Category Archives: Kerry Greenwood

I’ve Found a Paradise That’s Trouble Proof*

RetreatsLet’s face it: life gets a bit much sometimes. When that happens, it’s nice to have a sort of retreat – a special place to go to get away from it all. An interesting post from author and fellow blogger D.S. Nelson has got me thinking about how many fictional characters have those kinds of special places. Pop culture fans will know for instance that Superman has his famous Fortress of Solitude. And if you look at crime fiction, you see that there are plenty of characters who have special retreats like that. Here are just a few examples.

In Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, we meet James Sheppard, doctor for the village of King’s Abbot. Even in a peaceful village, life can get busy, especially for a doctor, so Sheppard has a special retreat in his house. He’s built a workroom where even the maid

 

‘…is not allowed to wreak havoc with a dustpan and brush.’

 

Sheppard gets drawn into a case of murder when his friend, retired manufacturing tycoon Roger Ackroyd, is stabbed in his study one evening. The prime suspect is Ackroyd’s stepson Captain Ralph Paton. Paton’s fiancée Flora Ackroyd is convinced that he’s innocent, so she asks Hercule Poirot to investigate. Poirot is impressed with Flora’s sense of conviction so he agrees to look into the matter. In the end, Poirot finds that Ackroyd knew more than was safe for him to know about one particular villager.

Scott Young’s Murder in a Cold Climate is the story of the shooting murder of Native activist Morton Cavendish. Matthew ‘Matteesie’ Kitologitak of the RCMP is a witness to the killing, and happened to know Cavendish anyway. So he’s determined to find the killer. He’s even more fixed on the investigation when it turns out that Cavendish’s death could be related to another case Matteesie’s working on: the disappearance of a Cessna with three men aboard. One of the people of interest in this case is Cavendish’s son William. William may or may not be involved in either or both incidents. But it’s likely that he has a lot of information no matter how innocent he may be. So Matteesie wants to find him. It turns out that William has a special place – a retreat he’s had since adolescence – where he goes sometimes just to be by himself. That retreat turns out to play a key role in the story.

In Gail Bowen’s Deadly Appearances, political scientist and academic Joanne Kilbourn is shocked and in grief when her friend Androu ‘Andy’ Boychuk is poisoned during a political speech at a community picnic. It’s bad enough that Boychuk was a friend, but what makes things worse is that this brings back the murder of Kilbourn’s husband Ian, whose loss she still mourns. As a way of dealing with her loss, Kilbourn decides to write a biography of Boychuck. As she gathers material for her book, Kilbourn also finds herself investigating the murder. As it turns out, Boychuk’s death had nothing really do to with his political views, and everything to do with his past. Kilbourn’s home has a ‘granny flat’ above the garage, and she uses that both as an office and as a retreat. She spends her share of time in the granny flat and in this book, that fact plays an important role in what happens.

Virginia Duigan’s The Precipice introduces us to retired school principal Thea Farmer. She bought what she intended as a retreat in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, and was planning it as her dream home. She’s not much of a one for people, and what she wants most of all is to be away from as many of them as possible. But financial issues and poor decisions mean that she has to give up her dream home and settle for the house next door, a house she calls ‘the hovel.’ To add insult to injury, Thea’s perfect retreat is soon purchased by Frank Campbell and Ellice Carrington. Thea refers to these new neighbours as ‘the invaders;’ not only have they purchased the home she considers her own, but they have also taken away her sense of retreat and privacy. Despite her intentions to have nothing to do with ‘the invaders,’ Thea finds herself getting involved in their lives when Frank’s niece Kim moves in. Thea reluctantly warms up to Kim and sees that she has real promise as a writer. So when she comes to believe that Frank and Ellice are not providing an appropriate home for Kim, Thea decides to do something about it. Special places and retreats play an important part in this story.

Many other sleuths also have retreats and special places they go when they want to get away. Fans of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe will know that he spends his share of time in his orchid room. And everyone in his life knows better than to disturb him when he’s communing with his plants. He does love the orchids, but he also uses to the time to get away.

James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux has his share of difficult times and trauma, both because of his personal life and because of his job as a New Iberia, Louisiana cop. He gets away from it all by taking his boat out and going fishing. It’s his escape – his special place.

And then there’s Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman. She has her home and bakery in a large Melbourne building called Insula. Although she doesn’t go looking for mysteries to solve, they seem to find her. And even when they don’t, she’s kept quite busy with her business, her relationship with her lover Daniel Cohen, and her duties as servant to three cats. So sometimes Chapman likes to get away and relax. When she does, she doesn’t have far to go. Insula has a lovely rooftop garden where Chapman takes a glass of wine or a drink and enjoys the view. The rooftop is also the scene of some terrific get-togethers of the building’s residents.

And of course, there’s D.S. Nelson’s own Blake Heatherington. As the series featuring him begins, he’s a milliner whose family has been in the business for a long time. He understands hats and the kinds of personalities that are best suited for different kinds of hats. You might say that hat-making is in his blood. So even when he’s no longer involved in the day-to-day business of millinery, Heatherington enjoys creating hats. And he’s got a special retreat for just that purpose. He goes there to try new creations, to think over his cases and to be alone with his thoughts.

Do you have a special sort of retreat like that? If you’re a writer, does your protagonist?

Thanks, D.S., for the inspiration! Folks, now that you’ve been kind enough to stop here, please consider making your next stop D.S. Nelson’s terrific site. It’s got good conversation about writing and some terrific collaborative short stories, among lots of other great things.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Gerry Goffin and Carole King’s Up On the Roof, made popular by the Drifters.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, D.S. Nelson, Gail Bowen, James Lee Burke, Kerry Greenwood, Rex Stout, Scott Young, Virginia Duigan

Father I Put My Life in Your Hands*

ConventThere are all sorts of fictional sleuths, both professional and amateur. And an interesting post from Moira at Clothes in Books has got me thinking about one kind of sleuth in particular: the sleuth who is a nun. I’ll have more to say about nuns in a moment. For now, let me give you a chance to go visit Clothes in Books, a most excellent resource for rich discussions of fashion, culture and social trends in literature. Trust me, you want this blog on your blog roll.

Right. Nuns. Nuns pop up in crime fiction quite a lot. Most crime fiction fans can think of examples of novels that feature a nun or a convent. But it’s easy to overlook the fact that nuns can also make effective sleuths. A quick glance at some fictional sleuths who are nuns should show you what I mean.

One of the better-known examples of the nun as sleuth is Peter Tremayne’s Sister Fidelma. The Sister Fidelma series takes place in 7th Century Ireland, a time when only the wealthy and ‘well born’ were educated. And that was especially true for women. But Sister Fidelma has the advantage of noble birth and ‘breeding.’ She is a Princess of Munster who has been given an education and become a dailegh, an Irish lawyer.  She is also of course a nun, at least for most of the series. Because of Sister Fidelma’s noble birth and legal background, she is privy to a great deal of ‘palace intrigue’ and politics of the day, and many of the plots of these novels deal with court doings. In most of the novels, she works with Brother Eadulf, a Saxon clergyman whom she eventually marries. Sister Fidelma is unusual for her times but, a bit like Ariana Franklin’s Adelia Aguilar, she is an interesting character for just that reason.

The writing team of Gail Frazer and Mary Monica Pulver Kuhfeld created the Dame Frevisse series, which takes place in 15th Century England. Dame Frevisse is a Benedictine nun who lives at St Frideswide’s in Oxfordshire. The series begins with The Novice’s Tale, in which a young ‘well born’ woman named Thomasine is preparing to join the convent. Her great-aunt, Lady Ermentrude Fenner, has other ideas though, and when she pays the convent a visit, Thomasine is less than happy to see her. Then, Lady Ermentrude suddenly dies, just weeks before Thomasine is to take her final vows. Thomasine is the most natural suspect, but Dame Frevisse doesn’t think she’s guilty. What’s more, she has no desire for the convent to lose its only novice. So she looks more deeply into what’s happened to find out who really killed Lady Ermentrude.

Boris Akunin wrote a trilogy of historical mysteries that take place in the very late 19th Century/early 20th Century. The trilogy features a Russian Orthodox nun Sister Pelagia. Besides her religious duties, Sister Pelagia teaches at the diocesan school for girls at Zavolzhsk on the Volga River. In the first of the trilogy, Sister Pelagia and the White Bulldog, Mitrofanii, Bishop of Zavolzhsk, learns that someone has been poisoning his great-aunt’s prized white bulldogs. This is a new and therefore rare breed and she is of course devastated about the poisoning. Mitrofanii has the reputation of being able to solve difficult problems, but really, he’s not the one with the skill at deduction: it’s his protégée Sister Pelagia. The bishop asks her to go to the town where his great-aunt lives and see if she can find out who is responsible for the poisoning. She agrees (after all, it’s her duty to do as the bishop says) and travels to Drozdovka to look into the matter. She soon finds though that this is much more than just someone going after dogs. When humans start dying too, Sister Pelagia knows that she’s up against a dangerous killer.

There’s an interesting series about a retired nun that was actually written by a nun. Sister Carol Anne O’Marie was a Sister of St Joseph of Carondelet for fifty years, so she certainly understood the religious life. Her sleuth is 75-year-old Sister Mary Helen who at the beginning of the series has recently retired from her Order. In the first novel, A Novena For Murder, she’s accepted a position teaching at San Francisco’s Mount St. Francis College for Women. Not at all ready for complete retirement, Sister Mary Helen has traded her traditional habit for modern clothes and is thinking she’ll include some teaching innovations in her curriculum. Then, an earthquake reveals a dead body that shouldn’t have been there. When the police make an arrest, Sister Mary Helen thinks they have the wrong suspect. So she does some investigating of her own.

Of course, nuns can be important in crime novels even if they aren’t the protagonists. For instance, in Catherine Aird’s The Religious Body, Inspector Sloan and Constable Crosby investigate the murder of Sister Anne, a member of the Convent of St. Anselm. In order to find out who the murderer might be, the detectives have to get to know the convent and the nuns who call it home. So although she doesn’t solve the crime, St. Anselm’s Mother Superior does provide a lot of insight.

And then there’s Sister Mary, a ‘regular’ in Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman series. She runs the Melbourne Soup Run, a mobile service that brings food, medicine, clothes and other necessities to Melbourne’s street people. Sister Mary is determined to do some good and make a difference, and she lives out her religious beliefs. She’s also got a very strong personality so people often find themselves doing what she wants whether they originally wanted to or not. In this series, Chapman, who is a baker, is the protagonist. But Sister Mary certainly plays an important role. In Devil’s Food, for instance, Chapman’s parents have come to Melbourne on a visit, and her father disappears. Chapman knows that her father doesn’t have friends or relatives (other than her) in Melbourne, and he also doesn’t have any money with him. So she figures out that he may be at one of the charity shelters in the city. Sister Mary knows them all and is able to help find out what happened to Chapman’s father.

The stereotype of a nun may not include ‘detective,’ but the fact is, nuns are often highly intelligent and observant and can be very effective sleuths. Which crime-fictional nun-sleuths do you like best?

Thanks, Moira, for the inspiration!

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Sister Janet Mead

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Filed under Ariana Franklin, Boris Akunin, Catherine Aird, Gail Frazer, Kerry Greenwood, Margaret Frazer, Mary Monica Pulver Kuhfeld, Peter Tremayne, Sister Carol Anne O'Marie

Who’s Into Crystal, Who’s Into Healing?*

New AgePeople tend to want life to make sense. They want answers and many want to believe in something greater than themselves. For lots of people, the answer is organised, Western-style religion, but that doesn’t work for everyone. Some instead turn to New Age and alternative spirituality. The appeal of New Age spirituality can be quite strong for people who don’t really identify with a particular religious denomination, but still want answers to life’s big questions. There are a lot of New Age shops, books, temples and spiritual advisors in real life, and it shouldn’t be surprising that they’re there in crime fiction too.  You’ll notice, by the way, that I’m making a distinction here between alternative spirituality and cults. Cults are a post-worthy topic all their own…

In Agatha Christie’s Dumb Witness (AKA Poirot Loses a Client), Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings investigate the death of Miss Emily Arundell. Her death was originally put down to liver failure, but when it turns out that she was actually poisoned, Poirots looks more deeply into the case. One of the suspects in this case is Miss Arundell’s companion Wilhelmina ‘Minnie’ Lawson. It seems that Miss Arundell has left her entire fortune to Miss Lawson, and it’s quite possible that Miss Lawson knew about that. So Poirot tries to find out as much as he can about Minnie Lawson. One of his stops is at the home of two of her friends, Isabel and Julia Tripp. The Tripp sisters are eccentric characters who practice spiritualism among many other things. They aren’t exactly the most appealing and sympathetic characters in the novel, but there’s something quirky about them, and as a matter of fact, they and their spiritualism give Poirot an important clue.

In Elmore Leonard’s Maximum Bob, we meet Florida Department of Corrections officer Kathy Diaz Baker. She’s just shaken off her former husband and started her own life when she starts to get some unwelcome attention from Judge Robert ‘Maximum Bob’ Gibbs. Gibbs doesn’t have many endearing qualities, and he’s certainly made his share of enemies. After all, he got his nickname because he’s notorious for handing out the maximum sentences that the law allows. But when Baker finds out that one of her parolees Elvin Crowe may be trying to kill the judge, she can’t ignore it. It only complicates matters that the judge has hatched his own scheme. He wants to kill his wife Leanne, an avid New Age spiritualist. Here, for instance, is a bit of a conversation that Leanne has with her husband:

 

‘He might say to her, ‘How do you know my heart isn’t open?’
‘I can see it isn’t.’
‘Yeah, how?’
‘By your aura.’
‘I forgot, my aura. What’s it look like today?’
‘It’s bright red.’
‘Maybe it’s my high blood pressure. Ask me how come, I’ll tell you.’
‘Your aura should be mostly blue. Yours is orangey-red. Big and way too wide. Doesn’t it hurt?’
‘Only when you bring it up,’ Bob Gibbs said.’

 

Leanne used to be a water-park ‘mermaid’ but a scary event with an alligator ‘reformed her.’ Gibbs can’t stand her anymore and wants her out of the way, and his plot is to frighten her to death with a dead alligator. Of course, this being Elmore Leonard, the various schemes and plots have a way of blowing up in people’s faces, as the saying goes, and not working out at all the way they’d planned…

In Rhys Bowen’s Evans to Betsy, a New Age centre called Sacred Grove has opened near the Welsh town of Llanfair. Run by famed psychic Randy Wunderlich, it’s gained some local interest. One of the residents Betsy Edwards has been convinced by the Sacred Grove leadership that she has ‘second sight,’ and is drawn into the group. This concerns Constable Evan Evans, but at first, there’s not much he can do. Then a local girl Rebecca Riesen goes missing. The trail seems to lead to Sacred Grove, so Evans is convinced that something dangerous is going on there. And that feeling only gets stronger when Wunderlich is found dead.

Of course, not all New Age practitioners are depicted in a negative way. For example, Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman series features an interesting character named Miriam Kaplan, who goes by her Wiccan name Meroe. Meroe owns and runs a Wiccan/New Age shop called The Sibyl’s Cave, where she sells, among other things, New Age books, materials and so on. She’s skilled in New Age arts, too. She’s also a good friend to Greenwood’s protagonist Chapman, who has a bakery in the same building. Meroe is an interesting and strong character, and proves to be intelligent, steady and helpful.

There’s also Teresa Solana’s Barcelona-based Eduard Martínez, who has a PI business with his brother Josep ‘Borja.’ Eduard is happily married to Montse, who has her own New Age centre called the Alternative Centre for Holistic Well-Being. The Centre offers all sorts of alternative therapies, classes and so on, and there’s a strong ‘hippie’ New Age feeling to it. But Montse is portrayed as level-headed, intelligent and a solid character. Eduard loves her very much and respects her. And her centre and approach to her work are contrasted in a very interesting way to another centre in The Sound of One Hand Killing. In that novel, the Martínez brothers are hired to look into the activities of another centre called Zen Moments. They sign up to take a class there as a way of getting an inside look at the place, only to be caught up in a murder investigation. First, Eduard’s neighbour Brian Morgan is murdered. Then Horaci Bou, Zen Moments’ director, is killed. If the Martínez, brothers are to find out the truth about what’s been going on at the centre, and keep their own names clear, they’re going to have to find out what’s behind the murders.

Geoffrey McGeachin touches on New Age spirituality too. In Fat, Fifty and F***ed, banker Martin Carter is retrenched. On his last day at work, he can’t resist getting his hands on a million-dollar payroll and a stolen police 4WD. That’s when he meets Faith, a librarian who has her own problems with a biker. Martin and Faith take off to meet up with an old classmate of Martin’s, and that’s when their adventures really begin. One of their encounters is with a biker gang with a difference. This is a New Age biker gang that runs a clean and well-kept motel and a retirement home. Not exactly the typical dangerous bikers you read about sometimes…

New Age spirituality is appealing to a lot of people, so it’s little wonder that there are so many New Age facilities, books, classes and so on. It’s got a certain mystery about it too, so it’s also little wonder that it features in crime fiction plots.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Christine Lavin’s Sensitive New Age Guys.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Elmore Leonard, Geoffrey McGeachin, Kerry Greenwood, Rhys Bowen, Teresa Solana

A Box of Chocolates and a Dozen Flowers*

Valentine's Day 2014 It’s St. Valentine’s Day as I write this post. Now, traditionally, Valentine’s Day is supposed to be a day of grand romantic gestures such as flowers, candy and so on, and that’s all fine. But are you aware of how dangerous those things can be? Before you go rushing out to buy that special box of luxury chocolates or that bouquet of expensive roses, have a quick look at some crime fiction and you’ll see what I mean.

 

Flowers

 

Flowers are beautiful of course, and if you watch advertisements, you’ll be convinced that nothing says ‘love’ like roses. But consider how dangerous flowers can be. In Agatha Christie’s story The Blue Geranium, a group of people including Miss Marple go to dinner at the home of Colonel Arthur Bantry and his wife Dolly. During the meal, Bantry tells the story of George Pritchard, whose wife suddenly died of what seems to have been shock and fear. That’s not surprising, since she wasn’t in good physical or mental health. In fact, she began to believe that she could only be helped by psychics and seers. That’s how she fell under the influence of Zarida, Psychic Reader of the Future. Zarida specifically told Mrs. Pritchard to beware of, among other things, blue geraniums, blue primroses and blue hollyhocks. Then, mysteriously, the flowers on the wallpaper in Mrs. Pritchard’s bedroom began to turn blue. That’s when she suddenly died. Some people believed that Zarida actually predicted the future. Others blamed Pritchard for killing his wife. But Miss Marple has quite a different explanation.

In Rex Stout’s novella Door to Death, Nero Wolfe takes the drastic step of leaving his brownstone when his usual orchid expert Theodore Horstmann takes a leave of absence. Wolfe has heard of another expert Andrew Krasicki, who works for the Pitccairn family. He wrote to Krasicki asking him to fill in for Horstmann but got no response. Not willing to risk his beloved orchids, Wolfe takes Archie Goodwin with him and they make a personal visit to Krasicki. While they’re there, the body of Krasicki’s fiancée Dini Lauer is discovered behind a canvas in the Pitcairns’ greenhouse. Krasicki’s the most likely suspect since he admits that Dini visited him at the greenhouse the evening before. But he swears he’s innocent. If Wolfe is to bring Krasicki back with him to tend his orchids, he’s going to have to find out who really killed the victim. For Wolfe, that’s quite a motivation. See what trouble flowers can bring you?

 

Candy

 

It’s also traditional to give a box of candy on Valentine’s Day. Now, far be it from me to discourage you from supporting the chocolate industry. Really. I mean it. But chocolate can be very dangerous stuff.

Just ask Margaret de Rushbridger, who plays a role in Agatha Christie’s Three Act Tragedy (AKA Murder in Three Acts). She is a patient at a Yorkshire sanitarium run by eminent specialist Dr. Bartholomew Strange. One night, Strange suddenly dies of what turns out to be nicotine poisoning while he’s hosting a dinner party. Not long afterwards, Margaret de Rushbridger suddenly dies too, this time from chocolates poisoned by nicotine. As you might suspect, there is a connection, but not the one you may think. Hercule Poirot is already investigating Strange’s death and an earlier one that may be related. And in the end he links those deaths to that of Margaret de Rushbridger. See? If she’d just left the chocolates alone, she might have been fine.

And then there’s Anthony Berkeley’s The Poisoned Chocolates Case. Berkeley’s sleuth Roger Sheringham runs the Crimes Circle, a discussion club for those interested in crimes and their solutions. When DCI Moresby is invited to address the clue, he presents them with a fascinating case. Well-known chocolate company Mason & Sons has come out with a new variety of chocolates. As a way of garnering interest (and of course, sales), they’ve sent boxes of chocolates out to some select influential people. One of them is Sir Eustace Pennefeather Pennefeather doesn’t eat chocolate, so he passes the candy on to a fellow member of his club Graham Bendix. Bendix in turn takes the chocolate home to share with his wife Joan. Shortly thereafter, both Bendixes are sickened. Graham recovers but Joan does not. Analysis shows that the chocolates were poisoned. Moresby lays the case before the Crimes Circle and in turn, each member presents a theory of who killed Joan Bendix and why. The answer isn’t what you’d think, but it does go to show that chocolate is risky.

 

Wine

 

Very well, then, what about a bottle of fine wine? What a lovely romantic touch, right? Not so fast. Do you know how many fictional characters have been poisoned by wine?

In Colin Dexter’s The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn, Inspector Morse and Sergeant Lewis investigate the murder of Nicholas Quinn, the newest member of Oxford’s Foreign Examinations Syndicate. That’s a high-status position, as the Syndicate oversees all exams given in non-UK countries with a UK education tradition. One afternoon, Quinn is murdered with poisoned sherry and Morse and Lewis are soon on the case. It turns out that there are several suspects too. For one thing, Quinn was not a unanimous choice for the Syndicate, so the members who didn’t want him there are under suspicion. Then too, it turns out that some Syndicate members are keeping secrets that Quinn could easily have found out. In the end, Morse and Lewis track down the culprit, but it all might have been avoided if Quinn hadn’t had that sherry. I’m just saying…

And then there’s Arlette Montrose Banfield, who features in Emily Brightwell’s Victorian-Era historical novel  Mrs. Jeffries Forges Ahead. Arlette and her husband Lewis are welcoming guests to the Banfield family’s annual Ball. Everyone takes seats and soon the wine begins to flow. Suddenly Arlette dies of what turns out to be poisoned champagne. Inspector Gerald Witherspoon takes the case and he gets to work right away since the Banfield family are ‘people who matter.’ It took timing and daring, but someone managed to poison the victim in the full view of lots of witnesses. Witherspoon’s ever-efficient and capable housekeeper Mrs. Jeffries alerts her staff, and each in a different way, they help solve the case.

See what I mean? Those grand gestures can be deadly. Besides, they can be expensive. And anyway, there are lots of other great ways to show you care. Just ask Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman. She knows her lover Daniel Cohen truly cares about her. He brings her coffee in the morning. Bliss. And then there’s Louise Penny’s Armand Gamache. There’s no doubt his wife Reine-Marie loves him, and one of the ways she shows it is by helping him sort through his files and keep them organised. Now that’s an act of love. And of course there’s my personal choice for truly Great. Romantic. Gesture. Read Angela Savage’s The Half Child. Well, read it anyway, but there’s a great scene in it. Trust me.  You’re welcome. Always happy to help with romantic advice. ;-)

 

 

 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Bird and The Bee’s My Fair Lady.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Anthony Berkeley, Colin Dexter, Emily Brightwell, Kerry Greenwood, Louise Penny, Rex Stout

Around the Corner the Skies Are Blue*

Rays of HopeWhether it’s fictional or real, murder is of course a horrible crime, and well-written crime novels don’t make light of that. But on the other hand, a novel in which there is no ray of hope or reason to be positive can be awfully depressing. That’s why it can add much to a novel if there is a character with a positive outlook on life: one who can make us see that everything will work out somehow or other. I’m not talking here about comic relief; that’s another topic entirely. Rather, I mean characters whose overall positive outlook on life can lighten an otherwise dark story.

One such character is Robert Crais’ L.A.-based PI Elvis Cole. Part of Cole’s appeal is that he has a sometimes wisecracking sense of humour and he isn’t overly pessimistic. He knows how horrible murder is and he doesn’t look at investigating as a fun, happy pastime. But at the same time, overall, he has the sense about life that it will be all right. For example, in The Monkey’s Raincoat, Ellen Lang hires Cole to find her husband Mort, who’s disappeared and taken their son Perry with him. Cole knows that plenty of people disappear because they want to disappear. Still, he is concerned about the boy’s safety, so he agrees to look into the matter. The situation becomes urgent when Mort is found dead, with no sign of Perry anywhere. Now Cole has to find out who killed the victim if he has any hope of finding his son. Throughout the novel, Cole does his best to support Ellen Lang and give her as much hope as he can while still being truthful. He doesn’t make light of the situation but he does take a positive attitude.

So does Alexander McCall Smith’s Mma. Precious Ramotswe. She is no stranger to life’s sadness. The former wife of an abusive husband, Mma. Ramotswe has lost a child and her father, so she knows that life often brings sorrow. But she has an overall optimistic and positive attitude that provides a great deal of comfort and solace for her clients. For instance, in Morality For Beautiful Girls, Mma. Ramotswe is hired by an important Government Man to find out whether his sister-in-law is, as he believes, trying to poison his brother. Mma. Ramotswe travels to the Government Man’s home village, where she begins to get to know the people in his family. One afternoon, everyone, including Mma. Ramotswe, is sickened by what turns out to be poisoned food. As soon as she is able, Mma. Ramotswe has conversations with everyone, and uses her own recall to piece together what happened. She learns how and by whom everyone was poisoned, and she uses her positive outlook on life to help resolve some issues within the family.

Teresa Solana’s Barcelona PI Josep ‘Borja’ Martínez also has an overall positive attitude about life. When he and his brother Eduard take on their first murder investigation in A Not So Perfect Crime, Eduard isn’t sure they’re prepared to look into a crime like that. He tends to be cautious and would rather focus the brothers’ efforts on cases that are more similar to what they’ve done before. But Borja has an upbeat, ‘It’ll all work out’ view of life. Besides, the client Lluís Font is powerful and wealthy. When he is accused of murdering his wife Lídia, it’s in the Martínez brothers’ interest to clear his name and build their reputation. And they do discover who the murderer is, despite some (sometimes very funny) setbacks. Throughout the novel, Borja’s positive outlook on life may be a bit on the ‘happy-go-lucky’ side, but it does serve to keep the investigation going and to complement his brother’s occasional pessimism.

It’s not always the sleuth whose positive attitude can really serve a crime novel. Sometimes other characters do that too. For instance, Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman series features a group of people who live in a large Melbourne building called Insula. Chapman herself owns a bakery in that building and through her eyes we get to meet the other residents. One of them is (retired) Professor Dionysus ‘Dion’ Monk. He’s getting on in years and at times he’s hurt or laid-up with illness. But even then, he has a more or less optimistic attitude about life. He’s an expert in the classics and often uses references from those writings to make sense of life. He’s had his own sorrows, but he proves a solid source of overall optimism and steadiness that proves a real comfort. And he has old-fashioned manners and courtesy that remind the other residents of the way it is possible to treat others.

Karin Fossum’s Inspector Konrad Sejer sometimes has very difficult and ugly cases to solve. And although he has a close relationship with his daughter Ingrid and his grand-son Matteus, he has his own share of life’s sorrows. He’s a widower who still misses his wife Elise, and he has seen some terrible things in the course of his work. But there is also optimism and hope if you will in his life. Beginning with He Who Fears the Wolf, Sejer develops a relationship with psychiatrist Sara Struel. She helps him to understand some of the people who figure in that novel. That understanding helps Sejer as he investigates the murder of Halldis Horn, whose body is found in her front yard. Since she lived alone in a remote place, there aren’t many witnesses. But one likely suspect is a troubled young man named Errki Johrma who was seen in the area. The case isn’t that simple though, and Sara provides helpful insights. She is realistic and doesn’t shy away from life’s sadness. But she is also a generally optimistic, sometimes-spontaneous person who adds a bright note to Sejer’s life.

And then there’s Bridget ‘Bridie’ Sullivan, whom we meet in Wendy James’ The Mistake. That story features Jodie Evans Garrow, who meets Bridie during their childhoods. Jodie hasn’t had a lot of happiness in her life, but Bridie is positive and optimistic, with big dreams. She brings a proverbial ray of sunshine to Jodie and the girls become inseparable. Then Bridie moves away and life goes on for both of them. Later, Jodie marries Angus Garrow and settles down to what seems like an enviable life. Angus is a successful attorney, Jodie has a comfortable home and upper-middle-class lifestyle, and they have two healthy children. One day their daughter Hannah is involved in a car accident and is rushed to a Sydney hospital – the same hospital where years earlier, Jodie gave birth to another baby girl whom she’s never discussed with anyone. A nurse at the hospital remembers Jodie and asks about the child. Jodie claims she gave the baby up for adoption, but the over-curious nurse can’t find any formal records. Now the whispers start and soon the media gets hold of the story. If the child is alive, where is she? If not, what happened to her? Did Jodie kill her? Before long the accusations become very public and Jodie is made a social pariah. Then by chance, she meets Bridie again at a book club meeting. Bridie proves the same source of support she was during the girls’ childhood and her basically positive outlook on life provides real solace for Jodie.

And that’s the thing about people and fictional characters who offer hope and have positive outlooks on life. They don’t deny that life can be hard, but they firmly believe that things will get better. Which ones do you like best?

 

In Memoriam…

 

ShirleyTemple and SidCaesar

 

This post is dedicated to the memories of two people who gave much hope and ‘sunshine’ when people needed it. This past week we lost both Shirley Temple Black and Sid Caesar. They both had private troubles, but kept on going and offered the world a hopeful look at life. For that, I am grateful. They will be much missed.

 

 

 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Roger Edens’ and Earl Brent’s Around the Corner.

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Filed under Alexander McCall Smith, Karin Fossum, Kerry Greenwood, Robert Crais, Teresa Solana, Wendy James