Category Archives: Elizabeth Daly

Oh Lord, What Club Should I Choose?*

GolfIt’s the weekend and that’s when a lot of golfers who work during the week like to play their rounds. If you’ve golfed or watched it on television, you might think of it as rather non-violent. Well, at least where people are concerned. Violence against uncooperative golf clubs is another matter entirely. ;-) But really, golf courses can be dangerous places, and I don’t just mean in terms of getting caught in a sand trap. There are several crime fiction stories that feature golf courses and actually that makes sense. Golf courses can be remote, and even those that are closer to a town or city have some pretty secluded spots. So they’re effective places to leave bodies.

For instance, in Agatha Christie’s The Murder on the Links, Hercule Poirot gets a letter from Paul Renauld, a Canadian émigré to France. In the letter, Renauld says that he’s in fear for his life, and he asks Poirot’s assistance. Poirot and Captain Hastings travel to Merlinville-sur-Mer, but by the time they get there it’s too late. Renauld has been stabbed and his body found on a new golf course next to the Renauld home Villa Geneviève. At first the police believe that Renauld was murdered because of his business dealings in South America. But Poirot soon discovers that Paul Renuald was hiding an important part of his past. It’s that secret that set in motion the chain of events that led to his death. There’s another Agatha Christie story in which golf clubs prove to be important, but no spoilers…

In Rex Stout’s Fer de Lance, Holland University president Paul Barstow is golfing one day when he suddenly dies, apparently from a stroke. But it’s soon proven that he was really poisoned. Meanwhile Nero Wolfe gets a visit from Maria Maffei, whose brother Carlo has mysteriously disappeared. Everyone thinks he’s gone back to Italy but she doesn’t believe it. When his body is discovered, Wolfe and Archie Goodwin know that something larger is going on. It turns out that Carlo Maffei was an expert metalworker who’d created a specially-made golf club. It also turns out that that golf club was the weapon used to poison Paul Barstow. But Maffei didn’t even know Barstow; he had no motive for murder. What’s more, it’s discovered that he didn’t even know that the golf club he’d made would be used as a murder weapon. When he found out that the golf club was used to kill he threatened to tell what he knew and was murdered to ensure that he wouldn’t. Now Wolfe and Goodwin work to find out who paid Maffei to make the golf club and later killed him and Barstow.

Elizabeth Daly’s Unexpected Night features the investigation into the death of Amberly Cowden, who’s come to Ford’s Beach, Maine with his mother Eleanor, his sister Alma and his tutor Hugh Sanderson. Amberly is set to inherit a very large fortune once he reaches the age of twenty-one; however, he’s in bad health and not expected to live long. Still, he is determined to make this trip to financially support his cousin Arthur Atwood, who’s got a small theatre group in the area. In the last hours before he actually turns twenty-one, Amberly and his family arrive at the Ocean House Resort and settle in. The next morning his body is found at the bottom of a nearby cliff and detective Mitchell is assigned to the case. The easiest explanation for the death is that Amberly succumbed to the heart disease that was already shortening his life. But if that’s so, what was he doing out by the cliff late at night? And, since he died just after inheriting a large fortune, in whose interest was it that he should die so conveniently? Rare book expert Henry Gamadge is also staying at the Ocean House, and has already struck up a friendship with the Barclays, who are cousins to the Cowdens. So he begins to ask questions too, and he and Mitchell, each in a different way, try to piece together what happened. Then there’s another death. Then, Alma Cowden is golfing one day when she’s nearly killed by a fast-moving golf ball (and yes, that can do a lot of damage). It looks as though someone is targeting the Cowden family and Gamadge and Mitchell have to work quickly to find out who’s behind the murders and the attempts (for there is another one) on Alma Cowden’s life before there’s yet another death.

Lest you think that golf-related mysteries are a thing of the past, there are quite recent ones as well. For instance, there’s Nelson Brunanski’s Crooked Lake. In that novel, we meet Nick Taylor, who’s Head Greenskeeper at Saskatechewan’s Crooked Lake Regional Park and Golf Course. One day, Taylor is abruptly fired from his job. He believes he’s been ‘railroaded’ and blames Board of Directors member Harvey Kristoff. Later that day, Kristoff is found dead next to the green on the seventh hole, bludgeoned by a golf club. The police begin investigating and one of the first people they speak to is John ‘Bart’ Bartowski, who with his wife Rosie owns a fly-fishing holiday lodge. Bart’s been a friend of Nick’s for years and what’s more, he spoke to him on the morning of the murder. There’s quite a lot of evidence against Nick – evidence that goes beyond his anger at being fired. But Bart doesn’t want to believe Nick’s guilty. Besides, he and Nick are practically life-long friends. So when Nick’s lawyer Frank Hendrickson asks for Bart’s insights, he’s only too happy to oblige. Soon, Bart begins to suspect that Nick was framed and starts asking his own questions. It turns out that there are more suspects than it seemed on the surface and when Bart becomes a target himself, it seems that he was right about Nick being framed. In the end, and after another death, Bart is able to figure out who killed Harvey Kristoff and why.

Michael Balkind has written two novels Dead Ball and Sudden Death that feature professional golfer Reid Clark. He works with his agent and friend Buck Green and private investigator Jay Scott. In Dead Ball for instance, Scott helps Clark and Green investigate the murder of Clark’s best friend Bob Thomas. The murder takes place on the grounds of AllSport, a large golfing complex he and Clark created in New York’s Catskill Mountains. AllSport’s purpose among other things is to introduce golf to inner-city young people, who might not otherwise have the chance to play. When Thomas’ body is found though, the facility is locked down until Clark, Scott and Green can discover who killed Bob Thomas.

There are other crime novels too that feature golf courses. So don’t try to convince me of the ‘gentle’ nature of the sport. Fore!!  ;-)
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Dave Gillon’s Double Bogey Blues, made popular by Mickey Jones.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Elizabeth Daly, Michael Balkind, Nelson Brunanski, Rex Stout

I Admire You so Much*

Authors' FavouritesWriters put a lot of themselves into their work so it means a great deal when people like what they write and say so. Praise from fellow writers has a special meaning because fellow writers truly understand what it’s like to create a story. And when that praise comes from a fellow writer whose work you also admire? That’s happened to me once and without gushing I’ll have to content myself with saying, ‘Wow!’  That’s why I was really interested when about a month and a half ago I had a suggestion from Bryan at The Vagrant Mood about doing a post on authors and the work they admire. Before I go on, I should tell you that The Vagrant Mood is a blog well worth following for commentary on books, poetry and writing in general. G’head – give it a try.

Bryan’s well-taken point was that it’s very interesting to learn about authors’ favourite writers. It shows something about both the author and the writers whose work s/he admires. For example, Agatha Christie was said to be a great admirer of Elizabeth Daly’s novels. Of course there are differences between the two writers’ characters, styles and so on. However, Daly’s Henry Gamadge is, like Christie’s own Miss Marple, an amateur sleuth. Daly’s plots are different to Christie’s but the plotting is one of the main elements in Daly’s work, just as it is in Christie’s. It’s not difficult to see why Christie liked Daly’s work.

Christie fans will know that she was also a fan of P.G. Wodehouse’s novels. In fact, Hallowe’en Party is dedicated

 

‘To P. G. Wodehouse–whose books and stories have brightened my life for many years. Also, to show my pleasure in his having been kind enough to tell me he enjoyed my books.’

 

The dedication also shows that this admiration was mutual.

Tony Hillerman’s novels featuring Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee have won millions of fans. But HIllerman himself had a list of authors whose work he admired. For example, he was a fan of Margaret Coel, whose Vicky Holden/Father John O’Malley series takes place on Wyoming’s Wind River Reservation. Like Hillerman, Coel has great respect for the indigenous people who feature in her novels (in Coel’s case it’s the Arapaho people). And it’s easy to see why Hillerman admired Coel’s skilled depiction of the land on which this series takes place. Readers get an authentic sense of context and setting in these novels.

A great number of people are fans of Michael Connelly’s work (I’m one of them). And it shouldn’t be surprising that his admirers include some well-known authors who are talented in their own right. For instance, Connelly and Robert Crais are mutual admirers They’ve even had their sleuths pay ‘visits’ to each other’s series. Crais’ PI sleuth Elvis Cole has a cameo appearance in Connelly’s Lost Light and in turn, Harry Bosch ‘stops in’ in Crais’ The Last Detective.

Another famous fan of Michael Connelly’s work is James Lee Burke, who calls Connelly,

 

‘…one of the best.’

 

Burke is also, by the way, a fan of James M. Cain and Dennis Lehane. He’s also said that Elizabeth George

 

‘…writes some really nice prose.’

 

For her part, Goerge has said that she is an admirer of the work of John Fowles.

As I said, Connelly has millions of admirers. He also has his favourites. Among them are Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald and it’s not hard to see the connection. Like Connelly, both authors show Los Angeles at its best and its seamy, gritty worst. They also feature essentially good characters caught up in a sometimes corrupt system.

Ruth Rendell also has won millions of fans both under her own name and as Barbara Vine. She in turn has her own favourites. For instance, she is a fan of Iris Murdoch’s work. She’s also said that P.D. James’ Adam Dalgliesh is

 

‘…the most intelligent detective in contemporary fiction.’  

 

Rendell is also said to greatly admire Charles Dickens. Granted Dickens isn’t usually considered to be a crime fiction writer. But his novels do address questions of crime, law and order and justice.

For her part, P.D. James has said that she’s been very much influenced by the work of Dorothy Sayers, among other authors. And she has been a profound influence herself on many writers.

Any talented author will tell you that part of good writing is lots of reading. So it makes a great deal of sense that the best crime writers would have a list of authors whose work they admire. And it’s a truly special thing when the admiration is mutual.

Now it’s your turn. Do you see the influence of certain writers on the work of others? If you’re a writer, which authors do you admire? Do they influence your work?

Thanks, Bryan, for the excellent suggestion!

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Rivers Cuomo.

 

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, Dennis Lehane, Dorothy Sayers, Elizabeth Daly, Elizabeth George, Iris Murdoch, James Lee Burke, James M. Cain, John Fowles, Margaret Coel, Michael Connelly, P.D. James, P.G. Wodehouse, Raymond Chandler, Robert Crais, Ross Macdonald, Ruth Rendell, Tony Hillerman

In The Spotlight: Elizabeth Daly’s Unexpected Night

In The Spotlight A-LHello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. The New England coast has been a summer haven for New Yorkers and Bostonians for a very long time. In the days before air conditioning, anyone who could escape the city’s heat and humidity for the summer did so. That’s how the tradition of summer stock theatre started. Even today there are well-regarded theatre groups that present summer plays and musicals in different places on New England’s coast. They’re good opportunities for young people who want theatre careers but need some experience before they go to New York. Let’s take a closer look today at life on the Maine coast during the summer stock season and turn the spotlight on Elizabeth Daly’s Unexpected Night, which introduces her sleuth Henry Gamadge, an author and rare book expert.

Gamadge is staying at the Ocean House resort at Ford’s Beach, Maine. There he’s made friends with Colonel Harrison Barclay, his wife Lulu and their son Frederic, who are staying in a nearby cottage. The Barclays are soon joined in Ford’s Beach by Lulu Barclay’s sister-in-law Eleanor Cowden, her son and daughter Amberley and Alma, and Amberley’s tutor Hugh Sanderson.

As Gamadge soon learns, Amberley Cowden stands to inherit a fortune from a deceased aunt once he reaches the age of twenty-one. But there’s a good chance he won’t live that long as he has a serious heart condition that has practically incapacitated him. Still, Cowden is determined to go to Ford’s Beach because he’s interested in the theatre and wants to financially support his cousin Arthur Atwood, who has a theatre group in nearby Seal Cove. He and his family arrive in the last hour before he actually turns twenty-one and everyone settles into the Ocean House resort. The next morning, Amberley Cowden’s body is found at the bottom of a nearby cliff and police detective Mitchell is assigned to the case. The easiest explanation is that Cowden died of a fatal heart attack. But there are soon questions about that finding. What was he doing out in the middle of the night at a cliff? Since he died just after inheriting a great deal of money, in whose interest is it for his heart failure to happen so conveniently?

Each in a different way, Mitchell and Gamadge begin to ask questions about the death. Then there’s another death, this time of Adrienne Lake, a member of the Seal Cove theatre company. And then there’s another death. As if that weren’t enough, there are two attempts on Alma Cowden’s life. Now Mitchell and Gamadge have to work quickly if they’re going to find out who’s responsible for the murders and the threats to Alma Cowden. In the end, it’s Gamadge’s knowledge of handwriting and paper that gives the most important clue as what really happened on the night of Amberley Cowden’s death, and who is responsible for the other events.

This is a Golden-Age mystery and in many ways it reflects that era’s detective fiction traditions. There’s a group of suspects, a hotly-contested fortune, issues around a will, and an ingénue caught up in it all. This isn’t an ‘impossible’ mystery, but the solution to it is complicated as only a Golden Age solution can be. Still, the solution is believable and so are the motives for everything that happens. And Daly ‘plays fair.’ The reader (well, this one anyway) doesn’t end up thinking, ‘Well if I’d known that I could have figured it all out.’

One of the very strong elements in this novel is the Maine coast setting:

 

‘He [Mitchell] glanced out at the peaceful view before him; cottages and ocean to the right, pines to the north, rolling golf course to the west.’

 

We also get a look at the lifestyle of the summer visitors, the summer stock theatre people and the locals of that time (the book was originally published in 1940). The novel evokes a time when many people didn’t have telephones, most people smoked, errand boys were common and cars had rumble seats. Since the Cowdens and Gamadge are all staying at the Ocean Front, we also get a look at summer resort life of that era. There’s a luxury golf course, bellhops, porters, all sorts of room service – and no card keys.

Another strong element in this novel is the relationship between Mitchell and Gamadge. At first Mitchell simply wants Gamadge’s perspective as a friend of both the Barclays and the Cowdens. He’s hoping Gamadge will give him some insight as to what the family history is like, what the people are like, and why Amberley Cowden would have gone out late at night to a cliff. But as the story evolves, Mitchell sees that Gamadge has solid intuition and is often quite good at getting people to talk when they might not be so willing to talk to the police. For his part, Gamadge doesn’t try to ‘play cop.’ He has his own ways of going about getting answers, but he lets the police do their jobs. And he sees that Mitchell is both smart and shrewd and can put two and two together as the saying goes as well as anyone.  Daly is to be credited for not falling into the all-too-easy trap of presenting the police as buffoons who need to be saved from themselves by the oh-so-smart amateur sleuth.

And as a sleuth, Henry Gamadge is a likeable character. We don’t know much about his personal life, as Daly doesn’t explore the characters in great depth. But he is interesting. As a rare book expert, he’s familiar with all sorts of different kinds of paper, ink and types of writing. He isn’t a superhero, but he is observant and he’s a creative thinker. In fact it’s Gamadge’s ability to think ‘outside the box’ that gives him a very helpful way of looking at this case. We can also see that he has a compassionate side. For instance, once it seems that Alma Cowden is in danger, Gamadge does quite a lot to try to keep her safe. He also works hard to ensure that the families involved in this case aren’t badgered by reporters.

Unexpected Night is an intellectual puzzler more than it is a character study, so readers who prefer psychological mysteries will be disappointed. But Daly offers the reader a challenging case with a believable pair of sleuths, all set in a beautiful and distinctive context. But what’s your view? Have you read Unexpected Night? If you have, what elements do you see in it?

 

 
 

Coming Up On In The Spotlight

 

Monday 25 February/Tuesday 26 February – Full Dark House – Christopher Fowler

Monday 4 March/Tuesday 5 March – House Report – Deborah Nicholson

Monday 11 March/Tuesday 12 March – The Rage – Gene Kerrigan

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Filed under Elizabeth Daly, Unexpected Night