Category Archives: Lindy Cameron

Beckons You to Enter His Web of Sin*

EVilConspiraciesNew information on the next in the James Bond film series is now out. Thanks very much to Tipping My Fedora for the information. Do go pay that excellent blog a visit and see for yourself how great it is!

It’s all gotten me to thinking about nasty criminal groups like the fictional SPECTRE. Thrillers are full of such groups, and even crime fiction that we don’t normally think of as ‘thriller-like’ can have them. This kind of novel doesn’t always work well for readers who like to keep their disbelief securely by their sides. But for those who are content to leave it at the door, they can add a suspenseful plot point.

Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes goes up against a fairly nasty criminal group in several of the stories featuring him. Led by Professor Moriarty, Holmes’ nemesis, the group is responsible for a string of murders and robberies. Matters come to a head in The Adventure of the Final Problem, in which Holmes and Watson are in enough danger from the group that they have to flee London. They end up in Switzerland where Holmes has a very famous final confrontation with Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls. And Holmes fans will know that Holmes’ battle with this group doesn’t really end at the falls.

Agatha Christie toyed with such groups in a few of her stories. In Passenger to Frankfurt, for instance, we meet Stafford Nye, a low-level diplomat with a very ordinary sort of life. He’s at an airport one day when a strange young woman approaches him. She claims that her life is in peril and she needs to flee the country. Then she begs Nye for his boarding pass and diplomatic credentials. At first Nye’s unwilling, but the young woman persuades him to help her. That act draws Nye into a dangerous web of international intrigue and conspiracy, to say nothing of murder. In this case, the criminal group is dedicated to the principles of Nazi-ism and bent on world domination.

In Alex Scarrow’s Last Light, the world’s supply of oil is suddenly cut off through the work of a shadowy group of businessmen with its own agenda. Life as most people know it changes abruptly and dramatically, and it affects everyone. Most especially, the story depicts the effects on Andy Sutherland, a geologist working in Iraq; his wife Jenny, who’s stranded in Manchester at a job interview; his daughter Leona, who’s at university; and his son Jake, who’s at boarding school. As the four of them struggle to re-unite, we see how powerful this conspiracy has really been .

There’s also a very nasty conspiracy in Lindy Cameron’s Redback. Team Redback is a crack Australian team of retrieval specialists. Their job is to rescue people who are ‘caught in the crossfire’ of dangerous conflicts. For example, as the novel begins, the Pacific Tourism and Enviro-Trade Conference is taking place on the island of Laui when it’s disrupted by a group of rebels. The rebels abduct the delegates, and Team Redback, led by Bryn Gideon, is called in to rescue the hostages. Then, there’s a murder. And a train explosion in Europe. And a disaster at a U.S. Military base. And other murders. The members of Team Redback know now that some larger group is behind all of these various acts of terrorism and they work to find out about the group and stop it. A big part of the answer lies in information turned up by journalist Scott Dreher. By chance he gets his hands on a copy of a new video game called Global War Tek, which is being used to recruit and train new terrorists. With that information and what they learn on their own, Team Redback finds out who is responsible for the terrorism and what the group’s goal is.

Stefan Tegenfalk’s Anger Mode features, among other things, a bizarre series of ‘rage’ murders that don’t seem to have much in the way of motive. Walter Gröhn of the Stocholm County CID and his rookie assistant Jonna de Brugge take on the investigation, but it’s soon taken out of their hands by Säpo, the Swedish intelligence agency. And as fans of Swedish crime fiction will be able to guess, Säpo has its own agenda. But Gröhn and de Brugge persist, and discover why the murders have occurred and what they have to do with a kidnapping, anti-Muslim prejudice and greed.

There’s also a sinister society at work in K.B. Owen’s Unseemly Ambition. It’s 1898 at Hartford Women’s College, where Concordia Wells teaches English. She’s busy enough with her own classes and her duties as ‘housemother’ at Willow Cottage. But then she’s saddled with a lot of the work for the school’s upcoming production of Othello. She’s also trying to stay on the right side of Dean Maynard, who has his own ideas of what’s ‘seemly’ for ladies. Trouble arises when an unknown woman claims to be the real mother of Eli, a former ‘street child’ who’s about to be adopted by Concordia’s best friend Sophie and her soon-to-be-husband, Lieutenant Aaron Chapshaw of the police. Permission is very reluctantly given for Eli to spend time with his birth mother; but not long afterwards, she is found murdered. Then, Eli disappears. Concordia is torn about getting involved in this investigation. After all, it could mean real trouble for her. But she contacts her former mentor and the two of them begin to look into the matter. It’s soon clear that some powerful and dangerous people do not want this case solved. Their reach is far and they have no compunctions about killing, so it’s going to be very risky to solve the murder and find Eli before it’s too late.

Some fictional nasty criminal groups are more believable and more dangerous than others. But when it’s done well, that plot point can add a layer of suspense to a story. And for those who don’t mind sending their disbelief packing for a bit, stories featuring large, international, evil conspiracies can be a lot of fun.
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from John Barry, Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley’s Goldfinger.

24 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Alex Scarrow, Arthur Conan Doyle, K.B. Owen, Lindy Cameron, Stefan Tegenfalk

You Picked a Real Bad Time*

Bad TimingReading and reading experiences are often very subjective. Of course, no matter who’s doing the reading, ‘flat’ characters, stilted dialogue and cumbersome detail are signs that a book isn’t well-written. But the fact is, our impressions of a book are also affected by things such as personal taste and preference. What we think of a book is also arguably affected by when we read that book. Let me just offer a few examples from crime fiction to show you what I mean about the way timing can impact our impression of a book.

A lot of people prefer lighter reading during holidays. Somehow, lighter, cosy mysteries such as Susan Wittig Albert’s China Bayles series or comic caper novels such as Carl Hiaasen’s just seem to ‘fit’ when you’re beach reading or curled up by the fire. There are many, many examples of this kind of lighter reading, and of course, personal taste is going to figure into which novels one chooses. But there’s something about holidays and vacations that seems to invite one to read a lighter novel.

What’s interesting is what happens when you pick up that kind of novel at another time, say, when you’ve just been reading about an important social issue and you want to mull it over. Suddenly, the Bev Robitai or Simon Brett theatre-based novel that seemed so absolutely perfect…doesn’t seem that way anymore. Nothing at all has happened to the quality of those novels (I recommend both authors, by the way). They’re still interesting stories with appealing characters. What’s happened is that the timing isn’t right for them.

The same kind of thing happens with novels such as Unity Dow’s The Screaming of the Innocent or Kishwar Desai’s Witness the Night. Those are both difficult novels to read in that they deal with important but harrowing social issues. And there are times when one’s open to those more challenging stories. You might just have read an article about a certain topic, or you might have just come back from a holiday and be ready for a challenge. At those times, books like these can feel like the perfect choice. You can appreciate the message and you’re willing to invest yourself in the harder parts of the story.

But suppose you decide to try something such as Cath Staincliffe’s Split Second when you’re off on a fun trip. The same book that you might have thought of as difficult, even harrowing, but exceptionally well-written and worth reading, now becomes far too difficult to read. Now this kind of book is unutterably depressing and hard to finish. The fact is (and you already know this of course) nothing’s happened to the book’s quality at all. It’s still an excellent story with a lot of ‘food for thought’ and some compelling characters. The timing’s just wrong for the book.

Did you ever notice that when you’re planning to travel somewhere, you get quite interested in reading books that take place in your destination? I know that’s happened to me. So if you’re planning a trip to Spain you might be especially interested in Teresa Solana’s, Antonio Hill’s or Domingo Villar’s work. I’ve only mentioned a very few examples of Spanish crime fiction but you get my point. As you read those books you try to get every nuance of culture and geography you can, since you’re attuned to it.

But what if you choose a book like Keigo Higashino’s The Devotion of Suspect X when you’re having ‘one of those weeks’ and you’ve only got small amounts of reading time? Then, the very nuances of culture and geography that you love at other times can seem burdensome, or you might not pay attention to them and really appreciate them. That feeling might not have much to do with the quality of a given book. Rather, it’s the timing of your reading.

There are times when the action and suspense of thrillers such as Lindy Cameron’s Redback are exactly right. Thrillers like that can be the perfect accompaniment to a quiet evening when it’s fun to imagine what it would be like to be up against international terrorists. But maybe it isn’t the best choice if you’re not feeling well and not ready to deal with edge-of-the-seat ‘roller coaster rides.’

A ‘quieter’ sort of mystery such as you find in Nelson Brunanski’s John ‘Bart’ Bartowski series might be really appealing for those times when you have a few days to follow along and appreciate the subtler approach and more slowly-evolving story line. At those times, you can see the real appeal of character development and nuance. But pick that sort of book up when you’re waiting in an office or when you’re anxiously awaiting word on whether you got that job, and you could easily find such a novel too slow. Those details of character development that so draw you in at other times now just seem irritating. The series hasn’t changed (by the way, I recommend Brunanski’s series – I really like Bart’s character a lot). The fact is, it’s the kind of series that’s best enjoyed when you’ve got the time to ‘slow the pace down’ a bit.

And I think we’d all agree that mood plays a role too in what we think of a book. Grumpy or feeling crotchety? Virginia Duigan’s The Precipice might be the perfect fit. Need a good, irreverent laugh? Christopher Brookmyre has done some very funny novels. You get the idea.

So as we all start to plan what we’re going to read in 2014, do you think about this timing issue? Do you plan your reading so that you’ll take the lighter stuff with you on holiday for instance? Or do you adapt yourself to the book you’re reading?  What about when you start a book and then realise it’s the wrong time for that novel? Do you give up or pick it up at another time?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a Billy Joel song.

30 Comments

Filed under Antonio Hill, Bev Robitai, Carl Hiaasen, Cath Staincliffe, Christopher Brookmyre, Domingo Villar, Keigo Hagishino, Kishwar Desai, Lindy Cameron, Nelson Brunanski, Simon Brett, Susan Wittig Albert, Teresa Solana, Unity Dow, Virginia Duigan

The Alphabet in Crime Fiction: Technology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

26 Comments

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

Somewhere in Sydney*

Ext_PinkDawn_MThe ‘photo you see is of Sydney’s famous Opera House. I’ve not seen it (yet) in person, ‘though I hope to get a peek at the city soon (thanks, Sydney Opera House, for the use of the image). But there’s a lot more to Sydney than just the Opera House. It’s a large and very diverse city with a long history. That means that there’s a lot of grist there for the crime fiction mill if I can put it that way.

As I say, Sydney’s history goes back a very long way, and Kate Grenville’s The Secret River shows us a part of that history. William Thornhill is a London bargeman who’s caught stealing a load of wood. He’s lucky to escape execution and instead is sentenced to transportation to Australia. In 1806 he, his wife Sal and their children are taken to Sydney Cove where they’re left to start over as best they can. Sal sets up a makeshift pub and the family begins to make a life. For his part, Thornhill finds work delivering goods and making trades with the various more remote places that are accessible only by water. He begins by working for Thomas Blackwood on Blackwood’s boat The River Queen. That’s how he finds the perfect piece of land that he wants for his own on the Hawkesbury River. He finally persuades a reluctant Sal to leave Sydney and start over on that new piece of land and the family settles in. Thornhill in particular develops a deep attachment to the land and that’s the problem. There’ve been people on that land for many thousands of years by the time Thornhill moves in, and he and his family and neighbours are going to have to deal with the fact that other people were there first. This isn’t a crime novel in the sense that there’s a crime, an investigation and so on. But as conflict between the settlers and the indigenous people becomes more and more likely, some terrible crimes are committed and even though Thornhill himself wanted to find a peaceful way to keep the land he loves so much, it’s less and less possible to avoid getting his hands bloody too. I’m looking forward to the next instalment of this family’s story Sarah Thornhill.

Peter Doyle’s Get Rich Quick takes place in 1950’s Sydney. Billy Glasheen is a small-time crook and con-man, who earns his living with one scheme after another. One morning after a night of drinking, Glasheen goes for a swim in Mahon Pool on Maroubra Bay. That’s where he finds the body of Charlie Furner. He and Furner had had a run-in at a local gym a week earlier, and in any case he’s not on very good terms with Furner’s boss Little Jim Swain. What’s more, Glasheen has no desire to spend a lot of time in the company of the police. So he leaves the body where he found it. But it’s not long before he finds himself framed for the murder. Some of Sydney’s more powerful criminals, as well as several cops and corrupt politicians, would like nothing better than to get rid of Glasheen anyway, and it will solve a lot of problems if he can be used to cover up this murder. Glasheen decides that if he’s going to stay alive and hopefully out of jail, he’ll have to find out for himself who killed Charlie Furner and why.

Peter Corris’ Cliff Hardy series also takes place in Sydney, ‘though it’s not exactly the Sydney that the tourists are encouraged to see. Hardy is a PI whom we first meet in The Dying Trade. In that novel, wealthy Bryn Gutteridge hires Hardy on behalf of his twin sister Susan. He tells Hardy that someone has been making threatening telephone calls and sending letters. The caller (whom Susan refers to as The Voice) seems to know quite a lot about her, and is using this knowledge to frighten her, possibly as a prelude to blackmail. Gutteridge wants Hardy to find out who’s behind the threats. Hardy isn’t exactly wealthy, so he’s only too happy to accept the fee. He begins with a look into Susan’s personal history and it’s not long before the case gets very complicated. It turns out that there are some interesting secrets in the family, and that someone knows too much about them. As Hardy gets to know this wealthy family though, he also gets involved in two serious confrontations, and for his own safety, Gutterdige calls him off the case. Then Gutteridge’s stepmother Ailsa Sleeman calls Hardy back into action when her life is threatened. By this time Hardy is deeply involved in the family’s story and is going to have to find out who’s behind what’s been happening in order to untangle himself.

Wendy James’ The Mistake also has a strong Sydney connection. Jodie Evans Garrow and her husband Angus live in Arding, a small New South Wales town, with their two children Hannah and Tom. Life is going well for them until Jodie’s past comes back to haunt her. Hannah is involved in a car accident and taken to a Sydney hospital – the same one where years earlier, Jodie gave birth to another baby Elsa Mary.  When a nurse at the hospital remembers Jodie and asks about the baby, Jodie says that she gave the baby up for adoption. Then the nurse does a little checking and finds out that there is no formal record of an adoption. That’s when questions are raised, first privately and then increasingly publicly, about the incident. What happened to the baby? If Jodie didn’t give the baby up for adoption, did she kill the child? If the baby is alive and did grow up, where is she? Before long the questions and gossip make Jodie a social pariah and bitterly divide her family. In the end, we do find out the rest of Ella Mary’s story, and we see the havoc wrought in a family by public pillorying.

Sydney is ‘home base’ for Lindy Cameron’s Team Redback, a crack retrieval team that makes a specialty of rescuing people from extremely dangerous situations. In Redback, the team is sent to the Pacific island of Laui to rescue a group of delegates to the Pacific Tourism and Enviro-Trade Conference. A group of rebels has captured the delegates and Redback is called in to free them. This they accomplish successfully but they soon find that their work is far from done. The hostage-taking is soon connected to two murders, a train explosion in Europe, an attack on a US air base and later another murder, this time on Sydney’s Bondi Beach. Australian Attorney General Barney Cross is killed and Prime Minister Robert Harvey is shot in the leg. Now Redback, led by Commander Bryn Gideon, has to act fast to stop the terrorist group that’s behind all of this devastation.

And I couldn’t really discuss Sydney-based crime fiction without mentioning Katherine Howell’s Ella Marconi series. Marconi is a New South Wales police detective who sees the best and worst sides of the city. Often she’s teamed with Dennis Orchard, but she also works with Murray Shakespeare. In Silent Fear for instance, she and Shakespeare investigate the murder of Paul Fowler, who is shot, execution-style, while he and some friends are throwing a football around in a park. As Marconi and her team look into Fowler’s life, they find that he was involved with some shady ‘business associates.’ They also discover that his ex-wife Trina has a habit of not telling everything that she knows, including the fact that she was having an affair with one of Fowler’s friends. So Marconi and Shakespeare have a list of suspects. Howell’s novels also include major characters who are paramedics and who are often dispatched to the scene of sudden deaths. In their stories and in Marconi’s story, we get a good look at many different places in Sydney.

Sydney is a multi-layered place with lots of history and many different kinds of people living there. So it really is a natural setting for a good crime fiction series. Which Sydney-based novels have you enjoyed?

 

ps.  So why am I mentioning Sydney in particular? Well, beyond the fact that it is a great setting for a mystery, I plan to make a short stop there later this month. That’s right! I’ll be giving a paper at Charles Darwin University in Darwin, Northern Territories on 27 June and I’ll be making a few stops on the way. My trip to Australia will start with a very brief stop in Sydney. Then it’ll be on to… More later ;-)   Oh, and if you’re interested in my topic and so on, feel free to click on my Workshops and Presentations tab.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a Skyhooks song. A line from Midnight Oil’s Section 5 (Bus to Bondi) came in a close second…

36 Comments

Filed under Kate Grenville, Katherine Howell, Lindy Cameron, Peter Corris, Peter Doyle, Wendy James

I’m Leavin’ on a Jet Plane*

Air TravelI’m getting ready for a trip next month to a conference. I’m especially excited about this trip because I’m going to get to meet some friends I’ve only ever ‘met’ virtually. But of course, this trip is going to involve air travel. The whole thing has gotten me thinking about air travel and the role it plays in most of our lives. Lots of people commute to work by air and even those of us who don’t are quite accustomed to getting on planes to get wherever we’re going. So it’s little wonder at all that we see a lot of air travel in crime fiction. Sometimes the flight is the central point of the novel; that makes sense because a flight brings together all sorts of disparate people and that can make for a terrific setting and plot. Sometimes the flight is a minor point. Even then it allows the author to move the sleuth around, explore characters’ personalities, add to the plot, and so on. And it’s realistic, since so many of us travel that way.

Air travel is a way of life in some areas. For instance in Alaska, it’s the main method of transportation into and out of many places. That’s what we see in Stan Jones’ Nathan Active series. In White Sky, Black Ice, Active, who’s an Alaska State Trooper, is investigating the supposed suicide of George Clinton, whose body is found outside a local bar in Chukchi. Some little clues suggest that Clinton didn’t kill himself though, and Active has been looking into the matter. Then Active gets a request from Clara Stone, a relation on his mother’s side of the family. She is worried because her husband Aaron hasn’t returned from a hunting trip to Katy Creek. At first, Active wonders whether there’s even any reason to worry since Stone wasn’t really specific about when he’d be back. But Clara insists, so Active arranges with a local pilot Cowboy Decker to fly him over the Katy Creek area. That’s when Active discovers Stone’s body – another supposed suicide. But neither Clinton nor Stone ‘fit’ the profile of the typical suicide (if there is such a thing), so Active is more convinced than ever that both men were murdered. Active turns out to be quite right. These two men were murdered, and their deaths are linked.

Getting from place to place in Alaska often involves planes that aren’t exactly luxurious, and Jones makes that clear in his series. So does Dana Stabenow in both her Kate Shugak series and her Liam Campbell series. In Fire and Ice, for instance, which is the first of the Liam Campbell series, Constable Liam Campbell has just been assigned to Newenham, a small town in the Alaska bush. He no sooner de-planes when he gets involved in his first local murder case. Professional pilot Bob DeCreft has been killed by a propeller. DeCreft was a seasoned pilot who didn’t take un-necessary risks, so he wouldn’t have been likely to make the kind of mistakes that led to his death. On the other hand, he didn’t seem to have any enemies, so it’s hard to identify a motive for murder. Soon it comes out that the plane was sabotaged. This case is complicated by the fact that the plane that killed DeCreft is owned by Campbell’s former lover Wyanet “Wy” Chouinard, a skilled bush pilot in her own right. But little by little, Campbell starts getting a little closer to the truth about the murder – or so he thinks. When his chief suspect is also killed, Campbell has to re-think his original theory. In the end though, he gets to the truth about the murders.

One of the more famous air-related murder mysteries is Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds (AKA Death in the Air). Marie Morisot, who does business as Madame Giselle, is a well-known French moneylender. She is en route one day from Paris to London when she suddenly dies of what looks like heart failure. Soon enough though, it’s established that she was poisoned. The only possible suspects are her fellow passengers so Hercule Poirot, who was on the ill-fated flight, works with Chief Inspector James Japp to look among the other passengers and find out who the murderer is. The first part of this novel takes place on the plane, so as well as telling the story of the murder, the novel also depicts air travel at that time.

In William Ryan’s The Darkening Field (AKA The Bloody Meadow), Moscow CID Captain Alexei Korolev is assigned to a very delicate case. Promising young actress Maria Alexandrovna Lenskaya has been found dead – an apparent suicide. There are, however, small hints that suggest that she may have been murdered. So Korolev’s charge is to travel to Odessa, where Lenskaya was filming on location, and investigate very quietly. If the death was in fact suicide, then no more need to be done – there are certainly enough suicides during this time (pre-World War II Stalinist Russia). If the victim was murdered though, Korolev will have to find out who the killer is. Korolev prepares for his investigation and in the process, takes his first trip by air. This is a small plane too, and although the pilot says there’s nothing to worry about, that doesn’t exactly settle Korolev’s nerves. Things don’t get much better when each passenger is weighed. The total weight can’t exceed a given amount, so Korolev is concerned:

 

‘When all the passengers had been weighed and their names checked off, the younger pilot and the clerk examined the ledger and the latter flicked balls back and forth on an abacus. Their faces were grave and Korolev felt every one of his two hundred pounds, bag included.’ 

 

Despite his misgivings, Korolev and the other passengers have no real trouble getting to Odessa, and Korolev begins to look into the case. As it turns out, Lenskaya’s death was indeed murder, and the trail to the killer leads to some very high places.

Of course, plane travel can prove to be very useful in ways beyond the obvious. In Lindy Cameron’s Redback, for instance, we meet journalist Scott Dreher. He’s been doing some research on the use of war simulation games to recruit for the military, and his trail leads to Japan, where he wants to meet game developer Hiroyuki Kaga. On board a flight to Tokyo, Dreher happens to notice that the passenger sitting next to him has a copy of Global WarTek, one of the games Dreher’s been researching. He takes a look at the game and sees something that gives him an important clue that the military may not be the only ones using games for recruitment purposes. It turns out that Dreher’s instincts are right. This game is being used by a shadowy group of terrorists to recruit, initiate and give instructions to members. While Dreher is pursuing this story, the same terrorists are in the ‘line of sight’ of Team Redback, a crack Australian retrieval team that specialises in rescuing people from dangerous situations. Led by Commander Bryn Gideon, they’re called out to rescue delegates to a conference on a Pacific Island and pull off the operation very successfully. Then they learn about other incidents in other places in the world including a train that is blown up in France, an attack on a U.S. military base and two murders, including that of Hiroyuki Kaga. Little by little, Gideon and her team find the connections among these incidents and when they get the information Dreher has, they target the terrorists who are behind the events. And one of the key pieces of information that leads everyone to the terrorists comes from that on-board encounter Dreher has.

Air travel has become so common that most of the time, we just don’t think about it (unless of course one happens to be squeamish about it). But it’s an integral part of modern life, so it makes sense that it would also be woven into crime fiction. Now let’s see…which seats shall I choose? Aisle, I think…  ;-)

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from John Denver’s Leaving on a Jet Plane, made most famous by Peter, Paul and Mary. I miss both John Denver and Mary Travers…

24 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Dana Stabenow, Lindy Cameron, Stan Jones, William Ryan