Category Archives: Liza Marklund

Never Been to Spain*

SpainI’m very much enjoying my visit to Spain thus far. And I am happy to report that I haven’t run into any criminal situations. But not every visitor to Spain is quite so fortunate. Just look at crime fiction and you’ll see lots of examples. I’m only going to mention a few of them, but that should be enough to show you what I mean.

In Agatha Christie’s 4:50 From Paddington (AKA What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!) we meet the Crackenthorpe family. They get involved in a murder case when the body of an unknown woman is found on the property of their family home Rutherford Hall. At first, no-one in the family even knows the body is there. But Miss Marple has deduced it based on what she’s learned from her friend Elspeth McGillicuddy. So Miss Marple gets her friend Lucy Eyelesbarrow to help her in finding out the truth about what’s really been going on at Rutherford Hall. One of the family members is Cedric Crackenthorpe, son of patriarch Luther Crackenthorpe. Cedric becomes a suspect in the murder and becomes quite interested in Lucy. And it just so happens that he lives on Ibiza.

Helen MacInnes’ Message From Málaga is the story of Ian Ferrier, who works with the US Space Agency. He’s UsedBookstaking some time to visit his friend wine exporter Jeff Reid. What Ferrier doesn’t know is that Reid is also a CIA operative. His particular charge is helping communist defectors (the book was published in 1971) who want to start a new life in the West. Instead of a relaxing holiday in Spain, Ferrier finds himself helping to cover up and assist the defection of a high-level KGB agent. Matters are made more complicated by the fact that Ferrier doesn’t know the local culture; nor does he know whom he can trust.

Both Jonathan Robb and Alan Furst have written historical novels that focus on the Spanish Civil War. In Robb’s The Second Son, which takes place in 1936, we meet Chief Inspector Nikolai Hoffner. He is a former member of the Kriminalpolizei who was forced out of his position because he is half-Jewish. Having any Jewish background is dangerous enough. But then Hoffner discovers that his son Georg is in danger; he’s gotten mixed up in the Civil War in Spain. Nikolai travels to Spain to rescue his son if he can, and finds that events there aren’t really any safer than they are in Germany.

Furst’s The Foreign Correspondent is the story of Reuter’s journalist Carlo Weisz. He’s been living in Spain, reporting on the end of the Spanish Civil War and the ultimate defeat of the Republicans. While there, Weisz learns of the links between the Nationalist forces and the Fascist regimes of Italy and Germany. That’s how he becomes involved with, and later the leader of, a group of anti-fascist Italian refugees. Among their resistance activities is the smuggling of an anti-fascist newspaper into Italy. With that background, you wouldn’t think that Weisz would risk a trip to Germany, but he does. This novel depicts the political links among the various fascist powers of the pre-World War II era.

In Anthony Bidulka’s Tapas on the Ramblas, Saskatoon PI Russell Quant gets a new client. Wealthy family business owner Charity Wiser is convinced that one of her family members is trying to kill her. She wants Quant to join a family cruise on her private boat to sleuth the various members and find out who her enemy is. Quant agrees and prepares for the trip. The boat is supposed to travel smoothly from Barcelona to Rome, but a murder attempt and, later, a murder turn the trip deadly. Among other things, this novel gives readers a look at one of Spain’s truly lovely cities.

And then there’s Liza Marklund’s The Long Shadow. Usually, journalist Annika Bengtzon lives and works in Sweden, mostly in Stockholm. But then a gang of thieves kills former sport star Sebastian Söderström and his family and because he was Swedish, the Swedish media picks the story up. Among other plot threads in this novel, Bengzton follows this story to Spain’s Costa del Sol, where the killings occurred. She has to cope with more then the murders, too; there are issues with her ex-husband and an interesting undercover detective, among other things. This novel really has two major contexts, and shows the culture of ex-pat Swedes who’ve made lives in Spain.

See what I mean? Spain is irresistible…  I’ve given a few examples. Your turn.


ps That sign on the second ‘photo says ‘Used Books.’ OK, don’t tell me you’re surprised… ;-)



*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Three Dog Night.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Alan Furst, Anthony Bidulka, Helen MacInnes, Jonathan Robb, Liza Marklund

I’m Going Back to the Start*

PrequelsSome fictional detectives become so popular that we don’t want to let them go, even when the series clearly ends. And let’s be pragmatic: if a publishing company sees financial mileage in a detective, it’s natural to want to create more stories about that sleuth. The same is true of filmmakers. Authors too are not blind to the value on many levels of continuing to write about a particular detective. So it shouldn’t be surprising that publishing companies, filmmakers and authors have turned to prequels.

It makes sense, really. Fans are interested in knowing more about their beloved sleuths. There’s definitely a market out there too. And a well-written story is a well-written story.

On other hand, to a lot of fans, the stories are the stories. Prequels, especially if the author isn’t the character’s original creator, just aren’t the same as the ‘real’ stories. And it can be annoying for readers who prefer to enjoy a series in order if a prequel pops up. This really isn’t a settled question and I suppose that’s what makes it an interesting one.

At the end of its run, H.R.F. Keating wrote a prequel to his popular Ganesh Ghote series. Inspector Ghote’s First Case takes readers back to the beginning, when Bombay Police Inspector Ghote had just been promoted to that rank. In the novel, his boss Sir Rustom Engineer asks Ghote to travel from Bombay to Mahableshwar to investigate the suicide of Iris Dawkins. Her widower Robert Dawkins wants to know what drove his wife to suicide and he’s a friend of Engineer’s. So Ghote makes the trip despite the fact that his wife Protima is about to give birth to their first child. When he gets to Mahableshwar, Ghote asks routine questions about what happened. Gradually he begins to suspect that Iris Dawkins didn’t commit suicide. If she was murdered of course, the obvious questions are why and by whom? So Ghote begins the process of looking into the victim’s background and relationships to see who would have wanted to kill her and why.

Liza Marklund wrote Studio Sex (AKA Studio 69) as a prequel to her novel The Bomber. In the prequel, Annika Bengtzon has just started her career as a crime reporter. She’s working as a summer hire for Kvellspressen. When the body of a young woman is found in Stockholm’s Kronoberg Park, Bengtzon is eager to join the media ‘feeding frenzy,’ hoping that her angle on the story will give her a good chance at a full-time job. The body is identified as that of nineteen-year-old Hanna Josefin Liljeberg and at first the case seems straightforward enough as Bengtzon slowly starts to find out bits and pieces about the victim’s life. But before long Bengtzon discovers that she’s been misled about the case and that someone is trying very hard to discredit her. In the end, the case is connected to a coverup that leads to highly-placed people in the Swedish government.

Sometimes a prequel is only a prequel for those who read translated editions of a series. That’s because some series are translated out of order, as in the case of Jo Nesbø’s very popular Harry Hole series. The Bat is the first in that series, originally published in 1997. But it wasn’t translated until 2012, so for English-speaking readers, you really could call it a prequel as we get to know the Harry that came before The Redbreast. In The Bat, Hole travels to Sydney to help investigate the murder of Inger Holter, a Norwegian woman whose body’s been found in Gap Park. It shouldn’t surprise fans of this series that Hole soon makes a connection between Inger’s death and other murders. It’s an interesting example of how some of the ‘vintage Harry Hole’ trademarks have their origins.

There’ve also been hints that Arnaldur Indriðason may write a prequel to his very popular and well-regarded Inspector Erlendur series. It’ll be very interesting to see if that actually happens.

Not all prequels are written by the characters’ original creators. For instance, there’s Spade and Archer, which chronicles the meeting of Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade and Miles Archer. In this novel, Spade hangs out his shingle in San Francsico soon begins getting all sorts of clients. He’s working on a case when he happens to run into Archer, who, we learn, moved in on Spade’s girlfriend Ivy. The two of them develop an interesting partnership that turns official as the book goes on. This novel was written by Joe Gores, with the support and consent of the Hammett estate, and lots of people think it’s an excellent story.

Television and film executives have not been blind to the possibilities of prequels. Two series that have become quite popular are Endeavor and The Young Montalbano. Endeavor tells the story of the young man who would later become Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse. With Shaun Evans in the title role, the series began with five episodes that were popular enough that a second series was commissioned.

The Young Montalbano chronicles the early career of Andrea Camilleri’s popular sleuth Salvo Montalbano. Starring Michele Riondino, we learn how Montalbano got started as a cop, and we follow his first cases. The first series of The Young Montalbano was successful enough that a second series has been planned. Both this one and Endeavor were scheduled to start filming their second series in late 2013, so it’ll be interesting to see what the new episodes are like.

Prequels can give readers a chance to really get to know their beloved sleuths better. And the potential for financial success with prequels is undeniable. Besides, they can make for interesting stories. But for lots of people, prequels just aren’t the same as the originals, and they aren’t keen on them.

What about you? Do you like prequels? If you’re a writer, would you do a prequel for your protagonist?



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Coldplay’s The Scientist.


Filed under Andrea Camilleri, Arnaldur Indriðason, Colin Dexter, Dashiell Hammett, H.R.F. Keating, Jo Nesbø, Joe Gores, Liza Marklund

It’s Just Another Ordinary Miracle Today*

PregnancyThere’s nothing quite like the announcement of a pregnancy (and no, no big family news to share – promise). For many people that news is about as joyful as it gets. Of course it gives people the jitters, too. After all, pregnancy changes everything. And sometimes it’s not easy news to give or hear. But it’s always powerful news, and there’s something about pregnancy that changes the way we feel about the expectant mother. With the strong feelings associated with pregnancy, it’s not at all surprising that we see it in crime fiction. There are many, many examples of this in the genre; I only have space here for a few. So I’ll be counting on you to fill in the gaps I leave.

Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime is a collection of short stories featuring Thomas and Prudence ‘Tuppence’ Beresford. As the collection begins, the Beresfords have taken over the International Detective Agency. As its new proprietors, they investigate several different cases, with Tuppence doing at least as much of the detective work as her husband does. Tommy isn’t always happy about the dangers for his wife, but he knows what an independent thinker she is and what’s more, how valuable she is to the agency’s work. It all changes at the end of The Man Who Was No. 16. Here’s what passes between Tommy and Tuppence:


‘‘I say-we’re going to give it up now, aren’t we?’ [Tommy]
‘Certainly we are.’
Tommy gave a sigh of relief.
‘I hoped you’d be sensible. After a shock like this-’
‘It’s not the shock. You know I never mind shocks.’
‘A rubber bone-indestructible,’ murmured Tommy.
‘I’ve got something better to do,’ continued Tuppence. ‘Something ever so much more exciting. Something I’ve never done before.’
Tommy looked at her with lively apprehension.
‘I forbid it, Tuppence.’
‘You can’t,’ said Tuppence. ‘It’s a law of nature.’
‘What are you talking about, Tuppence?’
‘I’m talking,’ said Tuppence, ‘of Our Baby. Wives don’t whisper nowadays. They shout. OUR BABY! Tommy, isn’t everything marvellous?’


Of course, as fans of the Beresfords know, becoming a mother doesn’t stop Tuppence from investigating…

Arnaldur Indriðason’s Jar City gives readers another kind of look at the changes that a pregnancy brings. In that novel, Reykjavík police inspector Erlendur and his team investigate the murder of a seemingly inoffensive old man named Holberg. At first, it seems like a robbery gone terribly wrong, but that doesn’t explain the cryptic message that the killer has left behind. So the team looks more deeply in the case. They find that Holberg had a somewhat questionable past that included several accusations of rape, although he was never brought to trial on any charges. At the same time as the team is investigating this murder, Erlendur is facing a personal issue. His daughter Eva Lind has unexpectedly come back into his life. She has a long history of drug use and other problems and this is not really a joyful reunion. She asks Erlendur for money, then breaks the news that she’s pregnant. At first, she doesn’t really intend to change her ways, but as time goes on, she decides to keep the baby. And although neither she nor Erlendur is demonstrative, the news adds to their relationship, and gives Eva Lind added motivation to try to stop using drugs and to build herself a life.

Martin Clark’s The Legal Limit tells the story of Commonwealth of Virginia prosecutor Mason Hunt. Hunt and his brother Gates have the same traumatic family background, but have dealt with it in different ways. Gates has squandered every opportunity that’s come his way and makes money by small-time drug dealing and helping to spend his girlfriend Denise’s Welfare checks. Mason on the other hand has gotten scholarships, stayed in school and become an attorney. One day, Gates is at Denise’s home when he gets into an argument with his romantic rival Wayne Thompson. Thompson leaves, but later that evening, the Hunt brothers encounter him again. The argument flares back up and before anyone knows what’s really happened, Gates has shot Thompson. Out of a sense of duty, Mason helps his brother cover up the crime. Years later, Gates is arrested for cocaine trafficking. He asks his brother, who is now a prosecutor, to help him, but Mason refuses. That’s when Gates threatens to implicate Mason in the Thompson killing if he doesn’t help. Now Mason is going to have to find a way to clear his own name. In the meantime, Mason’s fifteen-year-old daughter Grace is struggling in school and having disciplinary problems. Then she tells him that she’s pregnant and wants to keep the baby. Now she’s going to have to grow up fast, as the saying goes. Her news is shocking, but it creates a stronger bond between her and her father.

John ‘Bart’ Bartowski faces a similar challenge in Nelson Brunanski’s Crooked Lake. He and his wife Rosie own a fly fishing lodge in Northern Saskatchewan. When they’re not at the lodge, they live in the small town of Crooked Lake. He and Rosie are the loving parents of Annie, who’s at university, and Stuart, who’s twelve years old. Their more or less peaceful life changes when Bart’s friend Nick Taylor is arrested for murder. Taylor was Head Greenskeeper for the Crooked Lake Regional Park and Golf Course until he was summarily fired. He blames Board of Directors member Harvey Kristoff for ‘railroading’’ him, and when Kristoff is found murdered on the golf course, Taylor is the natural first suspect. He claims he’s innocent though, and asks Bart to help clear his name. Bart agrees and starts to ask questions. In the meantime, Annie has come home from university for a visit. But it turns out that this isn’t just a social call. She’s brought the news that she’s pregnant. At first, both Bart and Rosie are shocked, but gradually, they get used to the idea of Annie and her boyfriend Randall becoming parents. And it’s interesting to see how knowing his daughter is expecting gives Bart an extra surge of protectiveness about her.

It’s not so easy for nineteen-year-old Maggie Heffernan to share the news of her pregnancy, as we learn in Wendy James’ Out of the Silence. In this fictionalised retelling of true events, Maggie grows up in rural Victoria. There, she meets and falls in love with Jack Hardy, who seems to reciprocate her feelings. The two become secretely engaged, and Hardy leaves for New South Wales to find work. The plan is for him to get settled and then publicly announce their engagement. When Maggie realises she’s pregnant, she writes to Hardy to tell him the news, but gets no response. Knowing her own parents will not take her in, she goes to Melbourne where she finds work. She continues to hope for news of Hardy and after the baby is born, she finally tracks him down. When she finds him, Hardy’s rejection of her touches off tragic consequences. The events told in this story took place in 1899 and 1900, and it’s interesting to see how our views of announcing a pregnancy have changed. For Maggie, it was more or less a shameful thing to be pregnant without a husband.

In Liza Marklund’s Prime Time, crime reporter Annika Bengtzon investigates the shooting murder of TV reporter Michelle Carlsson, star of Summer Frolic at the Castle. The only suspects are the twelve members of the cast and crew of the show, so it’s a matter of finding out which one had the most to gain by killing her. In that novel and in Vanished, we learn about Annika’s unusually challenging experience of breaking the news when she learned she was pregnant for the first time. At the time, she was having an affair with Thomas Samuelsson, who was married to someone else. When Annika discovered she was gong to have his baby, she ended up telling Thomas – in his wife’s presence. It’s interesting that Thomas immediately felt differently about Annika after learning he was going to be a father. He left his comfortable home and his wife to be with Annika – not something that always happens in that circumstance. Of course, fans of this series know that Annika and Thomas have their ups and downs. And ups. And downs…

Frédérique Molay’s The 7th Woman is the story of the investigation into several murders in Paris. Nico Sirsky, who heads Paris’ CID La Crim’, works with his team to find out who the killer is. The team tries to find the common link among the victims but it’s not easy at first. Then, they discover that the victims were all in the early stages of pregnancy and seemed very much looking forward to being mothers. No, pregnancy isn’t the reason these women were murdered. But it adds a special poignancy to their deaths.

The news of a pregnancy is an extremely emotional time. Very often it’s also a time of joy, but even when it’s not, there’s no denying its humanness or power. I’ve only mentioned a few examples of how this plays out in crime fiction.  Your turn.




*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Sarah McLachlan’s Ordinary Miracle.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Arnaldur Indriðason, Frédérique Molay, Liza Marklund, Martin Clark, Nelson Brunanski, Wendy James

But the Press Let the Story Leak*

PressFreedomToday is (or yesterday was, depending on when you read this) World Press Freedom Day. Now, normally I don’t keep track of every observance like this, but this one is an important one. People depend on their news to be accurate, and they depend on journalists to help ensure the transparency of what government and corporations do. So it’s important that the media be free to report on stories. At the same time, I think most of us would agree that there are good reasons for certain limits to press access. For instance, it wouldn’t be appropriate for the press to report on certain matters of national security (of course, we could debate on what belongs in that category; I’m speaking in generalities here). Most people would also agree that we have a right to a certain amount of privacy and the media should not violate that privacy. ‘Freedom of the press’ is a crucial concept, but it gets complicated when put into practice. And that’s what makes this kind of issue so interesting and such an appropriate plot point/theme for crime fiction.

Agatha Christie’s novels don’t generally paint journalists in a very positive light. I don’t know for sure but I wouldn’t be surprised if that has something to do with what she went through with the press during and after her famous 11-day absence during December of 1926. In Death in the Clouds (AKA Death in the Air), for instance, London hairdresser’s assistant Jane Grey is returning from a rare holiday at Le Pinet when one of her fellow airline passengers suddenly dies of what looks at first like a toxic reaction to a wasp sting. But it’s soon proven that this was murder. And it’s not surprising; the victim is Marie Morisot AKA Madame Giselle, a well-known French moneylender who used information she found out about her clients as ‘collateral’ for loans. The only possible suspects are the other passengers so although she’s not seriously suspected, Jane comes in for her share of questioning. That’s how she meets Hercule Poirot, who was on the same flight and who is helping Chief Inspector Japp with the case. At one point, Jane is having tea with fellow passenger Norman Gale when a reporter interrupts them, asking for a story. Both of them refuse him, but the reporter unscrupulously writes a story about them anyway.

Wendy James’ The Mistake also takes a look at, among other things, the way the press treats a major news story. Jodie Evans Garrow has what most people would say is pretty much the perfect life. She’s in an enduring marriage to Angus, a successful lawyer and up-and-coming politician. She has two healthy children and she herself is in good health. Everything changes when Jodie’s daughter Hannah is involved in an accident and ends up in the same hospital where, years earlier, Jodie gave birth to another child – a girl she’s never told anyone even existed. When one of the hospital nurses remembers Jodie and asks her about her daughter, Jodie says she gave the baby up for adoption. But the zealous nurse can find no official adoption records. She feels compelled to report what she’s found and the media soon gets wind of a big story. What happened to this successful woman’s baby? If the baby is alive, where is she? If not, did Jodie have something to do with the baby’s death? Very soon, the media makes the lives of Jodie and her family members miserable. Certainly the stories fan public sentiment against Jodie and that makes her situation that much worse. In the end, we find out what really happened after Jodie gave birth; we also see exactly what damage the press can do to a family.

And yet, as we see in Peter Temple’s Bad Debts, journalists play important roles in exposing corruption, graft and more. In that novel, sometime-attorney Jack Irish gets several telephone messages from a former client Danny McKillop, who’s recently been released from prison. McKillop was convicted of the drink-driving killing of Melbourne activist Anne Jeppeson and now he wants to talk to Irish about the case. But by the time Irish tries to return McKillop’s calls it’s too late; McKillop has been murdered. Irish knows that he didn’t do a good job of defending McKillop and that, plus his guilt over not returning the telephone calls sooner, pushes Irish to start asking questions about his former client’s death. As he begins to look into the matter he meets journalist Linda Hillier, who works for Pacific Rim News. Hillier gets interested in the story because it’s looking quite possible that McKillop was not guilty of Anne Jeppeson’s murder and was framed. If that’s true then someone else committed both killings. Hillier uses her contacts and journalistic skills to help find out who the murderer is. The trail leads to some highly-placed people and a case of greed and corruption that Jeppeson was trying to fight.

Paddy Richardson’s Traces of Red also brings up several issues of freedom of the press, its limits and the effects on people of a big story. Rebecca Thorne is a Wellington TV journalist whose Saturday Night is very well-regarded. But she’s reached a professional plateau, and she’s getting concerned. Saturday Night’s ratings are slipping and what’s worse, there are younger ‘hungry’ journalists out there who are all too eager to take Thorne’s place. So Thorne is looking for the story that will cement her place at the top of New Zealand television journalism. She thinks she finds that story in the case of Connor Bligh, who’s in Rimutaka Prison for the murders of his sister Angela Dickson, her husband Rowan and their son Sam. The only survivor of that attack was their daughter Katy, who wasn’t at home at the time of the killings. During the initial investigation and trial, everyone assumed that Bligh was guilty and most people still do. But there are little hints that he may be innocent. If he is, then this story could be just what Thorne needs. So she begins to investigate. In the process of her search for answers, she gets very close to the story – too close, really. And we see in the way she goes about it how all-consuming the search for a story can be. As Thorne interviews friends, colleagues, neighbours, and finally Katy Dickson herself, we also see how devastating it can be to have something this painful raked up.

There are also of course plenty of fictional sleuths who are journalists. I’m thinking for instance of Michael Connelly’s Jack McEvoy and Liza Marklund’s Annika Bengtzon. Of course, since they’re the protagonists we see the question of exactly what ‘counts’ as journalistic limits from their perspectives. But even so, they remind us of how important it is that the press be free to investigate stories. That said though, I think crime fiction also reminds us that with that freedom comes an important set of responsibilities, including accuracy, the protection of people’s privacy (especially the most vulnerable), and professional behaviour.

What do you think of this balance? Which stories have you enjoyed that treat these themes?



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Paul Simon’s Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Liza Marklund, Michael Connelly, Paddy Richardson, Peter Temple, Wendy James

Davy Crockett, Peter Pan, Elvis Presley, Disneyland*

Pop CultureWhether it’s ‘franchise’ movies, fashion magazines, reality TV, video games or something else, pop culture is a big part of a lot of people’s lives. So it shouldn’t at all be surprising that we would see pop culture in crime fiction too. After all, why shouldn’t fictional characters read a gossip magazine or go to a theme park or an ‘action figure’ film? It makes sense when you think of how pervasive pop culture is in our lives.

And it’s been around for a long time, too. For example, we see pop culture in Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side (AKA The Mirror Crack’d). In that novel, famous movie star Marina Gregg and her husband have purchased Gossington Hall, which Christie fans will remember was the home of Colonel Arthur Bantry and his wife Dolly (The Body in the Library). It’s soon announced that the remodeled home will be open to the public at a charity fête and lots of the locals are excited to see the house and perhaps meet a famous movie star. Especially excited is Heather Badcock, who is very much a fan of Marina Gregg. In fact, Heather gets the chance to meet her idol, but is sickened and dies soon afterwards. At first, it’s thought that the drink that poisoned her was originally intended for the movie star. But soon enough, Miss Marple and Dolly Bantry figure out that Heather was the intended victim the whole time. Film celebrities and the pop culture that surrounds them are an important part of this novel.

The first Walt Disney film was made in 1928 and since that time, Disney films, television shows and networks, and theme parks have become integral parts of pop culture. I’ve even used a few Disney song lyrics as titles for posts.** So it shouldn’t be surprising that Disney shows up in crime fiction too. Robert Crais’ Elivs Cole for instance has a Mickey Mouse clock on the wall of his office, and in Lullaby Town, he wears a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt. And that’s not the only story in which he wears pop-culture franchised clothes.

We see pop culture in Marshall Karp’s The Rabbit Factory, which features his LAPD cops Mike Lomax and Terry Biggs. Eddie Elkins is an actor who portrays Rambunctious Rabbit, the ‘star’ of popular theme park Familyland. When Elkins is found strangled, Lomax and Biggs investigate the murder. They’re shocked to find that the victim was really convicted child molester Edward Ellison. So at first, it looks as though this murder was revenge for a horrendous crime. But soon enough it turns out to be more complex than that. Ellison’s death is actually the first in a series of deaths intended to ruin the network that created Familyland. Throughout this novel we see how pervasive theme-park and television culture can be.

Malls are another important part of pop culture. With their franchised store brands and ‘food court’ restaurants, they’ve been woven into pop culture life for several decades. There’s a stark and sometimes darkly funny look at the mall culture in Catherine O’Flynn’s What Was Lost. When Green Oaks shopping center opens in 1984, ten-year-old Kate Meaney is sure that it’s going to be a magnet for all sorts of criminals and that suits her just fine. She’s a budding detective who’s opened her own agency Falcon Investigations, and she spends a lot of time at the mall watching for suspicious activity. When her grandmother insists that Kate sit the exams at the exclusive Redspoon school, she reluctantly takes the bus there with her friend twenty-two-year-old Adrian Palmer. She never returns though, and everyone thinks that Palmer is responsible for her disappearance. In fact his life is made so unbearable that he leaves town. Twenty years later, the real truth about what happened to Kate is slowly revealed when Palmer’s sister Lisa strikes up an unlikely friendship with Kurt, a security guard at the mall. Kurt’s been seeing some strange images on the security cameras – a young girl who seems to look just like Kate. Each in a different way, he and Lisa Palmer re-visit Kate’s disappearance and in the end, we find out what happened to the girl.

One of the most powerful purveyors of pop culture is television. And of course the TV culture is woven throughout crime fiction. I’ll just give a few examples. In Riley Adams’ (AKA Elizabeth Spann Craig) Delicious and Suspicious, The Cooking Channel’s restaurant critic Rebecca Adrian is visiting Memphis to choose Memphis’ best barbecue restaurant. One of the top contenders is Aunt Pat’s Barbecue, which has been owned by the Taylor family for years. When Adrian is poisoned a few hours after eating at Aunt Pat’s, talk begins to go around that Aunt Pat’s food is to blame. So family matriarch Lulu Taylor investigates the murder to save her restaurant’s reputation and clear her family’s name. Oh, and three of the characters in this novel are docents at Graceland, the Memphis home of Elvis Presley. If that’s not pop culture….

In Liza Marklund’s Prime Time, journalist Annika Bengtzon is assigned to cover the story of the shooting death of Michelle Carlsson, a major TV celebrity. She was in the process of filming a TV series Summer Frolic at the Castle when she was found murdered in one of the television station’s control rooms. As Bengtzon investigates, we see the ‘pop culture power’ of television celebrities and it’s really not surprising because of that that this is deemed to be a major story.

And then there’s Tarquin Hall’s The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing, in which Delhi investigator Vishwas ‘Vish’ Puri investigates the murder of Dr. Suresh Jha. At the same time, his wife Rumpi and his mother Mummy-ji end up involved in their own mystery. They attend a ‘kitty party’ where all of the guests add some money to a kitty. Later, one woman’s name is drawn and she wins the money in the kitty. This party turns out differently though when a thief takes the money. Mummy-ji scratches the robber, hoping that there will be enough DNA evidence from that to catch the person. Later she and Rumpi go to the local forensics laboratory where a good friend of Mummy-ji’s works as a lab technician. Despite their friendship, here’s what he says:


‘Auntie-ji, I think you’ve been watching too much of CSI on Star TV, isn’t it?’


Needless to say, Mummy-ji is not pleased at this dismissal and in the end she insists on and gets her answer. But it does show how pervasive television pop culture is, even in crime fiction.


What about you? Do you indulge in pop culture? It’s OK, you can tell me. I won’t tell. ;-)….

If you do love pop culture, go visit Pop Culture Nerd, a great source for all things pop culture.



** Bonus bragging rights question:  In which Disney film does Billy Joel have a major role? No fair Googling!




*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Catherine O'Flynn, Elzabeth Spann Craig, Liza Marklund, Marshall Karp, Riley Adams, Robert Crais, Tarquin Hall