Category Archives: Martha Grimes

We Just Saw It From a Different Point of View*

PerspectivesonCultureWhile I was in Madrid I had several interesting conversations with José Ignacio at The Game’s Afoot. One of them was about the differences between books written by authors who are members of the cultures they write about, and books written by authors who aren’t. One the one hand, someone who’s not a member of a given culture can offer a distinctive perspective on that culture. On the other, a member of a culture has an intimate knowledge of that culture’s subtleties and nuances. So the reader can really get an ‘insider’s view.’

The diversity of crime fiction lets us use both perspectives, and that in turn gives us a better understanding of the places and cultures that are discussed in the genre. Let me just offer a few examples to show you what I mean. I know you’ll have many more to offer.

Ruth Rendell is English. Her novels under her own name and as Barbara Vine reflect her background; she is very much a member of the culture that’s featured in her work. Whether it’s her Inspector Wexford novels or one of her other works, we really get the ‘insider view’ on her culture. The same could be said of course of many other English authors. By contrast, Martha Grimes is American, although most of her Inspector Richard Jury novels take place in England. Like any two authors, these two have different writing styles and that’s clear in their novels. But beyond that, there’s an interesting question of the way they write about England. One has the intimate knowledge of the ‘insider.’ The other has the distinctive perspective of someone from a different culture.

We also see a contrast in crime fiction that takes place in Spain (and this is what José Ignacio and I spoke of in our conversation). In recent decades, there’ve been several Spanish authors who have given readers an ‘insider’s’ look at life in different parts of Spain. Authors such as Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, who wrote the Pepe Carvalho series, and more recently Domingo Villar (the Inspector Leo Caldas series) and Teresa Solana (the Martínez brothers PI series) have portrayed Spanish life from a ‘local’s’ point of view if I may put it that way. There’ve also been many novels set in Spain that weren’t written by Spanish authors. For instance, Roderic Jeffries (the Inspector Enrique Álvarez series) is English. And Jason Webster, author of the Chief Inspector Max Cámara series, is Anglo-American. There are lots of other such examples too. These authors do vary in their writing styles of course. But you could also argue that there is a difference in perspective between novels about Spain written by Spaniards, and novels about Spain that are written by members of other cultures.

Both H.R.F. Keating and Tarquin Hall have written series that take place in India. Keating’s of course features Inspector Ganesh Ghote of the Bombay police force. Hall’s sleuth is Delhi private investigator Vishwas ‘Vish’ Puri. Neither author was born in India, so you could argue that these series are written from the perspective of people who aren’t members of a given culture. On the other hand, Kishwar Desai is Indian. Her Simran Singh series has an ‘insider’ perspective because she is a member of one of India’s cultures. When it comes to India, one could make the point that because the British were in India for a long time, they became members of one Indian culture – the Anglo-Indian culture. And there are still close ties on many levels between India and the UK. But there is arguably a difference between books about India written by, say, English authors and those written by members of one of India’s original cultures.

The Chinese detective story has a long history, and many Chinese crime fiction stories haven’t been translated into other languages. But there are authors such as A Yi, Qiu Xiaolong and Diane Wei Liang, whose novels have been translated. Through those authors’ perspectives, readers get an ‘insider look’ at life in Beijing, Shanghai and other places in China. There have also of course been crime fiction stories set in China that aren’t written by Chinese authors. For instance, there’s Robert van Gulik’s Judge Dee series, which is set in China’s northwest. Shamini Flint’s A Calamitous Chinese Killing takes place mostly in Beijing. So does Catherine Sampson’s The Pool of Unease. And of course plenty of authors have had their protagonists visit China, even if the novel wasn’t set there. Those novels also depict life in China, but many people would say the authors have a different perspective, since they are not native members of any of the Chinese cultures.

Thai author Tew Bunnag has given readers a unique perspective on life in Bangkok and other parts of Thailand. Admittedly he doesn’t exclusively write crime fiction, but through his stories we get an ‘insider’ look at the country. Many other authors, such as John Burdett, Andrew Grant, Timothy Hallinan and Angela Savage, also write about Thailand. Their perspectives are different because they aren’t members of that culture, but that’s just what makes those perspectives valuable. We get a broad look at the country from both points of view, if you will.

And that’s the beauty of the diversity in the genre. There’s room enough for both perspectives. These are just a few examples. Lots of other countries and cultures have been portrayed in crime fiction both by members and by non-members. My guess is that you’d be able to contribute a much longer list than I would.

How do you feel about this issue? Do you see a difference between novels written by members of a culture, and novels that aren’t? Writing style aside, for instance, do you see a difference between the work of Donna Leon and that of Andrea Camilleri, both of whom write about Italy? Do you see a difference between the portrayal of South Africa in the work of Malla Nunn, who is Australian, and its portrayal in the work of Deon Meyer, who is South African?  If you do see such a difference, do you find it off-putting?

And then there’s perhaps a more difficult question. How do you feel about the way your own culture is portrayed in crime fiction? Does it bother you when it’s portrayed by someone who’s not a member (assuming of course that the writer is accurate)?

If you’re a writer, do you write about another culture? If you do, what drew you to it?

 

ps  The ‘photo is of a sculpture by Joan Miró, which now makes its home in Madrid’s Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía,

 

 

 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bob Dylan’s Tangled Up in Blue.

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Filed under A Yi, Andrea Camilleri, Andrew Grant, Angela Savage, Barbara Vine, Catherine Sampson, Deon Meyer, Diane Wei Liang, Domingo Villar, Donna Leon, H.R.F. Keating, Jason Webster, John Burdett, Kishwar Desai, Malla Nunn, Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, Martha Grimes, Qiu Xiaolong, Robert Van Gulik, Roderic Jeffries, Ruth Rendell, Shamini Flint, Tarquin Hall, Teresa Solana, Tew Bunnag, Timothy Hallinan

Restful, Like Devon on a Monday*

Devon1Well…perhaps not really. Devon is a lovely place, and if you know where to look, you can find plenty of peaceful, quiet rest. But that doesn’t mean that it’s free of crime, including murder. There’s plenty of crime-fictional action in Devon; I’ll just give you a few examples to show you what I mean.

Much of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles takes place in Dartmoor, where the Baskerville family has had their home Baskerville Hall for centuries. It’s said that the family is cursed because one of the family ancestors Hugo Baskerville sold his soul to the Powers of Evil in exchange for a young woman with whom he’d fallen in love. Since that time, it’s been said that a phantom hound haunts the family. When the current head of the family Charles Baskerville is found dead in the park at the estate, it seems on the surface to be a case of sudden heart attack. But family friend Dr. Mortimer thinks that the family curse has struck again. Now he’s afraid that the next heir, Sir Henry Baskerville, will fall prey to the curse as well. So he asks Sherlock Holmes for help in preventing another death. Holmes agrees to look into the matter, but he’s not free to go to Dartmoor right away, so he sends Dr. Watson to be his ‘eyes and ears.’ Later, he joins Watson at Baskervill Hall, and between them, they find that Charles Baskerville’s death was carefully engineered.

Dartmoor is also the setting for Martha Grimes’ Help the Poor Struggler.  In that novel, Scotland Yard Inspector Richard Jury works with Brian Macalvie of the Devon Police to solve a series of murders in the area. Macalvie is especially upset by these killings because they remind him of a twenty-year-old case: the murder of Rosie Mulvanney. At the time, medical student Sam Waterhouse was convicted of the murder and served time in prison. But Macalvie doesn’t think he was guilty. Now he, Jury and of course Jury’s friend Melrose Plant try to connect that past killing with the present-day murders.

When many people think of Devon, especially of the Torquay area, they think of Agatha Christie. And plenty of Devon2her novels are set in that part of England. One, for instance, is Dead Man’s Folly. In that novel, detective story writer Ariadne Oliver has been invited to create a Murder Hunt as an attraction for an upcoming fête to be held at Nasse House, the home of Sir George and Lady Hattie Stubbs. Mrs. Oliver begins to suspect that there may be more to this event than just a Murder Hunt though, and she asks Hercule Poirot to look into the matter. He agrees and comes to Nasse House under the guise of giving away the prizes for the Murder Hunt. Mrs. Oliver’s instincts turn out to be all too accurate when Marlene Tucker, who’s playing the part of the victim, is actually murdered. Then there’s a disappearance. Poirot works with Inspector Bland to find out who would want to kill a seemingly inoffensive fourteen-year-old Girl Guide, and how that murder is connected with the other events in the story.

Hannah Dennison’s Murder at Honeychurch Hall also takes place in Devon. In that novel, TV celebrity Kat Standard is planning to open up an antique business with her recently-widowed mother Iris. Then one day she gets a very surprising call from Iris, who has purchased the carriage house on the estate of Honeychurch Hall in Little Dipperton. Kat is shocked by this sudden change in plans and even more so when Iris tells her that she’s been injured and could use some help. Kat goes to Devon and finds that her mother’s new home is practically falling apart. She can’t imagine why her mother wants to stay there, but Iris insists. Bit by bit Kat learns that there’s a lot more going on at Honeychurch Hall than it seems. First, there’s the eccentric Honeychurch family, headed by Lady Edith. Then there’s the fact that their nanny Gayla goes missing. Then, the housekeeper Vera Pugsly is found murdered. And Kat finds out that her mother has more than one secret she never knew about. It turns out that the history of Honeychurch Hall has everything to do with the murder and disappearance.

Kate Ellis’ DS (Later DI) Wesley Peterson series is also set in Devon. This series begins with The Merchant House, and features present-day murders that are connected with past murders. Peterson’s sleuthing partner in this series is his friend from university, archaeologist Neil Watson. This series now has 18 entries, with The Shroud Maker having been released in January.

There are also historical mysteries and series that take place in Devon. For instance, Michael Jecks’ historical Knights Templar series takes place in 14th Century Devon.  Beginning with The Last Templar, this series follows Simon Puttock, Bailiff of Lydford Castle. Working with him is Sir Baldwin Funshill, Keeper of the King’s Peace and former Knight Templar. This series, which began in 1995, now has 32 entries.

Devon really is a beautiful and seemingly peaceful place. But don’t let appearances deceive you. Plenty of crime, past and present, has happened here, at least in the fictional world. Which Devon-based crime fiction have you enjoyed?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Paul McCartney’s Heaven on a Sunday.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Hannah Dennison, Kate Ellis, Martha Grimes, Michael Jecks

You’ve Got a Friend in Me*

BuddiesOne of the more popular kinds of films is the ‘buddy film.’ In that sort of film there are two protagonists, and the film explores their friendship while at the same time featuring a separate plot. Some ‘buddy films’ are cop films (e.g. Walter Hill’s 48 Hours). Others are ‘road films’ (e.g. Ridley Scott’s Thelma and Louise). There are other variants on the theme too of course. Over the years it’s been a successful premise for a film, and we see it a lot in crime fiction too.

You’ll notice in this post that I won’t be talking about series such as Reginald Hill’s Dalziel/Pascoe series, where the two protagonists are superior/subordinate. I’m also not going to focus on novels where there’s a possible or budding romance between the two protagonists. To me, that’s a different dynamic. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some ‘buddy’ crime fiction.

One of the earlier examples of this sort of dynamic is G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown and Hercule Flambeau. When they first meet in The Blue Cross, Flambeau is a master jewel thief. In that story, Father Brown is en route to a large gathering of priests. He’s carrying with him a large silver cross set with sapphires, a most attractive prize for a thief like Flambeau. Father Brown finds an interesting way to deal with Flambeau and as the stories go on, we see how the two men form a friendship. They respect each other and later, they solve cases together. It’s an interesting dynamic, and readers can see how that dynamic evolves as the stories go on.

Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot works with Chief Inspector Japp on several cases. As we learn in The Mysterious Affair at Styles, they’ve known each other for some time, too – since before Poirot left his native Belgium for England. Poirot is certainly not modest when it comes to his own abilities, but he respects Japp. And he knows Japp has access to resources and information that he, Poirot, doesn’t have. So he doesn’t really treat Japp as a sidekick. For his part, Japp pokes fun at Poirot’s ‘tortuous mind,’ and he isn’t blind to Poirot’s faults. But he respects Poirot’s brilliance as a detective. The two do develop a friendship over the course of the novels, and they depend on each other’s expertise.

Another interesting ‘buddy series’ is Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delalware/Milo Sturgis novels. Delaware is a forensic psychologist with a former career as a psychotherapist. Sturgis is a cop with the LAPD. Beginning with When the Bough Breaks, the two work together on cases where Delaware’s expertise is needed. In that novel, psychiatrist Morton Handler and his lover Elena Gutierrez are found murdered. The key to the murder may lie with seven-year-old Melody Quinn, who was a witness. So Sturgis asks Delaware to work with Melody to help her remember as much as she can. The murders turn out to be related to some of the characters’ past histories, and to some things going on at an orphanage. Over the course of the novels, Delaware and Sturgis maintain their friendship although it is tested at times. They rely on one another and they trust each other.

There’s also Craig Johnson’ Walt Longmire and Henry Standing Bear. Fans of this series will know that Longmire is the sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming. Henry Standing Bear is a member of the Cheyenne Nation, and also the owner of The Red Pony, a local bar/restaurant.  The two men have been friends for a long time – since both served in Viet Nam. There are times when they don’t agree, and sometimes they annoy each other. But underneath, they trust each other, quite literally, with their lives. They get in more than one extremely dangerous situation together, and as the series goes on, we also see how they depend on one another.

We see an interesting case of the ‘buddy’ theme in Helene Tursten’s The Glass Devil. Göteborg police inspector Irene Huss and her team are investigating the bizarre multiple murders of Jacob Schyttelius and his parents. At first, it looks as though the murders might be the work of a Satanist group. But that theory is soon disproved. Another very real possibility is that the murders were committed by someone with an animus against the whole family. If that’s true, then Jacob’s sister Rebecka may be in danger. So Huss travels to London, where Rebecka Schyttelius works with a computer development company. While there, Huss works with Met police inspector Glen Thompson. Thompson has local connections, local authority, and access to information that Huss needs. For her part, Huss has particulars of the case at hand. So the two complement each other as they combine forces. It turns out that that co-operation is important, since the key to this case is in the Schyttelius family’s past as well as Rebecka’s life in London. In the course of the novel, Huss and Thompson do develop a friendship, and we can see how they learn to work together.

There’s also an interesting case of a ‘buddy’ crime novel in Anya Lipska’s Where the Devil Can’t Go. Janusz Kiszka is an unofficial ‘fixer’ in London’s Polish community. So when Father Piotr Pietruzki hears of some disturbing news, Kiszka is the man he trusts. It seems that a young woman named Weronika, who hasn’t been in London very long, has recently disappeared. So Kiszka agrees to ask some questions and see what he can learn. Weronika was last seen with a boyfriend Pawel Adamski, so Kiszka and his friend Oskar begin to trace the couple. In the meantime, DC Natalie Kershaw and DS Alvin ‘Streaky’ Bacon are investigating two murders that turn out to be related to Weronika’s disappearance. In the course of the investigation, Kershaw meets Kiszka, first considering him a suspect, and then as a sort of ally, as she investigates. And that relationship is in itself interesting. So is the ‘buddy’ relationship between Kiszka and his friend Oskar. The two have known each other for some time. They’re drinking and card-playing buddies, and in the course of this novel, they also work together on Weronika’s disappearance.

There are of course lots of other solid ‘buddy’ series and novels (I know, I know, fans of Martha Grimes’ Richard Jury/Melrose Plant novels). Which ones do you like best?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Randy Newman

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Anya Lipska, Craig Johnson, G.K. Chesterton, Helene Tursten, Jonathan Kellerman, Martha Grimes

Vacation, All I Ever Wanted*

VacationThe problem with being a talented crime-fictional sleuth is that it’s very hard sometimes to ‘get away from it all.’ Even if you want to take a break and escape for a holiday, you don’t always manage it. Of course, there are some sleuths who are so addicted to their work that they don’t ever really want to take a break. But there are also plenty of sleuths who do plan holidays – well, at least they try. But they’ve become so indispensable that they never really do manage to get away for long. 

For example, in Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, Hercule Poirot is taking a holiday cruise of the Nile. At first he hopes to have a nice, relaxing break, but then there’s a murder. Linnet Ridgeway Doyle, who’s on the same cruise with her new husband Simon, is shot on the second night. Poirot works with Colonel Race, who’s also aboard, to find out who the killer is, and the ship’s staff is only too happy to have them take charge of the investigation. The most obvious suspect is Linnet’s former best friend Jacqueline ‘Jackie’ de Bellefort, whose fiancé Simon was before he met Linnet. But although Jackie is on the cruise, her time is accounted for by reliable witnesses, so she can’t have committed the crime. Poirot and Race will have to look elsewhere for the criminal and they’re just beginning to do that when there’s another murder. Now instead of a holiday, Poirot faces a complex multiple murder. Interestingly, although Poirot does enjoy several holidays in the series that features him, he never really seems to mind interrupting them to solve crimes…

That’s not quite as true for DCI Richard Jury in Martha Grimes’ The Anodyne Necklace. In that novel, Jury is packing his things in preparation for a getaway weekend in Northamptonshire when he gets a call from his boss Superintendent Racer. Racer’s just gotten word that a human finger has been discovered at Littlebourne. When Jury protests that he’s not on call, Racer says that there is no other option since the two other DCIs on the rota are ill. So, very unwillingly, Jury changes his plans. He goes to Littlebourne where he finds that the finger belonged to Cora Binns, a secretary who worked for a temporary services agency and who’d gone to Littlebourne for an interview. She never made it, so now Jury works with Melrose Plant to find out who killed the victim and why. They find that her death is connected to a robbery and another death in the past, and to a vicious attack on another of Littleourne’s residents.

Ellery Queen also doesn’t always want to be disturbed, as we learn in The Origin of Evil. He’s taken a house in the Hollywood Hills so he can have some peace and quiet to write. But then, nineteen-year-old Laurel Hill pays him a visit. Her father Leander has recently died of a heart attack, but she is convinced his heart attack was deliberately brought on by a killer. In the weeks before his death, Hill received several macabre ‘gifts’ from an unknown person – gifts that made him increasingly upset. At first, Queen refuses to have anything to do with the gifts or with Laurel. He wants to have some time to write. But then, he finds out that Hill’s business partner Roger Priam has also been receiving cryptic warning ‘gifts.’ Laurel’s refusal to take ‘no’ for an answer finally convinces Queen to look into the mystery and before he knows it, he’s deeply involved. It turns out that Hill’s death and later, an attack on Priam’s life, has everything to do with the two men’s past.

DCI Alan Banks is away on holiday in Peter Robinson’s All the Colours of Darkness when a case of murder cuts his trip short. The body of Mark Hardcastle, a set and costume designer for the Eastvale Amateur Dramatic Society, has been found hanged in a local woods. It looks at first as though he’s committed suicide but then, Hardcastle’s partner Laurence Silbert is found murdered. DI Annie Cabot has begun the investigation but she knows that

 

‘…something big like this, you let the boss know immediately, or things have a nasty habit of coming back at you.’

 

Superintendent Catherine Gervaise takes the decision to call Banks back from his holiday and he and Cabot find out that there was much more going on in Silbert’s life than anyone knew. Far from being the murder/suicide that it seems on the surface, this case involves intrigue and espionage. And that’s not the only time either that Banks is called back from a holiday.

In Donna Leon’s A Question of Belief, Commissario Guido Brunetti is eager to escape the heat of August in Venice. He and his family are planning a trip to the mountains and everyone’s excited. While they’re on the train though, Brunetti gets a call from his colleague Glaudia Griffoni. It seems that Araldo Fontana, a clerk at the local courthouse – the Tribunale di Venezia – has been bludgeoned in the courtyard of the apartment building where he lives. On the surface of it, the killing looks like a mugging gone horribly wrong. But Fontana had been working for a certain Judge Coltellini, who may have been taking bribes from wealthy defendants in exchange for delaying their trials interminably. If Fontana knew about that, he might have been killed for that knowledge. And there’s the fact that he has some personal secrets too. Since this case is looking to be a lot more complicated than it first seems, Brunetti gets off the train, switches to a train back to Venice, and gets to work on the Fontana case. Perhaps this goes to show the down side of having a mobile ‘phone…

And then there’s Kel Robertson’s Smoke and Mirrors. In that novel, Australian Federal Police (AFP) Inspector Bradman ‘Brad’ Chen is taking some time off to recover from the events detailed in Dead Set. He’s even toying with the idea of not coming back, but finishing his Ph.D. instead. But his AFP colleagues have a different idea. Former Gough Whitlam government official Alec Dennet and his editor Lorraine Starck are found murdered at a writer’s retreat where they were working on Dennet’s memoirs. There are all kinds of possibilities for suspects too, since Dennet might have been planning to reveal quite a bit about some highly-placed individuals. This looks to be a very high-profile case and Chen’s colleagues want him on it. He reluctantly agrees and slowly finds himself drawn into what really happened to Dennet and Starck.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter whether a sleuth is officially ‘on leave’ or ‘on holiday.’ Sleuths who are good at their jobs will invariably be called back ‘on duty’ whether they want to or not. I know I’ve only mentioned a few examples here. Which gaps have I left?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Go-Go’s Vacation.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Donna Leon, Ellery Queen, Kel Robertson, Martha Grimes, Peter Robinson

When We’re Together, My Co-Star and Me*

Two ProtagonistsA lot of crime novels feature one sleuth. Of course, if that one sleuth is at all believable, she or he gets information and sometimes help from other people, but really, there’s one main protagonist. Some authors though have chosen to develop two protagonists. I’m not talking here of pairings such as Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Rather, I’m talking of dual protagonists whose stories develop almost independently even though the characters are working on the same case or set of cases. It’s not easy to create that kind of partnership without confusing the reader or belabouring the story. But when it’s done well, a plot or series that involves two protagonists with separate but related stories can add a layer of depth and interest and can make for some interesting story arcs too.

Reginald Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe series is like that. There are several instances in the series where the two pursue different lines of investigation. In Recalled to Life for instance, Cissy Kohler has recently been released from prison after serving time for involvement in the 1963 murder of Pamela Westrop. At the time of her arrest, Ralph Mickledore was also arrested, tried and imprisoned for the murder. Now there are suggestions that Cissy Kohler was innocent and that Dalziel’s old mentor Wally Tallentire, who pursued the case, knew about it and hid that knowledge. Deputy Chief Constable Geoff Hiller is leading an investigation into those allegations, much to Dalziel’s anger. Dalziel doesn’t believe that Tallentire did anything wrong and he resents the questions about his mentor’s character. So he takes another look at the case, mostly to prove that his mentor was ‘clean.’ His new investigation takes him to the US to follow up with an important witness. Meanwhile, Pascoe stays behind and serves as a liaison between Hiller’s team and the CID. In that way, the two sleuths work more or less on the same case, but they do so separately, and we get their two different perspectives.

Martin Edwards’ Lake District series also features two separate protagonists. One is DCI Hannah Scarlett, who heads the Cumbria Constabulary’s Cold Case Review Team. The other is Oxford historian Daniel Kind. Although their two stories are related to the same cases, they often investigate different angles of the case in different ways. For instance, in The Serpent Pool, Scarlett and her team are re-investigating the six-year-old drowning death of Bethany Friend. They find that it’s connected to two more recent murders, so Scarlett’s angle on this case is the police business of finding out who the murderer is and how the three murders are connected. Meanwhile Kind is doing research into the life and work of Thomas De Quincy. He’s interested in De Quincey and has been invited to give a presentation at a festival to be held in honour of De Quincey. Although Kind doesn’t investigate the murders, not even unofficially, his research proves to be crucial to solving the case.

Margaret Coel’s Vicky Holden and Father John O’Malley are also dual protagonists in the same series. They both work on the Arapaho people’s Wind River Reservation; Holden is a lawyer and a member of the Arapaho Nation. O’Malley is a Jesuit priest attached to the local St. Francis Mission. They know each other of course, and develop a deep friendship, but they don’t really work cases together in the way that, say, cop partners do. In The Eagle Catcher for instance, Arapaho tribal chair Harvey Castle is murdered at a powwow. His nephew Anthony is arrested for the crime, and with good reason. But O’Malley doesn’t think that he’s guilty. His angle on this case is to look into the history of the Arapaho people – a history that he knew Castle was compiling and that could provide a key to the murder. For Holden’s part, she agrees to defend Anthony Castle and starts putting together his case. She and O’Malley share information, but they have different perspectives and the story is told from their two different perspectives.

The same thing is true of Martha Grimes’ Richard Jurly/Melrose Plant series. They compare notes and are friends, but they often work separately. For instance, in The Anodyne Necklace, Inspector Jury is called to the village of Littlebourne when a human finger and later a body are discovered. Both turn out to belong to Cora Binns, a temporary secretary who’d come to Littlebourne for an interview. Jury puts the machinery of the law into motion and begins to interview the villagers as well as Cora’s family and neighbours. At the same time Melrose Plant goes to Littlebourne in the guise of wanting to buy some property there. He talks to several of the locals and learns that there was a robbery in the village about a year before Cora was killed. He and Jury also learn that another resident Katie O’Brien was attacked in a London underground station and is now in a coma. Although each man works on his own angle, Jury and Plant share what they learn and little by little, they find out that the murder of Cora Binns is related to the robbery and to the attack on Katie O’Brien.

And then there’s Elly Griffiths’ series featuring North Norfolk University archaeologist Ruth Galloway and DCI Harry Nelson. On the one hand, they share information; they’ve even had a romantic relationship. But they often go their separate ways when they’re investigating. For example, in The Janus Stone, Galloway is called in when a headless child’s skeleton is discovered beneath the ruins of the Sacred Heart Children’s Home when a new posh apartment building is put up on the same site. Galloway’s expertise is needed to determine how old the bones are. When it turns out that they are not ancient, the police begin to investigate. Nelson discovers that two children disappeared from the children’s home at about the time that the bones would have been buried. To find out the truth about the missing children and whether that case is related to the remains that have been found, Nelson interviews retired priest Father Hennessey, who was in charge of the children’s home at the time of the disappearances. Meanwhile Galloway is on a team that’s excavating Roman ruins in the area. Her team’s finds turn out to have an important connection to the case that Nelson’s investigating. They work together in that sense, but each of them pursues leads separately and the story is told from both of their perspectives.

Jørn Lier Horst’s Dregs also includes two protagonists who work separately even though they co-operate and share information. In that novel, Chief Inspector William Wisting and his team investigate the bizarre appearance of a group of feet that wash up near the Norwegian town of Stavern.  The rest of the bodies can’t be found though, so there’s a lot of speculation about what has happened. There’s even talk that a particularly crazed serial killer may be responsible. Wisting and his team begin their search for answers with a look at missing person cases. They find that several of the people reported missing have either lived in or worked at the same old-age care home. That home and the long-time association among some of the residents prove to be important clues. In the meantime, Wisting’s daughter Line is also in Stavern. She’s a journalist working on a story about former prison inmates who’ve now been released. The point she wants to make is that prison does more harm than good. As she meets with her interviewees, she too finds out important information that turns out to be related to the case her father is working. The two stories are told separately and from both perspectives. And yet, they relate to the same case.

Other authors such as Deborah Crombie have done a similar thing. Katherine Howell’s got a particularly interesting approach to the dual-protagonist motif. Her series features Detective Ella Marconi of the New South Wales police. But her novels also feature other protagonists, usually paramedics and each novel focuses on a different one. It’s an innovative way to integrate other protagonists into a series.

What do you think? Do you find that having two separate protagonists with two different points of view confusing? Does it add to your enjoyment of a novel?  If you’re a writer, have you experimented with two protagonists?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Tears’ Co-Star.

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Filed under Deborah Crombie, Elly Griffiths, Jørn Lier Horst, Katherine Howell, Margaret Coel, Martha Grimes, Reginald Hill