Category Archives: Åsa Träff

What’s Inside Your Mind?*

Psychology and PsychiatryAs we’ve come to understand the human mind a little more over the last hundred years, we’ve learned how much of a role psychology plays in the way we interact with others, behave, and react to life. And an interesting comment exchange with Sergio at Tipping My Fedora has got me to thinking about what an important role psychologists and psychology play in crime fiction. There are sleuths who are psychologists or psychiatrists and there are many novels now where characters who’ve been through trauma get mental/emotional help and support as well as whatever other medical help they may need. And that all makes a lot of sense; as psychology and the study of the mind have matured and become an important part of medicine, it’s logical they’d work their way into crime fiction too.

We see an example of psychology in action so to speak in Agatha Christie’s Appointment With Death. In that novel, Hercule Poirot is touring the Middle East. There, he encounters the Boynton family, a group of Americans who are on holiday. Family matriarch Mrs. Boynton is a mental sadist who’s had her family cowed for years, so when she dies of what seems to be heart failure, no-one feels any great sorrow. Colonel Carbury is in charge of investigating sudden deaths in that area and at first glance, it seems an easy case. The weather was hot and Mrs. Boynton was elderly and not in good health, so it all seems clear enough. But then Dr. Theodore Gerard, who was on the same tour as the Boynton family, suggests that something more might be going on. Gerard is a well-known psychologist who has noticed the severe dysfunction in the family. He suspects that Mrs. Boynton may have been murdered, and that psychology may be the key to the mystery. Colonel Carbury decides to pay attention to what Gerard has suggested and asks Poirot to look into the matter. As he investigates, we get an interesting look at the way our understanding of psychology was progressing at that time (the novel was published in 1938). It was quite Freudian in nature and it’s interesting to see how those views affect the way Gerard sees the case.

One of the areas in which psychology has developed in the last four or five decades has been in our understanding of the way children think. Child psychology is now a respected sub-discipline of psychology, and we see how professionals in that field work in the novels of Jonathan Kellerman. One of his two main protagonists is Alex Delaware, a former child psychologist and expert at working with young people who’ve suffered trauma. In Blood Work for instance, Delaware has testified in the case of the divorce of Richard and Darlene Moody. Richard Moody has some severe emotional problems which make him unable at the moment to look after his children. So the judge orders him to get psychiatric help and medication before he is allowed even supervised visits with his children. At first Delaware thinks that will be the end of the case. But then Moody decides to take his own approach to seeing his children and starts to stalk his ex-wife and children as well as Delaware. In the meantime, a former colleague Raoul Melendez-Lynch asks Delaware’s help on another case. He has diagnosed five-year-old Heywood ‘Woody’ Swopes with a form of lymphoma, but the parents have refused the chemotherapy regimen and other recommendations he’s made. They insist that holistic medicine will cure Woody and they won’t consent to treatment. Melendez-Lynch wants Delaware to work with the family, but instead, the parents suddenly pull their son from the hospital and disappear with him. Now, Delaware sets out to track the boy down before his condition worsens. He talks to his friend LAPD cop Milo Sturgis about it but Sturgis can’t do much. No real crime has been committed. So Delaware slowly puts together the pieces himself. In this novel, we see several sides of Delaware’s practice as a psychologist. He consults, testifies, works with children and their families and interacts with his colleagues.

Sometimes even the hardiest police sleuths can be pushed ‘over the edge’ and find themselves in need of professional mental help. Today that’s not seen as a cause for shame, and it shows up in a lot of crime fiction. For instance in Michael Connelly’s The Last Coyote, Harry Bosch has hit his limit you might say for a number of good reasons, and ends up pushing his supervisor through a window. For this he’s ordered off duty for an indefinite amount of time until he gets a psychiatric evaluation and some professional help. He is assigned to work with Dr. Carmen Hinojos to get to the root of his psychological ‘baggage’ and unwillingly goes to see her. While he’s off-duty, Bosch is eager for something to occupy him so he decides to look into an old case – the murder of Marjorie Lowe, a prostitute who was killed thirty years earlier and who happens to have been Bosch’s mother. As he works through this case, he also faces some of his own childhood sadness and we see through his meetings with Hinojos how psychology professionals can help their clients face things they don’t even admit exist.

Michael Robotham’s Joe O’Loughlin is a psychiatrist who is accustomed to working with people who have all sorts of mental illnesses and difficulties. In Lost (AKA The Drowning Man), for instance, he is faced with a particularly challenging case. O’Loughlin’s friend DI Vincent Ruiz has wakened in a hospital bed, his leg badly injured form a bullet wound. He has no memory of what happened to him or how he came to be rescued. The only facts that seem to be clear are that he was pulled out of the Thames after nearly drowning, and that he had been working a ‘cold case’ when he was injured. O’Loughlin works with Ruiz to help him put the pieces of his memory together. Little by little Ruiz begins to recall what happened. Seven-year-old Mickey Carlyle disappeared three years earlier and was assumed to have been killed by known paedophile Howard Wavell. In fact, Wavell’s in prison for the crime. But Ruiz thinks Wavell might be innocent and that Mickey may still be alive. He was pursuing leads on this case when he was injured and as soon as he recovers, he takes up the investigation again. In the end, after help from O’Loughlin, Ruiz finds out the truth about Mickey Carlyle.

Psychologist Sara Struel proves to be very helpful in Karin Fossum’s He Who Fears the Wolf. Oslo police inspector Konrad Sejer and his assistant Jacob Skarre are called in to investigate the murder of Halldis Horn, who’d lived by herself since her husband’s death. One very likely suspect is Errki Johrma, a young man with mental illness who is one of Struel’s patients. The police want to interview him, since he was seen in the area on the day of the murder. But he’s disappeared. As the police look for Johrma, Sejer gets help from Struel about the kind of person the young man is, what is causing his mental illness and whether he might be the killer. One of the interesting things about her role in this novel is that it allows us to see how mental health professionals have to balance their obligation to confidentiality with their obligation to protect society from potentially dangerous people (and to assist the police). It’s a delicate balance and Fossum addresses it here.  

In Camillla Grebe and Åsa Träff’s Some Kind of Peace, we meet Stockholm psychologist Siri Bergman. She shares a practice with a few colleagues and professionally at least, things are going well. However, she is struggling personally with grief over the death of her beloved husband Stefan and is emotionally fragile. One day she receives a strange letter that makes it clear she is being stalked. Then other eerie things happen and it seems that someone is trying to discredit her. What’s worse, whoever is stalking her has access to her private patient records. Then the body of one of her patients Sara Matteus is near Bergman’s home. There’s also a suicide note that suggests Bergman is responsible for the victim’s decision to kill herself. But it’s not long before the supposed suicide is shown to be murder. Bergman is briefly suspected, but soon enough it’s clear that she has an enemy who is getting more and more dangerous. Throughout this novel, along with the mystery and the investigation, we also see the day-to-day realities of psychologists’ professional lives.

Our knowledge of human psychology has improved dramatically in the last decades so it makes sense that we’d also see psychology playing an important role in crime fiction. I’ve only had space to touch on it briefly here. Which crime-fictional psychologists have made an impression on you?

Thanks, Sergio, for the inspiration. Now, may I suggest that you include Sergio’s fantastic Tipping My Fedora as one of your next blog stops? It’s a terrific resource for classic crime film and book reviews. While you’re there, I’m sure you’ll agree it’s well worth adding to your blog roll.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Handheld’s What’s Inside.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Åsa Träff, Camilla Grebe, Jonathan Kellerman, Karin Fossum, Michael Connelly, Michael Robotham

I Can Read the Writing on the Wall*

HandwritingOf the things that distinguish people from each other is their handwriting. Perhaps it’s not as unique as a fingerprint or DNA sample, but handwriting is sometimes quite distinctive. That’s why handwriting analysis plays the role it does both in real life investigation and crime fiction. And that’s why, for instance, people may print in block letters or take other measures to disguise their handwriting if they feel they need to. Of course, handwriting experts don’t always agree on whether, say, two samples of writing come from the same person, but handwriting can matter in a criminal investigation. There are an awful lot of examples of the importance of handwriting in crime fiction and only room in this post for a few, but hopefully they’ll suffice to give you a sense of what I mean.

In Agatha Christie’s Murder in Mesoptamia, famous archaeologist Eric Leidner hires a nurse Amy Leatheran to help look after his wife Louise. Louise Leidner has been having anxiety attacks, seeing faces at windows and hearing hands tapping. A short time after Leatheran arrives, her patient confides to her that she is afraid of her former husband. She’d always believed he was killed after World War I, but she’s been getting threatening notes from him. Leatheran reads the notes and at first she can’t tell much about the handwriting. But then she sees an envelope written in Louise’s handwriting and notices the striking similarities between that writing and what she saw in the letters. Is it because Louise wrote the letters? Did someone else write them and forge the handwriting? This becomes an important question when Louise is murdered. Hercule Poirot, who happens to be in the area, is persuaded to extend his stay and investigate. He finds that the letters, and their writer, play an important part in the murder.

In Elly Griffiths’ The Crossing Places, DCI Harry Nelson is investigating two abductions. One is the ten-year-old disappearance of Lucy Downey. The other is the very recent abduction of four-year-old Scarlet Henderson. Among other things, the two cases are related by the fact that Nelson receives notes, most likely from the girls’ abductor. The notes make references to ancient mythology, the Bible and certain works of literature and on the surface of it they don’t give straightforward clues. So Nelson decides to ask archaeology professor Ruth Galloway what she makes of the references, especially the references to ancient mythology. He’s hoping that she’ll be able to interpret what the notes mean. Most of the notes are word-processed, but a few are not. Galloway is helpful in terms of what the references may mean but she can’t tell much from the handwriting at first. But  those handwritten notes prove to be critical when Galloway later makes a connection between the handwriting on the notes and other handwriting she’s seen.

In Camilla Grebe and Åsa Träff’s Some Kind of Peace, Stockholm psychiatrist Siri Bergman has done her best to put her life back together after the sudden death of her beloved husband Stefan. She’s more or less functioning until she gets a letter that makes it clear she’s being stalked. That letter in and of itself doesn’t give her much information about the stalker but soon, several frightening things happen that convince her she’s been targeted. Whoever is stalking her seems determined to discredit her and ruin her reputation. Then matters worsen. The body of Sara Matteus, one of Bergman’s clients, is found in the water near Bergman’s home. A suicide note has been left behind that claims Bergman is responsible for Sara’s decision to take her own life. At first, Bergman is naturally devastated. But then it’s discovered that the handwriting isn’t Sara’s. That’s how the police determine that Sara was murdered. The murderer faked the suicide note to further discredit Bergman and to psychologically manipulate her. Now Bergman and the police have to try to track down the stalker/murderer before Bergman becomes the next victim.

There’s an interesting use of questions about handwriting in T.J. Cooke’s Kiss and Tell. London lawyer Jill Shadow agrees to take the case of Bella Kiss, who’s been arrested at Heathrow Airport for drugs smuggling. Shadow does her best to help her client but Bella refuses to reveal who has paid or coerced her to bring drugs into the country. At first, Shadow decides she’ll have to drop the case because her client seems to be obstructing her efforts. But she changes her mind and ends up involved in a complicated case involving a drugs ring overseen by some very dangerous people who have powerful connections. Shadow and her daughter Hannah are targeted too; in fact, Shadow gets a text message that threatens Hannah. That’s when it’s decided that she and Hannah should go to a safe house. But before Hannah can be safely picked up from school and brought to the safe house, she disappears. The special team that’s been investigating the drugs ring and trying to protect Shadow does all it can to find Hannah but at first there’s little success. Then Shadow gets a letter from Hannah saying among other things that she’s safe. But there are several questions about the letter. Is it really from Hannah? Is it her normal handwriting? If so, is she really safe or could she have been abducted and then coerced into writing the letter? The question of who really wrote the letter and what has happened to Hannah adds a real undercurrent of tension to this novel.

Of course, as I mentioned earlier, most people know that handwriting can be quite distinctive. That’s why forgers (a topic worthy of a separate post!) work very hard to copy handwriting, and that’s why many people who write threatening letters, ransom notes or blackmail letters often use block letters or word processors. For instance, in Elizabeth Spann Craig’s Quilt or Innocence, we meet Beatrice Coleman, who has recently retired from her position in an Atlanta art gallery and moved to Dappled Hills, North Carolina. She wants to be closer to her daughter Piper and she is looking forward to the peace and quiet (or so she thinks) of retirement. In order to fit in with the local culture, Beatrice joins a quilting guild Village Quilters and begins to get to know its members. Then, one of the guild members is murdered. Beatrice begins to ask questions and very soon afterwards she starts receiving threatening notes. The notes are written in a very careful print style of writing in order to disguise the writer’s identity so at first Beatrice doesn’t know who’s threatening her. But as she keeps asking questions and finding out more about the other guild members and their backgrounds, Beatrice figures out who the note-writer is and how that person is tied in with the murder.

I know I’ve only just touched on this topic of handwriting; there’s a lot to it and when you add in things such as forgery, psychological profiling and other related topics, the issue gets even more involved. I’m going to have to write notes to myself to keep all of this in some order – that is, if I could only read my own handwriting. ;-)

OK, your turn…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Paul Simon’s Kodachrome.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Åsa Träff, Camilla Grebe, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Elly Griffiths, T.J. Cooke

Every Step You Take I’ll Be Watching You*

Violations of PrivacyOne of the facts of life about modern technology is that we arguably have a lot less privacy than we used to have. Today, when you sign a lease or apply for a job (at least in the U.S.) it’s not uncommon to include a credit and criminal background check in the process. And computer and Internet technology has made it increasingly easy to get very private information without waiting weeks or longer. Even if you move from one country to another, it’s still fairly straightforward to find out if, for instance, you have a criminal history. And with so many people using social networking such as Facebook and Twitter, it’s not hard to find out private things about people – who their friends are, where they eat, how they vote in elections and lots more.

On the one hand you can say that having less privacy has benefits. It’s easier for police to catch criminals because they have access to information that they didn’t used to have. People who are not guilty of crimes can more easily support their claims, too (e.g. travel and credit card records that show someone was in another place at the time of a crime). On the other hand, a lot of people see this trend as a violation of their privacy. Whose business is it really what you buy, where you go (so long as you don’t commit a crime) or how you vote? And today’s ability to track people makes it frighteningly easy to follow someone – ask anyone who’s been stalked. Identity theft and fraud are scary realities too now that today’s criminals can find ways to get credit card and ID numbers. In that sense, we have to be more careful than we used to be.  For better or for worse, we do seem to have less privacy and it shouldn’t be surprising that this trend shows up in crime fiction.

For example, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Scandal in Bohemia, Sherlock Holmes gets a visit from the King of Bohemia, who is planning to get married soon. The king is worried because his former lover Irene Adler has a compromising photograph of them and he’s afraid of the scandal that would get around if that photograph is ever published. He hires Holmes to get the photograph and return it so that his reputation will be protected. Holmes fans know of course that Irene Adler is a formidable opponent. In fact, she manages to elude Holmes and ends up keeping the photograph, promising never to use it unless she is forced to do so. The science and art of photography were relatively new at the time of this story; it’s interesting that if it had been written just a few decades earlier, there might not even be a compromising photograph. As it is, we can see how the limitations of technology meant the king was only worried about that one photograph. He had no worries about members of the press or his fiancée’s family getting hold of private telephone conversations or other communication between the two lovers. The limitations of technology also make it difficult for Holmes to track Irene Adler. In part it’s because he decides not to, but it’s more than that. The technology of the time meant that there were very few fingerprint records and the records that were available were not easily accessible. And of course there were no credit cards, no telephone records or other ways to track Adler. So she was able to maintain her privacy a lot more easily than she would be able to do in today’s world.

By the time Agatha Christie was writing, people already had less privacy because technology had evolved. In Death in the Clouds (AKA Death in the Air) for instance, Hercule Poirot investigates the poisoning death of Marie Morisot, a well-known French moneylender who did business under the name of Madame Giselle. The only possible suspects are the other passengers with whom she shared a flight from Paris to London. As a part of the investigation, Poirot and Inspector Japp look into all of the other passengers’ backgrounds. They also find out as much as they can about Madame Giselle’s past. Part of what they learn comes from personal interviews, which were not new. But part of what they learn comes from police and other contacts in other countries. By the time of this novel, photographs could be sent by cable from place to place, and the telephone had made communication easier. So it was beginning to be much harder for people to hide their pasts and that is what puts the proverbial nail in the coffin for the killer in this novel.

In Cat Connor’s Killerbyte, FBI special agent Gabrielle ‘Ellie’ Conway and her lover Cormac ‘Mac’ Connelly track down a vicious killer through the use of modern technology among other things. Conway and Connelly are both members of an Internet chat room called Cobwebs, which is devoted to poetry. When one of the members Carter McLaren is banned from the chat room, he tracks Conway down and threatens her. He’s arrested but disappears after he makes bail. When he’s later found dead in the trunk of Conway’s car, it’s clear that this is more than just a chat room member who took revenge too far. Then there’s another death. And another body is found. At each crime scene, police find a Post-It note with a poem, and before each murder, Conway and Connelly get cryptic taunting emails. It’s soon evident that the killer is targeting chat room members and that the killer is someone who knows Conway personally. As Conway and Connelly slowly put the pieces together, they and the FBI use modern computer surveillance and other high-tech equipment to track down the killer. In the end, it’s a simpler clue that leads the two sleuths in the right direction, but technology plays an important role in stripping away the killer’s privacy.

But this novel also shows the negative side of that loss of privacy. It turns out that the killer is technologically very adept at covering up ‘footprints’ and tracking down victims. Individual computer IP addresses, bugging devices and even tracking software are all part of what this killer uses to follow Conway and Connelly and to stalk victims.

We also see that kind of electronic violation of privacy in Karin Alvtegen’s Betrayal. Eva Wirenström-Berg and her husband Henrik have been having marital difficulties, but so far they’ve stayed together. Then, Eva discovers that Henrik has been unfaithful. When she finds out, she takes a decision that turns out to have consequences she couldn’t possibly have imagined. At first her decision doesn’t seem so fateful though and she continues her life with Henrik and their son Axel. Then she learns the identity of Henrik’s mistress. Eva decides on a particular plan for revenge that also has consequences she hadn’t imagined. This plan involves a real violation of privacy. I can say without spoiling the story that it involves breaking into an email account, which Eva is able to do with frightening ease actually. In the end, you could say that Eva and Henrik have betrayed each other and their choices end up causing real tragedy.

There’s an interesting and chilling case of violation of privacy in Camilla Grebe and Åsa Träff’s Some Kind of Peace. Stockholm psychologist Siri Bergman is still coping with the death of her beloved husband Stefan, but she’s functioning if not exactly functional. Then she gets a letter that makes it clear that she’s being stalked. What’s worse, someone seems to have gotten access to her private client information. That violation puts not just her but her clients at risk. There are other incidents too that seem designed to damage her credibility. Then the body of one of Bergman’s clients Sara Matteus is found in the water on her property. The death is set up to look like a suicide; there’s even a suicide note implicating Bergman in this client’s decision to kill herself. But it’s soon proven that this was a murder. Bergman herself is briefly a suspect until she’s able to show that she’s not guilty. Now the threats from this stalker become even more ominous and it’s clear that Bergman’s life is in danger. She’ll have to find out who the killer is in order to re-establish her credibility, protect her clients’ privacy and stay alive.

Today’s technology has made it easier than it ever was to catch criminals, and harder to avoid getting caught if one is a criminal. But it’s a double-edged sword as you might say. It’s also easier than ever to violate an innocent person’s privacy. Information is easier and easier to find, and today’s crime novels reflect that. Dozens and dozens of crime fiction stories (there really isn’t room here for me to list them) include cases where cops or private investigators trace criminals through their emails and social networking, even if the criminal leaves the country. Others depict people who’ve had their emails and banking accounts compromised. So do we have less privacy than we did? I’d say so. Is it a problem? For a lot of people, yes. For cops and private investigators, I’m not so sure.  What do you think?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Police’s Every Breath You Take.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Åsa Träff, Camilla Grebe, Cat Connor, Karin Alvtegen

Little to Win and Nothing to Lose*

Nothing to LoseMost people weigh the consequences of what they’re going to do, at least a little, before they do it. And that’s what can make it so dangerous when people feel they have nothing to lose. That belief can push people to do some awfully dangerous and sometimes terrible things. In crime fiction, characters who feel they have nothing to lose can add to the suspense of a story, though.

For instance, in Donald Honig’s short story Come Ride With Me, a man named Gannon goes into the Quick Stop diner with a specific purpose in mind. He’s just committed a robbery that ended in a murder and now he needs to ‘borrow’ a getaway car. He waits at the diner until he sees exactly the kind of car he wants. The driver is Lee Carstairs, who’s doing well financially and who drives a fast, late-model car. Carstairs uses the telephone and while he’s doing so Gannon takes his chance and hides in the back seat of the car. But as he soon finds out, he’s picked the wrong car. As it turns out, Carstairs has other plans with his car and we learn that he has nothing to lose by carrying them out.

In Stephen J. Cannell’s The Tin Collectors, we meet LAPD homicide cop Shane Scully. One night he gets a frantic call from Barbara Molar, wife of Scully’s former partner Ray Molar. Barbara says that Ray is trying to kill her and begs Scully to help. Scully races over to the Molar home in time to save Barbara, but Molar shoots at him. Scully shoots back to defend himself. Molar’s bullet misses; Scully’s hits its mark. At first Scully thinks that what happened will be dealt with in a routine Internal Affairs investigation. After all, it was a ‘clean’ hit. But soon Scully finds himself a pariah on the force, since Molar was a beloved cop. Then it becomes clear that this is not going to be a routine investigation. The Internal Affairs authorities are planning to take Scully’s badge and perhaps charge him with murder. Scully knows now that this is far bigger than just a questionable shooting. He starts to ask more questions and finds himself targeted by some very powerful and corrupt people. Now, with little left to lose professionally, Scully goes to great lengths to try to find out who is targeting him and why.

In Robin Cook’s Seizure, we are introduced to U.S. Senator Ashley Butler. He’s been a strong force against stem cell and other kinds of controversial medical procedures and research. But everything changes completely when he is diagnosed with Parkinson ’s disease. He knows that unless he gets some kind of medical miracle, he’ll never be able to achieve his goal of becoming president. In a professional sense he has much to lose. But he has nothing to lose at all by pursuing a cure and for that he contacts Dr. Daniel Lowell. Lowell’s been conducting promising research and has pioneered a controversial surgical procedure that may be exactly what Butler needs. So together, Butler and Lowell go to extraordinary (and very, very dangerous) lengths to perform the surgery. One of the dangers for instance is that the clinic chosen for the procedure is the Wingate Clinic, located in the Bahamas. The owners of that clinic are guilty of several legal and ethical violations and when Lowell and his co-worker Stephanie D’Agostino discover that, they also find that they are in real danger of their lives.

In C.J. Box’s Three Weeks to Say Goodbye, Travel Development Specialist Jack McGuane and his wife Melissa are the proud and happy adoptive parents of beautiful baby Angelina. Everything changes though when they learn that Angelina’s biological father Garret Moreland never waived his parental rights. Now he wants to exercise them. The McGuanes are devastated by this news and they decide to do what they can to keep their daughter. They face difficult odds though. First, Moreland’s father is a powerful local judge who is determined that Angelina will be given to his son. In fact he starts off by basically trying to buy the McGuanes’ co-operation. When that doesn’t work he uses his authority and orders the McGuanes to relinquish custody of Angelina in 21 days. With nothing much to lose, Jack McGuane decides to do whatever it takes to keep his child. ‘Whatever it takes’ turns out to be more than either McGuane bargained for but to them, there is no real choice.

We also see get that sense of ‘nothing left to lose’ in Åsa Larsson’s The Blood Spilt. In that novel, Kiruna police inspector Anna-Maria Mella and her partner Sven-Erik Stålnacke investigate the murder of local priest Mildred Nilsson. Attorney Rebecka Martinsson works with Nilsson’s widower to arrange for the return of their house to the Swedish Church so she gets involved in the investigation too. Nilsson had some controversial views and was not at all afraid to share them. So there’s more than one suspect in this case. But slowly, Martinsson and the police get to the truth. In this novel, the murderer is a person who has nothing left to lose, or so it seems to that person. That sense of desperation is part of what drives the killer on instead of stopping before the murder is committed.

Lindy Cameron’s Redback is the story of a crack team of Australian retrieval specialists called Redback. They’re called in when people need to be rescued from extremely dangerous situations and that’s exactly what happens on the Pacific island of Laui. The island is hosting the Pacific Tourism and Enviro-Trade Conference when a group of rebels disrupts the meeting and takes the delegates hostage. Team Redback, led by Bryn Gideon, is called in and rescues the conferees. It’s not long before that incident is connected to a terrible train explosion, two murders and an explosion on a U.S. military base. As it turns out, a shadowy group of terrorists is using a video game called Global WarTek to recruit members and give instructions. Several local terrorist groups with nothing to lose and a lot of fanaticism are only too happy to follow those instructions. So Gideon and her team have their proverbial work cut out for them as they go up against a group that’s not supposed to even exist.

Camilla Grebe and Åsa Träff’’s Some Kind of Peace tells the story of Stockholm psychologist Siri Bergman. She is dealing with the horrible trauma of having lost her beloved husband Stefan in a diving incident. Otherwise, though, she’s managing her life – more or less. Then one day she gets a chilling letter that makes it clear she’s being stalked. Other incidents happen too, all of them designed to frighten and discredit her. Then one day she discovers the body of a patient Sara Matteus in the water near her home. As if that’s not bad enough, the death is made to look like a suicide for which Bergman is responsible. When the evidence shows that Matteus was murdered, the police even wonder whether Bergman might have committed the crime. In order to clear her name and save her own life, Bergman has to find out who is responsible for the murder and for stalking her. It turns out that the killer acted out of a sense of desperation and the belief that there was nothing to lose. While that’s not precisely the killer’s motive, it does drive the killer ‘over the edge.’

And that’s the thing about having nothing to lose. It can also mean one has nothing to keep one from pushing the limits and doing things that can turn tragic.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from  Strawberry Alarm Clock’s Incense and Peppermint.

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Filed under Åsa Larsson, Åsa Träff, C.J. Box, Camilla Grebe, Donald Honig, Lindy Cameron, Robin Cook, Stephen J. Cannell

No More Separations Where You Have to Say Goodnight to a Telephone*

Have you ever been involved in a long-distance relationship? If you have, then you know they’re not easy to maintain over the long run. It’s one thing to be involved with someone who’s away for a finite period of time. But it’s quite another to keep a relationship strong when the two people involved actually live and work in different places. Nurturing a relationship under those circumstances is very difficult and requires quite a lot of planning and commitment. That tension when two people care deeply for each other but are separated by distance can certainly add to the overall tension in a crime novel. It can also help to flesh out a character.

Sometimes a long-distance relationship actually works well, especially if the two people are independent and have their own lives. For instance, Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza’s Inspector Espinosa lives and works in Rio de Janeiro. He’s involved with Irene, a graphics designer who lives and works in São Paulo and whom he meets in Southwesterly Wind. In that novel, a terrified young man named Gabriel comes to see Espinosa. He is about to celebrate his birthday and that’s why he’s afraid. Gabriel was told by a psychic that he would commit murder before his 29th birthday and he believes what he was told. Espinosa doesn’t put too much credence in what Gabriel says but he doesn’t dismiss it outright either. Then, a colleague of Gabriel’s is killed. Then there’s another death. The only link seems to be the young man himself, so Espinosa sets about finding out who set Gabriel up to take the blame for these murders. Espinosa and Irene very much enjoy the time they spend together, they care for each other, and they do respect each other. But neither feels the strong urge to re-locate or to marry. They lead independent lives and neither wants to give that up.

Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Salvo Montalbano lives and works in Sicily. His partner Livia Burlando lives and works in Genoa. In one sense that suits them well. They are both independent professionals who have busy lives. And Montalbano for one enjoys the freedom he feels to come and go as he chooses when Livia isn’t there. It’s stressful for him to try to get his job done and spend time with Livia when she’s in town. And yet being separated is not easy at all on their relationship. Montalbano really does care for Livia and sees her good points, and she loves him too. They argue, they consider each other unreasonable at times and so on, but underneath that, we see that they do care about each other. In several of the novels in the series there are sub-plots both funny and not-so-funny in which they try to balance seeing each other with the realities of their lives.

There’s also the long-distance relationship between Åsa Larsson’s Rebecka Martinsson and her lover Måns Wenngren. When we first meet them in The Savage Altar (AKA Sun Storm), they work for the same law firm in Stockholm. But when a former friend’s brother is murdered, Martinsson returns to her home town of Kiruna to do what she can to help. Then when her friend is charged with the murder Martinsson stays on to defend her. As the series moves on Martinsson chooses to stay in Kiruna. She feels very much that she belongs there and doesn’t regret her decision. Meanwhile Wenngren remains in Stockholm. The two do care very much about each other and both of them enjoy their time together. But keeping their relationship strong is not easy. Wenngren would just as soon have Martinsson move back to Stockholm. Martinsson cares very much for Wenngren but isn’t willing to do that. Neither character is painted as wholly right or wrong as far as that conflict goes and it adds an interesting layer to the series.

In Paddy Richardson’s Hunting Blind we meet newly-minted psychiatrist Stephanie Anderson, who lives and works in Dunedin. In the course of her work one of her patients Elizabeth Clark tells her about a terrible incident. Years earlier, Clark’s little sister Gracie was abducted and never found; not even a body was discovered. Clark’s story eerily resembles a tragic incident from Anderson’s own past. When Anderson was fourteen her little sister Gemma was abducted and she too was never found. Anderson wants to find some peace and lay her own ghosts to rest. So although it’s very risky she decides to find out who abducted both girls. She begins to follow the trail of the incidents and in the process she meets Dan, who works as a hunting guide. They fall in love and she discovers that Dan too may have a piece of the puzzle she’s trying to solve. Although she cares very much for Dan she doesn’t want to stop her search, so the two begin a long-distance relationship as Anderson travels back to her home town of Wanaka. As she continues to search for answers, Anderson finds out the truth about the disappearances and it’s interesting to see how her relationship with Dan evolves throughout the course of the novel, and how it sustains her.

Anthony Bidulka’s Saskatoon PI Russell Quant has to deal with the ups and downs of a long-distance relationship too. In Stain of the Berry, Quant is hired by Warren Culinare to look into the reasons behind his sister Tanya’s suicide. Matters are complicated because Tanya had apparently tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to contact Quant herself before her death. He takes the case and begins to ask some questions. Meanwhile he’s also trying to solve another mystery: the disappearance of his good friend and next-door-neighbour Sereena Orion Smith. That’s how he meets Alex Canyon, a private and corporate security specialist. The two become involved and decide to continue their relationship even after Canyon moves to Melbourne to take on a new job. Quant remains in Saskatoon and the two of them use Hawai’i as a meeting point. In fact, that’s why Quant is in Hawai’i at the beginning of Aloha Candy Hearts. In that novel, Quant is preparing to return to Saskatoon when he meets an enigmatic stranger at the airport.  The man, who turns out to be archivist Walter Angel, slips a cryptic message very much like a treasure map into Quant’s hand luggage. Shortly afterwards, Angel is murdered. Quant follows up on the clue he was given and connects Walter Angel’s death to some secrets hidden right at home in Saskatchewan. It’s clear in these novels that Quant and Canyon care deeply about each other despite the distance that separates them. It’s not easy on either of them and their attempts to remain a couple form an interesting aspect to this series.

Here’s to all of those who try to keep their long-distance loves close. The fact is, long-distance relationships are not easy for anyone. If you’ve ever been in one you know exactly what I mean. But these relationships can add characterisation and interest to a crime novel. I’ve only mentioned a few here because of space. Which ones have you enjoyed?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s The Night is Still Young.

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Filed under Andrea Camilleri, Anthony Bidulka, Åsa Träff, Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza, Paddy Richardson