Category Archives: M.C. Beaton

Lazy Day*

Lazy SleuthsThere is a stereotype in crime fiction of the relentless sleuth who perseveres, works all hours and so on to solve cases. And of course I’m sure you could name dozens of fictional detectives who fit that description. But there are also sleuths who are, to put it plainly, lazy. They don’t exert themselves unless they have to, and even then it can take some effort to get them going. They’re no less brilliant for that, but they certainly don’t go running after cases to solve.

This sort of detective is arguably a little tricky to write. One has to create a lazy character who is also brilliant enough to solve a complex mystery – and is still credible. That’s not as easy as it seems, but there are examples out there.

One of them is Arthur Conan Doyle’s Mycroft Holmes. He is Sherlock Holmes’ older brother and actually even more brilliant than his brother at deduction. But he rarely bestirs himself to look into cases. He spends most of his time at the Diogenes Club, which he co-founded, and certainly doesn’t go chasing after clues and shadowing suspects. Here is what Sherlock Holmes says of his brother in The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter:

 

‘He will not even go out of his way to verify his own solutions, and would rather be considered wrong than take the trouble to prove himself right.’

 

Interestingly enough, Mycroft Holmes actually does take some action in this story. A young man named Melas has been more or less kidnapped in order to serve as an interpreter for another man who speaks only Greek. This gets Melas into life-threatening danger and the Holmes brothers and Dr. Watson end up rushing to the remote location where he’s been taken in order to try to prevent tragedy.

I don’t think it’d be possible to do a post about lazy sleuths without mentioning Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe. He is much more interested in his orchids, fine food and good wine than he is in solving mysteries. And as Wolfe fans will know, he almost never leaves the New York City brownstone home where he lives. Wolfe is lazy, but he is brilliant. And he’s self-aware enough to know that he is fond of good living and fine things – and that all of that costs a lot. So he’s usually willing (if reluctant) to take a case when Archie Goodwin points out the pragmatic benefits of doing so. And even when Wolfe is on a case, he doesn’t physically exert himself; he has Goodwin, Saul Panzer, Fred Durkin and Orrie Cather to do that. And he doesn’t see clients outside of very specified hours. Wolfe is definitely not one to let work get in the way of his life if I may put it like that.

Neither is Roderic Jeffries’ Inspector Enrique Alvarez, who lives and works in Mallorca. He prefers good food, a drink and his regular siesta to running himself ragged in an investigation.  In fact, that’s how his cousin Delores persuades him to take an interest in a case in Definitely Deceased. At that point in the series, Delores is keeping house for Alvarez and he has become quite fond of her cooking. Delores asks Alvarez to look into the arrest of a cousin-by-marriage Miguel Munar, who is accused of smuggling. Not only does Alvarez not want the extra work, but he has no desire to be on the wrong side of his bad-tempered boss Superintendent Salas. But Delores has a secret weapon – her cooking. When Alvarez refuses to investigate the Munar case, she punishes him with terrible food. It’s not long before he decides it’s in his interest to try to clear Munar’s name. When he does though, he finds that the one person who is in a position to corroborate Munar’s innocence has been killed. Alvarez may be innately lazy, but he is also dogged in his way and in the end, he gets to the truth about the smuggling and the murder.

There’s also Joyce Porter’s DCI Wilfred Dover of Scotland Yard. In Dover One, the first of this series, Dover and his assistant Charles MacGregor are sent to Creedshire to look into the disappearance of a housemaid Juliet Rugg. The local police haven’t found a body or evidence of murder, but if I may put it this way, if she is alive, she would be not be misidentified easily. So Creedshire’s Chief Constable Bartlett suspects foul play. Here’s what DCI Dover has to say about the assignment:

 

‘I don’t know why it is…it always seems to be me that gets landed with these jobs. You’ll see, we’ll hang around there for a couple of days and she’ll turn up again, older and wiser if you know what I mean. Holed up in Brighton, that’s where she is! And when her money runs out, the boy-friend’ll hop it and she’ll come back home.’

 

Dover is bad-tempered to begin with, and especially when he is expected to exert himself. So he doesn’t start this case in the best frame of mind. But he and MacGregor (who unlike his boss, is quite ambitious) head to Creedshire, where it turns out that there’s much more to this case than a woman running off with a boyfriend.

M.C. Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth is also lazy when it comes to his career. He is perfectly content to be the village bobby in the Highlands town of Lochdubh. In fact, he’d far rather be fishing, spending time with his dog or just relaxing than investigating crime. And in novels such as Death of a Bore, we can see that he’d rather resolve a conflict than make an arrest. In that novel, writer John Heppel has settled in Lochdubh and decided to offer a writing class. Several of the locals sign up, hoping they’ll become well-known authors. At the first class Heppel insults his students and their work. Macbeth hears about this (Lochdubh is a small village) and pays Heppel a visit with the goal of smoothing over the situation. Not only does he care about the people of Lochdubh, but also, it’s less work to offer a friendly word than to make an arrest. Heppel’s unwilling to listen to Macbeth though, and the second class is, if possible, worse than the first. When Heppel  is found dead not long after that session, Macbeth finds that more than one person had a good motive for murder.

There are of course other lazy fictional sleuths but honestly, I can’t be bothered to mention any more. Your turn.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a Moody Blues song.

28 Comments

Filed under Arthur Conan Doyle, Joyce Porter, M.C. Beaton, Rex Stout, Roderic Jeffries

I Am a Child*

Child WitnessesAn interesting comment exchange has got me thinking about the way children observe and learn all sorts of things, even when they’re not deliberately trying to find something out.  Children are naturally curious and observant for the most part, and they make their own sense of what they see and experience. On the one hand, their immaturity and lack of experience can make them unreliable as witnesses. On the other hand though, they can be very keen observers and they can often ‘fade into the background’ so people aren’t always aware they’re there. So it makes sense for fictional (and real) sleuths to be open to listening to what children have to say.

You’ll notice as you read this post that I won’t be mentioning novels or series (e.g. Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce series, or Fireside Publications’ Leaders & Legacies series) in which a child is the sleuth. To me that’s a different sort of role for a child. It’s probably post-worthy in and of itself. Instead I’ll be looking at stories where what children observe is very helpful to the sleuth.

Fans of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes will know that Holmes often makes use of the services of a group of boys called the Baker Street Irregulars. Led by Wiggins, this group of ‘street boys’ regularly prowls London’s streets and docks to find out information Holmes wants. They’re in a good position to observe, because no-one pays much attention to them. And what’s interesting is that Holmes doesn’t ask them to do much analysis of what they observe. Rather, he asks them for factual information (e.g. whether a certain ship is docked, or what time a shop actually opened as opposed to when it was supposed to open). Holmes does the deduction himself. Of course that’s characteristic of him even when working with adults. But it also happens to address the issue of children’s immaturity.

Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot gets information from children in more than one story. For instance, in Dead Man’s Folly, detective story novelist Ariadne Oliver asks Poirot to visit Nasse House, where she’s staying. Oliver has been commissioned to create a Murder Hunt for an upcoming fête, but she suspects that something more sinister is going on at the house. Poirot respects Mrs. Oliver’s judgement, so he agrees to look into things and travels to Nasse House. Sure enough, on the day of the big event, fourteen-year-old Marlene Tucker is found strangled. Poirot and Inspector Bland investigate, and of course, one of the important avenues to explore is Marlene’s background. So at one point Poirot pays a visit to her family’s home. That’s where he meets Marlene’s younger sister Marilyn. After speaking to the girls’ parents, Poirot’s getting ready to leave the house when Marilyn gets his attention:

 

‘‘Mum don’t know everything,’ she whispered.’

 

Marilyn then gives Poirot some important information about her older sister. It doesn’t solve the case, but it does help Poirot make sense of what happened.

In M.C. Beaton’s Death of a Gossip, John and Heather Cartwright have opened the Lochdubh School of Casting: Salmon and Trout Fishing. They depend on summer visitors who want to learn angling, so when their new class assembles, they’re hoping that everything will turn out well. It doesn’t though. One of the participants is Jane Maxwell, gossip columnist for the London Evening Star, who’s masquerading as a society widow. Her plan is to get new fodder for her column by uncovering nasty secrets since, as she claims, everybody has a proverbial skeleton in the closet.  When she is found strangled with a fishing line, Constable Hamish Macbeth investigates. One of the other members of the class is twelve-year-old Charlie Baxter, who lives in the village. He’s had a difficult time of it in his life, and is a little hard around the edges as the saying goes. What’s more, he had more than one run-in with the victim. So besides being a witness, he’s a possible suspect. But Macbeth also learns that Charlie is observant and bright. He’s able to get some useful help from the boy, and it’s interesting to see how Charlie fits in with the rest of the group.

Minette Walters’ The Breaker begins when two boys Paul and Daniel Spender are exploring near Chapman’s Pool in Dorsetshire. They’ve ‘borrowed’ their father’s expensive binoculars and are enjoying their adventure when they see the body of a dead woman on the beach. They’re so shocked that they drop and break the binoculars, so on the one hand, they don’t want to tell anyone what they saw, because they’d have to explain themselves. On the other, they know that a dead body needs to be reported. Besides, they’re scared. They tell Stephen Harding, an actor who’s also out that morning, and he alerts the police. P.C. Nick Ingram is soon on the scene. He knows that what the boys say may be very important, but at the same time, they may not know exactly what they saw if I can put it that way. So Ingram works carefully to get as much information as he can from them. They can’t of course name the murderer, but some of the things they say turn out to be very useful.

In Gail Bowen’s Murder at the Mendel, we meet gifted artist Sally Love, her husband Stuart Lachlan and her four-year-old daughter Taylor. Years ago, Sally was a friend of academic and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn, so when the Mendel Gallery plans an exhibition of her art, Kilbourn decides to attend and perhaps renew their friendship. Instead Kilbourn gets caught up in a case of multiple murders that relates to her own past. And one of the other people caught up in that case is Taylor. She’s bright, observant, and has a good memory, but she’s only four years old. So it’s not easy to get information from her without making matters worse. Her perspective is helpful though, and as the series goes on, she becomes a permanent part of Kilbourn’s life. In more than one of the novels too, she witnesses something or is a part of something and Kilbourn has to rely on what Taylor says. Like other children, Taylor doesn’t have a mature perspective; she’s a child. But she notices everything.

And that’s the thing about children as witnesses. In some ways, they aren’t reliable. But they are often observant and bright. And they have a way of going places and learning things that would be very difficult for adults to do. Little wonder they appear so often in crime fiction. What do you think?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a Neil Young song.

22 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Alan Bradley, Arthur Conan Doyle, Gail Bowen, M.C. Beaton, Minette Walters

But You May Fade, My Dog Will Always Come Through*

Dogs in crimeficHello, Humans,

For those of you who don’t yet know me, I am Indy. Together with my roommate Mr. Metoo, I own Margot Kinberg, who keeps this blog. Margot’s lazily taking the day off (humans!!!), but no matter. I am more capable than she is anyway of tackling today’s topic.

We dogs have had a long and close relationship with humans for thousands of years. I didn’t pay close attention in dog-history class, so I won’t bother giving examples. But you already probably know that dogs and humans have a long history together.

Dogs also play very important roles in crime fiction. Now, Margot and I have no patience whatsoever with fictional dogs who don’t act like, well, dogs. I mean, really! But there is plenty of crime fiction that features dogs that actually act authentic.

One of my favourite human writers is Agatha Christie. She mentions dogs quite often in her novels. To give just one instance, Dumb Witness (AKA Poirot Loses a Client) stars Bob, a likeable terrier. He owns Emily Arundell, a wealthy elderly woman with several financially desperate relatives. Miss Arundell is fairly intelligent for a human, and guesses that one of her relatives may be up to no good. So she writes a letter to Hercule Poirot asking for his help with a delicate matter. She doesn’t specify what it is, but the letter is enough to bring Poirot and Hastings to the village of Market Basing. They arrive too late to save Miss Arundell though. By they time they get there she’s been poisoned. Now Poirot and Hastings work through all of the clues to find out which of several suspects did the dirty deed. I should mention that Bob provides a very important clue.

There’s also Hannibal of course. He’s a brave little guy who owns Tommy and Tuppence Beresford. There, Hannibal, I’ve put you in the post as I promised.

M.C. Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth is the local bobby in the Highlands village of Lochdubh. He’s content with quiet village life and quite honestly has very little professional ambition. And who can blame him? Macbeth is owned in several of the novels in that series by a hunting dog named Towser. In other novels he’s owned by Lugs (erm – not exactly a flattering name, Ms. Beaton!). Both canines make excellent companions and Macbeth knows that. He shares his food with them, takes them on walks, well, you get the idea. And while neither Towser nor Lugs is the ‘star’ of the series, they add quite a lot to Macbeth’s life. I mean after all, he has his issues with finding true love with a human, so it’s just as well he’s got canine friendship. At least he gets that right.

And then there’s D.S. Nelson’s stories featuring milliner Blake Heatherington. Heatherington has owned Heatherington’s Hats for years, and has learned to tell quite a lot about people’s characters just from the hats they wear and from the way they wear them. In the course of Hats off to Murder, Heatherington meets Delilah Delibes, whose mother has disappeared. While Heatherington is looking into that mystery, he also gets involved in the untimely deaths of two of his customers, as well as some other strange events. But that’s not important. What is important is that Delilah is owned by a brave little dog named Bertie. Oh, yes, Bertie is quite a terrific character and plays an important role in Coming Home For Christmas, in which Delilah is afraid that she is being stalked. Oh, no, don’t worry; it’s not a ‘crazed serial killer’ story. Trust me. Dogs never lie. Anyway, you can read it yourself right here.

And you don’t have to be much of a one for cosy mysteries to read about the important role we dogs play in crime fiction. Just ask Superintendent Roy Grace, the creation of Peter James. Grace and his partner Cleo Morey are owned by a wonderful Labrador/Border Collie mix named Humphrey. In Not Dead Yet, the two humans are about to have a human pup, and Humphrey provides quite a lot of comfort to them as they get ready for this major change in their lives. What’s more, Grace is involved in an ugly case. An unidentified body has been found in an unused chicken shed, and it could be connected with threats on the life of famous star Gaia Lafayette, who is planning to come to Brixton to do a film. It’s a very tense time for Grace, and may I say that Humphrey is quite helpful.

And then there are Barbra and Brutus, Standard Schnauzers who own Anthony Bidulka’s Saskatoon PI Russell Quant.  Well, first just Barbra owns him but later Brutus joins the fun. Quant’s a bit much for one dog to handle. When we first meet them in Amuse Bouche, Quant is hired by wealthy entrepreneur Harold Chavell. Chavell and his fiancé Tom Osborn were planning an upmarket wedding and a lovely honeymoon in France, but Osborn has disappeared. So at Chavell’s request, Quant travels to France to track down the missing bridegroom. When Osborn later turns up dead, Chavell becomes a suspect. So he asks Quant to stay in his employ long enough to clear his name. Quant’s never handled a murder case before, but he agrees and soon finds that Chavell is by no means the only suspect in this murder. Oh, and by the way, Mr. Bidulka, if you’re reading this, Barbra and Brutus would have liked to go along with Mr. Quant on that trip, but no, you have them staying behind in Saskatoon. I hardly call that fair!

And then there’s Sully, the Pit Bull who owns the protagonist of Angela Savage’s story The Teardrop Tattoos. Interesting that Sully is named, but the woman he owns is not. Anyway, this woman has recently been released from prison, and Sully is her only friend and companion. She’s given housing not far from a local child care facility, and that’s when the trouble starts. One day she gets a letter from the local council stating that a complaint has been lodged against her for owning a restricted breed dog and saying that she will have to give Sully up. Brokenhearted at losing her only real friend, the woman decides to have her own revenge against the woman who lodged the complaint. It may not be a happy story, but Sully really is a terrific dog.

There are of course mystery series such as Laurien Berenson’s Melanie Travis novels and C.A. Newsome’s Dog Park mysteries that focus on dogs.  See what I mean? We canines are a wonderful species – we really are. Where would you humans be without us? I mean, just think of how often fictional bodies are discovered by dogs who are taking their humans for walks. Crime writers need us!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, Margot has just come in from having a few piña coladas by the pool. So before she drifts off for a nap, it’s time for me to take her for a walk.

Oh, and one more thing. For you humans who are owned by cats rather than dogs, fear not. I’ve made special arrangements for you folks as well, coming soon on this blog.

ps. Thanks very much to Carol at Reading, Writing and Riesling for the inspiration for this post. Do go check out her blog; it’s got lovely book reviews and terrific ‘photos. And dogs.

 

 

 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Cat Stevens’ I Love My Dog.

50 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Anthony Bidulka, C.A. Newsome, D.S. Nelson, Laurien Berenson, M.C. Beaton, Peter James

Come On, Come On, Let’s Work Together*

Community PolicingMany police departments have instituted a policy of ‘community policing.’ The idea here is that building relationships between the police and the community will help reduce crime. What’s more, so the philosophy goes, community policing will lower people’s anxiety about the police and resentment of their presence. So in the event of a crime, there’s less likelihood of people refusing to help. There are all sorts of examples of community policing in action in crime fiction. I’ll just mention a few here.

M.C. Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth is the local bobby for the Scottish village of Lochdubh. The members of the community see him as ‘one of them,’ and they basically trust him. They know he has to do his job to keep order, and he knows that they’re not all perfect angels. Over the years everyone has developed an understanding of how things get done, and it’s worked quite well. In Death of a Cad, for instance, Macbeth spots ‘local layabout and poacher’ Angus Macgregor one morning during a walk down to the sea. Macgregor’s sleeping off more than a few drinks, and has a brace of grouse in the ‘poacher’s pocket’ of his overcoat. Macbeth takes the grouse in order to return it to Colonel Halburton-Smythe, owner of the property from which they were taken. But he doesn’t charge Macgregor with theft. It’s not worth the effort and besides, Macbeth doesn’t expect that Macgregor will immediately change his ways. Instead, he later makes it clear to Macgregor that he knows about the poaching, and asks Macgregor’s help on a case he’s working. Captain Peter Bartlett has been shot in what looks like a terrible accident. Macbeth doesn’t think it is an accident though, and Macgregor helps him find the clue he needs to prove that the death was murder.

Rhys Bowen’s Evan Evans also has a close relationship with the members of his community of Llanfair. He belongs there and he’s trusted. The locals rely on him even when he has to ask difficult questions. What’s more, he knows them well and that knowledge helps him too. He’s also able to put people at their ease because he’s built a good relationship with his community. In Evans to Betsy, for instance, a New Age centre called Sacred Grove has opened in the area. It’s run by renowned psychic Randy Wunderlich and touted as a successful spiritual retreat. But Evans thinks it’s a scam operation. Local resident Betsy Edwards has been convinced that she has ‘second sight’ and has been drawn into Sacred Grove’s operations, and Evans is concerned for her. Then another local girl Rebecca Riesen goes missing. The trail leads to Sacred Grove, so Evans is sure that something dangerous is going on there. Betsy trusts Evans and as he works with her to find out what she knows, we can see how he’s built a solid relationship with the residents of Llanfair. That relationship turns out to be very helpful when Wunderlich turns up dead.

Minette Walters’ The Breaker takes place near Chapman’s Pool on the Dorset coast. When the body of Kate Sumner is found on the beach, PC Nick Ingram is called to the scene. Meanwhile, Kate’s toddler daughter Hannah is found wandering around the streets of nearby Poole. Since the victim was from Hampshire, the Hampshire constabulary gets involved in the investigation and in looking after Hannah until her father is located. But the locals know Ingram and he sees a lot of what goes on in the area. So his work is vital to finding out who saw what, and how Kate’s death might have happened. There’s an interesting case in this novel of police from different areas working together.

And then there’s Martin Walker’s Bruno, Chief of Police. Benoît Courrèges, who’s usually called Bruno, is police chief in the French country town of St. Denis. He’s built a solid relationship with the locals, who in their turn like and trust him. In fact, he colludes with them on market day to keep E.U. hygiene inspectors from getting anyone in trouble. The local vendors have been making their products for generations, and do not appreciate the inspectors deciding what they can and cannot sell and how they must prepare their goods. For one thing, Bruno agrees with them. For another, he knows the value of a good relationship between the police and the community. That relationship turns out to be vital when the body of Hamid al-Bakr is found in his home. He was a Harki, an Algerian who fought for the French side in the Algerian war. But his status as a war hero hasn’t saved him and the murder suggests an ugly, anti-immigrant motive. Bruno works with Duroc, the captain of the regional gendarmerie, and with national-level detectives to find out who killed the victim and why. Throughout the novel it’s clear that Bruno has a close and trusting relationship with the people he serves.

And lest you think that this sort of community policing can only work in small towns, there are also examples from cities. David Whish-Wilson’s Line of Sight introduces readers to Superintendent Frank Swann of the Perth police. Swann’s been away from Perth for seven years, but returns when he hears of the murder of local brothel owner Ruby Devine. He and the victim were friends, so he takes a personal interest in the case. What’s more, Swann suspects that corrupt colleagues in the police department know all about the murder and are covering it up. He’s already on their ‘hit list’ because he’s taken a stand against police corruption and called for a Royal Commission hearing. So Swann knows he’s not going to get much help from fellow cops. He turns instead to locals he’s gotten to know through the years, and from them, he gets valuable information about what really happened to Ruby Devine and why.

We also see that kind of close police/community relationship, even in a big city, in Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series. Those novels are set in a thinly-disguised New York City, so it’s a very large place. But homicide cop Steve Carella and his team-mates know a lot of the locals. Over the years they’ve established solid relationships with them and they often get valuable leads on cases that way.

I’ve only mentioned a few examples of community policing here (I know, I know, fans of Tony Hillerman’s Jim Chee, Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire and Stan Jones’ Nathan Active). But even these few show that it has a lot to recommend it when it works well. Cops can do their jobs more easily when the community trusts them. There’s less crime in a community where the cops can be trusted to do their jobs, and when the members of the community support their law officers. It’s a lot easier for me to write about it than it is to carry it out. And as any crime fiction fan knows, it doesn’t always happen that way. But when it is successful, it can make a big difference.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Wilbert Harrison’s Let’s Work Together, made popular by both Harrison and by Canned Heat.

20 Comments

Filed under Craig Johnson, David Whish-Wilson, M.C. Beaton, Martin Walker, Minette Walters, Rhys Bowen, Stan Jones, Tony Hillerman

Well, I Was Born in a Small Town*

SmallTownI don’t usually stay on the same topic over two days on this blog, but an interesting comment exchange has got me thinking even more about how small towns are portrayed in crime fiction. There are of course plenty of creepy small towns and villages in the genre. But there are also many very pleasant small towns. Yes, murders happen there or affect the people there, but the towns themselves are good places to live, with good people. So let’s turn the topic on its head today and look at some of the nicer small towns in crime fiction.

There’s an interesting little town Market Basing depicted in Agatha Christie’s Dumb Witness (AKA Poirot Loses a Client). Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings visit Market Basing when Poirot receives a letter from Emily Arundell, asking for his assistance in a delicate matter. She doesn’t specify the problem, and by the time Poirot and Hastings get to Market Basing, she has already died of what seems to be liver failure. It turns out that she was poisoned though, and Poirot and Hastings begin to investigate. There are several suspects, too, since Emily Arundell was a wealthy woman with some financially desperate family members. The village of Market Basing is a sleepy sort of place with its share of eccentric characters. For instance, there’s Miss Caroline Peabody, an outspoken and witty elderly lady who provides Poirot and Hastings with some valuable information. And there are sisters Julia and Isabel Tripp, who have all sorts of eccentricities. But none of the local characters is portrayed as sinister, nor is the village depicted as a group of people all hiding an awful secret. It’s just not an eerie place.

Neither is Trafalgar, British Columbia, home to Vicki Delany’s Constable Moonlight ‘Molly’ Smith. It’s got appeal as a skiing and winter holiday destination (Check out Winter of Secrets for more on that) and as a place to enjoy the area’s natural beauty (In the Shadow of the Glacier and Valley of the Lost have more about that). But it’s a quiet, peaceful small town. Smith was actually born and raised in Trafalgar, and everyone there knows her. In fact that sometimes makes it a little awkward for her when she’s trying to do her job. But the people of Trafalgar are basically good people. They don’t always agree on things of course, and sometimes that leads to real dissent. But at the heart of it, Trafalgar is a good place to live and work, and its residents do generally care about one another.

That’s also true of Crooked Lake, Saskatchewan, the home of Nelson Brunanski’s John ‘Bart’ Bartowski. Everyone knows everyone in Crooked Lake, and people work together and help one another. It’s that sort of town. So in the first Bart Bartowswki novel Crooked Lake, it’s a real shock to the community when Harvey Kristoff, who’s on the Board of Directors of the Crooked Lake Regional Park and Golf Course, is killed. The chief suspect is former Head Greenskeeper Nick Taylor, who’s recently been terminated. Taylor is understandably furious and upset at losing his job, but he claims he didn’t kill Kristoff. Bart wants to believe his friend, so when Taylor asks him to clear his name, Bart agrees. As he talks to people and follows up on leads, we see what the town of Crooked Lake is like. People know one another and care about each other. The town itself is a safe, good place to live and that actually adds to the distress everyone feels at the murder and at what happens as Bart asks questions. This is definitely not one of those ‘sinister towns with a smiling façade.’

Louise Penny fans will know that Three Pines, a small Québec town, is also a good place to live. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec learns that in Still Life. He and his team go to Three Pines when beloved former schoolteacher Jane Neal is found dead, apparently from a tragic hunting accident. The evidence soon suggests that she was murdered though, and Gamache and the team set up an investigation. As they look into the victim’s history and relations with others in the town, we see what a pleasant community Three Pines is. The residents really do care about each other. They all have flaws and histories, and they’re hardly perfect people. But they’re also not sinister people who are hiding awful, awful secrets. And I certainly wouldn’t mind eating at the bistro. :-)

Rhys Bowen’s Constable Evan Evans lives and works in the Welsh village of Llanfair. He’s attached to the people of Llanfair and the feeling is mutual. It’s a small, quiet place where people really do care about one another. That’s part of the trouble in Evanly Bodies, when Evans is named to a new Major Incident response team that’s to be ‘on call’ in case of an emergency. The team is called into action to investigate a series of shootings, and Evans is hard at work on that case. But trouble is brewing at home. The Khan family has recently arrived from Pakistan and set up shop in Llanfair. Their sixteen-year-old daughter Jamila strikes up a few new friendships, including one with Evans’ wife Bronwen. She has adapted well to the local ways and wants to stay in Wales, but her parents’ plan is to send her back to Pakistan to get married. When Jamila disappears, her family blames the locals, and in particular Bronwen Evans. In order to help Jamila if he can, Evans returns to Llanfair and looks into the girl’s disappearance. As he does so, we can see how much he values the village and the people who live there. And as the truth comes out, we see that Llanfair is really a good place to live and work, and not at all a sinister ‘evil in the heartland’ kind of place.

You could say the same thing about Tumdrum, Ireland, which we get to know in Ian Sansom’s Mobile Library series. When librarian Israel Armstrong first arrives in Tumdrum in The Case of the Missing Books, he’s not at all prepared for the village and its distinctive ways. In fact at first, he doesn’t like the place at all. And when he discovers that the fifteen thousand books he’s supposed to have charge of have been stolen, matters only get worse. But as Armstrong investigates, he also gets to know Tumdrum better. He finds that it’s actually a rock-solid village with people who may be eccentric but are actually good neighbours.

And then there’s M.C. Beaton’s Lochdubh, a small Highlands town in the police care of Constable Hamish Macbeth. Macbeth is quite fond of his peaceful life; in fact he’d rather be fishing than detecting. The town itself is peaceful and quiet, and it’s easy to see that it’s basically a good place to live. Macbeth cares about the people of Lochdubh, so when the need arises, he turns out to be a shrewd, skilled detective. You can see the way the residents of the village feel about each other in Death of a Bore. In that novel, well-known screenwriter John Heppel moves to the Lochdubh area and announces a series of writing classes. Several of the local residents are writers with aspirations, so they’re eager to sign up. At the first class session though, Heppel denigrates the students and their work. Everyone’s upset and dismayed and of course, Macbeth hears about it. He pays Heppel a friendly visit and suggests that he be more supportive of the members of the class. Heppel won’t listen though and the second class goes, if possible, worse than the first. Now there’s real anger against Heppel and Macbeth can see why. When Heppel is murdered, Macbeth has the thankless job of finding out who hated Heppel enough to kill him. It’s not easy, since he feels a real connection to Lochdubh and its people.

Fans of Fred Vargas’ Commissaire Adamsberg series and of Georges Simenon’s Jules Maigret series will know that those two detectives often spend time in quiet, small villages and towns. And those places are not at all sinister.

That’s the thing about small towns. A lot of them are genuinely friendly places with good people. Thanks to Bill Selnes at Mysteries and More From Saskatchewan and to Marina Sofia at Finding Time to Write for reminding me of that. Now, may I suggest you do yourself a favour and go visit their excellent blogs. Both well worth a prominent place on your blog roll.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from John Mellencamp’s Small Town.

17 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Fred Vargas, Georges Simenon, Ian Sansom, Louise Penny, M.C. Beaton, Nelson Brunanski, Rhys Bowen, Vicki Delany