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In a Word, Murder
I’m very lucky. I’m a member of a wonderful crime fiction community and that in itself means a lot to me. Some of my friends in that community are also writers, and several of them had books come out this year. I know how busy everyone gets as the year goes by; I know I do anyway. So I thought I’d take a bit of time now before we close the doors on 2013 to share some great releases from this year in case you missed ‘em.
Rob Kitchin’s Stiffed is a terrific screwball noir story. Tadhg Maguire knows it’s going to be a bad day when he wakes up next to a dead man. It only makes matters worse that the dead man is Tony Marino, ‘right hand man’ to powerful gangster Aldo Morelli. Maquire knows that calling the police isn’t an option. If they don’t arrest him for murder, he’ll probably have a very life-shortening ‘meeting’ with someone in Pirelli’s gang. So instead, he calls his friend Jason Choi and asks him to help get rid of the body. Choi agrees and the two men get to work. But they soon discover that finding a place to dispose of the body is going to be the least of their problems…
Paddy Richardson’s Cross Fingers was also released this year. In that novel, Wellington television journalist Rebecca Thorne is working on an exposé of dubious land developer Denny Graham. Graham has apparently fleeced several clients of all of their savings, and Thorne’s gathering names, amounts of money, and so on. But then, her boss asks her to switch her focus and do a story on the 30th anniversary of the Springbok rugby tour of New Zealand. ‘The Tour’ was extremely controversial because of South Africa’s then-in-place policy of Apartheid. There were protests, reports of police abuse, and a lot of divisions and conflicts. At first Thorne’s reluctant to pursue the story, as she feels it’s already been done. But then she discovers an unsolved murder from that time. Now she’s got the fresh angle she wants. She also finds out that there are some people who do not want that murder solved.
Also released this past year was Angela Savage’s The Dying Beach. Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney and her partner Rajiv Patel are enjoying some time off from work at Krabi, on the Thai coast. While they’re there, they take a tour guided by a young woman who calls herself Pla. Both are very upset when they learn later that Pla’s body has been found in a cave. The official report is that she drowned, either accidentally or by suicide. But Keeney doesn’t believe it. For one thing, Pla was an expert swimmer. For another, the forensics findings are not really consistent with death by drowning. So Keeney decides to ask some questions. She and Patel learn that Pla was working on a project with an environmental group. Her job was to attend meetings between villagers and a development company and ensure that the villagers’ questions and concerns were heard and addressed. On one level then, it seems that no-one would have wanted to kill Pla; the villagers benefited from her presence, and the company needed her to prove its responsiveness to local needs. But as Keeney and Patel dig deeper, they find that Pla had learned something that it wasn’t safe for her to know. That knowledge cost the young woman her life.
Martin Edwards’ The Frozen Shroud is the sixth in his Lake District series that features DCI Hannah Scarlett and Oxford historian Daniel Kind. In this outing, which takes place in the small town of Ravesbank, Scarlett and her team investigate three murders committed many years apart. One is the murder of a housemaid Gertrude Smith, which occurred just before World War I. The next is the five-year-old murder of Shenagh Moss, who had settled into the same house. That’s when Kind gets interested in what might link the murders. And then another occurs, one that strikes closer to home. Each victim is a young woman who’s murdered at Hallowe’en. And each victim is found with her face covered by a cloth that seems to serve as a shroud…
For those who like historical mysteries, William Ryan’s The Twelfth Department was also released this year. It’s the third in his Alexei Korolev series, which takes place in pre-World War II Stalinist Moscow. In this novel, Moscow CID Captain Korolev and his assistant Sergeant Nadezhda Slivka are assigned to investigate the murder of an eminent scientist Boris Azarov. His work is considered both important and top-secret, so the NKVD wants the case handled as quietly as possible. All signs point to one particular person, but then that person too is murdered. Now there will have to be a further investigation, and as Korolev and Slivka dig deeper, they find out that the truth about Azarov’s work and his murder is very dangerous indeed.
Another historical mystery that came out this year was K.B. Owen’s Dangerous and Unseemly, the first in her Concordia Wells series that takes place beginning in 1896. Wells is a professor at Hartford Women’s College, where she’s kept busy with classes, preparations for the school’s production of The Scottish Play, and of course, the many needs and issues that arise when a group of students is away from home for the first time. Then, college bursar Ruth Lyman is found dead, apparently a suicide. There are also some very malicious pranks and even arson to contend with at the school. Matters come to a head when Wells’ sister Mary dies. It’s already been made clear to Wells that she’s expected to act with decorum – ‘like a lady’ – and not play hero. But she is determined to find out who’s responsible for what’s going on at the school. Oh, and what’s really exciting is that the second in this series, Unseemly Pursuits, has just been released. More on that soon!
Prefer a cosy mystery? Elizabeth Spann Craig’s had a few releases this year. One is Rubbed Out, the fourth in her Memphis Barbecue series which she writes as Riley Adams. Aunt Pat’s Barbecue, which is owned and run by Lulu Taylor, is one of Memphis’ most popular restaurants and it keeps Lulu busy. But she’s persuaded to attend the Rock and Ribs Competition. Then, one of the other competitors Rueben Shaw is murdered. Lulu’s friend Cherry Hayes had an argument with him shortly before the murder, so of course, she’s a suspect. Lulu knows her friend’s not a killer though, and determines to clear her name.
Another release from Spann Craig is Knot What it Seams, the second in her Southern Quilting series. In this novel, Beatrice Coleman has joined the Village Quilters guild in Dappled Hills, North Carolina. She’s settled into small-town life and has made friends. Then, the guild’s newest member Jo Paxton dies in what looks like a tragic car accident. But when it turns out that someone tampered with her brakes, the Village Quilters know that one of them may be a murderer…
Also published this year was Jill Edmondson’s Frisky Business, the fourth in her Sasha Jackson series. In this story, Raven Greywolf hires Jackson to find out what happened to her friend Julia McPhee, who went by the name of Kitty Vixen. McPhee was a porn film actress who was beaten to death and found at a construction site. The case hasn’t been solved, and Greywolf doesn’t think the police are going to do much about it. Jackson agrees to take the case and begins to look into the victim’s life. There are plenty of possibilities too. For one thing, she worked for a sleazy porn film company where the actors aren’t treated well and not expected to complain. The problem for the company was that McPhee had started agitating for better protection for the film workers and better working conditions. And then there’s her personal past. Jackson finds more than one suspect there, too. Bit by bit, Jackson gets to the truth about McPhee’s last days and weeks and finds out who really killed her and why.
Oh, and a very special thanks to Martin Edwards, Lesley Fletcher, Pamela Griffiths, Paula K. Randall, Jane Risdon, Elizabeth Spann Craig and Sarah Ward for their hard work on In a Word: Murder, an anthology of stories about crime in the publishing, writing, editing and blogging fields. Their stories are excellent, folks. If you haven’t had a chance to check it out, you’ll want to. Not only are you getting some great stories, but you’re doing good as well, since all the proceeds from this anthology go in aid of Princess Alice Hospice.
Yes, it’s been quite a year for some terrific releases. If you haven’t had a chance to check these out, you may just want to add them to your 2014 reading list.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Beatles’ I’ve Got a Feeling.
People don’t always know how they would react in a crisis until one happens. And then, it’s sometimes surprising the way people whom you wouldn’t have expected it of turn out to be real heroes. Somehow that crisis brings out their very best. There are a lot of examples of that in real life, and of course, we see it in crime fiction too.
Agatha Christie’s The Murder on the Links for instance introduces us to a young woman who calls herself Cinderella. Captain Hastings happens to meet her when they share a compartment on a train and, although she’s by no means stupid or weak, she certainly doesn’t strike one as heroic. Hastings thinks she’s attractive (if a bit annoying) but doesn’t think much more about her. Then, he and Hercule Poirot travel to France at the request of Paul Renauld. Renauld has sent Poirot a letter saying that his life is in danger and asking for Poirot’s help. When the two get to the Renauld home, they find that they’ve arrived too late: he’s been stabbed and his body found on a nearby golf course. Poirot finds out who is responsible for the murder, but that doesn’t mean the danger is over. I think I can say without spoiling the story that at a very critical point, ‘Cinderella’ proves her mettle and turns out to be quite heroic.
The main plot of Dorothy Sayers’ The Nine Tailors revolves around a robbery, some missing emeralds, and their connections to an unknown corpse found in the Thorpe family grave. Lord Peter Wimsey gets drawn into this mystery when he and his valet Mervyn Bunter are stranded near the village of Fenchurch St. Paul after a car accident. Rector Theodore Venables invites the men to lodge at the rectory while the car is being repaired and they agree gratefully. Wimsey is able to return the kindness when one of the church’s change-ringers Will Thoday is taken ill. Since Wimsey has some experience, he offers to take Thoday’s place and Venables is only too happy to have his help. The change-ringing goes well but the next day, word comes that Lady Thorpe, wife of the local squire, has died. Wimsey and Bunter stay for the funeral and then go on their way. Several months later, Wimsey gets a letter from Venables. Sir Henry Thorpe has died, and while the gravediggers were preparing for the service, they discovered the body of an unknown man in the Thorpe family grave. Venables asks Wimsey to return to Fenchurch and find out who the dead man was and why his body is in the grave. Wimsey and Bunter go and they discover how this body is related to the robbery and the missing emeralds. Throughout most of the story, Venables is portrayed as an essentially very decent person, but a little scatty and vague – certainly not a person you’d label a hero. But when a flood comes to Fenchurch, he takes the lead and behaves heroically as he works to save his congregants from the rising waters. The flood isn’t the main plot, but the threat of a storm is a thread that runs through the story.
In Andrew Nette’s Ghost Money, Australian ex-cop Max Quinlan is hired by Madeleine Avery to find her missing brother Charles. He’s fairly good at tracking down people who don’t want to be found, so he’s a natural choice for the job. Quinlan travels to Bangkok, where Avery was last known to live. But when he gets to Avery’s apartment, he finds that his quarry is gone. He also finds the body of Avery’s business partner Robert Lee. Quinlan discovers that Avery’s next destination was Phnom Penh, so he heads to Cambodia. There, he meets journalist’s assistant Heng Sarin. Sarin isn’t weak-willed at all, but he’s a bit retiring and certainly not the ‘macho’ type. He is however extremely knowledgeable about Cambodia and he and Quinlan form a partnership as Quinlan continues to search for Avery. It turns out that Avery had gotten the wrong people very angry, so Quinlan and Sarin face long odds as they follow the trail to Northern Cambodia. Sarin proves to be both loyal and heroic as the pair find out what happened to Avery and why so many people seem determined that they won’t learn the truth.
Mark Douglas-Home’s The Sea Detective introduces us to Preeti and Basanti, two young girls from India who have become a part of the dhanda – a term used to refer to India’s sex trade. The girls’ families have been paid money for their services, the idea being that Preeti and Basanti will work in the trade for a certain amount of time and then return to their villages. Preeti is positive and quite brave about joining ‘the trade,’ although she’s nervous. And Basanti depends heavily on her friend’s courage and optimism. When the girls are sent to Scotland, they manage to stay together until they arrive. Then they are separated and for quite a time Basanti doesn’t know what’s happened to her close friend. One day she finds a way to escape the people who’ve been holding her, and goes looking for Preeti. She discovers that the body of an unknown young woman has been found in the sea, and that it could very well be the body of her friend. She makes her way to the home of oceanographer and Ph.D. student Caladh ‘Clad’ McGill. He’s an expert on wave patterns and ocean movement, and just may be able to help Basanti find out who killed Preeti. Throughout this novel Basanti shows what she’s made of as the saying goes, and proves herself quite heroic as she survives horrible trauma and manages to help McGill discover the truth.
In Jill Edmondson’s Blood and Groom, Toronto PI Sasha Jackson is hired by Christine Arvisais to find out who killed Arvisais’ former fiancé Gordon Hanes. Hanes was shot on what would have been their wedding day had the engagement not been broken off. A lot of people think Arvisais is responsible for the murder, but she claims she’s innocent and wants to clear her name. Jackson takes an immediate dislike to her client, but a fee is a fee, so she gets to work. She discovers that Arvisais is not the only one with a motive for murder in this case. What’s more, she finds that Hanes’ murder may be connected with some other deaths. One of the characters we meet in this novel is Victor, a former client of Jackson’s. He’s a little eccentric and has, as Jackson puts it, a ‘runamok mouth.’ He’s also quite smitten with Jackson. He’s a nice guy but not at all what you’d think of as the heroic type. But as it turns out, he has more brains and courage than Jackson knows, and comes through at a very crucial time.
And then there’s Andrea Camilleri’s Dance of the Seagull. In that novel, Vigàta Inspector Salvo Montalbano is faced with a particularly difficult case. One of his valuable team members Giuseppe Fazio has gone missing. At the time of his disappearance, Fazio was following up on some leads to a dangerous smuggling ring and Montalbano believes that his best chance of finding his teammate is to follow the trail Fazio left. That trail turns out to be particularly risky; it ends up leading to several crimes, including murder. The team members do find Fazio, wounded but alive. He’s transported to hospital and that’s where Montalbano meets Angela, a nurse who works there. Like most nurses Angela works hard and does her job well. But she doesn’t strike one as unusually heroic. And yet, as Montalbano and his team get closer to catching the people responsible for the crimes, she shows remarkable courage.
Just goes to show you – you never know what kind of inner strength and bravery people have until they’re up against it. These are just a few examples. Your turn.
*NOTE: The title of this song is a line from Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s The Power of Love.
Most PI’s, whether real or fictional, find their jobs easier if they develop some sort of relationship with the police in their area. The PI/police relationship is mutually beneficial in a lot of obvious ways, so you would think it’d fall out naturally. But that’s not always the case. If you look at crime fiction, you see that while PIs and police do co-operate – sometimes very well – they are also sometimes at odds with each other. Sometimes it’s a matter of ‘patch wars,’ sometimes it’s a personal dislike, and sometimes it’s a perception of one side or the other as incompetent or worse. And sometimes it’s simply the friction you get with two different perspectives on the same case. But amicable, bitter or somewhere in between, the relations between PIs and cops make for an interesting layer in crime novels.
Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes doesn’t dislike the cops because they are police officers. As a matter of fact, he knows the police are important. But he has absolutely no patience with lack of deduction and logic. And all too often, the police, from Holmes’ perspective, allow themselves to be led astray by superficial clues. In fact he’s not above calling them ‘imbeciles.’ There are a few cops, such as Tobias Gregson, with whom Holmes works reasonably well. But he has no patience with the glory-grabbing arrogance and narrow-mindedness that he all too often sees in the police. For their part, the police often see Holmes as meddlesome and conceited about his own ability. It’s an interesting dynamic that runs through the Holmes stories.
Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot has a different kind of relationship with the police. Poirot fans will know that he is a former cop himself, so he understands the job as an ‘outsider’ couldn’t. And in general, he does have a positive relationship with the police. He and Chief Inspector Japp have had many adventures together and although Japp makes more than one remark about Poirot’s conceit and his ‘tortuous’ mind, he knows Poirot is brilliant and usually right. For his part, Poirot respects Japp. He knows Japp’s a skilled detective and an ethical one who can’t be ‘bought.’ In fact, when he’s working with Japp he doesn’t worry about following up certain kinds of leads, because he knows Japp has the resources and skills to do it. It’s not just Japp either. As we learn in Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, Poirot respects other cops too if they are skilled and do their jobs well. In that novel, Superintendent Spence asks Poirot to re-open a case he himself investigated. Poirot agrees partly because he knows that Spence is a good cop. If Spence thinks there’s something more to the case than it seems on the surface, then there is. Of course, Poirot isn’t always on good terms with the police. In The Murder on the Links, he finds Sûreté Inspector Giraud so insufferable, conceited and arrogant that he dislikes him heartily and actually enjoys besting him when the two make a bet as to who can solve a murder case first.
Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe has a very interesting and complex relationship with the police. On the one hand, he has been known to enter homes and offices in a not-exactly-legal way. More than once, too, he lets people believe he’s with the police, although of course he’s not. And he is not afraid to expose cops who are unethical or who cover for those who are. So in that sense you could say he can be a proverbial thorn in the side of the police force. But Marlowe is pragmatic and so are the cops. Each knows that the other can be very helpful and in the long run, Marlow works in the interest of justice. As John Paul Athanasourelis has said,
‘..his ultimate goals are congruent with those of good cops…’
One might argue that when Marlowe is in conflict with the police, it’s not because they are police. It’s because they are in the way of the justice system working as it should.
Anthony Bidulka’s Russell Quant is a former Saskatoon cop. So he knows what it’s like to do police work. What’s more, he still knows people on the force. For example, Darren Kirsch is one of the people on the Saskatoon Police Service who still return his calls. Here’s what Quant says about the police/PI relationship in Amuse Bouche:
‘Most cops, and I know because I used to be one, think private investigators are unprofessional moneygrubbers that will suck information out of you and give nothing back in return. And sometimes this is true. But I knew if I wanted to make a go of being a private detective, I’d need some friends in the police department. And a smart cop would know that being friendly with a detective who wasn’t employed by the city and was out there on the streets was not altogether a bad idea either.’
And that basically describes Quant’s relationship with Kirsch and the rest of the police. They help each other and they do share information. And he and Kirsch have a history, so they have a kind of friendship. It’s not really what you’d call a full-on partnership, but there is I think mutual respect.
Jill Edmondson’s Toronto-based PI Sasha Jackson also knows that it’s to her benefit to work with the police. She isn’t a former cop, so she doesn’t have the ‘in’ that Quant does. But she has a friend Mark Houghton who is a member of the Toronto Police Service. The two dated very briefly years earlier but now their co-operation is professional. As Sasha puts it in Dead Light District,
‘Although Mark and I weren’t close enough to be friends, we certainly were solid acquaintances and had a healthy respect for each other professionally.’
That respect means that the two of them do share information and help each other. Not that they never disagree or get on each other’s nerves, but it’s not the stereotypical mutual feeling of contempt.
The same might be said of Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski. Her father was a police officer, so she has a lot of contacts among Chicago’s police. And Warshawski has respect for ethical cops who do their jobs well. In fact, one of them, Bobby Mallory, still looks out for her in his way. Here’s what he says to Warshawski in Indemnity Only.
‘I think you’re a pain in the butt…But you’re not a fool.’
And then later in that conversation,
‘You’ve made a career out of something which no nice girl would touch, but you’re no dummy.’
As the series moves on, Warshawski and Mallory work together more than once and although he does feel sometimes overly protective of her, he also learns that she is both capable and competent.
There’s also of course Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone, who was a cop for two years before she left the force. One regular contact she has is Detective Cheney Phillips. Over the years the two have come to respect each other and work well together. Fans of the series will know that they have an intimate relationship for a time, too. But even though that’s over, they’ve learned that each can be helpful to each other. Interestingly enough, they also know that neither tells the other everything about a given investigation. In Phillips’ case it’s often because of policy. In Millhone’s case it’s because she doesn’t always do things – ahem – by the book.
Angela Savage’s Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney knows all too well that the Thai police are not always, shall we say, fearless fighters of crime and corruption. In fact in Behind the Night Bazaar, she has to work hard to get beyond the official police explanation of the death of her friend Didier ‘Didi’ de Montpasse. There are other examples too in this series of instances where the police would very much rather Keeney left a case alone. But Keeney also knows that it’s quite dangerous to go up against the cops. She also knows that the police are extremely pragmatic. If they see it as working to their benefit to give Keeney information or to use information she gives them, they will. So instead of getting into an outright conflict, Keeney finds ways to make interactions with the police work for both parties. Keeney’s relationship with the cops is much more quid pro quo than it is mutual respect, admiration or friendship. That dynamic makes for an interesting thread of tension in the series.
There are a lot of other good examples of PI/police relations in crime fiction. It’s a fascinating dynamic. Which do you like best?
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Wilbert Harrison’s Let’s Work Together. I like Canned Heat’s version of this one too.
One of the ways people can cement their relationships with each other is through teasing and banter. That’s not true of course in every culture; there are plenty of cultures in which that kind of teasing and joking isn’t considered appropriate. And of course, it can go very much too far. But in cultures where it is done, it’s a part of interacting with friends. In fact, among some social groups, people who don’t get involved in the back-and-forth of teasing are considered aloof – even cold. We do joke with each other in real life, so it’s only natural that we see teasing and banter in crime fiction too. If we didn’t, the interactions might not seem as natural and authentic. There are a lot of examples of this sort of interaction in the genre of course; let me just share a few.
In Agatha Christie’s Hickory, Dickory, Dock (AKA Hickory, Dickory, Death), Hercule Poirot’s frighteningly efficient secretary Miss Lemon asks him to consult with her sister Mrs. Hubbard. Mrs. Hubbard is the manager of a student hostel where some odd things have gone missing and some strange events have occurred. Poirot agrees to look into the matter and visits the hostel. When one of the residents Celia Austin admits to being responsible for some of the thefts, it’s assumed that the matter is solved. But then, the next night, Celia dies in what looks at first like a case of suicide. Then it’s proven that she was murdered, and Poirot and Inspector Sharpe investigate. As they do so, we get to know the various young people who live at the hostel. In their interactions, we see some of the bantering and teasing that often go along with friendship. And Christie makes use of this too. In some cases, that teasing is a sign of friendship. And in others, it’s thinly-veiled resentment…
Andrea Camilleri’s Vigatà-based Inspector Montalbano is not exactly what you would call the gushing kind. And yet, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t value his friendships. One of his friends is TV journalist Nicolò Zito, who works at Vigatà’s Free Channel. The two often co-operate, especially when Montalbano is investigating a case where high-level corruption may be involved. He gives exclusive information to Ztio, who uses all of his access and contacts to help Montalbano. The two of them have a solid friendship although neither is one for flowery words. In The Shape of Water for instance, Montalbano is investigating the possible murder of up-and-coming politician Silvio Luparello. He’s invited Zito for dinner to compare notes on the case. During their conversation, he chides Zito for not being more hard-hitting in the station’s coverage of Luparello’s death:
‘‘…you’ve refrained from dragging Luparello through the mud, as you would certainly have done in the past….the man dies of a heart attack in a kind of open-air brothel among whores, pimps and buggers, his trousers down around his ankles – it’s downright obscene – and you guys, instead of seizing the moment for all it’s worth, you all toe the line and cast a veil of mercy over how he died.’
‘We’re not really in the habit of taking advantage of such things.’
Montalbano started laughing.
‘Would you do me a favor, Nicolò? Would you and everyone else at the Free Channel please go f*** yourselves?’
Zito started laughing in turn.’
That conversation shows as much as anything the way that these men use banter to cement their friendship.
We also see that in the relationship between Peter Temple’s sometimes-attorney/sometimes-PI sleuth Jack Irish and cabinetmaker Charlie Taub. Irish has an interest in cabinet-making and he finds solace in working with wood. So he’s informally apprenticed himself to master carpenter Charlie Taub. The two men like and respect each other, but neither is particularly demonstrative about it. Certainly they’re not gushing. In Black Tide for instance, Irish pays a visit to Taub’s workshop after not having been there for a bit:
‘‘So,’ he said without looking at me. ‘Man who finds the scum of the earth. Man who breaks his parents’ hearts. Horses and criminals. That’s his life.’…
‘I gather you missed me a lot then?’
Another snort ‘What I miss, I miss someone finishes little jobs I give him. Like little tables. Day’s work for a man who actually works.’’
It’s clear in this series that the two are friends, and they express that with banter and teasing.
So does the group of young attorneys we meet in Sarah Caudwell’s Hilary Tamar series. Tamar is a law professor who informally works with former student Timothy Shepherd and his friends Selena Jardine, Michael Cantrip, Julia Larwood and Desmond Ragwort. The group members are friends; they support and help each other. They often show that friendship and keep those bonds through sometimes-sarcastic teasing. For instance, in The Sirens Sang of Murder, the group works together and pitches in to help when Cantrip gets drawn into a missing person case when an heir to a fortune disappears. At one point, some members of the group are discussing the case:
‘‘…I was surprised to find myself thinking,’ Julia paused and looked dreamily at the ceiling, drawing deeply on her Gauloise.
‘Thinking,’ said Ragwort, ‘if that is indeed the appropriate word for what we take to have been a not wholly cerebral activity – thinking what, precisely?’’
These attorneys are far from sentimental about each other, but their banter shows the bond they have.
So does the banter and teasing among team-mates that we see in Kel Robertson’s Smoke and Mirrors. Australian Federal Police (AFP) officer Bradman ‘Brad’ Chen is persuaded to return to work after taking some time off when former Gough Whitlam government official Alec Dennet and his memoirs editor Lorraine Starck are murdered at a Canberra area writers’ retreat. In one scene, Chen and his new assistant Filipowski are heading to Dennet’s home after a long night of drinking. Already there waiting is another team-mate ‘Talkative:’
‘‘I thought I was going to have to read the finance section,’ he [Talkative] said, getting to his feet. ‘Your face is looking pretty ordinary.’
‘You ought to experience it from my side. What happened to Turner?’ [Chen]
‘He called in sick. Reckons he had a restless night.’
‘That’s not good,’ I said. ‘He’s a bloke who needs all the beauty sleep he can get.’…
‘The two of you aren’t in any position to throw stones….’’
Underneath the teasing we see the friendship that holds this team together; the banter is a reflection of that.
And then there’s Jill Edmondson’s Blood and Groom in which Christine Arvisais hires Toronto-based PI Sasha Jackson to find out who killed her ex-fiancé ‘blueblood’ Gordon Hanes. Arvisais says that everyone thinks she’s guilty, but she’s not, and she wants to clear her name. Jackson takes the case and ends up getting into a great deal of danger. At one point, she’s shot at and saved (trust me; it makes sense given the story) by the underwire in her bra. As you can guess, her friends Mick and Lindsey and her brother Shane can’t resist teasing her:
‘Shane grinned. ‘Nah, we’ve all been making up jokes about bras that lift and separate, eighteen-hour, .38 calibre support bras, cross your heart and protect it – ’
‘Padded,’ Mick said. ‘Don’t forget padded.’’
The teasing is good-natured and readers of this series know that Mick, Shane and Lindsey are good friends to Sasha.
Teasing isn’t part of all cultures’ ways of showing friendship. And of course it can go tragically too far (that’s a topic for a separate post). But sometimes good-natured banter cements relationships and can add a light and authentic touch to a novel.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s You May be Right.