Category Archives: Jacqueline Winspear

Gotta Go Back in Time*

Historical NovelsA very interesting recent blog post discussion has got me thinking about what really counts as an historical crime novel. You might think at first glance that that’s an easy question to answer. But it’s not as easy as you might think. Let me use a few examples to show you what I mean.

As Ellis Peters, Dame Edith Pargeter created one of the best-known historical crime fiction series, the Cadfael novels. Those novels take place in 11th Century Britain and many of them are set in and near fictional Shrewsbury Abbey. I think most people would agree that these novels ‘count’ as historical fiction. They weren’t written during that century, and that time period was a very long time ago. This one’s a fairly easy call.

So, I think, is Ariana Franklin’s Mistress of the Art of Death series. Those novels take place in Medieval England and feature Adelia Aguilar, who has journeyed from the University of Salerno in Naples to England at the request of the king. Again, that series was not written during the time in which it takes place, and that time was a very long time ago.

We could say the same of series such as Peter Tremayne’s Sister Fidelma series, which takes place in 7th Century Ireland, or C.J. Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake series, which takes place during the reign of King Henry VIII. There’s also Michael Jecks’ Medieval Murder series. All of these are easy to put into the category of ‘historical’ because they take place a very long time ago, and they weren’t written at that time. I’m quite certain you could think of many more series that fall into this category than I ever could.

Of course, there are lots of series that take place more recently than that, but are still generally considered historical. For instance, both Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher series and Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series take place in the 1920’s. While that puts them within the 20th Century, it’s still not that far from a hundred years ago, and most people consider that long enough ago, if I may put it that way, to be considered historical. There are lots of other series too – more than I have space for here – that fall into this category.

Even novels and series that take place more recently than the 1920’s ‘count’ as historical for many people. Just as a few examples, there’s Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series (pre-World War II – 1950’s Berlin), William Ryan’s Alexei Korolev series (pre-World War II Moscow) and Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce series (1950’s England). There are many, many other examples of this sort of series too.

So far, so good. I think most people would agree that these series are historical crime fiction series. But as we get closer to modern times, it’s a little bit more difficult I think to make the distinction between what does and what doesn’t ‘count’ as an historical series.

For example, David Whish-Wilson’s Frank Swann series takes place in 1970’s Perth.  If you were alive during those years, you might not be so quick to think of these novels as ‘historical.’ The same is true of Colin Cotterill’s Dr. Siri Paiboun series. That one also takes place during the 1970’s, which for a lot of people doesn’t seem so long ago.

And then there’s James W. Fuerst’s Huge, which takes place in 1980’s New Jersey. It’s historical in the sense that it wasn’t written at the time. And if you give the term ‘historical’ some latitude, you probably count it that way. But if you remember the 1980’s, maybe it seems more current. This one’s not quite so clear.

Even more difficult to categorise are series such as Angela Savage’s Jayne Keeney series. Those novels take place in late-1990’s Thailand. On the one hand, it’s not the late 1990’s any more. And the novels weren’t published during that time. So in that sense these novels are historical. But the late 1990’s wasn’t that long ago (or perhaps that’s just my view…). Perhaps not enough time has passed to consider these stories historical.

As you can see, this isn’t as easy a question to resolve as it seems on the surface. Some series and novels fall quite easily into the ‘historical’ category. But for others, it really depends on what you call ‘history.’ Is a novel that takes place two years ago historical?

What’s your view of this? How long ago does a series have to take place for you to consider it ‘historical?’

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Huey Lewis and the News’ Back in Time.

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Filed under Alan Bradley, Angela Savage, Ariana Franklin, C.J. Sansom, David Whish-Wilson, Edith Pargeter, Ellis Peters, Jacqueline Winspear, James W. Fuerst, Kerry Greenwood, Michael Jecks, Peter Tremayne, Philip Kerr, William Ryan

Something About You, Baby, Really Knocks Me Off My Feet*

Mysterious SleuthIn general, crime fiction fans want their sleuths to be believable. Otherwise it’s very difficult to ‘buy’ a storyline or the protagonist and that of course is practically guaranteed to pull a reader out of a novel. But it can also be interesting if a sleuth is just a little enigmatic, or has at least some air of mystery. It’s hard to draw a character like that without sacrificing credibility and humanity. But a touch of mystery can make a sleuth a very interesting character and keep readers wanting to know more.

One of the classic examples of this kind of character is GK Chesterton’s Father Paul Brown. On the one hand, there are certainly things that make him a very real, credible character. He eats, he drinks and he sleeps as we all do. In many ways, he is a completely real person. On the other hand, there is something enigmatic about him. We don’t really know much about his background, and he has a way that’s hard to put in words of finding out the truth about cases. He certainly pays attention to facts and evidence. But he understands people at a different sort of level.

One of Agatha Christie’s recurring characters is Mr. Harley Quin. We don’t really know where he comes from or much about his background. His usual explanation for being in a given place at a given time is that he is ‘just passing through.’ There’s a real air of mystery about him, but at the same time, he is real enough. He eats, he drinks, he talks as other people do and so on. In Christie’s short story The Harlequin Tea Set for instance, he just happens to be passing by a village where Mr. Satterthwaite (another Christie ‘regular’) has stopped for tea. Satterthwaite is on his way to visit an old friend and when he encounters Quin, he tells him about the family. It turns out that Quin’s input is very useful when Satterthwaite’s friend suddenly dies.

Fred Vargas’ Commissaire Adamsberg has a bit of mystery about him too. In some ways he’s quite down-to-earth. He’s originally from the Pyrenees, and as the series goes on, we learn a bit about his background, which is real enough. He eats, drinks, sleeps, and so on. But in some ways, there is a little something different about him. He doesn’t solve cases in exactly the way other police officers do. It’s not that he ignores evidence (which he doesn’t), but he gets a certain sense from people that guides him as much as anything else does. As we learn in The Chalk Circle Man, he sometimes wishes he didn’t think that way, but as he puts it:

 

‘What I’m telling you about is something that I can’t help. In fact, it gives me enormous trouble in my life. If only I could be wrong about someone once in a while, about whether he was an upright citizen or not, or sad, or intelligent, or untruthful, or troubled, or indifferent, or dangerous, or timid…’

 

Over time, Adamsberg’s colleagues get used to his ability to sense things about people. They see that although he doesn’t go about cases in the way they do (and some of them are quite pointed about that), he gets to the truth.

That’s also the case with Anne Zouroudi’s Hermes Diaktoros. In many ways, he’s quite a real person. He smokes, eats, drinks, has likes and dislikes, and those things make him credible. But at the same time, he’s a little mysterious too. We don’t really know much about where he comes from or his background. We’re not even really sure how he gets involved in cases. He generally says he ‘comes from Athens’ to investigate, but he isn’t specific about whom he works for or why he takes an interest in a given case. Here’s what he says about it in The Messenger of Athens:

 

‘As for who I am, I’ve made no claims. So choose for yourself. Perhaps I am a mere philanthropist. Or maybe I am a man of means who simply enjoys meddling in the lives of the less fortunate. Perhaps the Police Authority employs me to combat corruption in our remote police forces. Maybe I am all those things. Or none. Maybe I was sent here by a higher authority still.’

 

That said, though, Diaktoros is a very real person who solves cases by gathering information, talking to witnesses and so on. He doesn’t solve cases magically.

Neither does Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs. On the one hand, she is quite real. We know her history (she’s the daughter of costermonger Frankie Dobbs) and we know how she comes to open her own detective agency. Like everyone else she goes about her daily life and she’s very much a real person. And yet there is something about her that is a little mysterious. That’s also true of her mentor Maurice Blanche. Blanche is a psychologist and doctor, but he’s got wide-ranging interests, and he seems to have a real intuition about people. You couldn’t call it being psychic, and (in my opinion anyway) that makes his intuition all the more interesting. We don’t know very much about his personal background or life either. He’s taught Maisie a lot of what he knows about ‘reading’ people, about using one’s intuition and about sensing things. And she has learned well. That aspect of her makes her just enigmatic enough to be interesting without making her hard to ‘buy’ as a character.

Sleuths who have that certain air of mystery about them can add a lot to a series, especially as we get to know them bit by bit. That bit of mystery can make the reader all the more interested in the sleuth. At the same time, it has to be balanced with credibility. Sleuths one can’t imagine actually existing can pull the reader out of the story. What do you think? Do you like your sleuths to be a little enigmatic, or do you prefer them to be completely straightforward?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Journey’s La Do Da.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Anne Zouroudi, Fred Vargas, G.K. Chesterton, Jacqueline Winspear

Why Keep the Brakes On? Let’s Misbehave!*

1920'sWhat do you think of when you think of the 1920’s? Do you think of ‘flappers?’ Of Babe Ruth? Prohibition?  The growth of Hollywood? It was an action-packed decade, and so many things happened at that time that it’s no wonder it’s got such an appeal. There’s a certain mystique about art-deco and 1920’s style extravagance among other things. So it’s no wonder that the 1920’s is also a big part of crime fiction.

For one thing, many people argue that the Golden Age of crime fiction began to hit its stride in the 1920’s. And I’m sure that those of you who are Golden Age fans could list a large number of authors and books from that time – many more than I could. Let me just mention a few. Dorothy Sayers’ series featuring Lord Peter Wimsey debuted in 1923 with Whose Body?, in which Wimsey investigates the murder of an unknown man whose body is found in a bathtub. This plot thread ties in with embezzlement and another man who seems to have disappeared. In this novel, we see one of the hallmarks of the 1920’s – the class differences that still remained quite strong. Wimsey and his family are wealthy and privileged. They have access to all sorts of means that ‘ordinary’ people do not. And the theme of class differences is woven into more than one of Sayers’ novels. phryne-fisher-200x0

We also see those stark class differences in historical series. For instance, Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher series features Fisher, who was born to the working class but inherited a title and fortune. So she mixes and mingles in the highest social circles. And yet, we also see that not everyone has that sort of prosperity. In Cocaine Blues for instance, Fisher gets involved in cracking an illegal (and dangerous) abortion clinic for working-class girls and young women whose families don’t have the means to make it all quietly ‘go away’ safely.

The 1920’s were also a time of great waves of immigration, and not just to the United States. Travel was becoming easier and the Great War had uprooted millions of people. The resulting diversity was one of the major social changes of the era. But that immigration also resulted in quite a lot of ethnic and racial prejudice. We see that reflected in crime fiction of the era too. In Margery Allingham’s The Crime at Black Dudley for instance, a group of friends is gathered at Black Dudley, the home of academician Wyatt Petrie. During the course of this house party, Petrie’s uncle Gordon Crombie dies, and it looks very much as though his death is suspicious. One of the guests Albert Campion takes a hand in finding out the truth about the death and about a mysterious ritual that’s supposedly associated with the family living there. In the course of the novel, there are several ‘isms’ and offensive references to members of different groups. You’ll find those in lots of other crime fiction of that decade too.

For several reasons, the roles of women changed fundamentally during the 1920’s. Just as one example, between 1920 and 1929, voting rights were extended to include women in the Czech Republic, Sweden, the U.K., the U.S. and Belgium among other countries (Australia granted federal voting rights to women in 1902, but some states granted it earlier for state elections. Canadian women had full federal voting rights in 1918. Women had had full suffrage in New Zealand since 1893).  We see the changing status of women in a lot of crime fiction from and about that era. Certainly we see it in Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher series. Fisher is single and in no hurry to marry. She’s independent, liberated and although she certainly depends on her circle of friends, I’d say the word ‘demure’ hardly describes her.

We see that also in the work of Agatha Christie. Several of her female characters are independent, strong women. There’s Anne Beddingfeld from The Man in the Brown Suit; there’s Katherine Grey from The Mystery of the Blue Train; and there’s ‘Cinderella’ (giving away her real name would be giving away too much of the plot) from The Murder on the Links, just to name three. All of these women think for themselves. They’re not averse to falling in love, and they’re not ‘man haters.’ But all of them reflect the reality of that time that women were coming into their own, so to speak.

A lot of people associate the 1920’s with extravagant parties and hedonism and it was certainly there. We see a hint of that in Agatha Christie’s Dumb Witness (AKA Poirot Loses a Client). Hercule Poiriot and Captain Hastings investigate the death of Miss Emily Arundell, who supposedly died of liver failure, but has a group of relations desperate for her fortune. One of them is Theresa Arundell, a young ‘jet-setter’ who goes with a ‘party crowd,’ drinks heavily and so on. She’s not painted unsympathetically, but she is reckless.

And reckless is I think a good way to describe some aspects of that era. I’m not a psychologist, so I don’t know for sure why the 1920’s was such a time of reckless abandon for a lot of people but here’s my guess. World War I changed everything for everyone. The real threat of mortality (especially with the influenza pandemic that followed that war) made a lot of people decide to enjoy life while they could You see that in writing from the era (e.g. F. Scott Fitzgerald) and you see that theme of deep wounds from the Great War in some terrific historical mystery series too. May I suggest Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series, ‘Charles Todd’s’ Inspector Ian Rutledge series, and Carola Dunn’s Daisy Dalrymple series. You can also see it in Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles. In all of those novels and series, we get a sense of the privations of the war and the ‘flu pandemic. People wanted to forget it, to plunge into life and have fun while they could.

Of course there was plenty of violence during the 1920’s too. There was a lot of union unrest and the backlash from that. There was plenty of ugly, ugly racism, anti-Semitism, anti-immigration and political corruption and that too led to a lot of violence. And there was organized crime. There’s a trace of that rise in organized crime in Patricia Wentworth’s Grey Mask, in which Charles Moray returns to England after some time away only to find that his home has been taken over by a criminal gang and that the woman who broke his heart may be mixed up with it. And then there’s Jeffrey Stone’s Play Him Again. In that historical mystery, Matt ‘Hud’ Hudson is a ‘rum-runner’ – a smuggler of then-illegal alcohol who supplies Hollywood’s luminaries with ‘liquid fuel’ for their parties. When a friend of his is murdered, Hud goes after those responsible, including a very nasty crime gang that’s moved into the area. That novel also explores what Prohibition was like in the U.S. (and makes it clear why the law enforcing Prohibition was never going to be really successful).

I could go on and on about the 1920’s (Jazz, anyone? The Harlem Renaissance? The fashions!) Moira at Clothes in Books has done some great posts on the clothes and fashions of the era. Here’s just one example. But this one post doesn’t give me nearly enough space to talk about it all. The 1920’s was too influential a decade for that. So now it’s your turn. Does that era appeal to you? Which books and series from and about that era do you like? Help me please to fill the gaps I left.

 

ps. The pearls on the left in the top ‘photo are part of a long double strand of pearls that belonged to my grandmother. On the right is a double-strand necklace that belonged to my grandmother-in-law. Both are genuine vintage…   The other ‘photo is of the terrific Essie Davis, who portrayed Phryne Fisher in the very well-done (in my opinion, anyway) Australian series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. These episodes are adaptations of Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher novels and if you get the chance, I can recommend them. They aren’t of course 100% true to the novels, but very nicely done I think.

 

 

 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Cole Porter’s Let’s Misbehave.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Carola Dunn, Charles Todd, Dorothy Sayers, Jacqueline Winspear, Jeffrey Stone, Kerry Greenwood, Margery Allingham, Patricia Wentworth

In The Spotlight: Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs

In The Spotlight A-LHello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. World War I changed society in some fundamental and far-reaching ways. From the class system and the role of women to modern technology and medicine, everything changed as a result of that war. To get a real portrait of some of those changes, let’s take a closer look today at Jacqueline Winspear’s historical mystery Maisie Dobbs, the first in her Maisie Dobbs series.

As the novel begins, it’s 1929, and Maisie Dobbs has just set up shop as a private investigator. Dobbs served as a nurse during World War I and completed her university education after the war ended. Then she apprenticed with her mentor Maurice Blanche until she was ready to go off on her own. She’s only been in business for a month when she gets a visit from Christopher Davenham. He is concerned that his wife Celia may be having an affair and he wants Dobbs to follow her and find out whether she is faithful. Dobbs agrees and becomes familiar with Celia Davenham’s patterns of life. One day, she follows her quarry to a cemetery where she notices which grave Celia visits. She then strikes up an acquaintance with Celia by pretending to be the cousin of a fallen soldier who’s buried in the same cemetery. She finds out that the grave Celia is visiting is also that of a veteran and that gives her a piece of the puzzle. So does what she learns from Celia. Slowly she gathers the information she needs to find out the truth and report back to her client. She’s able to solve that case, but it leads her to another quite different one.

Some of the soldiers in the graveyard, including the one whose grave Celia was visiting, had been living at The Retreat, a refuge especially designed for World War I veterans who had suffered injuries that made it hard for them to function among ‘regular’ people. At first The Refuge was intended mostly for soldiers who’d suffered facial injuries. But gradually it has expanded to include soldiers with other injuries as well as soldiers with what used to be known as ‘shell shock’ and is now known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Dobbs discovers that James Compton, son of her former employer Lady Rowan Compton, is considering moving to The Retreat. Lady Rowan is concerned about this decision, and Dobbs agrees to investigate this soldiers’ home; she has some concerns of her own about it anyway. With help from her friend Billy Beale, whom she nursed at the front, Dobbs looks into what’s going on at The Retreat and finds out the truth about the home. Her investigation also gives her the impetus she needs to face a sad truth about her own life.

One very strong element in this novel is the way in which everything about society changed as a result of World War I. Before the war, there were very clear and strong differences among the classes and between the sexes. Maisie, for instance, is the daughter of costermonger Frankie Dobbs, so she is not a member of the ‘better’ class. She serves as a maid in Lady Rowan’s home until Lady Rowan sponsors her to go to university. When the war breaks out, everything changes. People from even the ‘best’ families, including Lady Rowan’s own family, go to war, endure wartime shortages, and so on. And women join the workforce in large numbers. Ten years after the war, Maisie Dobbs is an independent, educated woman starting out in what was primarily a man’s world, something that might very well not have happened but for the changes the war brought. You could argue that this war blurs the lines among classes and between the sexes, and Winspear shows that in many ways.

Another element in this novel is the terrible destruction the war brought with it. War is dirty, ugly and dangerous and leaves permanent scars. As we learn about The Retreat and the lives of the men who live there, we see two important things. One is how badly the war damaged those men. The other is how ill-prepared the country was, at least at first, to meet their needs. These former soldiers whose scars and wounds are not obvious are hailed as heroes. Those who have more significant wounds or whose scars are emotional have little waiting for them at home. They can’t ‘fit in’ in society and some of them can’t get beyond what happened during the war. There’s little treatment for these unfortunate veterans and many of them are left to get along as best they can.

Another crucial element in the story is the character of Maisie Dobbs herself. She’s bright, curious and reflective, and her intelligence and intuition are what bring her to the attention of the Lady Rowan in the first place. But she’s hardly perfect. For instance, there’s a piece of her past that she has a great deal of difficulty facing. That and the guilt she feels for not facing her past do hold her back. But she’s well-grounded, practical and humble without being falsely modest. It’s not hard to be on her side as she tries to negotiate the sometimes harsh new world the war left in its wake.

She isn’t the only interesting character either. There’s also her mentor Maurice Blanche, who has a medical background but is also interested in philosophy, psychology and many other fields. He’s somewhat enigmatic, but we learn enough about him to make him seem real. We find out gradually that he also does private investigation and it’s from him that Maisie learns the trade. Through him she also learns about meditation, psychology and human nature, among other things. As the novels in this series continue, Blanche serves as an advisor and guide, while at the same time acknowledging that his protégée will have to take her own decisions.

And then there’s Lady Rowan Compton, who from the beginning chooses not to fit into the limited set of roles set aside for women in her class at that time. She’s an educated suffragette, well-versed in politics and interested in just about everything. She takes an interest in Maisie when she finds out that Maisie is also intelligent and as well-read as a girl with her background could be, and much better-read than most. As the series goes on Lady Rowan remains a friend and benefactor.

The mystery in this novel – what’s going on at The Retreat – is interesting and believable. Its solution is very, very sad, but it’s also credible. So is the means by which Maisie finds out the truth. But honestly, the mystery is almost secondary to the history and atmosphere woven through the story. Winspear places the reader very effectively in the World War I and post-war eras, and that’s the real appeal of this book. So readers who prefer their crime fiction to focus only on the mystery at hand will be disappointed. But that sense of time and place are essential to the story and handled quite deftly.

The story’s timeline is handled in an interesting way. The story begins in 1929, and then flashes back to the years between 1910 and 1917 as we learn Maisie’s backstory. Then the novel returns to 1929. Readers who are uncomfortable with a timeline that’s not strictly chronological will be disappointed. That said though, it’s very easy to tell what happens when, and the reader (well, at least this reader) is not left confused about the storyline.

Maisie Dobbs tells the story of a fascinating, frightening and critical time in history. It raises some important issues without preaching about them, and it’s a believable mystery that features a likeable protagonist and some well-developed characters. But what’s your view? Have you read Maisie Dobbs? If you have, what elements do you see in it?

 

 
 

Coming Up On In The Spotlight

 

Monday 17 December/Tuesday 18 December – Project Nirvana – Stefan Tegenfalk

Monday 24 December/Tuesday 25 December – Betrayal – Karin Alvtegen

Monday 31 December/Tuesday 1 January – The Innocence of Father Brown – G.K. Chesterton

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Filed under Jacqueline Winspear, Maisie Dobbs

I’m In the Mood to Help You, Dude, You Ain’t Never Had a Friend Like Me*

benefactorsIt’s not always easy, especially for private investigators, to get started in ‘the business.’ They need to build a reputation and they need a solid financial footing. And that’s where having a benefactor or sponsor can be very handy. Benefactors provide financial support and very often they help spread the word about the sleuth, too and that can build a sleuth’s reputation and client base. There are a lot of examples of benefactors and sponsors in crime fiction, and it’s interesting to see that although they may remain in the background during an investigation, their influence can have a real impact.

Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot for instance is a highly successful private investigator and through the years, he’s made quite a lot of money. But it wasn’t always that way. In The Mysterious Affair at Styles, we learn that he came to England as a refugee from Belgium. He and some other Belgians were sponsored by Emily Inglethorp, a wealthy benefactor to whom Poirot feels a debt. So when she is poisoned, he is only too happy to undertake the task of finding out who killed her.

There’s another benefactor in Christie’s Mrs. McGinty’s Dead. That’s the story of the murder of a seemingly inoffensive charwoman. Her lodger James Bentley has been convicted of the crime, but Superintendent Spence doesn’t think Bentley is guilty. So he asks Poirot to look into the matter. Poirot agrees and travels to the village of Broadhinny where the murder occurred. It turns out that Mrs. McGinty found out more than was safe for her to know about one of Broadhinny’s residents and was killed to guarantee her silence. Several of the locals are keeping secrets and have a good motive for murder, so Poirot has his work cut out for him as the saying goes. In the meantime, Poirot’s friend detective novelist Ariadne Oliver is also in Broadhinny. She’s staying with up-and-coming playwright Robin Upward, who is adapting one of her novels for the stage. Upward is the adopted son of Laura Upward, and we soon learn that she is as much his sponsor and benefactor as she is anything else. It’s an interesting dynamic that runs through the story.

Sometimes a sleuth is also a benefactor. That’s the case with Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey. Wimsey is both wealthy and titled, and he has access to the highest of social circles. He uses that privilege to sponsor a number of people including Miss Katherine Climpson, who owns and runs a temporary agency. Miss Climpson’s employees certainly do their share of typing, filing and other clerical jobs. But unbeknownst to a lot of people, they also assist when Wimsey needs some extra help on one of his cases. For instance, in Strong Poison, Wimsey needs an important clue that can be found in the office of attorney Norman Urquhart. Rather than going to the office himself and asking openly for that clue, Wimsey arranges for Joan Murchison, one of Miss Climpson’s employees, to take a clerking job at the law office. She finds the clue that Wimsey needs and is therefore an important part of solving the case Wimsey’s working on, the poisoning murder of author Phillip Boyes. In this case, there’s a mutually-beneficial relationship between the benefactor and the person he sponsors.

Alexander McCall Smith’s Mma. Precious Ramotswe’s benefactor was her beloved father Obed Ramotswe. The two were devoted to each other and it was the sale of her father’s cattle after his death that gave Mma. Ramotswe the ‘seed money’ she needed to start her own detective agency. While her father didn’t play the classic ‘sponsor’ role of referring clients and supporting her business during its early days, he did support his daughter’s education. He also looked after her in the sense of wanting to make sure she could live independently. In this case there’s an admitted fine line between being a caring parent and being a benefactor but I still think Obed Ramotswe’s worth mentioning.

A more traditional example of a benefactor is Jacqueline Winspear’s Lady Rowan Compton. She and her husband Sir Julian are one of London’s wealthy ‘better’ families during the time just before and during World War I. In Maisie Dobbs, when we meet these characters, they take into their home thirteen-year-old Maisie Dobbs as a young maid. With help from Maurice Blanche, a friend of the Comptons, Lady Rowan learns that Maisie is extremely intelligent and has a great deal of potential. So Lady Rowan decides to sponsor Maisie. She arranges for the girl’s education, including university. She also helps Maisie get started as a private investigator after World War I. Blanche serves as Maisie’s mentor and teaches her ‘the business.’ But it’s Lady Rowan who serves as Maisie’s benefactor and as the series continues, Lady Rowan refers clients, spreads the word about Maisie’s business and in other ways supports her business.

Rebecca Cantrell’s Hannah Vogel is a journalist just before and during World War II. Although she earns a small amount of money for her work, it’s certainly not enough to conduct investigations. But in A Trace of Smoke she meets wealthy banker Boris Krause. Vogel had done an article on a serial rapist who attacked Krause’s daughter Trudi and that’s their first connection. But they soon develop a relationship. Among other things, Krause becomes Vogel’s benefactor when she begins to investigate the murder of her brother Ernst. That search for the truth leads Vogel into some very dangerous places, including the upper echelons of the swiftly-growing Nazi party, so Vogel has to take some serious risks. But Krause has the connections to help to help keep her safe, and he provides financial backing too. In Krause we see an interesting blend of benefactor/sponsor who also develops an intimate relationship with the sleuth.

And then there’s successful men’s clothier Anthony Gatt, who sponsors Anthony Bidulka’s Russell Quant. Gatt also serves as Quant’s personal mentor in a lot of ways, but in a very practical way, he supports Quant’s PI business. Gatt is extremely well connected; he knows everyone who is anyone in Saskatchewan and a lot of other places too. So he refers clients, he makes social connections for Quant, and a few times he provides a place for Quant to stay when he’s ‘on the road.’ Gatt doesn’t directly give money to Quant; his financial support is more subtle. But it’s definitely there.

Benefactors and sponsors don’t always broadcast the support they give. But it’s essential to those who have talent but not a lot of money. I’ve only mentioned a few fictional sponsors, so I’m sure I’ve left out some you like. Who are they?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s Friend Like Me.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alexander McCall Smith, Anthony Bidulka, Dorothy Sayers, Jacqueline Winspear, Rebecca Cantrell