Category Archives: Cat Connor

When We Get Together It’s So Much Fun*

OnlineGroupsWhen the Internet first came into popular use, many people saw it as a new way to get information and to do research. Of course, lots of people, myself included, still use it for that purpose. But in the last ten years or so, people have discovered an entirely new use for the Internet: online groups. It used to be that people with a common interest or a common cause had to work to meet one another and share their interest. Now, with just a few keyboard clicks, one can join any number of online groups. It’s dangerously easy.

And crime fiction novels have kept up with this important development in the way we communicate. There are now a number of novels that bring up (some that feature) the way in which we use the Internet to join together. As you’ll see, even when people use online groups to try to do some good, things don’t always work out well.

In Alafair Burke’s 212, for instance, we meet Megan Gunther, a New York Univeristy (NYU) undergraduate student. She’s joined an online community called Campus Juice to keep informed about what’s happening on campus and, if she’s honest, to keep up with the campus gossip. One day, she’s checking the website during class and notices her own name among the postings. Shocked, she checks the group’s site again as soon as she can, and reads what’s been said about her. To her dismay, someone’s posted her class schedule as well as some things about her social life (e.g. when she goes to the gym). The post ends with the disturbing sentence

 

‘Megan Gunther, someone is watching.’

 

When Megan is stabbed to death, it’s clear that someone’s been using the interest group to target her. NYPD detectives Ellie Hatcher and J.J. Rogan are assigned to the case and begin their investigation. This turns out to be far more than a case of dangerous stalking when Hatcher finds out that this murder is connected to the murders of two other people: a bodyguard and a real estate agent who ‘moonlights’ as a prostitute.

Michael Connelly’s Angels Flight features a horrible use of online groups: child pornography. In that novel, LAPD cop Harry Bosch investigates the murder of prominent lawyer Howard Elias. He’s murdered just before an important trial in which he was to represent Michael Harris in a high-profile lawsuit against the LAPD. The suit alleges that the police used illegal (to put it mildly) tactics to coerce a confession of rape and murder from Harris. The victim in that case was twelve-year-old Stacey Kincaid, and the more Bosch learns about the investigation into Stacey’s death, the more he sees that there was indeed police misconduct on many levels. That leads him to re-open the Kincaid case as well as continue to look into the Elias murder. And both trails lead to an online interest group. Crime fiction fans will know, too, that this is only one of many crime novels in which online child pornography/child trafficking interest groups play a role.

Cat Connor’s Killerbyte features an online group dedicated to poetry. Called Cobwebs, it’s moderated by FBI agent Gabrielle ‘Ellie’ Conway and Cormac ‘Mac’ Connelly. One night, group member Carter McClaren shows up at Conway’s home, ready to ‘pay her back’ for having banned him from the group. He’s arrested, but soon makes bail. Then, he’s murdered. Attached to the body is an adhesive note with a poem written on it. Conway and Connelly also begin to receive email taunts from the killer. Then, there’s another body found, also with a poem. And another. It’s clear now that someone in the group is a murderer, but this is not a case of a mad serial killer who hates poetry. It’s more complicated than that, and Conway and Connelly have to work to find out who is using their group to kill before they become victims themselves. 

In Helen Fitzgerald’s The Cry, Joanna Lindsay and Alistair Robertson travel from Scotland to Melbourne with their nine-week-old son Noah. This is Lindsay’s first trip to Australia, but for Robertson, it’s a homecoming. They land safely and begin the long drive from the airport to their final destination. They’re on their way when they have to face every parent’s worst nightmare: the loss of baby Noah. News of the missing baby soon gets out of course, and the Australian media goes into high gear, publishing every detail of the search for the baby, interviews with people and so on. And the case generates a lot of interest. There are several websites and other online groups set up; some are charitable giving sites and others are discussion sites. At first, there is an outpouring of sympathy for Noah’s parents, but after a short time, questions begin to arise about the case. Little by little, that support turns to suspicion and before long, there are just as many websites set up to vilify, especially, Lindsay as there are in support of the family.

And then there’s Qiu Xiaolong’s Enigma of China. Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police is assigned to ‘rubber stamp’ the case of the death of Zhou Keng, Head of Shanghai’s Housing Development Committee. The official police explanation of Zhou’s death is suicide, and that’s logical, considering the victim was on the point of being brought down by an investigation into his unscrupulous activities. Chen’s not completely convinced this is a suicide though, and he begins to ask questions. He finds that Zhou’s activities came out through the online community of ‘netizens’ who join interest groups because for them, it’s the only way to speak out about some of the things going on in China. Chen finds out that the authorities keep very close tabs on what these groups do and what’s posted for obvious reasons. At the same time, they use the information the groups post for their own purposes. It’s among other things an interesting look at the way communication has gone online in the last decades.

Online groups bring together people from all over the world who might not otherwise have the chance to connect. They can be fun, enriching, helpful and supportive. I know I feel that way about the online crime fiction reading and writing communities I’m lucky enough to have joined. On the other hand, you just might want to be careful about the groups you’re thinking about joining… ;-)

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to catch up with my group’s postings!

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Ziggy Marley’s Family Time.

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Filed under Alafair Burke, Cat Connor, Helen Fitzgerald, Michael Connelly, Qiu Xiaolong

You’re in My Mind All the Time*

AnzacDayToday (or tomorrow, depending on when you read this) is Anzac Day. It’s a day set aside to thank and commemorate the men and women of Australia and New Zealand’s armed forces. They have served, and continue to serve, with distinction and bravery.

I’m neither an Australian nor a New Zealander. So why am I setting time aside for Anzac Day? One reason is that I am a world citizen. I know (at least a little) about the role the ANZAC forces have played in world history since WWI. Their bravery and sacrifice has helped keep me and my countrymen and women safe. There is no way to properly express gratitude for that. But you can at least learn a bit about it.

You can learn about the ANZAC forces here and here.

 

There’s another reason for which I set time aside for Anzac Day. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to both NZcountries. During my travels I’ve met some truly fine people. They’ve hosted me generously and treated me kindly, and I’ve made some good friends. I’ve had some memorable conversations about everything from politics to sport to film to education to social issues. And books. Of course, books. I’ve learned a lot and I’ve seen some amazing things. I’ve petted kangaroos, ‘toured’ Auckland from 328m up in the air, and seen some spectacular scenery. And that’s just the start!   All of this has been courtesy of people who wouldn’t want a fuss made about how kind they’ve been. But I remember.

AusRoosI’ve made some good online Australian and New Zealand friends too – friends I’ve not yet met in person. I hope that will change. We’ve had wonderful conversations about writing, books, and lots of other topics, too, and I’ve learned an awful lot. To all of you, thanks for reaching out.

So yes, I take some time on Anzac Day. I owe a lot, on many levels, to the good people of Australia and New Zealand. Here’s to you all!

 

 

Have you read these Australian authors?

 

Y.A. Erskine

Sulari Gentill 

Robert Gott

Katherine Howell

Adrian Hyland

Wendy James

Geoffrey McGeachin

Andrew Nette

Michael Robotham

Angela Savage

Peter Temple

David Whish-Wilson

Felicity Young

 

Australian Blogs You’ll Want to Follow

 

AustCrime

Australian Women Writers Challenge

The Crayon Files

Fair Dinkum Crime

Mysteries in Paradise

Reactions to Reading

Reading, Writing and Riesling

 
 

Have you read these New Zealand authors?

 

Cat Connor

Neil Cross

Donna Malane

Ngaio Marsh

Paddy Richardson

Bev Robitai

Grant Shanks (Andrew Grant)

Vanda Symon

Paul Thomas

 

New Zealand Blogs You’ll Want to Follow

 

Beattie’s Book Blog

Booksellers New Zealand

Crime Watch

The Crayon Files

NZ Book Lovers  

 

Give a little back. Support an Australian author. Support a New Zealand author. And let’s all of us be grateful for the way the Anzac forces have supported us.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Snapper’s Gentle Hour, also recorded by The Clean. Later, Yo La Tengo recorded a version of it too. Listen to all of the versions and see which you like best.

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Filed under Adrian Hyland, Andrew Grant, Andrew Nette, Angela Savage, Bev Robitai, Cat Connor, David Whish-Wilson, Donna Malane, Felicity Young, Geoffrey McGeachin, Grant Shanks, Katherine Howell, Michael Robotham, Neil Cross, Ngaio Marsh, Paddy Richardson, Peter Temple, Robert Gott, Sulari Gentill, Vanda Symon, Wendy James, Y.A. Erskine

There’s No Use Sitting on the Fence When You Know it All Makes Sense*

ThemesSometimes one of the most important clues in a murder case – the thing that really ties the case together – is a common theme, such as a poem, a song or something of that nature. Once the sleuth figures out what that common theme is, it’s easier to find out what’s behind the murder or set of murders. Those themes often point to the killer too. I’m not talking here about cryptic codes and ciphers. Rather, I mean motifs that give clues as to what the criminal is thinking and where s/he may strike next. Let me offer just a few examples from crime fiction to show you what I have in mind.

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Musgrave Ritual, Sherlock Holmes tells Watson of an early case of his – a case brought to him by an old university friend Reginald Musgrave. Some strange things were going on at the Musgrave family home of Hurlstone. Brunton the butler and second housemaid Rachel Howells went missing. Nothing was stolen, so theft didn’t seem to be the motive for their leaving. According to what Musgrave told Holmes, the only odd thing he’d noticed before their disappearance was that he’d caught Brunton going through some family papers. So, Holmes tells Watson, he went with his friend to Hurlstone. It turns out that an old family ritual that involved the repetition of a short verse is the theme that explains everything. Once Holmes figures out what the verse means, he finds out the truth about Brunton and Rachel Howells.

Agatha Christie used themes like that in more than one of her stories. In And then There Were None (AKA Ten Little Indians) for instance, ten people are invited for a stay on Indian Island off the Devon coast. They no sooner arrive and settle in than each is accused of having been responsible for at least one death. Then, one of the guests suddenly dies of what turns out to be poison. Late that night there’s another death. Now it’s clear that someone has lured them all to Indian Island and is planning to kill them. So the survivors will have to find out which of them is the killer if they’re to stay alive. In this case, the theme is the old poem Ten Little Indians, a copy of which is in each person’s room. Of course, knowing that theme doesn’t necessarily mean anyone will be spared… (I know, I know, fans of A Pocket Full of Rye and The ABC Murders…).

John Dickson Carr’s Hag’s Nook is the story of American Tad Rampole’s visit to England and the home of Dr. Gideon Fell. It’s also the story of the Starberth family. Two generations of the Starberth family were Governors of the now-disused Chatterham Prison. Although the prison hasn’t been in use for a hundred years, the Starbeth family still has an odd connection to the place. Each male heir has to spend the night of his twenty-fifth birthday in the Governor’s Room at the old prison. To prove he’s been there, he must open the safe in the room and follow the instructions that are there. Now it’s the turn of Martin Starberth. Rampole is especially interested when Fell tells him this story, because Rampole has fallen in love with Martin’s sister Dorothy. So he and Fell watch and wait on the night of Martin’s birthday. The next morning, Martin’s body is found. He apparently fell over the balcony attached to the Governor’s Room, but it’s soon clear that he was murdered. The only problem is that no-one was seen going to or from the prison that night. There are rumours that he fell victim to a family curse, but the real solution is more prosaic than that. The only clue to it though is a poem that Anthony Starberth wrote many years earlier. Once Fell makes sense of the poem, he’s able to find out who the killer is.

In Elly Griffiths’ The Crossing Places, forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway gets involved in a police investigation when a set of old bones is discovered in North Norfolk. DCI Harry Nelson thinks they may be the bones of Lucy Downey, a girl who went missing ten years ago, but Galloway is able to show they are much older than that. Then Nelson comes to Galloway again with a related request. He’s been receiving strange letters, most likely from the person who abducted Lucy. The letters also make veiled reference to anther girl Scarlet Henderson who recently disappeared. Nelson thinks that if Galloway can help him make sense of the letters, they’ll give him a clue as to who’s behind the abductions. Galloway is able to help with some of the quotes and references used in the letters and although they don’t specifically point to one person, they do point to the kind of knowledge the abductor would have. The letters show that there is a theme to part of what has happened, and that leads to some of the answers Nelson needs.  

Time is a theme in Jeffery Deaver’s The Cold Moon. In this novel, Lincoln Rhyme and his partner Amelia Sachs are on the trail of a serial killer known as The Watchmaker who is meticulous and obsessed with time. In fact, The Watchmaker leaves clocks at each of his crime scenes. Rhyme is able to use this theme of time to find out who the killer is, but now he’s under pressure to stop The Watchmaker before he’s able to strike again. He’s also discovered that The Watchmaker intends to strike again (yes, pun intended) in just a few hours…

Poetry proves to be a theme in Cat Connor’s Killerbyte. New Zealand ex-pat and FBI operative Gabrielle ‘Ellie’ Conway is the co-moderator of a poetry chat room called Cobwebs. One night chat room member Carter McLaren turns up at Ellie’s house to threaten her after being banned from the room. He’s arrested, but later his body is discovered in Conway’s car. Then another chat room member is killed. And another. There’s even a suggestion that Conway herself is responsible. So in order to clear her name and find out who’s targeting the chat room, Conway and her co-moderator and lover Cormack ‘Mack’ Connelly try to track the killer down. They don’t have much to go on at first, since the killer is very good at leaving no traces. But the killer does leave notes at each crime scene with lines of poetry. That poetry theme begins to tie the crimes together and once Conway and Connelly make sense of it, they get important information. The poems, plus a chance clue, put them on the right track.

Sometimes the most important clue to a murderer is a theme such as a song, poetry, time or something else. That theme gives a clue as to what the killer is thinking, and it can be very helpful in putting the sleuth on the right track.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Stealers Wheel’s Waltz (You Know it Makes Sense).

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Cat Connor, Elly Griffiths, Jeffery Deaver, John Dickson Carr

The Alphabet in Crime Fiction: Technology

TechnologyWe’re at another stop today as we of the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme continue our treacherous travels through the alphabet. Thanks as ever to our tour guide Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise for making all the arrangements and keeping us as safe as can be expected. ;-)

Our visit today is to the main offices of the legendary T Company, which makes all sorts of different kinds of ingenious little devices. Everyone’s busy planning what sorts of things they’ll bring home from the factory tour, so I think this is a good time to share my contribution for this stop: technology. 

Technology is, of course, critical to today’s society. We can accomplish so much with it, and it’s become an important element of most of our lives. But it’s very much a proverbial double-edged sword. As any crime fiction fan can tell you, technology figures in a lot of mayhem too. I’ve only space here for a few examples, but you’ll soon see what I mean.

In Rex Stout’s Fer de Lance, Nero Wolfe gets a visit from Maria Maffei, who is worried about her brother Carlos. He’s disappeared with no explanation and she’s certain he’s come to harm. She’s proven right when Carlos is found stabbed to death. An article found in his possession suggests that his murder might be connected to the death of Peter Barstow, president of Holland University. Barstow was golfing when he suddenly died, seemingly from a stroke. But as it turns out, he was killed by a specially-designed golf club that Carlos Maffei made. Wolfe knows that if he finds out who killed Barstow, he’ll have the key to discovering who paid Maffei to make the golf club. So he and Archie Goodwin look into Barstow’s family life, business associations and social life to find out who would have wanted to commit murder. The sleuths do solve the mystery of the killer’s identity, and when the killer begins to suspect that they know, there’s an interesting battle of wits between Wolfe and Goodwin on the one hand and the murderer on the other.

Aaron Elkins’ Fellowship of Fear also makes some –er – very interesting use of technology. In that novel, cultural anthropologist Gideon Oliver is spending some time serving as a visiting fellow at the United States Overseas College (USOC). The plan is for him to give a series of guest lectures at various bases throughout Europe. But right from the start things go rather badly for him. First he’s attacked in his hotel room by two men who apparently think he has something of value. He makes a report to police officer John Lau, who begins to work with Oliver to try to find out who the attackers are. Then Oliver gets drawn into a whole web of international espionage and counter-espionage. Tom Marks and Hilaire Delvaux, two leaders in the NATO Security Directorate (NSD)’s counterespionage bureau, ask to see him. They tell him that they suspect Soviet spies are trying to steal something (although they’re not sure exactly what), and they want Oliver to report to them if he sees anything or anyone suspicious. Not seeing much choice in the matter, he agrees. Not long after that he’s attacked and nearly killed. He runs into other difficulties too as he travels to the different European bases. All of this convinces him that if he doesn’t figure out who at the USOC might be helping the Soviets, he’s going to continue to be a target. So he keeps asking questions and eventually gets to the truth about what’s really going on. In one particular scene, he and Lau are touring Spain’s Prado Museum. That’s when they spot a strange man with an umbrella. Something about him unsettles both men, and it turns out they are wise to be concerned. The umbrella is actually a very ingenious piece of technology that hides a gun. No, Oliver isn’t killed, but it shows you just how dangerous technology can be.

We see that in Lindy Cameron’s Redback, too. In that novel, we meet Bryn Gideon, leader of a crack Australian team of retrieval experts called Redback. Their specialty is rescuing people who are trapped in dangerous situations and they’re called in when the delegates to the Pacific Tourism and Enviro-Trade Conference are taken hostage by a group of local rebels. Team Redback succeeds in rescuing the hostages but soon gets drawn into a battle of wits against a shadowy group of international terrorists that uses local or regional terror groups to do its ‘dirty work.’ That turns out to be the connection among two murders, a devastating train bombing, and an explosion on a U.S. military base, among other violence. And just what do these terrorists use to keep their group organised and recruit and train new members? That’s right: technology. It turns out that they communicate via a new video game called Global War Tek.  See what I mean about technology?

In Cat Connor’s Killerbyte, New Zealand ex-pat and FBI operative Gabrielle ‘Ellie’ Conway is passionate about poetry – her own and others’. So she co-moderates an online poetry chat room called Cobwebs. The chat room turns deadly when one of the members Carter McLaren shows up at Ellie’s home to threaten her after being banned from the room. He’s arrested but later his body is found in the trunk of Conway’s car. Conway wants to clear her name and more than that, wants to find out who killed a member (even a former member) of the chat room. So she and her co-moderator and lover Cormac ‘Mac’ Connelly try to track down the murderer. Then there’s another death. And another. It’s obvious now that the killer is targeting chat room members. Despite all of their Internet skills and knowledge, and in spite of Conway’s FBI background and skills, this killer always seems to stay one step ahead of them. But they’re not without resources themselves. In the end a non-technical (and very useful) clue puts Conway and Connelly on the right track. But throughout this novel, both they and the killer make some fairly ingenious use of technology, and in the killer’s case, it turns out to be deadly.

There’s a frightening use of technology in Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy (AKA The Keeper of Lost Causes). Copenhagen homicide detective Carl Mørck is slowly returning to duty after a line-of-duty injury that killed one of his colleagues and left the other with paralysis. He’s never really easy to work with and since his return he’s become so difficult that he’s ‘promoted’ to head a new department specially set up to investigate cases of ‘special interest.’ The first case he and his assistant Hafez al-Assad investigate is the five-year-old disappearance of up-and-coming politician Merete Lynggaard. Everyone’s always believed that she was killed in a tragic incident on a ferry, but little hints soon suggest that she may still be alive. So Mørck and Assad work to try to find her before it’s too late. And they’re up against some fairly sophisticated and scary technology as they do so…

And then there’s Anthony Bidulka’s When the Saints Go Marching In, the first of his Adam Saint novels. Saint is a specialist with the Canadian Disaster Recovery Agency (CDRA). His job is to travel to any place where Canada, its interests or its citizens are involved in any kind of disaster. Saint lives a very high-technology sort of life and since a lot of what the CDRA does and knows is classified, he also is familiar with a lot of high-security technology. Everything changes when he travels to Magadan, Russia, where CDRA head Geoffrey Krazinkski has been killed at a plane crash site. The death is passed off as a tragic accident, but Saint is soon certain that it was no accident. He’s starting to ask questions about it when a personal emergency brings him suddenly back to Canada. Saint’s personal matter means the end of his career with the CDRA, In fact, all of his access codes, all of the technology he usually uses, and all of his resources are cut off. But that doesn’t stop him from asking questions about what happened. In fact he turns out to be more effective after officially leaving the CDRA. He gets drawn into a very dangerous mission with international implications. At the heart of it all? Greed and the willingness to use technology to satisfy it.

So as you see, technology can be deadly. Not that I’d ever give up my Internet access or anything quite that drastic, but one does have to be extremely cautious around technology. Now, let’s go take that tour. Lots of fascinating little devices I can show you there… ;-)

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Filed under Aaron Elkins, Anthony Bidulka, Cat Connor, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Lindy Cameron, Rex Stout

Sorry I’m not home at the moment…

Killerbyte‘Hi, it’s Margot. Sorry I’m not here. I’ve gone to visit Craig Sisterton at the excellent Crime Watch, where he’s very kindly invited me to review Cat Connor’s Killerbyte. Leave a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. Or better yet, come visit me at Craig’s blog and read my review. And while you’re there, do follow his blog. I know of no better source for news on Kiwi crime fiction. Craig’s got lots of terrific interviews, reviews and news about crime fiction from New Zealand and from all over the world, so c’mon over – you’ll be glad you did!

Thanks for calling.’  Beep

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Filed under Cat Connor, Killerbyte