Category Archives: Håkan Nesser

How Long Has This Been Going On?*

Long BooksI think most people would agree that there is such a thing as a book that’s too long. And if you’ve ever stopped reading a very long book halfway through, wondering why you’d even bothered with it, you know that some such books could do with a good editing. Both in my reading and in my writing, I tend to like books that aren’t overly long.

At the same time, some stories take longer to tell than others do. And some highly regarded books are longer than you might think. They may not be to everyone’s taste, but there are some longer books that really don’t seem too long when you’re reading them. Let me offer just a few examples. Keep in mind, everyone’s taste is a bit different. Still, I think you’ll get my point.

On Monday, I spotlighted Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, which is the story of a protracted lawsuit, a suspicious death, and a murder. Those aspects of the novel are woven into a larger picture of social class, the legal system and family dynamics in Victorian England. It’s a long book. And yet, fans will tell you that the story moves along, the characters are well-developed, the plot threads mesh together and the novel unfolds beautifully. In other words, the length isn’t a problem because the story keeps the reader absorbed. It’s a novel that needs extra time to evolve, if I may express it that way. It’s also worth noting that this novel (and plenty of others too) started life as a set of monthly instalments. The story unfolded over a period of time.

But there are plenty of long novels that didn’t start out as instlaments that have gotten a great deal of praise. Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall is one of them. It is the fictionalised account of the rise of Thomas Cromwell to power in the court of King Henry VIII. Wolf Hall isn’t a typical crime novel (is there such a thing?) complete with detective, suspects and an investigation. Yet it is a crime novel in the sense that there is plenty of court intrigue as well as plotting and untimely deaths. But it’s also the story of an era, of Cromwell’s background and the events that led to his coming into power and a lot more too. The novel is long and there are a lot of characters in it. It begins in Cromwell’s adolescence and moves through the next thirty years. There are a lot of events in the novel. But the story is woven together into a cohesive whole, so that a lot of people feel it isn’t ponderous at all. The story needs extra time.

Ian Rankin’s Exit Music has as its focal point the murder of Alexander Todorov, a dissident Russian poet whose death looks like a mugging gone horribly wrong. But as Inspector Rebus and DS Siobhan Clarke get deeper into the investigation and trace Todorov’s movements, they begin to believe there’s more to this case than a mugging. That’s even more likely when local recording engineer Charles Riordan dies and his studio goes up in flames. Todorov had done some recording of his work at that studio not long before, so Rebus and Clarke suspect the deaths might be related. Matters become more complex when it’s discovered that a group of wealthy Russian business executives were not happy about Todorov’s political stance. And when Rebus finds out that his nemesis ‘Big Ger’ Cafferty might have been involved with this group – might even have arranged for the murders – he thinks he’s found his man. Of course, this is Ian Rankin, so things aren’t quite what they seem. This is a long book; my paperback edition comes out at just over 520 pages. But Rankin draws the story threads together and the plot and action move along, so that fans of the novel don’t see the length as being burdensome.

That’s also true of Håkan Nesser’s The Unlucky Lottery (AKA Münster’s Case). In that novel, Intendant Münster and his team investigate the stabbing death of Waldemar Leverkuhn, who’s murdered after a night out with friends to celebrate a lottery winning. Münster’s team begins of course with Leverkuhn’s family members. There’s also interest in what Leverkuhn’s neighbours were doing at the time of the murder. And when it’s discovered that Leverkuhn and his friends had gone in together on a lottery ticket and won, the investigating team also takes a look at those friends’ backgrounds. Their alibis become especially important when one of them goes missing and is later found dead. It takes time for the team to trace the Leverkuhn family background and follow up on all of the evidence from Leverkuhn’s neighbours and friends. And there are some sub-plots in the novel too. So it’s not a short novel. And yet, fans will tell you that the story is absorbing, the pace solid and the character development rich.

Qiu Xiaolong’s Death of a Red Heroine introduces readers to Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police. He and his assistant Detective Yu Guangming get involved in a very delicate case with far-reaching implications when the body of a young woman is discovered in Baili Canal. The woman is soon identified as national model worker Guan Hongying. Because the victim was a celebrity and a national role model, this investigation will have to be handled very delicately and very carefully. The first theory is that she was raped and murdered by a taxi driver, since she was known to have taken a taxi on the night of her death. But Chen and Yu soon find other possibilities. And as the trail begins to lead to some highly-placed people, the need for care and delicate handling becomes even more urgent. This novel is long by a lot of people’s standards – over 400 pages. But those who’ve loved it say that it includes solid sub-plots, interesting characters and a realistic look at 1990’s Shanghai. In this case, the book doesn’t feel too long, if I may put it that way.

Of course, everyone has a different idea of what counts as ‘long.’ What’s more, plots that feel too long to one person may not to another. So what’s your view? Are there any novels you’ve read that are long but that you’ve really enjoyed?  Do you have a cutoff point for novels (i.e. you won’t read novels longer than __ pages)? If you’re a writer, do you have a mental page limit as you write?



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Paul Carrack’s How Long, made famous by Ace.


Filed under Charles Dickens, Håkan Nesser, Hilary Mantel, Ian Rankin, Qiu Xiaolong

As the Torch is Passed From Hand to Hand*

PassingtheTorchRight now my third Joel Williams novel is in the hands of a publisher, and I’m waiting to hear whether it’ll be a go. In the meantime, I’m thinking about the direction that the series might eventually take. At some point (and I don’t yet know when that point will be), Williams will realistically retire, both from his professional position and from the series. Or at the very least, his role in the series will change if he’s to age in something like real time. And that’s fine; to me that’s realistic. The question is: how would that process affect the series? 

One possibility (and it’s got real appeal for me actually) is to ‘bring up’ another character who will eventually take the lead. I already actually have one in mind. That, to me, is realistic too. Younger detectives learn their job, become good at it and then lead investigations in real life. Why shouldn’t they in crime fiction too? And there’s no reason that can’t happen with amateur sleuths as well. 

But what does that do to a series? Obviously the series has to change as the characters evolve and develop. That’s all to the good. And there are some series where this kind of change has been successful. For instance, as Håkan Nesser’s Maardam series begins, Inspector Van Veeteren leads the investigation team. The other characters certainly play important roles, but he’s the one in charge. As the series has gone on though, Van Veeteren has left the police force and now has a different life of his own. In the most recent novels, he’s hasn’t supervised the investigation. Instead, other police detectives have started to take the lead. Both Intendant Münster and DI Ewa Moreno have had the opportunity to take charge of investigations and the results have been successful. Of course, Van Veeteren is still a part of the series, but it’s clear that the torch is being passed if I can put it that way. 

We see a similar transition in Arnaldur Indriðason’s series. Many of the novels feature Inspector Erlendur in the lead, and those stories have been both highly regarded and successful. But recent books have featured other team-mates more or less heading up investigations. Both Detective Elinborg and Detective Sigurdur Óli have taken ‘starring roles,’ and that’s been very successful too. It will be very interesting to see whether there will be any new novels featuring those detectives again, even if Erlendur doesn’t appear in them. 

Colin Dexter’s series featuring Inspector Morse ended with The Remorseful Day. As of that novel, Morse’s second-in-command Sergeant Lewis was still that: second in command. But Dexter fans will know that on television anyway, Lewis became the lead character in his own series. He was promoted, he got his own team and they pursued new investigations. That’s realistic. Lewis is smart and skilled and it makes sense that he’d move along in the ranks so to speak. I wonder what it would be like if Dexter wrote some Lewis novels… 

Fans of Louise Penny’s Three Pines novels have become accustomed to Chief Inspector Armand Gamache as the leader of the investigations in that series. I don’t want to give away spoilers for those who haven’t read these novels, but I can say that Penny has laid the groundwork for a new direction in the series It will be very interesting to see what happens as some of the other team members who’ve figured in the series continue to develop and as Gamache makes some choices too. 

Henning Mankell’s The Troubled Man is, so far as I know (so correct me if I’m wrong please), the last of his Kurt Wallander series. But what if that torch were passed to Wallander’s daughter Linda? What sort of series might that make? What about a series featuring Ian Rankin’s Siobhan Clarke, whom fans will know as Inspector John Rebus’ second-in-command. What if she featured in her own series? What about Karin Fossum’s Jacob Skarre?  In one way, it would be very realistic to have those characters assume leadership roles. They’ve evolved and developed and matured over time so it’s only natural that they’d feature in their own series. 

On the other hand, part of all of this is the author’s vision. That’s the ‘spark’ behind many series and without it characters can become flat and dull. If the author’s vision of a series doesn’t include passing the proverbial torch, then the series may not have its original appeal.  It’s also a matter of the characters themselves. They may be excellent characters in certain roles, but not as effective if they’re protagonists. So building a new series around one of them is a risk. 

What do you think? Does it make sense for a second-in-command or other character to take the lead in a new series? Or should a series end when the original protagonist stops investigating? If you’re a writer, what’s your vision for your work? Have you thought about where you’ll take your series when your protagonist no longer investigates? 

As for me, I’m thinking about it, but it’s not something I have to decide today. Joel Williams still has some good years ahead of him. ;-)



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Dan Fogelberg’s Forefathers.


Filed under Arnaldur Indriðason, Colin Dexter, Håkan Nesser, Henning Mankell, Ian Rankin, Karin Fossum, Louise Penny

And Then? And Then?*

Keeping the TensionIn a lot of crime fiction, part of the reason for investing oneself in a story is to try to work out who the culprit is. It’s a bit like a matching of wits between author and reader. But there are plenty of crime novels where we know who the killer is right from the start or soon after the story begins. In those cases, the author has to find some other way to keep the reader interested and wanting to know what happens next. That’s not easy to do, as it means one’s got to keep the tension level strong and add interest. But when it is done well, that sort of story can be an interesting alternative to the more traditional whodunit approach to telling a story.

Some authors keep readers engaged by exploring the background of a crime. And that approach can be very powerful. That’s what Ruth Rendell does in A Judgement in Stone. The very first sentence of the novel tells us who the murderer is, and even a bit about the motive:


‘Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write.’


And yet, the story stays strong throughout as Rendell explores Eunice Parchman’s background and psychology, and describes how the well-off and educated Coverdales hire her as housekeeper. The story of Eunice’s tenure in the household and the events that lead up to the murders takes a psychological approach that explains how and why someone like Eunice Parchman would kill people like the Coverdales. And that’s part of what keeps the tension and interest strong.

Sometimes, especially in thriller-type crime novels, the author builds the tension and keeps readers interested by putting the focus on the battle of wits between the criminal(s) and the protagonist(s). That’s what Frederick Forsyth does in Day of the Jackal. A far-right French terrorist group Organisation de l’Armée Secrète (OAS) plans to have French president Chales de Gaulle assassinated. The group’s members are already known to the police because of a prior attempt at assassination, so none of them will be able to get close to the president. That’s why they decide to hire an outside killer – an Englishman known only as The Jackal. The contract is agreed on, and The Jackal starts to prepare. The French government becomes aware that there’s a plot, but no-one knows who the assassin will be or where and when the killer will strike. Against those odds, French detective Claude Lebel is assigned to track down the killer and stop him before he can carry out his end of the contract. In this novel, the details of the preparation for the assassination, and the battle of wits between Lebel and his enemy add interest and tension to the story.

Martin Clark takes a slightly different approach to that battle of wits in The Legal Limit. Brothers Mason and Gates Hunt have grown up in rural Patrick County, Virginia. They’ve had a terrible childhood with their abusive alcoholic father, but the two brothers have responded to life in very different ways. Mason took advantage of all the opportunities that came his way. He went to university on a scholarship and has become a lawyer. Gates on the other hand squandered his athletic ability and now lives mostly on money he gets from his mother and from his girlfriend’s Welfare benefits. One day Gates gets into an argument with his romantic rival Wayne Thompson. Thompson ends up leaving but that night, the Hunt brothers are coming home from a night of drinking when they encounter Thompson again. Before anyone really knows what’s happening, Gates has shot Thompson. Out of a sense of loyalty, Mason helps his brother cover up the crime and life goes on for both. Years later, Mason has become a commonwealth prosecutor. When Gates is convicted of cocaine trafficking, he begs his brother to help him get out of jail. Mason refuses and Gates threatens him with implication in the murder of Wayne Thompson. Mason calls his brother’s bluff as the saying goes, and Gates follows through. In this story, we know who the killer is. We know what led up to it too. The tension is built in part through following the legal battle between the brothers and their lawyers. It’s also built through Clark’s exploration of the complicated relationship between them.

Karin Fossum’s When the Devil Holds the Candle is another interesting example of how authors keep the tension and interest going even when we know the truth about a crime. Oslo police inspector Konrad Sejer gets a visit from Runi Winther. She’s worried because she hasn’t seen or heard from her son Andreas for a few days. At first, Sejer doesn’t do very much about the case. He sees no cause for great concern, and he reassures his visitor that her son is probably just fine. But when more time goes by with no sign of Andreas, Sejer starts to look into the matter. The last person to see Andreas seems to have been his best friend Sivert ‘Zipp’ Skorpe. The two young men spent the day of Andreas’ disappearance together, and Sejer is sure that Zipp knows something about what happened. But Zipp claims he doesn’t. Sejer has reason to think that Zipp’s not telling everything he knows and he’s right. We know from early in the novel exactly what happened to Andreas and the events that led up to it. And no, Fossum avoids the obvious: Zipp didn’t kill his friend. But he does indeed know the truth and part of the interest in this novel is the conflict between him and Sejer as Sejer tries to find out the truth while Zipp is just as determined to keep quiet about it all.

Sometimes it’s the ‘whydunit’ aspect of a crime or set of crimes that keeps the reader’s interest. That’s what happens in Håkan Nesser’s Woman With Birthmark. Inspector Van Veeteren and his team are called in when Ryszard Malik is shot twice and killed in his own home. They’re just working on that case when there’s another murder. And another. Now the police have to figure out what the three victims have in common. When they do, they learn that there will be a fourth unless they can catch the killer first. What’s interesting about this novel is that we know who the killer is very quickly in the novel. But at first, we don’t know what the motive is. The slow reveal of that motive is part of what keeps the interest alive. Another element that keeps the reader engaged is the ‘chess game’ between Van Veeteren’s team and the killer.

T.J. Cooke takes a slightly different approach to building tension when we know the killer’s identity in Defending Elton. The body of an enigmatic young woman Sarena Gunasekera is found at the bottom of a cliff at Beachy Head near Eastbourne. Some pieces of evidence point to Elton Spears, a troubled young man with mental problems and some deficiencies. And yet, there is the principle that under British law, an accused person is considered innocent until proven guilty. What’s more, the evidence isn’t entirely conclusive and there are hints that Spears may not be guilty. Since Spears can’t be much help in the case, solicitor Jim Harwood works with barrister Harry Douglas to investigate what really happened. We know soon after the novel begins who the killer is. Instead of using the ‘whodunit’ approach to keeping the tension and interest, Cooke takes a ‘Will the killer get away with it?’ angle on the story. The answer to that question is not a given…

A lot of crime fiction fans (myself included) like to match wits with the author in the ‘whodunit’ kind of novel. But there are lots of other approaches to keeping the reader engaged in a novel, even if we know who the killer is. Oh, and did you notice that I’ve not mentioned novels where we follow a serial killer’s thought processes throughout the novel? Maybe it’s my own bias, but that’s just not my thing. And it’s my blog, so there! ;-)



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller’s Along Came Jones, made popular by the Coasters.


Filed under Frederick Forsyth, Håkan Nesser, Karin Fossum, Martin Clark, Ruth Rendell, T.J. Cooke

I Was Thinking About Something Else I Must Admit*

UnexpectedCluesWe usually think of detectives as solving cases by tirelessly tracking down clues and solving crimes by putting them together. And detectives do indeed work very hard as they’re looking for clues. But sometimes, clues and important leads come not from the hard work that sleuths do but from chance remarks or observations that happen when the sleuth is thinking of something else. And the wise detective is open to those things and fits them, sometimes subconsciously, into the puzzle. When that puzzle piece falls into place we can see how detectives work on cases even when they’re not working on cases, if I can put it that way.

In Agatha Christie’s Lord Edgware Dies for instance, Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings investigate the stabbing death of the 4th Baron Edgware. All of the evidence points to his wife, actress Jane Wilkinson. But at the time of the murder, she claims she was attending a dinner party in another part of London, and all of the other people at the party are prepared to swear that she was there.  So Poirot and the police have to look for the killer elsewhere. And given that Lord Edgware was a very unpleasant person, there’s no lack of suspects. Then there’s another death. And another. Poirot is sure the deaths are connected, and so they are, but at first, he doesn’t know how, nor can he figure out exactly who the killer is. He has a lot of the clues, but they don’t really fit into place. Then one night he and Hastings go to the theatre to take his mind off the case. On the way out of the theatre afterwards, Poirot overhears a remark that gives him the key to the whole case. And when he follows up on the idea that the comment gives him and finds out who is behind the events in the story.

Henning Mankell’s Faceless Killers is the story of the murders of Johannes and Maria Lövgren, who lived on a farm not far from Ystad. At first it looks like a robbery gone wrong, but the murders were a lot more brutal than would be expected from a robber who panicked and killed. Nothing of value has been stolen, and the couple wasn’t wealthy anyway. So although Inspector Kurt Wallander isn’t convinced that this was a chance murder, there isn’t much to go on at first. The Lövgrens didn’t have any known enemies or a fortune to leave a desperate relative, so there doesn’t seem to be a personal motive for the murder either. The only clue that the police have to go on is that Maria Lövgren said the word foreign just before she died. There’s a lot of anti-immigrant sentiment at the moment, so if the killer is a foreigner, there are likely to be real repercussions and in fact, when the news of that dying word gets to the media, it does spawn a backlash. Wallander and his team have to deal with that as well as with the original case that doesn’t seem to be getting far. Bit by bit the team finds out about the victims’ lives, and that gives them some leads. But they really can’t put the pieces together. Then a chance but crucial clue gives Wallander a vital piece of the puzzle and after months of effort, he and the team find out who killed the Lövgrens and why. Since that clue comes up while Wallander is thinking of something else, it’s interesting to see how he fits it into that puzzle.

In Håkan Nesser’s Mind’s Eye, it’s not the police but someone else who makes sense from what you might call a casual but important clue. Inspector Van Veeteren and his team have been working on the case of the murder of Eva Ringmar, whose body was found in her bathtub. Her husband Janek Mitter is the most likely suspect; he was in the home at the time of the murder and he was so drunk that he has little memory at all of what happened. He’s arrested, tried and convicted, but since he doesn’t remember the murder, he’s remanded to a mental institution instead of a regular prison. But he’s always claimed that he was innocent, and Van Veeteren has had doubts about the case. Then, bit by bit, Mitter’s memory returns. Before he can tell anyone what really happened though, he himself is killed. Now Van Veeteren and the team know that Mitter was telling the truth, and they re-open the Ringmar case. Bit by bit the team gets a picture of what Eva Ringmar was like, and they slowly figure out who the killer might be. But one person they want to talk to seems to have disappeared. Without that person the case can’t really move along. And then a hotel night clerk who’s subconsciously been following the case gets a piece of information. Without doing so consciously, he puts together that information and what he’s heard about the case. And that gives Van Veeteren and the team just what they need.

Karin Fossum’s He Who Fears the Wolf  tells the story of the murder of Halldis Horn, whose body is found in the front yard of her home. There isn’t much evidence as to who’s responsible, since the victim lived alone in a remote area. But there are witnesses who claim that the killer is Errki Johrma, a mentally ill young man who was seen in the area. Inspector Konrad Sejer wants to interview Johrma, but he’s disappeared. The police get a few pieces of evidence from the crime scene, but not enough to really pursue a case. Then the team gets involved in investigating a bank robbery. In this instance, it’s more than just trying to retrieve the money; this robber has taken a hostage. So the police have to move as quickly as they possibly can to try to make sure no harm comes to the hostage. The team is looking at the bank’s surveillance footage when one of them notices something about it that gives a vital clue to the Halldis Horn murder. That’s the first real key that those two events are related, and it starts to point the team in the right direction.

And then there’s James Craig’s Never Apologise, Never Explain. Charing Cross Station Inspector John Carlyle and his assistant Joe Szyskowski are called to the scene when Agatha Mills’ bludgeoned body is discovered in her home not far from the British Museum. Her husband Henry is the first suspect, but he claims that he was sleeping and didn’t hear anything. What’s more, he claims that his wife had enemies who were out to get her and that they are responsible. As you might expect, the police don’t believe Mills and he is promptly arrested. At first the crime seems to be solved, but Carlyle isn’t really completely sure. The police haven’t turned up any motive for Mills to kill his wife, but if he didn’t, there seems to be no good lead to the person who did. Then, Carlyle happens to see a homeless person digging through the rubbish near the Mills home. From that casual encounter, when he wasn’t even ‘officially’ looking for evidence, Carlyle gets a vital clue that puts him on the beginning of the right trail.

It’s interesting how we sometimes get our best ideas and the best clues for dealing with what we face in life when we’re not really actively looking for them. The same’s true of detectives. These are only a few examples; I’ll bet you can think of lots more…



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Waifs’ Attention. 


Filed under Agatha Christie, Håkan Nesser, Henning Mankell, James Craig, Karin Fossum

Being a Leader is Really Where it’s at*

LeaderOne of the many things that police detectives have to do is lead teams of people through sometimes very dangerous situations. And even when cases aren’t imminently dangerous, they can be depressing, enervating and difficult. It takes a lot of skill to lead a team of people who have to do dangerous, ugly, depressing work, but if you look at some fictional cop sleuth, you see that it can be done.

Agatha Christie doesn’t spend an inordinate amount of time talking about police work since her novels really aren’t what you’d call police procedurals. But she makes it clear that her Scotland Yard detective Chief Inspector Japp is good at what he does. And that’s a very important leadership skill to have. People are more willing to respect the leadership of a really skilled detective than the leadership of one who is incompetent. And in novels such as Death in the Clouds (AKA Death in the Air), it’s Japp who gets vital background information that solves cases. In that novel, French moneylender Marie Morisot (AKA Madame Giselle) is poisoned during a flight between Paris and London. The only possible suspects are her fellow passengers, of whom Hercule Poirot is one. So he also gets involved in this case. What’s interesting is that while Poirot uncovers the sort of motive the killer had, and the killer’s identity, Japp finds out exactly how the killer got some necessary information to commit the murder, and he finds out an important part of the why of the case too. And even Poirot, who is not normally one to minimise his own skills, gives Japp the credit for his ability.

Håkan Nesser’s Inspector Van Veeteren has also won his team’s respect by simply being very good at what he does. He has solid intuitions and strong detective skills, so his team members trust him. In fact, in The Unlucky Lottery (AKA Münster’s Case), we find that the team looks to him for guidance even when he’s no longer officially on the police force. When Waldemar Leverkuhn is found murdered the morning after celebrating a lottery win, Intendant Münster takes the lead. But he feels the absence of his former boss, and consults with him a few times on the case. At one point, Van Veeteren leaves Münster a note that leads him to re-evaluate the investigation. And it’s not because Münster doubts his team’s competence. Rather, it’s because he has that much trust in Van Veeteren’s.

Reginald Hill’s Superintendent Andy Dalziel is brusque (sometimes outright rude), even with his own people. So how does he manage to keep their loyalty and motivate them to work hard? He’s a brilliant detective. Everyone knows that he’s legendary for being able to solve even very difficult cases. But it’s more than that. Dalziel is also very protective of his people in his way. For example, in Child’s Play, Dalziel, Pascoe and the team investigate the strange case of the Lomas family. Wealthy Geraldine Lomas’ son disappeared during World War II, but she never gave up hope that he would someday return. So her will stipulates that her entire fortune is to be left to him unless he doesn’t come back by the year 2015. When she dies, a man claiming to be her son shows up at her funeral and now it looks as though he will inherit everything. But it’s not so simple when that same man is later found dead in a car at the police station. At the same time as the team is untangling this case, DS Edgar Wield is wrestling with a very personal decision of his own. After he gets involved with a young drifter on a mission of his own, Wield faces the choice of what to do about ‘coming out’ as gay. Dalziel’s way of protecting Wield in this novel shows that although he’s sometimes quite hard on his team members, he also does everything he can to protect them.

We see that same protectiveness in Andrea Camilleri’s The Dance of the Seagull. Vigàta Inspector Salvo Montalbano is faced with an awful task when one of his people Guiseppe Fazio goes missing. After a little digging, Montalbano discovers that Fazio was working on a very dangerous case involving smuggling, the Mob and some extremely ruthless people. The only way to really find out what’s happened to Fazio is to pick up the trail Fazio left and follow it, so that’s what Montalbano does. To say much more would come closer than I like to ‘spoiler land,’ so I won’t. But I can say that the plot ends up involving murder, kidnapping, and a really close look at how much Montalbano cares about and wants to protect his team members and their families.

Another part of leading a team successfully is showing faith in the team members and listening to what they say, rather than dictating. That’s not easy to do because ultimately, the leader is responsible for an investigation. But you don’t inspire loyalty and motivation if you don’t listen to the team. That’s what Martin Edwards’ DCI Hannah Scarlett does, and it serves her well. When she first takes over the Cumbria Constabulary’s Cold Case Review Team in The Coffin Trail, she’s trying to find her way in her new leadership role but as time goes by, she learns to combine taking the lead with paying attention to the team. In The Hanging Wood for instance, the team investigates the twenty-year-old disappearance of Callum Payne and sudden death of his sister Orla. The case involves family history in the Keswick area of the Lake District, and Scarlett knows that DC Maggie Eyre knows the area’s history. Eyre is a ‘farm girl,’ born and raised in the area and is familiar with all of the local families. So one morning on the way to the police station, Scarlett taps Eyre’s knowledge even though she’s ‘only a constable,’ and learns some important information.

Effective team leaders also support and nurture their team members’ talents. That’s what we see in Robert Gott’s The Holiday Murders. In that novel, which takes place in 1943, Melbourne DI Titus Lambert and Sgt. Joe Sable are called to the scene of the vicious double murders of John Quinn and his son Xavier. They’re just beginning the investigation process when there’s another equally brutal murder. In the meantime, there’s a suspected resurgence of a Nazi-sympathiser group, and some evidence suggests that the murders may be connected with that group. But there are other possibilities too, so the team has its work cut out for it as the saying goes. The Homicide team is understaffed and underfunded due to the war, so Lambert has to get as much as he can from the people available to him. He sees in Sable an inexperienced but skilled cop and gives him several opportunities to show what he can do. What’s more, he does the same for Constable Helen Lord when he requests that she join the team. He notices very quickly that she’s an excellent detective and in fact, tells Sable he can learn a lot from her. And this is at a time when the few female constables that there were, were little more than stenographers in uniform. Lambert expects a lot from his team members but he treats them both with respect and supports them. Little wonder they’re willing to take the risks they need to take for this case.

And that’s the thing about real leaders. They motivate their team members to be their best, to work hard, and to deal with the dirty, gritty, ugly and sometimes very dangerous job that police work is. I’ve only mentioned a few examples here. How do your favourite fictional cops lead?

ps  The ‘photo is of a very talented team of Aboriginal dancers whose work I was privileged to see when I was in Darwin. It takes real skill to lead a dance troupe this good, and their leader showed that skill.



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Animals’ Year of the Guru.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Håkan Nesser, Martin Edwards, Reginald Hill, Robert Gott