Category Archives: Elizabeth George

She Climbs a Tree and Scrapes Her Knee*

Gender RolesFrom birth, boys and girls are placed into different social categories. Much of the way we dress, behave, and even speak has a lot to do with gender. Of course, gender’s by no means the only factor that affects us, but it has a significant impact, and it’s one of the first things people notice about us. Each culture has its own views of the way males and females are ‘supposed to’ behave, and it can be a little disconcerting when someone doesn’t follow those prescribed roles. But there are a lot of girls who’d rather play baseball or go fishing than play with dolls. There are a lot of boys who care about cooking or fashion and nearly nothing at all about sport. They’re a part of real life and we certainly see them in fiction too.

I’m not talking here about gay and lesbian characters. Sexual orientation is a different topic. Rather, I’m talking about characters who don’t fill traditional gender role expectations. There are plenty of them in crime fiction; I just have space for a few here, and I’m sure you’ll be able to think of lots more than I could anyway.

Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (AKA Murder for Christmas and A Holiday for Murder) is the story of the Lee family. Simeon Lee is an unpleasant tyrant who decides that he wants to gather his family round him for Christmas. None of his children really wants to accept the invitation, but each one sees little alternative. So plans are made to go to the family home Gorston Hall. On Christmas Eve, Lee is murdered. Hercule Poirot is staying with a friend in the area and he works with Superintendent Sugden to find out who the murderer is. One of the suspects is Lee’s son David. David Lee has always been a disappointment to his father, as he is sensitive artist and not at all his father’s idea of what a man ‘should be.’ Matters between them aren’t made any better by the fact that David blames his father for his mother’s death. It’s an interesting character study of a man who doesn’t fit the image of what people of the time might have thought a man ‘ought to be.’

In Tony Hillerman’s The Ghostway, Jim Chee of the Navajo Tribal Police is assigned to search for a missing teenager Margaret Billy Sosi, who has disappeared from the residential school she attends. Of course Chee wants the girl found and safely returned, but at the moment, he’s working on another case: the murder of transplanted Los Angeles Navajo Albert Gorman. Still, he begins asking questions about the girl. Then it’s discovered that Margaret Billy Sosi and the dead man are distantly related. Now Chee comes to believe that the two cases are connected, and so they turn out to be. The trail leads Chee to Los Angeles, where he finds out some important information about why Gorman might have been killed. He also finds the missing girl – that is, until she disappears again. In the end, Chee finds out who killed Gorman and why, and he discovers how Margaret Billy Sosi figures into the case. One of the interesting elements in this novel is the teen’s character. She certainly doesn’t fit the stereotype of the ‘girly girl.’ She is unmistakeably female, yet she doesn’t fit a lot of preconceived notions of how a girl ‘ought to’ behave. And that adds to her character.

Lawrence Block’s The Sins of the Fathers tells the story of Wendy Hanniford. When she is murdered in her own apartment, the most likely suspect is her room-mate Richard Vanderpoel. He had the victim’s blood on him, and he can’t account for himself during the time the crime was committed. Wendy’s father Cale Hanniford wants to know what led to her death. More to the point, he wants to know what kind of a person she’d become and how that resulted in her murder. He’s been estranged from his daughter for some time, and this is his way of trying to connect with her. So he approaches former NYPD cop Matthew Scudder. Scudder isn’t sure what he can do to help, but he does agree to ask some questions and find out what he can. He soon discovers that Vanderpoel won’t be of much assistance, as he’s committed suicide in prison. Bit by bit though, Scudder pieces together both young people’s lives, and comes to the conclusion that Vanderpoel might have been innocent. As Scudder learns more about Richard Vanderpoel, he discovers that the young man wasn’t a ‘typical boy,’ if there is such a thing. Certainly he wasn’t the sport-loving, active, assertive type that’s very often associated with the stereotypical conception of what a ‘boy’ is. As Scudder gets to the truth about Wendy Hanniford’s life and death, he discovers that for both young people, the past has played an important part in their characters and the lives they chose.

Gideon Davies, whom we meet in Elizabeth George’s A Traitor to Memory isn’t the ‘all boy’ type either. He is a world-class violinist who’s always been more passionate about his music than about anything else. That’s why it’s so frightening to Davies when one night, he finds himself unable to play. He decides to get some psychiatric help to find out what’s blocking him mentally and why he can’t play. In the meantime, his mother Eugenie is killed one night in what looks at first like a hit-and-run car accident. It turns out though that there was nothing accidental about her death. Now Inspector Lynley and Sergeant Havers dig into the Davies family background. As they do, we learn how this death is related to Gideon’s inability to play the violin, and how both are related to the long-ago drowning death of Gideon’s younger sister Sonia.

Alan Bradley’s sleuth is eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce, who lives in the English village of Bishop’s Lacey. Flavia is not at all what you’d think of as a ‘typical’ girl. She’s passionately interested in chemistry – much more so than in dresses, dolls, or other ‘girly’ things. In fact, she has nothing but contempt for her older sisters’ interest in such things. She’s not much of a one to worry about her looks or about what boys might think of her when she’s older. She’s most definitely female, but she certainly isn’t stereotypical.

Neither is Åsa Larsson’s Rebecka Martinsson. Martinsson is an attorney who, as the series featuring her begins, works in Stockholm. She’s originally from Kiruna though, and moves back there as the series goes on. Martinsson is unmistakeably feminine. At the same time though, she’s hardly ‘girly.’ She lives close to nature, she catches her own food, and she certainly isn’t preoccupied with wondering whether her clothes are fashionable.

Just from these examples, it’s easy to see that strict interpretations of what males or females ‘should’ be like or ‘should’ care about is really limiting. Some of the most interesting characters in crime fiction, anyway, aren’t ‘all boy’ or ‘girly girl.’ They’re individuals. I’ve only had space to mention a few here; which ones do you like best?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s Maria.

 

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alan Bradley, Åsa Larsson, Elizabeth George, Lawrence Block, Tony Hillerman

It Still Gives You Pain and It Still Brings Tears*

Later Effects of TraumaThe trauma of a murder investigation, or even an investigation into a death that doesn’t turn out to be murder, is hard on everyone. In fact, it can affect people for a very long time, sometimes permanently. And very often, the most vulnerable people – children – are the most profoundly affected, even much later in life. Just a quick look at crime fiction and you’ll get a sense of what I mean. Oh, and before I go any further, I promise – no mentions of serial-killer novels where the murderer was traumatised as a child. It’s been done. ;-)

In Agatha Christie’s Five Little Pigs, Hercule Poirot gets a visit from Carla Lemarchant, who wants him to investigate a sixteen-year-old murder. Her father, famous painter Amyas Crale, was poisoned one afternoon by what turns out to have been spotted hemlock/coniine. At the time, his wife Caroline was arrested, tried and convicted, and died a year later in prison. There was plenty of evidence against her, and no-one has really doubted her guilt except for her daughter. Now Carla is preparing to marry, and she wants her mother’s name cleared. Poirot agrees and interviews the five people who were present when Crale died. He also gets written accounts from all of them, and from that information, finds out who really killed the victim and why. Even though Carla was only a little girl at the time, and was quickly taken away from the scene of chaos, she has still been affected by the crime and years later, it plays a part in her life.

That’s also true of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch. He was eleven when his mother was murdered. Since she was a prostitute, not much was done about the murder. Although Bosch isn’t the stereotypical ‘cop with demons,’ he has been profoundly affected by that tragedy. Even he isn’t really aware of quite how much until The Last Coyote, in which he is forced to face the trauma. In that novel, he is sent for mandatory psychiatric counseling after an incident in which he attacks a superior officer. As a part of that process he explores what happened to his mother and even re-opens the case. When he does, he finds that there are several people who are not exactly pleased at having it all brought up again.

Lawrence Block’s The Sins of the Fathers is the story of the murder of Wendy Hanniford. Her roommate Richard Vanderpoel is assumed to be guilty. He was seen covered in her blood, and even had the murder weapon. So it’s not difficult to trace the crime to him. But Wendy’s father Cale Hanniford wants to know what really led up to the murder. He’s become estranged from his daughter and would like to know the sort of person she became. So he asks Matthew Scudder to investigate. Scudder isn’t (at this point in the series) a licensed PI, but he is a former cop, and he sometimes does ‘favours for friends.’ So he agrees to ask a few questions. He tries to interview Vanderpoel in prison, but the young man is either quite ill or under the influence of powerful drugs, and he isn’t really coherent. Shortly after that interview, Vanderpoel commits suicide. Now Scudder is left with more questions than ever and he continues to dig into the case. He finds that Vanderpoel’s mother was murdered when he was a boy and that fact played an important role in his life. I don’t think it’s giving away spoilers to say that Vanderpoel isn’t the stereotypical ‘traumatised kid who grows up to be a killer.’ But that trauma does figure into the case.

Elizabeth George’s Missing Joseph introduces us to the residents of the town of Winslough. Deborah and Simon St. James take a trip there after Deborah meets local vicar Robin Sage. He impressed Deborah and she feels drawn to him, so she persuades her husband to take a holiday at Winslough. By the time they get there though, Robin Sage is dead. He’s been poisoned by water hemlock, which local herbalist Juliet Spence claimed that she mistook for wild parsnip. Since she was the last one who gave him anything to eat or drink, the talk is that she’s guilty of murder.  Simon asks his friend Inspector Lynley to look into the matter and see whether this was accidental or someone deliberately poisoned the vicar. Juliet’s thirteen-year-old daughter Maggie has to deal with the trauma of having her mother suspected of murder and it’s not easy. And I think I can say without spoiling the story that there is more that Maggie will have to deal with, and anyone who’s read the novel would probably agree that what’s happened will affect her for the rest of her life.

In Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy (AKA The Keeper of Lost Causes), Copenhagen homicide detective Carl Mørck and his new assistant Hafez al-Assad re-open the five-year-old case of the disappearance of promising politician Merete Lynggaard. She disappeared one day during a ferry trip, and it was always thought that she tragically fell overboard during a quarrel with her brother Uffe. But little pieces of evidence suggest that Merete may still be alive. If she is, there may not be much time left to find her, so Mørck and Assad begin an urgent search for any information they can find. One of the people they want to talk to is Uffe, but he is uncommunicative. He hasn’t spoken since an awful car crash claimed his parents’ lives when he was thirteen. That trauma plays a powerful role in the novel and in Uffe’s personality and way of thinking. As Mørck  interacts with Uffee, we see clearly how it still affects him. Once Mørck is able to find a way to get through to Uffe, he gets a key piece of information to help him find out the truth about Merete.

In Martin Edwards’ The Cipher Garden, DCI Hannah Scarlett and her team re-open the ten-year-old murder case of landscaper Warren Howe. At the time, everyone thought his wife Tina was responsible, and she had good reason. But the police could never really make a case so no arrest was made. Now, anonymous tips suggest that Tina really was guilty, so the police take another look at the murder. In the process, they get to know Howe’s two children Kirsty and Sam. They were young at the time of the murder, but even so, and even though it’s been ten years, they’ve been deeply affected by it. The family was very dysfunctional to begin with, so Sam and Kirsty have had their share of troubles. And having the case re-opened just makes things more difficult for them.

And then there’s Taylor, the adopted daughter of Gail Bowen’s sleuth Joanne Kilbourn. When we first meet Taylor in Murder at the Mendel, she is tragically involved in a murder case. Since then, Kilbourn has adopted her and now she and her husband Zack Shreve make it a priority to give Taylor as normal a life (whatever that means) as possible. And Kilbourn ought to know if anyone how to do that. Her other three children Mieka, Peter and Angus had to deal with the murder of their father Ian Kilbourn when they were children. In this series, we see how children can grow up, can have decent lives and find happiness, but how they can also be burdened when they are a part of a murder case.

Those are only just a few examples. Your turn.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Code of Silence.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Elizabeth George, Gail Bowen, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Lawrence Block, Martin Edwards, Michael Connelly

But Will You Always Stay Someone Else’s Dream of Who You Are?*

ProdigiesWe all have talents and abilities. Some people though have a very special gift, be it extraordinary intelligence, musical ability, artistic ability or something else. Sometimes that gift shows up very early in life and when it does, families have to decide what they’ll do about it. We may envy people with those special kinds of gifts, but their lives are not always easy. In fact, sometimes it’s even more difficult for them than it is for ‘the rest of us.’ Certainly that’s true in real life, and when you look at what have often been called child prodigies in crime fiction, you see some of the challenges they and their families face.

For example, in Agatha Christie’s The Hollow, we meet Harley Street specialist Dr. John Christow and his family. Christow has two children, Terence and Zena. Terence is a very interesting twelve-year-old child. He’s a turning into a science prodigy and is always interested in, especially, chemistry. This can be difficult for both him and his mother Gerda. Gerda loves her children, but she finds Terence hard to raise because she can’t keep up with him intellectually. It scares her a little. One weekend, Gerda and John Christow are invited to visit Sir Henry and Lady Lucy Angkatell at their country home. On the Sunday afternoon, Christow is shot. Hercule Poirot has taken a cottage nearby, and was invited to lunch. He arrives just in time to see the murder scene, which he thinks at first is a tableau in very bad taste. When he realises that the murder really happened, he immediately begins to take notice of the people there, and he and Inspector Grange work to find out which of them killed the victim. One of the sadder aspects of this novel is Terence’s reaction to the murder. He wants to know exactly what happened to his father and why, and no-one will respect him enough to tell him the truth.

In Elizabeth George’s A Traitor to Memory, Inspector Lynley and Sergeant Havers look into the history of the Davies family. One night, Eugenie Davis is killed in what looks like a tragic hit-and-run accident. It’s no accident though, and soon enough Lynley and Havers are trying to discover who killed the victim and why. At the same time, Eugenie’s son twenty-eight-year-old Gideon Davies is facing a crisis of his own. He is a world-class violinist, who has been a prodigy nearly all his life. One night, to his shock, he finds that he can’t play. Terrified, he visits a psychologist to try to find out what is blocking his ability. It turns out that both Gideon’s mental block and his mother’s death are related to a long-ago tragedy. Twenty years earlier, Gideon’s sister Sonia was drowned. Her then-nanny Katja Wolff was arrested and imprisoned in connection with the death. She’s recently been released from prison and that event plays a role in the novel too.

Caroline Graham’s A Ghost in the Machine introduces us to self-styled medium Ava Garrett. She’s wanted to be famous all her life, but has never been anything but mediocre at best. She puts on quite a show though, and is invited to lead séances from time to time. One day she is leading a gathering when she begins to make pronouncements about the recent tragic death of financial consultant Dennis Brinkley. Brinkley’s friend Benny Frayle is convinced that he was murdered, so she’s quite excited that this medium is saying the same thing. Benny tries to get Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby to believe this is a case of murder, but so far, he believes the police report, which puts the death down to accident. Later on the evening of the séance, Ava Garrett dies of what turns out to be poison. Now Barnaby and Sergeant Gavin Troy have two untimely deaths on their hands, and they finally investigate Brinkley’s death more thoroughly. As it turns out, the deaths are related and both have to do with one of the most common motives of all: greed. In all of this, the character of Ava Garrett’s daughter Karen proves to be important. Karen is shy and quiet, but she is an unusual child and we find that she has particular gifts of her own that play a role in the story.

Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn also has experience with a child who has special gifts. She is a political scientist and academic who with her attorney husband Zack Shreve is raising a truly gifted artist in their daughter Taylor. Murder at the Mendel gives readers the story of how Taylor came into Kilbourn’s life and why Kilbourn adopted her. Since the time she was a very young girl Taylor has been sensitive to and fascinated by art, and has created some world-class work. Her ability isn’t the reason for the murders Kilbourn investigates. But it plays its role in a few cases and it does complicate the family’s life. When Kilbourn marries attorney Zack Shreve later in the series, the two of them face the daunting task of nurturing Taylor’s extraordinary ability without sacrificing her childhood. Part of the appeal of this series is in the way Bowen weaves that domestic side of Kilbourn and Shreve’s lives into the larger plots of her novels.

Paddy Richardson’s Traces of Red tells the story of Connor Bligh and his sister Angela Dickson. Bligh is a brilliant child – quite gifted intellectually. But he is not supported either at home or at school. Time goes on and Bligh finally gets a chance to excel. He moves on in his career and although he has setbacks he can at least use his gifts. Then the unthinkable happens. One awful night, Angela, her husband Rowan and their son Sam are brutally murdered. Only their daughter Katy survives because she’s not home at the time of the attacks. There’s evidence against Bligh and he is arrested, charged and convicted. But there are little hints that Bligh may be innocent. If he is, then he’s been in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, and the real killer is on the loose. That’s just the kind of story that Wellington television journalist Rebecca Thorne is looking for, so she begins to ask questions. As she starts to search for the truth, Thorne finds that there is a possibility that Bligh may be telling the truth when he claims he isn’t guilty. Thorne’s search for answers gets her much closer to the case than is wise, but it gives readers a fascinating portrait of a character whose gifts have not been supported.

And then there’s Jean-Pierre Alaux and Nöel Balen’s Treachery in Bordeaux. Noted oenologist and vintner Benjamin Cooker gets a new assistant Virgile Lanssien.  Lansssien has some things to learn, but he is extremely gifted when it comes to wines and wine making. So he makes a very effective partner for Cooker when the two are asked to solve a crime. Someone has sabotaged four barrels of vintner Denis Maissepain’s wine. He is worried for his vineyard’s reputation, so he wants to find out who is responsible and stop that person. Lanssien may be young, but he is gifted, and Cooker learns that he can be relied upon as they investigate.

It’s not easy to be what people sometimes call a prodigy. Especially when one’s a child, it’s all too easy to have one’s skills exploited with no support for the rest of one’s life. Prodigies don’t have easy lives, but they are fascinating, and they can make for interesting fictional characters.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s James.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Caroline Graham, Elizabeth George, Gail Bowen, Jean-Pierre Alaux, Nöel Balen, Paddy Richardson

Now I Act Like I Don’t Remember*

Painful MemoriesNot very long ago, I did a post on nostalgia and the role that it plays in the way we think and in crime fiction too of course. One of the things that came up in the discussion about that post (thanks, folks!!) is that some memories have exactly the opposite effect to nostalgia. We all have sadness and pain in our past – it’s unavoidable really – and those are often memories we don’t want raked up. I’m sure we could all give examples from real life, and it’s quite true in crime fiction as well.

Agatha Christie’s Five Little Pigs (AKA Murder in Retrospect) is all about terrible memories that people want to avoid. Famous artist Amyas Crale has been working on a new painting. He’s invited the subject, his mistress Elsa Greer, to his home Alderbury to take advantage of what he thinks will be the perfect setting. Needless to say, Crale’s wife Caroline is not best pleased about it and she’s even overheard threatening her husband. One afternoon, Crale is poisoned. His widow is the most likely suspect for a number of reasons and in fact she is arrested, tried and convicted. She dies a year later in prison and life goes on for the people in the Crales’ lives. Sixteen years later, Amyas and Caroline’s daughter Carla visits Hercule Poirot. She is convinced that her mother was innocent and now that she’s on the point of getting married, she wants her mother’s name cleared. Poirot agrees and contacts the five people who were ‘on the scene’ when the murder occurred. He also gets written accounts from each one, and talks to some other, less directly involved people. In the end that information gives him the truth about the case. One of the interesting things that keep coming up in this novel is that many people ask why Poirot is raking up the whole painful business again. Only a few people are willing, right from the start, to tell their stories. It’s an interesting phenomenon.

Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch is not exactly nostalgic about his past either. As we learn in The Last Coyote, Bosch is the son of Marjorie Lowes, a prostitute who was murdered when her son was eleven years old. The case wasn’t exactly high-priority, so the killer was never found. Thirty years later, Bosch is suspended from duty because of a violent encounter with a supervisor. He’s ordered to undergo psychological treatment and is asked to work with Dr. Carmen Hinojos. While he’s ‘sidelined,’ Bosch begins to look into the case and to face some of his own past. One of the things we learn for instance is that Bosch was placed in the McLaren Youth Facility.  It wasn’t exactly the kind of place one looks back to with nostalgia. Bosch has survived all of these things along with a stint in Vietnam, but that doesn’t mean he enjoys taking the time to savour the memories.

School memories aren’t very nostalgic for Ann Cleeves’ Jimmy Perez either. He was born and raised in Fair Isle in the Shetlands, and went to school in Lerwick. The weather and the difficulty of getting back and forth between his home and the school forced Perez to stay at the school during the week. He visited his family home on weekends when the weather co-operated, and on holidays. For several reasons school in Lerwick was not an enjoyable experience for Perez. He was homesick and couldn’t accustom himself easily to life on Lerwick. What’s more, there were two bullies who made his life miserable. Everything changed when he met and befriended Duncan Hunter. Hunter made his life bearable and that’s part of what makes it so awkward in Raven Black when Hunter becomes a suspect in the murder of seventeen-year-old Catherine Ross. As it is, Perez does not want to be reminded of his awful school days. For another, he feels a gulf between him and Hunter now that several years have gone by. That unpleasant past adds an interesting layer to this story.

In Elizabeth George’s A Traitor to Memory, the Davies family has to face some terrible memories from the past. Twenty years before the events in the story, two-year-old Sonia Davies was drowned. Her nanny Katja Wolff was arrested in connection with the death. She’s recently been released from prison and that alone rakes up the past. Then one night, Sonia’s mother Eugenie is killed in what looks at first like an accidental hit-and-run incident. Then her son twenty-eight-year-old Gideon Davies faces a different kind of crisis. He is a world-class violinist who suddenly finds himself unable to play. He decides to seek psychological help to find out what is at the root of his block. Inspector Thomas Lynley and Sergeant Barbara Havers investigate Eugenie Davies’ death and find that all of these plot threads are related, and all are tied to the Davies’ family’s traumatic past.

Megan Abbott’s The End of Everything deals with painful memories too. Thirteen-year-old Lizzie Hood and her best friend Evie Verver are inseparable. They share all of their secrets and Lizzie can’t really imagine life without Evie. Then one terrible day, Evie doesn’t come home from school. No-one is overly worried at first, but as the evening wears on and she doesn’t come home, her family becomes concerned. They, and later the police, ask Lizzie to tell them anything she may know that will help them find Evie. Lizzie doesn’t know very much about what happened to Evie though, and she can’t be of much assistance. But she does want to know what happened to her best friend. So in her own way, Lizzie starts to ask questions and investigate. She finds that the memories she thought she had of her and Evie might not be accurate. She also learns that she’d built up a lot of assumptions about herself, Evie, and life that covered up some extremely painful truths. Interestingly, Abbott addresses the issue of painful memories in a few ways. At one level, Lizzie has to confront memories that are not as pleasant as she had though. At another, the story begins as the adult Lizzie looks back on the terrible time of Evie’s disappearance.

Most of us have fond memories that we think about with great pleasure. But there are usually some sad ones, too, that we’d just as soon forget. There are far too man examples of this in crime fiction for me to list them all, but I’ve no doubt you already get my point…

 

 
 

*NOTE:  The title of this post is a line from Bruce Springsteen’s The River.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Ann Cleeves, Elizabeth George, Megan Abbott, Michael Connelly

She’s Here to Look After You*

NanniesWith so many households made up of adults who work full-time, many people make use of child care providers. Sometimes the solution is to have someone live in or come in on a daily basis. Other families leave their children in the care of a person who cares for children in (usually) her own home. Child care issues can add tension to family dynamics. For one thing, there’s always the fact of leaving a child in someone else’s care; that can bring feelings of guilt and second-guessing. There is also of course the issue of trust in one’s caregiver, especially when it comes to children, since they are so vulnerable. But millions of people do use child care, so it makes sense that we would also see it in crime fiction.

Of course, child care is not a new phenomenon. People with the means to do so have had nannies and governesses for a very long time. For example, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Copper Beeches, Violet Hunter asks Sherlock Holmes’ help in deciding whether or not she should take a position as governess to Jephro Rucastle’s six-year-old son. On the one hand, the pay is more than generous. On the other, she’s a little unsettled about some of the odd requests Rucastle makes of her. They don’t seem like much at first; it’s just a matter of what Rucastle calls ‘whims,’ such as wearing a dress of a certain colour. But when he asks Violet to cut her hair, she gets concerned. So does Holmes, but when Rucastle increases his salary offer, Violet feels she has no choice but to take the position. Holmes assures her that if she is in need of his help, all she has to do is send word and he’ll be there. It turns out that Holmes’ instincts are right; Violet is only there for a short time before odd things begin to happen. It turns out that the Rucastle family is hiding some secrets that could prove very dangerous for their governess.

In Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (AKA Ten Little Indians), ten people receive an invitation to Indian Island off the Devon coast. Each accepts and they duly arrive on the island. Just after dinner on the first night, everyone is shocked when each person is accused of having caused the death of at least one other person. Not long after that, one of the guests suddenly dies of what turns out to be poison. Late that night, another person dies. It’s soon clear that someone has lured everyone to the island and is killing them one at a time. The survivors now have to find out who the killer is and try to stay alive themselves. One of the guests is Vera Claythorne, games mistress at a girls’ school. Before that though, she was governess to Cyril Hammond, a young boy who drowned when he swam out too far into the sea. As we learn about what happened to Cyril, we see that the event isn’t quite as clear-cut as it first seems…

Patricia Moyes’ Dead Men Don’t Ski takes place, for the most part, at the Bella Vista hotel in Santa Chiara, in the Italian Alps. Scotland Yard’s Henry Tibbett and his wife Emmy have gone to Santa Chiara for a skiing holiday, but they soon get mixed up in a murder. One of the hotel guests Fritz Hauser is shot one afternoon and his body found in a downward-running ski lift chair. The local police in the form of Captain Spezzi begin to investigate, and Spezzi soon settles on a suspect. She is Gerda Braun, governess to Baron and Baroness von Wurtburg’s two children. She’s accompanied her charges and their mother to the hotel for an annual visit to Italy, but Spezzi is sure that there’s more to it than that. She has her own past history and secrets, and a good motive to have murdered Hauser. Although Tibbett doesn’t immediately discount her at first, he’s not nearly as sure as his colleague is that she is the killer. So he investigates further and finds that just about everyone at the hotel had a good reason to want Fritz Hauser dead.

Reginald Hill’s Recalled to Life also features a nanny. Cissy Kohler has spent years in prison for her involvement in the 1963 murder of Pamela Westropp, her employer’s wife. At the time, she was nanny to their twin children. She’s released after her sentence and goes straight to the U.S. before really talking to anyone. In the meantime, there are hints that the wrong person was convicted of the crime. There are also hints that the investigator Wally Tallantire might have tampered with evidence. Tallantire is no longer alive to defend himself, but Superintendent Andy Dalziel, whose mentor Tallantire was, is very much alive. He is eager to defend Tallantire’s memory, so from two different perspectives, he and Peter Pascoe re-open the case. They find out that much more was going on in the Westropp family and their ‘circle’ than it seemed on the surface.

The Davies family is the focus of Elizabeth George’s A Traitor to Memory. Twenty years before the main events of the novel, two-year-old Sonia Davies drowned. Her nanny Katja Wolff was arrested in connection with the incident and imprisoned. She’s recently been released from prison and her release roughly coincides with some other tragic events. First, twenty-eight-year-old Gideon Davies, a world class violinist, finds one night that he cannot remember how to play. Terrified, he consults a psychologist to find out what is blocking him. In the process, he delves into the family past. In the meantime, Davies’ mother Eugenie has been fatally struck by a car in a hit-and-run incident. Inspector Thomas Lynley and Sergeant Barbara Havers investigate the death and they find that what has happened in that family has everything to do with the events of decades earlier.

Of course, not all child minders get mixed up in murder. For example, there’s Sandra, who acts as child minder to Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway. Galloway is the single mother of Kate, and has decided to raise her alone. But she is also Head of Forensic Archaeology at North Norfolk University. That means she has a full-time position and a lot of obligations. And there’s the fact that the police consult her when there are cases involving deaths that aren’t recent. So Galloway needs someone she can depend on to help look after Kate. That’s where Sandra comes in. She is a dependable, caring friend and a careful child minder.

Governesses, nannies, child minders, whatever you call them, the people who watch over children play crucial roles in our lives. Little wonder they do in crime fiction too.

Oh, you’ll notice that I didn’t mention any of the many crime fiction novels that feature day care facilities. That’s the stuff of another post…

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Au Pairs’ Set-Up.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Elizabeth George, Elly Griffiths, Patricia Moyes, Reginald Hill