How very exciting! The Crime Fiction Alphabet meme has arrived at our twenty-second stop! It’s been a terrific journey thus far, and a lot of the credit goes to our tour guide Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise. Thanks as ever, Kerrie! Today’s stop is at fascinating Valley View Reserve, where you can see all kinds of the most interesting sorts of animals. Everyone is charging up cameras and changing into comfortable shoes, so this is a good time for me to offer my contribution for this stop: venom.
Now, any herpetologist will tell you that snakes get very bad press. And it’s true that there are a lot of snakes that are perfectly harmless, and some that are even beneficial. But snake venom can be extremely dangerous – even deadly. So the wise person treats snakes very cautiously. Just a quick look at crime fiction should convince you…
In Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story The Adventure of the Speckled Band, Sherlock Holmes gets a visit from Helen Stoner. She believes her life may be in danger, and tells Holmes an eerie story of the death of her sister Julia. Julia had been hearing strange noises in the middle of the night. Other odd things happened too, and Julia became frightened. Then, just before she died, she said some very cryptic things that Helen hasn’t been able to figure out. Now Helen is hearing the same weird noises at night, and wants Holmes to investigate. Holmes and Watson travel to the Stoner home Stoke Moran, and settle in for the night. It’s not long before Helen’s life really is in danger and the sleuths will have to act quickly if she’s to be saved. And what’s the weapon? What killed Helen Stoner? Snake venom.
In Rex Stout’s Fer de Lance, we meet Maria Maffei, whose brother Carlos has disappeared. Everyone thinks he’s gone back to Italy, but Maria doesn’t believe that. So she visits Nero Wolfe to ask him to investigate. Not long afterwards, her worst fears are realised when Carlos is found murdered. Evidence that he had in his possession suggests that his death is connected to the sudden death of Peter Barstow, president of Holland University. Barstow apparently died of a stroke while out on a golf course but it’s not long before Wolfe establishes that he was killed by a specially-designed golf club. Maffei had made the golf club, not realising that it would be used for a murder. When he found out and threatened to tell what he knew, he was killed. It turns out that the golf club used in the murder was rigged to deliver an injection of snake venom, and that’s what actually killed Barstow. Now Wolfe and Archie Goodwin have to find out what the connection is between Maffei and Barstow, and who would have wanted the victim dead.
Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds (AKA Death in the Air) is the story of a fateful flight from Paris to London. On that flight is Marie Morisot, a French moneylender who does business under the name of Madame Giselle. During the flight, she suddenly dies of what turns out to be poison. The only possible suspects are her fellow passengers, so Chief Inspector Japp looks among them to find out who would have a motive. Since Hercule Poirot is on the same flight, he helps Japp and between the two of them, they find out the truth. It turns out that the murder weapon was venom from the boomslang snake. Not something you’d normally expect to find on a flight from Paris to London, but in this case, the murderer finds a way.
London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit (PCU) is accustomed to some strange crimes, and the crimes we see in Christopher Fowler’s Seventy-Seven Clocks are no exception. First, an unusual man dressed in Edwardian-style clothes damages a valuable painting while on a visit to the National Gallery. Then, attorney Maximillian Jacob is in the lobby of the Savoy Hotel, reading a newspaper, when he falls asleep. A few hours later one of the staff tries to wake him, only to find that he’s been fatally wounded. Forensic reports show that he’s been bitten by a snake, and the venom has killed him. There are other strange occurrences too and murders, and it’s up to Arthur Bryant and John May to find out what connects those murders with the incident at the National Gallery.
And then there’s S.J. Bolton’s Awakening. In that novel, wildlife veterinarian Clara Benning finds herself mixed up in a bizarre series of events in the small village where she lives. She works at The Little Order of St. Francis, a wildlife hospital, and has a special interest in and expertise with snakes. That knowledge proves vital when one of Benning’s neighbours finds an adder in her baby’s crib. Then, John Alington, another neighbour, dies of what seems like the bite of another adder. But it’s not so simple as that. Allington’s blood is found to have much more venom in it that would be expected from one snake bite. So Benning begins to suspect that he’s been murdered. ACC Matt Hoare is officially in charge of the case, but he knows that Benning is an expert with snakes. So he relies on her as they investigate.
You see? Snakes are fascinating, but they are probably best admired from a distance. Now then, time for a tour of the reserve. Shall we start with the Reptile Building?
ps. This is one of the few ‘photos on my blog that I haven’t taken. This is a picture of a cottonmouth snake – not a fella you want to get too close to… Thanks, Philadelphia Zoo!!