Category Archives: Donna Malane

Some Fairly Safe Bets…

Sure BetsAn interesting comment exchange with Moira at Clothes in Books and another with Sarah at Crimepieces have got me thinking about the way savvy crime fiction fans pick up on clues and patterns in crime fiction. Oh, and one other thing savvy crime fiction fans do is follow both Clothes in Books and Crimepieces. If you’re not familiar with those excellent blogs, do go pay ‘em a visit. G’head, I’ll wait.

Right. Patterns. When you read enough crime fiction, you get to the point where you can often make some fairly accurate predictions about what sort of thing will happen in a story. Some things just become fairly safe bets. Part of the reason for this is of course that crime fiction fans are intelligent and observant people. Part of it is also that certain things just seem to lead logically to certain consequences in crime fiction. If you see that pattern often enough, you get to know it and be ready for it. In a well-written story it’s not generally a problem if the reader recognises a pattern. A strong plot and well-written characters draw a reader in even if s/he can make accurate predictions about what’s going to happen.

 

Blunt Force Trauma and ID

 

This is the pattern that Moira mentioned. Her point was that when you have a novel where the victim’s had blunt force trauma to the face, there’s a pretty good chance that there’s going to be a question of the real ID of the victim. She’s right. That’s especially true in classic and Golden Age crime fiction, where DNA and other forensic evidence weren’t accessible.

For instance, in Agatha Christie’s One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (AKA The Patriotic Murders and An Overdose of Death), Hercule Poirot investigates the shooting murder of his dentist Henry Morley. The Home Office takes a special interest in this case since one of Morley’s other patients is well-known powerful banker Alistair Blunt, who has plenty of enemies. So it may be that Morley’s murder was an attempt to get to Blunt. But then another of Morley’s patients disappears. And another dies of an overdose of adrenaline and Novocain. Time goes on and Poirot and Chief Inspector Japp are not much closer to solving this mystery. Then, the body of a woman is discovered. Her face has been so disfigured by a bludgeon that any savvy crime fiction fan will know that ID is going to be at issue. Is it the missing patient? Is it the body of her friend, whom she visited shortly before her death? Is it someone else? The question of ID proves very important in this case.

Identity also proves very important in Dorothy Sayers’ The Nine Tailors. In that novel, Lord Peter Wimsey and his valet Mervyn Bunter are stranded on New Year’s Eve near the East Anglia village of Fenchurch St. Paul. They are rescued by Rector Theodore Venables, who takes them back to the rectory and arranges for them to stay there while their car is being repaired. While they’re in the village, the local squire’s wife Lady Thorpe dies of influenza. Wimsey and Bunter attend her funeral and then go on their way when their car is ready. A few months later Venables writes to Wimsey. Lady Thorpe’s husband Sir Henry has died, and preparations are being made for his burial next to his wife. But when the gravediggers opened the grave to prepare it, they found another corpse – an unknown man. The face of the corpse has been battered beyond recognition and the hands removed, so it’s impossible to tell who the dead man is. Venables asks Wimsey to return to Fenchurch and find out who the victim is and why the body has been buried in the Thorpe grave. Wimsey acquiesces and he and Bunter make the trip. It turns out that the unknown man’s death is related to a long-ago robbery and a stolen necklace, and that his identity was deliberately disguised.

 

The Fate of the Blackmailer

 

This was Sarah’s idea. She reminded me of an episode of Midsomer Murders in which a girl attempts to blackmail a killer when she’s seen a murder and as Sarah wisely said, we all know what happens to fictional blackmailers when they try to profit from what they know. Any crime fiction fan knows that a person who sees a murder and tries to blackmail the murderer is marked. That’s a fairly safe bet.

There’s a deliciously eerie instance of this pattern in Matthew Gant’s short story The Uses of Intelligence. Eleven-year-old twins Patty and Danny Perkins are particularly gifted intellectually and quite arrogant about it. That’s part of what makes them not exactly popular. One of the few people who like them is the local banana peddler Aristos Depopoulos. When he is killed one day by a brick, the Perkins twins decide to find out for themselves who is responsible. They trace the crime back to the culprit with very little difficulty and then decide to blackmail the killer. Well….you can figure out what happens next, I’ll bet.

A blackmailer also pays a heavy price for greed in Caroline Graham’s A Place of Safety. Charlie Leathers is out one night walking his dog when he witnesses a dramatic scene. Carlotta Ryan, a troubled teen staying with the local curate and his wife, runs out onto a stone bridge over the Misbourne. Running after her is her hostess, curate’s wife Ann Lawrence. For a short time it seems that Ann is trying to convince the girl not to jump off the bridge. Then, Charlie hears the girl tell her hostess not to push, and before he knows what’s happened, Tanya has gone over the bridge and disappeared. When she doesn’t turn up, it seems as though Ann Lawrence has committed a murder, however unintentionally. Charlie Leathers is not a nice person and it occurs to him that he could make a good living by blackmailing Ann. As you can guess, it’s not long before he’s murdered – in this case garroted. Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby and his assistant Gavin Troy investigate and find out the truth about Carlotta Ryan, Ann Lawrence and her husband, and the murder of Charlie Leathers.

 

Danger For the Sleuth

 

‘Bad guys’ are generally not stupid. And they usually don’t want to be caught. So it’s a pretty safe bet that if a sleuth goes anywhere alone during an investigation, she or he is bound to get into trouble. Smart sleuths know this and take precautions, but the safe money’s still on trouble for the sleuth.

For instance, in Donna Malane’s Surrender, missing person’s expert Diane Rowe has just learned that James ‘Snow’ Wilson has been murdered. This death has a real impact on Rowe because Snow was responsible for murdering her sister Niki a year earlier. Before his murder, Snow admitted – boasted even – that he’d been paid to kill Niki. Rowe believes that if she can find out who paid Snow, she can find out the truth about her sister’s death. So she begins to ask questions. Once word gets out that she’s looking into this case, you know that she’s going to run into trouble. And she does. But in the end (and honestly, with none of the traditional ‘damsel in distress’ stereotype), Rowe finds out who wanted her sister dead and why. And fans of Sara Paretsky’s V.I Warshawski and Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone will know that those two sleuths frequently get into trouble.

This kind of danger doesn’t just happen to female sleuths. In Anthony Bidulka’s Flight of Aquavit, Saskatoon PI Russell Quant gets into trouble almost from the start when he takes the case of Daniel Guest. Guest is being blackmailed by someone who knows about his secret relationships with other men. He wants Quant to find the blackmailer and stop that person. In the course of his investigation, Quant runs into all sorts of dangers including a near-car crash, an abduction and a too-close-for-comfort encounter with a gun.

The funny thing is, in well-written crime fiction, it doesn’t really matter so much that you can make those bets. The stories are still good and they still draw the reader in. What about you? Which predictions have you learned are pretty safe bets? Thanks, Moira and Sarah for the inspiration!

26 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Bidulka, Caroline Graham, Donna Malane, Dorothy Sayers, Matthew Gant, Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton

I Call Your Name But You’re Not There*

Missing PersonsAn interesting comment exchange with Rebecca at Ms. Wordopolis Reads has got me thinking about fictional missing people. Before I explain, let me give you a moment to go visit Rebecca’s terrific blog and follow it if you’re not already doing so. It’s well worth reading.

Right. About missing people. Rebecca made the well-taken point that it’s difficult to feature a missing person in a plot. On the one hand, the author wants to ‘hook’ the reader so there has to be some information about the person who’s disappeared. On the other, giving away too much at once can spoil the story and take away the suspense that keeps the reader engaged. When it’s done well, though, and the author integrates ways to keep up the tension, a story that includes the missing person motif can be compelling.

For example, Ruth Rendell’s Simisola begins with Dr. Raymond Akande and his wife realising that their twenty-two-year-old daughter Melanie is missing. Akande asks DCI Reg Wexford, one of his patients, to look into the matter. At first Wexford isn’t overly concerned. Melanie is, after all, a young adult who could have any of a number of reasons for not coming home for a few days. But when more time goes by and she doesn’t return, Wexford begins to ask some questions. It turns out that she was last seen right after an appointment with a job counselor at the local employment bureau. So Wexford and the team start the investigation there. Shortly afterwards, Annette Bystock, Melanie’s contact at the bureau, is found murdered. Then the body of a young woman is found in a local wood. At firstWexford is sure it’s Melanie’s body. When it turns out not to be, Wexford and his team are faced with two murders and a disappearance. In this novel, the tension is maintained as the various threads of the story come together. There’s added tension too because the team is working on more than one case.

The same is true in Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. In that novel, Mma. Precious Ramotswe has just opened her own detective agency. She’s breaking into the business so to speak when she gets a letter from schoolteacher Ernest Pakotati, whose eleven-year-old son has gone missing. Mma. Ramotswe is particularly distressed by this case and it doesn’t help matters that the boy’s disappearance may well have to do with local witchcraft. That’s a politically very sensitive issue and the people involved in it have a certain amount of power so Mma Ramotswe is not looking forward to what she may find out. That possibility adds to the interest in this case, as does the Botswana setting and the characters. It also adds to the tension that the missing person here is a child.

In Katherine Howell’s Violent Exposure, the missing person is Connor Crawford, who with his wife Suzanne owned a Sydney nursery. One night, Suzanne Crawford is murdered and her husband disappears. One likely possibility is that her husband is the murderer. They had argued violently and it’s discovered that Connor had been keeping a secret that his wife was desperate to find out. But of course that’s not the only possibility. Things turn out to be more complicated than that as police detective Ella Marconi and her team soon discover. And when there’s another disappearance, it’s clear that something much more than the tragic end to a domestic dispute is going on. Many, if not all, of the answers in this case depend on finding Connor Crawford. If he’s innocent, he may be in grave danger. And even if he’s not in danger he may be able to provide helpful information that would tie everything together. If he’s guilty, the team will have solved the case. The fact that Connor Crawford and the secret he is keeping are critical adds to the suspense in this story.

Anthony Bidulka takes a different approach to building suspense in Amuse Bouche. In that novel, wealthy entrepreneur Harold Chavell is heartbroken and worried because his fiancé Tom Osborn disappeared right before their wedding. He believes that Osborn has gone alone on their planned honeymoon trip to France, and he wants Quant to follow their itinerary and locate Osborn. Quant agrees and begins to track Osborn through the various stops he and Chavell had planned. The tension is raised when Quant gets a note saying that Osborn doesn’t want to be found. Chavell decides to give up his search and Quant returns to Saskatoon. That’s when Osborn’s body is discovered in a local lake. When Chavell is accused of having murdered his fiancé, he asks Quant to find out the truth and clear his name. In this story Bidulka keeps the tension and suspense strong by the timing of the events and by adding the unexpected in a few places.

Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy (AKA The Keeper of Lost Causes) also depicts a search for a missing person, made all the more frantic by the fact that the person who’s disappeared could be in real danger. Carl Mørck is returning to work as a Copenhagen homicide detective after recovering from a line-of-duty injury. Even at his best Mørck is not exactly a pleasant, outgoing person and now he’s dealing with the trauma of what happened when he was shot. He soon becomes so difficult to work with that he’s ‘promoted’ to Department Q, which is set up to investigate ‘cases of special interest.’ Mostly the department is a politically-motivated response to media concern that the police aren’t doing enough to solve certain cases. Mørck knows this but he takes the job and prepares to do as little as he can get away with doing. Then one case gets his attention: the five-year-old disappearance of promising politician Merete Lynggaard. She went missing during a ferry trip and it was always believed that she went overboard in a tragic accident. But little pieces of evidence suggest that she may still be alive. That possibility and the chance that she could be in grave danger if she is alive add to the suspense in this novel.

In Surrender, Donna Malane introduces us to missing person expert Diane Rowe, who sometimes works with the Wellington police. What’s interesting about this novel is that it follows the case of a missing person almost backwards if I could put it that way. Instead of a friend or loved one discovering that someone is missing and then frantically searching (or having the police do so), this novel starts with the discovery of the headless remains of a ‘John Doe’ found in Rimutaka State Forest. Rowe is hired by Inspector Frank McFay to try to identify the remains. So she works with pathologist reports, interviews people and does her own research as she tries to discover who the dead man was. The suspense in this novel is built up in several ways. One of them is that the novel doesn’t just concentrate on the more routine work involved in matching unidentified remains with the right missing person. There are also trips into the Rimutaka State Forest, interesting discoveries, a cryptic message and even some important clues from a boot manufacturer. There is also the fact that Rowe is trying to find out the truth about the murder of her sister Niki, who was murdered a year earlier. In this novel, the pace adds to the level of interest. So does the slow revealing of the person who was ‘John Doe.’

Andrew Nette’s Ghost Money takes place mostly in Cambodia, where Australian former cop Max Quinlan travels to find Charles Avery. Quinlan’s been hired by Avery’s sister Madeleine mostly because he has a talent for finding people who don’t want to be found. Quinlan starts at Avery’s last-known address in Bangkok but when he discovers the body of Avery’s business partner Robert Lee in that apartment, he knows that this is going to be a complicated case. He follows up on clues he’s found and goes on to Phnom Penh, where he picks up the trail once more. He soon learns that some very powerful and brutal people do not want him to find out what happened to Avery and where he is. Still, he continues to look for answers. He and journalist’s assistant Heng Sarin follow up on every lead they can and in the end, they trace Avery’s whereabouts and they find out the truth about him. In this novel, the pace, the slow reveal about what Avery was really doing in Cambodia, and the action keep the suspense strong.

Building a plot, even in part, around a missing person is a challenge. Reveal too much and you spoil the story. On the other hand, make the pace too slow and the reader disengages, especially if the missing person isn’t depicted in an interesting way. But the ‘missing person’ theme can be compelling when the author adds solid characterisation, a solid amount of action and suspense, and enough plot ‘meat’ to keep the reader absorbed. Thanks, Rebecca, for the inspiration!

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Beatles’ I Call Your Name.

26 Comments

Filed under Alexander McCall Smith, Andrew Nette, Anthony Bidulka, Donna Malane, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Katherine Howell, Ruth Rendell

She Came in Through the Bathroom Window*

BandEMost of us would probably agree that breaking into someone’s home is a crime. That’s for instance one reason why police aren’t allowed to enter someone’s home unless that person invites them in or they have a warrant. In most places, evidence they get from illegal activity such as breaking and entering isn’t admissible in court anyway, so many cops don’t do that. Licensed private investigators are also limited in the searches they’re allowed to make. And having had my home broken into twice (this was years ago – not in the home I live in now), I can say that it’s a very good thing there are laws against breaking and entering. And yet, despite the fact that B & E is illegal with good reason, that doesn’t always stop sleuths from doing it at least sometimes. It’s not easy to write such a scene convincingly because as I say, real-life police officers who break and enter face serious consequences for it and so do PIs. But when it is written well, a B & E scene can add some tension to a plot.

For instance, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton, Sherlock Holmes’ new client Lady Eva Brackwell is being blackmailed by Charles Augustus Milverton. He has some compromising letters she wrote and has threatened to send them to her fiancé unless she pays a very large sum of money. Holmes has nothing but contempt for Milverton, so he has no qualms about planning a way to get those letters. He learns the layout of the Milverton home and one night he and Watson break into the home to find the letters. They do get them but not before another of Milverton’s victims finds her own way of getting compromising evidence back from him.

Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot isn’t above B & E when he needs to make use of that strategy. In Christie’s short story The Adventure of the Cheap Flat, Captain Hastings learns of a young couple named Robinson who seem to have pulled off a fait accompli. They’ve found a nice flat at a very low rent in a nice part of London. When Hastings mentions the matter to Poirot, Poirot begins to wonder whether there’s something more going on here than just a very good piece of luck. So he takes a flat in the same building as the Robinsons’ new home. Poirot soon learns that the Robinsons have been made pawns in a plot that involves international crime and jewel theft. But he knows very well that the people involved in the plot are not going to stand by meekly and let the police arrest them. So he and Hastings break into the flat late one night and find the evidence that they need to lure and then catch the criminals.

In Linwood Barclay’s Bad Move, science fiction writer Zack Walker moves with his journalist wife Sarah and their two children to Valley Forest Estates. Walker is convinced that the city where they had been living is no longer safe and wants to give his family a safe, secure suburban place to live. The family hasn’t been in their new home long when Walker begins to notice some things that are wrong with the house they’ve bought. So he goes to Valley Forest’s sales office to complain and arrange for some repairs. That’s when he witnesses an argument between a Valley Forest sales executive and local environmental activist Samuel Spender. When Walker later finds Spender’s body in a nearby creek he knows that something must be very wrong at Valley Forest. Not long after that, Walker and his wife are doing some shopping when he spies a purse that he thinks belongs to Sarah. It doesn’t, so now Walker has to find a way to return the purse – which has quite a lot of money in it – to its owner Stefanie Knight, who works in the Valley Forest sales office. He goes to her home intending to return the purse but no-one comes to the door. Walker gets into the home only to find Knight’s body. Despite his best efforts to keep out of dangerous situations, Walker finds himself more and more mixed up in what turns out to be a case of greed and corruption leading to murder.

There’s a funny example of B & E in Donna Malane’s Surrender. Missing Person’s expert Diane Rowe finds out from her cop ex-husband Sean Callum that James Patrick ‘Snow’ Wilson has been found stabbed to death. That murder has special meaning for Rowe. A year earlier her sister Niki was murdered and everyone, including Callum, has always believed that Snow was guilty. In fact just before his death Snow admitted his guilt and said that he was paid to murder Niki. Rowe thinks that if she can find out who paid Snow, she’ll find out the truth behind her sister’s murder so she begins to investigate. She happens to be passing near the house Snow shared with his sisters when she decides on impulse to go in and see if she can find any clues as to who else was involved in her sister’s killing. She breaks in through a window only to be stopped cold by a deftly-wielded cricket bat. It turns out the house wasn’t as empty as it seemed and Snow’s sisters caught Rowe red-handed as the saying goes. When she explains why she was there, the Wilson sisters suggest that they might be able to help each other. They want to find their brother’s killer as much as Rowe wants to find her sister’s killer. So they decide to exchange what turns out to be useful information.

Paddy Richardson’s Stephanie Anderson, whom we meet in Hunting Blind, isn’t the ‘typical’ (if there is such a thing) ‘B & E type.’ She’s a beginning psychiatrist who’s lived a very careful life for the last several years. Then she begins to work with a new patient Elizabeth Clark who has a tragic past. Years earlier Clark’s sister Gracie was abducted and no trace of her was ever found. This story resonates deeply with Anderson, whose own younger sister Gemma was abducted seventeen years earlier. Anderson decides to lay her own ghosts to rest and find out who was responsible for both abductions. So she makes the journey from Dunedin where she lives and works to Wanaka where she grew up. Along the way she gets more and more information on the person who wreaked so much havoc on her life. She wants to get proof of this person’s culpability but can’t easily find hard evidence. So one day she decides on impulse to break into that person’s home and look for the evidence she needs. It’s a very tense scene and I don’t think it’s giving away spoilers to say that Richardson shows us what it’s like to get into someone’s home when one’s absolutely not supposed to be there.

There’s an interesting case of breaking into one’s own home – well, in a way – in Patricia Stoltey’s The Prairie Grass Murders. Sylvia Thorn is a Florida judge who gets an upsetting call from her brother Willie Grisseljon. Willie was visiting the family’s former home in Illinois when he discovered the half-buried body of a man in a field not far from the house. When he tried to alert the police, he was arrested for vagrancy. So Thorn travels to Illinois to arrange for her brother’s release. Once that’s accomplished, she’s ready to leave but Willie wants to return to where he found the body. When they get there, they find that the body has disappeared and the ground nearby has been disturbed as if to hide evidence. It also turns out that the dead man may be a local businessman who’s gone missing. Thorn and Grisseljon get drawn into a case of corruption and greed tied to murder. At one point Thorn goes to her old family house which is now a focal point for those behind the crimes. She breaks in and ends up trapped in a hideaway under the house when the ‘bad guys’ discover that she’s been there.

Of course any B & E scene has to be done carefully. Real-life cops and PIs know they’re not supposed to just sneak into people’s homes, so it would stretch credibility too far to have them do that on a whim. But when it’s done deftly, a B & E scene can add an interesting layer of tension to a story.

 

 
 

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

18 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Donna Malane, Linwood Barclay, Paddy Richardson, Patricia Stoltey

How Do You Measure, Measure a Year?*

Measuring the YearIt’s interesting how the end of the year often gets us into a reflective mood, whether or not we make and keep New Year’s resolutions. It’s often a time for taking stock of oneself – well, it is for me anyway. And no, I promise this isn’t going to be one of those ‘Best of 2012’s Reading’ posts. You’ll be reading enough of those as the next weeks go by. Besides, I don’t like to ‘stay within the lines’ like that. But here are a few things I’ve noticed about my crime fiction reading this year. If they help you make some reading choices, then I’m glad to have been of service.

 

 

Book That Has Caused Me to Re-Think My Assumptions

 

Angela Savage – Behind the Night Bazaar

Y.A. Erskine – The Brotherhood

Roger Smith – Dust Devils

Martin EdwardsAll the Lonely People

 

Most of us, myself included, have a set of assumptions about, well, everything. About people from other groups, about how to make the world better, about how to solve the world’s problems. But those assumptions can blind us to the fact that very few of life’s problems and inequities have an easy solution. All of these books present difficult issues (e.g. poverty, human trafficking, questions of racial equity) that do not have an easy solution. And these authors are all to be commended for not offering pat solutions. All of these novels have caused me to question what I always believed, and that’s a good thing. The book that has most caused me to really question myself though is Angela Savage’s Behind the Night Bazaar. In that novel, PI Jayne Keeney investigates the murders of her friend Didier ‘Didi’ de Montpasse and his partner Nou. The trail leads Keeney to some ugly truths about child trafficking and the sex trade. I think we’d all agree that something has to be done to keep children safe and to stop human trafficking. But Savage shows us, without preaching, that there isn’t a simple solution. Not until we question what we assume to be true can we look at the source of these problems and try to solve them. This isn’t an easy, light book, but it stays with me in part because it has invited me to stop and re-think everything I always ‘knew’ about human trafficking.

 

 

Book I Am Very Annoyed at Myself For Not Reading Yet

 

Michael Connelly – The Black Box

Ben Winters – The Last Policeman

Deon Meyer – Seven Days

Vanda Symon – The Faceless 

 

Here’s the thing. There are only twenty-four hours in a day, and seven days in a week. And one has to eat and sleep and pay bills, etc…   So there simply isn’t enough time to read it all. I am a fan of all four of these highly talented authors, so it has nothing to do with my interest in their books. It really doesn’t.  I will read all of these books. However, I am most angry with myself for not yet reading Vanda Symon’s The Faceless. Symon is the highly talented author of the Sam Shephard series, and I was very much looking forward to this standalone release. I still am. I promise, Vanda, I will read it. Very soon. Folks, if you haven’t yet read it, give it a try. Symon will not disappoint you.

 

 

Pattern in My Reading That I Didn’t Even Notice

 

I Have Read More Canadian Crime Fiction This Year.

I Have Read More French Crime Fiction This Year.

I Have Read More Australian Crime Fiction This Year, Mostly Written by Women.

I Have Read More Thrillers This Year.

 

Did you ever catch yourself in a new pattern that you weren’t even aware of? Well, this year I found myself, and I promise it was unplanned, branching out in all sorts of different reading directions. I’m glad for that, as I am a better informed crime fiction fan for it. I’m all for ‘stretching oneself’ as a reader. And I am truly grateful for those who’ve helped me do that this year. The pattern that I’ve most noticed – that seems the strongest – without me even being aware of it is that I’ve read a whole lot more crime fiction by Australian women writers than I had before. This year I’ve read some terrific work by Sandy Curtis, Virginia Duigan, Y.A. Erskine,  Kerry Greenwood, Wendy James and Angela Savage, among others. I’m so glad I ‘met’ these wonderful ladies from down under. To all of you, thanks for sharing your work with us, and it is my great pleasure to mention it on my blog. Want to read some terrific crime fiction by Aussie women writers? Sure ya do! Check out Fair Dinkum Crime, which is the source for all Australian crime fiction. And check out the Australian Women Writers challenge. Go ‘head. You’re in for a real treat!

 

 

New Character I’ve Met This Year That I’d Love to Have a Drink With

 

Anthony Bidulka’s Russell Quant

Angela Savage’s Jayne Keeney

Donna Malane’s Diane Rowe

Alan Orloff’s Channing Hayes

 

All of these sleuths are absolutely terrific characters whom I’m really happy that I met. They’re all smart, interesting and I’m sure they’d be a lot of fun to know in person. My vote, by a slim margin (‘cause they’re all great characters) is Anthony Bidulka’s Russell Quant. Quant’s smart, thoughtful, interesting, and knows lots of cool places to eat and drink. I could truly enjoy sharing a bottle of good wine and swapping stories with him. His would probably trump mine by a long shot. Check out all of these protagonists, folks – they’re all worth getting to know.

 

 

Author Whose Next Release I Am Most Eager For (Fingers are Drumming and I’m Waiting……Still Waiting…)

 

Paddy Richardson

Adrian Hyland

William Ryan

James Craig

 

All of these authors have wowed me with their novels. And now that I’ve gotten hooked it’s really very unfair to keep me waiting. Come on, you folks!! Next novel, please!!!!!!  There are a few other authors who’ve gotten me hooked (e.g. Elizabeth Spann Craig and Donna Malane), but I know when their next books are coming out, so I’ll be patient. But I am especially eager to read the next book by… Adrian Hyland. Hyland’s Emily Tempest series is one of the finest series I’ve read, and I really truly hope there’ll be a new one soon. A-a-a-hem, Mr. Hyland!!!

So there you have it. A few reflections on my own reading as we face the last few weeks of 2012. Now, please don’t ask me which book I’ve liked most of all I’ve read this year. First of all, the year isn’t over yet. Secondly, I couldn’t narrow it down.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jonathan Larson’s Seasons of Love.

37 Comments

Filed under Adrian Hyland, Alan Orloff, Angela Savage, Anthony Bidulka, Ben Winters, Deon Meyer, Donna Malane, James Craig, Martin Edwards, Michael Connelly, Paddy Richardson, Roger Smith, Vanda Symon, William Ryan, Y.A. Erskine

Do I Measure Up to What You Want?*

There’s often a lot of pressure on people to ‘measure up’ and fulfill others’ expectations. Sometimes that pressure puts a great deal of stress on a person; if you’ve ever felt yourself struggling to live up to what you thought you ‘ought to’ be, you know exactly what I mean. We all find ways to balance being responsible to others with being true to ourselves but it’s not always easy. Of course anything that challenging is also a really interesting source of tension and conflict, so it’s not surprising that we see that issue come up a lot in crime fiction.

For instance, in Agatha Christie’s Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, Hercule Poirot travels to the small village of Broadhinny to investigate the murder of a charwoman who cleaned houses in the village. The most likely suspect (in fact, he’s already been arrested and convicted) is her lodger James Bentley. But he claims he’s innocent and Superintendent Spence, who investigated the case originally, is inclined to agree. While Poirot is there he meets Deirdre Henderson, who lives with her mother and stepfather. It turns out that Mrs. McGinty was killed because she’d found out something one of the residents wants to keep secret, so all of the members of Deirdre Henderson’s family come under suspicion. As we learn about that family, we learn that Deirdre is a very unhappy person. One of the reasons is that both her mother and her father have expectations for her that she can’t meet. Her mother wanted her to be beautiful, graceful and ‘a good catch,’ and she isn’t. Her stepfather wants her to be perfectly efficient at running the household and let’s face it; no-one can do that. Deirdre has a great deal of resentment in part because of the way she’s treated and that plus the family dysfunction add an interesting layer of tension to the story.

Lawrence Block’s The Sins of the Fathers is the story of the murder of Wendy Hanniford. Her father Cale engages former cop Matthew Scudder to look into what happened and find out why Wendy was killed. The question of ‘whodunit’ seems to be answered unequivocally. Her room-mate Richard Vanderpoel was seen going down the street with her blood on his clothes and he can’t really account for what happened. When he commits suicide a few days later it seems that the case is finished. But Scudder continues to look into the matter to find out what led to the killing. He finds that first of all, the case is not as clear-cut as it seems. Second, he finds that part of the reason for Richard Vanderpoel’s behaviour – and really, the reason he ended up moving in with Wendy in the first place – has to do with the pressure put on him by his family to live up to expectations. That’s not the reason for the murder, but it is an important part of Vanderpoel’s personality.

Ted Jasper feels a similar kind of pressure in Margaret Millar’s Mermaid. He is the only son of Hilton and Frieda Jasper and he feels a great deal of pressure to be successful in the way that his father is. But Ted is rather at loose ends, and not sure what his path in life will be. That in itself makes for a conflict within the family but it’s hardly the only one. Hilton Jasper’s much-younger sister Cleo lives with the family and attends an exclusive special school. Her presence causes conflict too because of the attention her older brother lavishes on her. Then one day Cleo disappears. Hilton hires attorney Tom Aragon to find the young woman and Aragon starts to ask questions. One thing he finds is that Ted may have something to do with the reason Cleo left. That becomes even more possible after Ted himself leaves.  As Aragon pieces together the days and weeks before Cleo disappeared he finds out the extent of the dysfunction in this family. He also finds out what really happened to Cleo and Ted Jasper. While the high pressure of expectations is not exactly the reason for the events in this novel, it does play an important role in the Jasper family dynamics.

We also see the pressure of family expectations in Donna Malane’s Surrender. Missing person’s expert Diane Rowe finds out from her cop ex-husband Sean Callum about the murder of James Patrick ‘Snow’ Wilson. Rowe has a special interest in this murder because she believes that Wilson murdered her younger sister Niki a year earlier. Then she finds out that Wilson confessed the murder – even bragged about it. It turns out that he was hired to kill Niki and Rowe wants to find out who his employer was. So she looks more deeply into her sister’s life to find out who would have wanted her dead. As she does, Rowe finds out some surprising truths about Niki, who was an exotic dancer with a ‘side business’ in all sorts of ‘customer service.’  Rowe and her sister hadn’t been very close lately because Rowe kept trying to get Niki to straighten her life out and make changes. As she learns about Niki’s life, Rowe learns that Niki looked up to her and felt a great deal of pressure to live up to her sister’s expectations. In the end, Rowe finds out the truth about both Niki’s death and Wilson’s and begins to come to terms with what happened to her sister.

Of course, it’s not just family expectations that can put pressure on a person. The expectations caused by peer pressure can also be very stressful. That’s what Sivert ‘Zipp’ Skorpe discovers in Karin Fossum’s When the Devil Holds the Candle. In that novel Inspector Konrad Sejer and his assistant Jakob Skarre are contacted by Runi Winther about the disappearance of her son Andreas. At first Sejer doesn’t worry too much about it. Young men often go off on their own for a few days without it meaning anything is wrong. But as time goes by and Andreas doesn’t return, Sejer begins to take more notice and he and Skarre undertake an investigation. Zipp is Andreas’ best friend and is in the best position to know what happened to him. But Zipp claims he doesn’t know what happened to his friend after they parted company on the day Andreas disappeared. It takes all of Sejer’s skill to discover what happened to Andreas and as he does so, we learn about the friendship between Andreas and Zipp. We also learn how the pressure of living up to a peer’s expectations affects this friendship.

The pressure of living up to work expectations can also put stress on a person and add to a novel too. For instance in Y.A. Erskine’s The Brotherhood we are introduced to probationer Lucy Howard, who has just recently joined the Tasmania police. She wants more than anything else to do a good job and to live up to everyone’s expectations. She’s determined to do everything right but one morning everything goes disastrously wrong. She and her mentor Sergeant John White are sent to the scene of a burglary in progress. Lucy stays in the front of the house while her boss goes round the back. Before anyone really knows what’s going on White has been murdered and his killer has fled. Lucy blames herself for not doing something to prevent the murder or at least catch the killer and part of the reason for that is that she’s put herself under a great deal of pressure to ‘do it all right.’ She and her colleagues are determined to catch the murderer and it looks as though that person is seventeen-year-old Darren Rowley, a part-Aborginal teen who’s been in and out of trouble most of his life. This case is a political ‘hot potato’ because of the delicate nature of race relations in the area. Any hint of police brutality or not following policy will bring on much more than just angry letters to newspaper editors. So the police have to tread very carefully as they look through the evidence to see whether Rowley really did commit the murder and if so how they can get incontrovertible evidence of that.The pressure that Lucy feels to live up to what she sees as expectations adds to the tension in this novel.

We all face the pressure of expectations at work, at home and even among friends. Sometimes that pressure can be a real source of stress – and make for a really interesting layer of tension in a novel.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Tom Jones’ Fool For Rock ‘n’ Roll.

6 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Donna Malane, Karin Fossum, Lawrence Block, Margaret Millar, Y.A. Erskine