Category Archives: Karin Alvtegen

There Ain’t No Easy Way Out*

HardChoicesHave you ever faced the sort of dilemma where neither choice was really a good one? Sometimes these are called ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situations. If you have, then you know how stressful it can be to have to choose what to do. But those dilemmas happen quite a lot in real life. And they can add suspense and character depth to a crime novel. That’s why we see them in crime fiction as often as we do.

For example, in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, General Guy Sternwood hires Los Angeles-based PI Philip Marlowe to help him stop an extortionist. Book dealer Arthur Geiger has sent Sternwood a blackmail letter that makes reference to Sternwood’s daughter Carmen, and as you can imagine, Sternwood wants Geiger stopped. Marlowe agrees to work the case and goes to visit Geiger. When he finds Geiger though, it’s too late; his quarry’s just been murdered. What’s more, Carmen Sternwood is a witness. She’s either been drugged or has had a mental breakdown, so she can’t really tell Marlowe what happened, but she saw it all. Now Marlowe faces a difficult choice. His obligation to Sternwood is complete; Geiger won’t be a problem any more. On the other hand, Carmen Sternwood faces the very real possibility that the police will arrest her on suspicion of murder. If Marlowe washes his hands of the case, he is free of the disagreeable Sternwood family, but leaves Carmen in grave danger. If he helps Carmen, she may be spared, but he’ll get even more entangled in the Sternwood family drama and more trouble. Marlowe decides to help Carmen…

In Karin Alvtegen’s Betrayal, Eva Wirenström-Berg and her husband Henrik have hit a rough spot in their marriage. Still, as far as Eva is concerned, she has the sort of life she’s always wanted: husband, son Axel, house with the white picket fence, etc. Then she discovers that Henrik has been unfaithful. Now she faces a difficult choice. If she stays with Henrik, of course, she has to live with his infidelity and learn to cope. But she still has her settled, suburban life and the home remains stable for Axel. If she leaves Henrik, her dreams of that life are shattered, and so is Axel’s world. But she no longer has to live with an unfaithful partner. Eva decides to take her own kind of revenge, and that decision leads to some terrible unexpected consequences.

Martin Clark’s The Legal Limit features brothers Mason and Gates Hunt, who grew up in Patrick County, Virginia. They’ve had a difficult start to life, being the sons of an alcoholic, abusive father. But they’ve made it to young adulthood. Mason has taken advantage of every opportunity and is now in law school. Gates has squandered his considerable athletic ability and now lives on his girlfriend’s Welfare payments and money from his mother Sadie Grace. One day, Gates gets into an argument with his romantic rival Wayne Thompson. The fight’s temporarily put ‘on hold,’ but later that night, the Hunt brothers are on their way home from a night out when they encounter Thompson again. The fight starts anew and before anyone really knows what’s happening, Gates has shot his rival. Out of filial duty, Mason helps his brother cover up the crime and life goes on for both brothers. Then, years later, Gates is arrested for cocaine trafficking and convicted. He asks his brother, now a commonwealth prosecutor, to help get him out of jail. Mason refuses. Gates threatens that if Mason doesn’t help him, he’ll implicate him in the still-unsolved Thompson murder. This presents Mason with a true ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situation. If he goes along with his brother, he’ll be responsible for freeing a criminal and violating the ethical requirements of his job. If he doesn’t, he’ll be under indictment for a murder he didn’t commit. Mason’s decision not to arrange for his brother’s release puts him up against an incredibly difficult legal challenge.

In Gail Bowen’s The Gifted, academician and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn Shreve and her attorney husband Zack face a very challenging dilemma. Their fourteen-year-old daughter Taylor is a gifted artist who is passionate about her work. Two of her pieces are selected for inclusion in a high-profile art auction that will benefit a redevelopment project for the community of North Regina. If Taylor’s parents allow her to be a part of the auction, this will change everything for her. On the one hand, that will be a very good thing, as it will pave the way for Taylor to pursue her art. There will be scholarships and all sorts of other support for her. She’ll also get important recognition. On the other hand, Taylor is still a child. Her parents want to her to have as much of a normal childhood, whatever that actually is, as possible given her talent. Still, they don’t want to deny Taylor opportunities, so they somewhat reluctantly allow her to participate. That decision has dramatic unforeseen consequences when Taylor’s work is revealed at the auction.

Ernesto Mallo’s Needle in a Haystack features Buenos Airies police detective Venancio ‘Perro’ Lescano. Early one morning, he’s called to a crime scene, where he finds two bodies dumped by a riverbank. They bear the hallmarks of an Army ‘hit.’ This is late 1970s Argentina, when it’s extremely dangerous to say or do anything that might be interpreted as questioning the military-ruled government. So Lescano knows better than to raise comment about those bodies. But he finds a third body, too. This one is of moneylender and pawnbroker Elías Biterman. Someone’s gone to some trouble to make his death look like another Army ‘hit,’ but Lescano doesn’t think it is. He’s not a medical expert though, so he seeks help from his friend Dr. Fusili, who is a medical examiner. Fusili now faces a terrible choice. If he helps Lescano, he’s putting his own life in jeopardy. Certainly he’ll lose his job. On the other hand, if he doesn’t help Lescano, he’s betraying a friend. He’ll keep his position and perhaps even enhance his reputation, but he’ll be sacrificing his friendship and possibly sentencing Lescano to death. When Fusili decides to help Lescano, that choice puts him grave danger, but it gives Lescano badly needed support.

Wellington TV journalist Rebecca Thorne faces a very difficult decision in Paddy Richardson’s Traces of Red. She’s hit a sort of plateau in her career, and she knows that there are plenty of hungry journalists out there who are all too eager to grab headlines and ratings. So she needs the story that will secure her place at the top of the proverbial tree. Then she hears of just such a story. Connor Bligh has been in prison for years for the murders of his sister Angela Dickson, her husband Rowan and their son Sam. Only their daughter Katy survived because she wasn’t at home at the time of the killings. There are now hints that Bligh might be innocent and that’s what he himself claims. If he is, that’s exactly the story Thorne needs. However, there are plenty of people, Katy among them, who swear that Bligh is guilty and whose lives will be upended if Thorne goes after this story. Whichever choice Thorne makes, she’s taking risks. When she ultimately decides to pursue the story, she finds herself getting much closer to it than a professional normally should. Her choice has serious consequences for a lot of people.

It’s never easy to know what to do about a dilemma, especially when neither choice is really an outright positive one. But that tension makes for a real layer of interest in crime novels. Your turn.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne’s I Won’t Back Down.

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Filed under Ernesto Mallo, Gail Bowen, Karin Alvtegen, Martin Clark, Paddy Richardson, Raymond Chandler

What a Tale My Thoughts Could Tell*

Stream of ConsciousnessOne of the devices that authors use to tell stories is stream of consciousness. It’s a fairly useful device, as it’s handy for building a story’s background and adding character depth, among other things. Stream of consciousness can also provide valuable point-of-view depth as well. Of course, like any other tool, it can be over-used or used clumsily. But when it’s handled effectively, it can add to a story.

Stream of consciousness certainly shows up in crime fiction, just as it does in any other genre. Here are just a few examples to show you what I mean. I’m quite sure you can think of lots more.

In Agatha Christie’s The Hollow (AKA Murder After Hours), Sir Henry and Lady Lucy Angkatell invite a group of guests to their home for the weekend. Among the guests are Harley Street specialist Dr. John Christow and his wife Gerda. On the Sunday afternoon, Christow is shot by the swimming pool. Hercule Poirot, who has taken a cottage nearby, has been invited for lunch. When he arrives, he thinks at first that it’s all some sort of macabre tableau set up for his ‘benefit.’ He soon sees that it’s all too real though, and works with Inspector Bland to find out who killed Christow and why. Christie uses stream of consciousness in several places in this novel. For instance, as the Christows are preparing to leave for the weekend, we follow Christiow’s line of thinking as he sees his last patients before the trip. We also follow Gerda’s line of thinking as she and their two children wait for him to join them for lunch. Those stream-of-consciousness moments give readers a look at their past history and backstory as well as their personalities.

There’s also stream of consciousness in Karin Alvtegen’s Betrayal. Eva Wirenström-Berg’s dream of the ‘white picket fence’ life is shattered when she discovers that her husband Henrik has been unfaithful. After her initial shock passes, she is determined to find out who the other woman is, and when she does, she makes her own plans for revenge. One night she happens to go to a pub when she meets Jonas Hansson, who is facing his own tragic issues. That meeting has terrible unforeseen consequences as life starts to spin out of control. In several places in the novel, we follow Eva’s line of thinking as she discovers Henrik’s affair, makes her plans and so on. We also follow Henrik’s line of thinking as we learn what led to his infidelity. And we follow Jonas Hansson’s thoughts as he meets Eva. In this case, the stream of consciousness gives insight into each character’s motivations and lets the reader see the events that happen from each one’s point of view.

Paddy Richardson’s Hunting Blind makes use of stream of consciousness too, mostly from the point of view of Stephanie Anderson. She is a newly-minted psychiatrist who lives and works in Dunedin. One day she has a breakthrough with a patient Elisabeth Clark. Years earlier, her younger sister Gracie was abducted and never found. Not even a body was recovered. She’s still dealing with the trauma of what happened, and it touches a nerve for Anderson. Seventeen years earlier, her own younger sister Gemma was also abducted, again with no trace of her ever found. Anderson decides to use the information she has about Gemma’s abduction and the information she gets from her patient to find out who caused such devastation in their families. She journeys from Dunedin to her home town at Wanaka to solve the mystery and lay her own ghosts to rest. As she does so, we follow her thoughts and internal monologue. And that stream of consciousness gives insight into her character, into the effect Gemma’s abduction has had on her, and into the way she slowly begins to heal.

Y.A. Erskine uses stream of consciousness in part to give backstory in The Brotherhood. When Sergeant John White of the Tasmania Police is murdered one morning, an entire group of people is deeply affected by the incident. As his fellow officers pursue the case, we see the events from the perspectives of several of the people in his life, including the other officer who was there; White’s former lover; his wife; and his protégé. Their thoughts give the reader helpful information about White and about their history with him.

Herman Koch’s The Dinner also includes stream of consciousness. Paul Lohman, his successful politician brother Serge, and their wives Claire and Babette meet for dinner at an exclusive Amsterdam restaurant. Within the context of the dinner, we learn about the family dynamics and about the awful secrets that some members of that family are hiding. The story moves through the courses of the dinner and as each course is served, we learn a little more about what those secrets are and what the family is really like. The story is told from the point of view of Paul Lohman, and Koch uses stream of consciousness to give the reader insights in to his character and into the family’s backstory.

Fans of H.R.F. Keating’s Inspector Ganesh Ghote will know that those novels often include stream of consciousness. For example, in Inspector Ghote Breaks an Egg, Ghote is sent to a small village to uncover the truth about the death of an eminent politician’s first wife. Ghote faces several challenges here. One is that the death happened fifteen years ago, so finding evidence will be difficult. Another is that any such investigation is delicate because of the power of the people involved. What’s more, a local holy man seems dead set against any investigation into the events. In fact, he’s fasting, and very publicly, until the investigation is stopped. But Ghote has been given his orders, so he goes to the village in the guise of an egg-seller, and works to uncover the truth. Throughout this novel, stream of consciousness shows the reader Ghote’s deductions, his character and personality, and his way of arriving at the truth.

And that’s the thing about stream of consciousness. On the one hand, if it’s mis-handled, it can be tedious and can take away from the pace of a crime novel. On the other, when used effectively, it can lend a story character depth and can provide important background information.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you enjoy stream of consciousness in crime fiction, or do you find it off-putting? If you’re a writer, do you use that device?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Gordon Lightfoot’s If You Could Read My Mind.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, H.R.F. Keating, Herman Koch, Karin Alvtegen, Paddy Richardson, Y.A. Erskine

This is a Dangerous Liaison*

Dangerous LiaisonsIf you read enough crime fiction, you get to the point where you can almost give advice to the characters. Just as an example, there are plenty of novels where there’s a ‘boy meets girl’ situation that you absolutely know is not going to go well. If it’s handled deftly, that kind of scene or plot thread can add real tension and suspense to a novel. If it’s done poorly it gets predictable and therefore, just pulls the reader out of the story. Let me offer a few examples from crime fiction to show you what I mean.

In Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, General Guy Sternwood hires private investigator Philip Marlowe to help him solve a delicate family problem. Book dealer Arthur Geiger has sent Sternwood an extortion letter that makes reference to Sternwood’s daughter Carmen. Marlowe’s job will be to make Geiger leave the Sternwood family alone. By the time he gets to Geiger’s place of business though, it’s too late: Geiger’s been murdered. What’s worse, it seems that Carmen Sternwood was a witness. Marlowe does his best to protect Carmen and thinks his business with the Sternwood family is done. But it’s really only beginning, as soon enough the Sternwood chauffer is killed. Then there’s another blackmail threat. It turns out that this is a very complicated case, but Marlowe manages to find out the truth. At one point in the novel, Carmen Sternwood tries to seduce Marlowe. It’s definitely one of those, ‘There is no way this can go well’ moments and it’s interesting to see how Marlowe handles it.

In Karin Alvtegen’s Betrayal, Eva Wirenström-Berg has recently discovered that her husband Henrik has been unfaithful. She’s devastated of course, and even more so when she finds out who the other woman is.  One evening, she goes out with no particular purpose in mind. She ends up at a pub where she meets Jonas Hansson, who has his own personal tragedy. The two strike up a conversation and by the time they leave the pub together, the reader has learned enough about both to know that this is not going to work out well. And it doesn’t. Instead, the situation spirals more and more out of control and ends tragically for more than one person.

Jane Casey’s The Burning introduces DC Maeve Kerrigan of the Met. She and her colleagues are on the trail of a killer that the press has nicknamed the Burning Man because he tries to destroy his victims by fire. At one point, they think they have their man, but while that suspect is in custody there’s another death. This time, PR professional Rebecca Haworth is the victim. At first it looks as though the Burning Man has struck again. But there are enough inconsistencies that this could also be a ‘copycat’ murder. For various reasons Kerrigan is asked to focus her attention on the Haworth case instead of the larger Burning Man investigation. She’s not thrilled about it, but she knows the consequences of not ‘playing by the rules.’ So she begins to dig into Haworth’s past. It turns out that there’s more than one possible suspect. Soon it’s clear that this is a separate investigation. Kerrigan and her team do get to the truth about both Rebecca Haworth’s murder and about the Burning Man murders. And without spoiling the novel, I can say that dangerous liaisons play a role. There are several moments in the novel where the reader is tempted to shout out a warning. There are enough plot twists though that it isn’t predictable.

In Out of the Silence, Wendy James offers a fictionalised account of a real-life case. In 1900, Maggie Heffernan was convicted in Melbourne of killing her infant son. James uses the novel to tell Maggie’s story, which begins in rural Victoria. There, Maggie meets Jack Hardy, who’s in from Sydney visiting relatives. The two soon begin a romantic relationship. At first, all seems fine. Then, Maggie begins to hope for a marriage proposal. The two do become secretly engaged, but Jack tells her that they’ll have to keep things private until he can earn enough to provide for a family. Instead of being alerted by this, Maggie agrees. Then Jack leaves for New South Wales to find work. Maggie discovers that she’s pregnant and writes to Jack. There is no answer, even after several letters. In the meantime, Maggie’s about to give birth and she knows that her own family won’t have her back. So she goes to Melbourne where she finds work in a Guest House. Baby Jacky duly arrives and for a short time, Maggie and her son stay in a home for unwed mothers. Then she learns that Jack may be in Melbourne and decides to go in search of him, sure that he’ll be overjoyed to have a family. Instead, Jack rejects her harshly, saying that she’s crazy. Devastated and desperate, Maggie takes the baby to six different lodging homes and is turned away from each one. That’s when the tragedy occurs. Savvy readers see it coming, but at the same time, the story is deftly told, so it keeps the reader’s interest.

And then there’s Jane Risdon’s short story The Honey Trap. In that story, a British agent spends the evening with a beautiful woman. You know immediately that something bad is going to happen. Such evenings have a nasty habit of going very, very wrong. I don’t want to spoil the story, so check it out to see how this one works out.

In Malcolm Mackay’s The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter, Stewart Macintosh is out one night at a Glasgow club called Heavenly. There he meets a beautiful woman Zara Cope. She seems attracted to him and the two become quite friendly. By the time this happens, the reader has learned that Zara is the girlfriend of drug dealer Lewis Winter, who’s been targeted for murder. As it happens, he’s at the club too, but he’s quite drunk, and Macintosh is besotted. He’s so besotted in fact that he agrees to help Zara get Winter back to the house and into bed, the idea being that he and Zara will then have the rest of the night together. You know this isn’t going to end well and it doesn’t. Two professional hit men burst in and Macintosh finds himself caught up in a web of murder, conspiracy and drug ‘patch wars.’

Agatha Christie uses that plot point in a few of her stories too, but since specific examples would give away too much, I’ll refrain from mentioning them. Sometimes, you just know that nothing good is going to come from a ‘boy meets girl’ situation, but when it’s done well, the suspense and interest help carry it off. Which examples have you thought worked really well?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jason Mraz’ The Remedy (I Won’t Worry).

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Filed under Jane Casey, Jane Risdon, Karin Alvtegen, Malcolm Mackay, Raymond Chandler, Wendy James

And it Seems That I’ve Arrived at a Battleground Just by Chance*

Unrelated MurdersSome crime fiction authors are quite skilled at tying together seemingly disparate cases. In those novels, the plot threads may seem separate at first, but they have a common origin (e.g. the same person committed two apparently distinct murders; or murder A was committed because the victim knew about Murder B). There are some cases though, where the sleuth is pursuing one case and runs into another, unrelated case on the way. It’s not easy to pull that kind of story off credibly. After all, the ‘long arm of coincidence’ can take away from a novel. And it’s important in a story like this to follow more than one plot thread effectively. But when it’s done well, it can be realistic. After all, the rest of life doesn’t stop when real-life cases are being investigated. Other things happen at the same time. Let me just share a few examples of stories like this to show you what I mean.

In Agatha Christie’s The Clocks, special agent Colin Lamb is in the town of Crowdean following up on the investigation into an alleged spy ring. His search leads him to a quiet neighbourhood called Wilbraham Crescent. He’s walking along the street there when a young woman Sheila Webb rushes out of one of the houses screaming that there’s a dead man inside. Lamb helps Webb settle herself and goes into the house to see for himself what’s there. When he discovers that she was right about there being a body in the house, he calls the police and the investigation into the man’s death begins. The case has enough strangeness about it that Lamb thinks it will interest his father’s friend Hercule Poirot, so he tells Poirot about it. Poirot is indeed interested and with his help, Lamb and Inspector Richard Hardcastle find out who the dead man was and who killed him. That murder doesn’t have anything to do really with the spy ring case (which, by the way, Lamb also solves). It’s really proximity as you might say that brings the two cases together.

In Andrea Camilleri’s The Terra Cotta Dog, Inspector Salvo Montalbano gets an unusual request. Small-time crime boss Gegè Gullotta, who also happens to be a friend of Montalbano’s, has a message for him. Powerful crime leader Gaetano ‘Tano the Greek’ Bennici wants a meeting, and he wanted Gullotta to arrange it. Things get even more unusual when Montalbano meets with Bennici. It turns out that Bennici wants to be arrested. He has reasons of his own and Montalbano decides to oblige. Information that Bennici gives him leads Montalbano to an illegal cache of arms that’s hidden in a cave. And that’s when Montalbano stumbles onto a fifty-year-old mystery. The remains of two young lovers are in a separate part of the cave, together with a life-sized terra-cotta dog seemingly watching over them. Montalbano can’t resist the urge to find out who the two people were and why and by whom they were murdered.

In Karin Alvtegen’s Betrayal, we are introduced to Eva Wirenström-Berg. She and her husband Henrik have what Eva thinks is a stable marriage, and they’re the loving parents of six-year-old Axel. Then, Eva finds out to her shock that Henrik has been unfaithful. Not only is this is of course a devastating personal betrayal, but it also shatters Eva’s dream of the perfect suburban family life. When she finds out who Henrik’s lover is, she decides to take a form of revenge against them both. At the same time, we follow the story of Jonas Hansson, who has his own sorrow to bear. He’s the product of a very unhappy childhood, but he found real solace in his fiancée Anna. Then one night she nearly drowned in a fall from a local pier. Since then she’s been in a coma and Jonas has faithfully visited her every day to take care of her. One night he and Eva happen to meet in a pub. That’s when things begin to spiral out of control for both of them, and the choices they both make have tragic consequences. Eva may not be an ‘official’ sleuth, but this is a fascinating example of a person who’s working on one set of problems and comes upon an entirely different set…

Christopher Brookmyre’s Quite Ugly One Morning is the story of journalist Jack Parlabane. He was in Los Angeles pursuing leads on a major case of greed and corruption at high levels when some very nasty people made it unwise for him to stay. So Parlabane has returned to his home in Edinburgh where he’s hoping he’ll be able to carry on his investigation from a distance. One morning he wakes up with a terrible hangover. He soon hears a loud commotion in the building where he lives so he stumbles out of his flat to see what’s going on. That’s when it occurs to him that he’s locked himself out. He does remember that he left his window open though, so he’s hoping that if the people in the downstairs flat will let him, he can crawl through there up to his open window. When he gets to the downstairs flat though, he finds a brutally murdered man. It turns out that Parlabane has come upon a very ugly crime scene that will have implications in high places. Not wanting to call attention to himself, he tries to get through the flat quietly and sneak out the window, but DC Jenny Dalziel gets there before he can escape. At first she makes the obvious inference, but when Parlabane convinces her that he isn’t the murderer, they find they can be of help to each other. As it turns out, Parlabane was working on one case of greed and corruption and accidentally stumbled on another, major story.

And then there’s Geoffrey McGeachin’s The Diggers Rest Hotel. In that novel, Melbourne cop Charlie Berlin is sent to Wodonga to help the local police catch a motorcycle gang that’s been committing a series of robberies. The robberies have turned violent with the most recent incident at a local railway station; in that case, the paymaster was injured. So there’s a lot of pressure now to solve these robberies before anyone else gets hurt or worse. While he’s in Wodonga working on the motorcycle gang case, Berlin gets drawn into another. The body of sixteen-year-old Jenny Lee is found in an alley. At first, it seems that the motorcycle gang must be responsible for her death. But when Berlin finds out that’s not the case, he has to start all over to find out who would have wanted to kill Jenny and why. In this instance, one case happens to put Berlin at the right place at the right time to work on another.

And that’s the way it happens sometimes. Unrelated cases like that are not easy to write. But when they’re done well we can get a realistic picture of how life sometimes puts detectives working on one case right in the path of another.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Marshall Crenshaw’s Lesson Number One.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Christopher Brookmyre, Geoffrey McGeachin, Karin Alvtegen

I Promise I’ll Believe*

BeliefsOne of the many things that crime writers do (besides, of course, telling good stories) is explore human nature and human psychology. One of the many really interesting phenomena of psychology is that sometimes, people want to believe something so badly that they find it well-nigh impossible to let go of that belief. That desperate need to believe is part of why charlatans and quacks are sometimes so successful. Of course that’s certainly not the only instance where we see how far people will go when they need to believe something. Just a few examples from crime fiction should show you what I mean. 

In Agatha Christie’s Dead Man’s Folly, Mystery novelist Ariadne Oliver has been commissioned to create a Murder Hunt for an upcoming fête that will be held on the grounds of Nasse House. Mrs. Oliver may be scatty about some things, but as Hercule Poirot puts it, she is also,

 

‘a very shrewd judge of character.’

 

So when she begins to suspect that something sinister may be going on at Nasse House, Poirot pays attention. When Mrs. Oliver asks him to come and investigate for himself, he agrees. On the day of the fête, fourteen-year-old Marlene Tucker, who was playing the Victim in the Murder Hunt, is actually killed.  Poirot works with Inspector Bland and his team to find out who committed the murder and why. As he learns, there is one person who knows quite a lot about what happened, but that person wants desperately to believe in the culprit, and can’t admit what really happened. Even in the end, that person would rather blame someone else.

In one of the plot threads of Donna Leon’s A Question of Belief, Ispettore Lorenzo Vianello is facing a family problem. His aunt Zia Anita has been behaving oddly lately. For one thing, she’s taken what Vianello thinks is an unhealthy interest in astrology. What’s more, she’s been withdrawing money from the family business and giving it to Stefano Gorini, a self-styled doctor with a dubious background. The money is hers to do with as she wishes, so it’s not a question of theft. Still, Vianello is concerned. So he asks his boss Commissario Guido Brunetti to help him look into the matter. Brunetti agrees and he starts to do a little investigation. It turns out that Gorini has been in trouble with the law before for practising medicine without a license. Now he’s set himself up again and people are coming to him for cures that he can’t deliver. As Brunetti looks deeper into the matter, he finds that there are people who so need to believe in Gorini that they will not accept his being a charlatan. In one case, that desperate need to believe has a tragic result. 

There’s a different sort of need to believe in Karin Alvtegen’s Betrayal. Eva Wirenström-Berg and her husband Henrik have a fifteen-year marriage and a six-year-old son Axel. On the surface of it, everything is fine in their lives, but that’s mostly because Eva has a desperate need to believe in the ‘white picket fence’ kind of life. It’s what she has always wanted and she badly needs to believe that’s what she has. Then she discovers that Henrik has been unfaithful. His betrayal of her is devastating for Eva, and her reaction to it sets in motion a terrible chain of events. As the novel unfolds, we see that their marriage wasn’t the happy bond that Eva needed to believe that it was. In several places in the story, the reader can’t help but think, ‘If you’d only looked at things honestly, this all could have been avoided.’ It’s a fascinating look at the need to believe things. 

So is Tarquin Hall’s The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing. In that novel, Delhi private detective Vishwas ‘Vish’ Puri learns on news broadcasts that a former client Dr. Suresh Jha has been murdered. Since Jha was a client, Puri has more than a passing interest in the case and begins to ask questions about it. The circumstances of the death are to say the least unusual. Jha had joined other members of the Rajpath Laughing Club one morning for their laughing exercises. All of a sudden, so say witnesses, the goddess Kali appeared and stabbed Jha. The event makes for sensational headlines, and many people really believe that Kali appeared. They desperately feel the need to believe in that spiritual connection. What’s interesting is that Jha was the founder and head of the Delhi Institute for Rationalism and Education (D.I.R.E.). His mission was to debunk the myths that allow charlatans to take advantage of people’s need to believe. He called those people ‘the godmen,’ and did everything he could to expose them. So it’s very possible that one of Delhi’s spiritual leaders had something to do with Jha’s death. Puri and his team investigate a few of them as well as several other suspects. As they get to the truth about what happened to Jha, we see how powerful a force people’s need to believe really is. 

We see that in Paddy Richardson’s Traces of Red too. Rebecca Thorne is a Wellington television journalist who’s looking for the story that will make her career. She thinks she may have found that story in the case of Connor Bligh. Bligh’s been in prison for several years for the murders of his sister Angela Dickson, her husband Rowan and their son Sam. Only their daughter Katy survived because she wasn’t at home when the murders were committed. Now there are little hints that Bligh may be innocent. And of course, he’s always maintained he wasn’t guilty. If he’s right, then this could be a career-making story and Thorne pursues it. As she does, she gets closer to the story than is really wise. And the questions come up: is Bligh innocent, or is that just something some people really need to believe?  Is he guilty, or do certain people truly feel the need to believe he’s guilty, so they won’t have to look elsewhere? 

There are a lot of other novels of course that explore how desperately people need to believe things. For instance, I haven’t even touched on the novels where a character (sometimes the sleuth) believes so strongly in a suspect’s innocence that s/he investigates the case just for that reason. It’s another example of how our need to believe moves us.

ps. A special thanks to FictionFan, whose terrific review of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Coming of the Fairies inspired this post. If you haven’t sampled FictionFan’s excellent review blog, you’re in for a treat!
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Sheryl Crow’s Strong Enough

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Donna Leon, Karin Alvtegen, Paddy Richardson, Tarquin Hall