Category Archives: Jussi Adler-Olsen

When the Underdog is Hungry, the Favorite Might Fall*

Avoiding and Setting TrapsSkilled sleuths have all sorts of ways of catching criminals. Sometimes, they even use the criminals’ own weapons against them. I don’t mean something as obvious as grabbing a gun from a murderer. Rather, I mean using the criminal’s own methods, tools, etc. to catch him or her. There are a lot of examples of this in crime fiction; let me share just a few to show you what I mean. 

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Dancing Men, Sherlock Holmes gets a visit from Hilton Cubitt. Cubitt’s concerned about his wife Elsie, who had some very dubious associations in her past. As she tells her husband, she’s done nothing of which she personally need be ashamed. But now it seems that her past has caught up with her. Lately she’s been receiving some cryptic messages that have left her terrified. She won’t explain what they mean to her husband, but it’s obvious something is very, very wrong. Holmes agrees to look into the matter and Cubitt shows him some of the coded messages Elsie’s gotten. From those, Holmes is able to crack the code; that’s how he learns that Elsie may be in real danger. Then one night, Cubitt is murdered and Elsie is badly wounded. Holmes uses the very trap that the culprit set – the code – to lure the killer out of hiding. 

Nevada Barr’s Track of the Cat introduces readers to U.S. National Park Service Ranger Anna Pigeon. She’s in the healing process after the death of her husband Zach and has accepted a posting in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park in West Texas. One day she discovers the body of fellow ranger Sheila Drury. At first, it looks as though Drury might have been killed by a mountain lion, but Pigeon hopes that isn’t’t the case. Mountain lions are endangered as it is. If word gets round that a mountain lion killed a human, there’ll be a backlash of mountain lion killings by locals who would be only too happy to see the population disappear. Then little pieces of evidence begin to suggest that Drury’s killer was human. Now Pigeon starts to ask more questions, and slowly discovers who murdered Drury. At one point, she has a confrontation with the murderer, who has laid a trap for her. But Pigeon finds a way to make that trap work in her favour.

In Michael Dibdin’s Ratking, Aurelio Zen is seconded from the Ministry of the Interior in Rome to the town of Perugia. Wealthy patriarch Ruggiero Miletti has been kidnapped, and no real progress has been made on the case. The Perugia Questura has asked for assistance and Zen is sent to provide it. It’s not long before Zen learns that there are several people who don’t want the case solved. He also learns that someone’s been reporting on his movements, telephone conversations and the like. Zen is up against some powerful opposition too. For one thing, the Miletti family doesn’t want to co-operate with the police, and isn’t happy about Zen’s ‘interference.’ For another, there are the kidnappers, who are not exactly nice people. There are also some highly-placed and influential people who want this case to go away quietly. Then Zen discovers a trap that’s been laid for him. Once he finds it, he’s able to neatly use the same trap against the culprits.

Sometimes sleuths even have to out-manoeuvre people who are on ‘the right side of the law.’ For example, in Alexander McCall Smith’s The Kalahari Typing School For Men, a successful civil engineer Mr. Molofelo hires Mma. Precious Ramotswe to find some people from his past. He’s been re-thinking his life and would like to make amends to the family of his former landlord, and to a former girlfriend. After hearing Mr. Molofelo’s story, Mma. Ramotswe agrees and begins her search. It turns out that the landlord has died, but his widow is still alive and collecting her husband’s pension. So Mma. Ramotswe goes to the government pension office. There she encounters a self-important clerk who refuses to provide her with the widow’s address, since it is against the regulations. Here is how Mma. Ramotswe uses that ‘weapon’ – the regulations – against the clerk:

 

 

‘‘But that is not the rule,’ said Mma. Ramotswe. ‘…The rule says that you must not give the name of a pensioner. It says nothing about the address.’
The clerk shook his head. ‘I do not think you can be right, Mma. I am the one who knows the rules. You are the public.’
‘Yes, Rra. I am sure that you are very good when it comes to rules…But sometimes, when one has to know so many rules, one can get them mixed up. You are thinking of Rule 25. This rule is really Rule 24(b), subsection (i)…The rule that deals with addresses is Rule 18, which has now been cancelled.’’

 

 

The defeated clerk finally provides the information Mma. Ramotswe needs and she is able to help her client. 

Copenhagen detective Carl Mørck uses a bureaucratic ‘trap’ to his own advantage in Mercy (AKA The Keeper of Lost Causes). He’s recovering from a line-of-duty shooting that left one colleague dead and another permanently disabled. The event has left Mørck even more difficult to work with than usual. In fact things get so bad that his colleagues don’t want to work with him any more. So his boss comes up with an idea. There’s been political pressure to follow up on older ‘cases of interest,’ so that the police give the impression of taking every case seriously. In order to respond to the pressure, a new department – Department Q – will be created and Mørck will be ‘promoted’ to lead it. The idea is to shunt him aside and keep him away from actual department work. But Mørck uses that new position to his advantage. In fact, he gets an assistant Hafez al-Assad, and other amenities too. And soon enough he and Assad begin work on their first case, the disappearance of an up-and-coming politician Merete Lynggaard, whom everyone thought had drowned in a ferry accident five years earlier. She may very well be alive though… 

And then there’s Qiu Xiaolong’s Death of a Red Heroine. In that novel, Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Bureau and his assistant Yu Guangming investigate the murder of an unknown woman whose body is discovered in the Baili Canal not far from Shanghai. The case becomes very delicate when the victim is identified as Guan Hongying. She was a national model worker and rather a celebrity in her way. So the Powers That Be want this case handled very, very carefully, especially if the killer turns out to be a Party member, or some other important person. The first official theory – that Guan may have been raped and murdered by a taxi driver – isn’t supported by some of the evidence that turns up so despite the delicacy, Chen and Yu press on with their investigation. At one point the trail begins to lead to a very influential person. And that person uses ‘clout’ to get Chen transferred to a new position as Director of Metropolitan Traffic Control. On one level it’s a promotion with several perquisites. On the other of course, it’s a trap for Chen to keep him away from the Guan case. But Chen knows that, and finds a very neat way to use his new office to solve the murder. 

Being able to use an opponent’s tools against that person takes skill and cleverness. It also makes for some interesting crime-fictional plot twists and character development. These are only a few examples. Your turn.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Was (not Was)’s Anything Can Happen.

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Filed under Alexander McCall Smith, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Michael Dibdin, Nevada Barr, Qiu Xiaolong

Get On Back to School*

Professional DevelopmentNo matter what profession one’s in, it doesn’t usually stay static. Because of that, professionals often have to update their skills and knowledge. Sometimes it’s called ‘training,’ sometimes it’s called, ‘seminar’ and sometimes ‘professional development.’ Whatever it’s called, it’s a fact of life for a lot of people.

Sometimes those sessions are very useful, and they can give one the chance to get together with colleagues and other people in the field. Other times…it’s exactly the opposite. If you’you’ve ever been to a really dreadful one, you know exactly what I mean.

Police (and private detectives too) are no different when it comes to professional development. They’re expected to go to training classes, update their skills and so on. But at least in crime fiction, a lot of them aren’t that happy about it. Sometimes it’s because they think those sessions are a waste of time. Other times it’s because they’d rather do things their way, if I can put it like that. Those sessions may not always be productive, but they’re woven into a lot of crime fiction.

In Michael Connelly’s The Black Echo for instance, Harry Bosch investigates the suspicious death of a former Vietnam War comrade Billy Meadows, whose body is found stuffed into a large municipal drainpipe. At first the death looks like a case of a junkie who overdosed, but Bosch doesn’t believe it. So he investigates more deeply. It turns out that Meadows’ death is connected with plans for a major bank robbery. At one point, he and FBI agent Eleanor Wish are interrogating someone who may know more than he’s saying. Bosch wants to use some police training he got in, of all things, hypnosis. By this time the LAPD isn’t using that tactic any more, and Bosch mentions that he was in the last class of cops who took it. You never know what skills you can learn at a professional development seminar.

Ian Rankin’s John Rebus is not much of a one for departmental-level training sessions or professional development. He’s a rather independent thinker (to say the least) and doesn’t like to conform to what the top brass says. But that doesn’t mean he can escape professional development. In Resurrection Men, for instance, Rebus is required to attend a ‘last chance’ course at Tulliallan Police College along with a group of other cops who have trouble working with others, especially authority figures. The team is assigned to investigate a ‘cold case,’ the murder of gangster Rico Lomax. The idea of this training is that the men will learn to work together and solve the case. Needless to say, Rebus isn’t’t happy about this, especially since he and Sergeant Siobhan Clarke were in the middle of investigating the murder of Edinburgh art dealer Edward Marber. But he goes along with the decision. His time in this special program proves useful once he and Clarke find that the two cases are related.

Forensic anthropologist David Hunter decides to update his skills and see if he still ‘has it in him’ in Simon Beckett’s Whispers of the Dead. Hunter is healing both physically and emotionally from the events in Written in Bone, and wants some time away from London anyway, So he goes to Tennessee’s Anthropological Research Laboratory, otherwise known as ‘The Body Farm,’ to get away for a bit and to hone his skills. He did his training there and is looking forward to re-connecting with his mentor Tom Liebermann. Shortly after Hunter’s arrival in Tennessee, a decomposed body is discovered at a deserted cabin not far from the lab. Then another body is discovered. Hunter is soon drawn into a difficult and dangerous investigation that’s quite different to his plan for skill development.

Not all professional are that eager for professional development. Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy (AKA The Keeper of Lost Causes) introduces Copenhangen homicide detective Carl Mørck. He’s recovering from a traumatic line-of-duty shooting and is just getting back to work. But going back to work doesn’t mean he’s back to his old self. In fact, he’s so hard to work with that he’s ‘promoted’ to Department Q, a newly-formed department devoted to investigating cases ‘of special interest.’ The first case he and his assistant Hafez al-Assad look into is the five-year-old disappearance of promising politician Merete Lynggaard. Everyone thought she’d drowned in a tragic ferry accident, but Mørck and Assad soon suspect she may still be alive. If she is, they may have very little time in which to find her. In the meantime, Mørck’s boss informs him that his promotion will mean he has to take a qualification course. Mørck refuses to do so, and there’s an interesting thread running through this story of their running battle about it.

And then there’s Qiu Xiaolong’s Death of a Red Heroine, in which we are introduced to Shanghai Chief Inspector Chen Cao. Chen and his assistant Yu Guangming investigate the rape and murder of an unknown woman whose body is found in Baili Canal. It turns out that the woman was Guan Hongying, a National Model Worker and a Party member, so the authorities want this case handled very delicately. Chen, on the other hand, wants to find out who killed the victim and why. He and Yu begin work on the investigation but at first no leads turn up. Then there’s an added complication. Chen is invited to attend and present at the Central Party Institute’s annual seminar. It’s an important honour and it indicates that Chen is well regarded. To refuse the invitation is out of the question, but it means that Chen has to prepare his presentation at the same time as he’s working on this difficult case.

And that’s the way it is with most professional development. It’s not that it’s always bad. Some professional development is actually very useful. But it always seems to come when the sleuth least wants to take the time…

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jimmy Buffett’s Domino College.

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Filed under Ian Rankin, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Michael Connelly, Qiu Xiaolong, Simon Beckett

It Still Gives You Pain and It Still Brings Tears*

Later Effects of TraumaThe trauma of a murder investigation, or even an investigation into a death that doesn’t turn out to be murder, is hard on everyone. In fact, it can affect people for a very long time, sometimes permanently. And very often, the most vulnerable people – children – are the most profoundly affected, even much later in life. Just a quick look at crime fiction and you’ll get a sense of what I mean. Oh, and before I go any further, I promise – no mentions of serial-killer novels where the murderer was traumatised as a child. It’s been done. ;-)

In Agatha Christie’s Five Little Pigs, Hercule Poirot gets a visit from Carla Lemarchant, who wants him to investigate a sixteen-year-old murder. Her father, famous painter Amyas Crale, was poisoned one afternoon by what turns out to have been spotted hemlock/coniine. At the time, his wife Caroline was arrested, tried and convicted, and died a year later in prison. There was plenty of evidence against her, and no-one has really doubted her guilt except for her daughter. Now Carla is preparing to marry, and she wants her mother’s name cleared. Poirot agrees and interviews the five people who were present when Crale died. He also gets written accounts from all of them, and from that information, finds out who really killed the victim and why. Even though Carla was only a little girl at the time, and was quickly taken away from the scene of chaos, she has still been affected by the crime and years later, it plays a part in her life.

That’s also true of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch. He was eleven when his mother was murdered. Since she was a prostitute, not much was done about the murder. Although Bosch isn’t the stereotypical ‘cop with demons,’ he has been profoundly affected by that tragedy. Even he isn’t really aware of quite how much until The Last Coyote, in which he is forced to face the trauma. In that novel, he is sent for mandatory psychiatric counseling after an incident in which he attacks a superior officer. As a part of that process he explores what happened to his mother and even re-opens the case. When he does, he finds that there are several people who are not exactly pleased at having it all brought up again.

Lawrence Block’s The Sins of the Fathers is the story of the murder of Wendy Hanniford. Her roommate Richard Vanderpoel is assumed to be guilty. He was seen covered in her blood, and even had the murder weapon. So it’s not difficult to trace the crime to him. But Wendy’s father Cale Hanniford wants to know what really led up to the murder. He’s become estranged from his daughter and would like to know the sort of person she became. So he asks Matthew Scudder to investigate. Scudder isn’t (at this point in the series) a licensed PI, but he is a former cop, and he sometimes does ‘favours for friends.’ So he agrees to ask a few questions. He tries to interview Vanderpoel in prison, but the young man is either quite ill or under the influence of powerful drugs, and he isn’t really coherent. Shortly after that interview, Vanderpoel commits suicide. Now Scudder is left with more questions than ever and he continues to dig into the case. He finds that Vanderpoel’s mother was murdered when he was a boy and that fact played an important role in his life. I don’t think it’s giving away spoilers to say that Vanderpoel isn’t the stereotypical ‘traumatised kid who grows up to be a killer.’ But that trauma does figure into the case.

Elizabeth George’s Missing Joseph introduces us to the residents of the town of Winslough. Deborah and Simon St. James take a trip there after Deborah meets local vicar Robin Sage. He impressed Deborah and she feels drawn to him, so she persuades her husband to take a holiday at Winslough. By the time they get there though, Robin Sage is dead. He’s been poisoned by water hemlock, which local herbalist Juliet Spence claimed that she mistook for wild parsnip. Since she was the last one who gave him anything to eat or drink, the talk is that she’s guilty of murder.  Simon asks his friend Inspector Lynley to look into the matter and see whether this was accidental or someone deliberately poisoned the vicar. Juliet’s thirteen-year-old daughter Maggie has to deal with the trauma of having her mother suspected of murder and it’s not easy. And I think I can say without spoiling the story that there is more that Maggie will have to deal with, and anyone who’s read the novel would probably agree that what’s happened will affect her for the rest of her life.

In Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy (AKA The Keeper of Lost Causes), Copenhagen homicide detective Carl Mørck and his new assistant Hafez al-Assad re-open the five-year-old case of the disappearance of promising politician Merete Lynggaard. She disappeared one day during a ferry trip, and it was always thought that she tragically fell overboard during a quarrel with her brother Uffe. But little pieces of evidence suggest that Merete may still be alive. If she is, there may not be much time left to find her, so Mørck and Assad begin an urgent search for any information they can find. One of the people they want to talk to is Uffe, but he is uncommunicative. He hasn’t spoken since an awful car crash claimed his parents’ lives when he was thirteen. That trauma plays a powerful role in the novel and in Uffe’s personality and way of thinking. As Mørck  interacts with Uffee, we see clearly how it still affects him. Once Mørck is able to find a way to get through to Uffe, he gets a key piece of information to help him find out the truth about Merete.

In Martin Edwards’ The Cipher Garden, DCI Hannah Scarlett and her team re-open the ten-year-old murder case of landscaper Warren Howe. At the time, everyone thought his wife Tina was responsible, and she had good reason. But the police could never really make a case so no arrest was made. Now, anonymous tips suggest that Tina really was guilty, so the police take another look at the murder. In the process, they get to know Howe’s two children Kirsty and Sam. They were young at the time of the murder, but even so, and even though it’s been ten years, they’ve been deeply affected by it. The family was very dysfunctional to begin with, so Sam and Kirsty have had their share of troubles. And having the case re-opened just makes things more difficult for them.

And then there’s Taylor, the adopted daughter of Gail Bowen’s sleuth Joanne Kilbourn. When we first meet Taylor in Murder at the Mendel, she is tragically involved in a murder case. Since then, Kilbourn has adopted her and now she and her husband Zack Shreve make it a priority to give Taylor as normal a life (whatever that means) as possible. And Kilbourn ought to know if anyone how to do that. Her other three children Mieka, Peter and Angus had to deal with the murder of their father Ian Kilbourn when they were children. In this series, we see how children can grow up, can have decent lives and find happiness, but how they can also be burdened when they are a part of a murder case.

Those are only just a few examples. Your turn.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Code of Silence.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Elizabeth George, Gail Bowen, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Lawrence Block, Martin Edwards, Michael Connelly

‘Cause He Was in the Mood For a Little Confrontation*

ConfrontationOne of the strategies authors use to build suspense is confrontation between people. In crime fiction that confrontation is often between the sleuth and the suspect/culprit, but it doesn’t have to be. Whenever there are two people who are opposed or perhaps are rivals, there is the possibility of a confrontation. It certainly happens in real life, so it makes sense that it would also happen in crime fiction too. It’s not always easy to write about a confrontation because unlike film-makers, authors don’t have the advantage of the visual. But when it’s done well, a confrontation adds to the suspense and builds tension. It’s realistic too. As you’ll imagine, there are far, far too many well-written confrontations in crime fiction for me to mention them all. So I’ll rely on you to help fill in the gaps.

There’s a very effective confrontation between Hercule Poirot and M. Giraud of the Sûreté in Agatha Christie’s The Murder on the Links. In that novel, Poirot and Captain Hastings travel to Merlinville-sur-Mer to the home of Paul Renauld. They’ve come because Poirot received a letter from Renauld claiming that his life was in danger and begging for Poirot’s assistance. But by the time Poirot and Hastings get to France, it’s too late: Renauld has been stabbed. M. Giraud is placed in charge of the case and it’s clear from the outset that he and Poirot will not get on. Matters between them steadily worsen until they have a confrontation:

 

‘Poirot drew himself up. A dangerous light showed in his eyes.
‘Monsieur Giraud, throughout the case your manner to me has been deliberately insulting. You need teaching a lesson. I am prepared to wager you five hundred francs that I find the murderer of Monsieur Renauld before you do. Is it agreed?’
Giraud stared helplessly at him and murmured again: ‘Toqué!’
‘Come now,’ urged Poirot, ‘is it agreed?’
‘I have no wish to take your money from you.’
‘Make your mind easy – you will not!’
‘Oh, well then I agree! You speak of my manner to you being insulting. Well, once or twice, your manner has annoyed me.’
‘I am enchanted to hear it’ said Poirot. ‘Good morning, Monsieur Giraud. Come, Hastings.’’

 

Fans of Poirot will not be surprised that he wins that bet. And this confrontation shows part of the human side of Poirot.

In Ian Rankin’s Resurrection Men, the team at St. Leonard’s Police Station is investigating the case of Edward Marber, a murdered Edinburgh art dealer. There haven’t been many productive leads in the case and everyone’s nerves are getting frayed. Then one morning, DCS Gill Templar is holding a meeting for her staff to discuss the case. DI John Rebus is fed up with what he sees as another useless round of time-consuming ‘phone calls, interviews and so on. He makes a remark under his breath and Templar calls him on it:

 

‘‘Well I’m sure we all can learn something from you, DI Rebus.’ Not ‘John’ anymore. Her voice rising to match his…
‘Maybe you’d like to come up,’ she was saying, ‘and give us the benefit of your thoughts on the subject of just exactly how we should be proceeding with this inquiry.’ She stretched an arm out, as if to introduce him to an audience.
‘Ladies and gentlemen…’

Which was the moment he chose to throw the mug. It traveled in a lazy arc, spinning as it went, dispensing cold tea.’

 

That choice gets Rebus remanded to Tulliallan Police College for a ‘last chance’ opportunity to learn to work better with a group of other people. In this case, it’s a group of police officers who have difficulty working with others. That assignment isn’t going to stop Rebus looking into the Marber case though…

Nevada Barr’s Track of the Cat introduces readers to National Park Service Ranger Anna Pigeon. In this novel, she’s been assigned to the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. One day, she finds the body of fellow ranger Sheila Drury. All of the signs point to the likely possibility that Drury was killed by a mountain lion. Pigeon is truly hoping that’s not so, as she fears for what will happen to the park’s population of mountain lions of people hear that one of them killed a human. What’s more, some of the evidence just doesn’t seem to add up to a lion kill. So Pigeon starts asking questions. Almost immediately she meets a ‘wall of resistance’ from locals who are only too happy to shoot the animals, and from the authorities, who don’t want any unfavourable attention. In the end though, Pigeon finds out how and by whom Sheila Drury was killed. When she does, there’s a strong final confrontation scene between her and the killer, who thinks Pigeon will be easy prey. It turns out though that she is not…

In Gail Bowen’s A Killing Spring, political scientist and academician Joanne Kilbourn is drawn into the investigation of the murder of Reed Gallagher, a university colleague. As it happens, Kilbourn knows the victim’s wife Julie, so she comes along to help break the news of Gallagher’s death. Julie’s history with Kilbourn has not always been pleasant, and of course, the news of her husband’s death is a shock, so when Kilbourn and Regina Police Force Inspector Alex Kequahtooway go to the Gallagher home, they aren’t exactly received warmly. Julie is silent at first, and then lashes out, insulting both of her visitors. They do their best to keep their tempers in check, but it’s a real scene of conflict. In fact, here’s what Kilbourn and Kequahtooway say about it afterwards:

 

‘‘My grandmother used to say that every time we turn the other cheek we get a new star in our crown in heaven.’
Alex raised an eyebrow. ‘Let’s hope she’s right. I have a feeling that before Reed Gallagher is finally laid to rest, his widow is going to give us a chance to build up quite a collection.’’

 

Neither sleuth lets this conflict get in the way of finding out what happened to Gallagher.

Peter Temple’s Jack Irish gets into more than one confrontation in his line of work. He’s a sometime lawyer who also has a side business of finding people who don’t want to be found. When a former client Danny McKillop is murdered in Bad Debts, Irish decides to find out why and by whom. At one point, he’s following up a lead at the Safe Hands Foundation, a charitable organisation. He wants to speak Father Gorman, who’s head of the group. Here’s what happens when Irish gets to the door and confronts the security man:

 

‘Then he wanted my driver’s license.
‘I’m not trying to cash a cheque here, sonny,’ I said. ‘Just phone the man.’
Tight little smile. ‘The body corporate lays down the security proceedings.’ Flat Queensland voice. Pause. ‘Sir.’
‘This isn’t Pentridge,’ I said. ‘Didn’t they retrain you for this job? Just phone.’
He held my  gaze briefly but I’d got him in one. ‘I’ll check,’ he said.’

 

As it turns out, Irish gets an interesting lead on a man he’s trying to find once he gets past security. 

Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Carl Mørck is not the most cheerful of people under the best of circumstances. And in Mercy (AKA The Keeper of Lost Causes), he is especially testy as he copes with the aftermath of a line-of-fire shooting incident. He was gravely wounded and one of his colleagues was killed in the tragedy. Another has been left with paralysis. Mørck becomes so difficult to work with that he is ‘promoted’ to head a new department, ‘Department Q,’ that’s charged with investigating cases of ‘special interest.’ The first such case is that of Merete Lynggaard, an up-and-coming politician who disappeared five years ago. Evidence soon suggests that she may still be alive, so Mørck and his assistant Hafez al-Assad re-open the case. Along the way, Mørck finds more than one instance where the original investigator Børge Bak missed important evidence. At one point, the two have a meeting in the office of their boss Marcus Jacobsen. Here’s what Mørck says:

 

‘So,Bak! That was a hell of a job you lot did on the Lynggaard case. You were up to your necks in signs that everything wasn’t as it should be. Had the whole team caught sleeping sickness or what?…So now I want to know if there’s anything else in the case that you’re keeping to yourself…Was there someone or something that put the brakes on your excellent investigation, Børge?’

 

Of course, that’s exactly the wrong approach to take to enlist Bak’s help in providing any information he has. Eventually, though, Jacobsen gets Bak to add to the reports he’d submitted, and that information helps greatly in the investigation.

Confrontations are difficult to write, as they have to be authentic. But when they’re well done, they can add a solid thread of tension to a story. I’ve only had space here for a few examples. Your turn.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Carole King’s Smackwater Jack.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Gail Bowen, Ian Rankin, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Nevada Barr, Peter Temple

The Alphabet in Crime Fiction: Technology

TechnologyWe’re at another stop today as we of the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme continue our treacherous travels through the alphabet. Thanks as ever to our tour guide Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise for making all the arrangements and keeping us as safe as can be expected. ;-)

Our visit today is to the main offices of the legendary T Company, which makes all sorts of different kinds of ingenious little devices. Everyone’s busy planning what sorts of things they’ll bring home from the factory tour, so I think this is a good time to share my contribution for this stop: technology. 

Technology is, of course, critical to today’s society. We can accomplish so much with it, and it’s become an important element of most of our lives. But it’s very much a proverbial double-edged sword. As any crime fiction fan can tell you, technology figures in a lot of mayhem too. I’ve only space here for a few examples, but you’ll soon see what I mean.

In Rex Stout’s Fer de Lance, Nero Wolfe gets a visit from Maria Maffei, who is worried about her brother Carlos. He’s disappeared with no explanation and she’s certain he’s come to harm. She’s proven right when Carlos is found stabbed to death. An article found in his possession suggests that his murder might be connected to the death of Peter Barstow, president of Holland University. Barstow was golfing when he suddenly died, seemingly from a stroke. But as it turns out, he was killed by a specially-designed golf club that Carlos Maffei made. Wolfe knows that if he finds out who killed Barstow, he’ll have the key to discovering who paid Maffei to make the golf club. So he and Archie Goodwin look into Barstow’s family life, business associations and social life to find out who would have wanted to commit murder. The sleuths do solve the mystery of the killer’s identity, and when the killer begins to suspect that they know, there’s an interesting battle of wits between Wolfe and Goodwin on the one hand and the murderer on the other.

Aaron Elkins’ Fellowship of Fear also makes some –er – very interesting use of technology. In that novel, cultural anthropologist Gideon Oliver is spending some time serving as a visiting fellow at the United States Overseas College (USOC). The plan is for him to give a series of guest lectures at various bases throughout Europe. But right from the start things go rather badly for him. First he’s attacked in his hotel room by two men who apparently think he has something of value. He makes a report to police officer John Lau, who begins to work with Oliver to try to find out who the attackers are. Then Oliver gets drawn into a whole web of international espionage and counter-espionage. Tom Marks and Hilaire Delvaux, two leaders in the NATO Security Directorate (NSD)’s counterespionage bureau, ask to see him. They tell him that they suspect Soviet spies are trying to steal something (although they’re not sure exactly what), and they want Oliver to report to them if he sees anything or anyone suspicious. Not seeing much choice in the matter, he agrees. Not long after that he’s attacked and nearly killed. He runs into other difficulties too as he travels to the different European bases. All of this convinces him that if he doesn’t figure out who at the USOC might be helping the Soviets, he’s going to continue to be a target. So he keeps asking questions and eventually gets to the truth about what’s really going on. In one particular scene, he and Lau are touring Spain’s Prado Museum. That’s when they spot a strange man with an umbrella. Something about him unsettles both men, and it turns out they are wise to be concerned. The umbrella is actually a very ingenious piece of technology that hides a gun. No, Oliver isn’t killed, but it shows you just how dangerous technology can be.

We see that in Lindy Cameron’s Redback, too. In that novel, we meet Bryn Gideon, leader of a crack Australian team of retrieval experts called Redback. Their specialty is rescuing people who are trapped in dangerous situations and they’re called in when the delegates to the Pacific Tourism and Enviro-Trade Conference are taken hostage by a group of local rebels. Team Redback succeeds in rescuing the hostages but soon gets drawn into a battle of wits against a shadowy group of international terrorists that uses local or regional terror groups to do its ‘dirty work.’ That turns out to be the connection among two murders, a devastating train bombing, and an explosion on a U.S. military base, among other violence. And just what do these terrorists use to keep their group organised and recruit and train new members? That’s right: technology. It turns out that they communicate via a new video game called Global War Tek.  See what I mean about technology?

In Cat Connor’s Killerbyte, New Zealand ex-pat and FBI operative Gabrielle ‘Ellie’ Conway is passionate about poetry – her own and others’. So she co-moderates an online poetry chat room called Cobwebs. The chat room turns deadly when one of the members Carter McLaren shows up at Ellie’s home to threaten her after being banned from the room. He’s arrested but later his body is found in the trunk of Conway’s car. Conway wants to clear her name and more than that, wants to find out who killed a member (even a former member) of the chat room. So she and her co-moderator and lover Cormac ‘Mac’ Connelly try to track down the murderer. Then there’s another death. And another. It’s obvious now that the killer is targeting chat room members. Despite all of their Internet skills and knowledge, and in spite of Conway’s FBI background and skills, this killer always seems to stay one step ahead of them. But they’re not without resources themselves. In the end a non-technical (and very useful) clue puts Conway and Connelly on the right track. But throughout this novel, both they and the killer make some fairly ingenious use of technology, and in the killer’s case, it turns out to be deadly.

There’s a frightening use of technology in Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy (AKA The Keeper of Lost Causes). Copenhagen homicide detective Carl Mørck is slowly returning to duty after a line-of-duty injury that killed one of his colleagues and left the other with paralysis. He’s never really easy to work with and since his return he’s become so difficult that he’s ‘promoted’ to head a new department specially set up to investigate cases of ‘special interest.’ The first case he and his assistant Hafez al-Assad investigate is the five-year-old disappearance of up-and-coming politician Merete Lynggaard. Everyone’s always believed that she was killed in a tragic incident on a ferry, but little hints soon suggest that she may still be alive. So Mørck and Assad work to try to find her before it’s too late. And they’re up against some fairly sophisticated and scary technology as they do so…

And then there’s Anthony Bidulka’s When the Saints Go Marching In, the first of his Adam Saint novels. Saint is a specialist with the Canadian Disaster Recovery Agency (CDRA). His job is to travel to any place where Canada, its interests or its citizens are involved in any kind of disaster. Saint lives a very high-technology sort of life and since a lot of what the CDRA does and knows is classified, he also is familiar with a lot of high-security technology. Everything changes when he travels to Magadan, Russia, where CDRA head Geoffrey Krazinkski has been killed at a plane crash site. The death is passed off as a tragic accident, but Saint is soon certain that it was no accident. He’s starting to ask questions about it when a personal emergency brings him suddenly back to Canada. Saint’s personal matter means the end of his career with the CDRA, In fact, all of his access codes, all of the technology he usually uses, and all of his resources are cut off. But that doesn’t stop him from asking questions about what happened. In fact he turns out to be more effective after officially leaving the CDRA. He gets drawn into a very dangerous mission with international implications. At the heart of it all? Greed and the willingness to use technology to satisfy it.

So as you see, technology can be deadly. Not that I’d ever give up my Internet access or anything quite that drastic, but one does have to be extremely cautious around technology. Now, let’s go take that tour. Lots of fascinating little devices I can show you there… ;-)

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Filed under Aaron Elkins, Anthony Bidulka, Cat Connor, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Lindy Cameron, Rex Stout