Category Archives: Christopher Fowler

There Were Incidents and Accidents*

So-Called AccidentsSome deaths are quite obviously murders. In those cases, at least in crime fiction, the killer doesn’t try to hide the fact that it was murder. Rather, the murderer may work hard at an alibi, or may work hard to prove there was no motive. But really, it’s much easier to disguise the murder as an accident if it’s possible. And sometimes, that makes it awfully difficult to prove that a death was murder.

Examples of murders made to look like accidents run all through crime fiction, possibly because it’s really credible that someone would want to cover up a murder that way. Whatever the reason, there are a lot of examples – many more than I could list in one post. But here are a few.

Agatha Christie uses the so-called accident in several of her stories. To take just one example, in Cards on the Table, Hercule Poirot is invited to a very unusual dinner. The enigmatic Mr. Shaitana gathers four sleuths (including Poirot) and four people that he hints have gotten away with murder. After the meal, everyone settles in to play bridge. During the evening, someone stabs Mr. Shaitana. The only possible suspects are the four people who were in the room at the time – the very four people Shaitana more or less accused of murder. Now the four sleuths are faced with the task of figuring out which of these equally-plausible suspects is guilty. One of them is Anne Meredith. At one point, she’d served as companion to a Mrs. Benson, who died tragically of poisoning by hat paint. Apparently, she confused the hat paint with her medicine, a very plausible accident. Or was it?

In Peter Høeg’s Smilla’s Sense of Snow (AKA Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow), a young boy Isaiah Christiansen tragically dies after a fall from the roof of the Copenhagen apartment building where he lives. Isaiah had befriended fellow Greenlander Smilla Jasperson, and she is upset at his death. She’s drawn to the scene of the accident, and when she gets there, she sees signs in the snow that lead her to believe that the boy’s death was not accidental. She begins to ask questions and soon discovers that some dangerous people are determined to hide the truth. She persists though, and her search for answers takes her back to her homeland, where she finds the connection between Isaiah’s death and some secrets hidden in Greenland.

Christopher Fowler’s Full Dark House introduces Arthur Bryant and John May of London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit (PCU). The novel actually tells two stories, one of which is a recounting of the PCU’s first case. In 1940, the Palace Theatre is set to do a production of Orpheus. Then one of the dancers Tanya Capistrania dies in what some say is a freak accident. The police are investigating that death when Charles Senechal, who was to play the role of Jupiter in the production, is killed by a piece of scenery. Again it’s regarded as a terrible accident, but an accident nonetheless. Still, it’s beginning to look very much as though someone is determined to stop the production. When another death occurs, and then a disappearance, Bryant and May and their team come under intense pressure to solve the case before there are any more tragedies.

Louise Penny’s Still Life is our introduction to the small rural Québec town of Three Pines. One of its residents Jane Neal is killed during the Thanksgiving holiday in what looks like a hunting accident. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec is called to the scene, and he soon finds that this death was actually a murder. The question though is who would have had a motive. The victim was a beloved former teacher whom everyone seemed to respect. Gamache and the team get to know the town, though, and some of its history. And it’s in the past that they find the motive and therefore, the killer.

In Carl Hiaasen’s Skinny Dip, Charles ‘Chaz’ Perrone thinks he’s found a great new way to make money. He’s a marine biologist (well, in name at least) who’s hired by agribusiness owner Samuel Johnson ‘Red’ Hammernut. Hammernut’s company has been accused of pouring toxic waste into Florida’s Everglades, and Hammernut needs proof that his company doesn’t pollute. Perrone offers that in the form of a way he’s developed to fake the results of water testing so the water looks clean. The two begin to do business and all goes well enough at first. Then, Perrone’s wife Joey begins to suspect what’s going on, and threatens to report it. Now he needs to get rid of her, so he tells her they’re going on an anniversary cruise of the Everglades. While they’re on the trip, he pushes Joey overboard, thinking that’s the end of his problems. At first everyone, including the police, thinks it’s a terrible accident and there’s much sympathy for Perrone. What he doesn’t know though is that Joey didn’t drown, and she’s made her own plans for revenge…

And then there’s Dawn Harris’ Letter From a Dead Man. In the late 18th-Century Lady Drusilla Davenish lives on the Isle of Wight with her Aunt Thirza and Thirza’s daughter Lucie. The family is excited about Lucie’s upcoming wedding to Giles Saxborough. Everything changes though, when Giles’ father (and Lady Drusilla’s godfather) Cuthbert Saxborough dies in what looks like a tragic riding accident. But things don’t quite add up for Lady Drusilla. Her godfather was an expert horseman. It’s highly unlikely that he’d have died in that way. So she starts to ask questions. Not long afterwards, Giles’ older brother Thomas and his son Tom are both killed in what’s put down as a horrible yachting accident. But Lady Drusilla is convinced that it’s more than that. And there’s more than one possible explanation. It might be connected to a smuggling operation she’s recently discovered. Or it might be someone with a vendetta against the Saxborough family. Or it might be something else…

In Angela Savage’s The Half Child, Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney is hired by Jim Delbeck to find out what happened to his daughter Maryanne. She was a volunteer at the New Life Children’s Centre in Pattaya when she fell from the roof of the building where she was living. The police report suggests it might have been suicide, but Delbeck doesn’t think so. It could also have very well been an accident. Whatever the cause, Delbeck wants to know the truth about his daughter’s death. Keeney takes the case and travels to Pattaya. As a part of her investigations, she decides to learn more about at New Life, going undercover as a volunteer. As she gets closer to the truth about Maryanne’s life and death, she finds out that some people do not want their secrets revealed…

At least in fiction, murders designed to look like accidents can serve a lot of purposes. They can give murderers effective ways to hide their crimes. They can also give the author a way to build suspense and interest. And they can allow the author the chance to lead the reader up the proverbial garden path. After all, sometimes an accident is just an accident. There are so many other examples of this plot point in crime fiction – many more than I could name. So…what gaps have I left?



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me Al.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Carl Hiaasen, Christopher Fowler, Dawn Harris, Louise Penny, Peter Høeg

You Lift Up My Spirits*

SDaliIt’s said that everyone has a talent. And there’s nothing quite like a job where one gets to use one’s natural ability. But there are some people who are truly gifted at something. It may be music, dancing, sport, acting, art or something else. Whatever it is, those are the people with a ‘once in a lifetime’ gift. They can’t always explain exactly how they do what they do, but their skill is extraordinary. They’re out there in real life of course, and we certainly see them in crime fiction. Their gifts make them very special and sometimes, very vulnerable.

Agatha Christie mentions this kind of rare gift in a few of her stories. One, for instance, is Appointment With Death. In that novel, the Boynton family is taking a holiday in the Middle East, including a sightseeing trip to Petra. While they’re at Petra, family matriarch Mrs. Boynton suddenly dies of what seems to be a heart attack. That’s logical, given her age and bad health. But Colonel Carbury isn’t satisfied, and he asks Hercule Poirot to look into the matter. Poirot agrees and begins the investigation. It turns out that Carbury’s suspicions were all too correct: Mrs. Boynton died of digitalis poisoning. She was, as Poirot puts it, a ‘mental sadist’ who kept her family cowed, so there is no lack of suspects. In the end, Poirot finds out who really poisoned Mrs. Boynton and why. One of Mrs. Boynton’s children is seventeen-year-old Ginevra ‘Ginny,’ who is already mentally and emotionally fragile. But, she turns out to have a rare gift for the stage. I don’t think it’s spoiling the story to say that when that gift is discovered, we see what a great actress Ginny is. I know, I know, fans of Henrietta Savernake in The Hollow… 

Elizabeth George’s A Traitor to Memory introduces us to the Davies family. Twenty-eight-year-old Gideon Davies has a rare gift for the violin, and is now world-class. He’s expressed himself musically since he was a child, and can’t imagine life without his music. Then one frightening day, he finds that he can’t play a note. He immediately seeks psychological help to find out what’s blocking his playing. In the meantime, his mother Eugenie is killed one night by what seems at first to be an accidental hit-and-run incident. But as Inspector Lynley and Sergeant Havers find, there’s nothing at all accidental about it. The deeper they look into the case, the more they learn about how dysfunctional the Davies family is. They also learn about the tragic death by drowning of Gideon’s younger sister twenty years earlier. It turns out, as you can imagine, that that incident is related both to Eugenie Davies’ death and to her son’s struggle with his music.

In James Lee Burke’s Jolie Blon’s Bounce, we meet gifted musician Tee Bobby Hulin. Here’s what Burke says about his talent:


‘…Tee Bobby possessed another, more serious gift, one he seemed totally undeserving of, as though the finger of God had pointed at him arbitrarily one day and bestowed on him a musical talent that was like none since the sad, lyrical beauty in the recordings of Guitar Slim.’


Hulin may be extraordinarily gifted, but that doesn’t prevent him being suspected in two vicious rape/murder cases. New Iberia, Louisiana police detective Dave Robicheaux doesn’t care much for Hulin as a person, but that doesn’t mean he thinks the man’s guilty of horrible crimes. And there are other suspects in these crimes. Robicheaux finds that in order to discover who the killer in this novel is, he will have to face some demons from his own past.

In Christopher Fowler’s Full Dark House, we learn of the first case investigated by Arthur Bryant and John May of London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit (PCU). In that case, the Palace Theatre’s upcoming production of Orpheus was sabotaged by several tragedies. One was the murder of gifted dancer Tanya Capistrania, who was to have had a solo part. In fact, she was leaving a rehearsal session when she was killed. She was so talented that one possible motive for her death was professional jealousy. The PCU found out who was responsible for the tragedies, including this murder, but there was one major thing left undone. Now, years later, it comes back to haunt John May when a bomb explodes in the PCU offices.  As May works to find out the truth about that bombing, he finds out that it’s directly related to that long-ago case.

The main protagonist in Gail Bowen’s series is political scientist and academic Joanne Kilbourn Shreve. The series follows her home life as much as it does the mysteries she investigates, so over the course of the novels, readers get to know her family. One member is her adopted daughter Taylor. Taylor is a truly gifted artist, who is trying to come to terms with some difficult issues in her life. At the same time, she is learning what it means to have her kind of talent. In The Gifted, we learn that two of Taylor’s pieces of art will be included in a benefit art auction. Her parents are deeply concerned about how this might affect Taylor. She is, after all, only fourteen, and they want her to have as safe and ‘normal’ (whatever that means) a childhood as possible. On the other hand, Taylor’s talent is undeniable, and she is passionate about her art. To deny her the opportunity to evolve as an artist would be like removing a limb. So despite some misgivings, Taylor’s permitted to contribute to the auction. One of her pieces has unintended and tragic consequences, and throughout the novel, we see how much a part of Taylor’s life her art really is.

And that’s the thing about people who have rare talents. Those gifts are integral and essential. Perhaps those with special gifts can’t explain exactly how they do what they do. But they couldn’t imagine not using them. Which gifted characters have made an impression on you?


On Another Note…


This post is dedicated to one of the world’s truly gifted musical artists Paul McCartney. Happy Birthday, Sir Paul!


ps  The ‘photo above is by Salvador Dalí, who also had rare and special talent.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Paul McCartney’s Follow Me.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Christopher Fowler, Elizabeth George, Gail Bowen, James Lee Burke

The Alphabet in Crime Fiction: Venom

Cottonmouth-largeHow 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!!


Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Christopher Fowler, Rex Stout, S.J. Bolton

The Alphabet in Crime Fiction: Props

PropsThe Crime Fiction Alphabet meme is moving along steadily on our perilous journey through the alphabet. Thanks as ever to our tour guide Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise for handling all of the details of the trip so well. Everyone’s excited because we’ve arrived at Pborough, where there is a lovely old theatre. We’ll be seeing one of their productions later, so we’re all looking forward to that. Right now everyone else is having a look around our hotel, so I’ll take a moment to share my contribution for this week:  props.

Most theatre productions use props of one kind or another and that’s all to the good. Props can make a production that much more realistic. But on the other hand they can also be very dangerous. Just a quick look at crime fiction should suffice to show what I mean.

Ngaio Marsh had a theatre background and many of her novels reflect that interest. They also reflect her knowledge of how much damage a prop can do. In Enter a Murderer for example, Scotland Yard Inspector Roderick Alleyn is attending the Unicorn Theatre’s production of The Rat and the Beaver. During the play, one of the actors Arthur Surbonadier is shot with a prop gun that’s been tampered with and left loaded. Since he’s ‘on the scene,’ Alleyn begins the investigation right away. The most likely suspect is fellow actor Felix Gardner, who’d gotten the lead role that Surbonadier thought was his. The two had had a serious quarrel and Surbonadier actually threatened Gardner. But as Alleyn soon learned, there is plenty of intrigue in this production and more than one person had a reason to want Arthur Surbonadier dead.

In James Yaffe’s Mom Doth Murder Sleep, murder strikes the Mesa Grande, Colorado’s amateur theatre group. The acting troupe has planned a production of The Scottish Play, and casting, rehearsals and so on have gone ahead. One of the cast members is Roger Meyer, who works with the local Public Defender’s office. On opening night, former Hollywood actor/producer Martin Osborn, who has the lead in the play, is stabbed onstage. It isn’t long before Sally Michaels, who is playing Lady Macbeth, is arrested for the crime. She had good reason to kill, too, since Osborn had recently ended a relationship he was having with her. There’s other evidence too against her. When Meyer’s boss Dave tells his mother about the case though, Mom’s not so sure that Sally really is guilty. So Dave looks more deeply into the acting troupe and its history and finds that more than one person had a good reason to want to kill Martin Osborn.

Caroline Graham’s Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby has to look into a case of murder with a prop in Death of a Hollow Man. The Causton Amateur Dramatic Society has chosen to do Amadeus. Barnaby’s wife Joyce has been given a minor role and his future son-in-law Nicholas Bradley has the role of Mozart. So Barnaby attends the opening-night production. All’s going well enough until the dramatic scene during which Antonio Salieri tries to commit suicide. Esslyn Carmichael, who’s playing Salieri, picks up what he thinks is a blunted prop knife only to find out too late that the knife was all too real. Now, Barnaby and Sergeant Gavin Troy look into the relationships among the cast members and into Carmichael’s history to try to find out who wanted to kill him. As it turns out, more than one person had both the opportunity and the motive.

Simon Brett’s series featuring actor Charles Paris includes quite a lot of on-stage mayhem. Paris isn’t exactly a household word, and his agent is not particularly competent. So Paris spends his share of time in small roles for small-town productions. In between those roles, he does what he can to ‘fill in the gaps.’ In So Much Blood for instance, Paris gets the opportunity to fill in at the Edinburgh Festival with a one-man show of Thomas Hood’s work. Another play has fallen through, and this is a chance for Paris to get some exposure and some work. His agent warns him not to take the job, but Paris accepts anyway. While he’s there, he attends the performance of a play called Mary, Queen of Sots, a satire being put on by the Derby University Dramatic Society. During the performance, one of the actors Willy Mariello, is stabbed with what’s supposed to be a prop knife. At first it’s thought that his death is a tragic accident. But Paris doesn’t think so and he can’t resist trying to find out what really happened.

There’s also Christopher Fowler’s Full Dark House, in which John May and Arthur Bryant of London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit (PCU) investigate several murders and a disappearance at the Palace Theatre. The theatre is planning a production of Orpheus, and rehearsals have begun. Then, one of the dancers Tanya Capistrania is killed and her feet removed. May and Bryant are looking into this case when there’s another tragedy. Charles Senechal, who has the role of Jupiter, is called by a piece of scenery in what looks like a terrible accident. Then there’s another death, and a disappearance. Now it looks very much as though someone is trying to stop the production, and the PCU works to find out who it is.

Of course, sometimes props can save lives. Just ask Kate Carpenter, whom we first meet in Deborah Nicholson’s House Report. Carpenter is House Manager for Calgary’s Foothills Stage Network (FSN). One night, during FSN’s production of Much Ado About Nothing, the body of Peter Reynolds is found in the men’s washroom. One possible suspect is Reynolds’ ex-wife Gladys, who works as an usher at the theatre. Gladys asks Carpenter to help clear her name, and against her better judgement, Carpenter agrees to at least ask some questions. Soon, the evidence begins to point to Carpenter’s lover Norman ‘Cam’ Caminksi, so Carpenter becomes even more vested in finding out the truth. The closer she gets to the real killer, the more danger she finds for herself. I don’t think it’s spoiling the story to say that at one point, she’s in very grave danger indeed, but  she’s saved by the judicious use of a piece of property. In the end, Carpenter and her assistant Graham find out who the killer is and what the motive was.

As you can see, props are an important part of crime-fictional murders. Looks like it’s almost time to see the play. Would you like to go backstage before it begins??? ;-)


Filed under Caroline Graham, Christopher Fowler, Deborah Nicholson, James Yaffe, Ngaio Marsh, Simon Brett

Step, Kick, Kick, Leap, Kick, Touch*

DancersWhen you were small, what did you want to be when you grew up? For a lot of people the answer to that question is, ‘a dancer.’ When you see them onstage, dancers make it look easy. They look elegant, they sometimes wear fabulous costumes and it seems that they live an exciting life. So it’s no wonder so many children think it’d be wonderful to be a dancer. Of course if you’ve ever studied dancing then you know that it’s not at all easy to dance. It’s a challenging life in which you have to devote years of hard work to prepare and in which you have to prepare intensively for every performance. And yet there’s still a lot of mystique about dancers. Little wonder that they show up in crime fiction.

For example, one of the important characters in Agatha Christie’s The Mystery of the Blue Train is Mme. Mirelle, a dancer whose performances have captured everyone’s fancy. Mirelle has a great deal of talent and glamour, but that doesn’t mean she’s at all perfect. When the story begins, she’s having an affair with Derek Kettering, who can, if I may put it this way, afford to keep her in the luxury she feels she deserves. But that’s only because Kettering is married to wealthy Ruth Van Aldin. When Ruth threatens divorce, Mirelle makes it clear that she was ‘not born to be poor’ and that she will leave Kettering too. Then, Ruth is murdered during a trip from London to Nice on the Blue Train. Hercule Poirot is on the same train and gets involved in the investigation. As he slowly puts together what happened during the trip, he learns that Ruth had with her a very valuable ruby that has since been stolen, so she could have been killed for the gem. On the other hand, it turns out that both Kettering and his mistress were on the same train, so one of them could also be guilty. There are other possibilities too as Poirot soon learns…

In Dorothy Sayers’ Have His Carcase, mystery novelist Harriet Vane is on a hiking holiday near Wilvercombe. She stops to take a rest near a beach which looks comfortable and peaceful. When she wakes up, the tide is out and she sees a dead man’s body. She goes for help but by the time she returns, the tide has come in again and there is no evidence as to who the man is or who killed him. Soon, though, the victim is identified as Paul Alexis, a Russian-born professional dancer who worked at the Hotel Resplendent. Once it’s known who the dead man was, the police begin to look for people he might have known who would have had a motive to murder him. Lord Peter Wimsey joins Harriet and together they find out that there are several possibilities. There’s some evidence that Alexis might have been mixed up in Russian politics and that this might be a politically-motivated killing. Alexis’ personal life also comes in for some scrutiny and there are some possibilities there too. In the end an interesting cipher leads Harriet and Lord Peter to the truth.

Christopher Fowler’s Full Dark House is really the story of two mysteries. One told in flashback form is the first case that Arthur Bryant and John May of London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit (PCU) worked. In that flashback it’s 1940 and the Palace Theatre is planning a production of Orpheus. Dancer Tanya Capistrania is to have a solo part in the production, so she spends a great deal of time at the theatre rehearsing. One afternoon she’s just finished when she is killed and her feet removed. That’s just the sort of unusual crime that the PCU was set up to investigate, so Bryant and May begin their work. Then, Charles Senechal, who was to have another role in the production, is killed by a heavy piece of scenery. Then there’s another death, and the disappearance of one of the other dancers. It’s clear now that someone wants to ruin the production and Bryant and May have to find out who it is before there are more disasters.

In Tony Hillerman’s Sacred Clowns, Navajo Tribal Police Sergeant Jim Chee has been asked to find Delmar Kinetewa, who disappeared from his residential school. He tracks the boy to a Tano ceremonial event that involves sacred dancing. One of the dancers is Kinetewa’s uncle Francis Sayesva, who has an important part in the ritual. The dance finishes and the crowd watching it begins to disperse. That’s when Sayesva is found dead in an alley. When Chee discovers the relationship between Sayesva and Kinetewa, he is sure that the murder is related to the boy’s disappearance. As it turns out, it’s also related to the murder Eric Dorsey, a shop teacher at the school the boy attended. What’s interesting about this story is that it’s actually something Sayesva does during his part of the dance that leads to his death.

And then there’s Paddy Richardson’s Cross Fingers, her second novel featuring Wellington television journalist Rebecca Thorne. Thorne is working on an exposé that she hopes will reveal the shady dealings of crooked property developer Denny Graham. She’s got witnesses lined up and she’s ready to put the piece together when her boss Tim Morrow asks her to work on something else. It’s the 30th anniversary of the protests against the 1981 Springboks’ tour of New Zealand, and Morrow wants her to do a piece on the events of that year. At the time of The Tour, apartheid was still in full force in South Africa and many New Zealanders thought that letting the Springboks play in their country would condone apartheid. On the other hand, rugby is extremely important in New Zealand, so a lot of rugby fans wanted the tour to go on. The police were tasked with protecting the guests, maintaining order and still allowing people to peacefully protest. As anyone who knows about The Tour can tell you, things went from tense to devastating. But at first Thorne is reluctant to do the story, as she is afraid she’ll lose the faith of the people who are willing to talk to her about Denny Graham. What’s more, she feels that the story’s been done already – she doesn’t have much new to add. Morrow insists though and Thorne gets started. Then she finds an angle on The Tour that no-one’s done. During the protests, two people dressed as lambs would come to the games to entertain the crowd. They’d dance, make fun and generally try to liven things up. Then, all of a sudden, they stopped appearing at the protests and games. Thorne wants to follow up and find out what happened to The Lambs. One of them turns out to be a professional dancer who was murdered during The Tour. As Thorne looks into that murder and into what happened to The Lambs, she uncovers some long-held secrets that someone is willing to do an awful lot to keep hidden.

Dancers look graceful, have a lot of talent and seem to have lives that a lot of the rest of us might envy. But they work incredibly hard to get to the proverbial top of the tree and not a lot of their lives is really all that glamourous Still, they spellbind us in real life and in crime fiction…


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Marvin Hamlish and Edward Kleban’s I Hope I Get It.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Christopher Fowler, Dorothy Sayers, Paddy Richardson, Tony Hillerman