Category Archives: Carol O’Connell

You Can Always Depend on Me*

Enabled DetectivesNot long ago, I had an interesting comment exchange with FictionFan at FictionFan’s Book Reviews and Cleo at Cleopatra Loves Books. Both blogs, by the way, are excellent resources for honest, interesting and thoughtful book reviews. If you love reading, you’ll want those blogs on your blog roll.

Our conversation was about what I’ll call fictional police enablers: supervisors who enable maverick cops. In real life of course, there are limits to what a police officer is allowed to do in the course of an investigation, and there are rules that govern how police are supposed to get evidence, deal with suspects and the like. And while those policies aren’t always followed, there are real consequences for cops who don’t.

In fiction though, it doesn’t always work out that way. There are plenty of fictional maverick cops, and although their supervisors don’t always like what they do, they usually keep those police officers from getting in real trouble.

We see this for instance in more than one of Arthur Upfield’s Inspector Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte mysteries. Bony works for the Queensland Police, and is often sent out to crime scenes in remote towns and rural areas. He knows very well that official police policy doesn’t always work in those places, and he knows even better that they don’t work among the Aboriginal people who are sometimes concerned in his cases. And Bony would rather solve cases than stick strictly to the letter of the law. So in that sense he’s a maverick. His unorthodox ways do get him into trouble with the ‘higher ups’ at times, but they don’t cost him his job. One reason for that is that he’s a brilliant detective. He gets the job done. Another is that despite the fact that his supervisor gets exasperated with his refusal to go along with policy, he knows that Bony’s the best at what he does. So he protects him.

Carol O’Connell’s NYPD homicide detective Kathy Mallory is another example of a maverick detective. She’s had a very dark, troubled background and matters were made worse when her surrogate father, police detective Louis Markowitz, was killed in the line of duty. Mallory is arguably a sociopath and has little regard for departmental policy. In many ways, you might call her a supervisor’s nightmare. But she is good at catching ‘bad guys’ and she is unafraid to go up against some very nasty people. What’s more, she’s protected by her mentor (and Markowitz’ former partner) Detective Riker. Riker knows about her past, and he has his own share of issues, so he has some sympathy for her. And that’s part of why he enables her, if you want to put it that way.

Fans of Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole will know that he’s broken just about every policy there is. He’s gotten too close to cases, done patently illegal things, and more. And that’s not to mention his struggles with alcohol and drugs. Despite all of that, he’s a brilliant detective. In fact, he’s about the best there is when it comes to serial killers and other ‘unusual’ sorts of murders. That’s part of why his boss Bjarne Møller protects him as much as he does. Møller knows that Hole will get the job done if he can just stay on a somewhat even keel (and sometimes, even if he can’t). What’s more, he knows that Hole’s colleagues respect his ability.

Adrian Hyland’s Emily Tempest seldom follows policy. As it is, she’s independent and sometimes rash. Add to that her knowledge of the part of Australia’s Outback where she lives, and it’s easy to see why she’s not much of a one to do what she’s told to do if it makes no sense to her. When we first meet Tempest in Diamond Dove (AKA Moonlight Downs), she’s just returned to the Moonlight Downs Aboriginal encampment after some time away. She gets involved in a murder case when the group’s leader Lincoln Flinders is murdered. In the process of finding out who killed the victim and why, she meets Superintendent Tom MacGillivray. He sees that Tempest has a lot of practical knowledge and that she’s smart and gutsy. That’s part of the reason he protects her, even enables her, when he can. There’s also the fact that she has a fairly strong instinct for tracking down leads. But MacGillivray can’t do much to enable Tempest in Gunshot Road. He’s been sidelined by injury, so Tempest comes temporarily under the command of Bruce Cockburn. She quickly finds out that Cockburn won’t enable her at all when the team is called to the scene of a murder at Green Swamp Well. Cocburn is satisfied that the death was the tragic result of a drunken quarrel. Tempest isn’t sure that’s true. And in this novel, she learns among other things that being a maverick can be costly.

And I don’t think it would be possible to discuss maverick police detectives without mentioning Ian Rankin’s John Rebus. Rebus fans will know that he is much more interested in finding out the truth about the cases he works than he is about following policy. There are plenty of instances in which he takes his own approach to dealing with ‘bad guys,’ tracking down leads and so on. Sometimes he’s enabled, mostly because the people he works with know he’s a very good detective, and that he won’t give up on a case. But even the legendary Rebus isn’t enabled all of the time. When he lets his temper get the best of him in Resurrection Men, he’s sent off to Tulliallan Police College as a last-ditch effort to ‘reform’ him. And he’s certainly not enabled in Black and Blue when he turns up some unpleasant truths about a ‘bent’ senior officer. He’s sent off to investigate the murder of an oilman instead of being assigned the more prestigious case of a killer who seems to be copying a serial killer from years earlier. That doesn’t stop Rebus though…

I know I haven’t mentioned all of the fictional police mavericks there are (I know, I know, fans of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch). But just from these few examples, we can see that some are more enabled by their superiors than others. Some push the limits of what they’re allowed to do more than others. And of course some stretch credibility more than others. But they arguably have in common that someone in authority sees that their detective skills and their integrity outweigh their unwillingness/inability to play by the book, so to speak. And as challenging as it can be, that’s reason enough for some people to protect a cop who doesn’t always ‘mind the manners.’

What do you think of the premise of the maverick cop who’s protected by someone in charge? Does it make sense?

Thanks, FictionFan and Cleo, for the inspiration!

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Lamont Dozier and Brian and Eddie Holland’s Reach Out (I’ll be There), made popular by The Four Tops.

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Filed under Adrian Hyland, Arthur Upfield, Carol O'Connell, Ian Rankin, Jo Nesbø, Michael Connelly

But I Would Not Be Convicted By a Jury Of My Peers*

I’ve been summoned for jury duty. In the U.S., a jury summons means one has to appear at one’s local courthouse and make oneself available to serve on a jury. If one gets called, then attorneys for each side in a case work with the judge to select the jury from the pool of people whose names have been called. I don’t know if I’ll actually be placed on a jury, but it’ll be interesting to find out. In the meantime, my jury summons has got me to thinking about the important role that juries and jurors play in crime fiction. And just to make things interesting, I’m not going to focus on novels such as Philip Margolin’s or Scott Turow’s, which have the legal system as their main context. That would be too easy.  ;-) You can find juries in a lot of other crime fiction, too.

For example, in Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds (AKA Death in the Air), Hercule Poirot is traveling by air from Paris to London. On the same flight is Marie Morisot, also known as Madame Giselle, a well-known French moneylender. Madame Giselle uses as “collateral” information she has learned about her clients, and so far, she’s had to write off very few “bad debts.” During the flight, Madame Giselle is poisoned. The only possible suspects are the other people who were on the same flight, so Poirot works with Chief Inspector James “Jimmy” Japp to find out who killed Madame Giselle and why. A very incriminating piece of evidence is found behind the seat Poirot occupied on the plane, so when the inevitable inquest is convened, the jury brings a verdict of willful murder against Poirot. But the coroner won’t accept the verdict and insists that the jury return another verdict. The jury brings back another verdict, this time of willful murder against a person or persons unknown and frees the police and Poirot to find the real killer.

There’s another Christie novel too where the soundness of the jury system and its use in a crime are essential but…no spoilers.  If you know this novel, you know which one I mean.  ;-)

In Dorothy Sayers’ Strong Poison, Lord Peter Wimsey is attending the murder trial of mystery novelist Harriet Vane. Vane’s been charged with the poisoning murder of her former lover Philip Boyes and there’s plenty of circumstantial evidence against her. She had arsenic in her possession, she and Boyes had been quarreling, and the last thing Boyes had to eat or drink was a cup of coffee that Vane gave him. Wimsey is smitten with Vane and wants her name cleared. One of the jurors is Wimsey’s friend Katherine Climpson. She isn’t convinced that Vane is guilty and her commitment to her position ends up in a hung jury and another trial for Vane. That’s all that Wimsey needs to begin asking questions and looking into the case. With Inspector Parker, Wimsey finds out that Vane is by no means the only one who might have wanted Philip Boyes dead, and in the end Wimsey finds out who the real killer is.

Carol O’Connell’s Dead Famous gives a central role to a jury. In that novel, a Chicago jury delivers a controversial acquittal of an accused murderer, and everyone thinks the verdict was wrong, maybe even somehow rigged. A killer known as The Reaper takes the verdict very seriously and one by one, the members of the jury begin to die. What makes matters worse is that New York “shock jock” Ian Zachary is playing a ghoulish on-air game for its shock value. He’s challenging listeners to find the members of the jury in a game of “spot the juror.” In the meantime, Detective Sergeant Riker is recovering from a series of bullet wounds from a line-of-duty incident. During his “down time” he spends time with the family business, an agency that cleans up scenes of crimes. One of the employees Johanna Apollo turns out to be much more important than it seems at first, especially when it comes out that she was one of the jurors in the original case. As Riker struggles to heal, protect Johanna Apollo, Detective Kathleen “Kathy” Mallory is trying to catch The Reaper before there’s another murder and get Riker back to work for her own reasons. In the end, we find out the truth about what happened in the jury room that led to the acquittal, and how it relates to the current deaths.

What happens on a jury and with jurors plays an important role in Michael Connelly’s The Brass Verdict. In that novel, attorney Mickey Haller is left with several cases when a colleague Jerry Vincent is murdered. Haller starts to work on Vincent’s cases and his focus turns to one in particular. Film producer Walter Elliot has been charged with murdering his unfaithful wife Mitzi and her lover Johan Rilz, and Vincent had been Elliot’s attorney. L.A.P.D. cop Harry Bosch is working on the Vincent murder case, and he begins to think that Vincent’s murder has something to do with the Elliot case that Haller has “inherited.” Each with a separate kind of expertise, Bosch and Haller slowly begin to unravel what’s really going on and what the truth is behind the murders. No spoilers here, but the behaviour of the jurors is closely related to what happens in this novel.

The behaviour of one juror in particular is the focus of Ian Rankin’s short story Not Provan, which appears in his collection A Good Hanging. As an aside, I really do love the title of this story. :-)  In that story, Inspector Rebus is attending the trial of Willie Provan, a thug and gangster whom he’s never liked. Provan is a member of Tiny Alice, or T-Alice, an Edinburgh gang that has staked out its turf and defends it in any way they can. Provan has been charged with murdering a football fan who strayed onto T-Alice’s patch, and the prosecution has an extremely good case against him. In fact, Rebus is certain Provan will be convicted easily. But then Provan’s counsel surprises everyone, including Rebus and the jury, with a strategy that just may get Provan acquitted. Rebus knows very well that Provan committed the crime, so he decides to do some of his own investigation to see if he can poke a proverbial hole in the defence’s strategy. To Rebus’ surprise, he discovers that one of the jurors is just as convinced that Provan is guilty and is doing his own sleuthing. Rebus follows the juror and finds that this man has come to exactly the same conclusion about what to do. The juror actually finds out a key piece of evidence, giving Rebus the clue he needs. The way in which Rebus handles the new evidence, the juror and the possible risk of jury tampering and mistrial may not be what everyone would do, but it is innovative.

It’s fascinating and unsettling to think about how many technicalities there are in a trial, and where juries fit in. The jury system may be imperfect, as any legal system is to at least some extent, but it’s an entrenched part of many societies’ ways of handling criminal justice. So it’s not a surprise that it’s woven into lots of crime fiction.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Paul Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Carol O'Connell, Dorothy Sayers, Ian Rankin, Michael Connelly

You’re Brokenhearted From a Long, Long Time Ago*

We’re all affected by things that happen to us during our childhoods. Since the early days of psychoanalysis psychologists, psychiatrists and other researchers have explored the way that early experiences shape the adults we become. There are, of course, lively debates about the effects of those experiences, but just about everyone agrees that those effects are real. And when those experiences are difficult or even traumatic, they can have a dramatic impact on one’s later life. It’s true enough in real life, and we see it in crime fiction, too. In fact, it’s interesting to note the number of fictional sleuths who’ve had difficult childhoods or traumatic experiences in their youths. When that kind of backstory is done well, it can add to a sleuth’s character and help to explain why certain things affect the sleuth as they do.

Agatha Christie was fairly reticent about the backstories of her most famous sleuths Jane Marple, Hercule Poirot and Tommy and Tuppence Beresford. So we don’t really know much about their histories. But Christie does touch upon the effects of a troubled childhood in some of her work. For instance, in Three Act Tragedy (AKA Murder in Three Acts), we meet Oliver Manders, who works in a law office. One night, he’s invited to a cocktail party at the home of famous actor Sir Charles Cartwright. The party is no sooner underway than one of the other guests, Reverend Stephen Babbington, suddenly dies of what turns out to be poison. At first, no-one can imagine why anyone would want to kill the beloved clergyman, but Hercule Poirot, who was also at the party, begins to investigate the matter. Manders is a suspect, since he was at the party and since he’d had more than one disagreement with Babbington on the subject of religion. He’s even more suspicious when he turns up suddenly at the Yorkshire home of Sir Bartholomew Strange, a noted medical specialist, on the very night when Strange also dies of poison. And Manders isn’t exactly a pleasant person. He’s got a world-weary, blasé manner and a sometimes sharp way of speaking. And we find as we get to know him better that he’s been rather unpleasant since childhood. We also find out that his childhood was a very unhappy one. His parents weren’t married (at that time, a cause for shame and disgrace), and he didn’t really have a stable home environment. In the end, although Manders is still not the most likeable of characters, we do feel some sympathy for him.

Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch has also been deeply affected by traumatic childhood experiences. When he was eleven, his mother was murdered, and he didn’t know who his father was. So Bosch spent a lot of his childhood in orphanages and other institutions for children. He carries a lot of anger about his situation and it’s not until he’s older that he confronts that trauma and starts to deal with it. In The Last Coyote, he has an argument with a superior that ends with Bosch shoving his superior through a window. That’s enough for the L.A.P.D. to put Bosch on indefinite leave while he undergoes psychiatric evaluation. Bosch isn’t eager for the process, but he knows it’s his only chance to get back on the job. So he begins to work with Dr. Carmen Hinojos to try to make sense of his past. He also decides to look into a thirty-year-old murder case – that of his own mother. At the time, no-one paid much attention to the death; Bosch’s mother was “only a prostitute,” after all. But as Bosch looks into the case a little more, he finds that there were other reasons that no-one did much about the case, and that there are still people who don’t want it solved.

Carol O’Connell’s Kathleen “Kathy” Mallory is also deeply affected by her difficult childhood. As a ten-year-old, she ran away from a terrible home situation in New Orleans and ended up in New York City. For a time, she was homeless, living by her wits as the saying goes. But then, N.Y.P.D. officer Louis Markowitz found her and took her in. Markowitz becomes a father figure to Mallory and provides for her the only stable, caring home she’s ever had. Then, in Mallory’s Oracle, Markowitz is investigating a series of killings of elderly suburban women when he’s murdered himself and his body found near that of one of the victims. Mallory, by then on the police force herself, determines to find Markowitz’ killer. She works with his former partner Riker to discover the truth about what happened. Throughout this series, we can see the effect on Mallory of the trauma she’s endured. She’s a skilled detective, but completely untrusting and what some people call sociopathic.

And then there’s Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander, whom we meet in his Millennium trilogy. Molested and otherwise abused since childhood, she’s become what some people call near-feral. She’s a brilliant computer expert, and she’s both smart and shrewd. But her experiences (and the fact that she has Asperger’s Syndrome) have crippled her emotionally and socially. She trusts no-one, she does not respect the “social rules,” and she’s quite honestly a very difficult person. But she’s just the partner that journalist Mikael Blomqvist needs in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo when he is hired by Henrik Vanger to find out the truth behind the disappearance of Vanger’s great-niece Harriet. Blomqvist takes the case because he’s in desperate financial need if his publication is to survive, and he and Salander begin to look into the history of the Vanger family. They find a number of dark secrets in the Vanger family’s past, and in the end, they discover what really happened to Harriet Vanger.

Louise Penny’s Detective Yvette Nichol has also been shaped by her difficult past. Her family is originally from Eastern Europe, but has settled in Canada, and her father Ari is determined that the family will be accepted there and that his daughter will make them proud. Yvette has grown up with a parade of relations coming and going, speaking in a language she doesn’t understand and basically hijacking her home. Life has also been difficult for her because she’s been put under a tremendous amount of pressure to do well. So she’s learned to do anything, including lying, backstabbing and more, to move ahead and “look good.” What Nichol wants – what she’s always wanted – is to belong, and to fit in. She’s very much her own worst enemy, and when Chief Inspector Armand Gamache tries to include her on the team and take an interest in her, she sabotages that chance to belong. To be honest, she’s not a particularly nice person, nor a trustworthy one. It’s understandable that her colleagues don’t want much to do with her. But as we learn about her background, we can at least see what made her the person she’s become, even if we don’t like that person very much.

P.D. Martin’s Sophie Anderson has also been shaped by childhood trauma. In her case, her brother was abducted and killed when she was a little girl. At the time of her brother’s disappearance, Anderson had troubling nightmares that were put down to coping with what happened. But as she’s gotten older, she’s realised that those nightmares are actually psychic visions – flashes of what’s going on in killers’ and victim’s minds. Anderson’s decision to become an FBI profiler was heavily influenced by what happened to her brother, and she continues to learn how to use her visions to “get into the minds” of killers and catch them.

There are other examples of sleuths who’ve been shaped by troubled childhoods (Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone comes to my mind). On one hand, this kind of backstory can be overdone and become melodramatic. On the other, if it’s done well, it can add to the depth of the sleuth’s character, provide interesting plots for stories-across-stories, and make the sleuth more interesting. But what do you think? Do you get tired of sleuths who’ve had troubled childhoods? Or do you think it’s an interesting plot point?

 

Many thanks to Bill Selnes at Mysteries and More From Saskatchewan for the idea for this post. Folks, do please check out Bill’s terrific blog.

 

 

 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Through the Long Night.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Carol O'Connell, Louise Penny, Michael Connelly, P.D. Martin, Stieg Larsson, Sue Grafton

>Welcome To My Life*

>It’s almost 2011, and lots of people are reflecting on the year that’s gone by and the year to come and making their plans. I think that’s a great idea. So I’ve used the terrific My Life As a Book idea created by Pop Culture Nerd and tossed together a set of sentences to help us all think about the year to come – crime fiction style ;-).

Here’s the way I’ve used crime fiction stories to complete the sentences:

I plan to spend my New Year’s Eve (or I spent my New Year’s Eve): At Bertram’s Hotel – Agatha Christie

I’ve made a resolution to: Write to Kill (Daniel Pennac)

I plan to quit my habit of: Love, Lies and Liquor (M.C. Beaton) ;-)

I hope I’ll get to visit: The Hanging Valley (Peter Robinson)

One project I didn’t finish last year but want to finish this year is: The Murder Book (Jonathan Kellerman)

I want to learn: Killer Routine (Alan Orloff)

I’m not looking forward to: Hard Time (Sara Paretsky)

My biggest dream for the year is: Temporary Sanity (Rose Connors)

I hope I don’t end up: Dancing for the Hangman (Martin Edwards)

I’ll probably spend a lot of time: Killing Critics (Carol O’Connell) - Um – If you’re a writer, you probably really understand this one…

Now it’s your turn… Wanna play? Just copy and paste the sentences in your own blog and complete them with your own crime fiction choices. I’d sure love to read your answers!! You can put as many restrictions (e.g. only books you read in 2010, or only books on your 2011 TBR list, etc.) or as few (like I did) restrictions on your answers as you want. Oh, and feel free to use the image if you want to. C’mon, let’s play! It’ll be fun…..

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a Simple Plan song.


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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alan Orloff, Carol O'Connell, Daniel Pennac, Jonathan Kellerman, M.C. Beaton, Martin Edwards, Peter Robinson, Rose Connors, Sara Peretsky

>There’s Just Too Much That Time Cannot Erase*

>It’s a sad fact of life that we all get hurt. Most of the time, those scars can heal, and we go on with life. We may not forget what’s happened to us but we can pick up our lives and move forward. There are some hurts, though, that run so deep that we find it hard to “bounce back.” Some people never do. For those people, their lives are so permanently affected by what’s happened to them that it colours everything they do and how they see the world. As crime fiction shows us, it’s only natural to feel that hurt. Characters who do can resonate with readers and become sympathetic. But it can be dangerous – even deadly – to let those wounds – even the serious ones – rule our lives.

There’s a really interesting case of how those old scars affect our lives in Agatha Christie’s Mrs. McGinty’s Dead. In that novel, Hercule Poirot investigates the death of a charwoman who lived and worked in the village of Broadhinny. Everyone believes that her unpleasant lodger James Bentley is responsible, and there is evidence against him. In fact, the evidence is so strong that he’s been convicted and is scheduled to be executed. Superintendent Spence thinks Bentley is innocent, though, and asks Poirot to investigate. Poirot agrees, travels to Broadhinny and begins to look into the case. He finds out that some of the people in Broadhinny have been keeping some secrets, and that Mrs. McGinty found out one of those secrets. It’s that secret that got her killed. Interestingly enough, another character in the novel has been, as you might say, scarred by that secret and actually came to the Broadhinny area for that reason. It’s admittedly a sub-plot in the novel, but it adds a layer of interest to that character.

In Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d (AKA The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side), Miss Marple and her friend Dolly Bantry investigate the poisoning death of Heather Badcock. The death takes place shortly after Heather gets the chance to meet her screen idol Marina Gregg at a fête hosted by Marina and her husband Jason Rudd. At first, it’s assumed that Marina Gregg was the intended victim. She’s certainly made her share of enemies, among them rival actress Lola Brewster. Besides, the cocktail that killed Heather Badcock was originally Marina Gregg’s. It’s soon evident, though, that Heather was the intended victim all along. Now, Miss Marple and Dolly Bantry try to find out who would want to kill a seemingly harmless woman, and why. They discover that Heather Badcock was murdered because someone had an old scar that had never healed.

In Håkan Nesser’s Woman With Birthmark, Detective Chief Inspector Van Veeteren and his team investigate the shooting death of Ryszard Malik, who was murdered inside his own home. There’s not much evidence to go on, so the team is faced with quite a difficult challenge. Then another murder occurs. It’s very soon clear that this killer has a specific agenda and is going to strike again. So the team has to not only find and catch the killer, but also prevent further deaths. In this case, we know who the murderer is from the beginning of the novel. As the story unfolds, we also learn what the killer’s motive is, too. What we discover is that this killer is motivated by a terrible scar that never healed. This novel is a fascinating case of the frightening lengths to which we could imagine going after a traumatic, terrible hurt.

We also see that in Simon Lelic’s Rupture (AKA A Thousand Cuts). DI Lucia May is called in to investigate some terrible shootings at an exclusive London school New history teacher Samuel Szajkowski walked into a crowded auditorium and shot three students and another teacher before turning the gun on himself. May is under intense pressure to put these dreadful deaths down to the work of a man who had simply “snapped,” as the saying goes. She’s expected to “rubber stamp” the official explanation that the murders were the work of one tragically unbalanced person. As she begins to interview the students, teachers and administrators of the school, though, May learns that the explanation for the killings isn’t nearly that simple. In fact, they were caused by some terrible hurts that hadn’t healed. What’s compelling about this book is that the case May is investigating is, in a way, mirrored by workplace “scars” that May herself has to endure.

May isn’t the only sleuth, either, who has to deal with very deep scars. Carol O’Connell’s Kathleen “Kathy” Mallory has a deeply troubled background. So troubled, in fact, that she ended up alone and homeless on the streets of New York City. At the age of eleven, Mallory was taken in by New York City police detective Louis Markowitz. In Mallory’s Oracle, we learn that Mallory still carries serious scars from her experiences, but she’s become a police officer and has managed to create a life for herself. Those wounds come back to haunt Mallory, though, when her surrogate father Markowitz is murdered. His body is discovered near one of a series of wealthy elderly female victims of a killer he was hunting when he died. Mallory takes up where Markowitz left off and with his former partner, Detective Riker, searches for her “father’s” killer.

Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch also has some serious scars. His mother was murdered when he was eleven years old. His father, a well-known attorney, wasn’t a part of his life until he became an adult. Bosch spent much of his childhood in foster care, orphanages and other institutions. All of these scars have profoundly affected Bosch’s outlook, attitudes and his way of dealing with life. We see this in several of the novels that feature him. Bosch’s old wounds and scars take center stage in The Last Coyote, in which Bosch loses control of himself and pushes a superior, Lt. Pounds, through a window. For that, he’s taken off active duty and ordered to undergo psychological counseling before he can return to duty. Bosch is at first unwilling to go through with the mandatory counseling sessions, but he soon accepts the fact that he’s not going to be able to do his job if he doesn’t. As Bosch begins to explore the scars and wounds he carries, he also opens one of them in a very real way: he re-opens the thirty-year-old murder of a prostitute – his own mother.

There’s also James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux, who carries plenty of deep wounds and scars. In several of the novels that feature Robicheaux, we learn about the way he’s been affected by his experience in Viet Nam. In fact, more than once he has flashbacks from that time, brought on by the stress of the cases he investigates. Robicheaux has also suffered great personal loss. For instance, his mother abandoned his family when he was a boy. His father died in an explosion on an oil rig. His wife, Anne Ballard, was murdered. All of these scars profoundly influence Robicheaux’s life.

S.J. Bolton’s Clara Benning, whom we meet in Awakening, also bears scars – quite literal ones. She’s a reclusive wildlife veterinary surgeon who’s very much more comfortable with animals than with people. In fact, she avoids people whenever she can. That’s mostly because her face was badly scarred from an awful childhood tragedy. Benning has a lot of knowledge about reptiles. So when several frightening incidents involving snakes begin to occur in her village, she’s called in to help. Against her instinct to avoid people, Benning works with Assistant Chief Constable Matt Hoare and television personality/reptile expert Sean North to find out the truth about these terrifying events.

Some scars seem not to heal, and their effects stay with a person throughout life. Characters who bear those scars can be compelling – even haunting. They can also be cliché and contrived if the character isn’t well-drawn. As with anything else in crime fiction, this is a case of balance. But what do you think? Do you think this sort of character is too cliché?

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Evanescence’s My Immortal.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Carol O'Connell, Håkan Nesser, James Lee Burke, Michael Connelly, S.J. Bolton, Simon Lelic