Category Archives: Kerry Greenwood

Baby, We Were Born to Run*

RisktakingIt’s common among young people (and sometimes, not-so-young people) to believe in the ‘it can’t happen to me’ myth. That myth of indestructibility is arguably part of the reason for which many young people take the kinds of risks that they probably wouldn’t take if they were older. You see this myth playing out in a lot of crime fiction, and it can be both compelling and poignant. After all, young people are not indestructible. I’m only going to be mentioning a few examples here, but I’m sure you’ll be able to think of lots more than I could anyway.

Agatha Christie includes several characters in her stories who seem to believe in their own indestructibility. I’ll just mention one. In And Then There Were None (AKA Ten Little Indians), we meet Anthony Marston, a young man who’s received an invitation to spend some time on Indian Island, off the Devon Coast. He accepts the invitation and travels to the island, where he finds that a group of other people have received and accepted invitations. After dinner on that first night, each person is accused of having been responsible for at least one death. In Marston’s case, he’s accused of having killed two small children in a reckless driving incident. Later that evening, he suddenly collapses and dies of what turns out to be poison. Later that night there’s another death. Then there’s another. Now it’s clear that someone lured these people to the island and seems bent on killing them one by one. The survivors will have to find out who that person is if they hope to stay alive. More than once in this novel, Marston’s youth, apparent strength and seeming invincibility are mentioned, and that gives his death all the more impact. I know, I know fans of The Man in the Brown Suit’s Anne Bedingfield…

Ross Macdonald’s The Far Side of the Dollar is the story of seventeen-year-old Tom Hillman. His parents Ralph and Elaine have placed him at the Laguna Perdida School, a boarding school for ‘troubled students.’ One day Tom disappears from the school. Dr. Sponti, who is head of Laguna Perdida, hires PI Lew Archer to find the boy before his parents discover that he’s missing. But it’s already too late. During their meeting, Ralph Hillman bursts into the office saying that Tom has been kidnapped. Archer returns to the Hillman home and begins to work with Tom’s parents to try to get him back. Almost immediately something seems ‘off.’ For one thing, the Hilmmans aren’t nearly as forthcoming about Tom as you’d expect from parents who were distraught about a missing child. For another, there’s some evidence that Tom may have joined the kidnappers willingly. If so, he may be part of a plot to extort money from them. Archer’s trying to track down leads when one of the people Tom’s with is murdered. And then there’s another murder. Now it’s clearer than ever that this is not an ‘textbook’ kind of kidnapping. Throughout this novel, we see ways in which Tom (and some of the other young people at the school) have behaved in that ‘indestructible’ way. Many of them take risks that they probably wouldn’t if they really contemplated the danger involved.

We see a bit of that perception of invulnerability in Kerry Greenwood’s Devil’s Food too. Melbourne baker Corinna Chapman is concerned when two of her employees Kylie Manners and Gossamer ‘Goss’ Judge begin behaving very oddly. In fact, they behave so strangely that Chapman and her lover Daniel Cohen think they may be on a new kind of drug. It turns out that the girls bought weight loss tea at a club one night and were poisoned by it. Now Chapman wants to find out who poisoned the tea and why. At one point, she also makes another discovery. Kylie and Goss are always worried about gaining any weight at all, so instead of reading the instructions and taking the tea as directed, they took a much larger and stronger does than was recommended, so they’d lose weight faster. Their choice to buy this tea from someone they barely knew, and to take it in the way they did, is a reflection of how young people often don’t think through the consequences of what could happen to them. After all, ‘it won’t happen to me.’

In Karin Fossum’s When the Devil Holds the Candle, Oslo police inspector Konrad Sejer investigates the disappearance of Andreas Winther. He’s a young man who’s easily bored and likes nothing better than a little adventuring. His best friend is Sivert ‘Zipp’ Skorpe, who goes along with Andreas’ plans more out of a desire for the friendship than any enjoyment he gets out of their adventures. One day the two meet as usual. By the end of that day, Andreas has disappeared. When his mother Runi first goes to the police about it, Sejer isn’t too worried. Lots of young men take off for a few days, and it doesn’t mean anything is wrong. But as more time goes by and Andreas doesn’t return, Sejer and his assistant Jacob Skarre look into the matter. To do this, they trace Andreas’ movements on the day he disappeared. Although Zipp isn’t at all forthcoming, especially at first, he eventually tells Sejer what happened that day. But even he doesn’t know what happened to Andreas. As it turns out, Andreas was convinced that everything would be all right – nothing bad would happen to him. But the truth turns out to be quite different…

In Alexander McCall Smith’s The Full Cupboard of Life, there’s an interesting sub-plot about an upcoming event. Mma. Sylvia Potokwane plans a benefit in aid of the orphanage she directs. One of the attractions is to be a parachute jump, and she wants Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, who runs a local garage, to do the jump. Secretly he’s afraid to jump, especially from such heights, but of course he won’t admit that to Mma. Potokwane. Besides, she is strong-willed and persuasive. So he reluctantly agrees. As the day draws closer he gets more and more nervous about it. But his wife Mma. Precious Ramotswe has an idea that works out well for everyone involved. She suggests that Charlie, one of Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni’s assistants, might be glad for the chance to do the jump. That way he can do some good and impress the local girls. And that’s exactly what happens. Charlie is a little nervous, but he feels indestructible enough (and is interested in enough in being admired by the young ladies) that he’s eager to do it. It’s an interesting look at the way young people as opposed to more mature adults view risk-taking.

Mari Strachan’s The Earth Hums in B Flat introduces readers to twelve-year-old Gwenni Morgan, who’s growing up in a small Welsh town during the 1950s. Gwenni’s a bit of a dreamer, and doesn’t always fit in. But life goes on for her, her sister and her parents until the day that a one of the locals Ifan Evans disappears. Later, he’s found murdered. Gwenni wants to find out why he was killed and by whom, so she starts her own kind of investigation. She’s not completely heedless as she goes about it, but she doesn’t really appreciate the risks she’s taking nor the danger she could bring on herself.

And that’s the thing about a lot of young people. They have that sort of myth of indestructibility that sometimes leads them to take all sorts of risks. In that sense, they’re both brave and extremely vulnerable. Which characters like that have stood out for you?
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alexander McCall Smith, Karin Fossum, Kerry Greenwood, Mari Strachan, Ross Macdonald

And Everywhere Was a Song And a Celebration*

WoodstockIt’s no secret that people are all different. Sometimes our differences lead to conflict and worse. But sometimes exactly the opposite happens. When people find a common interest – something that really means something to them, this can draw even very disparate people together. We certainly see it in real life, and it’s there in crime fiction too. Here are just a few examples.

In Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders, Hercule Poirot, Captain Hastings, and the police are trying to track down the murderer of Alice Ascher, a seemingly inoffensive elderly shopkeeper. Soon afterwards, the same killer strikes again. This time, the victim is twenty-three-year-old Betty Barnard. The detective team is busy on those two cases when there’s a third murder, of wealthy retired specialist Dr. Carmichael Clarke. Now it looks as though there might be some sort of disturbed killer at work. A cryptic note has warned Poirot that the next murder will occur in Doncaster, and the police begin to make plans to catch the killer there. But one of the characters says,

 

‘‘It’s easy to see you’re not a sporting man, Inspector.’
Crome stared at him.
‘What do you mean…?’
‘Man alive, don’t you realize that on next Wednesday, the St. Leger is being run at Doncaster?’

 

This race draws all sorts of people from many different walks of life. People from many different backgrounds will be gathering in Doncaster, drawn there by their common love of racing. So the detectives will have their work cut out for them as the saying goes.

Antiques are the common interest in Jonathan Gash’s Lovejoy series. Those novels focus on Lovejoy, who is a dedicated antiques collector and dealer. In fact, antiques mean more to him than almost anything else. And interest in antiques draws together a varied group of people from all sorts of different kinds of backgrounds. In The Judas Pair for instance, George Field hires Lovejoy to find out who killed his brother Eric. Eric Field was shot with one of a pair of extremely rare dueling pistols – guns that haven’t even been proven to exist. But Field is convinced that they do, and that if the owner of them can be found, that will solve the murder. Lovejoy can’t resist the opportunity to get his hands on those pistols if they do exist, so he agrees to see what he can do. As he moves among various people in the world of antiques, we see how a very disparate group of people can be drawn together by a shared passion for the same thing. They may not have much else in common, but a mention of antiques can always get a conversation started.

People who particularly love cats and/or dogs are the same way. They come from all sorts of backgrounds and belief systems. But when it comes to their pets, it’s an entirely different matter. That’s why we see so much interest in dog and cat shows. Those events attract a wide variety of people. We see this for instance in Laurien Berenson’s Melanie Travis mysteries. Travis is a special education teacher whose aunt has gotten her involved in breeding, raising and showing Standard Poodles. In fact, that’s how Travis meets her husband. In the course of the series, Travis goes to several dog shows and other events. And because the dog loving/dog showing community is both large and varied, there’s all sorts of opportunity for conflict and (this is a mystery series!) murder. But interestingly enough, there’s also an undercurrent of love of different breeds and a deep and commonly-held contempt for irresponsible dog ownership, raising and handling.

If you get people who love good wine talking about that topic, you’ll find a similar shared passion. They may not share very much else, but that particular interest unites them. We can see that in Jean-Pierre Alaux and Nöel Balen’s Winemaker Detective series. These novels feature noted oenologist and vintner Benjamin Cooker and his assistant Virgile Lanssien. As they investigate, we see how interest in fine wine can draw people together. In Treachery in Bordeaux for instance, Cooker and Lanssien look into a case of sabotage at Château Les Moniales Haut-Brion. Someone has contaminated four barrels of the vineyard’s wine, and its owner wants to find out who is responsible. What’s interesting about this is that none of the other local wine producers is really suspected. Part of the reason for that is that they all respect good wine too much to ruin even a competitor’s product. They may try to woo the vineyard’s customers away with their own fine wine, but they wouldn’t sabotage something they love so much.

Sometimes it’s a common place that draws a variety of people together. That’s what we see in Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman series. That series is mostly set in Melbourne, in a large Roman-style building called Insula. That’s where Chapman lives and has the bakery she owns. There is a motley crew of other residents, all with different backgrounds, belief systems, interests and the like. But they all love the building and they have a common identity as people who live there.

I couldn’t really keep a blog about crime fiction and not mention the love of books in general and crime fiction in particular that we share. That’s reflected in, well, crime fiction, too. In Ian Sansom’s Mobile Library series for example, we meet Israel Armstrong, a ‘blow in’ from London who how drives and manages Ireland’s Tumdrum and District Mobile Library. Armstrong couldn’t be more different in some ways to the locals. In fact, in The Case of the Missing Books, one of the plot threads is the culture clash between Armstrong and the people he interacts with as he moves to the area and begins his new job. But as both he and the Tumdrum locals learn, they share a love of books. It may be reflected in different ways, but it draws them together.

It’s interesting how people who are so different in some aspects can put their differences aside when they have a shared passion. It’s one of many reasons I feel so fortunate to be a part of this online crime fiction community. We all come from different backgrounds, have different tastes and different world views. But we share a love of crime fiction. And that draws us all together. A very happy thought, even if the topic we like to talk about is, well, murder…

This weekend is the 45th anniversary of a unique event that brought together hundreds of thousands of people from many, many different backgrounds. Yes, I’m talking about Woodstock. From 15-18 August 1969, a large group of very disparate people braved rain (lots of it) mud (lots of that too) and very long travel distances to get together for ‘three days of peace, love and music.’ And they did it without brawls, ‘turf wars,’ or worse. There could have been real trouble, but by and large there wasn’t. They were drawn together by their passion for music and their desire to get together in peace. I’ve read that there were three babies born there during the festival. I wonder how many were conceived… Far out, man!!
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Ian Sansom, Jean-Pierre Alaux, Jonathan Gash, Kerry Greenwood, Laurien Berenson, Nöel Balen

I Couldn’t Sleep at All Last Night*

Sleep DeprivationIt’s been well supported by research that we need a certain amount of sleep every night. Each of us is a little different with respect to exactly how much sleep we need, but sleep is essential for all of us. The effects of sleep deprivation can be extremely serious, especially if it goes on for any period of time. You know what it’s like – how you feel the next day – if you go even one night without sleeping well. Consequences from distractibility to fatal crashes can result from not sleeping enough.

And yet, if you look at some crime fiction, you notice something: sometimes the protagonists get very little sleep. Of course, a plot that had too much information on how many hours the detective slept would be, well, sleep-inducing. But it’s unrealistic (at least it is for me) to expect that a sleuth could be at her or his best without enough sleep. And readers are not likely to get and stay engaged in a story if the characters aren’t believable.

There are ways to be realistic about how much sleep people need in a crime novel without going on too much about it. Here are just a few examples to show you what I mean.

Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot certainly stays up late now and again. For instance in the short story The Incredible Theft, he’s wakened very late (or very early, depending on your view) to help recover some important and very secret plans for a new air bomber. But in general, he goes to bed at what most people would call a normal hour, and he doesn’t generally see clients before ten or eleven o’clock in the morning. Getting enough restful sleep matters enough to him that in the stories where he doesn’t, Christie makes it clear that it bothers him (e.g. Murder on the Orient Express and Mrs. McGinty’s Dead). Poirot certainly has his share of eccentricities, but needing enough sleep isn’t one of them.

We could say much the same thing about Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe. Like Poirot, Wolfe absolutely has his quirks. Fans will know about his unwillingness to leave his home, his rigid schedule for seeing clients (or not being disturbed) and so on. And yet, he has what doctors would probably call a very healthy attitude towards sleep. He doesn’t want to be disturbed at night, and he doesn’t see clients in the morning until he’s had enough rest. And then there are of course his famous yellow silk pyjamas… In the novels and stories where his sleep’s interrupted, Wolfe gets even crankier than usual, and that’s a very realistic reaction. Not having enough sleep really does affect one’s disposition. And yet, Stout doesn’t go on and on about Wolfe’s sleeping habits. They’re woven into the stories as a part of his personality.

That’s also true of Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman stories. Chapman is a Melbourne baker whose weekday begins early. Very early. In order to get her bread ready to open the story on time, she gets up at four o’clock, and she’s not happy about it:

 

‘Four am contains, in my experience, many things. Darkness, cold, solitude, gloom, despair, madness.’ 

 

Because she gets up that early, Chapman also tends to go to bed earlier than she would if she woke later. Except on some weekends, she doesn’t tend to stay up until the ‘wee hours.’ Greenwood doesn’t belabour the point, but Chapman has a sensible attitude towards her sleeping schedule. She’s by no means lazy, but she wakes up early, so she doesn’t stay up excessively late. And those occasional naps are most welcome.

Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn Shreve places a very high priority on her family life. Besides being a political scientist and academic, she’s the mother of three grown children and a daughter Taylor who’s now a teenager. She’s got plenty to keep her life full, and that doesn’t include the times when she investigates a murder or other mystery. And yet, she has what doctors would probably agree is a healthy attitude towards getting enough rest. Sometimes she stays up late or gets up early, but in general, she understands how important it is to sleep enough. And while Bowen doesn’t go on and on about it, we see that balance evident throughout the novels.

Martin Walker’s Benoît ‘Bruno’ Courrèges also has what most of us would call a sensible attitude towards getting enough sleep. Certainly he works hard on his cases, and sometimes they do come back to haunt him, if I can put it that way. He has his own sadness and ‘baggage’ too, as we all do. But Bruno doesn’t generally stay awake all night trying to follow up leads. He doesn’t as a rule spend nights at the police station either. In part that’s because he knows that that’s not going to be a productive way to spend his time. But it’s also because he has what a lot of people would say is a healthy attitude towards the work/life balance. Enough sleep is essential to doing one’s work well and having any kind of a positive life.

And then there’s Frankie Y. Bailey’s Detective Hannah McCabe. When we meet her in The Red Queen Dies, she and her police partner Mike Baxter investigate the murder of Broadway superstar Vivian Jessup. This murder turns out to be connected with two other murders, and the case is complex and difficult. Leads don’t always pan out and sometimes the case demands extra hours and so on. But McCabe makes time as a rule to get her sleep. She doesn’t generally go to sleep at three o’clock only to get up again two hours later.

It can be challenging for an author to create an interesting story that moves at a solid pace without losing sight of the things that make characters human. And one of those things is getting enough rest and the very real effects when we don’t. Do you notice this kind of thing when you read? If you’re a writer, do your characters get enough sleep? I’m serious. If not, how do you show the effects? Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s been a long day. Time I turned in…

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Ritche Adams and Malou Rene’s Tossin’ and Turnin’.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Frankie Y. Bailey, Gail Bowen, Kerry Greenwood, Martin Walker, Rex Stout

That’s Where the Big Bands Used to Come and Play*

Dance HallsAmong many other things, crime fiction shows us how society changes over time. It also gives readers a look at really interesting social phenomena. For instance, from the turn of the last century until the 1960s, the dance hall was an important fixture in the social life of many communities. Before the nightclub was introduced, dance halls were the places people went to on a Friday or Saturday night. Some dance halls were of course seedy and dangerous. Others were more respectable places where young people could meet. Either way, they were places where a diverse group of people got together, where romance blossomed, where liquor was sometimes served and conflicts sometimes erupted. Yes, they were perfect contexts for a mystery. Here are a few examples to show you what I mean.

In Agatha Christie’s short story The Case of the Middle-Aged Wife, Maria Packington is fed up with her life and with her husband George, who has been paying far more attention to his secretary than business requires. At the end of her tether, she answers a cryptic personal ad:

 

Are you happy? If not, consult Mr. Parker Pyne, 17 Richmond Street.

 

Intrigued, she does just that. Pyne takes her case and that’s how she meets Claude Luttrell. Luttrell is pleasant, attractive and debonair. The two begin to go out to meals and to dance halls. For George’s part, he’s pleased that Maria is much less grumpy and jealous, and hopes that means she’ll leave him freer to pursue his own interests. Then one night, the Packingtons and their respective escorts end up at the same dance hall, The Red Admiral. That evening changes everything.

Fans of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin series will know that Goodwin and his sometimes-girlfriend Lily Rowan go out dancing in several of the stories. In Death of a Dude for instance, Rowan has invited Goodwin to be part of a house party at her ranch in rural Montana. Goodwin plans to return to New York after a short holiday, but his plans change when Philip Brodell is shot and Lily’s ranch manager Roger Dunning is accused of the murder. Lily is quite sure he’s innocent, and she wants an initially-reluctant Goodwin to investigate. He doesn’t feel quite at home in this rural atmosphere, but this is Lily Rown, so he agrees. He also writes to Nero Wolfe explaining what’s happened and why he won’t be back to New York until much later than he’d thought. Wolfe takes an interest in the case; in fact, this is one of the few Rex Stout stories in which Wolfe leaves his famous New York brownstone in the course of an investigation. He travels to Montana where he and Goodwin find out who shot Brodell and why. And part of the answer lies at Woodrow ‘Woody’ Stephanian’s Hall of Culture, which serves as a Saturday night dance hall, and where Goodwin and Lily go out more than once.

In Kerry Greenwood’s The Green Mill Murder,  Phryne Fisher and her date Charles Freeman are dancing at the Green Mill, a popular upmarket dance hall. A dance marathon has just ended when one of the contestants Bernard Stevens slumps to the floor, stabbed to death. Phyrne gets involved in the investigation, but before she can get very far, Charles Freeeman disappears. His mother hires Phryne to find him, and what she discovers leads back to Freeman’s past and to the end of World War I. It’s also tied in with the solution of the mystery.

And then there’s Victoria Thompson’s Murder on St. Mark’s Place. New York City midwife Sarah Brandt is called to the home of one of her patients Agnes Otto, who is due at any time to give birth to her third child. Thinking she’s been called to assist at the delivery, Brandt arrives to find that Agnes’ sister Gerda has been beaten to death and her body found in an alley. Gerda had recently come from Germany to live with her sister and start a new life. She was working at a shirt factory and so far as anyone knew, didn’t have any enemies. Agnes is sure that the police won’t bother investigating the murder of a poor German immigrant, and that’s what upsets her the most. Brandt agrees to contact Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy, whom she knows from another case, and ask his help. Together she and Malloy begin to look into the matter. It turns out that Gerda spent her fair share of time at Harmony Hall, a rather disreputable dance hall. They soon learn that several girls, known as Charity Girls, went to the dance hall to get the things in life that they couldn’t begin to afford on their own. In exchange for ‘services rendered,’ they could get clothes, good meals, and so on. It turns out that Harmony Hall is key to finding out what really happened to Gerda.

Vicki Delany’s Klondike Mystery series takes place at the end of the last century in Yukon Territory, and features Fiona MacGillivray, owner of Dawson’s Savoy Dance Hall. At that time, Dawson is a gold-rush boom town, and many different people from all over the world have come to make their fortunes. The Savoy is of course one of the social hubs in the area, so Fiona and her son Angus often find themselves involved when there are conflicts and of course, murders. For example, in Gold Digger, the first novel of the series, the stage at Savoy is the scene of a murder when American news reporter Jack Ireland is killed. There’s no lack of suspects either, since he’d managed to make plenty of enemies even in the short time he’d been in Dawson. Since Fiona herself falls under suspicion, she works to find out who the killer really is.

Now that nightclubs have more or less replaced them, we don’t really see dance halls any more. But they were an important part of social history for many cultures. And they can be very effective settings for crime novels.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Kinks’ Come Dancing.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Kerry Greenwood, Rex Stout, Vicki Delany, Victoria Thompson

Coca-Cola Got Machines in Every Land*

GlobalisationOne of the facts of life in today’s connected world is globalisation. On one level, that means that some large companies such as McDonald’s® and Nestlé® now have an international reach and outlets all over the world. On another, music, clothing and lifestyle have ‘gone global’ too. Some people argue that this makes quality products and services available to more people. Others argue that globalisation will mean the end of local cultures.

But local cultures are as vibrant as ever, and people find their own ways of preserving what they have. That tension between the global (or even national) and the local is certainly there in real life. We see it in crime fiction too. Let me share just a few examples to show you what I mean.

Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman is an accountant-turned-baker who takes great pride in her work. To her, bread is real:

 

‘I make bread, that’s what I do, that’s what I am.’

 

So in one plot thread of Trick or Treat, there is quite a lot of tension when a bread chain called Best Fresh opens a franchise in the same neighbourhood as Chapman’s own bakery. Although her assistant Jason reassures her that the competition’s food isn’t as fresh and doesn’t taste as good, it’s still a cause for concern. Matters get even worse when a young man jumps to his death from a local roof after an ergot-induced hallucination. It’s soon clear that ergot has gotten into the local supply of flour, and all of the bakeries, including Chapman’s, are suspect. An investigation closes them temporarily and Chapman determines to find out where the tainted flour came from, so as to clear her bakery’s reputation and open up again. Chapman’s determination to preserve her own local bakery is an important part of this novel.

Barry Maitland’s The Marx Sisters also includes an important plot point of tension between global and local. Jerusalem Lane is a unique and historic area of London that has its own culture. It’s got little shops and residents who’ve been there for quite some time. A development company wants to buy up the lane and turn the area into a tourism, shopping and entertainment complex. Economic realities mean that several of Jerusalem Lane’s residents decide to sell. But Meredith Winterbottom, who lives in the lane with her two sisters, refuses; she is determined to stay where she is. Without her property the development project can’t go on as planned, so there’s a great deal of pressure on her to change her mind. Then she dies suddenly in what looks like a successful suicide attempt. But DCI David Brock and DS Kathy Kolla aren’t sure that’s what happened, and they investigate. Several of the development project people are suspect for obvious reasons. So is Meredith’s son Terry, who stands to earn quite a lot by selling his mother’s home. There are other possibilities too. The difference between the distinctive local ‘feel’ of Jerusalem Lane and the more generic development is an important plot thread in the story.

Alexander McCall Smith’s Mma. Precious Ramotswe is well aware of the pressure that globalisation puts on people, especially young people. In The Full Cupboard of Life for instance, Mma. Holonga, the successful owner of a chain of hair braiding salons, is ready to get married. She’s narrowed down her list of suitors to four and she wants Mma. Ramotswe to ‘vet’ them for her. Mma. Ramotswe agrees and takes a closer look at each man. One of them, Mr. ‘Spokes’ Spokesi, is a radio deejay/personality who’s very much attuned to popular culture. He drives a brand-name car, wears brand-name clothes and plays the latest music. He’s also quite attractive to the local young girls and does little to discourage them. And therein lies the problem from Mma. Ramotswe’s point of view. She sees that Spokes has no respect for the traditional ways or for Mma. Holonga and it’s one of the several reasons she doesn’t recommend him to her client. Mma. Ramotswe’s determination to preserve the best of traditional Botswana while still accepting for instance global technology is an important thread through this series.

Martin Walker’s Benoît ‘Bruno’ Courrèges series features the small town of St. Denis, in France’s Périgord region. The locals are very proud of their own traditional ways of cooking, of baking and of making cheese. They’ve been doing it that way for generations and they’ve developed their own distinctive local culture. So no-one is best pleased at EU regulations that require local food and drink to be prepared in certain ways. On the surface, those regulations seem like sensible ways to avoid bacteria and other toxins. But the locals see those policies as overreaching. And Bruno agrees with them. So at the beginning of Bruno, Chief of Police, he helps them evade EU inspectors who’ve come to take a close look at St. Denis’ market day. That tension, between the regional culture and the larger EU culture isn’t the main plot thread in this novel. But it adds to the story.

There are several novels, too, in which we see how Aboriginal and other Native nations work to preserve their unique lifestyles and cultures in the face of globalisation. It’s a tricky balancing act. On the one hand, global realities such as technology, medicine and so on have a lot of benefits. On the other, they often come with intense pressure to assimilate.

That balance is explored in different ways in Scott Young’s two novels featuring Matthew ‘Matteesie’ Kitologitak, M. J. McGrath’s Edie Kiglatuk series, Dana Stabenow’s Kate Shugak series, and Stan Jones’ Nathan Active series, among others. In those novels, we see for instance, local and distinctive ways of interacting, of using language, of cooking, eating and dressing, and traditional kinds of hunting. We also see the global influence of radio, of Western medicine and of technology such as planes. There’s also the unfortunate global influence of drugs and alcohol. The balance between adopting what’s best of global realities and maintaining a unique local culture is a thread that runs through these series.

Globalisation is a definite force in modern life. Like anything else it has its benefits and its disadvantages. The key seems to be finding ways to preserve what is unique and local without giving up the good parts of globalisation. That’s not easy to do, and it’s just that tension that can add to a crime novel or series. I’ve only given a few examples. Your turn.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Chumbawamba’s And in a Nutshell.

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Filed under Alexander McCall Smith, Barry Maitland, Dana Stabenow, Kerry Greenwood, M.J. McGrath, Martin Walker, Scott Young, Stan Jones