Category Archives: Henning Mankell

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

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

I Make Such Pretty Speeches*

SpeechesDo you feel comfortable speaking in public? No? Well if you don’t, you’re not alone. The most common fear, so we’re told, is the fear of speaking in public. But the fact is that nearly all of us have to make a presentation, give a speech or in some other way speak in public at least sometimes. You might think that sleuths, both real and fictional, wouldn’t have to do this but they do. In fact, the ability to speak comfortably in public can make a real difference in a case even if it doesn’t lead to major clues.

In Henning Mankell’s Faceless Killers for instance, Ystad police inspector Kurt Wallander and his team have a very difficult case on their hands. Johannes and Maria Lövgren have been brutally attacked on their rural farm. Johannes is dead, but Maria lives long enough to say the word foreign before she too dies. There’s a lot of simmering resentment against foreigners in Sweden and this lurid case will not help matters at all. In fact it leads to another death. So Wallander has to do the best he can to put out the proverbial flames in all of his public comments. He doesn’t relish the prospect of making public speeches; he’d rather be solving the case. But if he doesn’t talk to the press, the anti-immigration hysteria will only get worse, and so will the perception that the police aren’t doing anything to solve the murders. So a couple of  times in this novel, Wallander has to update the media on what the team is doing and at the same time discount the theory that the only solution to the case is to go after foreigners and immigrants.

We see a similar use of public speaking skill in Jørn Lier Horst’s Dregs.  When the gruesome discovery of a left foot clad in a training shoe is made near the Norwegian town of Stavern, Inspector William Wisting and his team are put on the case. Soon afterwards, another foot is discovered. Then there’s another discovery. Soon, there are several theories about the deaths. One is that a twisted kind of killer is at loose, and that of course makes the locals very uneasy. So one of the jobs that the police have to accomplish is to reassure everyone that people are safe, and that the police are doing everything possible to find out what happened to the victims To that end, Wisting has to give more than one public speech to the press. He’s hardly frightened of doing so, but he is concerned about giving the right impression. So he thinks carefully about what he’s going to tell the media, and he considers his presentations before he gives them. In order to try to find out whom the feet might belong to, Wisting’s team looks at all of the people reported missing in the last year. As it turns out, most of them come from the same elder care home, so the team starts to focus its investigation there. What’s more, most of the people have a connection that goes back to the days of World War II, so there is a possibility that these deaths are connected to some long-ago events. Wisting’s public speaking doesn’t solve the crimes, but it does keep people calm enough to let the police do their jobs.

There’s quite a lot of public speaking in Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn series. Kilbourn is a political science expert and an academician. So of course as a professor she does her share of public speaking in class, at conferences and so on. But it goes further than that. As the series featuring her goes on, she gets a position at NationTV on a political discussion show. And in A Killing Spring, it’s that forum that allows her to unsettle the killer of a colleague Reed Gallagher enough for that person to admit guilt. She arranges to make it clear to the killer that she knows what happened to Gallagher, and it’s very interesting to see how she uses the very public nature of NationTV to do so. This series also shows how dangerous public speaking can be. Perhaps I shouldn’t mention this in case some of you are really nervous about speaking to an audience but in Deadly Apperances, the first of the Joanne Kilbourn novels, her friend Androu ‘Andy’ Boychuk is poisoned during an important political speech. Trust me, though; poisoning isn’t common during speeches. Really. It’s not.

One of the hardest things to do – even harder really than simply speaking in public – is to be funny in public. Standup comedians have to do ‘double duty.’ They have to be comfortable speaking in public and they have to think of material that will keep people laughing. That’s what Alan Orloff’s Channing Hayes faces in Orloff’s Last Laff series. The Last Laff is a comedy club in Northern Virginia that’s co-owned by Hayes and Artie Worsham. In Killer Routine, one of the comics Heather Dempsey disappears just before she’s supposed to do her routine. At first it looks as though she got too nervous at the last moment and simply fled. But Hayes doesn’t think so. Heather is the sister of Hayes’ fiancée Lauren Dempsey, who was killed in a tragic car accident, so he feels a special need to find Heather and see that she’s all right. It turns out though that he’s not the only one looking for Heather. She’s been keeping some secrets of her own, and Hayes will have to look more closely into her life if he’s going to find out what happened to her. At the same time, he’s been battling back from that same car wreck that killed his fiancée. He’s had to deal with guilt, grief, physical wounds and more, so he’s been very uncomfortable about going on stage again. This novel gives an interesting look at what it’s like for a nervous comic to take (or re-take) the stage.

Even mystery novelists have to do their share of speaking in public. Just ask Martin Canning, whom we meet in Kate Atkinsons’s One Good Turn. He’s a crime fiction writer who’s scheduled to appear as part of a panel at the Edinburgh Arts Festival. Canning isn’t much of a one at all for public speaking. He’d rather live in the dream world he’s created with his novels than in the real one most of the time. But his agent has convinced him that he’ll benefit greatly from the publicity that comes from making public speeches. So he agrees to go. When he gets to Edinburgh, Canning witnesses a car accident between a blue Honda and silver Peugeot. Both drivers get out of their cars and within seconds they’re arguing. Then, the driver of the Honda wields a baseball bat and tries to attack Paul Bradley, the Peugeot driver. Canning, who’s never done a courageous thing in his life, throws his computer case at the Honda driver and saves Bradley’s life. Feeling duty-bound to be sure Bradley is safe, Canning accompanies him to the local hospital. That’s how Canning gets drawn into a case of murder, deception and theft. In the light of the rest of the story, joining in a panel of crime writers, even in public, is not so scary…

But many people do find public speaking quite difficult. Do you? Which novels have you read where it plays a role?



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from James V. Monaco and Mack Gordon’s I Can’t Begin to Tell You.


Filed under Alan Orloff, Gail Bowen, Henning Mankell, Jørn Lier Horst, Kate Atkinson

Well, Life on the Farm is Kinda Laid Back*

FarmsErm… Not always. I didn’t grow up on a farm, but I did grow up near some of the most fertile land in the U.S. so farms were a big part of the scenery. And if you stop to think about it, farming is a fairly important part of life whether you live anywhere near farm country or not. Besides the delicious fresh food, one of the best things about farms from my perspective (I have never claimed to have a psychologically well-adjusted view ;-) ) is that they make terrific settings for murder mysteries. They are filled with good hiding places for bodies, and farm communities tend to be smaller and more close-knit than some other communities, so there are all kinds of opportunities for murder motives. And then there’s the fact that some farms are isolated, so all sorts of things can happen there…

The farm belonging to Rowley Cloade figures in Agatha Christie’s Taken at the Flood (AKA There is a Tide). Cloade is trying to manage the farm in the financially straitened years during and immediately after World War II and he’s just getting by. He’s not as worried about money as some farmers are though because his wealthy uncle Gordon Cloade has always promised to take care of the family financially. Then, to everyone’s shock, Gordon Cloade marries a young widow Rosaleen Underhay. Before he can alter his will to protect his family, Cloade is tragically killed in a bomb blast. Now Rosaleen is set to inherit all of her husband’s considerable fortune, leaving his family with nothing. Then a stranger calling himself Enoch Arden comes to the area. He drops hints that Rosaleen’s first husband didn’t die as she’d always said but is alive. If that’s true then she can’t inherit. So the Cloades have every interest in finding out whether Arden’s story is true. When he is killed one night, Rowley Cloade and the rest of his family are caught up in both a family squabble and a murder investigation. Hercule Poirot has already heard the story of Cloade’s marriage and of Rosaleen’s first husband, so when two members of the Cloade family approach him to investigate, he’s interested in doing so.

In Ngaio Marsh’s Died in the Wool, New Zealand MP Flossie Rubrick finds out just how deadly farms can be. She goes to an isolated sheep pen on her husband’s farm to prepare an important speech, but doesn’t return. Three weeks later, her body turns up inside a bale of wool. Rubrick’s nephew writes to Inspector Roderick Alleyn asking him to investigate and since this could very well involve matters of national security Alleyn travels to New Zealand to look into the case. When he arrives, Alleyn gets to know the various members of the victim’s family and he finds out that more than one member had a good reason to want her dead. In the end, the murder turns out to be related to an important secret that Rubrick had discovered about one family member in particular.

Henning Mankell’s Faceless Killers also shows how deadly farms can be. Johannes Lövgren and his wife Maria have a small farm not far from Ystad. One night they are brutally murdered. Ystad detective Kurt Wallander and his team are called in immediately. It’s too late to save Johannes, but Maria lives for a short time. She recovers consciousness just long enough to say the word foreign before she too dies. There is already simmering anti-immigration sentiment in the area and when the press learns what Maria Lövgren said just before she died, the situation gets even more inflamed and another murder is committed. Now Wallander has to deal with multiple murders as well as the threat of more violence. This case turns out to be simpler than it seems on the surface and one of the clues to the case turns out to be on the farm.

Linda Castillo’s series featuring police chief Kate Burkholder takes place in and around the Amish farming community of Painters Mill, Ohio. In Sworn to Silence, we learn that Burkholder was a member of the Amish community herself until she left it, for very good reasons, sixteen years earlier. Shortly after her return, the body of a young girl is found in a snowy field on a farm belonging to Isaak and Anna Stutz. Then another body is discovered. And another. These murders turn out to be connected to the reason that Burkholder left Painters Mill in the first place, so if she’s gong to catch the killer, Burkholder is also going to have to confront her own past. Besides the murder investigation, this series also gives readers a look at Amish farms and life in an Amish community.

Still interested in Amish farms? I don’t usually discuss films very much on this blog, but do see Peter Weir’s 1985 film Witness. It’s a suspenseful mystery and much of it takes place in the Amish community of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. In my opinion (so feel free to differ with me if you do), it’s an excellent portrayal of the Amish lifestyle as well as a solid mystery. Oh, and did I mention it features both Harrison Ford and Viggo Mortensen?? ;-)

Oh, right. Farms. ;-)   Farmland turns out to be very important in Patricia Stoltey’s The Prairie Grass Murders. Former Vietnam veteran Willie Grisslejon pays a visit to the Illinois farming community where he grew up. He discovers the body of an unknown man in a field and tries to notify the local sheriff. That’s when he’s locked up as a vagrant and ordered to have a psychiatric evaluation. Willie calls his sister Sylvia Thorn, who at the time of this novel is a Florida judge, and she travels to Illinois to arrange for her brother’s release. When Willie insists on returning to the site where he found the body, they find that it has disappeared and there’ve been obvious attempts to cover up any trace of the dead man’s existence. Now Sylvia and Willie get involved in a mystery involving land disputes, corruption and greed – and a farm that seems to be the focus of a lot of what’s going on. Much of the novel takes place in the beautiful prairie farmland of Illinois.

In Martin Edwards’ The Hanging Wood, we meet Orla Payne, who works at St. Herbert’s, a residential library in the Lake District. Twenty years earlier, her brother Callum disappeared and was never found, but Orla has always believed he was murdered. She wants DCI Hannah Scarlett and her Cold Case Review team to investigate, but at first Scarlett doesn’t take her request seriously. And it’s hard to blame Scarlett for her reluctance. Orla Payne is unstable at the best of times and when she contacts Scarlett she’s been drinking so Scarlett doesn’t make it a priority. Then, Orla Payne’s body is discovered buried in a silo on Lane End Farm. There’s no way to tell at first whether she was murdered or committed suicide, so now, Scarlett and her team have a very new case to solve as well as the cold case of Callum Payne’s disappearance. With help from Oxford historian Daniel Kind, Scarlett discovers the truth about the farm, the history of the area and its families, and what really happened to Orla and Callum Payne.

Farming is a way of life for a lot of people and farms are an important part of the economy. They’re also really interesting settings for murder. I know I haven’t mentioned all of the great farm-related mysteries out there (for instance, I’m only getting acquainted with Nelson Brunanski’s Saskatchewan prairie/farmland novels, so I’m not really equipped to comment on them yet). Which ones have you enjoyed?



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from John Denver’s Thank God I’m a Country Boy.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Henning Mankell, Linda Castillo, Martin Edwards, Nelson Brunanski, Ngaio Marsh, Patricia Stoltey

Where do We Go From Here, Now That All of the Children Are Growin’ Up*

AgeingParentsAn excellent post from Bernadette at Reactions to Reading has got me thinking about one of the most fundamental changes in our society in recent decades: people are living longer. Go ahead, check out Bernadette’s post. I’ll wait. You really should follow her superb blog if you’re a crime fiction fan.

…Back now? Thanks! Today it’s a fact of life that people routinely live into their 80’s and beyond. And if you add to that the ageing of the ‘Baby Boomers,’ it all means that many, many working adults have to negotiate completely new relationships with their ageing parents. Most 60-plus folks don’t want to be ‘put out to pasture.’ Yes, they may be less physically fit than they were but that doesn’t mean they want to be left on life’s sidelines. Most of them want to do things with their lives and for the most part, they can. At the same time it’s hard to escape the fact that ageing brings with it physical and other challenges. For their part, adult children have to learn to see their parents differently. Yes, they are still ‘Mum and Dad,’ but they are more vulnerable in some ways. At the same time, any adult child of an ageing parent can tell you that parents don’t want to be condescended to, ‘hovered over,’ or ‘managed.’ And one can’t blame them. They are still mature adults. It’s an entirely new world out there for adult children and their parents and because it’s a relatively recent phenomenon, we aren’t always really sure how to handle it. But it is a reality so of course we see it in crime fiction too.

Just so you know, this isn’t going to be a post about elderly sleuths. Not really. There are plenty of them though and if you’re looking for some ideas, please feel free to email me (margotkinberg(at)gmail(dot)com) and I’ll try to help. But we do see a lot of adult child/elderly parent relationships in crime fiction.

Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander faces exactly this kind of challenge. He’s a busy police inspector in the town of Ystad. As it is he has a somewhat troubled relationship with his father because they are in some ways very different people (fans will know though that they also have some eerie similarities). Wallander’s father for instance never wanted him to be a cop and in that way he’s very disappointed with his son. As the series begins (with Faceless Killers), Wallander is facing life on his own after his wife Mona left him. He’s also involved in a very difficult and complex murder investigation when an elderly couple is found murdered at their farm. He also has to negotiate a relationship with his father which isn’t easy to do. On the one hand, the two aren’t close. On the other, Wallander is concerned about his father, who lives alone and doesn’t take care of himself. The way Wallander tries to balance visiting his father and doing his best as a son with his own busy life forms an important thread through some of the Wallander novels. So does the tricky balance of trying to respect what his father wants while at the same time acknowledging the fact that his father can’t take care of himself any more.

Elizabeth Spann Craig’s Red Clover is the chief of police of the small town of Bradley, North Carolina. In general the town isn’t what you’d call crime-ridden but his job, his wife Elaine and their son Jack keep him busy. Red loves his mother Myrtle, a retired English teacher who now writes a column for the local newspaper. But he has his own ideas about what her retirement ought to be like. He envisions her as volunteering at the local church, watching her TV shows and in general, relaxing and enjoying retirement. Myrtle on the other hand is still very much interested in life. She doesn’t want to be ‘put out to pasture’ and she certainly doesn’t want to be ‘managed.’ So in Pretty is as Pretty Dies she completely ignores her son’s pleas to stay out of the investigation when Parke Stockard is murdered. Stockard is a malicious and spiteful real estate developer whom no-one exactly mourns when her body is found in the church. Myrtle can’t resist the chance to find out who the killer is, if for no other reason than that she wants to prove that she can still hold her own in life. Her relationship with her son is an important thread through these novels.

Elizabeth George’s Sergeant Barbara Havers has a very difficult relationship with her mother. Havers is a busy police officer whose job requires odd hours and lots of time. Her mother however has been diagnosed with dementia and can’t live very easily on her own. And yet Havers’ mother wants to live in the house she’s always had. She doesn’t want to be ‘managed,’ either. So Havers starts out with looking for a caregiver for her mother. That works well enough at first but as her mother’s condition deteriorates things get more difficult. In For the Sake of Elena, Havers has to balance some difficult choices about her mother with an equally-difficult investigation into the death of Elena Weaver, who was a student at Cambridge when she was murdered during her morning run. In this novel there’s a really interesting and powerful discussion of what it’s like to be an adult child who has to take painful decisions that often lead to guilt. We also see how difficult those choices can be from a logistical standpoint, to say nothing of the finances involved.

Domingo Villar’s Vigo police inspector Leo Caldas has a somewhat easier time working out a relationship with his father. Caldas’ father is still in fairly good health and is living out something he’s wanted to do since the death of his wife. He’s a vintner who’s developed his skill to the point where he’s making some decent wine. So Caldas doesn’t (yet) have to deal with difficult decisions about care for his father, or managing his father’s financial matters. But it’s still a somewhat delicate relationship at times. Caldas’ father loves his son and wants him to be well and take care of himself. And yet he knows that Caldas is an adult who doesn’t want his parents managing his life. For his part Caldas knows that his father is getting older and won’t be able to manage the vineyard alone indefinitely. He gets concerned about his father living alone and trying to manage things without a lot of help. And yet he also knows that his father wouldn’t consider moving to Vigo – the pace of life is too fast for him there. Caldas’ interactions with his father form a really fascinating part of this series (at least in my opinion).

One of the fictional adult child/older parent relationships I like best (so do feel free to differ with me if you do) is the relationship between Tarquin Hall’s Delhi private investigator Vishwas ‘Vish’ Puri and his mother Mummy-ji. Puri loves his mother and treats her with the respect that a ‘properly brought up’ son should. It’s obvious that he cares very much about her. At the same time though, he wants her to live the ‘typical’ (if there is one) life of an ageing, retired woman. He most certainly doesn’t want her getting involved in any investigation. That however doesn’t suit Mummy-ji at all. And as we learn in The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing she’s quite an able detective. In that novel she and her daughter-in-law Rumpi (Puri’s wife) attend a ‘kitty party’ where all of the guests put money into a kitty. A winner’s name is drawn and that guest takes home all of the money. During this particular party, a thief steals the kitty. But Mummy-ji finds a very clever way to identify the culprit. Mummy-ji lives her life exactly as she chooses without appearing to do so and the way Puri deals with that is an important ongoing thread through this series. So is their overall relationship.

There’s also a terrific depiction of an adult child/older parent relationship in Anthony Bidulka’s series featuring Saskatoon private investigator Russell Quant. For as long as Quant can remember his Ukrainian mother Kay has lived on the family farm in rural Saskatchewan. His relationship with her has always gone by certain ‘rules,’ but those ‘rules’ change in Flight of Aquavit when she decides to spend Christmas with him instead of with either of his siblings. The two hadn’t been very close but they are re-introduced to each other when she moves in for a few weeks. On the one hand Kay wants to take care of her son. She also doesn’t want to be beholden to him. So she cooks, cleans and so on. On the other she has her own ideas about what counts as ‘a decent meal’ and what counts as ‘clean’ and they aren’t always the same as Quant’s are. For his part, he suddenly finds himself in the position of being responsible for his mother’s well-being in a way he never was before. It’s clear that they love each other but their relationship has to be re-negotiated as the series goes on.

Gone are the days when most people died in their 60’s. Today adult children and their parents have to decide how they’ll work out their relationships. It’s an ongoing process and there aren’t a lot of ‘rules’ for how it should be done. That’s what makes it so challenging and so interesting.


Thanks Bernadette  for the inspiration. I know your post wasn’t exactly about ageing parents and their adult children but as always, you got me thinking. I’m grateful.



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Alan Parson Project’s Games People Play.


Filed under Anthony Bidulka, Domingo Villar, Elizabeth George, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Henning Mankell, Tarquin Hall