Category Archives: Martin Edwards

Never Heard Nothin’ but Bad Things About Him*

FatherhoodNot long ago I did a post about bad mothers in crime fiction. There are plenty of them in the genre. But never let it be said that I am sexist; there are plenty of equally dysfunctional fathers in crime fiction too. Now, in real life and in crime fiction, the majority of fathers love their children deeply. They would do anything to protect them and they would never dream of causing them harm. But there are some truly awful fictional fathers out there – the kind that will make you dads feel much, much better about your own parenting, even if you’ve made mistakes, as we all do. Let me just give a few examples.

In Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (AKA A Holiday for Murder and Murder for Christmas) we meet Simeon Lee. He’s an unpleasant and tyrannical patriarch who made a considerable amount of money in the mining industry. He invites the members of his family to spend Christmas at the family home Gorston Hall and although no-one wants to go, no-one dares to refuse. As everyone arrives and Lee interacts with his guests, we see what a deeply dysfunctional and abusive person he is, and how that’s affected everyone. On Christmas Eve, Lee is murdered in his private room. Hercule Poirot is spending the holiday nearby and when news of the murder gets out, he works with Superintendent Sugden to find out who killed Simeon Lee and why. The better Poirot gets to know the Lee family and the kind of person the victim was, the more motives he sees for murder.

We also meet a dysfunctional father in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep. General Guy Sternwood hires private investigator Philip Marlowe to stop book dealer Arthur Geiger from blackmailing him. Geiger had sent Sternwood an extortion letter that mentioned Sternwood’s daughter Carmen, and Sternwood wants the man to leave the family alone. By the time Marlowe tracks Geiger down though, it’s too late. Geiger has been killed and it seems that Carmen Sternwood is a witness. Marlowe doesn’t want her mixed up in the case and does his best to protect her. With Geiger dead, Marlowe thinks he’s done with the Sternwoods but when their chauffer is found dead of an apparent suicide, everything changes. Throughout this novel, we can see how dysfunctional the Sternwood family is, and Guy Sternwood bears quite a share of the responsibility for that. He’s aware of that too, as we see when he says this about Carmen and her sister:

 

‘Neither of them has any more moral sense than a cat. Neither have I. No Sternwood ever had.’ 

 

It’s certainly not the story of a caring father who raises his daughters with love.

Martin Edwards’ The Cipher Garden begins with the murder of landscaper Warren Howe. At first the police suspect his wife Tina. That makes sense too as Howe was abusive and adulterous. What’s more, he was a very dysfunctional father to their children. The police can’t get the evidence they need to arrest Tina though, and the case is left to go cold. Ten years later, anonymous notes suggest that Tina really was the killer. So DCI Hannah Scarlett, who’s recently been named to head the Cumbria Constabulary’s Cold Case Review Team, decides to re-open the case. As the team slowly sifts through the case, they discover that Tina might be the murderer, but so might several other people as well. One important key to this case comes from Oxford historian Daniel Kind. He’s trying to make sense of the curious shape of the garden at the cottage he’s recently taken, and discovers that the landscaping company who did the garden was Howe’s employer. As the threads of the case come together we see how past incidents have affected an entire group of people.

In one plot thread of James Craig’s Never Apologise, Never Explain, Inspector John Carlyle of Charing Cross Station gets a request from an acquaintance. Amelia Jacobs is a former prostitute who now works as maid for Sam Laidlaw, who’s still in the business. Jacobs is worried about local gangster Michael Hagger, the father of her employer’s son Jake. She thinks Hagger is a threat and wants Carlyle to warn him to stay away from Laidlaw and their son. Carlyle agrees and makes plans to do so. But he’s busy on another case, so by the time he turns his attention to Hagger it’s too late. Hagger has disappeared and so has Jake. Now Carlyle has to find them before something terrible happens to Jake – if it hasn’t already. I won’t spoil the book for those who haven’t read it yet, but I can say this. Hagger is far from a loving, caring and supportive father.

And then there’s Annie Hauxwell’s In Her Blood. In that novel, London investigator Catherine Berlin has been building a case against loan shark Archie Doyle. One day one of her informants, who goes by the name Juliet Bravo, is found dead in Limehouse Basin. Berlin feels that she put ‘Juliet’ at risk, so she feels a sense of responsibility for the young woman’s death. She decides to look into the matter and see if she can find out who’s responsible. But then she’s suspended for not following protocol in the process of dealing with her informant. This means she no longer has official access to any information about the murder. As if that’s not enough, Berlin faces a personal crisis. She is a registered heroin addict who’s been getting her supplies from Dr. George Lazenby under the registered addicts program. When she goes to Lazenby’s office for her regular appointment one afternoon, she discovers that he’s been murdered, and she becomes a suspect. With only seven days’ supply of heroin left, Berlin will have to find a new supplier before she goes into withdrawal and is no longer able to pursue either case. But she believes Archie Doyle may be the key to the whole thing. As we learn more about Doyle, we see that he is more complex than just a loan-sharking thug. He has a complicated family life and fairly awful fathering has been a big part of it. It’s a thread that runs through this novel.

There are lots of other cases too of truly dysfunctional, bad fathers. I won’t mention some of them because it’d give away spoilers. But I’ll bet you have a few examples of your own to share. And even these few examples should be enough to satisfy all of you fathers that you’re doing a pretty fine job.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong’s Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone. Listen to both versions – by The Undisputed Truth and The Temptations – and decide which one you like better.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Annie Hauxwell, James Craig, Martin Edwards, Raymond Chandler

But You Hid Behind Your Poison Pen and His Pride*

PoisonPen Letters‘Poison pen’ letters have been around for a very long time. Sometimes they’re sent out of spite or malice. Other times the purpose is bullying or blackmail. And sometimes they’re a reflection of the sender’s fragile mental health. Whatever motivates them, they can be distressing and frightening for the person who gets them. And sometimes they represent a real threat. They’re also interesting clues and ‘red herrings’ in crime fiction too. There are lots of examples from the genre; here are just a few.

Agatha Christie uses ‘poison pen’ letters quite frequently in her stories and novels; I’ll just mention one. In The Moving Finger, siblings Jerry and Joanna Burton have just moved from London to the village of Lymestock so that Jerry can recover from wartime injuries. They’ve just settled in when they receive a vicious anonymous letter claiming that they’re lovers rather than brother and sister. The letter seems like a crank, but it leaves as the saying goes a nasty taste. Then, the Burtons discover that they’re not the only ones to have gotten nasty letters. Several of the other residents of Lymestock have also been victims. Soon, the letters spark ugly rumours throughout the village. Then, things turn tragic. First, a ‘poison pen’ letter to the wife of the local solicitor results in a suicide. Then there’s another death. The police investigate, but vicar’s wife Mrs. Dane Calthrop has another idea. She asks Miss Marple to look into the matter. Miss Marple is thoroughly familiar with village life. What’s more, she’s intelligent, observant and good at making meaning from the local gossip. Miss Marple starts asking questions, and finds out the truth about the letters and the deaths.

In Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night, mystery novelist Harriet Vane is invited to return to her alma mater Shrewsbury College for its annual Gaudy Dinner and festivities. At first, she’s not inclined to go, as she’s not sure what her reception will be. She has, after all, achieved a certain notoriety after being tried for murder (See Strong Poison for the details on that). But at the request of an old friend, she finally decides to participate. When she gets to Shrewsbury she’s pleasantly surprised at the warm welcome she’s given, and is glad she attended. Then trouble starts. First, Harriet finds an anonymous note accusing her of murder. Then she gets a letter from the dean of her college, saying that there have been other incidents, including vandalism, going on at the college. The college authorities don’t want a scandal, so the dean asks Harriet to return to Shrewsbury and investigate quietly rather than call in the police. Harriet agrees and goes back to the college under the guise of doing research for a book. What she finds, with help from Lord Peter Wimsey, is that the events at Shrewsbury are all connected with something that happened in the past, and that one person has not forgotten…

Inspector Van der Valk of the Amsterdam police faces a bizarre case of ‘poison pen’ letters in Nicolas Freeling’s Double Barrel. There’s been a spate of such letters in the small town of Zwinderen, and the police have gotten concerned. Normally not much attention is paid to one or just a few such letters, but this is a bit different. Two of the letters have resulted in suicide and one in a complete mental breakdown. The local police haven’t been able to make much headway, mostly because the people of Zwinderen are close-mouthed and unwilling to talk about anything that might have led to the letters being sent. So Van der Valk is sent to find out who is behind the letters. It’s an interesting case of a small community where everyone knows everyone’s business and public reputation is all-important. Still, Van der Valk slowly gets to the truth about who’s been sending the letters and why. He also makes another completely unexpected, discovery that’s related to wartime crimes.

Martin Edwards’ The Cipher Garden also features ‘poison pen’ letters. Ten years before the events in the novel, landscaper Warren Howe was murdered one afternoon with his own scythe. At the time, the police thought that his wife Tina was guilty, and she had good reason. Howe was an abusive alcoholic who wouldn’t leave other women alone. But the police couldn’t get conclusive evidence, so they couldn’t pursue the case. The whole business gets brought up again when a series of anonymous notes, including one to the Cumbria Constabulary, suggests that Tina really was guilty of the murder. DCI Hannah Scarlett and her Cold Case Review team re-open the case and begin another investigation. In the meantime, Oxford historian Daniel Kind is researching the history of the oddly-shaped garden of the cottage he’s recently taken. As it turns out, it was laid out by the same company that employed Warren Howe. Each in a different way, Scarlett and Kind look into the history of the area and find that it’s closely linked with the murder.

Elizabeth Spann Craig’s Quilt or Innocence introduces us to Beatrice Coleman, who’s recently retired from Atlanta to Dappled Hills, North Carolina. She’s moved there to be closer to her daughter Piper and to enjoy some long-awaited relaxation and reading time. Soon enough Beatrice finds that social life in Dappled Hills revolves around quilting. So, somewhat reluctantly (since she doesn’t know a lot about quilting), she joins the Village Quilters. When one of its members is murdered, she starts asking questions. Then she gets a threatening letter. And then another. Now it looks as though someone is targeting the quilters, especially when Beatrice and another quilter are attacked. It’s a scary experience for Beatrice, especially since she lives alone. But she gets to the truth about the letters, the murder and the attacks.

Today’s Internet technology means that nasty letters, comments and the like can be posted from just about anywhere. Sometimes they’re done anonymously and sometimes it’s easier to find out who sends them. Either way, they’re at least as unsettling as traditional letters. We see a bit of that in Helen Fitzgerald’s The Cry. In that novel, Joanna Lindsay and Alistair Robertson have come from Scotland to Melbourne with their nine-week-old son Noah. For Alistair it’s a homecoming, but Joanna has never been to Australia. They’re on their way to Alistair’s family’s home when the unimaginable happens: the loss of Noah. When news of the missing baby gets out, the entire Australian media gets to work and the case generates a frenzy of interest. There are all sorts of appeals for help, charity benefits and the like. But little by little, questions begin to be raised about the event. Those questions start people wondering whether one or both of Noah’s parents might have had something to do with his disappearance. Now there are websites and blog posts set up that vilify, especially, Joanna. It’s an interesting case of how a story can generate passionate public opinion and how modern technology allows people to express that opinion in all kinds of terms. It’s also interesting to compare the ‘poison pen’ comments, tweets and blog posts with the reality of what actually did happen to Noah.

‘Poison pen’ letters, notes, tweets and comments are unsettling and sometimes frightening, especially when you don’t know who’s responsible. They can generate a lot of tension and certainly add levels of suspense to a crime story. These are just a few instances. Your turn.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from REO Speedwagon’s In Your Letter.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Elzabeth Spann Craig, Helen Fitzgerald, Martin Edwards, Nicolas Freeling

Ev’rybody Had a Good Year*

2013 ReleasesI’m very lucky. I’m a member of a wonderful crime fiction community and that in itself means a lot to me. Some of my friends in that community are also writers, and several of them had books come out this year. I know how busy everyone gets as the year goes by; I know I do anyway. So I thought I’d take a bit of time now before we close the doors on 2013 to share some great releases from this year in case you missed ‘em.

Rob Kitchin’s Stiffed is a terrific screwball noir story. Tadhg Maguire knows it’s going to be a bad day when he wakes up next to a dead man. It only makes matters worse that the dead man is Tony Marino, ‘right hand man’ to powerful gangster Aldo Morelli. Maquire knows that calling the police isn’t an option. If they don’t arrest him for murder, he’ll probably have a very life-shortening ‘meeting’ with someone in Pirelli’s gang. So instead, he calls his friend Jason Choi and asks him to help get rid of the body. Choi agrees and the two men get to work. But they soon discover that finding a place to dispose of the body is going to be the least of their problems…

Paddy Richardson’s Cross Fingers was also released this year. In that novel, Wellington television journalist Rebecca Thorne is working on an exposé of dubious land developer Denny Graham. Graham has apparently fleeced several clients of all of their savings, and Thorne’s gathering names, amounts of money, and so on. But then, her boss asks her to switch her focus and do a story on the 30th anniversary of the Springbok rugby tour of New Zealand. ‘The Tour’ was extremely controversial because of South Africa’s then-in-place policy of Apartheid. There were protests, reports of police abuse, and a lot of divisions and conflicts. At first Thorne’s reluctant to pursue the story, as she feels it’s already been done. But then she discovers an unsolved murder from that time. Now she’s got the fresh angle she wants. She also finds out that there are some people who do not want that murder solved.

Also released this past year was Angela Savage’s The Dying Beach. Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney and her partner Rajiv Patel are enjoying some time off from work at Krabi, on the Thai coast. While they’re there, they take a tour guided by a young woman who calls herself Pla. Both are very upset when they learn later that Pla’s body has been found in a cave. The official report is that she drowned, either accidentally or by suicide. But Keeney doesn’t believe it. For one thing, Pla was an expert swimmer. For another, the forensics findings are not really consistent with death by drowning. So Keeney decides to ask some questions. She and Patel learn that Pla was working on a project with an environmental group. Her job was to attend meetings between villagers and a development company and ensure that the villagers’ questions and concerns were heard and addressed. On one level then, it seems that no-one would have wanted to kill Pla; the villagers benefited from her presence, and the company needed her to prove its responsiveness to local needs. But as Keeney and Patel dig deeper, they find that Pla had learned something that it wasn’t safe for her to know. That knowledge cost the young woman her life.

Martin Edwards’ The Frozen Shroud is the sixth in his Lake District series that features DCI Hannah Scarlett and Oxford historian Daniel Kind. In this outing, which takes place in the small town of Ravesbank, Scarlett and her team investigate three murders committed many years apart. One is the murder of a housemaid Gertrude Smith, which occurred just before World War I. The next is the five-year-old murder of Shenagh Moss, who had settled into the same house. That’s when Kind gets interested in what might link the murders.  And then another occurs, one that strikes closer to home.  Each victim is a young woman who’s murdered at Hallowe’en. And each victim is found with her face covered by a cloth that seems to serve as a shroud…

For those who like historical mysteries, William Ryan’s The Twelfth Department was also released this year. It’s the third in his Alexei Korolev series, which takes place in pre-World War II Stalinist Moscow. In this novel, Moscow CID Captain Korolev and his assistant Sergeant Nadezhda Slivka are assigned to investigate the murder of an eminent scientist Boris Azarov. His work is considered both important and top-secret, so the NKVD wants the case handled as quietly as possible. All signs point to one particular person, but then that person too is murdered. Now there will have to be a further investigation, and as Korolev and Slivka dig deeper, they find out that the truth about Azarov’s work and his murder is very dangerous indeed.

Another historical mystery that came out this year was K.B. Owen’s Dangerous and Unseemly, the first in her Concordia Wells series that takes place beginning in 1896. Wells is a professor at Hartford Women’s College, where she’s kept busy with classes, preparations for the school’s production of The Scottish Play, and of course, the many needs and issues that arise when a group of students is away from home for the first time. Then, college bursar Ruth Lyman is found dead, apparently a suicide. There are also some very malicious pranks and even arson to contend with at the school. Matters come to a head when Wells’ sister Mary dies. It’s already been made clear to Wells that she’s expected to act with decorum – ‘like a lady’ – and not play hero. But she is determined to find out who’s responsible for what’s going on at the school. Oh, and what’s really exciting is that the second in this series, Unseemly Pursuits, has just been released. More on that soon!

Prefer a cosy mystery? Elizabeth Spann Craig’s had a few releases this year. One is Rubbed Out, the fourth in her Memphis Barbecue series which she writes as Riley Adams. Aunt Pat’s Barbecue, which is owned and run by Lulu Taylor, is one of Memphis’ most popular restaurants and it keeps Lulu busy. But she’s persuaded to attend the Rock and Ribs Competition. Then, one of the other competitors Rueben Shaw is murdered. Lulu’s friend Cherry Hayes had an argument with him shortly before the murder, so of course, she’s a suspect. Lulu knows her friend’s not a killer though, and determines to clear her name.

Another release from Spann Craig is Knot What it Seams, the second in her Southern Quilting series. In this novel, Beatrice Coleman has joined the Village Quilters guild in Dappled Hills, North Carolina. She’s settled into small-town life and has made friends. Then, the guild’s newest member Jo Paxton dies in what looks like a tragic car accident. But when it turns out that someone tampered with her brakes, the Village Quilters know that one of them may be a murderer…

Also published this year was Jill Edmondson’s Frisky Business, the fourth in her Sasha Jackson series. In this story, Raven Greywolf hires Jackson to find out what happened to her friend Julia McPhee, who went by the name of Kitty Vixen. McPhee was a porn film actress who was beaten to death and found at a construction site. The case hasn’t been solved, and Greywolf doesn’t think the police are going to do much about it. Jackson agrees to take the case and begins to look into the victim’s life. There are plenty of possibilities too. For one thing, she worked for a sleazy porn film company where the actors aren’t treated well and not expected to complain. The problem for the company was that McPhee had started agitating for better protection for the film workers and better working conditions. And then there’s her personal past. Jackson finds more than one suspect there, too. Bit by bit, Jackson gets to the truth about McPhee’s last days and weeks and finds out who really killed her and why.

Oh, and a very special thanks to Martin Edwards, Lesley Fletcher, Pamela Griffiths, Paula K. Randall, Jane Risdon, Elizabeth Spann Craig and Sarah Ward for their hard work on In a Word: Murder, an anthology of stories about crime in the publishing, writing, editing and blogging fields. Their stories are excellent, folks. If you haven’t had a chance to check it out, you’ll want to. Not only are you getting some great stories, but you’re doing good as well, since all the proceeds from this anthology go in aid of Princess Alice Hospice.

 

Yes, it’s been quite a year for some terrific releases. If you haven’t had a chance to check these out, you may just want to add them to your 2014 reading list.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Beatles’ I’ve Got a Feeling.

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Filed under Angela Savage, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Jane Risdon, Jill Edmondson, K.B. Owen, Lesley Fletcher, Martin Edwards, Paddy Richardson, Pamela Griffiths, Paula K. Randall, Riley Adams, Rob Kitchin, Sarah Ward, William Ryan

I Wish You Could be Here*

Ongoing LossIn real life, when we lose someone, the sadness and pain of that loss doesn’t stop magically after just a few days or weeks or months. Going on without someone we’ve loved is an ongoing process. You don’t ‘get over’ such loss; you go on.  A lot of crime fiction includes that devastating shock of first finding out one’s wife/husband/parent/child, etc. has been murdered, and that makes sense. Sudden death is a horrible blow. But it’s also realistic when a crime novel shows us what it’s like after some time has passed and we see that those wounds are not miraculously healed.

For instance, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet, Sherlock Holmes is faced with the challenging case of two murders. Enoch Drebber and Joseph Stangerson are Americans staying in London at a boarding house. When Drebber is murdered, suspicion falls eventually on Stangerson. They have a shared history and there could be any number of motives. But then Stangerson is also killed and Holmes has to find out what links the two deaths. The murders turn out to have their roots in the past. One important key is the devastating loss of one person and the hole that loss has left in another person’s life. Once Holmes finds out about that death, he’s able to solve the murders of Drebber and Stangerson.

Agatha Christie’s Five Little Pigs (AKA Murder in Retrospect) is the story of the two losses really. One is famous painter Amyas Crale, who was poisoned one afternoon at his home. The other is his wife Caroline, who was arrested, tried and convicted of the murder. A year later she died in prison. At the time of the crime, there was ample evidence to believe she was guilty although she always said she wasn’t. Now, sixteen years later, their daughter Carla Lemarchant wants to find out the truth about the killing. She’s always believed in her mother’s innocence and wants her name cleared. So she hires Poirot to investigate. Poirot agrees and interviews the five people who were present on the day of the murder. He also gets written accounts from each of them. From that information he figures out who really killed Amyas Crale and why. One of the interesting threads running through this novel is the fact that none of the other people has really ‘gotten over’ what happened. They’ve gone on, but it’s clear that the losses have had a real impact on them, even years later.

In Nevada Barr’s Track of the Cat, we are introduced to Anna Pigeon. She’s had to make major changes in her life after the accidental killing of her husband Zach. At the time, Pigeon and her husband were living the ‘social life’ in New York. After he was run down by a taxi, Pigeon left the city and trained to be a U.S. National Park Service ranger. As Track of the Cat begins, she’s working in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, where one day, she finds the body of fellow ranger Sheila Drury. The official explanation of Drury’s death is that a mountain lion must have killed her. Several signs suggest though that this was not a killing by a wild animal, but a deliberate murder. Besides, Pigeon is worried that if a mountain lion is blamed for the death, there will be an all-out hunt for mountain lions, and they’re endangered as it is. So she decides to follow up on the clues she’s seen and find out what really happened to Drury. As the novel moves on, we see how much Pigeon still misses Zach. Even after time has passed, his loss has left an empty space in her life that hasn’t come close to being filled.

That’s also true of Dorothy Pine, whom we meet in Giles Blunt’s Forty Words for Sorrow.  Five months before the events in the novel, her daughter Katie disappeared after school one day. John Cardinal of the Algonquin Bay Police had been in charge of the search, but the police hadn’t found any evidence. Then one day, Katie’s body is discovered in an abandoned mine. Now Cardinal has the awful task of informing Dorothy that her daughter is dead. His job is made all the harder because for good reasons, there’s little love lost between the Ojibwa First Nations people and the local police. So Dorothy has absolutely no reason to trust Cardinal. She does allow him in the house though, and when he goes through Katie’s things one more time, we can see that time has done nothing to fill the hole, if I can put it that way, that Katie’s absence has left. In the end, Cardinal finds out who killed Katie Pine and why and in that sense, Dorothy at least has answers. But it’s also clear that there will be no such thing as ‘getting over it’ for her.

There’s a similar sense of ongoing loss in Martin Edwards’ The Serpent Pool, in which DCI Hannah Scarlett and her team investigate the six-year-old drowning death of Bethany Friend. At the time of the death, it was believed that Bethany might have committed suicide. But Scarlett has never been completely convinced of that. When book collector George Saffell and attorney Stuart Wagg are both murdered, Scarlett and her friend and fellow DCI Fern Larter believe that the cases may be connected. And so they turn out to be. As Scarlett returns to the Bethany Friend case, she visits Bethany’s mother Daphne. Scarlett’s hoping that Daphne may remember something that she didn’t think to mention when Bethany was first found dead. It’s obvious during the visit that Daphne still feels the loss of her daughter six years on. And in that sense Scarlett hates the idea of bringing her more pain. But it turns out that Daphne has some useful information…

Cath Staincliffe’s Split Second is the story of an incident on a bus that ends up costing Jason Barnes his life. He’s riding a bus when he sees three young people bullying another passenger Luke Murray. Jason intervenes and things settle for a bit as the bus gets to a stop. Luke gets off the bus and so do his harassers. Jason exits too. That’s when matters escalate again and there’s a full-on fight which continues all the way to Jason’s yard.  When it’s over, Luke’s been gravely injured and Jason is dead of stab wounds. Part of this novel of course deals with the process of talking to witnesses, finding out who the bullies were, and tracking them down. But a major theme in the novel is the way Jason’s loss affects his parents Andrew and Val. Their pain and grief don’t go away once the initial shock wears off. It’s a long, terrible experience for them. Even though there’s a feeling at the end of the novel that they will go on, it’s just as clear that they won’t ever be the same. Similarly, Luke’s mother Louise and sister Ruby have to deal with real sense of loss too. As a result of the fight, Luke is in a coma and it’s not clear what if any progress he will make, nor what his life will be like if he does begin to recover.

And that’s the thing about losing someone you care about a lot. You don’t ‘get over it.’ You go on.

 

MC

 
One year on, Maxine, and we still miss you terribly and always will. I promise I’m behaving…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a Paul Simon song.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Cath Staincliffe, Giles Blunt, Martin Edwards, Nevada Barr

It Still Gives You Pain and It Still Brings Tears*

Later Effects of TraumaThe trauma of a murder investigation, or even an investigation into a death that doesn’t turn out to be murder, is hard on everyone. In fact, it can affect people for a very long time, sometimes permanently. And very often, the most vulnerable people – children – are the most profoundly affected, even much later in life. Just a quick look at crime fiction and you’ll get a sense of what I mean. Oh, and before I go any further, I promise – no mentions of serial-killer novels where the murderer was traumatised as a child. It’s been done. ;-)

In Agatha Christie’s Five Little Pigs, Hercule Poirot gets a visit from Carla Lemarchant, who wants him to investigate a sixteen-year-old murder. Her father, famous painter Amyas Crale, was poisoned one afternoon by what turns out to have been spotted hemlock/coniine. At the time, his wife Caroline was arrested, tried and convicted, and died a year later in prison. There was plenty of evidence against her, and no-one has really doubted her guilt except for her daughter. Now Carla is preparing to marry, and she wants her mother’s name cleared. Poirot agrees and interviews the five people who were present when Crale died. He also gets written accounts from all of them, and from that information, finds out who really killed the victim and why. Even though Carla was only a little girl at the time, and was quickly taken away from the scene of chaos, she has still been affected by the crime and years later, it plays a part in her life.

That’s also true of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch. He was eleven when his mother was murdered. Since she was a prostitute, not much was done about the murder. Although Bosch isn’t the stereotypical ‘cop with demons,’ he has been profoundly affected by that tragedy. Even he isn’t really aware of quite how much until The Last Coyote, in which he is forced to face the trauma. In that novel, he is sent for mandatory psychiatric counseling after an incident in which he attacks a superior officer. As a part of that process he explores what happened to his mother and even re-opens the case. When he does, he finds that there are several people who are not exactly pleased at having it all brought up again.

Lawrence Block’s The Sins of the Fathers is the story of the murder of Wendy Hanniford. Her roommate Richard Vanderpoel is assumed to be guilty. He was seen covered in her blood, and even had the murder weapon. So it’s not difficult to trace the crime to him. But Wendy’s father Cale Hanniford wants to know what really led up to the murder. He’s become estranged from his daughter and would like to know the sort of person she became. So he asks Matthew Scudder to investigate. Scudder isn’t (at this point in the series) a licensed PI, but he is a former cop, and he sometimes does ‘favours for friends.’ So he agrees to ask a few questions. He tries to interview Vanderpoel in prison, but the young man is either quite ill or under the influence of powerful drugs, and he isn’t really coherent. Shortly after that interview, Vanderpoel commits suicide. Now Scudder is left with more questions than ever and he continues to dig into the case. He finds that Vanderpoel’s mother was murdered when he was a boy and that fact played an important role in his life. I don’t think it’s giving away spoilers to say that Vanderpoel isn’t the stereotypical ‘traumatised kid who grows up to be a killer.’ But that trauma does figure into the case.

Elizabeth George’s Missing Joseph introduces us to the residents of the town of Winslough. Deborah and Simon St. James take a trip there after Deborah meets local vicar Robin Sage. He impressed Deborah and she feels drawn to him, so she persuades her husband to take a holiday at Winslough. By the time they get there though, Robin Sage is dead. He’s been poisoned by water hemlock, which local herbalist Juliet Spence claimed that she mistook for wild parsnip. Since she was the last one who gave him anything to eat or drink, the talk is that she’s guilty of murder.  Simon asks his friend Inspector Lynley to look into the matter and see whether this was accidental or someone deliberately poisoned the vicar. Juliet’s thirteen-year-old daughter Maggie has to deal with the trauma of having her mother suspected of murder and it’s not easy. And I think I can say without spoiling the story that there is more that Maggie will have to deal with, and anyone who’s read the novel would probably agree that what’s happened will affect her for the rest of her life.

In Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy (AKA The Keeper of Lost Causes), Copenhagen homicide detective Carl Mørck and his new assistant Hafez al-Assad re-open the five-year-old case of the disappearance of promising politician Merete Lynggaard. She disappeared one day during a ferry trip, and it was always thought that she tragically fell overboard during a quarrel with her brother Uffe. But little pieces of evidence suggest that Merete may still be alive. If she is, there may not be much time left to find her, so Mørck and Assad begin an urgent search for any information they can find. One of the people they want to talk to is Uffe, but he is uncommunicative. He hasn’t spoken since an awful car crash claimed his parents’ lives when he was thirteen. That trauma plays a powerful role in the novel and in Uffe’s personality and way of thinking. As Mørck  interacts with Uffee, we see clearly how it still affects him. Once Mørck is able to find a way to get through to Uffe, he gets a key piece of information to help him find out the truth about Merete.

In Martin Edwards’ The Cipher Garden, DCI Hannah Scarlett and her team re-open the ten-year-old murder case of landscaper Warren Howe. At the time, everyone thought his wife Tina was responsible, and she had good reason. But the police could never really make a case so no arrest was made. Now, anonymous tips suggest that Tina really was guilty, so the police take another look at the murder. In the process, they get to know Howe’s two children Kirsty and Sam. They were young at the time of the murder, but even so, and even though it’s been ten years, they’ve been deeply affected by it. The family was very dysfunctional to begin with, so Sam and Kirsty have had their share of troubles. And having the case re-opened just makes things more difficult for them.

And then there’s Taylor, the adopted daughter of Gail Bowen’s sleuth Joanne Kilbourn. When we first meet Taylor in Murder at the Mendel, she is tragically involved in a murder case. Since then, Kilbourn has adopted her and now she and her husband Zack Shreve make it a priority to give Taylor as normal a life (whatever that means) as possible. And Kilbourn ought to know if anyone how to do that. Her other three children Mieka, Peter and Angus had to deal with the murder of their father Ian Kilbourn when they were children. In this series, we see how children can grow up, can have decent lives and find happiness, but how they can also be burdened when they are a part of a murder case.

Those are only just a few examples. Your turn.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Code of Silence.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Elizabeth George, Gail Bowen, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Lawrence Block, Martin Edwards, Michael Connelly