Category Archives: Jill Edmondson

You’ll Learn Things You Never Knew You Never Knew*

Questioning AssumptionsOne of the real benefits (at least to me) of reading is that sometimes, what we read challenges our beliefs and invites us to re-think them. Books like that can be a little uncomfortable; it’s not always easy to question our own assumptions about life. But those books are valuable for just that reason. They challenge us to grow and to re-shape the way we think.

Everyone has a different list of authors, series and books that have had that effect – that have helped us to question what we ‘always knew.’ So your mileage, as the saying goes, will vary. But here are a few books and authors whose work has invited me to question what I always thought. And that’s a good thing.

Before I started reading the work of Deon Meyer, I always thought I knew what a thriller was (And I’m not talking here of espionage stories; that’s a different category): an action-packed, adrenaline-loaded book. The characters wouldn’t have a lot of depth and the plot might require some suspension of disbelief, but it could be a fun and exciting literary ride. Meyer’s work has taught me that really fine thrillers have well-drawn characters who act in credible ways. Well-written thrillers also have more depth to the plot than I’d thought before. I’m very glad to have learned that there’s a lot more to this sub-genre than I’d imagined.

I’d never thought of myself as a person who liked science fiction. I could appreciate some science fiction authors’ skilled writing, and there were some novels I liked. But as a genre? Not for me. Well… until a number of years ago when I read Isaac Asimov’s Elijah ‘Lije’ Baley series. Those novels are unquestionably science fiction. Yet they cross the line into crime fiction as well (for those unfamiliar with these novels, Baley is a New York police officer). And that fact tempted me to try the series. I’m very glad I did. I discovered that science fiction has a lot to offer. It invites us to speculate; it encourages us to think of solutions to real problems, and; it can be very well-written. Science fiction characters can be deep, human, and quite memorable, and the plots can be terrific. Just goes to show you how much I ‘knew’ before I read Asimov.

A similar thing happened with my assumptions about post-apocalyptic fiction. I never thought I’d enjoy it. I’m generally not one for that sort of bleak, sometimes despairing, story. So I’ve typically avoided it. Imagine my surprise when I read and enjoyed Alex Scarrow’s Last Light and Afterlight. Those novels take place in a world where the supply of oil has been cut off; so needless to say, it’s a very different world to the one we live in now. The story of how one family tries to make a life after this catastrophe was – surprise! – interesting and engaging, at least to me. There’s also Ben Winters’ trilogy featuring police detective Hank Palace. Imagine me, who ‘always knew’ exactly what post-apocalyptic fiction was about, drawn into a very real, human set of stories.

Does this all mean I’ll ‘click here to purchase’ every new adrenaline-loaded thriller, sci-fi or post-apocalypse novel? No. I’m still cautious about them and in general wouldn’t choose them first. But I am a lot more open to excellent stories told in those ways. Perhaps I can learn…

I’ve also learned about about different people and things that I always ‘knew’ about before. For example, my assumptions about the sex trade have been challenged in the last few years. I thought I knew ‘all about’ why people become commercial sex workers, and why other people hire them. I didn’t. It’s a complex business, and people get into it for a lot of different reasons. The people who engage in the trade are not all cut from the same proverbial cloth, and they don’t all have the same experiences. Work by Angela Savage (Behind the Night Bazaar), John Burdette (e.g. Bangkok 8), Timothy Hallinan (e.g. A Nail Through the Heart) and Jill Edmondson (Dead Light District and Frisky Business) have all invited me to question what ‘I always knew’ about that business.

There’s also the matter of what I always ‘knew’ about Native Americans and First Nations people. I had no idea how much I didn’t know and how much I wrongly assumed until I began to read the work of Tony Hillerman some years ago. I was invited to develop a whole new perspective on a group of people I only thought I understood. I felt the same way after reading Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series and Margaret Coel’s Vicky Holden/Fr. John O’Malley series. Oh, and there’s Scott Young’s novels and Stan Jones’, too. All of them have challenged my assumptions in a good way.

I could go on and on about things I’ve learned about history, other countries and so on that I always ‘knew’ before. I think you get the idea without that though. To me anyway, learning to question what I’ve always believed is one of the very good reasons for reading. What about you? Which novels and series have invited you to learn what you always ‘knew?’
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Stephen Schwartz and Alan Menken’s Colors of the Wind.

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Filed under Alex Scarrow, Angela Savage, Ben Winters, Craig Johnson, Deon Meyer, Isaac Asimov, Jill Edmondson, John Burdett, Margaret Coel, Scott Young, Stan Jones, Timothy Hallinan, Tony Hillerman

We Dress Our Days in Silken Robes*

SpasIf you’ve ever wanted a getaway day at a spa, you’re not alone. Day spas and resort spas are popular places to unwind and relax. And they offer all sorts of health and beauty treatments that people swear really make a difference. But if you think that spas are all peaceful and healthy, then perhaps you’re not a fan of crime fiction. Because plenty of crime fiction takes place in spas and spa-type resorts.

In Agatha Christie’s Hickory Dickory Dock (AKA Hickory Dickory Death), for instance, Hercule Poirot investigates a series of odd thefts and other goings-on at a student hostel. Poirot visits the place one evening and gets to meet some of the people who live there. When he recommends calling in the police, one of the residents Celia Austin confesses to several of the thefts. At first it looks as though the matter is solved. But two nights later, Celia dies of what turns out to be poison. Now Poirot and Inspector Sharpe are faced with a case of murder. It turns out that there’s more going on at the hostel than it seems on the surface. One part of the trail leads to Sabrina Fair, a salon and spa that’s owned in part by one of the hostel’s residents, so the police pay the place a visit. That trip doesn’t solve the murder or explain everything. But there is a clue there, and that visit gives readers a look at the inner workings of a spa.

Even though Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe rarely leaves his home, he makes an exception in Too Many Cooks. Wolfe has been invited to give the keynote address to Les Quinze Maîtres, a meeting of the world’s fifteen greatest chefs. The meeting is to take place at the exclusive Kanawha Spa in West Virginia, and Wolfe reluctantly allows himself to be persuaded to make the trip with Archie Goodwin. One evening, master chef Phillip Laszio is stabbed. Suspicion falls on another master chef Jerome Berin. But Wolfe doesn’t think he’s guilty. So despite all his determination to keep out of the matter, Wolfe and Archie Goodwin look into the case. Throughout the story, we see how an upmarket resort works, and how much work is put into making things look…effortless.

An upmarket spa is the setting for Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s My Soul to Take, and it isn’t a very restful one. Spa owner Jónas Júlíusson has hired Reykjavík attorney Thóra Gudmundsdóttir to represent him in a lawsuit he’s pursuing. He wants to sue the former owners of the land on which his spa is built, because he claims the land is haunted and the former owners never told him about it. Thóra doesn’t believe in ghosts, but she is interested in the fee. Besides, a stay in a posh spa is appealing. So she agrees to take the case. While she’s there, the body of another spa guest Birna Hálldorsdóttir is discovered on a beach not far from the resort. It doesn’t take much police investigation to learn that there was a relationship between the victim and Jónas Júlíusson. So he becomes a suspect in her killing. Now he asks Thóra to continue to continue to represent him, this time in the murder case. She agrees and looks into the death more closely. It turns out that several people in the area are keeping some dark secrets from the past, and that they have everything to do with the victim’s death.

In River Deep, Priscilla Masters introduces us to Shrewsbury Coroner Martha Gunn. As Coroner, she is responsible for investigating cases of sudden and violent deaths, homicides and deaths that occur in prison. So she and her team take the case when the body of an unknown man floats out of a basement after the Severn overflows its banks. The owner of the house James Humphreys claims not to know the dead man, and there seems no connection between the two. So the team will have to dig deeper into this case. At one point, Gunn decides to follow up on a particular lead. The person she wants to see works at a very upmarket spa, and Gunn wouldn’t mind taking a one-day break. But this person might recognise her as the coroner, so Gunn uses a carefully chosen outfit and some washable hair tint and a different sort of hairdo. That disguise is enough to let Gunn go to the spa and pursue that lead, although she’s nervous about being caught out. And her spa trip is luxurious, if risky.

Jill Edmondson’s Toronto PI Sasha Jackson pays a visit to a spa in Blood and Groom. Christine Arvisais hires Jackson to find out who killed her former fiancé Gordon Hanes. She tells Jackson that Hanes’ family and friends blame her for the murder, but she’s innocent and wants to clear her name. Jackson takes the case and starts looking into the victim’s background and other connections. In doing so she finds that there’s more than one suspect. But she doesn’t automatically take her client’s innocence for granted. So she looks into Arvisais’ background too. Health and beauty spas are perfect places to find out gossip about people, so Jackson treats herself to a day at the same spa that Arvisais and her mother use. While she’s there she learns something that puts her client into an entirely different light. It doesn’t solve the murder, but it’s an important piece of information.

And then there’s Anthony Bidulka’s Sundowner Ubuntu. In that novel, Clara Ridge hires Saskatoon PI Russell Quant to find her son Matthew, whom she hasn’t seen in twenty years. Quant wants to begin locally, but learns that the trail leads to the Chobe Lodge spa in South Africa, where Matthew’s boyfriend Kevan is a masseur. At first Quant’s reluctant to take a potentially dangerous trip like that. Among other concerns, he wonders whether the South African police might be better equipped to handle the matter. But his client insists and is willing to pay, so he he makes his plans. It turns out that Quant’s first instincts are right; this is a dangerous trip and the Chobe Lodge spa is anything but a restful place to relax in the proverbial lap of luxury. And when Quant finds out the truth about Matthew’s disappearance, the case takes on a whole new dimension.

See what I mean? Spas can be refreshing and relaxing. They can pamper clients as few other places can, and lots of people find them irresistible. But safe? Erm….not always. So if your weekend plans include a stay at a spa, do be careful won’t you? You never know what could happen… ;-)

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s I’ve Loved These Days.  

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Bidulka, Jill Edmondson, Priscilla Masters, Rex Stout

I Need to Know*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

On Another Note

 

Malaysia Airlines Plane

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

I Don’t Want Clever Conversation*

EuphemismsA very interesting post from B.C. Stone at The Vagrant Mood has got me thinking about euphemisms. Oh, and before I go on, you’ll want to go pay a visit to The Vagrant Mood. It’s a fantastic resource for all sorts of thoughts on writing, classic novels, film and art. Trust me.

Now, back to euphemisms. There are a lot of topics people may feel uncomfortable talking about, and euphemisms can help people discuss them without feeling so awkward. We don’t want to be lied to, and most of us don’t like lying to others. At the same time, blunt terms can make it really difficult to discuss certain things. So it makes sense that people use euphemisms at times. They run through crime-fictional conversations just as they do any other conversation, so you see them a lot in the genre. Here are just a few examples.

In Agatha Christie’s Hallowe’en Party, detective novelist Ariadne Oliver has traveled to the village of Woodleigh Common to spend some time with her friend Judith Butler. While there, she assists at the preparations for the local school’s Hallowe’en party. At one point, she needs to excuse herself:

 

‘Mrs. Oliver…left the room in search of a particular apartment, the geography of which is usually fairly easily identified.’

 

It’s obvious of course where Mrs. Oliver is headed, but Christie chooses a euphemistic expression. During the preparations for the party, one of the young people there, Joyce Reynolds, boasts of having seen a murder. No-one believes her, but when she is murdered during the party later that day, it’s clear that she might have been telling the truth. So Mrs. Oliver asks her friend Hercule Poirot to investigate. He agrees and discovers that Joyce’s murder has everything to do with past events in the village.

Many, many crime novels use euphemisms for prostitution. Women who are employed that way are sometimes called ‘working girls’ and sometimes ‘sex workers.’ Here’s an interesting perspective on euphemisms from that profession from Jill Edmondson’s Dead Light District. In that novel, Toronto PI Sasha Jackson gets a new client Candace Curtis, who runs an exclusive bordello. Curtis is worried because one of her employees Mary Carmen Santamaria has gone missing. Jackson isn’t too sure about the case but she does accept it. It turns out that the search for the missing Mary Carmen leads into Toronto’s very shady underworld, as well as into the world of human trafficking. Here’s a bit of a conversation that Jackson and Curtis have early in the novel:

 

‘You have a database of hookers?’… [Jackson]
‘Please, don’t call them hookers. Most of the girls use the term intimacy consultant, though some call themselves relaxation therapists. I know they’re euphemisms, but they’re important to the girls’ self esteem.’
‘Consultants. Right. Got it.’

 

As the novel goes on, Jackson learns that she has some preconceived notions about the business, and it’s interesting to see her reaction as her assumptions go up against what she finds out.

In Mickey Spillane’s My Gun is Quick, PI Mike Hammer is at a coffee shop when he meets Nancy Sanford who sometimes uses the coffee shop as a ‘sales office.’ (See? I use euphemisms too at times.) She approaches Hammer, and when he demurs, she says,

 

‘Rest easy Mister, I won’t give you a sales talk. There are only certain types interested in what I have to sell.’

 

Hammer has some compassion for Nancy, and when she tells him how she got into the business, he gives her some money to make a new start for herself. Shortly after they meet, Nancy is run down in a not-so-accidental hit-and-run incident. When Hammer finds out, he determines to track down her murderer. In the process he uncovers a prostitution ring with some very high-level connections.

There are plenty of other euphemisms related to prostitution and sex of course, and we see them all throughout crime fiction. Here, for instance, is a bit of a conversation from Philip Kerr’s Prague Fatale, featuring his Berlin PI Bernie Gunther. At this point in the novel, Gunther is looking for a young woman Arianne Tauber. He thinks she works at a place called the Golden Horseshoe, but one of the hostesses there tells him that she doesn’t:

 

‘So where does she work?’ [Gunther]
‘Arianne? She runs the cloakroom at the Jockey Bar. Has for a while. For a girl like Arianne, there’s a lot of money to be made at the Jockey.
‘In the cloakroom?’
‘You can do a lot more in a cloakroom than just hang a coat, honey.’

 

Gunther knows without his informant having to use vulgar terms exactly what kind of girl Arianne Tauber probably is…

Of course, crime and mystery fiction often deals with murder. And a lot of people are uncomfortable with words such as ‘dead,’ ‘deceased,’ or ‘killed.’ Euphemisms can make conversations with witnesses and family members a little easier. There are dozens and dozens of examples of this sort of euphemism in crime fiction; here is just one. In Jane Casey’s The Burning, DC Maeve Kerrigan and her team at the Met are investing two cases that may be related. One is a series of murders committed by a killer dubbed ‘the Burning Man’ by the press, since he tries to destroy his victims’ bodies by fire. Another is the murder of Rebecca Haworth, who may or may not have been the Burning Man’s latest victim. At one point, Kerrigan is talking to Haworth’s parents, trying to get a sense of what she was like. The idea is that the more she knows about the victim, the closer she’ll get to the killer. When the conversation is over, Haworth’s father says,

 

‘She was happy. She had everything to live for. So please, Maeve, do find the person who did this to her, for our sake.’

 

Neither of Haworth’s parents is unwilling to face the fact that she is dead, although it is devastating. But the euphemism is still useful to them.

I could of course go on and on about euphemisms because they are so common in language. In part that’s because most of us do want to be told the truth, but we don’t always want it told in the most unvarnished terms. Which examples of euphemisms have you noticed in crime fiction?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Just the Way You Are.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Jane Casey, Jill Edmondson, Mickey Spillane, Philip Kerr

Crime Fiction News Break


 
 

Links You’ll Want

 

Geoffrey McGeachin

Rebecca Bradley

Jill Edmondson

Shelly Reuben

 
 

In a Word, Murder

Now available in paper form! Click the cover to check it out!
 
Ina Word Murder Cover1

Princess Alice Hospice

Martin Edwards

Lesley Fletcher

Pamela Griffiths

Paula K. Randall

Jane Risdon

Elizabeth Spann Craig

Sarah Ward

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Filed under Geoffrey McGeachin, Jill Edmondson, Shelly Reuben, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir