebraska and then more time to establish the victim’s itinerary. After several months, Stockholm homicide detective Martin Beck and his team get their answers and are able to focus on the right suspect. Today’s crime writer would have to account for a few things in order to sustain a story like this. For example, today, there’s instant communication among police forces, even internationally. What’s more, computer databases give police easy access to the kind of information that Martin Beck and his team need. And then of course there’s the reality of email, texting and the like. A crime writer would have to explain a disappearance like Roseanna’s in more depth.

It might seem then that today’s crime writers have a much harder task in terms of making stories realistic than did crime writers of the past. But I’m not sure it’s that easy. Here are just a few examples of what I mean. In Karin Fossum’s The Water’s Edge, Oslo homicide detective Konrad Sejer and his assistant Jacob Skarre investigate the death of seven-year-old Jonas August Løwe. When a couple out for a Sunday walk discover Jonas’ body, they call the police and an investigation is started immediately. Modern technology means that the police are notified quickly, the body is identified very soon thereafter, and Sejer and Skarre can begin the process of finding out who killed the boy. What it also means is that Fossum can focus on the investigation and on the characters involved rather than take a lot of time to explain how the boy is identified and so on.

Today’s realities can also add to a story’s interest. For example, in one plot thread of Katherine Howell’s Violent Exposure, New South Wales Police detective Ella Marconi and her team investigate when Suzanne Crawford is murdered. In part because of a previous incident of possible domestic violence, her husband Connor is the obvious suspect. But he seems to have disappeared. What’s more (and this is adds to the story’s suspense), when the police look into his background, it turns out that they can’t find anything. There are no records that he ever existed. Given today’s documentation, that doesn’t make much sense. But that’s just what makes the case more interesting and for Marconi and the team, more challenging. In the end though, we find out the truth about both mysteries. In this case, Howell takes advantage of the realities of today’s world to add to the storyline.

There’s also Anthony Bidulka’s When the Saints Come Marching In, which introduces us to CDRA (Canadian Disaster Relief Agency) agent Adam Saint. Saint is a part of a top-secret agency that provides assistance anywhere in the world when wars or other disasters affect Canadians or Canadian interests. Saint travels to Magadan, in the Russian Federation, when his boss is killed during the investigation of a plane crash. There’s more to it of course than that, but Saint drops the investigation and returns home to Saskatchewan when a personal emergency ends his career with the CDRA. As you can imagine, though, the story doesn’t end there. This novel and others like it depend on modern realities. Saint travels on very little notice, something that couldn’t happen without today’s realities. He has access to the very latest in modern technology too. And there are other aspects of the plot that wouldn’t be credible at all without modern realities.

Developments such as DNA testing, modern identification documents and procedures, and global communication mean that some kinds of stories that we used to take for granted wouldn’t be credible today. So in some ways, today’s writers have more considerations than ever if they’re to sustain credibility. At the same time though, new realities have made possible all sorts of new kinds of storylines.

What about you? Are you bothered by lapses in credibility (e.g. ‘You know she had a mobile; why didn’t she call for help?’). If you’re a writer, how do you address the issue?

 

 
 

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

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Bidulka, Arthur Conan Doyle, Karin Fossum, Katherine Howell, Maj Sjöwall, Per Wahlöö

Never Been to Spain*

SpainI’m very much enjoying my visit to Spain thus far. And I am happy to report that I haven’t run into any criminal situations. But not every visitor to Spain is quite so fortunate. Just look at crime fiction and you’ll see lots of examples. I’m only going to mention a few of them, but that should be enough to show you what I mean.

In Agatha Christie’s 4:50 From Paddington (AKA What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!) we meet the Crackenthorpe family. They get involved in a murder case when the body of an unknown woman is found on the property of their family home Rutherford Hall. At first, no-one in the family even knows the body is there. But Miss Marple has deduced it based on what she’s learned from her friend Elspeth McGillicuddy. So Miss Marple gets her friend Lucy Eyelesbarrow to help her in finding out the truth about what’s really been going on at Rutherford Hall. One of the family members is Cedric Crackenthorpe, son of patriarch Luther Crackenthorpe. Cedric becomes a suspect in the murder and becomes quite interested in Lucy. And it just so happens that he lives on Ibiza.

Helen MacInnes’ Message From Málaga is the story of Ian Ferrier, who works with the US Space Agency. He’s UsedBookstaking some time to visit his friend wine exporter Jeff Reid. What Ferrier doesn’t know is that Reid is also a CIA operative. His particular charge is helping communist defectors (the book was published in 1971) who want to start a new life in the West. Instead of a relaxing holiday in Spain, Ferrier finds himself helping to cover up and assist the defection of a high-level KGB agent. Matters are made more complicated by the fact that Ferrier doesn’t know the local culture; nor does he know whom he can trust.

Both Jonathan Robb and Alan Furst have written historical novels that focus on the Spanish Civil War. In Robb’s The Second Son, which takes place in 1936, we meet Chief Inspector Nikolai Hoffner. He is a former member of the Kriminalpolizei who was forced out of his position because he is half-Jewish. Having any Jewish background is dangerous enough. But then Hoffner discovers that his son Georg is in danger; he’s gotten mixed up in the Civil War in Spain. Nikolai travels to Spain to rescue his son if he can, and finds that events there aren’t really any safer than they are in Germany.

Furst’s The Foreign Correspondent is the story of Reuter’s journalist Carlo Weisz. He’s been living in Spain, reporting on the end of the Spanish Civil War and the ultimate defeat of the Republicans. While there, Weisz learns of the links between the Nationalist forces and the Fascist regimes of Italy and Germany. That’s how he becomes involved with, and later the leader of, a group of anti-fascist Italian refugees. Among their resistance activities is the smuggling of an anti-fascist newspaper into Italy. With that background, you wouldn’t think that Weisz would risk a trip to Germany, but he does. This novel depicts the political links among the various fascist powers of the pre-World War II era.

In Anthony Bidulka’s Tapas on the Ramblas, Saskatoon PI Russell Quant gets a new client. Wealthy family business owner Charity Wiser is convinced that one of her family members is trying to kill her. She wants Quant to join a family cruise on her private boat to sleuth the various members and find out who her enemy is. Quant agrees and prepares for the trip. The boat is supposed to travel smoothly from Barcelona to Rome, but a murder attempt and, later, a murder turn the trip deadly. Among other things, this novel gives readers a look at one of Spain’s truly lovely cities.

And then there’s Liza Marklund’s The Long Shadow. Usually, journalist Annika Bengtzon lives and works in Sweden, mostly in Stockholm. But then a gang of thieves kills former sport star Sebastian Söderström and his family and because he was Swedish, the Swedish media picks the story up. Among other plot threads in this novel, Bengzton follows this story to Spain’s Costa del Sol, where the killings occurred. She has to cope with more then the murders, too; there are issues with her ex-husband and an interesting undercover detective, among other things. This novel really has two major contexts, and shows the culture of ex-pat Swedes who’ve made lives in Spain.

See what I mean? Spain is irresistible…  I’ve given a few examples. Your turn.

 

ps That sign on the second ‘photo says ‘Used Books.’ OK, don’t tell me you’re surprised… ;-)

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Three Dog Night.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alan Furst, Anthony Bidulka, Helen MacInnes, Jonathan Robb, Liza Marklund