Category Archives: Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza

Bus Stop, Bus Goes*

BusesLike many people, I like the idea of using public transit. Take buses for instance. Besides the benefits to the environment of having fewer cars on the road, it’s nice to be able to read, work or just rest instead of actually driving. And it can be convenient to take a bus. For a writer, buses are also terrific places for people-watching and therefore, inspiration.  Here’s what Agatha Christie’s Ariadne Oliver says about that in Hallowe’en Party:


‘I did sit across from someone in a bus just before I left London, and here it is all working out beautifully inside my head. I shall have the whole story soon. The whole sequence, what she’s going back to say, whether it’ll run her into danger or somebody else into danger. I think I even know her name.
Her name’s Constance. Constance Carnaby.’


And that’s not just something Christie made up for this particular novel. Writers really do get inspired sometimes in just that way. Trust me.

A lot of people also think it’s safer to take the bus as it cuts down on the number of traffic accidents. But as crime fiction shows us, it’s not always safe. Not at all.

For example, in Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s The Laughing Policeman, Stockholm police detective Martin Beck and his team are stretched very thin, as the saying goes. The American Embassy in Stockholm has been the target of a harassment campaign in the form of protests, letters and the like because of the Vietnam War, and extra police are needed to protect it. Then word comes of a terrible tragedy. A gunman has murdered eight people on a bus; one of the victims is Åke Stenström, a fellow police officer. At first the murders look like a terrorist attack, but it’s shown that the gunman ‘hid’ Stenström’s murder among the others. He was the real target. The team looks into his personal life and the cases he was investigating. One of them was the murder of a Portuguese woman Teresa Camarão, whose murder hadn’t been solved. That case proves crucial to finding Stenström’s killer.

Colin Dexter’s Last Bus to Woodstock is the story of the murder of Sylvia Kaye. She and another young woman are waiting at a bust stop one night when it becomes clear that they’ve got the times wrong and aren’t going to be able to catch a bus. Sylvia decides to take the risk of hitchhiking and goes off. Later that night, her body is found outside a pub. Now Inspector Morse and Sergeant Lewis have two jobs really. One is to find out as much as they can about the victim, so as to discover who might have had a motive to murder her. The other is to trace her last movements. And those last interactions and movements turn out to be very important to the solution of the mystery.

Dona Laureta Ribeiro finds out how dangerous buses and bus stops can be in Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza’s Alone in the Crowd. One day she goes to Rio de Janeiro’s Twelfth Precinct and asks to speak to Inspector Espinosa. When told that he’s in a long meeting, she says that she’ll come back later. Shortly afterwards, she’s with a group of other people waiting at a bus stop when she falls, or is pushed, under an oncoming bus. When Espinosa finds out that the bus accident victim is the same woman who’d come to see him earlier, he begins to wonder whether this was an accident. As he traces Dona Laureta’s movements on the day of her death, Espinosa slowly puts the pieces of her life together. Then, there’s another death that seems to be related to the first. Espinosa finds that these two deaths are linked to his own past.

In Catherine O’Flynn’s What Was Lost, a bus mysteriously swallows up ten-year-old Kate Meaney. Or at least that’s how it seems. She’s a budding detective with her own agency Falcon Investigations. Kate’s content with her life, but her grandmother Ivy thinks she’d be better off away at school. So she arranges for Kate to sit the entrance exams at the exclusive Redspoon School. At first Kate refuses. But her friend Adrian Palmer talks her into going, promising that he’ll go along with her for moral support. The two board the bus for Redspoon, but Kate never returns. Palmer claims he doesn’t know what happened to Kate, but the police don’t believe him. They don’t have enough evidence for an arrest though. Still everyone is so convinced that he’s responsible for her disappearance that Palmer leaves town, planning never to return. Twenty years later, Palmer’s sister Lisa has a dead-end job at a local mall. One night she happens to encounter Kurt, who is a security guard at the mall. They form an unlikely kind of friendship, and Kurt tells Lisa that he’s been seeing something odd on his security cameras: a young girl who looks a lot like Kate, carrying a stuffed monkey who looks a lot like Kate’s companion Mickey the Monkey. Bit by bit, as Kurt and Lisa figuratively return to the past, we find out what really happened to Kate.

And then there’s Cath Staincliffe’s Split Second. One afternoon, Emma Curtis is taking a bus home from work when she is witness to a tragedy in the making. Three young people board the bus and begin to bully another passenger Luke Murray. Everyone’s upset about the bullying, but only one person does anything to stop it: Jason Barnes. When he intervenes, the harassment stops temporarily. Then, Luke and Jason get off the bus at the same stop. So do the bullies though, and the bullying starts all over again. It continues all the way to Jason’s front yard. When it’s all over, Jason has been fatally stabbed and Luke is gravely injured. The police investigate, and it turns out that Luke may not have been a random victim. As the police go after the young people involved, Staincliffe addresses questions of bullying, responsibility and the effect of being in a crowd. She also looks at the devastating impact of sudden death and terrible injury on families.

See what I mean? Buses have a lot going for them. Really, they do. But they can also be very dangerous. Now if you’ll excuse me, here’s my bus – don’t want to miss it!


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Graham Gouldman’s Bus Stop, made famous by the Hollies.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Cath Staincliffe, Catherine O'Flynn, Colin Dexter, Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza, Maj Sjöwall, Per Wahlöö

Won’t You Listen to Me Now*

Police CarNot long ago, I was on a bus where I saw a sign encouraging riders to report suspicious activity. ‘If You See Something, Say Something’ was the tag. And most police do want to know about suspicious activity; they want citizens to feel comfortable reporting crime.

But the police have limited resources and finite amounts of time to investigate. This means they have to establish priorities. So, for instance, more resources would be devoted to a report of a murder than to a report of a purse-snatching. The police want both crimes solved, but they can’t do it all at once. Besides, there are people who report suspicious activity or even crimes when there isn’t really a crime involved, and the police don’t want to waste time and resources on so-called wild goose chases. What’s more, if the police really are satisfied that everything possible is being or has been done, they’re not likely to keep going over a case.

That’s part of the reason for which the police sometimes don’t follow up carefully, at least at first, on everything that gets reported to them. That happens in real life, and it also happens in crime fiction.

For instance, in Agatha Christie’s 4:50 From Paddingtion (AKA What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!), Elspeth McGillicuddy takes a train to visit her friend Jane Marple. At one point, another train going in the same direction passes by and Mrs. McGillicuddy happens to look in the window of the other train. To her shock, she sees a woman being strangled. Of course she summons the conductor and the railway authorities, but there is no sign of a murder. There’s no body, and no-one has reported a missing person who fits the victim’s description. When Mrs. McGillicuddy arrives at Miss Marple’s home, she tells her friend what happened and Miss Marple insists on going to the police. They duly take down the information, but they don’t do much about it since there is no evidence that anything happened. In fact, the suggestion is made that perhaps Mrs. McGillicuddy imagined or dreamt something. Neither woman is happy at all about this dismissal, so Miss Marple takes matters into her own hands. She takes a ride on the same train and deduces where the body would be if it was thrown from the train. And that’s how she settles on Rutherford Hall as the likely place. With help from professional housekeeper Lucy Eyelesbarrow, Miss Marple shows that there was indeed a body and therefore, a murder. She also finds out who the murderer is.

In Carolyn Graham’s A Ghost in the Machine, the body of financial advisor Dennis Brinkley is discovered in his home. The police respond quickly and an investigation is made. The evidence suggests that Brinkley was killed accidentally by one of the antique war machines he collected. Nothing suggests anything else. But Brinkley’s friend Benny Frayle doesn’t believe Brinkley’s death was an accident. So she goes to the Causton police station to ask for a further investigation. DCI Tom Barnaby agrees to at least look into the matter, mostly because Benny seems so distraught. And he does re-read the original reports. But nothing seems out of order and it’s clear that investigating officer DS Gresham was scrupulous. Besides, Benny is eccentric and was a good friend of the deceased: her views are not likely to be objective. There seems to be nothing further to investigate and Barnaby sends Benny Frayle a note to that effect. Then there’s another murder that could be connected to the first death. Now Barnaby and DS Gavin Troy re-open the Brinkley case, and in the end, they find that Benny was right: Dennis Brinkley was murdered.

In Karin Fossum’s When The Devil Holds the Candle, Runi Winther pays a visit to the police. She’s concerned because her son Andreas hasn’t been home for the last few days. It’s not that Oslo Inspector Konrad Sejer is unfeeling or not willing to listen to citizens. Neither of those things is true. But as he tells Runi, there are many reasons that a young man might take off for a few days without telling anyone where he’s going – especially not his mother. Sejer encourages his visitor to patient for a bit, and he reassures her that her son will most likely be in touch very soon. More time goes by though, and Andreas Winther is still missing. Now Sejer too begins to wonder what’s happened, so he and his assistant Jacob Skarre start to ask questions. One person who is of immediate interest is Andreas’ best friend Sivert ‘Zipp’ Skorpe. So Sejer has several conversations with Zipp. As it turns out, Zipp knows more than he says at first. No, he didn’t kill his friend. But he does have some important information about the mystery.

In Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza’s Alone in the Crowd, Dona Laureta Sales Ribeiro goes to the local police station one afternoon and asks to see the chief. As it happens, Inspector Espinosa is in a long meeting, so the receptionist invites her to either wait or speak to Espinosa’s assistant Detective Welber. Dona Laureta doesn’t stress that the matter is urgent, and she won’t speak to anyone else but Espinosa. So the receptionist doesn’t interrupt the chief. On the one hand, nobody pays an awful lot of attention to Dona Laureta or to the matter that brought her to the station. On the other, it isn’t a case of laziness or refusal to listen to a citizen. Dona Laureta herself even says that she’ll come back later and leaves. Before she can return though, she falls, or is pushed, under a bus. The death is put down to a tragic accident at first. But when Espinosa finds out that this victim actually came to see him, he takes an interest in the case. Then there’s another death. This time the victim is Dona Adélia Marques, a friend of Dona Laureta’s. Now Espinosa and his team take an urgent interest in both cases and as it turns out, the deaths are related.

And then there’s Tarquin Hall’s The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing, the second of his Delhi-based Vish Puri series. In one plot thread of that novel, Puri’s wife Rumpi and his mother Mummy-ji attend a kitty party. Each guest adds money to the kitty at the beginning of the party. Later, one guest’s name is drawn and that person wins the money in the kitty. On this day though, robbers break in and steal the money. Mummy-ji is not one to ‘go quietly,’ and she finds a creative way to get hard evidence against the thief. When she tries to tell the police about it, though, they are dismissive and even joke to each other about her:


‘Seems Miss Mar-pel is here.’


Mummy-ji doesn’t give up though, and in the end, she and Rumpi find out who the thief is.

In most cases, it’s not that the police don’t want to solve crimes or hear what citizens have to say. But they are often overworked and understaffed. And sometimes, people who come to the police station aren’t (or at least don’t seem) credible. But as crime fiction shows, sometimes it pays to pay attention.



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Alan Tarney’s Hold On, recorded by Barbara Dickson.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Caroline Graham, Karin Fossum, Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza, Tarquin Hall

It Was the Heat of the Moment*

Planned vs Spontaneous MurdersAn interesting comment exchange with Tracy at Bitter Tea and Mystery has got me thinking about the difference between planned murders and what you might call spontaneous murders. Different countries have different legal customs and precedents, but in general, people see a difference between a murder that occurs in ‘the heat of the moment’ and one that the killer has pre-planned. Those different kinds of murders are treated differently in real-life courts and in crime fiction it’s often easier to have some sympathy for a killer who’s committed a spontaneous ‘heat of the moment’ murderer than for a killer who has carefully planned the victim’s death. There’s something colder, more calculating and even eerier in a pre-planned murder.

We see of course both kinds of murders all through crime fiction, going back to its beginnings, and authors do treat the different kinds of criminals differently. In Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Speckled Band, for instance, Holmes and Watson investigate the mysterious death of Julia Stoner. Before she died, Julia had been hearing strange noises in the middle of the night and said some very odd things just before her death. Now Helen is hearing the same weird noises and worries that the same person may be trying to kill her. It turns out that she’s right; someone is trying to murder her. Holmes and Watson find out who the killer is and we can see that Holmes has absolutely no compassion or sympathy for that person. In part that’s because the murder of Julia Stoner and the attempted murder of Helen Stoner have both been carefully planned. This murderer wanted from the outset to kill the two women.

On the other hand, in The Adventure of the Abbey Grange, Holmes encounters a different sort of killer. When Sir Eustace Brackenstall is murdered in his home, it looks very much like a robbery gone wrong. And in fact, the notorious Randall gang has been in the area, so the police think they are responsible. Inspector Stanley Hopkins asks Holmes to look over the case and Holmes agrees. It’s soon clear that the Randall gang was nowhere near the Abbey Grange on the night of the murder. A piece of evidence that Holmes finds at the scene puts him on the right path to find out who the killer is. He lures that person to a meeting, and the culprit explains what happened. It turns out that this murder has nothing to do with theft and everything to do with Sir Eustace’s past and that of his wife Lady Mary. In this case, the murder was an unintentional ‘heat of the moment’ kind of murder and Holmes duly shows compassion for the killer. In fact, he even bows out of the case, explaining that he’s already given Hopkins an ‘excellent hint,’ and it’s up to Hopkins to take advantage of it.

Agatha Christite’s novels show us those two different kinds of murders as well. In Death in the Clouds (AKA Death in the Air), French moneylender Marie Morisot, who does business as Madame Giselle, suddenly dies while on a flight from Paris to London. It’s soon revealed that she’s been poisoned and that the only possible suspects are her fellow passengers. So Hercule Poirot, who was on that flight, works with Chief Inspector Japp to find out who the killer is. When we learn the truth about the murder we find that it was carefully planned. And we can see also that Poirot has no sympathy at all for the killer, whom he regards as cold-blooded.

And yet The Hollow (AKA Murder After Hours) is a different sort of murder. In that novel, Harley Street specialist Dr. John Christow and his wife Gerda are spending a weekend at the country home of Sir Henry and Lady Lucy Angkatell. Hercule Poirot has taken a getaway cottage nearby and is invited for lunch on the Sunday. He arrives just in time to see what he thinks is a scene set up for his ‘entertainment.’ Christow has been shot and is lying by the pool; his killer is standing near the body holding the weapon. Very soon though, Poirot sees that this isn’t a tableau; it’s really happened. He and Inspector Grange investigate and discover that this isn’t nearly as simple a case as it seems. When we learn the truth about what happened to Christow, we see that it’s not really a case of a cold, calculated pre-planned murder. Certainly the killer isn’t dispassionate about it and Poirot shows, in his way, some compassion. Of course, there are several Christie novels where the lines are a little more blurred, and some where there is more than one kind of killing. But no spoilers here…

In Andrea Camilleri’s The Dance of the Seagull, Vigàta Inspector Salvo Montalbano goes up against a killer who has planned in advance. It all starts when his teammate Giuseppe Fazio goes missing while investigating a case. When it becomes clear that Fazio has really disappeared and may be in grave danger Montalbano and his team work frantically to find their colleague. To do this, they’ll have to investigate the case he was looking into, which involves smuggling, corruption and the Mob. Then, one of Fazio’s contacts turns up dead and the team has to take on that case as well. In this instance, the killer has planned ahead. This is one of those cases too in which Montalbano has absolutely no compassion for the killer, and the reader is not invited to have any either.

By contrast, there’s Karin Fossum’s Don’t Look Back, in which Oslo police inspector Konrad Sejer and his assistant Jacob Skarre investigate the murder of fifteen-year-old Annie Holland. Her body was found by a tarn not far from her village. There are no signs of sexual assault, so that doesn’t seem to be the motive. What’s more, there is every sign that Annie knew and trusted her murderer, but she was well-liked at school and in her village. So on the surface, there seems to be no reason for the murder. Little by little, though, Sejer and Skarre uncover a connection between Annie’s death and a tragic event eight months earlier. And that proves to be the key to solving the crime. When we learn the truth about those events, we see that Annie’s death was not a calculated, pre-planned killing. Fossum invites the reader to see the murderer with some sympathy and in part that’s because this isn’t one of those dispassionate murders. It’s actually very sad…

That’s a sharp contrast to the killer in Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza’s A Window in Copacabana. Three Rio de Janeiro cops have been killed, and at first everyone thinks that it’s someone with a sort of vendetta against the police. But then, one of the officers’ mistresses is killed. And another disappears. And another is killed. Now it seems that this is more than just someone who is out to ‘get’ cops. Inspector Espinosa and a carefully-chosen team look into the case and find that the person behind everything is both ruthless and calculating. And Garcia-Roza treats that person exactly that way. There really is no sympathy when all’s said and done for this killer.

There are plenty of fictional killers too who may not be very nice people – they may even do some nasty things – but who do not kill in a premeditated way. That is, they commit crimes, but never intended to kill, at least at first. Saying a lot more about that would give away spoilers, which I don’t want to do. But if you’ve read or written about that kind of killer, you know what I mean.

There seems to be something in human nature that sees the difference between taking a life either to defend oneself or in an unintentional ‘heat of the moment’ situation, and planning and plotting to kill. They are different sorts of crimes and readers and crime writers do tend to treat those criminals differently.

Now, may I suggest your next stop on your blog round should be Tracy’s Bitter Tea and Mystery. It’s an excellent crime fiction review site. Thanks, Tracy, for the inspiration!



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Asia’s Heat of the Moment.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Arthur Conan Doyle, Karin Fossum, Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza

Where Did Our Love Go?*

TrustI got an email today from an acquaintance. The email contained a link and invited me to click on it. I didn’t click on the link because the email looked suspiciously like spam. Sure enough, a short time later I got another email from the same person, who explained that the email account had been hacked and that link was a ‘hack’ link. I didn’t automatically assume the email was legitimate because I’ve learned not to implicitly trust email. After all, are there really that many incredibly wealthy people out there who have died and named me their sole heir? If you’ve ever gotten spam like that, you know what I mean.

What’s interesting is that people didn’t used to be that way about email. We used to open it, read it and act on it, often without thinking. Today we’ve learned to be a lot less trusting because too many people have taken advantage of that trust. And that example of email is really just one of many that show that we may not trust as much as we did in the past. Tracy at Bitter Tea and Mystery got me thinking about this very issue in an interesting comment exchange. Before I go on about it, I’ll wait a moment while you go check out her excellent crime fiction blog and follow it if you’re not. G’head – you’ll be glad you did.

Back now? Thanks. If you look at classic and Golden Age detective fiction for instance, you see quite a few examples of trust that today we would likely not consider. For instance, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes relies for information on a group of young street boys he calls the Baker Street Irregulars. They’re led by a boy named Wiggins who is their liaison with Holmes. Holmes trusts them with surveillance, messages and other assignments and they provide him a great deal of useful information. But if you think about it for a moment, and put it into today’s terms, consider how much trust that involves. He really doesn’t know these boys (except perhaps Wiggins). But he trusts that they won’t gang up on him and rob him. He trusts that they won’t extort him or commit other crimes. Could we say the same of our feelings about today’s ‘street kids?’

Let’s look for instance at Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza’s Inspector Espinosa and group of young people he encounters in December Heat. In that novel, a fellow cop Vieira is implicated when his girlfriend Lucimar, who calls herself Magali, is killed. Vieira was very drunk on the night of the murder, so he doesn’t remember much about what happened. And his belt was found in Magali’s apartment. What’s more, his wallet and police ID have gone missing. He asks his friend Espinosa to look into the crime and help clear his name. As Espinosa starts looking into the case, he begins to try to trace the wallet. As it turns out, a street boy took it when it fell out of Vieira’s pocket. But trying to find out anything from the ‘street kids’ of Rio de Janeiro is not a simple matter. They know from bitter experience not to trust cops. Ever. They also know that anyone at any time could steal the little they have. And Espinosa is no fool either. He knows how dangerous gangs of young people can be. The story of how he gradually approaches these young people and slowly gets the information he needs is an interesting sub-plot in this novel and it reflects how much less trust is depicted here than in the Conan Doyle stories.

In Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, beautiful and wealthy Linnet Doyle is on a honeymoon cruise of the Nile with her new husband Simon. One of the other passengers is her American trustee Andrew Pennington. Now that Linnet is married, all of the considerable wealth she’s inherited comes to her directly and Pennington has brought along a raft of papers related to this.  Simon trusts Pennington and is happy to have Linnet sign whatever papers are put in front of her and his attitude may not be unusual for the times. But Linnet wants to read each document carefully before she signs it. What’s interesting here is that her attitude is considered unusually sound, especially for a woman. Today of course, we are all encouraged to read carefully anything we sign before we do so.  In fact I’d bet that many of us wonder at people who sign papers without knowing what they’re signing. In this novel, Linett’s caution turns out to be well-founded as Pennington becomes a suspect when she is murdered. Hercule Poirot, who is on the same cruise and investigates the murder, hears the story of those papers and it alerts him to the possibility that Pennington may have been mishandling his client’s money.

In Angela Savage’s The Half Child, PI Jayne Keeney travels from Bangkok, where she lives and works, to the small town of Pattaya to investigate the death of Maryanne Delbeck. Maryanne was a volunteer at an orphanage/child care facility when she allegedly committed suicide. But her father Jim doesn’t think his daughter killed herself and hires Keeney to find out the truth. One of Keeney’s useful contacts in this case is the head of the Bangkok Tourist Police Major General Wichit. His job is to make Bangkok appealing and safe for tourists but instead of getting shocked at the stories they tell him, he gets frustrated with them for what he sees as their gullibility. For instance, they exchange money outside an official currency exchange booth instead of being wary of strange offers. Then they find that the ‘currency’ they’ve bought is worthless fake money. In fact, Wichit,


‘…almost longed for his countrymen to show a little more ingenuity in the scams they pulled.’


The central plot threads in this novel aren’t focused on the idea that we trust less now than we used to do. But throughout the story, attitudes such as Wichit’s are common. Instead of a lot of sympathy for those who are swindled, there’s a general feeling that everyone ought to know that you can’t trust anyone, so people shouldn’t fall for scam artists.

In Dorothy Sayers’ The Nine Tailors, Lord Peter Wimsey and his valet Mervyn Bunter are stranded near the village of Fenchurch St. Paul in East Anglia. The Two men head towards the village where they’re rescued by Rector Theodore Venables. Not only does he bring them in out of the cold but he offers them lodging while their car is repaired. While they’re there, Lady Thorpe, the local squire’s wife, dies of influenza and Wimsey and Bunter stay on for her funeral. Six months later, they hear from Venables again when Lady Thorpe’s husband Sir Henry dies. The gravediggers were preparing for the funeral when they found another corpse in the place prepared for Sir Henry. Venables asks Wimsey to return and investigate and Wimsey agrees. It turns out that the unknown dead man is connected to a long-ago jewel robbery. Although Venables’ generosity is laudable and Wimsey turns out to be a ‘safe bet,’ letting two unknown men into your home for the night is something a lot of us might think twice about today.

And in Roger Smith’s Dust Devils we see a completely different attitude. In that novel, Robert Dell is riding with his wife Rosie and their two children when they are ambushed and their car sent off the road into a gorge. Dell survives and tries to flag down help. And in fact it’s not long before another car comes along. But the family in this car doesn’t stop to help. It’s not because the driver is a ‘bad person’ or unfeeling. But there are too many stories of innocent drivers being carjacked or worse when they stop to help a supposedly stranded person. Dell manages to get back to Cape Town though, only to find himself accused of killing his family members. He’s ‘railroaded’ into prison and thinks that his fate is sealed. Then, unexpectedly, his father Bobby Goodbread, from whom he’s been estranged for years, arranges his escape. Each for different reasons, Dell and Goodbread go in search of the person who killed Dell’s wife and children.

So, are we less trusting today than we were? Possibly. If so, there could be a number of reasons why. It may be that where one lives (safe area vs an area where a lot of crime has been reported, for instance) plays a role. Or it could be that although there’ve always been scams and worse, we’re better informed now. Media and technology have seen to that. Most of us have heard horror stories of financial scams. We’ve read about ways that criminals have found to catch their victims unaware. If we trust less it could be that the stories of what happens when we trust too much have gotten round better. But what do you think about this? Do you think we’re less trusting? Do you think it depends? On what? If we are less trusting, is that just as well? Or have we maybe become too hardened?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I just got an email from the Nigerian Lottery Commission saying I’ve just won millions and millions of dollars!  Lucky lucky me! All I have to do is respond with my bank account details so my winnings can be promptly deposited into my account…    ;-)



*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by the great Motown writing team of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Edward Holland, Jr and made famous by The Supremes.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Arthur Conan Doyle, Dorothy Sayers, Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza, Roger Smith

Pack Up, Let’s Fly Away*

EscapingOne of the best things about blogging is the ideas and inspiration I get from folks who are kind enough to read and comment on what I write. Just as an example, I’ve recently gotten inspiration from two separate sources. One was an excellent book review on Fair Dinkum Crime, which is the place to go for all things related to Australian crime fiction. In this case I was inspired by Bernadette at Reactions to Reading. You really need to be following that superb crime fiction review blog if you’re not. The other source that got me thinking was an interesting comment exchange with Moira at Clothes in Books, which is the most interesting and informative place I know of for discussions of clothes, style, fashion, and what they’ve meant in novels, including lots of good crime fiction. Now, I’ll be glad to wait a moment while you go ahead and stop by those blogs to follow them if you’re not already doing so. They’re all excellent blogs and more than worth being on your blog roll if you’re a crime fiction fan.

Back now? Thanks. So what did these top-notch bloggers get me thinking about? Escaping the weather. Right now, it’s blistering hot in many parts of the Southern Hemisphere. It’s cold, dark and damp in many parts of the Northern Hemisphere. That’s January for you. And many people like to escape those weather extremes through what they read. So I thought it might be interesting (OK, fun, too) to look at some novels that people might use to escape that January weather.


Beat the Heat


Tired of the mid-summer January heat? One novel that comes to my mind is Arnaldur Indriðason’s Arctic Chill. In that novel, the frozen body of a young Thai boy called Elías is found near the building where he lived. There’s no question that the boy was murdered, so Reykjavík Inspector Erlendur and his team begin to investigate the case. They find an ugly and unexpected undercurrent of anti-immigration feeling that may have been behind the murder. At the same time, there are stories of a paedophile who may be in the area. If that’s true it too could have something to do with the murder. As the team is working on these cases, Erlendur also has to face another long-ago tragedy. When he was a boy, his younger brother Bergur was lost in a blizzard. He was never found and Erlendur’s had to cope with that since then. Now his daughter Eva Lind brings up the topic and forces him to confront that sorrow. There’s plenty of snow, ice and plunging temperatures in this novel.

Stan Jones’ Nathan Active series takes place in and around Chukchi, Alaska. Active, who is Inupiaq, is an Alaska State Trooper who was born near the Arctic Circle but raised in Anchorage. Now he’s returned to the Far North and the mysteries featuring him include lots of snow, ice and cold weather. For instance, in White Sky, Black Ice, Active investigates two suspicious deaths, both supposed suicides. One is of George Clinton, whose body is discovered near a local bar. The other is of Aaron Stone, who went on a hunting trip and never returned. In both cases, Active suspects that these deaths are not suicides at all and he searches for the connection between them. His suspicions seem even more logical when he finds out that the two men knew each other. Bit by bit he uncovers the truth about what happened to the two victims. A big part of this series is the look it takes at Inupiaq life, and of course for most of the year that life includes frigid weather and snow.

And then there’s Peter Høeg’s Smilla’s Sense of Snow (AKA Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow). Smilla Jaspersen is a half-Inuit, half Danish Greenlander and not really at home in Copenhagen, where she lives. She’s more or less a loner, but she does befriend Isaiah Christiansen, a young boy who lives in her building. Isaiah too is a Greenlander who’s never quite fit in, so the two form a kind of friendship. Then one day Isaiah is killed in what looks like a tragic but accidental fall from the room of the building where they live. Jaspersen isn’t sure that’s what happened though. As a Greenlander, she has a real sense of snow (hence, the title of the novel) and what she learns from the snow on the roof gives her the first clue that this death was not accidental. So she begins to ask questions. The trail leads to an expedition that Isaiah and his father made to Greenland, and what happened there. When Jaspersen learns that, she follows the trail to Greenland where she finds the answers she’s been seeking. Snow, ice, glaciers, all of them play a role in this novel, so it’s definitely one for cooling down a hot day.


Warming Up


Ready for a break from snow and slush, ice, plunging temperatures and heavy winter coats and boots?  Here are just a few examples of novels with plenty of ‘tropical heat’ that may help take the chill off.

You may want to start with a tropical cruise like the one Agatha Christie describes in Death on the Nile. Linnet Doyle and her new husband Simon are on their honeymoon trip, which includes a cruise of the Nile. On the second night of the journey she’s shot, and Hercule Poirot and Colonel Race, who are on the same cruise, work together to investigate. The most likely suspect is Linnet’s former best friend Jacqueline ‘Jackie’ de Bellefort. They were on bad terms and Jackie had even threatened to kill Linnet. But it’s conclusively proved that she couldn’t have committed the murder so Poirot and Race have to look elsewhere for the killer. There’s plenty of warm weather and several tropical drinks to be had in this novel.

There’s also Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza’s December Heat. In that novel, Inspector Espinosa of the Rio de Janeiro police has to face a particularly challenging case. His former colleague retired police officer Vieira is suspected of murdering his girlfriend Lucimar, who calls herself Magali. Vieira went out with her on the night of her murder, but he got very drunk and can’t remember much of what happened. His belt has been found in her apartment though, and it is possible that he killed her. Espinosa begins to look into the case and soon concludes that it’s not the kind of murder that Vieira would have committed. At the same time as he’s investigating Magali’s murder, he’s also dealing with what looks like a drugs ring and the police corruption that allows the ring to operate. The two cases might or might not be connected. Either way Espinosa deals with the underside of Rio as he searches for the truth. Rio de Janeiro is warm – even tropical – no matter what time of year it is. Trust me. So there’s plenty of hot weather and tropical drinks to warm you up.

And of course, no discussion of warm-weather ‘escape’ novels would be complete without a mention of Andrea Camilleri’s series featuring Sicily police inspector Salvo Montalbano. He lives and works in the fictional town of Vigàta, where the weather never gets truly cold. He spends plenty of time in outdoor cafés and restaurants and swims most mornings. We get a real sense of the heat in Sicily in August Heat, when Montalbano has to stay in Vigàta for the summer instead of escape the heat as he’d planned to do. His lover Livia Burlando joins him, but things don’t work out at all as they had planned. Livia had planned to stay with some friends and their son at their beach house rental but that turns into a disaster. First, the house is infested with rats. Then, a body of young girl is discovered in the basement. She is identified as Catarina “Rina” Morreale, who was reported missing some time earlier. Now, Montalbano has to negotiate the always tricky business of his relationship with Livia as well as find out who killed Rina Morreale and why.

So there you have it: just a few suggestions for escaping from whatever temperature extremes you’re facing. But I’ll bet you have your own suggestions. Which books have you read to beat the cold or the heat?


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn’s Come Fly With Me, made popular by Frank Sinatrra.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Arnaldur Indriðason, Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza, Peter Høeg, Stan Jones