Category Archives: Colin Dexter

When Sleuths Buy Gifts ;-)

When Sleuths Buy GIftsHave you ever taken part in a ‘Secret Santa’ gift exchange? Sometimes it’s called a ‘Kris Kringle,’ and sometimes a ‘Pollyanna.’ There are other names for it too. Whatever you call it, the way it generally works is that a group of people put their names into a hat, a box or some such thing. Each one draws the name of someone else and gets a gift for that person.

It sounds like a wonderful idea, doesn’t it? But it doesn’t always work out as planned. Don’t believe me? Let’s see what happens….
 

When Fictional Sleuths are ‘Secret Santas.’
 

I. Hercule Poirot (Agatha Christie)

Hastings: Whose name did you draw, Poirot?
Poirot: I have drawn…(Glances down at the slip of paper) Mlle. Kinsey Millhone (Sue Grafton).
Hastings: Any idea what you’ll get for her?
Poirot: I think, mon ami, that I will have Georges make an appointment for her at a dressmaker’s shop. Les femmes, they all love beautiful dresses, do they not?
Hastings: Er…well…I suppose so.
 

II. Rebecka Martinsson (Åsa Larsson)

(Having a coffee with Inspector Anna-Maria Mella)
Rebecka: So I got talked into this Secret Santa business.
Anna-Maria: Well, it might be fun. Whose name did you get?
Rebecka: Her name’s Corinna Chapman (Kerry Greenwood).
Anna-Maria: So what will you buy?
Rebecka: At this time of year? A heavy parka. If I rush it, she’ll get it before Christmas too. Hmm…. I don’t know her size. Well, I’ll just get her an average-sized coat – one I might wear. That ought to be safe. Can’t miss!
 

III. John Rebus (Ian Rankin)

Rebus: Shiv, you doing this Secret Santa thing?
Siobhan Clarke: Yeah, sure. You?
Rebus: Don’t have much choice, I don’t think.
Clarke: Who’d you get?
Rebus: His name’s Inspector Morse (Colin Dexter).
Clarke: Ah, fellow copper. What are you getting him?
Rebus: Everyone loves music, right? Think I’ll get him tickets to a Rolling Stones concert.
Clarke: (Looks down at her cup of tea) Maybe you ought to find out what kind of music he likes first?
Rebus: Who doesn’t love the Stones?
 

IV. V.I. ‘Vic’ Warshawski (Sara Paretsky)

(Having a glass of wine with Lotty Herschel)
Vic: So I’ve been thinking about this whole Secret Santa thing.
Lotty: That’s good. It’s coming up soon.
Vic: I know, and I think I have just the thing. I got this guy Nero Wolfe (Rex Stout). He’s never been to Chicago. So I’m going to take him bar-hopping! Really show him a Jack Daniels night. Then we’ll go to the Maxwell Street Market for some kielbasa. Ha! I might even get him a Cubs hat! What do you think?
Lotty: If you really think he’d like it.
Vic: Can’t go wrong!
 

V. Armand Gamache (Louise Penny)

(Having breakfast with his wife Reine-Marie)
Reine-Marie: So, have you decided what to do about this Secret Santa name draw?
Armand: Actually I think I have. I drew Lisbeth Salander’s name (Stieg Larsson). She’s from Stockholm, so I thought it would be nice to give her a real Québec welcome, with Christmas right here in Three Pines.
Reine-Marie: What a lovely idea! I’m sure she’d love a small-town holiday after living in the city. We can ask them to give her a room at the B&B, we’ll make sure she meets everyone, and she can come to Midnight Mass with us.
Armand: Good thinking. No-one does gourmet bistro better than Olivier and Gabri. She’ll love it!
 

VI. Nick and Nora Charles (Dashiell Hammett)

Nora: I’ve got it, Nick!
Nick: Got what?
Nora: The perfect idea for the Secret Santa draw, of course.
Nick: Oh, that. Who’d we get anyway?
Nora: His name’s Walt Longmire (Craig Johnson). He’s from Wyoming.
Nick: So what’s your brilliant idea?
Nora: Well, we’re going to be in New York for the next couple of months. Why not get him the best Broadway tickets we can? We’ll put him up at the Plaza for a few days.
Nick: Sounds great! I’ll bet he’s dying to get out of whatever one-horse town he lives in.

Perhaps after all it’d be just as well for these sleuths to stick to solving crime… ;-)

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Åsa Larsson, Colin Dexter, Craig Johnson, Dashiell Hammett, Ian Rankin, Kerry Greenwood, Louise Penny, Rex Stout, Sara Paretsky, Stieg Larsson, Sue Grafton

Take Out the Papers and the Trash*

clutterMost of us have been taught (well, I have, anyway) that it’s important to be tidy and keep things where they belong. And there is logic to that. If your things are tidy and in their proper places, you’re less likely to lose them. And for a lot of people, there is something reassuring, even restful, about an uncluttered room.

But the reality of keeping things tidy isn’t always fun. And sometimes it’s not logical if you think about it. After all, why put something away if you know you’re going to be using it again very soon? So there are plenty of people, both real and fictional, who don’t exactly keep their things neat and uncluttered. And that can add an interesting layer of character depth in a novel.

For instance, consider Mr. Clancy, the detective story novelist we meet in Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds (AKA Death in the Air). He’s on a flight from Paris to London when one of his fellow passengers Marie Morisot suddenly dies of what turns out to be poison. Unfortunately for Mr. Clancy, he’s been doing research on similar kinds of poisons, so Chief Inspector Japp takes a particular interest in him. Hercule Poirot was on the same flight, so he works with Japp to find out who killed the victim and why. Since the only possible suspects are her fellow passengers, Poirot pays Mr. Clancy a visit:
 

‘The room…was in a state of chaos. There were papers strewn about, cardboard files, bananas, bottles of beer, open books, sofa cushions, a trombone, miscellaneous china, etchings, and a bewildering assortment of fountain pens.’
 

Those familiar with Poirot’s own habit of neatness can probably imagine his reaction…

In Colin Dexter’s The Daughters of Cain, we meet Eleanor ‘Ellie’ Smith, a prostitute who gets involved in a murder case when one of her clients Dr. Felix McClure is murdered. At first, his former scout Ted Brooks is suspected of the killing, since McClure had found out he was dealing drugs on campus, and was about to reveal it. But then Brooks disappears and is later found dead. So now Inspector Morse and Sergeant Lewis have two murders to investigate. Ellie Smith is definitely a ‘person of interest’ as the saying goes, so Morse interviews her. He also finds himself attracted to her, and the feeling is mutual. Each is keenly aware that she’s a suspect in a murder case that he’s investigating, and that makes things awkward. Here’s a bit of what Dexter has to say about Ellie’s rooms:
 

‘The young woman turned back the grubby top-sheet on the narrow bed, kicked a pair of knickers out of sight behind the shabby settee, poured out two glasses of red wine…and was sitting on the bed, swallowing the last mouthful of a Mars bar, when the first knock sounded softly on the door.’
 

There’s a lot to like about Ellie as a character, but tidiness is not one of her personality traits.

In Minette Walters’ The Breaker, PC Nick Ingram investigates when the body of Kate Sumner is found on the beach near Chapman’s Pool in Dorset. At the same time, her almost-three-year-old daughter Hannah is found wandering around in the nearby town of Poole, and WPC Sandra Griffiths works to find out where the child’s family is and why she’s wandering around all alone. Ingram and Griffiths work with DI John Galbraith and Superintendent Carpenter to put the pieces of the puzzle together. They narrow down the list of suspects to three people: the victim’s husband William Sumner; schoolteacher Tony Bridges; and Bridges’ roommate Stephen Harding. At one point the police visit the home that Bridges and Harding share:
 

‘The house gave the impression of multiple occupancy with a couple of bicycles leaning against the wall at the end of the corridor, and assorted clothes lying in heaps about the furniture and floor. Dozens of empty lager cans had been tossed into an old beer crate in a corner – left over…from a long-dead party – and overflowing ashtrays reeked into the atmosphere.’
 

The untidiness isn’t the reason for the murder, but it’s an interesting look at these two characters.

Gail Bowen’s Murder at the Mendel introduces readers to artist Sally Love. She is a former frined of Bowen’s sleuth, academician and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn. So when the news comes that some of Love’s work will be exhibited at the Mendel Gallery, Kilbourn decides to see the show and perhaps even renew her friendship with the artist if that’s possible. At one point, Kilbourn visits the house/studio where Love is living:
 

‘There were canvases stacked against the wall and a trestle table with brushes and boxes of pencils and rags and lengths of wood and steel that looked like rulers but were unmarked. In the corner farthest from the window were a hot plate, a couple of open suitcases and a sleeping bag.’
 

Kilbourn gets involved in a murder investigation when the gallery’s owner is murdered and Sally becomes a suspect.

Christopher Fowler’s Peculiar Crimes Unit (PCU) series featuring Arthur Bryant and John May begins with Full Dark House. In that novel, the PCU is devastated when a bomb blast goes off, destroying its office. Shortly before the blast, Bryant was working on his memoirs, including a discussion of the PCU’s first case. May suspects that the blast may have something to do with that first case, so he decides to take another look at it. In the process, he reminisces about his first meeting with Bryant in 1940. At the time, he was new on the job, just transferred to the PCU. Bryant had already been working there. May’s first impression of Bryant’s office is one of chaos, and Bryant himself is a bit eccentric:
 

Peculiar Crimes Unit, isn’t it frightful?’ I think their perception of the word ‘peculiar’ and mine differ somewhat. I’ve got some bumph here you can read through.’ He rooted around among his papers, sending several overstuffed folders to the floor, but failed to locate anything specific.’
 

Bryant may not be an orderly, tidy, conventional thinker. But as fans of this series know, he’s brilliant and he and May make a good team.

And then there’s Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s Ashes to Dust. An excavation at the Westmann Islands reveals a set of bodies in the basement of one of the houses. The bodies were buried there during a devastating volcano eruption in 1973 and hadn’t been disturbed since then. At the time of the eruption, Markús Magnússon was living in that house. He was only a teenager, but it is possible he might know something about the murders. Reykjavík attorney Thóra Gudmundsdóttir agrees to represent him, and tries to find anything that might exonerate him. At first Markús says his childhood sweetheart Alda Thorgeirsdóttir can corroborate his story that he knew nothing about the killings. But soon after the bodies are discovered, she herself dies. The police call her death a suicide, but whether or not it is, this means that Thóra will have look into the case more closely to find out what really happened on the day of the eruption. She and her secretary Bella travel to the Westmann Islands to talk to people who were there at the time. One of them is Kjartan Helgason, the harbourmaster for the island where the explosion occurred. Thóra and Bella visit him at his office to see what he recalls from that day:
 

‘It seemed to Thóra from the piles and scraps of paper covering the room that the man’s accomplishments were scarcely exemplary, despite his view of the sea. ‘I live by the sea, too, and I know the feeling,’ she said, lifting a strange-looking device from the nearest chair. ‘Can I put this somewhere else?’ she asked, looking around to find a secure place…’
‘Just throw it on the floor,’ replied Kjarten as he took his own seat.’
 

Kjarten may know a great deal about the eruption, and Thóra wants to learn as much as she can. But his surroundings certainly don’t bode very well for her search for the truth.

Untidiness doesn’t always reflect a cluttered mind. And lots of very interesting characters don’t exactly dust every day. And sometimes that clutter can tell a lot about a person, whether real or fictional. Which ‘cluttery characters’ have stayed with you?
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller’s Yakety Yak.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Christopher Fowler, Colin Dexter, Gail Bowen, Minette Walters, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

They Paved the Way For Generations*

Briding the GapThe Golden Age of detective fiction is usually thought to have come to an end during the 1940s, although people do disagree on exactly how long the era lasted. And we can all think of authors who represent that era and novels that reflect it.

Of course, the Golden Age didn’t end all of a sudden, and there are still highly-regarded novels being written today that maintain some of the Golden Age traditions. And, beginning in about the middle of the 20th Century, there was a group of authors who took some of those traditions and brought them into the modern age. There are several authors whose work falls into this category; I’ll just mention a few.

Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse series is one example. As fans will know, these novels are mainly ‘whodunits’ in the Golden Age tradition. There’s a primary sleuth and his sidekick, and there’s a set of suspects. These are in many ways intellectual mysteries too. That said though, these really aren’t ‘pure’ Golden Age novels. For one thing, Dexter used more modern police procedure and the novels acknowledge then-contemporary social attitudes. So they have a more modern ‘feel’ to them. What’s more, there’s more character depth in this series than there is in some Golden Age series. To put it another way, one could argue that this series bridged the gap between the Golden Age and modern crime fiction.

So did Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s Martin Beck series. Beginning in 1965 with Roseanna, the ten-novel series offered intellectual puzzles and ‘whodunits,’ just as Goden Age series did. So in that sense, the novels preserve a bit of the Golden Age tradition. At the same time, the authors arguably bridged several gaps between Golden Age crime fiction and modern crime fiction. For example, the Martin Beck series includes story arcs that depict the police officers’ private lives as well as the cases they investigate. So instead of seeing just the ‘cop side’ of a detective (e.g. Agatha Christie’s Chief Inspector Japp), readers get a more complete perspective on the investigators as people. There’s also the fact that the authors use the series in part to discuss their own political agenda. Certainly one can spot political points of view in Golden Age crime fiction, but it’s made much clearer in this series.

Ruth Rendell’s work also bridges the gap between Golden Age crime fiction and contemporary crime fiction. Like Golden Age novels, the stories in her Inspector Wexford series focus a lot on the ‘whodunit’ of crime. And in other ways too, the mysteries have some aspects of the traditional sort of crime novel. And yet, this series also has the hallmarks of more modern crime fiction as well. There’s a great deal of emphasis on character development, and an interest in psychological as well as other kinds of motives for murder. There’s also a rich set of story arcs involving Wexford’s private life as well as his life as a detective. This series arguably has elements of both Golden Age crime fiction and contemporary crime fiction.

So does Evan Hunter/Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series. In one sense, this police procedural series reflects the Golden Age ‘hardboiled’ novel. The endings of the stories aren’t always happy, and there is some blunt violence. Some of them do have a real ‘hardboiled noir‘ feel about them. But this series also reflects more contemporary crime fiction as well. We see more modern-style story arcs and attention paid to the personal lives of the members of the 87th. There are also more contemporary themes and underlying motives, which makes sense when you consider that the series continued into the early 21st Century. Among other things, this series arguably moved ‘hardboiled’ crime fiction into the modern age and more importantly, helped carve out the role that the police procedural would play in it.

These are of course just a few examples of series that bridged the gap between Golden Age crime novels and modern crime novels. I know you’ll have at hand many others. They’ve been responsible for a lot of innovation in the genre.

pdjames

One name that belongs on that list is P.D. James. She wrote many novels; I’ll just focus on her Adam Dalgliesh series. In one sense, we see Golden Age crime fiction reflected in her work. Dalgliesh for instance has sometimes been called ‘the last of the gentleman detectives.’ Beginning with Cover Her Face, this series has included many ‘whodunits,’ and a few mysteries that are reminiscent of the ‘impossible-but-not-really’ sort of crime. In other ways too we see the impact of the Golden Age. But James also helped give the crime novel a modern identity as well. We see that in the character development, the story arcs, the use of more modern police procedure and technology, the exploration of social issues and other factors.

Along with her Dalgliesh novels and other crime fiction, James was a strong force ‘behind the scenes’ as well. And her non-fiction book Talking About Detective Fiction is just one sample of her wealth of knowledge and experience. James passed away yesterday, 27 November 2014. Her loss is deeply felt. Her impact on crime fiction has been enormous, and her influence on other crime writers considerable. She will be sorely missed. This post is dedicated to her memory.
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Chaka Khan, Arif Mardin, Dizzy Gillespie and Frank Paparelli’s And the Melody Still Lingers On (Night in Tunisia).

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Filed under Colin Dexter, Ed McBain, Evan Hunter, Maj Sjöwall, P.D. James, Per Wahlöö, Ruth Rendell

I’m Old-Fashioned*

Old FashionedIn many ways it’s good – very good – to live in modern times. There’s better technology, better medical care and lots of other societal improvements. And while there is still bigotry and that may always be, there are fewer ‘-isms’ that limit people now than there were. But some of those things we may think of as ‘old-fashioned’ can actually be pleasant. Here are just a few examples from crime fiction to show you some things that may be old-fashioned but that perhaps people actually miss…

In Agatha Christie’s The Murder on the Links, Captain Hastings is on his way back to London by train. Sitting in the same coach is a young woman who is in many ways very modern in her outlook. They strike up a conversation, and she pokes a little fun at him for his old-fashioned ways. But on a more serious note, she says,

 

‘You’ve been dug out of the backwoods, you have. Not that I mind that. We could do with a few more of your sort.

 

Hastings and the young woman, who calls herself ‘Cinderella,’ part company and at first it looks as though they won’t meet again. But when Hastings and Hercule Poirot travel to France to investigate the murder of Paul Renauld, Hastings and Cinderella have what you might call a reunion. Although she is a modern young woman, she appreciates Hastings’ somewhat traditional outlook on life.

Isaac Asimov is perhaps best known as an author of science fiction, but he also wrote detective stories, including a trilogy featuring New York City police officer Elijah ‘Lije’ Baley. In The Caves of Steel, Baley and his new partner R. Daneel Olivaw are assigned to investigate the murder of noted scientist Dr. Roj Nemennuh Sarton. This isn’t going to be an easy case though. For one thing, life is difficult in the futuristic New York that Asimov depicts. Earth has become overcrowded and most humans have little better than a subsistence lifestyle. For another, there is an ongoing feud, which sometimes flares, between Earthmen (descendants of those who never left the planet) and Spacers (descendants of those who have explored outside the planet). Baley is an Earthman and the victim was a Spacer. What’s worse, R. Daneel Olivaw is a positronic robot. If there’s anything that Earthman dislike more than Spacers, it’s robots. That’s because they are perceived as a threat to humans. Despite these challenges though, Baley and Olivaw work together to solve the murder. In one plot thread in this story, there is a real mistrust among humans of old-fashioned, traditional things such as spectacles (instead of contact lenses). In fact, the interest in such things is known as Medievalism and is regarded as holding people back. And yet, there is a secret group of people who think fondly of what even Baley admits were simpler times. The question of preserving these things forms an interesting layer in the story.

In some ways, Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse is old-fashioned. There are several examples of this in the series featuring him; we see one in The Daughters of Cain. In that novel, Morse and Sergeant Lewis are on the trail of the person who killed a former don Felix McClure. At first it seems that the murderer was McClure’s former scout Ted Brooks. But when he disappears and is later found dead, things aren’t quite that simple. In the course of the investigation, Morse meets Eleanor ‘Ellie’ Smith, a prostitute who may be connected with the case. The two develop an interest in each other despite the fact that she’s a suspect in a murder investigation. Smith is a very modern young woman. She wears nose rings, uses language that Morse would prefer a woman not use and so on. But at one point, he gets the chance to see her dressed more traditionally and without her nose rings and he admits he likes her better that way. For her part, Smith is attracted to Morse’s view of the world, even though she doesn’t really envision herself settling down, marrying and so on in the traditional way. Even Morse’s insistence on standard English doesn’t bother her…

Catherine O’Flynn’s What Was Lost is in part the story of what happens to a traditional English town when a new mall comes in. The story begins in 1984, when the Green Oaks Shopping Center opens. Ten-year-old Kate Meaney is a fledgling detective, and she’s sure that there’s lots of crime to investigate at the mall, so she spends a lot of time there. One day she goes missing and despite a thorough search, is never found. Her friend Adrian Palmer is blamed for her disappearance, although he claims innocence. He’s treated so badly though that he leaves town, vowing not to return. Twenty years later, his sister Lisa is working at a dead-end job at Green Oaks when she meets Kurt, a security guard who’s employed there. The two strike up an unlikely friendship and each in a different way, look back into the past to find out what really happened to Kate. One of the themes in this novel is what happened to traditional English ‘High Street’ shopping with the coming of the mall culture. And the mall that replaces those shops turns out to be somewhat ‘plastic’ as opposed to the more genuine shops. As we learn in the novel, the mall culture hasn’t really made life in the area better.

In one of Anthony Bidulka’s series, we get to know Russell Quant, a Saskatoon PI. One of Quant’s haunts is Colourful Mary’s, a local restaurant that serves ‘down home’ cooking. In fact, Quant describes it this way:

 

‘Marushka cooks like everyone’s mother, most notably her own. In addition to some rather standard fare for the less adventurous, Marushka always adds one or two Ukrainian delicacies to the daily menu…I like Colourful Mary’s…You feel cared for but not smothered. I’m also addicted to Marushka’s cooking.’

 

It’s not a formal restaurant, but it serves traditional, old-fashioned (i.e. not pre-packaged) food. Little wonder it’s so popular with customers.

Most people don’t think of millinery shops as exactly modern and up-to-date. But there’s nothing quite like the feeling of having a hat custom-designed for you. And that’s exactly the business that D.S. Nelson’s Blake Heatherington has been in for years. He’s very skilled at knowing exactly what kind of hat would best suit each client, and delights in making them. In Hats Off to Murder, One For the Rook, and soon Model For Murder, Heatherington puts those old-fashioned skills to use to when murder strikes first his shop and then his allotment. In some ways Heatherington is old-fashioned, but that’s precisely what makes his character appealing.

The ‘good old days’ certainly had many serious problems. I doubt most of us would want to go back. But if you’ve stayed at an old-fashioned hotel with old-fashioned customer service, you know how pleasant it can be. If you’ve been to a restaurant or shop with old-fashioned service, you know how pleasant that can be too. And old-fashioned courtesy on anyone’s part is a refreshing thing. Perhaps not all modern changes have been for the better…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Bidulka, Catherine O'Flynn, Colin Dexter, D.S. Nelson, Isaac Asimov

Please Tell Me When I Can Have My Privacy*

Lack of PrivacyI’d guess we all like to have at least some degree of privacy. There are just certain things that most people would agree are nobody else’s business (‘though I’ll note that what counts as ‘nobody’s business’ varies by culture). But murder changes all conceptions of privacy. Murder victims arguably have no privacy at all. The police go through their most personal papers, emails, ‘photos and other possessions. And often, people involved with the victim lose their privacy too as the police uncover leads. It’s part of what can make investigations really challenging. People may not tell all that they know simply to protect their own or the victim’s privacy. There are examples of this invasion of privacy (or is it, really?) all through crime fiction. I’ll just mention a few to show you what I mean.

In Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders, Hercule Poirot gets a cryptic warning note that there will be a crime in Andover. Sure enough, Alice Ascher, who keeps a small tobacconist’s shop, is found dead one evening in her shop. Next to her body is an ABC railway guide. Her estranged husband is an obvious suspect, but it’s soon clear that someone else probably committed the murder. Then Poirot gets another warning note about a murder to take place in Bexhill. When twenty-three-year-old Betty Barnard is killed there, and an ABC railway guide found near her body, it’s clear that this is more than one isolated incident. And so it proves to be. It turns out that there are two more deaths before Poirot catches the culprit. At one point, he and Hastings are going through Alice Ascher’s possessions to see if there’s any clue there as to her killer. As they go through her clothes, her underthings, and so on, it’s easy to imagine how mortified she’d probably have been if she were still alive.

In Colin Dexter’s The Remorseful Day, Inspector Morse and Sergeant Lewis are assigned to investigate the two-year-old murder of a nurse Yvonne Harrison. When she was first murdered, the police couldn’t get a clear lead on any one suspect, so the case wasn’t solved. But an anonymous tip suggests that the killer was Harry Repp, who’s recently been released from prison where he served time for burglary. Morse seems uncharacteristically apathetic about the case, so Lewis does a lot of the ‘spadework.’ It’s uncomfortable for everyone, because the victim had a very complicate private life that her family isn’t exactly eager to make public. And neither is anyone else with whom the victim was involved. And as the network of relationships among the family members is explored, we see how dysfunctional this family is. And that too is a difficult violation of privacy for everyone.

In Deborah Crombie’s In a Dark House, Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and his lover and former partner Sergeant Gemma James investigate when the body of an unknown woman is found in the ruins of a warehouse fire. One of their first steps is to see if the woman matches the description of anyone who has disappeared. They narrow that list down to four possibilities, one of whom is Elaine Holland, whose roommate has reported her missing. At one point, James visits the home that Holland shared with her roommate and asks to look through her things. After she gets permission, James begins her search. As she looks through the missing woman’s most personal things, including her underthings, she learns some surprising things. Although the search doesn’t solve the mystery of who the woman in the warehouse was, it does give James an interesting lead. But that doesn’t exactly make it comfortable.

It’s even harder for Melbourne cop Charlie Berlin in Geoffrey McGeachin’s The Diggers Rest Hotel, which takes place in 1947. Berlin’s been seconded to Wodonga to help the local police catch a motorcycle gang that’s been committing a series of robberies. While Berlin is in Wodonga, the body of sixteen-year-old Jenny Lee is discovered in an alley. At first, it seems that the motorcycle gang must be responsible for this murder. But Berlin establishes that that’s not the case, so he has to look elsewhere for the killer. Now he has to look into the victim’s private life to find out who would have wanted to murder her. And that’s extremely difficult, especially for her parents, who are Chinese immigrants to Australia. They’re a traditional couple who don’t want to believe their daughter was anything but a well-behaved, hard-working ‘good girl.’ What’s more, they’re a private family and don’t want to say much to outsiders. But Berlin eventually finds out what he needs to know about the victim, and in the end, discovers how she died and why.

Gail Bowen’s Deadly Appearances begins with the sudden death of up-and-coming Sasksatchewan politician Androu ‘Andy’ Boychuk. He’s poisoned one afternoon during a speech at a community picnic. The police investigate officially, but Boychuk’s friend, political ally and occasional speechwriter Joanne Kilbourn takes an interest too. Grief-stricken over Boychuk’s death, she decides to write a biography of him, hoping that the task will help her deal with the loss. In the process, she learns a great deal about Boychuk’s personal life, including some things from his childhood. Some of what she learns is extremely private – certainly not the sort of things you’d necessarily want to share even with close friends. In the end, Kilbourn finds the truth about the murder, and it’s interesting to see how the various people she talks to react when she asks for personal information about them and about Boychuk.

Qiu Xiaolong’s Enigma of China is the story of the death of Zhou Keng, Head of Shanghai’s Housing Development Committee. When he is found hanged in his hotel room, the official explanation is that he committed suicide because of an investigation into his illegal and unethical activities. Chief Inspector Chen Cao is assigned to the case, and the understanding is that he’ll ‘rubber stamp’ that explanation. But Chen isn’t entirely satisfied with it. As he begins to ask questions, he learns that Zhou had a private life that may have a bearing on the case. His relationship with his secretary Fang Fang may have been more than professional, so Chen wants to talk to her. But Fang has gone into hiding. It’s just as well, too, since she may be in danger too. Chen tracks her down and as he interviews her, we see that it’s quite difficult for her to discuss that very private matter. Even her parents don’t really know the truth. And Chen isn’t exactly happy to probe into her intimate life. But if he’s going to find out the truth, and keep Fang safe, that’s what he has to do.

There are a lot of other examples of the way that murder victims lose their privacy. That may help find their killers, but it can be hard on their friends and loved ones, and hard on the detective too. These are just a few examples. Your turn.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Kinks’ Party Line.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Colin Dexter, Deborah Crombie, Gail Bowen, Geoffrey McGeachin, Qiu Xiaolong