Category Archives: Elly Griffiths

I Need to Know*

WaitingIt’s devastating to hear the news that a loved one has died. Any crime fiction novel that doesn’t acknowledge that is, at least in my opinion, not portraying loss realistically. That said though, it’s possibly even harder when a loved one is missing. Not knowing whether that person is dead or alive takes a tremendous toll. You can’t start the grieving process really, because the missing person could still be alive. On the other hand, after a certain point, it’s hard to hold out hope. It’s a sort of ‘twilight zone’ and it is awful. Just a quick look at a few crime fiction novels should be enough to show you what I mean.

Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express is the story of the stabbing death of American businessman Samuel Ratchett. He’s en route across Europe on the Orient Express when the murder occurs, and the only possible suspects are the other passengers on the same coach. Hercule Poirot is on the same train, so he investigates Ratchett’s death. One of the pieces of evidence refers to another case: the kidnapping of three-year-old Daisy Armstrong. She was the daughter of wealthy and loving parents, and her abduction took a terrible toll on her family. Part of that toll was waiting to hear from the kidnappers, and not knowing whether she was safe.

Dr. Raymond Akande and his wife Laurette go through a horrible experience of waiting in Ruth Rendell’s Simisola. Their twenty-two-year-old daughter Melanie goes to the local Employment Bureau one afternoon to keep an appointment with a job counselor there. When she doesn’t return, Akande gets concerned and asks Inspector Wexford, who is one of his patients, to look into the matter. At first Wexford isn’t overly concerned. Melanie is an adult and it’s not unreasonable that she’d have gone off for a few days without necessarily telling her parents. But when more time goes by, Wexford begins to wonder what’s happened to her and an official investigation begins. Melanie’s last known contact was Annette Bystock, an employment counselor. When Bystock herself is killed, it’s clear that something may be going on at the Employment Bureau. In the meantime, the Akandes are very anxious for any news, and Wexford is uncomfortable that he can’t give them any real information. Then, a body is found in a local wood, and Wexford thinks it might be Melanie’s. It’s not though, and we can see the Akandes’ anger at the mistaken identity. Some of that anger comes from the fact that they still do not have answers. In the end, Wexford and his team put the case together, but throughout the novel, he feels guilty about what the Akandes are suffering as they wait for the truth about Melanie.

DCI Harry Nelson has a similar burden in Elly Griffiths’ The Crossing Places. Ten years ago, Lucy Downing went missing. Nelson and his team have never been able to find out what happened to her. He’s never even been able to give her parents the admittedly ice-cold consolation of closure. Then, the skeleton of a young girl is discovered in a remote area of Norfolk called the Saltmarsh. Nelson doesn’t know how old the bones are, or whether they might be Lucy’s remains, so he gets help from an expert Ruth Galloway, a forensic archaeologist at North Norfolk University. She determines the bones are much, much older – probably from the Iron Age. On the one hand, it’s exciting news for Galloway in that it opens up a promising site for a dig. On the other, Nelson is left with no new answers. Then he begins to get anonymous, cryptic letters that make a veiled reference to Scarlet Henderson, another young girl who’s gone missing recently. Nelson contacts Galloway again to see if she can help him make sense of the letters. In the end, Nelson does find out what happened both to Scarlet and to Lucy. And Griffiths shows what it’s like for families who are waiting for news – any news – about their loved ones.

One plot thread of Arnaldur Indriðason’s Hypothermia concerns a young man Davíd, who went missing thirty years earlier. Inspector Erlendur was one of the investigators, and he and his team were never able to find any trace of the young man. Davíd’s father still visits the police station once a year to see if there’s any news, but Erlendur has never been able to help him. This year, the old man says that he doesn’t have much longer to live and he wants to know what happened to his son before he dies. So Erlendur re-opens the case. He finds that a young woman named Gudrún disappeared at about the same time Davíd did, and begins to wonder whether the two cases were related. As Erlendur gets to the truth about these missing young people, we can see how difficult it’s been for their families not to know what happened to them – not to have answers.

That’s also true for Dorothy Pine, whom we meet in Giles Blunt’s Forty Words for Sorrow. Five months earlier, her thirteen-year-old daughter Katie disappeared after school one day. Detective John Cardinal of the Algonquin Bay (Ontario) Police was on the team that investigated the disappearance, but they weren’t able to come up with any solid leads on Katie’s whereabouts. Dorothy calls in sometimes asking if there is any news about her daughter. But Cardinal is never able to give her any information. Then the body of a young girl is found in an abandoned mineshaft on Windigo Island. When it turns out to be Katie’s body, Cardinal has the thankless job of informing her mother. Dorothy now has the closure that she wanted but of course, that’s little comfort. Still, she is willing to help Cardinal find out who killed Katie. So she gives him as much information as she can and there’s a poignant scene in which he goes through Katie’s things. It shows how very hard the wait has been for her mother. Eventually Cardinal and his partner Lise Delorme are able to tie in Katie’s death with the disappearances of other young people.

It’s not always family members, either, who want answers and therefore, some closure. In Jill Edmondson’s Dead Light District, Toronto PI Sasha Jackson gets a new client. Brothel owner Candace Curtis is worried about one of her employees Mary Carmen Santamaria, who seems to have gone missing. Of course it’s possible that the young woman simply decided to leave, but Curtis doesn’t think that’s what happened. And she really is worried about Santamaria, since in that line of work, a lot of things can go wrong. Jackson agrees to take the case and begins to ask questions. It turns out that Curtis was right to be concerned; Jackson’s search for answers takes her into the seamier side of Toronto’s sex trade, and into some ugly truths about human trafficking. As Curtis does her best to help Jackson, we can sense how difficult it is for her not to know what’s happened to ‘one of her girls.’

It’s awful, truly awful, to learn that someone you care about has been killed. But a lot of people would say that it’s worse not to know. I’ve only included a few examples here. Which gaps have I left?


On Another Note


Malaysia Airlines Plane


This post is dedicated to the families and friends of those lost on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.  My thoughts and wishes go out to them as they go through the grieving process and wait for answers. I hope that all the answers come soon.




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




Filed under Agatha Christie, Arnaldur Indriðason, Elly Griffiths, Giles Blunt, Jill Edmondson, Ruth Rendell

But I Got Cat Class and I Got Cat Style*

zenasstedaureliocolumn1Ciao, my Bellas!

I am Aurelio Zen, Assistant Editor at It’s a Crime! (Or a Mystery…). Now, before I go any further, let me encourage you to pay a visit to my home blog, where She Who (thinks she) is in Charge and I always provide top-quality crime fiction information and reviews.

I’m here today on special assignment because Margot Kinberg is not intelligent enough to be worthy of being owned by a cat. Therefore there was no choice but to have me come in to discuss the vital role that cats play in crime fiction. You don’t believe me? You must certainly have been listening to a dog lately then. Let me put you right on how very important cats are in the genre.

Let’s start with Agatha Christie’s The Clocks. British Intelligence operative Colin Lamb happens to be in the town of Crowdean on his own business one afternoon when he’s quite literally run into by Sheila Webb. She’s a secretary who was sent to a house in the same neighbourhood for what she thought was a typing job. What she’s found instead is the body of an unknown man. Lamb summons the police in the form of Inspector Richard Hardcastle, and the hunt for the killer is on. There are some odd aspects of this murder, so Lamb thinks the case may be of interest to his father’s friend Hercule Poirot. It turns out he’s right and Poirot guides the investigation. Next door to the house where the body was found lives Mrs. Hemming, a widow who is servant to a houseful of cats. She is, quite naturally, far more interested in her masters’ well-being than she is in a murder, but she says something that proves to be very useful to the investigation.

Robert Crais’ PI sleuth Elvis Cole is owned by a cat. The cat, of course, chooses to remain more or less feral, but Cole sees that it’s fed and cared for and he is, in his own way, comforted by the cat’s presence. Interestingly enough, the only human who seems intelligent enough to interact properly with Cole’s cat is his partner Joe Pike. Pike is a tough guy with an interest in weapons and a background that includes military duty. He’s really not intimidated by anyone. But he also knows the proper way to relate to us feline rulers. So Cole’s cat gets along with him.

Åsa Larsson’s series includes police detective Sven-Erik Stålnacke, who is owned for a time by a cat he calls Manne. That relationship doesn’t last, but in The Black Path, he meets a widow named Airi Bylund who is very much a cat person. In that novel, Stålnacke and his partner Anna-Maria Mella are investigating the murder of Inna Wattrang, Head of Information for Kellis Mining. The trail leads to some very nasty business at the top of the corporate ladder, to say nothing of some international intrigue. But none of that matters. What does matter is that Stålnacke and Bylund are able to bond because of – that’s right – cats. Before cats, Stålnacke lives by himself, lonelier than he cares to admit. After cats? Of course – a relationship. That’s feline power.

Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman is owned by three cats. One, Horatio, shares her home and later, does his share of monopolising her lover Daniel Cohen. Chapman knows the real truth about cats: if they approve of a person, that person is probably worthy. Chapman also keeps two Rodent Control Officers Heckle and Jekyll. They ensure that mice and rats pose no threat to Chapman’s bakery and despite concerns from Health Department officials, the fact is, the Mouse Police are a much safer and more environmentally-friendly deterrent to such vermin than are traps or poison. And the Mouse Police do their jobs well. When their shift ends early in the morning, Chapman feeds them and then lets them out to get dessert from the nearby restaurant. It all works very well for them.

Fans of Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series will know that she is owned by Flint. Now, Flint doesn’t stoop so low as to actually act like a human and solve mysteries. But Flint provides good company for Galloway and her daughter Kate. And to be honest, Galloway prefers Flint to most humans. As she herself puts it at the end of A Dying Fall,


‘My life is just me and Kate and Flint.’


Wise woman.

One of the most interesting crime-fictional cats is without a doubt Snowball, who runs Commissaire Adamsberg’s office in Fred Vargas’ series. Snowball’s favourite human among those on Adamsberg’s team is Violette Retancourt, and that makes sense. Retancourt is gifted with animals and she and Snowball have an understanding. In This Night’s Foul Work, the team is faced with some odd cases that could be connected. Two drug dealers have been found with their throats cut, and it looks like it could be the work of serial killer Claire Langevin, who’s recently escaped from custody. These murders could also be related to the bizarre killings of some Normandy stags. In the midst of all of this, Retancourt goes missing. At first, only Snowball seems aware of her absence (humans!!). But gradually some of the other members of the team notice that she’s gone. Finally, when she doesn’t return, the decision is taken to let Snowball track her. It turns out to be the right decision, as Snowball is able to lead the team to Retancourt. We also find out why she disappeared and how that is related to the other plot threads in the novel. Snowball soon puts paid to all of the nasty remarks made about cats’ lack of intelligence. I mean, really!

There are also several series such as Lorna Barrett’s Booktown series and Lilian Jackson Braun’s Cat Who… series where the human sleuths are accompanied by feline partners. In the Booktown series, which takes place in Stoneham, Massachusetts, Tricia Miles owns Haven’t Got a Clue, a bookshop specialising in crime fiction and mystery. In turn, Miles is owned by her feline overseer Miss Marple. That’s almost as good a name for a cat as mine. And fans of the Cat Who… series will know that in those novels, journalist Jim ‘Qwill’ Qwilleran is owned by Koko and Yum Yum, two elegant seal-point Siamese.  And of course there’s Carol Nelson Douglas’ Midnight Louie series. Fans of those novels will know that Midnight Louie owns PR freelancer Temple Barr.

There are other series and novels too of course that feature fearless felines. How could they not? Which ones do you like best?

Now, then, time for me to return to She Who (thinks she) is in Charge. What would she do without me? Ciao!



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Stray Cats’ Stray Cat Strut.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Åsa Larsson, Carole Nelson Douglas, Elly Griffiths, Fred Vargas, Kerry Greenwood, Lilian Jackson Braun, Lorna Barrett, Robert Crais

Don’t Talk to Me as if You Think I’m Dumb*

Candy Bar and Characters Who Only Seem ScattyAn interesting blog post from Moira at Clothes in Books has got me thinking about characters who may seem (or actually be) scatty or even deluded, but who are nonetheless shrewd and observant in their ways. In crime fiction, the sleuth does well to pay attention to them; they sometimes have quite a lot of useful information. And although I’m not going to go into it here (it’s really the stuff of another post), there are plenty of sleuths who adopt a scatty exterior to put people off their guards.

Agatha Christie used that sort of ‘deceptively deluded’ character in several of her stories. For instance, in After the Funeral (AKA Funerals are Fatal), Hercule Poirot investigates two deaths. One is the death of wealthy patriarch Richard Abernethie. When his family gathers for the funeral and the reading of the will, his younger sister Cora Lansquenet blurts out that he was murdered. At first everyone hushes her up. Even she brushes off what she said. But privately everyone begins to wonder. That’s because although Cora has the reputation for being scatty, she also has a knack of saying things that have more than a grain of truth to them. Everyone’s fears seem justified when Cora herself is murdered the next day. One of the suspects in both cases is Cora’s (and Richard’s) niece Rosamund Shane. She and her husband Michael are in the acting profession and are desperate for money to take an option on a play, among other things. Rosamund is on the surface very much like her aunt. She isn’t delusional but she certainly is scatty. And yet, she also has the same shrewdness. She makes a few remarks throughout the novel that in the end prove to be quite penetrating.

In Tony Hillerman’s The Ghostway, Navajo Tribal Police Sergeant Jim Chee investigates the murder of Los Angeles Navajo Albert Gorman. He’s recently relocated to the Reservation, but shortly after his arrival, he disappears and is later found dead. At the same time, Chee is asked to find a missing girl Margaret Billy Sosi, who has disappeared from the residential school she attends. Chee thinks the cases might be related since Gorman and Sosi are distant kin. He’s right, too. The trail leads Chee to the outskirts of Los Angeles, where he meets Bentwoman, who is related to both Gorman and Sosi. Bentwoman is very old, not in good health and doesn’t seem to think clearly. Yet she is able to offer Chee some very useful information. And since the Navajo culture has great respect for the elderly, Chee listens.

Gail Bowen’s A Killing Spring is the story of the murder of Reed Gallagher. He was head of the School of Journalism at the university where Bowen’s sleuth Joanne Kilbourn teaches. He was also married to someone Kilbourn knows, so she gets involved in the investigation of his death. One of the people who may have information about why and by whom Gallagher was killed is journalism student Kellee Savage. She’s had her own mental/emotional issues and isn’t really reliable. And yet she has very useful knowledge about Gallagher’s murder. It makes Kilbourn more human as a character that at first she doesn’t listen very closely to what Kellee says. Later she regrets the decision not to pay close attention when she first talked to Kellee. Still, she uses the information to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

In Andrew Nette’s Ghost Money, Madeleine Avery hires Australian ex-cop Max Quinlan to find her brother Charles, who seems to have disappeared from his last known address in Bangkok. Quinlan takes the case and begins his search in Bangkok. When he gets to Avery’s apartment, he finds the body of Avery’s business partner Robert Lee. He also finds indications that Avery has gone to Cambodia, so that’s where Quinlan heads next. When he gets there, he meets journalist’s assistant Heng Sarin, who proves invaluable as a team-mate. The two of them follow Avery’s trail from Phnom Penh to the northern part of Cambodia. Avery had supposedly known of a cache of gold hidden in that part of the country, and it doesn’t take much intuition to guess why he would have headed there. It also doesn’t take much brilliance to figure out that some very nasty people who also wanted that gold went after him. The pieces of the puzzle fall together in northern Cambodia, where Quinlan and Sarin find themselves in a very rural village. Not many people take much notice of the villagers. They’re considered inconsequential in the light of the larger forces that have power in the country. But Quinlan and Sarin get to know them a bit. They especially get to know the village leader. He’s an elderly man whom the authorities and Avery’s ‘business associates’ have brushed off. But he’s much sharper than it seems, and he gives Quinlan and Sarin very helpful information and assistance.

There are also some series ‘regulars’ who are quite a lot more intelligent and resourceful than it may seem on the surface. For instance, Sarah Caudwell’s Hilary Tamar novels features law professor Tamar, who gets involved in solving murder cases with former student Timothy Shepherd and some of his fellow attorneys. One of those attorneys is Julia Larwood. On the one hand, she’s impulsive, quite scatty and not at all well-ordered in her personal life. That’s partly how she ends up accused of murder in Thus Was Adonis Murdered.  And it’s how she gets arrested in The Sirens Sang of Murder.  But at the same time, she’s an expert on the Finance Act. She’s also no mental slouch and somehow manages to get out of difficult situations in creative ways.

And then there’s Elly Griffiths’ Michael Malone, better known as Cathbad.  Griffiths’ novels feature forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway, who first met Cathbad on a dig. Since then he’s become a regular part of her life and a friend. On one level, Cathbad is a Druid and is almost ethereal in his approach to life. Some people might even think he’s delusional. Certainly he’s an unusual and original thinker and that can lead people to underestimate him. But Galloway has learned not to do that. Cathbad has a great deal of wisdom. He also knows the area very well and has a shrewd ability to judge character. Underneath that gentle-if-oddball exterior, Cathbad is very intelligent and resourceful. He’s also a very interesting character.

And that’s the thing about characters who seem to be scatty and even delusional. Like the candy in the ‘photo, they seem soft and chewy on the outside, but they have real substance on the inside. When they’re well-drawn, they’re interesting and they can add some real leaven to the ‘cast’ of a story. I’ve only had space here to mention a few. Which ones do you like best?

Thanks, Moira, for the inspiration. Now folks, if you haven’t already, do yourself a favour and go visit Clothes in Books. It’s a superb resource for all kinds of interesting insights into fashion and popular culture in literature.




*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bob Marley’s Waiting in Vain.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrew Nette, Elly Griffiths, Gail Bowen, Sarah Caudwell, Tony Hillerman

There’s No Use Sitting on the Fence When You Know it All Makes Sense*

ThemesSometimes one of the most important clues in a murder case – the thing that really ties the case together – is a common theme, such as a poem, a song or something of that nature. Once the sleuth figures out what that common theme is, it’s easier to find out what’s behind the murder or set of murders. Those themes often point to the killer too. I’m not talking here about cryptic codes and ciphers. Rather, I mean motifs that give clues as to what the criminal is thinking and where s/he may strike next. Let me offer just a few examples from crime fiction to show you what I have in mind.

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Musgrave Ritual, Sherlock Holmes tells Watson of an early case of his – a case brought to him by an old university friend Reginald Musgrave. Some strange things were going on at the Musgrave family home of Hurlstone. Brunton the butler and second housemaid Rachel Howells went missing. Nothing was stolen, so theft didn’t seem to be the motive for their leaving. According to what Musgrave told Holmes, the only odd thing he’d noticed before their disappearance was that he’d caught Brunton going through some family papers. So, Holmes tells Watson, he went with his friend to Hurlstone. It turns out that an old family ritual that involved the repetition of a short verse is the theme that explains everything. Once Holmes figures out what the verse means, he finds out the truth about Brunton and Rachel Howells.

Agatha Christie used themes like that in more than one of her stories. In And then There Were None (AKA Ten Little Indians) for instance, ten people are invited for a stay on Indian Island off the Devon coast. They no sooner arrive and settle in than each is accused of having been responsible for at least one death. Then, one of the guests suddenly dies of what turns out to be poison. Late that night there’s another death. Now it’s clear that someone has lured them all to Indian Island and is planning to kill them. So the survivors will have to find out which of them is the killer if they’re to stay alive. In this case, the theme is the old poem Ten Little Indians, a copy of which is in each person’s room. Of course, knowing that theme doesn’t necessarily mean anyone will be spared… (I know, I know, fans of A Pocket Full of Rye and The ABC Murders…).

John Dickson Carr’s Hag’s Nook is the story of American Tad Rampole’s visit to England and the home of Dr. Gideon Fell. It’s also the story of the Starberth family. Two generations of the Starberth family were Governors of the now-disused Chatterham Prison. Although the prison hasn’t been in use for a hundred years, the Starbeth family still has an odd connection to the place. Each male heir has to spend the night of his twenty-fifth birthday in the Governor’s Room at the old prison. To prove he’s been there, he must open the safe in the room and follow the instructions that are there. Now it’s the turn of Martin Starberth. Rampole is especially interested when Fell tells him this story, because Rampole has fallen in love with Martin’s sister Dorothy. So he and Fell watch and wait on the night of Martin’s birthday. The next morning, Martin’s body is found. He apparently fell over the balcony attached to the Governor’s Room, but it’s soon clear that he was murdered. The only problem is that no-one was seen going to or from the prison that night. There are rumours that he fell victim to a family curse, but the real solution is more prosaic than that. The only clue to it though is a poem that Anthony Starberth wrote many years earlier. Once Fell makes sense of the poem, he’s able to find out who the killer is.

In Elly Griffiths’ The Crossing Places, forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway gets involved in a police investigation when a set of old bones is discovered in North Norfolk. DCI Harry Nelson thinks they may be the bones of Lucy Downey, a girl who went missing ten years ago, but Galloway is able to show they are much older than that. Then Nelson comes to Galloway again with a related request. He’s been receiving strange letters, most likely from the person who abducted Lucy. The letters also make veiled reference to anther girl Scarlet Henderson who recently disappeared. Nelson thinks that if Galloway can help him make sense of the letters, they’ll give him a clue as to who’s behind the abductions. Galloway is able to help with some of the quotes and references used in the letters and although they don’t specifically point to one person, they do point to the kind of knowledge the abductor would have. The letters show that there is a theme to part of what has happened, and that leads to some of the answers Nelson needs.  

Time is a theme in Jeffery Deaver’s The Cold Moon. In this novel, Lincoln Rhyme and his partner Amelia Sachs are on the trail of a serial killer known as The Watchmaker who is meticulous and obsessed with time. In fact, The Watchmaker leaves clocks at each of his crime scenes. Rhyme is able to use this theme of time to find out who the killer is, but now he’s under pressure to stop The Watchmaker before he’s able to strike again. He’s also discovered that The Watchmaker intends to strike again (yes, pun intended) in just a few hours…

Poetry proves to be a theme in Cat Connor’s Killerbyte. New Zealand ex-pat and FBI operative Gabrielle ‘Ellie’ Conway is the co-moderator of a poetry chat room called Cobwebs. One night chat room member Carter McLaren turns up at Ellie’s house to threaten her after being banned from the room. He’s arrested, but later his body is discovered in Conway’s car. Then another chat room member is killed. And another. There’s even a suggestion that Conway herself is responsible. So in order to clear her name and find out who’s targeting the chat room, Conway and her co-moderator and lover Cormack ‘Mack’ Connelly try to track the killer down. They don’t have much to go on at first, since the killer is very good at leaving no traces. But the killer does leave notes at each crime scene with lines of poetry. That poetry theme begins to tie the crimes together and once Conway and Connelly make sense of it, they get important information. The poems, plus a chance clue, put them on the right track.

Sometimes the most important clue to a murderer is a theme such as a song, poetry, time or something else. That theme gives a clue as to what the killer is thinking, and it can be very helpful in putting the sleuth on the right track.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Stealers Wheel’s Waltz (You Know it Makes Sense).


Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Cat Connor, Elly Griffiths, Jeffery Deaver, John Dickson Carr

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.


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