Category Archives: Anya Lipska

We’re Not the Same But We Can Talk*

Different CulturesAs I’ve mentioned before on this blog, culture has profound effects on the way we think, act, dress and speak. Sometimes we’re not even aware of how much we are affected by culture until we work with someone from another culture. The experience of working with a team-mate from another culture can broaden our horizons and enrich us. But it can be awkward at times too. Different cultures see the world in different ways, and those differences can result in ‘culture clash.’ But as the world continues to get smaller, so to speak, it’s more and more the case that people work with others from different cultures.

In fiction, those cultural differences, and the way they’re worked out, can add a really interesting layer to a story. Certainly it can in crime fiction. Here are just a few examples to show you what I mean. I’m sure you’ll be able to think of lots more than I can.

Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings are from two different cultures. In many ways their cultural differences don’t impede their work. Yet there are some cultural issues that both of them have had to get used to over time. For instance, Poirot grew up in a culture where greeting and leave-taking involves embracing. Hastings on the other hand is not accustomed to that kind of physical contact in that context. So Poirot has had to learn to shake hands, because he knows that anything else makes Hastings feel awkward. For his part, Hastings has had to get used to Poirot’s habit of hot chocolate for breakfast and tisane instead of beer, wine or something like whisky. Their cultural differences add an interesting layer to their characters and a measure of interest to the stories that feature them.

In Anya Lipska’s Where the Devil Can’t Go, we meet Janusz Kiszka, unofficial ‘fixer’ for London’s Polish community. When a young woman named Weronika goes missing, her landlady Pani Tosik gets concerned and asks her priest about it. The priest in turn asks Kiszka to try to find out where Weronika is and what happened to her. The trail leads to a friend of Weronika’s, who is later found murdered. That’s how Kiszka’s path crosses that of DC Natalie Kershaw, who is investigating a series of deaths. The two are suspicious of each other at first. Kershaw sees Kiszka as a possible suspect in the murders. For his part, Kiszka isn’t fond of the police to begin with, and Kershaw is certainly not his idea of what a cop ought to be like. They have many cultural differences too that make communication a challenge. But slowly they begin to work together as each comes to see that the other can be helpful. You couldn’t call them friends, even at the end of the novel, but they do establish an understanding and they do learn to work together.

Australian ex-cop Max Quinlan has to work with someone from a different culture in Andrew Nette’s Ghost Money. Madeleine Avery has hired Quinlan to find her missing brother Charles. Since Charles Avery’s last known whereabouts was Bangkok, Quinlan starts his search there. It turns out that Avery isn’t in Bangkok though. He’s gone on to Cambodia, so Quinlan follows the trail there. When he gets to Phnom Penh, Quinlan meets journalist’s assistant Heng Sarin, who’s lived in Cambodia all his life. Sarin and Quinlan are from different cultures, but each has reasons to want to find out what happened to Avery. As the novel goes on, Nette uses those cultural differences to share some of Cambodia’s history and culture with the reader. And it’s interesting to see how these two, who are from very different backgrounds, work together.

Angela Savage’s PI Jayne Keeney is also Australian. She lives and works in Bangkok though, so she’s gotten accustomed to the Thai culture. Keeney is a reader of crime fiction (you gotta like that in a fictional sleuth ;-) ) so she becomes a regular at a bookshop in Bangkok’s Indian neighbourhood. That’s how she meets Rajiv Patel, whose uncle owns the shop. In The Half Child, we learn that Patel is from a traditional New Delhi family. He doesn’t want to live that traditional lifestyle, but he is a product of that culture. Keeney of course has her own culture and cultural assumptions. The two become business partners and later, lovers, so they are motivated to work together and get along. But they do sometimes have to bridge cultural gaps. For instance, Patel communicates a great deal of information by moving his head in certain ways. As we learn in The Dying Beach, Keeney comes to know that Patel’s side-to-side head nods are

 

‘…as nuanced as a Thai smile…’

 

Patel has to get used to Keeney’s way of looking at life too, and it does cause friction between them. Those cultural differences and nuances add much to this series.

In Shamini Flint’s A Calamitous Chinese Killing, Inspector Singh of the Singapore Police is asked to go to Beijing to help investigate the death of Justin Tan. Justin was the son of Susan Tan, First Secretary at the Singapore Embassy, so his death is not going to be ignored. What’s more, his mother believes he was deliberately murdered. The police theory is that he was murdered in a robbery gone wrong, and that’s the theory under which Singh operates when he begins his investigation. But soon enough he begins to suspect that Susan Tan is right. As he digs more deeply into the case, Singh works with former Beijing police officer Li Jun to find out who would have wanted to kill the boy and why. Singh and Li Jun are from different cultures, and they have to get used to each other. And sometimes that does cause some tension. But each respects the other and each has skills that contribute to solving the case.

What’s interesting about cultural differences is that you don’t even have to be from a different country to have cultural differences. Just as an example, Domingo Villar’s Leo Caldas is Galician by birth and culture. He lives and works in Vigo and is accustomed to life there. His assistant Rafael Estevez on the other hand is from Zaragoza, in the autonomous community of Aragon. Even though both men are Spanish, they are from different cultures and have different ways of looking at life. And those differences do come up in the course of their investigations, although each respects the other. It’s an interesting look at the number of different cultures there can be, even in the same country.

I’ve only had space to mention a few examples of team-mates who work through cultural differences. There are a lot of others of course (e.g. Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire and Henry Standing Bear, or Margaret Coel’s Vicky Holden and Fr. John O’Malley). Which ones do you like best?

 

 
 

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

30 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrew Nette, Angela Savage, Anya Lipska, Craig Johnson, Domingo Villar, Margaret Coel, Shamini Flint

You’ve Got a Friend in Me*

BuddiesOne of the more popular kinds of films is the ‘buddy film.’ In that sort of film there are two protagonists, and the film explores their friendship while at the same time featuring a separate plot. Some ‘buddy films’ are cop films (e.g. Walter Hill’s 48 Hours). Others are ‘road films’ (e.g. Ridley Scott’s Thelma and Louise). There are other variants on the theme too of course. Over the years it’s been a successful premise for a film, and we see it a lot in crime fiction too.

You’ll notice in this post that I won’t be talking about series such as Reginald Hill’s Dalziel/Pascoe series, where the two protagonists are superior/subordinate. I’m also not going to focus on novels where there’s a possible or budding romance between the two protagonists. To me, that’s a different dynamic. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some ‘buddy’ crime fiction.

One of the earlier examples of this sort of dynamic is G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown and Hercule Flambeau. When they first meet in The Blue Cross, Flambeau is a master jewel thief. In that story, Father Brown is en route to a large gathering of priests. He’s carrying with him a large silver cross set with sapphires, a most attractive prize for a thief like Flambeau. Father Brown finds an interesting way to deal with Flambeau and as the stories go on, we see how the two men form a friendship. They respect each other and later, they solve cases together. It’s an interesting dynamic, and readers can see how that dynamic evolves as the stories go on.

Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot works with Chief Inspector Japp on several cases. As we learn in The Mysterious Affair at Styles, they’ve known each other for some time, too – since before Poirot left his native Belgium for England. Poirot is certainly not modest when it comes to his own abilities, but he respects Japp. And he knows Japp has access to resources and information that he, Poirot, doesn’t have. So he doesn’t really treat Japp as a sidekick. For his part, Japp pokes fun at Poirot’s ‘tortuous mind,’ and he isn’t blind to Poirot’s faults. But he respects Poirot’s brilliance as a detective. The two do develop a friendship over the course of the novels, and they depend on each other’s expertise.

Another interesting ‘buddy series’ is Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delalware/Milo Sturgis novels. Delaware is a forensic psychologist with a former career as a psychotherapist. Sturgis is a cop with the LAPD. Beginning with When the Bough Breaks, the two work together on cases where Delaware’s expertise is needed. In that novel, psychiatrist Morton Handler and his lover Elena Gutierrez are found murdered. The key to the murder may lie with seven-year-old Melody Quinn, who was a witness. So Sturgis asks Delaware to work with Melody to help her remember as much as she can. The murders turn out to be related to some of the characters’ past histories, and to some things going on at an orphanage. Over the course of the novels, Delaware and Sturgis maintain their friendship although it is tested at times. They rely on one another and they trust each other.

There’s also Craig Johnson’ Walt Longmire and Henry Standing Bear. Fans of this series will know that Longmire is the sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming. Henry Standing Bear is a member of the Cheyenne Nation, and also the owner of The Red Pony, a local bar/restaurant.  The two men have been friends for a long time – since both served in Viet Nam. There are times when they don’t agree, and sometimes they annoy each other. But underneath, they trust each other, quite literally, with their lives. They get in more than one extremely dangerous situation together, and as the series goes on, we also see how they depend on one another.

We see an interesting case of the ‘buddy’ theme in Helene Tursten’s The Glass Devil. Göteborg police inspector Irene Huss and her team are investigating the bizarre multiple murders of Jacob Schyttelius and his parents. At first, it looks as though the murders might be the work of a Satanist group. But that theory is soon disproved. Another very real possibility is that the murders were committed by someone with an animus against the whole family. If that’s true, then Jacob’s sister Rebecka may be in danger. So Huss travels to London, where Rebecka Schyttelius works with a computer development company. While there, Huss works with Met police inspector Glen Thompson. Thompson has local connections, local authority, and access to information that Huss needs. For her part, Huss has particulars of the case at hand. So the two complement each other as they combine forces. It turns out that that co-operation is important, since the key to this case is in the Schyttelius family’s past as well as Rebecka’s life in London. In the course of the novel, Huss and Thompson do develop a friendship, and we can see how they learn to work together.

There’s also an interesting case of a ‘buddy’ crime novel in Anya Lipska’s Where the Devil Can’t Go. Janusz Kiszka is an unofficial ‘fixer’ in London’s Polish community. So when Father Piotr Pietruzki hears of some disturbing news, Kiszka is the man he trusts. It seems that a young woman named Weronika, who hasn’t been in London very long, has recently disappeared. So Kiszka agrees to ask some questions and see what he can learn. Weronika was last seen with a boyfriend Pawel Adamski, so Kiszka and his friend Oskar begin to trace the couple. In the meantime, DC Natalie Kershaw and DS Alvin ‘Streaky’ Bacon are investigating two murders that turn out to be related to Weronika’s disappearance. In the course of the investigation, Kershaw meets Kiszka, first considering him a suspect, and then as a sort of ally, as she investigates. And that relationship is in itself interesting. So is the ‘buddy’ relationship between Kiszka and his friend Oskar. The two have known each other for some time. They’re drinking and card-playing buddies, and in the course of this novel, they also work together on Weronika’s disappearance.

There are of course lots of other solid ‘buddy’ series and novels (I know, I know, fans of Martha Grimes’ Richard Jury/Melrose Plant novels). Which ones do you like best?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Randy Newman

30 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Anya Lipska, Craig Johnson, G.K. Chesterton, Helene Tursten, Jonathan Kellerman, Martha Grimes

In The Spotlight: Anya Lipska’s Where the Devil Can’t Go

>In The Spotlight: Ngaio Marsh's Tied Up in TinselHello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. Most large cities have unique immigrant communities. They add to the area’s diversity and they become part of the complex tapestry that is a modern city. They can also be fascinating contexts for crime fiction. To show you what I mean, let’s take a look at London’s Polish community. Let’s turn the spotlight on Anya Lipska’s Where the Devil Can’t Go.

Janusz Kiszka is an unofficial ‘fixer’ and problem-solver for London’s East End Polish community. He’s well known and trusted much more than the police are. So he’s a natural choice to ask for help when Father Piotr Pietruzki hears something upsetting from one of his parishioners Pani Tosik. Pani Tosik has been looking after a young woman Weronika who came to London to start a modeling career. Weronika has disappeared, and although she’s adult who certainly has the right to go where she wants, she and Pani Tosik were on good terms, and she hasn’t been in contact. Fr. Pietruzki asks Kiszka to see what he can find out, and Kiszka agrees to start asking questions.

He soon learns that Weronika probably went off with a boyfriend Pawel Adamski, a young man who has a questionable reputation and recently seems to have come into money. So with help from his friend Oskar, Kiszka starts to trace the young couple’s movements. Some help comes from Weronika’s friend Justyna Kozlowska, but not long after she tells Kiszka what she knows, he and Oskar find her dead, apparently of a drug overdose. That’s when Kiszka meets DC Natalie Kershaw. Kershaw and her boss DS Alvin ‘Streaky’ Bacon are investigating Justyna’s death as well as an earlier murder that may be related.

Kershaw initially suspects Kiszka of Justyna’s murder (more on that shortly), but other evidence soon proves her wrong. So she and Bacon have to look elsewhere for answers. In the meantime, Kiszka makes a return trip to Poland to find out everything he can about Pawel Adamski. He believes that he’ll be more likely to find out what happened to Weronika if he can trace Adamski.

When Kiszka returns to London to follow up on what he’s found, he and Kershaw begin to get past their initial mutual mistrust and start sharing information. Bit by bit, they get to the truth about the murders, about Weronika’s disappearance, and about Pawel Adamski. It turns out that much of what takes place has its roots in Poland’s past and in her present political climate.

One of the most important elements in this novel is the cultural setting – the modern Polish community in London. It’s a tightly-knit community with its own resources, connections and so on. It’s those connections that get Kiszka involved in the case to begin with, and his membership in that community is extremely valuable to Kershaw as she and Bacon work to solve the case. Through both of their eyes we see the Polish community from the inside and from the outside. Lipska provides a fascinating look Polish customs, food, drink, and so on, and shows how they remain vibrant in London. It’s also worth noting that there’s also some Polish language included in the novel. That said though, Lipska includes plenty of English-language context so that readers who don’t speak Polish are in no doubt as to what’s meant.

We also get a look at modern Poland. Kiszka hasn’t been back to Poland in quite a long time, so although he’s ‘one of them,’ he is in a way also a stranger. Through his eyes, we see Polish life and how it’s changed (and in some ways, remained the same) since the days of the Gdansk uprising. The events in the story are related to the Polish political scene and the ‘growing pains’ the country experienced after the breakup of the Soviet Union. As Kiszka follows Pawel Adamski’s history, we learn how events in Poland have affected the London Polish community.

There’s also an interesting generation gap between people of Kiszka’s age (he is 45) and older, who remember life in Poland during Soviet rule, and those who were born after Polish independence. They speak the same language and in some important ways, share the same culture. But they have a very different outlook on life.

Also an important element in this novel is the cultural gap between London’s Polish community and the dominant English community. Neither group is portrayed as ‘the good guys’ or ‘the bad guys,’ but there are some important differences in customs, outlook on life and so on. Even the way Kershaw and Kiszka go about looking for answers is different. Just as one example, when Kiszka visits Poland, he discovers that he’s learned to adjust so much to the English culture that he sometimes doesn’t do things in the Polish way. Here’s a scene that takes place when he’s visiting a storage facility and has just greeted its owner:

 

‘Janusz returned the greeting with a smile, then quickly straightened his face. He’s already earned a few confused – and suspicious – looks in Gdansk, beaming unthinkingly at shopkeepers and passers-by. It was a habit he’d picked up in England, where a smile was the smallest and commonest coin of social currency.’

 

It’s an interesting example of the way Kiszka has to bridge cultural gaps in the course of his search for answers.

Kiszka’s character is another important element in this novel. He’s had some real sadness in his past, and he’s made his share of mistakes. But he’s not self-pitying and he hasn’t drowned himself in drink. He negotiates the English and Polish cultures in an interesting way, and he is just about as much at home in London as he is in Gdansk.

Natalie Kershaw’s character is also woven through the novel. She’s young, but not what you’d call flighty. She’s a smart detective too, although like all of us, she makes mistakes. Readers who are tired of both helpless, clingy female characters and ‘superhero,’ unrealistic female characters will be pleased to know that she is neither.

Through Kershaw’s eyes, we also see the police procedural elements in this novel. There’s a hint of police politics in the way Kershaw goes about her work too, but it’s not really a major theme. Still, we see how she interacts with her colleagues, how she sees herself fitting into the force and how the cops get things done.

We also see the way Kershaw and Kiszka’s relationship develops. And lest you make the obvious inference, it’s not a romantic relationship. It develops though from mutual mistrust and suspicion to mutual respect, and it’s interesting to see how their different skills and knowledge help to solve the case.

Where the Devil Can’t Go is a look at modern Poland, at London’s Polish community, and at the way the police work a case when the people involved are from a very different immigrant community. The case is solved in a credible way and the novel introduces two believable protagonists. But what’s your view? Have you read Where the Devil Can’t Go? If you have, what elements do you see in it?

 

 
 

Coming Up On In The Spotlight

 

Monday 10 February/Tuesday 11 February – Bruno, Chief of Police – Martin Walker

Monday 17 February/Tuesday 18 February – A Few Right Thinking Men – Sulari Gentill

Monday 24 February/Tuesday 25 February – Chris Grabenstein – Tilt a Whirl

12 Comments

Filed under Anya Lipska

Let Me in, Immigration Man*

Immigrant CommunitiesOne of the major social and technological developments of the past 150 years or so is increased mobility. That’s meant that it’s been much more feasible for people to migrate to different places. And they have. But leaving one’s home country doesn’t mean one necessarily wants to give up one’s culture and language. That’s one reason so many places have developed immigrant communities. On the one hand members of those communities need to function within the dominant community. On the other, they have their own unique languages, cultures and ways of looking at life. In a lot of cases immigrant communities are a little like a smaller world within a larger, different world. Immigrant communities are an important part of larger communities, so it’s both interesting and authentic when a novel takes a look at the way those smaller communities function and what they’re like.

For instance, there’s a strong Russian community in New York City, especially in the Brighton Beach area of Brooklyn and surrounding areas. Members of the community have their own customs, language, and so on, and understanding that part of New York City means understanding at least a little about that community. And there are several novels that show us how that community works. For instance, Margaret Truman’s Murder in the House is the story of the murder of U.S. Representative Paul Latham. His death looks like a suicide at first, but Georgetown Law School professor Mackensie ‘Mac’ Smith knows Latham well enough to know he wouldn’t have killed himself. Then a former student who’s now in the CIA contacts Smith to tell him that there was much more going on in Latham’s life that it seems on the surface. One thing that Smith learns for instance is that Latham was connected to powerful U.S. businessman Warren Brazier, who wants to establish a solid foothold in post-Communism Russia. When one of Brazier’s Russian contacts comes to the U.S., he stays for a short time in the Brighton Beach area where he’s fed, housed and so on. Through his visit we get a look at the way that immigrant community functions.

Of course, New York City is home to many other immigrant communities; space doesn’t allow me to mention all of them. So let me just give one more example. Henry Chang’s New York-based noir series features police detective Jack Yu. Yu grew up in New York City’s Chinatown and in the series debut Chinatown Beat, he’s just been stationed there as his police assignment. The Chinatown community has been a part of New York City for a very long time, so in this series we see an interesting phenomenon. We don’t just see what this community is like and how it functions; we also see how it’s integrated into the larger community and how each influences the other.

Elizabeth George gives us a look at the Pakastani community in England in Deception on His Mind. Haytham Querashi has moved from Pakistan to the seaside town of Balford-le-Nez. His plan is to set up a business and marry Salah Malik, who is the daughter of an already-established successful businessman. When Querashi is found murdered, Sergeant Barbara Havers wants to be a part of the investigating team for a few reasons. One is that it’s headed by one of Havers’ personal heroes DI Emily Barlow. The other is that Havers’ own neighbour Taymullah Azhar may have a connection to the case. So Havers gets herself assigned to the team and travels to Balford-le-Nez to help in the investigation. As we get to know the various people in the victim’s life, we also get to know more about the Pakistani community and it’s an interesting perspective.

There’s a strong and vibrant Ukrainian community in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan and we see it in several series set there. For instance, in Gail Bowen’s Deadly Appearances we meet political science specialist and academic Joanne Kilbourn. She’s a member of the campaign staff for up-and-coming political leader Androu ‘Andy’ Boychuk. When he is poisoned during an important campaign speech Kilbourn is devastated. She decides to cope with her grief by writing a biography of Boychuk and begins to look into his background. That’s how she gets to know more about the Ukrainian community from which he came. The more she learns about Boychuk’s history the more Kilbourn discovers that there were things in Boychuk’s life that nobody knew. And it turns out that Boychuk’s past is the key to solving his murder. As Kilbourn interviews people, attends Boychuk’s funeral and so on, we get a look at the Saskatchewan Ukrainian community.

We see it also in Anthony Bidulka’s series featuring Saskatoon PI  Russell Quant. Quant is half Ukranian so his family background gives us a sense of the way that community has established itself. Then too there’s Colourful Mary’s, a popular local restaurant that features the cooking of one of its owners Marushka Yabadochka. As Bidulka describes it, Marushka’s cooking is like

 

…everyone’s mother, most notably her own.’

 

It’s mostly a Ukrainian menu and we can see how that culture has made its way (through the food) into the larger local culture.

Donna Leon’s series featuring Venice Commissario Guido Brunetti introduces us to several of Venice’s immigrant communities. I’ll just mention one. In Blood From a Stone, a Senegalese immigrant is shot execution-style while he’s working at an outdoor marketplace. No-one admits to seeing anything, and very few people even admit to knowing the victim, so it’s hard at first for Brunetti and Ispettore Vianello to find out anything about the killing. Matters aren’t helped by the fact that there’s a lot of local prejudice against the immigrants (especially against illegal immigrants). For their part the local immigrant community is not exactly trusting of the police. So it takes quite some time to find out anything about the murder. But in the process of investigating it, Brunetti and Vianello begin, just a bit, to penetrate the Senegalese immigrant community, and through them we learn a little about it.

There are many other novels in which the author gives us a sense of these smaller immigrant communities within larger ones. For instance, there’s Anya Lipska’s Where the Devil Can’t Go, in which London PI Janusz Kiszka investigates the disappearance of a waitress, and DC Natalie Kershaw gets her chance to make good when a dead body is discovered in the Thames. The two stories of course intertwine and in the investigation we get a fascinating look at London’s Polish community. And if you’ll let me stretch a point just a bit, Agatha Christie touches on the topic in The Mysterious Affair at Styles in which we first meet Hercule Poirot. He’s a member of the Belgian community in the village of Styles St. Mary. When his benefactor Emily Inglethorp is poisoned, Poirot gets involved in the investigation.

Immigrant communities are sometimes very tight-knit. And even when they’re not, members tend to help each other and very often those communities keep alive their original language, cultural and spiritual traditions and social mores. They can add quite a lot of interest to a larger novel, and they’re a fairly authentic reflection of what’s been happening in the world for a long time.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Graham Nash’s Immigration Man.

22 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Bidulka, Anya Lipska, Donna Leon, Gail Bowen, Henry Chang, Margaret Truman