Category Archives: Anthony Bidulka

Ev’rything Was So Well Organized*

Organized and Planned MurdersIn Arthur Upfield’s Death of a Swagman, Queensland Police Inspector Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte travels to the small town of Merino to investigate the murder of stockman George Kendall, whose body is found in an isolated hut. Bony’s working on that case when another body is found. This time it’s a transient worker John Way, who seems to have committed suicide. It’s a strange case, but Bony puts the pieces together. At one point, he’s talking to Sergeant Richard Marshall about the sort of murder case this is:

 

‘Very often the crime of murder is the effect of thought extended over a lengthy period. In other words, the actual act of a crime is the effect of long and careful planning, following an idea which has become an obsession.’

 

It’s an interesting point. There are of course plenty of real-life and fictional murders that are ‘heat of the moment’ type killings. But there are also lots of very calculated murders too. And those murders can be chilling. We can understand how someone might kill in the heat of rage or fear, for instance. But a planned, carefully orchestrated murder is a different sort of thing. But as you already know, there are people who commit such murders and they show up in crime fiction just as they do in real life.

Agatha Christie wrote about such murders in several of her works. I’ll just mention one. In The ABC Murders, Hercule Poirot works with Scotland Yard and the local police to solve a series of murders. The only things that seem to link all of the killings is that Poirot receives a cryptic warning before each one, and that an ABC railway guide is found near each body. On the surface of it, the crimes look like the work of a deranged serial killer. But as Poirot discovers, these crimes are far more calculated than that.

In Anthondy Bidulka’s Tapas on the Ramblas, wealthy meat company heiress Charity Wiser believes that someone in her family is trying to kill her. She hires Saskatoon PI Russell Quant to find out who the would-be murderer is. Her idea is that Quant will join the family on a cruise so that he can sleuth each member. Quant agrees and everyone boards the ship. As Quant gets to know the different people in the Wiser clan, he finds out that beneath the ‘happy family’ surface there’s a lot of tension, resentment and dysfunction. In the course of the cruise there are two attempts at murder. Then there’s a successful murder. Quant finds that behind everything that happens, there’s cold calculation and careful planning.

Private detective Dandelion ‘Dandy’ Gilver finds the same thing in Catriona McPherson’s Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains. She gets a letter from Walburga ‘Lollie’ Balfour, claiming that her husband Philip ‘Pip’ is trying to kill her and asking Dandy’s help. The only problem is, Lollie doesn’t want Pip to find out she’s hired a detective. So, Dandy goes to the Balfour home under the guise of a maid seeking a job. Using the name Fanny Rossiter, Dandy settles into her new position. Late on the night of Fanny’s arrival, Pip is stabbed. Superintendent Hardy takes the case and after Dandy explains who she is and why she’s there, he starts to listen to what she has to say. Besides, as a member of the staff, Dandy’s in a good position to hear things that might not be said in Hardy’s presence. Slowly Dandy finds out the truth about who really killed Pip and why, and it turns out that this has been a very carefully calculated and planned murder. There was nothing spontaneous about it.

There’s nothing spontaneous about the murder of Reginald Hart in Chris Grabenstein’s Tilt a Whirl either. Sea Haven, New Jersey police officer John Ceepak and summer hire Danny Boyle are faced with an ugly killing when Hart is shot early one morning. His daughter Ashley is the only apparent witness. Her description of the killer matches a local vagrant nicknamed ‘Squeegee’ so a search is made for him. But there are other possibilities. For one thing, Hart made his money through (often) illegal and (usually) unethical property acquisition. More than one person has good cause to hate him for that. And then there’s his personal life. It could also be that one or another of Hart’s dubious ‘business associates’ hired Squeegee to kill him. Ceepak and Boyle are busy following up leads when Ashley is kidnapped. Now there’s an even greater sense of urgency to solve this case and track down the killer before anything happens to Ashley. In the end, Ceepack and Boyle discover that this was a very carefully orchestrated crime.

The main plot in Katherine Howell’s Violent Exposure is the murder of Suzanne Crawford. She is killed the day after a domestic dispute with her husband Connor, so the first theory is that he murdered her. But Connor has disappeared. So New South Wales police detective Ella Marconi and her partner Dennis Orchard have two mysteries to solve. They soon discover a third: Connor Crawford seems to have no personal history. Background checks on him reveal nothing. Then Emil Page, a teen volunteer who worked at the Crawfords’ nursery, also disappears. If they’re going to find Connor and Emil, Marconi and her team will have to work quickly. They discover that those disappearances are related to the Crawfords’ complicated personal histories, and that everything that’s happened was carefully planned. Suzanne’s murder was far from a ‘heat of the moment’ case of tragic domestic violence.

There’s a very interesting case of a calculated crime in Tarquin Hall’s The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing. Dr. Suresh Jha is stabbed one morning while he is attending a meeting of the Rajpath Laughing Club. According to many witnesses, the goddess Kali appears at the meeting and murders Jha in retribution for his campaign to expose religious chicanery. Jha was determined to stop people from mindlessly believing in so-called ‘spiritual leaders’ who take advantage of the need for spiritual connection. In fact, he was the founder and head of the Delhi Institute for Rationalism and Education (D.I.R.E.). So for a lot of people, murder by goddess is not a far-fetched explanation for Jha’s death. But private investigator Vishwas ‘Vish’ Puri is not convinced. He takes an interest in the case since Jha is a former client, and he begins to ask questions. In the end, he and his team find that the Suresh Jha case is not what it seems on the surface. Certainly it’s not a case of a goddess suddenly killing someone in the heat of anger.

Although a lot of murders are committed without much planning, there are plenty also that are carefully orchestrated. Those calculated murders are perhaps even creepier than the other kind. I’ve only had space here to mention a few. Which ones have you thought were well-written?

 

 
 

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

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Bidulka, Arthur Upfield, Catriona McPherson, Chris Grabenstein, Katherine Howell, Tarquin Hall

When the Sun Burst Through the Sky*

SunriseIt may be because of human biorhythms, the benefits of sleep, or our instinctive feeling of greater safety during daylight, but very often, things just seem better when the morning comes. I’ll bet you’ve thought or been told that ‘It’ll all look different in the morning.’ And quite often it does. Now admittedly, not everyone is a ‘morning person.’ Still, there is often greater optimism in the morning whether you’re a ‘morning person’ or a ‘night owl.’ That sense that things will be better in the morning has seeped into crime fiction too.

For example, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Red-Headed League, pawnbroker Jabez Wilson has brought a very odd mystery to Sherlock Holmes. He was offered an easy but unusual job by a group calling itself the Red-Headed League. All Wilson had to do was copy the Encyclopaedia Britannica. So long as he didn’t leave the office during his work hours he was promised decent pay for what seemed like little effort. At first all went well. Wilson was able to leave his pawn business to his assistant for a few hours each day and earn extra income. What puzzles and worries him though is that The Red Headed-League suddenly disbanded, leaving no-one in its offices. Holmes and Dr. Watson investigate, and Holmes discovers that the whole thing was a plot to get Wilson out of his pawn shop so that it could be used to tunnel into a nearby bank. Once that discovery is made, Holmes, Watson and the bank manager spend a long and uncomfortable night waiting for the bank robbers to make their move. They do, and the ringleader is duly caught. It all looks better though as the morning comes and Holmes explains to Watson what his thinking was.

It all looks better in the morning in Agatha Christie’s The Murder on the Links, too. In that novel, Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings travel to Merlinville-sur-Mer at the request of Paul Renauld. Renauld has claimed that his life is in danger because of a secret he possesses, and he wants Poirot to come to his assistance. By the time that happens though, it’s too late: Renauld has been stabbed on the grounds of his own property. Bit by bit, Poirot uncovers Renauld’s past history as well as several possible motives for his murder. Eventually Poirot finds out who the killer is, and he and Hastings set up an all-night vigil at the Renauld home to catch that person. With important help from a rather enigmatic young acrobat who calls herself Cinderella, the killer is stopped. It’s all quite traumatic and exhausting though, and no-one is willing to answer Hastings’ questions about what really happened. But it all looks better in the morning when Hastings wakes up.

 

‘I awoke to find the sun pouring in through the open windows and Poirot, neat and smiling, sitting beside the bed.’

 

Among other good things, Hastings gets an explanation for everything that went on the night before.

Scott Young’s Murder in a Cold Climate introduces readers to Matthew ‘Matteesie’ Kitologitak of the RCMP. He’s planning to travel from Inuvik back to Ottawa where he lives when he gets a call that drastically changes his plans. Three men believed to be involved in drugs trafficking have disappeared along with the Cessna they had chartered. Matteesie’s boss thinks that it’s possible the men have deliberately lost themselves. It’s also of course possible that their Cessna went down and they’ve been injured or killed. Either way, the Cessna’s owner wants to know what happened to his plane, and of course, the RCMP wants to know about any drugs trafficking in the Northwest Territories. Matteesie agrees to see what he can find out. He’s soon caught up in a murder investigation though, when he takes the same flight from Inuvik as Native activist Morton Cavendish, who’s on his way to Edmonton for emergency medical care. When the plane makes a stop at Norman Wells, a gunman forces his way onto the plane and shoots Cavendish. Matteesie begins to investigate the murder while he’s still trying to look into the downed Cessna. It turns out that the two cases are related and it all comes together during an overnight snowmobile trip that Matteesie takes into the Arctic bush. He gets his answers, but the night is long, dangerous and cold and even though Matteesie is experienced, he’s still at risk. It all looks better when daylight comes the next day though. Some friends he’s made along the way come looking for him and in the end, he returns safely to Fort Norman.

Lilian Jackson Braun’s journalist sleuth James ‘Qwill’ Qwilleran travels to Breakfast Island (AKA Providence Island, Grand Island and Pear Island) in The Cat Who Came to Breakfast. A friend who owns a B & B on the island has asked Qwill to look into some odd incidents of what look like sabotage. Qwill is persuaded to go and soon takes up residence at the Domino Inn. He discovers that there’s a long-standing feud between the island’s natives and developers who are building upmarket hotels and shops. There’s also a group of wealthy summer visitors who have their own island culture. In the midst of this tension, some upsetting things begin to happen. There’s a food poisoning, a drowning, a boat explosion, and a shooting. Qwill puts the pieces of the puzzle together, but in the meantime, new trouble comes in the form of a terrible storm that strikes the island. It’s an awful night when the storm hits, and everyone is badly shaken. They are especially glad when morning finally comes and the sun shines.

In Anthony Bidulka’s Flight of Aquavit, Daniel Guest hires Saskatoon PI Russell Quant to find out who’s been blackmailing him. Guest is a successful business executive who’s been married for several years. But he’s also had some trysts with other men, and someone’s found out about his secret life. Quant would rather see Guest come out as gay, but Guest isn’t willing to do that. So Quant looks into the matter. Someone doesn’t want any interference though. Soon enough, there’s a murder. Quant’s investigating that when he and his friend Jared Lowe are ambushed and abandoned in the middle of nowhere, as the saying goes. This is Saskatchewan just before Christmas, so the danger of death by exposure is immediate and real. Still, the two men manage to find some shelter and get through the night alive. Everything starts to look better the next morning though. The two men even find a shack where they can keep warm. Still, Lowe’s been wounded and Quant’s not in exactly perfect shape himself. So both men are glad when Saskatoon Police Service (SPS) Officer Darren Kirsch arrives:

 

‘Despite our history of congenial dislike, I was never so glad to see someone as I was that Christmas Eve morning to see Darren Kirsch, coming through the door of that shack with two RCMP officers at his heels.’

 

There are still one or two ‘loose ends’ in the case, but the coming of that particular morning makes it all seem better.

Some dangerous, scary things happen during the night in crime novels. Little wonder that even those who aren’t ‘morning people’ can be very happy to see the sun come up.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Bidulka, Arthur Conan Doyle, Lilian Jackson Braun, Scott Young

I’ve Been Moved By Some Things That I’ve Learned*

Lessons From ReadingOne of the real pleasures of reading, at least for me, is the things that I learn about when I read. My guess is, that’s true of most book lovers. Of course a good plot and believable, interesting characters matter. Otherwise a novel becomes a textbook. But a well-written story can also offer readers insights and information that they didn’t know before. And perhaps it’s just my perspective, but I think that knowledge is a good thing. We all know different things and read different books, so for each of us, what we learn will also be different. But, speaking strictly for myself, here are a few things I’ve learned from the crime fiction that I’ve read.

 

Different Communities I Didn’t Even Know Were There

 

Of course people migrate all over the world. But I’ve still been surprised to learn about some of the communities there are in some unexpected places. For instance, in Craig Johnson’s Death Without Company, Absaroka County, Wyoming Sheriff Walt Longmire is faced with a very difficult crime. Mari Baroja, a resident of the Durant Home for Assisted Living, is found dead of what turns out to be poison. Longmire, his deputy Victoria ‘Vic’ Moretti, and new hire Santiago Saizarbitoria begin sifting through the evidence, starting with the members of the victim’s family. Bit by bit, we learn about Mari Baroja’s past, and how incidents from fifty years ago have influenced what happens in the present day. One of the interesting things about this novel is that the victim is a member of Wyoming’s Basque community. It turns out that Wyoming has a large Basque population, something I hadn’t known before. But Johnson weaves that into the story so that it comes up naturally, rather than feeling forced.

Another community I learned about through crime fiction is the Ukrainian community in Canada’s prairie provinces. We get a look at that community in Gail Bowen’s first Joanne Kilbourn mystery Deadly Appearances. Up-and-coming politician Androu ‘Andy’ Boychuk is poisoned during a speech that he’s giving at a Sunday School picnic. Kilbourn was a friend of Boychuk’s as well as being one of his political campaign workers. So she’s devastated at his loss. She decides to write a biography of Boychuk to help her deal with her grief. In the process of finding out about Boychuk’s life, she also finds out who murdered him. And readers find out about Saskatchewan’s Ukrainian community, to which Boychuk belonged. Anthony Bidulka’s PI Russell Quant is also a member of that community since his mother is Ukrainian, and readers learn about Saskatchewan Ukrainians in the novels that feature him. In those series and in Nelson Brunanski’s John ‘Bart’ Bartowski series, readers learn about the Ukrainian influence on the Canadian prairie. There are even Ukrainian language programs in some schools in that part of the country.

I’ve learned about other communities I hadn’t been aware of too. There just isn’t room to mention all of them.

 

Things About the Legal System

 

One of the things that I enjoy about well-written legal mysteries is that sometimes, they turn on an important point of law that isn’t always widely known. So besides solid characters and plotting, I’ve also learned some interesting legal precedents and facts.

For example, in Perri O’Shaughnessy’s Breach of Promise, the case of Lindy Markov hinges on what’s been called ‘palimony’ in the United States. Lindy and her common-law husband Mike have been together for twenty years when Mike has an affair with his company’s vice-president for financial services Rachel Pembroke. Very soon Lindy finds herself removed from the company position she’s held and ordered to evacuate the home she’s shared with Mike for their entire relationship. She hires Tahoe attorney Nina Reilly to sue Mike on her behalf for her share of the profits from the company she helped him build. In part, this case has to do with the rights that a common-law spouse has. The answer isn’t clear-cut, and it varies by jurisdiction. This novel also taught me a lot about the process of jury selection and the work involved in preparing for a major trial.

Martin Clark’s The Legal Limit features Virginia brothers Mason and Gates Hunt. The two share an unhappy childhood, but that’s about all they have in common. Gates squanders his athletic ability and ends up living on his girlfriend’s Welfare money and money he gets from his mother. Mason on the other hand makes use of every opportunity he gets, wins an academic scholarship to university and then goes on to law school. One night, he’s with his brother when an argument flares up between Gates and his romantic rival Wayne Thompson. Before anyone really knows what’s happened, Gates has shot Thompson. Out of a sense of duty, Mason helps his brother cover up the crime and the Hunt brothers move on. Years later, Gates is arrested for cocaine trafficking and begs his brother, now a Virginia commonwealth prosecutor, to help get him out of prison. Mason refuses, and Gates then threatens that if his brother doesn’t co-operate, he’ll implicate him in the still-unsolved Thompson murder. Mason calls his brother’s bluff and soon enough he’s indicted for a murder he didn’t commit. With the police targeting him and Gates willingly lying about the murder, Mason doesn’t have many options. But there’s one point of law that may be exactly what he needs. It’s a fact of law that I didn’t know until I read this novel. With help from his deputy prosecutor Custis Norman, Mason uses that legal point to his advantage.

Those are of course just two examples of novels where an important aspect of the law is explored. When they’re done well, such novels make points of law not just comprehensible to a non-attorney, but really engaging as well.

 

Politics and History That I Didn’t Know Before

 

Some political history makes international headlines, but there’s a lot that I didn’t know about before I started reading crime fiction. And sometimes, politics can be really interesting. For instance, in Kel Robertson’s Smoke and Mirrors, readers learn about Australia’s 1972-1975 Gough Whitlam government. In that novel, Australian Federal Police (AFP) officer Bradman ‘Brad’ Chen and his team investigate the murders of former Whitlam government official Alec Dennet and the editor of his memoirs Loraine Starck. Then it comes out that the manuscript they were working on has disappeared. Now it looks as though someone was afraid that Dennet might reveal some uncomfortable things about high-ranking people in the Whitlam government. The truth is both more complicated and simpler than that, but it leads to some interesting background on that government.

I also learned a lot about Australia’s women’s movement in Wendy James’ Out of the Silence. That’s a fictionalised account of the 1900 trial of Maggie Heffernan for the murder of her infant son. As the novel makes clear, it’s much more complicated than a mother who simply ‘snapped.’ As James gives readers the background on Maggie’s life and the circumstances that may have led to the death of her son, we also learn that her cause was taken up by leading members of the Australian movement for women’s suffrage. One character in the novel for instance is Vida Goldstein, the first woman to run for Parliament in the British Commonwealth. I didn’t know that. The novel also gives some really interesting background on the women’s movement that had a powerful effect on the Heffernan trial. I also didn’t know before reading this novel (and afterwards, doing a bit of looking on my own) that South Australia was the first state to grant women’s suffrage (in 1895). Australian women were given the vote at the federal level in 1902, nearly twenty years before it happened in the U.S.  The things crime fiction teaches you!

Those are just a few of the many things that I’ve learned about that I never knew before reading crime fiction. What about you? I’m not talking here of things like recipes or names of places, as interesting as those can be. Rather, I mean things going on, perhaps even in your lifetime, that you never knew. If you’re a writer, has something you learned inspired you to write a story about it?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bill Staines’ River.

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Filed under Anthony Bidulka, Craig Johnson, Gail Bowen, Kel Robertson, Martin Clark, Nelson Brunanski, Perri O'Shaughnessy, Wendy James

But You May Fade, My Dog Will Always Come Through*

Dogs in crimeficHello, Humans,

For those of you who don’t yet know me, I am Indy. Together with my roommate Mr. Metoo, I own Margot Kinberg, who keeps this blog. Margot’s lazily taking the day off (humans!!!), but no matter. I am more capable than she is anyway of tackling today’s topic.

We dogs have had a long and close relationship with humans for thousands of years. I didn’t pay close attention in dog-history class, so I won’t bother giving examples. But you already probably know that dogs and humans have a long history together.

Dogs also play very important roles in crime fiction. Now, Margot and I have no patience whatsoever with fictional dogs who don’t act like, well, dogs. I mean, really! But there is plenty of crime fiction that features dogs that actually act authentic.

One of my favourite human writers is Agatha Christie. She mentions dogs quite often in her novels. To give just one instance, Dumb Witness (AKA Poirot Loses a Client) stars Bob, a likeable terrier. He owns Emily Arundell, a wealthy elderly woman with several financially desperate relatives. Miss Arundell is fairly intelligent for a human, and guesses that one of her relatives may be up to no good. So she writes a letter to Hercule Poirot asking for his help with a delicate matter. She doesn’t specify what it is, but the letter is enough to bring Poirot and Hastings to the village of Market Basing. They arrive too late to save Miss Arundell though. By they time they get there she’s been poisoned. Now Poirot and Hastings work through all of the clues to find out which of several suspects did the dirty deed. I should mention that Bob provides a very important clue.

There’s also Hannibal of course. He’s a brave little guy who owns Tommy and Tuppence Beresford. There, Hannibal, I’ve put you in the post as I promised.

M.C. Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth is the local bobby in the Highlands village of Lochdubh. He’s content with quiet village life and quite honestly has very little professional ambition. And who can blame him? Macbeth is owned in several of the novels in that series by a hunting dog named Towser. In other novels he’s owned by Lugs (erm – not exactly a flattering name, Ms. Beaton!). Both canines make excellent companions and Macbeth knows that. He shares his food with them, takes them on walks, well, you get the idea. And while neither Towser nor Lugs is the ‘star’ of the series, they add quite a lot to Macbeth’s life. I mean after all, he has his issues with finding true love with a human, so it’s just as well he’s got canine friendship. At least he gets that right.

And then there’s D.S. Nelson’s stories featuring milliner Blake Heatherington. Heatherington has owned Heatherington’s Hats for years, and has learned to tell quite a lot about people’s characters just from the hats they wear and from the way they wear them. In the course of Hats off to Murder, Heatherington meets Delilah Delibes, whose mother has disappeared. While Heatherington is looking into that mystery, he also gets involved in the untimely deaths of two of his customers, as well as some other strange events. But that’s not important. What is important is that Delilah is owned by a brave little dog named Bertie. Oh, yes, Bertie is quite a terrific character and plays an important role in Coming Home For Christmas, in which Delilah is afraid that she is being stalked. Oh, no, don’t worry; it’s not a ‘crazed serial killer’ story. Trust me. Dogs never lie. Anyway, you can read it yourself right here.

And you don’t have to be much of a one for cosy mysteries to read about the important role we dogs play in crime fiction. Just ask Superintendent Roy Grace, the creation of Peter James. Grace and his partner Cleo Morey are owned by a wonderful Labrador/Border Collie mix named Humphrey. In Not Dead Yet, the two humans are about to have a human pup, and Humphrey provides quite a lot of comfort to them as they get ready for this major change in their lives. What’s more, Grace is involved in an ugly case. An unidentified body has been found in an unused chicken shed, and it could be connected with threats on the life of famous star Gaia Lafayette, who is planning to come to Brixton to do a film. It’s a very tense time for Grace, and may I say that Humphrey is quite helpful.

And then there are Barbra and Brutus, Standard Schnauzers who own Anthony Bidulka’s Saskatoon PI Russell Quant.  Well, first just Barbra owns him but later Brutus joins the fun. Quant’s a bit much for one dog to handle. When we first meet them in Amuse Bouche, Quant is hired by wealthy entrepreneur Harold Chavell. Chavell and his fiancé Tom Osborn were planning an upmarket wedding and a lovely honeymoon in France, but Osborn has disappeared. So at Chavell’s request, Quant travels to France to track down the missing bridegroom. When Osborn later turns up dead, Chavell becomes a suspect. So he asks Quant to stay in his employ long enough to clear his name. Quant’s never handled a murder case before, but he agrees and soon finds that Chavell is by no means the only suspect in this murder. Oh, and by the way, Mr. Bidulka, if you’re reading this, Barbra and Brutus would have liked to go along with Mr. Quant on that trip, but no, you have them staying behind in Saskatoon. I hardly call that fair!

And then there’s Sully, the Pit Bull who owns the protagonist of Angela Savage’s story The Teardrop Tattoos. Interesting that Sully is named, but the woman he owns is not. Anyway, this woman has recently been released from prison, and Sully is her only friend and companion. She’s given housing not far from a local child care facility, and that’s when the trouble starts. One day she gets a letter from the local council stating that a complaint has been lodged against her for owning a restricted breed dog and saying that she will have to give Sully up. Brokenhearted at losing her only real friend, the woman decides to have her own revenge against the woman who lodged the complaint. It may not be a happy story, but Sully really is a terrific dog.

There are of course mystery series such as Laurien Berenson’s Melanie Travis novels and C.A. Newsome’s Dog Park mysteries that focus on dogs.  See what I mean? We canines are a wonderful species – we really are. Where would you humans be without us? I mean, just think of how often fictional bodies are discovered by dogs who are taking their humans for walks. Crime writers need us!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, Margot has just come in from having a few piña coladas by the pool. So before she drifts off for a nap, it’s time for me to take her for a walk.

Oh, and one more thing. For you humans who are owned by cats rather than dogs, fear not. I’ve made special arrangements for you folks as well, coming soon on this blog.

ps. Thanks very much to Carol at Reading, Writing and Riesling for the inspiration for this post. Do go check out her blog; it’s got lovely book reviews and terrific ‘photos. And dogs.

 

 

 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Cat Stevens’ I Love My Dog.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Anthony Bidulka, C.A. Newsome, D.S. Nelson, Laurien Berenson, M.C. Beaton, Peter James

Better the Pride That Resides in a Citizen of the World*

Global CitizensSome fictional sleuths are very closely associated with a particular place. It’s not at all that they’re insular or ignorant; rather, their real appeal comes from the way that setting is reflected in the sleuth. I’m thinking for instance of Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire or Ann Cleeves’ Vera Stanhope. Other sleuths though are what you might call global citizens. Even if they more or less live in one place, they’ve done a lot of travelling and they’re as comfortable in one part of the world as in another. It’s not that they’re unhappy with their cultural identities; rather, they see themselves as citizens of the world as well as members of a particular national/cultural group. Here are just a few examples; I’m sure you can think of many more than I can.

Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot is Belgian. Christie/Poirot fans will know that he’s quick to remind people of that when they make the mistake of thinking that he’s French. He’s maintained many of his cultural views, customs and the like. But at the same time, he’s been to many different places, and he’s assured and comfortable no matter where he happens to be. He doesn’t care for dirt, bad cooking or clutter, but that’s his passion for order and neatness, not insularity. Poirot’s multilingual too, and that helps him quite a lot. We see that for instance in Murder on the Orient Express and Black Coffee, where he uses witnesses’ and suspects’ own languages to help put them at their ease. Poirot is proud of being Belgian (well, he’s proud in general), but he’s very much aware that there’s a big world out there and he’s seen quite a bit of it and negotiates it quite effectively.

So does Aaron Elkins’ Gideon Oliver. Oliver is a physical anthropologist whose ‘home base’ is Northern California. He is in many ways unmistakeably American. And yet he’s also very much a citizen of the world. He’s gone to lots of different places as his services have been needed. He’s also done a fair amount of travel for pleasure and for research purposes. That’s what takes him for instance to the Amazon rainforest in Little Tiny Teeth.  In that novel, Oliver is on what he thinks will be a getaway adventure trip where he can also learn some things to enhance his professional knowledge. Instead, he gets mixed up in a murder case when a fellow passenger ethnobiologist Arden Scofield is murdered. Oliver belongs to the global community of scholars in general and physical anthropologists in particular. So in that sense, he doesn’t belong to just one cultural group. What’s more, both his education and his travel experiences have given him a global perspective. So although he’s distinctly American, he’s a lot more too.

You could say a similar thing about Anthony Bidulka’s Russell Quant. He is a Saskatoon-based PI who has strong Saskatchewan roots and connections. But Quant has a very global outlook on life. He’s been to many different places in the world, including France, Spain, the Middle East and Mexico. He enjoys travel and my guess is that he would feel restless if he stayed in Saskatoon for too long without taking a trip somewhere. Fortunately for him, his work gives him lots of opportunity to travel and he’s developed a global sort of outlook on life. At the same time though, Quant loves his home town too. He’s comfortable among his friends and in familiar places. And he’s learned that going home can be just as good an experience as packing up can be.

Bidulka’s other protagonist Adam Saint is also a global citizen. Saint is a member of the Canadian Disaster Recovery Agency (CDRA). As a CDRA disaster recovery specialist, Saint travels to any place where a disaster of any kind affects Canada, Canadians or Canadian interests. His home is Saskatchewan, although in When the Saints Go Marching In, we learn that he lives in Toronto. He’s Canadian and of course his job is to protect Canadian interests. And yet, he is as comfortable on a flight somewhere as he is in his Toronto apartment. He settles in wherever he happens to be and he has a very cosmopolitan, global outlook on life. I hope we’ll see more of him.

Ian Hamilton’s Toronto-based forensic accountant Ava Lee is another example of a sleuth who’s just as comfortable in one part of the world as in another. She’s got a life, friends, and so on in Toronto and she’s happy there. She considers herself Canadian in that sense. She is also Chinese, with roots in Hong Kong. In fact, the company she works for, and that’s run by a man Lee refers to as Uncle, is based there. Lee travels all over the world in the course of her work, which is finding stolen money. When people feel that they’ve been bilked out of a great deal of money, they hire her company and it’s Lee’s job to use her accountancy skills to track the stolen funds. She’s multilingual and very good at what she does, so she’s in great demand. Her travels, her multicultural background and her work have given her a very global perspective.

Angela Savage’s PI sleuth Jayne Keeney is Australian. That’s where she’s from and it’s how she identifies herself culturally. She’s happy with that and there are scenes in this series where the reader can see it. And yet, she’s got a very global perspective. She lives and works in Thailand and has learned to appreciate the Thai culture and language. She’s been to other places in the world too, and speaks a few different languages. What’s more important than her multilingualism though is that Keeney doesn’t just see herself as ‘an Australian who happens to live in Thailand.’ She loves living in Thailand, although she’s not blind to the problems and challenges the country faces. She identifies herself as an Australian, but she has no great burning desire to live there. She’s comfortable wherever she goes, and doesn’t feel particularly bound to one place.

On the one hand, there’s something to the sleuth who truly enjoys ‘the comforts of home’ and strongly identifies with a particular place or culture. Andrea Camilleri’s Salvo Montalbano is like that for instance and it works very well in that series. On the other hand, today’s world is smaller than ever, figuratively and culturally speaking. So it makes sense that there are also plenty of sleuths who think of themselves as citizens of the world and are able to be comfortable no matter where in it they happen to be.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Rush’s Territories.

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Filed under Aaron Elkins, Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Angela Savage, Ann Cleeves, Anthony Bidulka, Craig Johnson, Ian Hamilton