Category Archives: Louise Penny

An Englishman’s Way of Speaking Absolutely Classifies Him*

Adjusting LanguageThere’s an interesting theory of language that suggests that we adjust the way we speak in order to identify with a particular group. If this theory (it’s called Speech Accommodation Theory, or SAT) is correct, people often do that because they’re members of that group, and feel a connection. Or they want to be accepted into the group, so they adjust their language to express solidarity. If you’ve noticed that you change your way of speaking depending on the group of people you’re with, you know from your own experience how this works.

It happens in crime fiction, too, and it’s an interesting way for authors to show not tell, as the saying goes, what a character is like. It’s also an effective way for a fictional sleuth to ‘fit in.’ Let me just offer a few examples.

In Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, Hercule Poirot takes the Orient Express train through Europe back to London to deal with some new developments in a case he’s working. On the second night of the journey, one of his fellow passengers, Samuel Ratchett, is stabbed. M. Bouc, who’s one of the travel company’s directors, is also on board the train and asks Poirot to find out who the killer is. Poirot agrees and begins to look into the case. The only possible suspects are the other passengers in the same car as as the victim, so Poirot concentrates his efforts there. It turns out that this murder has everything to do with a past incident. One of the interesting elements in this novel is the way language is adjusted in order to give a certain impression. If you’ve read the novel, you know what I mean. If you haven’t, and you do read it at some point, keep in mind that not everything is the way it sounds…

Arthur Upfield’s Inspector Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte is a member of the Queensland Police. He’s in the interesting position of being a part of two cultural communities, since his father was White and his mother belonged to one of the Aboriginal groups. He actually identifies himself in two different ways, and in more than one novel there are references to his dual identity. Bony adjusts his language and his cultural ways to suit the needs of situations in which he finds himself. When he’s with other Aborigines, he uses their language and their ways. When he’s with Whites, he speaks standard Australian English. What’s more, he’s even able to adjust his dialect if it’s necessary. This language adjustment is an authentic reflection of Bony’s own identity; it’s also a way for him to put people enough at their ease that they’re more willing to talk to him than they might otherwise be.

Tony Hillerman’s Jim Chee is a Navajo Tribal Police officer, and a member of the Navajo Nation. He uses English quite a lot of the time, but he also speaks Navajo, and uses it to express his kinship with that group. Even when he’s speaking in English, if the person he’s talking to is Navajo, you’ll find that Navajo words, phrases and cultural references are sprinkled into what he says. And sometimes, he completely code switches to Navajo when he’s speaking to a fellow Navajo. Chee is a cop, so part of the reason he adjusts his speech as he does is to make others feel comfortable enough to tell him what he wants to know. In other words, it’s a deliberate adjustment made for a specific purpose. But he adjusts his speech that way in more casual moments too, so there’s a good argument that he also does it to belong – to be a part of his community.

One of Martin Edwards’ series features Harry Devlin, a Liverpool attorney who works with a somewhat down-and-out firm. Although he’s educated and uses standard British English, Devlin can easily adjust his speech to the Scouser variety of English that’s common in the Liverpool area. And he finds that that’s to his advantage in All The Lonely People. In that novel, Devlin is surprised to say the least when his estranged wife Liz comes back into his life, asking if she can stay with him for a bit. Devlin accepts, hoping that this may mean she is interested in a reconciliation. Two nights later, Liz is stabbed and her body found in an alley. Devlin is determined to find out who killed her, and it’s in his pragmatic interest anyway, since that will clear his own name. So he starts to ask questions. The trail leads through some of Liverpool’s poorer and more dangerous areas, and Devlin knows that he’s not likely to be trusted, to say the least, if he uses his own way of speaking. So he adjusts his speech and adopts
 

‘…a congested Scouse accent…’
 

when he talks to some of those he meets. That change doesn’t solve Liz’ murder, but it does mark Devlin as ‘one of us,’ in some people’s eyes, and that gets him information he probably wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.

Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is a proud francophone Québécois, as are several members of the police with whom he works on his cases. And it’s very interesting to see how they interact when they’re speaking with other francophones as opposed to when they’re speaking with native speakers of English. For instance, in Still Life, Gamache and his team go to the small town of Three Pines to investigate the murder of former school teacher Jane Neal. Here’s a snippet of what happens when he speaks to a local police officer Agent Robert Lemieux. Lemieux was first on the scene, and secured the area, so his input about what and whom he saw is important:
 

“Bien sûr! I saw that man over there [indicating a possible witness]. An Anglais, I suspected, by his clothes and his pallor. The English, I have noticed, have weak stomachs.’…
It had also been Lemieux’s experience that the English had no clothes sense, and this man in his plaid flannel shirt could not possibly be francophone.’

 

Lemieux identifies closely with fellow francophones, so he adjusts his language (and his comments!) to express solidarity with them. Fans of this series will know that as a rule, things are different when the team members are speaking with anglophones.

One of Anya Lipska’s protagonists is Januscz ‘Janek’ Kiszka, a Polish immigrant who now lives in London. Kiszka speaks fluent English, and when he interacts with native speakers of that language (such as Lipska’s other protagonist DC Natalie Kershaw), he uses English. He sometimes misses Poland, but he’s comfortable enough in England. However, he’s culturally and linguistically Polish, and uses that language to identify with other Poles. Even when he’s speaking English with fellow Poles, he uses Polish expressions and makes Polish cultural references. He adjusts his language in great part to express solidarity with people from his own background. Kiszka’s ability to adjust his language to fit in is part of why he’s got a reputation in his own community as a ‘fixer.’ He helps his fellow Poles to get things done, to arrange paperwork, to negotiate life in London and so on. And that’s why Kershaw also finds his input useful. In Where the Devil Can’t Go and Death Can’t Take a Joke, she investigates cases that reach into the Polish community. Kiszka is a member of that group and provides valuable insights.

We may not consciously be aware of it, but we do adjust the way we speak, and there’s a solid argument that we do so at least in part to identify with a particular group (or to identify ourselves as not belonging to a given group). So it’s little wonder that we see these language adjustments in crime fiction too. Which ones have stood out in your mind?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s Overture/Why Can’t the English.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Anya Lipska, Arthur Upfield, Louise Penny, Martin Edwards, Tony Hillerman

There Were Incidents and Accidents*

So-Called AccidentsSome deaths are quite obviously murders. In those cases, at least in crime fiction, the killer doesn’t try to hide the fact that it was murder. Rather, the murderer may work hard at an alibi, or may work hard to prove there was no motive. But really, it’s much easier to disguise the murder as an accident if it’s possible. And sometimes, that makes it awfully difficult to prove that a death was murder.

Examples of murders made to look like accidents run all through crime fiction, possibly because it’s really credible that someone would want to cover up a murder that way. Whatever the reason, there are a lot of examples – many more than I could list in one post. But here are a few.

Agatha Christie uses the so-called accident in several of her stories. To take just one example, in Cards on the Table, Hercule Poirot is invited to a very unusual dinner. The enigmatic Mr. Shaitana gathers four sleuths (including Poirot) and four people that he hints have gotten away with murder. After the meal, everyone settles in to play bridge. During the evening, someone stabs Mr. Shaitana. The only possible suspects are the four people who were in the room at the time – the very four people Shaitana more or less accused of murder. Now the four sleuths are faced with the task of figuring out which of these equally-plausible suspects is guilty. One of them is Anne Meredith. At one point, she’d served as companion to a Mrs. Benson, who died tragically of poisoning by hat paint. Apparently, she confused the hat paint with her medicine, a very plausible accident. Or was it?

In Peter Høeg’s Smilla’s Sense of Snow (AKA Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow), a young boy Isaiah Christiansen tragically dies after a fall from the roof of the Copenhagen apartment building where he lives. Isaiah had befriended fellow Greenlander Smilla Jasperson, and she is upset at his death. She’s drawn to the scene of the accident, and when she gets there, she sees signs in the snow that lead her to believe that the boy’s death was not accidental. She begins to ask questions and soon discovers that some dangerous people are determined to hide the truth. She persists though, and her search for answers takes her back to her homeland, where she finds the connection between Isaiah’s death and some secrets hidden in Greenland.

Christopher Fowler’s Full Dark House introduces Arthur Bryant and John May of London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit (PCU). The novel actually tells two stories, one of which is a recounting of the PCU’s first case. In 1940, the Palace Theatre is set to do a production of Orpheus. Then one of the dancers Tanya Capistrania dies in what some say is a freak accident. The police are investigating that death when Charles Senechal, who was to play the role of Jupiter in the production, is killed by a piece of scenery. Again it’s regarded as a terrible accident, but an accident nonetheless. Still, it’s beginning to look very much as though someone is determined to stop the production. When another death occurs, and then a disappearance, Bryant and May and their team come under intense pressure to solve the case before there are any more tragedies.

Louise Penny’s Still Life is our introduction to the small rural Québec town of Three Pines. One of its residents Jane Neal is killed during the Thanksgiving holiday in what looks like a hunting accident. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec is called to the scene, and he soon finds that this death was actually a murder. The question though is who would have had a motive. The victim was a beloved former teacher whom everyone seemed to respect. Gamache and the team get to know the town, though, and some of its history. And it’s in the past that they find the motive and therefore, the killer.

In Carl Hiaasen’s Skinny Dip, Charles ‘Chaz’ Perrone thinks he’s found a great new way to make money. He’s a marine biologist (well, in name at least) who’s hired by agribusiness owner Samuel Johnson ‘Red’ Hammernut. Hammernut’s company has been accused of pouring toxic waste into Florida’s Everglades, and Hammernut needs proof that his company doesn’t pollute. Perrone offers that in the form of a way he’s developed to fake the results of water testing so the water looks clean. The two begin to do business and all goes well enough at first. Then, Perrone’s wife Joey begins to suspect what’s going on, and threatens to report it. Now he needs to get rid of her, so he tells her they’re going on an anniversary cruise of the Everglades. While they’re on the trip, he pushes Joey overboard, thinking that’s the end of his problems. At first everyone, including the police, thinks it’s a terrible accident and there’s much sympathy for Perrone. What he doesn’t know though is that Joey didn’t drown, and she’s made her own plans for revenge…

And then there’s Dawn Harris’ Letter From a Dead Man. In the late 18th-Century Lady Drusilla Davenish lives on the Isle of Wight with her Aunt Thirza and Thirza’s daughter Lucie. The family is excited about Lucie’s upcoming wedding to Giles Saxborough. Everything changes though, when Giles’ father (and Lady Drusilla’s godfather) Cuthbert Saxborough dies in what looks like a tragic riding accident. But things don’t quite add up for Lady Drusilla. Her godfather was an expert horseman. It’s highly unlikely that he’d have died in that way. So she starts to ask questions. Not long afterwards, Giles’ older brother Thomas and his son Tom are both killed in what’s put down as a horrible yachting accident. But Lady Drusilla is convinced that it’s more than that. And there’s more than one possible explanation. It might be connected to a smuggling operation she’s recently discovered. Or it might be someone with a vendetta against the Saxborough family. Or it might be something else…

In Angela Savage’s The Half Child, Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney is hired by Jim Delbeck to find out what happened to his daughter Maryanne. She was a volunteer at the New Life Children’s Centre in Pattaya when she fell from the roof of the building where she was living. The police report suggests it might have been suicide, but Delbeck doesn’t think so. It could also have very well been an accident. Whatever the cause, Delbeck wants to know the truth about his daughter’s death. Keeney takes the case and travels to Pattaya. As a part of her investigations, she decides to learn more about at New Life, going undercover as a volunteer. As she gets closer to the truth about Maryanne’s life and death, she finds out that some people do not want their secrets revealed…

At least in fiction, murders designed to look like accidents can serve a lot of purposes. They can give murderers effective ways to hide their crimes. They can also give the author a way to build suspense and interest. And they can allow the author the chance to lead the reader up the proverbial garden path. After all, sometimes an accident is just an accident. There are so many other examples of this plot point in crime fiction – many more than I could name. So…what gaps have I left?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me Al.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Carl Hiaasen, Christopher Fowler, Dawn Harris, Louise Penny, Peter Høeg

I’m Totally Formidable When I’m With You*

Detective DuosOne of the really interesting crime fiction sleuth traditions is the husband-and-wife detective team. There are many, many such teams in the genre; in fact you could argue that it’s a deeply ingrained crime novel context. Space is only going to allow me to mention a few of them, but I’m sure you could think of many more than I could anyway.

One of the better-known husband-and-wife teams is Agatha Christie’s Tommy and Prudence ‘Tuppence’ Beresford. When we first meet them in The Secret Adversary, World War I has recently ended and the very young Beresfords find themselves with little money and no real career plans. So they decide to form Young Adventurers, Ltd. and hire themselves out, with ‘no unreasonable offer refused.’ To their surprise, they are indeed hired and soon find themselves involved in a web of international intrigue, missing secret papers, and murder. Unlike some of Christie’s other work, this series follows the Beresfords more or less chronologically and in real time. Throughout the series, we see that these two really do function as a team. They bring different strengths to their cases and they depend on each other.

That’s also true of Ngaio Marsh’s Roderick Alleyn and his wife, artist Agatha Troy. It’s true that Troy isn’t a professional detective. But she is a keen and intelligent observer, and of course, she’s well-connected within the fine arts community. In several novels (e.g. A Clutch of Constables, Spinsters in Jeopardy and Tied up in Tinsel) the two combine forces to solve cases. Troy relies on her husband’s detective skills and his official status. But she’s no ‘clinging vine.’ Alleyn depends on his wife’s social skills, her observation and intelligence, and her creativity.

There are some similarities between Marsh’s Alleyn/Troy team and Patricia Moyes’ Henry Tibbett and his wife Emmy. Like Alleyn, Tibbett works with Scotland Yard, and like Troy, Emmy is not a professional sleuth. Beginning with Dead Men Don’t Ski, the two work together on Tibbett’s cases. In that novel, they’re taking a ski holiday to Santa Chiara, in the Italian Alps. For Tibbett it’s a working holiday, as he’s doing a bit of secret investigating. The couple soon gets mixed up in a case of murder and smuggling, and it’s obvious even in this first story that they work well together. Emmy has a great deal of insight and her husband depends on what she learns just from simple conversations with others. They map out their strategies almost as though they were police partners.

Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey series is another powerful example of a husband-and-wife detecting team. Wimsey and mystery novelist Harret Vane meet for the first time in Strong Poison, in which Wimsey helps to clear Vane of murder charges. He falls in love with her and at the end of Gaudy Night, finally persuades her to marry him. The two aren’t married until the last novel, Busman’s Honeymoon, but they are a couple throughout several novels and it’s obvious that they work very well as a team. Wimsey appreciates Vane’s intelligence and her deductive abilities (she is a crime writer after all. ;-) ). And Vane appreciates Wimsey’s experience at detection and his way of solving cases.

There’s also of course Dashiell Hammett’s Nick and Nora Charles. Hammett only wrote one novel The Thin Man that features this couple. But there’ve been several Nick and Nora films. In the novel, Nick Charles is hired to find out what happened to wealthy businessman Clyde Wynant, who seems to have disappeared. Nick isn’t really interested in taking on this case, but he’s drawn into it anyway when the next morning, Wynant’s former secretary Julia Wolf is murdered. Nora Charles certainly plays much more than a supporting role in the novel. But the real teamwork in this couple is more evident in the ‘Thin Man’ films, where they form a strong ‘detective duo.’

Some husband-and-wife sleuthing teams are also police partners for at least some of the series. That’s the case with Deborah Crombie’s Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James. When the series begins, in A Share in Death, Met Superintendent Duncan Kincaid works with then-Sergeant Gemma James to solve the murder of Sebastian Wade, whose body is found floating in a whirlpool at the holiday retreat of Followdale House. As the series evolves, the two become friends and then lovers. Later they marry. Both are cops and although James moves on to her own police career, they continue to work together and pool their knowledge. In this series too, we see the way that detective couples’ home lives and work lives interact.

There are of course also lots of cases (I’m thinking for instance of Louise Penny’s Armand Gamache series) in which couples may not be exactly detective teams, but still rely a great deal on each other. The husband-and-wife detecting team scenario allows the author to explore not just crimes and their investigations, but also relationships and other kinds of story arcs. There’s also lots of opportunity for character development. Little wonder this is such a popular premise.

Thanks very much to Moira at Clothes in Books for the inspiration for this post. Now that you’ve been kind enough to read it, be kind to yourself and check out Moira’s excellent blog. It’s a fantastic resource for information about clothes, popular culture and what it all says about us in fiction.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from UB40’s Nothing Without You.

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Filed under Dashiell Hammett, Deborah Crombie, Dorothy Sayers, Louise Penny, Ngaio Marsh, Patricia Moyes

Another Pleasant Valley Sunday*

Village MurdersOne of the more enduring traditions in crime fiction is the ‘English village murder.’  That sort of novel features a seemingly sleepy village where everyone knows everyone’s business, and where people are (at least on the surface) shocked when murder strikes. Over time, of course, the context has been extended to include villages in many different countries. And there are lots of fictional villages that many crime fiction readers have come to love. I’ve only space to mention a few ‘village series’ here; I’m sure you’ll be able to fill in the gaps though.

Perhaps the most famous fictional village is Agatha Christie’s St. Mary Mead, the home of Miss Jane Marple. Miss Marple claims that she’s learned quite a lot about human nature, just from observing her fellow villagers. And several of the Miss Marple stories focus on life in St. Mary Mead, and on the people who live there. Beginning with The Murder at the Vicarage, readers have come to know the vicar Leonard Clement and his wife Griselda, Colonel Arthur Bantry and his wife Dolly, and lots of other villages too. Interestingly, St. Mary Mead also features in Christie’s The Mystery of the Blue Train, which is not a Miss Marple novel. In that story, we meet Katherine Grey, who’s lived in St. Mary Mead as a paid companion for ten years. Her life changes completely when she inherits a great deal of money and decides to travel. That’s how she gets mixed up in a case of theft and murder. What’s particularly of interest is that Katherine Grey and Miss Marple never meet. It’s not surprising though, since Miss Marple didn’t make her fictional debut until after the publication of The Mystery of the Blue Train.

M.C. Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth is the local bobby in the Highlands village of Lochdubh. He’s quite happy with his quiet village life, and has no burning desire to live and work anywhere else. In the course of that series, we get to know the village and its eccentric inhabitants. For instance, there’s occasional poacher Angus Macgregor, there’s village GP Dr. Brodie, and there are the Reverend and Mrs. Wellington. There’s also local news reporter Elspeth Grant, and the ‘well-born’ Priscilla Halburton-Smythe, both of whom are also love interests for Macbeth.

Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen has created the fictional Yorkshire village of Knavesborough. Her sleuth Rhapsody Gershwin is the daughter of Knavesborough’s vicar, and the fiancée of its local bobby Archie Penrose. In stories such as The Cosy Knave and Green Acres, we meet some of Knavesborough’s eccentric residents. For example there’s local mushroom enthusiast Arthur Kickinbottom and his grumpy wife Mildred; there’s Penrose’s boss and football enthusiast DI Mars-Wrigley; and there are Rhapsody’s sisters Psalmonella and Harmonia. This series features plenty of ‘village spite’ and of course, crime, but it’s also got quite a lot of wit.

Both Dicey Deere and Ian Sansom have written series that feature Irish villages. Deere’s sleuth is Torrey Tunet, an American-born translator/interpreter. She travels quite a bit for her job, but always enjoys time at her European ‘home base,’ the Irish village of Ballynagh. The local law is enforced by Inspector O’Hare, who does not appreciate Tunet’s involvement in any investigation. But although Tunet wasn’t born in Ballynagh, she’s been accepted by the locals, and finds it hard to leave matters alone when one of the friends she’s made is threatened. Readers who would rather not catch up on a long series will appreciate that this one only consists of four entries.

Sansom’s series, the Mobile Library Series, features Israel Armstrong, a ‘blow-in’ from London who’s been hired as the librarian for the Tumdrum and District Mobile Library. As we first learn in The Case of the Missing Books, his job is, on the surface, of it, hardly a dream job for a librarian. He drives the area’s rattletrap mobile library bus, which is kept stocked and running only because the law requires that a library be accessible to the locals. But the residents of Tumdrum and the surrounding area love having books available, and as the series goes on, Armstrong slowly gets to know them and vice versa. This series has a slightly more cynical edge to it, if I may put it that way, than some ‘village’ series do. It’s a funny and wry look at village life through the eyes of someone who’s very accustomed to London life.

There’s also Martin Walker’s series featuring Benoît ‘Bruno’ Courrèges. This series takes place mostly in the French village of St. Denis, in the Périgord. Bruno is very much ‘one of us,’ as far as the other villagers are concerned. He does his job not just because it’s what he’s paid to do, but also because he knows and cares about the other people who live in St. Denis. This series often links past events and crimes to present-day mysteries. It also features, as do most ‘village’ series, a look at the lifestyle and culture of the area. This series isn’t as light as some ‘village’ series are; there are sometimes ugly crimes and motivations. But it shows the real appeal of life in a village in that part of France.

And I couldn’t imagine a post about ‘village’ murders without a mention of Louise Penny’s series featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec. This series’ focus is the village of Three Pines, which we first ‘visit’ in Still Life. This isn’t what you’d call a cosy ‘village series,’ although there are plenty of light moments. In some ways, it does have quite an edge. But it’s clear that life in Three Pines can be very good indeed, and the series offers readers an authentic look at its culture and lifestyle. The series includes some beloved characters too, such as bistro/B&B owners Olivier Brulé and his partner Gabriel Dubeau. There are also for instance artists Peter and Clara Morrow and poet Ruth Kemp Zardo. Among other things, this series is almost as much about those characters and the ways their lives intersect.

And that’s the thing about ‘village’ mystery series. They tell stories of crime of course. But they also show what it’s like to live in a village, and they depict the ways in which the residents’ lives are woven together. There are only a very few crime-fictional villages. Which ones do you like to ‘visit?’

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Gerry Goffin and Carole King’s Pleasant Valley Sunday, made famous by the Monkees.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Dicey Deere, Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen, Ian Sansom, Louise Penny, M.C. Beaton, Martin Walker

They’re Talkin’ About You and It’s Bringin’ Me Down*

PoliceInvestigationWhen the police investigate or re-investigate a case, they don’t always confine themselves to just looking at whether the right person was arrested. They also look at the way the case was pursued, and that means looking at their own. I’m not talking here of police corruption. Crime fiction fans know that there are plenty of stories where the protagonist goes up against corrupt cops. Rather, I mean stories in which the police have to look at the way a case has been handled. It’s always uncomfortable to do that, as the cops may be investigating someone they’ve known and liked for a long time. But sometimes it’s indicated, and it can make for a very effective layer of suspense in a story.

For instance, in Reginald Hill’s Recalled to Life, Cissy Kohler has been released from prison after serving time for the 1963 murder of Pamela Westrop. Soon, allegations are made that Kohler was innocent and that Wallly Tallentire, who investigated the case, knew that and hid relevant evidence. Superintendent Andy Dalziel resents that claim bitterly; Tallentire was his mentor, and he is convinced that Tallentire’s conduct was entirely appropriate. He also believes that Kohler was guilty all along. Still, the case is re-opened and a new investigation is made. Dalziel and Peter Pascoe go about it from different angles, but each pursues the real truth about what happened to Pamela Westrop. Throughout the novel, there’s a thread of tension brought on by the reality of investigating a cop whom Dalziel knew and respected for years.

There’s a similar kind of tension in Colin Dexter’s The Remorseful Day. Harry Repp has been released from prison after serving time for burglary. An anonymous tip now alleges that he is also guilty of the two-year-old murder of a nurse Yvonne Harrison. So Superintendent Strange asks Inspector Morse and Sergeant Lewis to re-open the case. Morse seems unusually apathetic about the investigation, so Lewis does a lot of the work. As he looks into the matter, he makes a truly upsetting discovery that seems to show the reason for Morse’s apparent lack of interest in this murder. Dexter makes it clear how difficult it is for Lewis to continue the investigation after his find. But of course, this is Colin Dexter, so things are not what they seem.

Louise Penny gives readers a look at what it’s like to be on the receiving end of those sorts of questions in her series featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec. Beginning with Still Life, the first in the series, we get hints, and later facts, about an earlier case involving Gamache. We later learn that questions about it have been raised.  I don’t want to say more for fear of spoilers. But I can say that this particular story arc lends a solid layer of tension to the novels. Although each of the novels contains a separate murder investigation, the story arc shows that these kinds of questions can go on in the background and can have a profound effect on the life of the subject of them.

Peter Lovesey’s The Last Detective: Introducing Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond has a similar sort of sub-plot. The body of famous TV actor Geraldine ‘Gerry’’ Jackman has been found in Chew Valley Lake not far from Bristol. Superintendent Peter Diamond and his assistant DI John Wigfull investigate the death and they soon find that this is going to be a difficult case. For one thing, it turns out that the victim didn’t die by drowning, and was probably killed elsewhere and brought to the lake. For another, the deeper they dig into her background, the more complications they find. As if that weren’t enough, there’s already somewhat of a cloud over Diamond, resulting from his conduct during an earlier case. He’s very much ‘on probation’ in this investigation and in fact, it’s even arranged for a ‘company spy’ to keep tabs on him.

The murder of Sergeant John White of the Tasmania Police brings on a deep look into his life in Y.A. Erskine’s The Brotherhood. White has the reputation of being very much ‘a cop’s cop.’ Never accused of ‘going dirty,’ always supportive of his colleagues, he is much respected and admired by his peers. One morning he and probationer Lucy Howard respond to reports of a break-in. While they’re at the scene, White is stabbed. The most likely suspect is seventeen-year-old Darren Rowley, who’s been in trouble with the law before. But the police can’t move too quickly here. Rowley is part Aboriginal and from what people call a ‘disadvantaged background.’ The police know that the media is watching everything they do to be certain they ‘play by the rules.’ Besides, there are some hints that something more was going on with this case. As we learn what really happened in the days leading up to the murder, and on the day itself, we also see how the police react when one of their own – someone they really respected – comes under the proverbial microscope.

And then there’s Annie Hauxwell’s  In Her Blood. In that novel, London investigator Catherine Berlin has been building up a case against loan shark Archie Doyle. She’s been working with an informant who goes by the name of Juliet Bravo. One day ‘Juliet’ is found dead in Limehouse Basin. Berlin feels responsible for putting her informant at risk, so she takes a special interest in finding out who killed her. Soon, though, she finds herself suspended for not following protocol with regard to her interactions with her informant. But she wants to know the truth about ‘Juliet’s’ death. Then, Berlin faces a personal crisis. She’s a registered heroin addict who’s been getting her supply from Dr. George Lazenby under the registered addicts program. One afternoon she goes to his office to keep her regular appointment only to find him dead and herself a suspect in his murder. With only seven days’ supply of the drug left, she’ll have to clear her name as quickly as she can, before withdrawal sets in. In the end, she finds out the truth behind Lazenby’s murder and how it ties in with ‘Juliet’s’ murder. She also discovers some things best left unknown about some of her colleagues.

There are also novels such as Ian Rankin’s The Complaints that deal with internal investigations of police. It’s difficult to have the responsibility of ‘policing the police,’ and those who do so don’t necessarily have a lot of friends in the rest of the department. But it’s a fact of police life.

It’s always difficult when questions are raised about a colleague, especially if that colleague is someone you’ve liked and respected. It’s even worse when it’s a member of the police force, who are supposed to be worthy of public trust. When it happens in real life it’s distressing for everyone. When it happens in crime fiction, it can add suspense to a story. Which gaps have I left?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from REO Speedwagon’s Take it on the Run.

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Filed under Annie Hauxwell, Colin Dexter, Ian Rankin, Louise Penny, Peter Lovesey, Reginald Hill, Y.A. Erskine