Category Archives: Dorothy Sayers

Got to Get Back to the Land*

Hiking and CampingMany people enjoy the feeling of ‘getting away from it all’ by taking camping and hiking trips. There is definitely something to be said for spending some time with nature, turning off the computer and the telephone and enjoying some peace. Other people camp because that’s their culture and way of life. Either way, camping can be a rich experience. But as crime fiction shows us, camping isn’t always the relaxing, peaceful experience it’s sometimes made out to be.

In Agatha Christie’s Appointment With Death, the Boynton family tours the Middle East, making a special excursion to Petra. While they’re on their camping/hiking/sightseeing tour, family matriarch Mrs. Boynton suddenly dies of what seems to be heart failure. But Colonel Carbury isn’t satisfied, and asks Hercule Poirot to investigate. It soon turns out that Mrs. Boynton was poisoned, and Poirot interviews each of the people at the sightseeing encampment. There are plenty of suspects too, since Mrs. Boynton was a tyrant and a mental sadist who kept everyone in her family cowed. In the end Poirot establishes who the murderer is. One of the interesting clues in this murder comes from the location of each of the campers’ tents.

Dorothy Sayers’ Harriet Vane decides to take a hiking holiday in Have His Carcase. She’s just been through a traumatic time standing trial for murder (Strong Poison gives the details on that experience), and she is in need of a rest. During her hiking trip, Vane stops one afternoon for a rest and soon dozes off. When she wakes up, she finds the body of a dead man. She alerts the authorities who start the investigation. The dead man is soon identified as Paul Alexis, a professional dancer at a nearby hotel. At first it looks as though Alexis may have committed suicide, but it soon turns out that he was murdered. With help from Lord Peter Wimsey, Vane discovers who killed Alexis and why. So much for a peaceful hiking holiday…

Scott Young’s Murder in a Cold Climate introduces readers to Matthew ‘Matteesie’ Kitologitak of the RCMP. Matteesie has been asked to investigate the disappearance of a Cessna with three men aboard. He’s getting ready to do just that when he witnesses the shooting death of Native activist Morton Cavendish. It’s not long before Matteesie establishes that the two cases are related, so he changes his focus to an investigation of the murder. He’s hoping that by finding the killer, he may find the answer to what happened to the plane and the men on it. As Matteesie investigates, we get a look at the way things are done in Canada’s Far North. One fact of life there is that people go on hunting and fishing trips that can take them far from home. So they camp. In fact, it’s a popular tourist activity too. It’s not surprise then, that there are several scenes in this novel that take place at different camps. One of those scenes in fact tells us a lot about the mystery.

M.J. McGrath’s White Heat also takes place in Canada’s Far North. Edie Kiglatuk is a hunting guide with an excellent reputation. That reputation is threatened when one of her clients Felix Wagner is shot during a camping/hunting expedition. At first his death is put down to a tragic accident and Edie is given the message to just leave it alone. But then her stepson Joe commits suicide (or did he?) and there’s another death as well. Soon Edie is involved in a complicated case of murder and greed. If she’s going to clear her reputation and find out why her stepson died, she’s going to have to find the murderer. She works with Ellesmere Island police offer Derek Palliser to investigate the case. As they do so, we see how deeply camping is embedded in that culture. People go out for days or more to hunt, trap and fish and in that climate, a good campsite can mean the difference between life and death.

In Paddy Richardson’s Hunting Blind, novice psychiatrist Stephanie Anderson takes an unexpected camping trip. One of her clients Elisabeth Clark is troubled by the disappearance years earlier of her younger sister Gracie. This story haunts Anderson, as her own sister Gemma disappeared in a similar way seventeen years earlier. Anderson decides to lay her ghosts to rest, so to speak, by finding out who was responsible for abducting the young girls. So she makes a trip from Dunedin to her family’s home in Wanaka, trying to trace the culprit as she goes. During one stop she meets a hunting guide named Dan, who invites her on a hunting and shooting trip. Anderson demurs at first, but Dan wants to prove to her that

 

‘…all hunters aren’t blokey yobbos.’

 

Finally Anderson agrees and she and Dan take a three-day camping and hiking trip. Making the trip doesn’t catch the criminal. But it does give Anderson a new kind of confidence as well as some interesting and important information. And she finds herself more interested in Dan than she’d imagined she would be.

There’s also Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon series. Pigeon is a US National Park Service Ranger, so she spends quite a bit of time camping. She’s assigned to different parks for different amounts of time, so her accommodations vary. But she’s grown quite accustomed to tents, bedrolls and campfires.

There are a lot of other novels of course that feature camping trips (I know, I know, fans of Arnaldur Indriðason’s Strange Shores). And in novels such as Donna Leon’s The Girl of His Dreams, Arthur Upfield’s Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte series and Adrian Hyland’s Emily Tempest novels, we meet groups of people for whom camping is a way of life. It certainly does have a lot to offer. But – erm – do be careful…

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock, made popular by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

21 Comments

Filed under Adrian Hyland, Agatha Christie, Arnaldur Indriðason, Arthur Upfield, Donna Leon, Dorothy Sayers, M.J. McGrath, Nevada Barr, Paddy Richardson, Scott Young

Far Too Many Sins to Mention*

FaultsNobody’s perfect. That’s a very obvious point, but when it comes to crime-fictional sleuths, I think it bears a little reflection. I think most of us would probably agree that we don’t want our protagonists to be too perfect. After all, a perfect protagonist isn’t realistic. So characters with no weaknesses and faults don’t feel well-developed or authentic.

In the early days of crime fiction, a lot of character depth was arguably less important than it is now. This isn’t to say of course that no classic or Golden Age detective stories have well-rounded protagonists. But the emphasis was on the plot rather than on the evolution of a flawed but still appealing and believable protagonist.

Just as one example, one of the criticisms I’ve read of Dorothy Sayers’ work is that her Lord Peter Wimsey is too perfect. He gets it right too often. Whether you agree with that particular claim or not, it reflects a more general criticism of some of the ‘heroes’ of the stories of that era. People want their protagonists to be believable and that means to be less than perfect.

One response to this interest in the ‘not perfect’ protagonist has been what people sometimes call the ‘anti-hero.’ Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley is arguably one example of that sort of character. Ripley is not without any feelings, but he is amoral. He’s been mixed up in fraud, murder, theft and other crimes; on that level, he’s got many deep flaws.

There are also characters such as Jim Thompson’s Lou Ford, whom we meet in The Killer Inside Me. On the surface, Ford seems to be what everyone thinks he is – a pleasant if dull local sheriff’s deputy. Then crime comes to Central City, Texas. First, there’s a vicious beating. Then there’s a murder. As the investigation goes on, we begin to see what Lou Ford is really like, and we learn about his past. Without spoiling the story, I think it’s fair to say that Ford is not a classic detective-story ‘hero.’

There are more modern examples too of the ‘anti hero’ sort of protagonist. For example, some people feel that Leif G.W. Persson’s Evert Bäckström is an anti-hero. Certainly he’s not ‘politically correct.’ He’s not easy to work with, he’s egotistical and he’s bigoted. By most people’s estimation he’s a fairly deeply flawed character.

And yet, the trilogy featuring Bäckström and his team has been well-regarded. A lot of people think that The Killer Inside Me is a classic noir story. And Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley novels have certainly gotten a great deal of praise. So it’s possible for an ‘anti hero’ to be appealing enough to hold readers’ interest.

That said though, I think we could all think of examples of stories we’ve read with one too many broken, demon-haunted, drunken detectives. I won’t make a list; you’ve all read your share I’m sure. We’ve all had the experience too of reading books we didn’t enjoy because there simply nothing to make us care about the protagonist. So simply giving a character many, many flaws isn’t enough to make her or him interesting.

What’s the balance, then? A protagonist who’s too perfect is not just unrealistic, but can also be annoying. But a protagonist who is too full of weaknesses, flaws and negative qualities puts readers off. How flawed does a protagonist need to be for that character to seem realistic? How many flaws are just too many? When do your ‘eye roll’ moments start?  Of course, different people will have different reactions, but I would really be interested in your input.

If you’re a writer, how do you decide how many weaknesses your protagonist is going to have?  What’s your strategy for making your protagonist human enough to be believable, but not so full of flaws as to be off-putting?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s She’s Right on Time.

45 Comments

Filed under Dorothy Sayers, Jim Thompson, Leif G.W. Persson, Patricia Highsmith

But You Hid Behind Your Poison Pen and His Pride*

PoisonPen Letters‘Poison pen’ letters have been around for a very long time. Sometimes they’re sent out of spite or malice. Other times the purpose is bullying or blackmail. And sometimes they’re a reflection of the sender’s fragile mental health. Whatever motivates them, they can be distressing and frightening for the person who gets them. And sometimes they represent a real threat. They’re also interesting clues and ‘red herrings’ in crime fiction too. There are lots of examples from the genre; here are just a few.

Agatha Christie uses ‘poison pen’ letters quite frequently in her stories and novels; I’ll just mention one. In The Moving Finger, siblings Jerry and Joanna Burton have just moved from London to the village of Lymestock so that Jerry can recover from wartime injuries. They’ve just settled in when they receive a vicious anonymous letter claiming that they’re lovers rather than brother and sister. The letter seems like a crank, but it leaves as the saying goes a nasty taste. Then, the Burtons discover that they’re not the only ones to have gotten nasty letters. Several of the other residents of Lymestock have also been victims. Soon, the letters spark ugly rumours throughout the village. Then, things turn tragic. First, a ‘poison pen’ letter to the wife of the local solicitor results in a suicide. Then there’s another death. The police investigate, but vicar’s wife Mrs. Dane Calthrop has another idea. She asks Miss Marple to look into the matter. Miss Marple is thoroughly familiar with village life. What’s more, she’s intelligent, observant and good at making meaning from the local gossip. Miss Marple starts asking questions, and finds out the truth about the letters and the deaths.

In Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night, mystery novelist Harriet Vane is invited to return to her alma mater Shrewsbury College for its annual Gaudy Dinner and festivities. At first, she’s not inclined to go, as she’s not sure what her reception will be. She has, after all, achieved a certain notoriety after being tried for murder (See Strong Poison for the details on that). But at the request of an old friend, she finally decides to participate. When she gets to Shrewsbury she’s pleasantly surprised at the warm welcome she’s given, and is glad she attended. Then trouble starts. First, Harriet finds an anonymous note accusing her of murder. Then she gets a letter from the dean of her college, saying that there have been other incidents, including vandalism, going on at the college. The college authorities don’t want a scandal, so the dean asks Harriet to return to Shrewsbury and investigate quietly rather than call in the police. Harriet agrees and goes back to the college under the guise of doing research for a book. What she finds, with help from Lord Peter Wimsey, is that the events at Shrewsbury are all connected with something that happened in the past, and that one person has not forgotten…

Inspector Van der Valk of the Amsterdam police faces a bizarre case of ‘poison pen’ letters in Nicolas Freeling’s Double Barrel. There’s been a spate of such letters in the small town of Zwinderen, and the police have gotten concerned. Normally not much attention is paid to one or just a few such letters, but this is a bit different. Two of the letters have resulted in suicide and one in a complete mental breakdown. The local police haven’t been able to make much headway, mostly because the people of Zwinderen are close-mouthed and unwilling to talk about anything that might have led to the letters being sent. So Van der Valk is sent to find out who is behind the letters. It’s an interesting case of a small community where everyone knows everyone’s business and public reputation is all-important. Still, Van der Valk slowly gets to the truth about who’s been sending the letters and why. He also makes another completely unexpected, discovery that’s related to wartime crimes.

Martin Edwards’ The Cipher Garden also features ‘poison pen’ letters. Ten years before the events in the novel, landscaper Warren Howe was murdered one afternoon with his own scythe. At the time, the police thought that his wife Tina was guilty, and she had good reason. Howe was an abusive alcoholic who wouldn’t leave other women alone. But the police couldn’t get conclusive evidence, so they couldn’t pursue the case. The whole business gets brought up again when a series of anonymous notes, including one to the Cumbria Constabulary, suggests that Tina really was guilty of the murder. DCI Hannah Scarlett and her Cold Case Review team re-open the case and begin another investigation. In the meantime, Oxford historian Daniel Kind is researching the history of the oddly-shaped garden of the cottage he’s recently taken. As it turns out, it was laid out by the same company that employed Warren Howe. Each in a different way, Scarlett and Kind look into the history of the area and find that it’s closely linked with the murder.

Elizabeth Spann Craig’s Quilt or Innocence introduces us to Beatrice Coleman, who’s recently retired from Atlanta to Dappled Hills, North Carolina. She’s moved there to be closer to her daughter Piper and to enjoy some long-awaited relaxation and reading time. Soon enough Beatrice finds that social life in Dappled Hills revolves around quilting. So, somewhat reluctantly (since she doesn’t know a lot about quilting), she joins the Village Quilters. When one of its members is murdered, she starts asking questions. Then she gets a threatening letter. And then another. Now it looks as though someone is targeting the quilters, especially when Beatrice and another quilter are attacked. It’s a scary experience for Beatrice, especially since she lives alone. But she gets to the truth about the letters, the murder and the attacks.

Today’s Internet technology means that nasty letters, comments and the like can be posted from just about anywhere. Sometimes they’re done anonymously and sometimes it’s easier to find out who sends them. Either way, they’re at least as unsettling as traditional letters. We see a bit of that in Helen Fitzgerald’s The Cry. In that novel, Joanna Lindsay and Alistair Robertson have come from Scotland to Melbourne with their nine-week-old son Noah. For Alistair it’s a homecoming, but Joanna has never been to Australia. They’re on their way to Alistair’s family’s home when the unimaginable happens: the loss of Noah. When news of the missing baby gets out, the entire Australian media gets to work and the case generates a frenzy of interest. There are all sorts of appeals for help, charity benefits and the like. But little by little, questions begin to be raised about the event. Those questions start people wondering whether one or both of Noah’s parents might have had something to do with his disappearance. Now there are websites and blog posts set up that vilify, especially, Joanna. It’s an interesting case of how a story can generate passionate public opinion and how modern technology allows people to express that opinion in all kinds of terms. It’s also interesting to compare the ‘poison pen’ comments, tweets and blog posts with the reality of what actually did happen to Noah.

‘Poison pen’ letters, notes, tweets and comments are unsettling and sometimes frightening, especially when you don’t know who’s responsible. They can generate a lot of tension and certainly add levels of suspense to a crime story. These are just a few instances. Your turn.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from REO Speedwagon’s In Your Letter.

32 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Elzabeth Spann Craig, Helen Fitzgerald, Martin Edwards, Nicolas Freeling

Just a Flashy Fast Advertisement*

AdvertisementsThey’re everywhere. They pop up when you’re online, they take up lots of space in magazines and newspapers, and of course you can hardly watch anything on television without seeing them. I’m talking of course about advertisements. As we’ll shortly see, they’ve always been around. And now that people can digitally record what they want and can click away from online advertisements, companies are finding ever more creative ways to get our attention. You even see them on airline boarding passes and on the backs of purchase receipts. The all-pervasiveness of advertisements means of course, that they also run through crime fiction. Here are just a few examples to show you what I mean.

In Agatha Christie’s Appointment With Death, the Boynton family goes on a sightseeing tour of the Middle East, including a visit to Petra. On the second day of their stay, Mrs. Boynton dies of what seems to be natural causes. She was both elderly and in poor health, and the trip is long and hot. So no-one is really surprised that she’s died. Colonel Carbury is tasked with the police report about this unexpected death, and something about it worries him. So he asks Hercule Poirot, who’s staying in Jerusalem, to investigate. Poirot agrees and travels to Petra to find out the truth. There are several suspects in this case, most particularly the members of Mrs. Boynton’s family. She was a tyrannical matriarch who kept her family completely cowed. Bit by bit Poirot finds out what everyone was doing on the afternoon of her death, and gets to the truth about what happened to her. One of the other visitors to Petra is MP Lady Westholme. She’s got a very strong will and quite a lot of determination. At one point, she has a disagreement with a representative from Castle’s, the tour company that’s running the excursion. The car they’ve provided for the trip to Petra is, in Lady Westholme’s view, far too small:

 

‘The young man from Castle’s murmured that a larger car would add to the price.
‘The price,’ said Lady Westholme firmly, ‘is inclusive, and I shall certainly refuse to sanction any addition to it. Your prospectus distinctly states, ‘in comfortable saloon car.’ You will keep to the terms of your agreement.’’

 

As you can imagine, Lady Westholme wins the day – an early example of the need for truth in advertising. Christie uses advertising in other novels and stories too. For instance, a brochure on missionary work features in One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (AKA The Patriotic Murders and An Overdose of Death). And I’m not even mentioning the many times that personal advertisements and announcements are woven into her work.

I couldn’t possibly discuss advertisements in crime fiction without mentioning Dorothy Sayers’ Murder Must Advertise. In that novel, copywriter Victor Dean has died from a fall down a staircase at his place of employment Pym’s Publicity, Ltd. It would be considered a tragic accident except for the fact that Dean left behind an unfinished letter in which he claimed that someone at the company was using company resources illegally. The management at Pym’s wants to avoid a scandal at all costs. So they hire Lord Peter Wimsey to find out whether Dean was right. Wimsey agrees and goes undercover at the company as Dean’s replacement. He finds out that in fact, Dean was right. He’d discovered that one of the employees was using Pym’s advertising to arrange meetings between a dangerous drugs ring and local dealers. Dean made the mistake of blackmailing the guilty person and paid with his life. In the process of investigating, Wimsey develops what turns out to be a very successful advertising campaign for Whifflet cigarettes. It’s an interesting look at differences in advertising over the years.

In Louise Penny’s Bury Your Dead, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is taking some time away from his job. He and his wife Reine-Marie are visiting Québec City for the Winter Carnival when there’s a murder committed at the Literary and Historical Society Library.  At the same time, Gamache has to face the terrible possibility that he was wrong in his most recent investigation. I won’t give away spoilers except to say that you’ll want to read The Brutal Telling before you read Bury Your Dead if you’ve not done so. As you can imagine if you’ve read Penny’s novels, the trail leads back to the small town of Three Pines. At one point, former psychologist Myrna Landers, a series ‘regular’ and a resident of Three Pines, is thinking about a getaway trip to beat the terrible winter cold. She’s discussing it with her friends Clara Morrow and Gabriel ‘Gabri’ Dubeau:

 

‘‘I tell you, I’m going to do it,’ Myrna was saying…
‘No, you’re not,’ laughed Clara. ‘Every winter you say you will and you never do. Besides, it’s too late now.’
‘Have you seen the last-minute deals? Look.’ Myrna handed her friend the Travel section from the weekend Montreal Gazette, pointing to a box…
‘Let me see that,’ said Gabri, leaning towards Clara…
Gabri scanned the page then leaned back in his seat. ‘Nope, not interested. Condé Nest has better ads.’
‘Condé Nest has near naked men smothered in olive oil lying on beaches,’ said Myrna.
‘Now, that I would pay for,’ said Gabri. ‘All inclusive.’’

 

Admittedly the advertisement isn’t the reason for the murder at the library. But it’s an interesting look at the characters and this snippet shows Penny’s wit.

There’s an example of the dangers of advertisements in Paddy Richardson’s Cross Fingers. Wellington TV journalist Rebecca Thorne is working on an exposé of unscrupulous land developer Denny Graham. His scheme has been to lure investors in with seductive advertisements featuring luxurious homes, happy investors and all sorts of ‘testimonials’ from people who’ve supposedly embarked on a dream retirement. The fact is though that the reality is very far from those glittering advertisements. When Thorne actually visits one of the ‘luxury locations,’ she finds that it’s completely undeveloped. What’s more she talks with several people who’ve lost all of their savings in this scheme, and have had to severely retrench their lifestyles as a result. Thorne is excited about this story  but her boss soon asks her to work on something else. The 30th anniversary of the Springboks’ 1981 tour of New Zealand – The Tour, as it’s often called – is fast approaching. The event caused a lot of controversy and Thorne’s boss thinks there’s mileage in it. He wants Thorne to find a new angle on it. At first she’s reluctant. Not only is she worried about scaring away people who might go public against Denny Graham, but also, she doesn’t think there’s much new to report about The Tour. Then she discovers an unsolved murder that happened during that tour…

An advertisement plays a very interesting role in Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis’ Death of a Nightingale. Natasha Doroshenko fled from the Ukraine to Denmark with her daughter Katerina after the murder of her journalist husband Pavel. At first she thought she’d found a safe haven. But trouble seems to have followed her. For one thing, she’s been imprisoned for the attempted murder of her new fiancé Michael Vestergaard. As we learn in the novel, she had good reason, but it’s meant that she’s been separated from Katerina, who’s been staying at Coal-House Camp, a Red Cross facility. One day, Natasha is being escorted from the prison to a police station when she overhears something that convinces her that someone from the Ukraine is following her. She escapes police custody and goes on the run to try to get to her daughter and escape Denmark. When Michael Vestergaard is found brutally murdered, Natasha is pursued by the Danish police. She’s also in the sights of some very nasty people from the Ukraine who believe that she has something they want very much. Red Cross nurse Nina Borg has worked with both Natasha and Katerina, and together with Danish Security officer Søren Kierkegaard, she tries to keep Katerina safe and find and help Natasha. At one point, Natasha is trying to figure out exactly who is after her and why those people killed Pavel. When she does make the connection, an advertising jingle gives her what she needs to ‘flush out the enemy.’ It’s interesting too how that jingle stays in her memory.

And that’s just what advertisers want. They want customers to see their products and services, remember what they’ve heard and of course, spend money. It’s no wonder advertisements pop up all over crime fiction…

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Michael Nehra’s Ghost Dance, made popular by Roy Harper.

36 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Agnete Friis, Dorothy Sayers, Lene Kaaberbøl, Louise Penny, Paddy Richardson

When the Chips Are Down I’ll Be Around*

Unlikely HeroesPeople don’t always know how they would react in a crisis until one happens. And then, it’s sometimes surprising the way people whom you wouldn’t have expected it of turn out to be real heroes. Somehow that crisis brings out their very best. There are a lot of examples of that in real life, and of course, we see it in crime fiction too.

Agatha Christie’s The Murder on the Links for instance introduces us to a young woman who calls herself Cinderella. Captain Hastings happens to meet her when they share a compartment on a train and, although she’s by no means stupid or weak, she certainly doesn’t strike one as heroic. Hastings thinks she’s attractive (if a bit annoying) but doesn’t think much more about her. Then, he and Hercule Poirot travel to France at the request of Paul Renauld. Renauld has sent Poirot a letter saying that his life is in danger and asking for Poirot’s help. When the two get to the Renauld home, they find that they’ve arrived too late:  he’s been stabbed and his body found on a nearby golf course. Poirot finds out who is responsible for the murder, but that doesn’t mean the danger is over. I think I can say without spoiling the story that at a very critical point, ‘Cinderella’ proves her mettle and turns out to be quite heroic.

The main plot of Dorothy Sayers’ The Nine Tailors revolves around a robbery, some missing emeralds, and their connections to an unknown corpse found in the Thorpe family grave. Lord Peter Wimsey gets drawn into this mystery when he and his valet Mervyn Bunter are stranded near the village of Fenchurch St. Paul after a car accident. Rector Theodore Venables invites the men to lodge at the rectory while the car is being repaired and they agree gratefully. Wimsey is able to return the kindness when one of the church’s change-ringers Will Thoday is taken ill. Since Wimsey has some experience, he offers to take Thoday’s place and Venables is only too happy to have his help. The change-ringing goes well but the next day, word comes that Lady Thorpe, wife of the local squire, has died. Wimsey and Bunter stay for the funeral and then go on their way. Several months later, Wimsey gets a letter from Venables. Sir Henry Thorpe has died, and while the gravediggers were preparing for the service, they discovered the body of an unknown man in the Thorpe family grave. Venables asks Wimsey to return to Fenchurch and find out who the dead man was and why his body is in the grave. Wimsey and Bunter go and they discover how this body is related to the robbery and the missing emeralds. Throughout most of the story, Venables is portrayed as an essentially very decent person, but a little scatty and vague – certainly not a person you’d label a hero. But when a flood comes to Fenchurch, he takes the lead and behaves heroically as he works to save his congregants from the rising waters. The flood isn’t the main plot, but the threat of a storm is a thread that runs through the story.

In Andrew Nette’s Ghost Money, Australian ex-cop Max Quinlan is hired by Madeleine Avery to find her missing brother Charles. He’s fairly good at tracking down people who don’t want to be found, so he’s a natural choice for the job. Quinlan travels to Bangkok, where Avery was last known to live. But when he gets to Avery’s apartment, he finds that his quarry is gone. He also finds the body of Avery’s business partner Robert Lee. Quinlan discovers that Avery’s next destination was Phnom Penh, so he heads to Cambodia. There, he meets journalist’s assistant Heng Sarin. Sarin isn’t weak-willed at all, but he’s a bit retiring and certainly not the ‘macho’ type. He is however extremely knowledgeable about Cambodia and he and Quinlan form a partnership as Quinlan continues to search for Avery. It turns out that Avery had gotten the wrong people very angry, so Quinlan and Sarin face long odds as they follow the trail to Northern Cambodia. Sarin proves to be both loyal and heroic as the pair find out what happened to Avery and why so many people seem determined that they won’t learn the truth.

Mark Douglas-Home’s The Sea Detective introduces us to Preeti and Basanti, two young girls from India who have become a part of the dhanda – a term used to refer to India’s sex trade. The girls’ families have been paid money for their services, the idea being that Preeti and Basanti will work in the trade for a certain amount of time and then return to their villages. Preeti is positive and quite brave about joining ‘the trade,’ although she’s nervous. And Basanti depends heavily on her friend’s courage and optimism. When the girls are sent to Scotland, they manage to stay together until they arrive. Then they are separated and for quite a time Basanti doesn’t know what’s happened to her close friend. One day she finds a way to escape the people who’ve been holding her, and goes looking for Preeti. She discovers that the body of an unknown young woman has been found in the sea, and that it could very well be the body of her friend. She makes her way to the home of oceanographer and Ph.D. student Caladh ‘Clad’ McGill. He’s an expert on wave patterns and ocean movement, and just may be able to help Basanti find out who killed Preeti. Throughout this novel Basanti shows what she’s made of as the saying goes, and proves herself quite heroic as she survives horrible trauma and manages to help McGill discover the truth.

In Jill Edmondson’s Blood and Groom, Toronto PI Sasha Jackson is hired by Christine Arvisais to find out who killed Arvisais’ former fiancé Gordon Hanes. Hanes was shot on what would have been their wedding day had the engagement not been broken off. A lot of people think Arvisais is responsible for the murder, but she claims she’s innocent and wants to clear her name. Jackson takes an immediate dislike to her client, but a fee is a fee, so she gets to work. She discovers that Arvisais is not the only one with a motive for murder in this case. What’s more, she finds that Hanes’ murder may be connected with some other deaths. One of the characters we meet in this novel is Victor, a former client of Jackson’s. He’s a little eccentric and has, as Jackson puts it, a ‘runamok mouth.’ He’s also quite smitten with Jackson. He’s a nice guy but not at all what you’d think of as the heroic type. But as it turns out, he has more brains and courage than Jackson knows, and comes through at a very crucial time.

And then there’s Andrea Camilleri’s Dance of the Seagull. In that novel, Vigàta Inspector Salvo Montalbano is faced with a particularly difficult case. One of his valuable team members Giuseppe Fazio has gone missing. At the time of his disappearance, Fazio was following up on some leads to a dangerous smuggling ring and Montalbano believes that his best chance of finding his teammate is to follow the trail Fazio left. That trail turns out to be particularly risky; it ends up leading to several crimes, including murder.  The team members do find Fazio, wounded but alive. He’s transported to hospital and that’s where Montalbano meets Angela, a nurse who works there. Like most nurses Angela works hard and does her job well. But she doesn’t strike one as unusually heroic. And yet, as Montalbano and his team get closer to catching the people responsible for the crimes, she shows remarkable courage.

Just goes to show you – you never know what kind of inner strength and bravery people have until they’re up against it. These are just a few examples. Your turn.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this song is a line from Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s The Power of Love. 

18 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Andrew Nette, Dorothy Sayers, Jill Edmondson, Mark Douglas-Home