Category Archives: Michael Connelly

Blue Suits and Bankers With Their Volvos and Their Valentines*

GentrificationGentrification is a fact of life in a lot of places. The idea is that a place will have greater appeal, a stronger economy and a wealthier tax base if it attracts people who can afford to pay upmarket prices for places to live, shop and so on. On the surface of it, that makes some sense. Most people would agree that it’s good to have a tax base that can sustain a place.

But here’s the problem, according to a lot of other people. Gentrification makes places too homogeneous (let’s face it; shopping malls don’t vary that much). It tends to take away the distinctive nature of an area, a city or a town. Gentrification also means that many middle- and working-class residents can’t afford to live in a place any longer. And it causes traffic and lots of other logistical problems.

That conflict – between those who support gentrification and those who oppose it – certainly plays out in real life. Perhaps you even live in an area affected by it. And it makes for a solid level of interest in crime fiction too.

In Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile for instance, Linnet Ridgeway has purchased Wode Hall, in Malton-under-Wode. She’s completely remodeling the place and intending to make some major changes. Part of her plan is to have some of the local cottages torn down and the residents moved. As you can imagine, some of those residents are not happy at all at being forced out of their homes. Here though is Linnet’s view:

 

‘They don’t seem to realize how vastly improved their living conditions will be!’

 

Linnet has money – a lot of it – and high social position, so the locals’ protests aren’t going to be very successful. But Linnet’s lovely new home won’t do her much good. Shortly afterwards, she’s shot during her honeymoon trip. Hercule Poirot is on the same cruise that Linnet and her new husband were taking, so he and Colonel Race investigate the murder. Although this example of gentrification isn’t a major plot thread, it shows an aspect of the victim’s character and it’s reflective of how gentrification can work.

In Peter Temple’s Bad Debts, a huge gentrification plan is underway for Melbourne. Called Yarra Cove, it’s to comprise a waterfront, marina, exclusive shops and restaurants and more. It’s intended to be

 

‘…arguably, Melbourne’s smartest new address.’

 

A lot of people want that upmarket money. What’s more, the area is currently run-down and seen by many as not safe. But not everyone agrees. In fact, an activist group led by Anne Jeppeson has been protesting the closing of the public housing located in that area. There hasn’t been much opportunity for public comment on the gentrification plan either. Sometime-attorney Jack Irish gets involved in this debate when a former client Danny McKillop is murdered shortly after being released from prison. McKillop was convicted of the drink-driving killing of Anne Jappeson and all of the evidence was against him. But now that McKillop’s been murdered, Irish comes to suspect that he might have been framed for Jeppeson’s death. If so, there’s something much bigger going on here than a tragic incident of drink driving.

Michael Connelly’s Echo Park forces Harry Bosch to return to a case he wasn’t able to solve when he first investigated it. Marie Gesto disappeared one day after leaving a Hollywood grocery store and Bosch was assigned the case. But although he had a suspect in mind, he wasn’t able to get the evidence he needed. Now, Raynard Waits has been arrested in Los Angeles’ Echo Park area for two other brutal murders. Incontrovertible evidence links him to the killings, so he’s not going to get away with them. His plan is to make a deal with the police. He’ll trade information on other cases, including the Gesto case, in exchange for avoiding the death penalty. Bosch works with what he learns from Waits to re-open the Gesto case and find out what really happened. Here are Bosch’s thoughts about the Echo Park area:

 

‘These days Echo Park was also a favored destination of another class of newcomer-the young and hip. The cool. Artists, musicians and writers were moving in. Cafés and vintage clothing shops were squeezing in next to the bodegas and mariscos stands. A wave of gentrification was washing across the flats and up the hillsides below the baseball stadium. It meant the character of the place was changing. It meant real-estate prices were going up, pushing out the working class and the gangs.’

 

Gentrification isn’t really the reason for Marie Gesto’s disappearance. But it’s an underlying part of the context of this novel.

On the other hand, gentrification is an important theme in Barry Maitland’s The Marx Sisters. A development company has made plans to tear town Jerusalem Lane, an historic area of London, and replace it with an upmarket shopping, dining and entertainment district. There’s a lot of money involved, so there is a great deal of pressure brought to bear on the residents of Jerusalem Lane to sell up and leave. It is a unique district though, and not everyone wants to leave. One holdout is Meredith Winterbottom, who lives in Jerusalem Lane with her two sisters Eleanor Harper and Peg Blythe. When Meredith suddenly dies, it looks a lot like a suicide. But DS Kathy Kolla isn’t so sure. So she and her boss DCI David Brock begin to ask some questions. They find that there are several people who’ve benefited from the victim’s death. One for instance is the development company’s representatives, who now have a clear path to completing their gentrification project. Another is the victim’s son, who will inherit his mother’s home and therefore, who stands to gain by the sale of it. And then there are the other residents of Jerusalem Lane, who could have had their own motives. That’s not to mention the fact that the three sisters are the great-granddaughters of Karl Marx. They had several old books and letters that would be of great interest to collectors and academics. Among other things, this is an interesting look at a district that will be forever changed by gentrification.

Vicki Delany’s In the Shadow of the Glacier is in part the story of the murder of Reginald Montgomery. He and his business partner have been planning the Grizzly Resort and Spa near the small town of Trafalgar, British Columbia. The idea is to bring a gentrified, upmarket group of tourists (and their money) to the area. Some people like the idea. The economy can use the boost, and the gentrification will mean more jobs. Others though see the resort as a threat to the environment and the local ecosystem. So the resort is by no means a ‘done deal.’ When Constable Moonlight ‘Molly’ Smith finds Montgomery’s body in an alley one night, she and Sergeant John Winters look into this whole gentrification plan as one possible motive for the killing. There are others, too, including issues in Montgomery’s personal life. Throughout the novel, there’s a real layer of interest as the debate goes on about the effects of having an upmarket resort nearby.

Planned gentrification also plays an important role in Shamini Flint’s A Calamitous Chinese Killing. Some wealthy and influential people want to tear down one of Beijing’s impoverished but historic districts to make room for a new, gentrified district full of upmarket shops, restaurants and housing. Professor Luo Gan has been among those protesting this gentrification, claiming that it will drive people out of their homes and will cheat them financially. When one of his students Justin Tan is found murdered, the official police theory is that he was killed by thugs in a robbery gone wrong. But Tan is the son of Susan Tan, First Secretary at the Singapore Embassy in Beijing. She doesn’t believe her son’s murder was the work of robbers, and she wants answers. So she arranges for Inspector Singh to travel from Singapore to Beijing and look into the matter. Singh reluctantly agrees and makes the trip. Soon enough, he finds evidence that the victim’s murder was likely deliberate. Now, Singh works with former Beijing cop Li Jun to find out who the murderer is. Someone involved in the gentrification project could be responsible for the murder. But that’s not by any means the only possibility. In the end, and after another murder, Singh and Li Jun find out what happened to Justin Tan and why.

Gentrification has a way of eliciting really strong feelings. It’s very much a proverbial double-edged sword, and not always popular. It’s a fact of life though, and it adds to a lot of crime fiction novels. Which gaps have I left?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s No Man’s Land.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Barry Maitland, Michael Connelly, Peter Temple, Shamini Flint, Vicki Delany

And Those Who Are Successful, Be Always on Your Guard*

HollywoodMany people are fascinated by movie stars. They seem to inhabit an entirely different, and much more luxurious, world than the rest of us do. When you watch them posing on the red carpet, and hear about the homes they have and so on, it’s easy to imagine that they have perfect lives. Of course, that’s not true. Any tabloid story will remind you of that. The reality is that sometimes that ‘Hollywood image’ can make a person even more vulnerable than ‘regular people’ are. Even if you couldn’t care less about movie stars, the contrast between that outer image of glamour and the sometimes tragic reality of a star’s life can be compelling. And it can make for a real source of tension and suspense in a crime novel.

For example, Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side (AKA The Mirror Crack’d) features famous star Marina Gregg, who’s just bought Gossington Hall in the village of St. Mary Mead. Yes, that Gossington Hall – the one that Colonel Arthur Bantry and his wife Dolly own in The Body in the Library. Marina and her husband Jason Rudd want to make a good impression in the local community, so they plan a charity fête at the Hall. Many of the locals are excited about it, but none more than Heather Badcock, who is one of Marina Gregg’s biggest fans. On the day of the event, Heather is of course among the large group of people who are eager to see the house and meet its famous owner. She’s ecstatic when she gets the chance to speak to her idol, but everything changes when she suddenly becomes very ill. When Heather dies of what turns out to be poison, everyone assumes that her murder was accidental, since the drink that killed her was originally intended for Marina. That theory makes sense too, since more than one person had a motive to murder the movie star. When it’s shown that the drink was intended all along for Heather, Miss Marple and Dolly Bantry look into Heather’s past to find out who would want to murder her. Among other things, this novel shows just how vulnerable even a famous Hollywood star can be.

Blythe Stuart and John Royle find out just how vulnerable famous Hollywood stars can be in Ellery Queen’s The Four of Hearts. Years ago, the two had a stormy and very public affair that ended badly. Each married someone else, and each now has an adult child, but their feud never really ended. The Magna Studios executives think that the Stuart/Royle drama is bankable, so they decide to film a biopic about the couple. Ellery Queen is temporarily on retainer at Magna, and he’s tapped to work on the screenplay. Much to everyone’s surprise, both stars agree to do the film. What’s more, they re-kindle their romance and even decide to marry. It’s decided to take this decision in stride and embrace the wedding, giving it the full Hollywood treatment. The couple will be married on an airstrip and then fly off for their honeymoon. The ceremony duly takes place, and the newlyweds and their children take off. When the plane lands though, both Stuart and Royle are dead. They’ve been poisoned and at first, their children blame each other. When Queen investigates though, he finds that there’s another explanation entirely.

In Robert Crais’ Voodoo River, we meet popular Hollywood TV star Jodi Taylor. She’s an adoptee who’s in her mid-thirties and beginning to wonder about her biological heritage. She’s wondering, for instance, whether she or any children she might have are at high risk for a genetic disorder. She and her personal manager Sid Markowitz hire Elvis Cole to trace her biological parents and find out what her medical background is. They’re determined to keep this all a secret though, and Cole agrees. He travels to Louisiana, where Jodi was born. When he gets there, he finds that the legal issues involved in finding an adoptee’s biological parents are just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. He runs into a local thug, a part-time investigator with his own agenda, and some murders. Oh, and a very mean snapping turtle. It turns out that Jodi is a lot more vulnerable than Cole imagined, and it’s a clear reminder that Hollywood fame is no guarantee of safety.

Certainly working on a Hollywood film set can be dangerous. Just ask production assistant Angella Barton, who’s found murdered in the vestibule of her apartment building in Michael Connelly’s Lost Light. Harry Bosch works on the case briefly, but wasn’t officially assigned to investigate. So he doesn’t follow up until four years later. He’s taken early retirement and opened his own PI office, but Angella Barton’s murder still affects him. When he finds out that the case wasn’t really solved satisfactorily, he looks into it again. This murder turns out to be related to a US$2 million robbery from the set of a film that Barton’s employer was making. It’s a stark reminder that a lot goes on behind the scenes of what seem to be magical lives.

We also see that in Peter James’ Not Dead Yet. The city of Brighton is to be the on-location site for the filming of the story of Maria Fitzherbert, mistress to King George IV. Cast in the lead role is Gaia Lafayette, an entertainment superstar who’s turned her hand to acting. LA film producer Larry Brooker is counting on this film to be a hit. He’s desperate for a winner for both financial and professional reasons and he’s hoping that Gaia’s name will be the draw he needs. Then, Gaia gets a frightening note warning her not to accept the role. Not one to back down from a challenge, she doesn’t heed it. Then there’s an attempt on her life. There’s a lot at stake with this film for Brighton, and Superintendent Roy Grace is charged with protecting Gaia while she’s filming. He certainly doesn’t wish harm to come to her, but he’s got other pressing issues. An unidentified body has been found in a disused chicken shed. And Grace’s partner Cleo is about to give birth. But when the body turns out to be connected to his other case – protecting Gaia Lafayette – Grace has to pay more attention to what he’s been asked to do.

There are of course other novels that show how vulnerable even the most successful and famous film stars can be. Maybe it’s just as well I’m not one of them…

 

Talking of Hollywood, I must say, you see the nicest people there.

 

Kerrie and Bob

 

As you can see, I had the chance to spend some time with Mysteries in Paradise’s very own Kerrie and her husband Bob, who made a stop in Los Angeles during their travels. We had a terrific time in Hollywood – it was a delight to see you both!

 

 

 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Kinks’ Celluloid Heroes.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Michael Connelly, Peter James, Robert Crais

Get On Back to School*

Professional DevelopmentNo matter what profession one’s in, it doesn’t usually stay static. Because of that, professionals often have to update their skills and knowledge. Sometimes it’s called ‘training,’ sometimes it’s called, ‘seminar’ and sometimes ‘professional development.’ Whatever it’s called, it’s a fact of life for a lot of people.

Sometimes those sessions are very useful, and they can give one the chance to get together with colleagues and other people in the field. Other times…it’s exactly the opposite. If you’you’ve ever been to a really dreadful one, you know exactly what I mean.

Police (and private detectives too) are no different when it comes to professional development. They’re expected to go to training classes, update their skills and so on. But at least in crime fiction, a lot of them aren’t that happy about it. Sometimes it’s because they think those sessions are a waste of time. Other times it’s because they’d rather do things their way, if I can put it like that. Those sessions may not always be productive, but they’re woven into a lot of crime fiction.

In Michael Connelly’s The Black Echo for instance, Harry Bosch investigates the suspicious death of a former Vietnam War comrade Billy Meadows, whose body is found stuffed into a large municipal drainpipe. At first the death looks like a case of a junkie who overdosed, but Bosch doesn’t believe it. So he investigates more deeply. It turns out that Meadows’ death is connected with plans for a major bank robbery. At one point, he and FBI agent Eleanor Wish are interrogating someone who may know more than he’s saying. Bosch wants to use some police training he got in, of all things, hypnosis. By this time the LAPD isn’t using that tactic any more, and Bosch mentions that he was in the last class of cops who took it. You never know what skills you can learn at a professional development seminar.

Ian Rankin’s John Rebus is not much of a one for departmental-level training sessions or professional development. He’s a rather independent thinker (to say the least) and doesn’t like to conform to what the top brass says. But that doesn’t mean he can escape professional development. In Resurrection Men, for instance, Rebus is required to attend a ‘last chance’ course at Tulliallan Police College along with a group of other cops who have trouble working with others, especially authority figures. The team is assigned to investigate a ‘cold case,’ the murder of gangster Rico Lomax. The idea of this training is that the men will learn to work together and solve the case. Needless to say, Rebus isn’t’t happy about this, especially since he and Sergeant Siobhan Clarke were in the middle of investigating the murder of Edinburgh art dealer Edward Marber. But he goes along with the decision. His time in this special program proves useful once he and Clarke find that the two cases are related.

Forensic anthropologist David Hunter decides to update his skills and see if he still ‘has it in him’ in Simon Beckett’s Whispers of the Dead. Hunter is healing both physically and emotionally from the events in Written in Bone, and wants some time away from London anyway, So he goes to Tennessee’s Anthropological Research Laboratory, otherwise known as ‘The Body Farm,’ to get away for a bit and to hone his skills. He did his training there and is looking forward to re-connecting with his mentor Tom Liebermann. Shortly after Hunter’s arrival in Tennessee, a decomposed body is discovered at a deserted cabin not far from the lab. Then another body is discovered. Hunter is soon drawn into a difficult and dangerous investigation that’s quite different to his plan for skill development.

Not all professional are that eager for professional development. Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy (AKA The Keeper of Lost Causes) introduces Copenhangen homicide detective Carl Mørck. He’s recovering from a traumatic line-of-duty shooting and is just getting back to work. But going back to work doesn’t mean he’s back to his old self. In fact, he’s so hard to work with that he’s ‘promoted’ to Department Q, a newly-formed department devoted to investigating cases ‘of special interest.’ The first case he and his assistant Hafez al-Assad look into is the five-year-old disappearance of promising politician Merete Lynggaard. Everyone thought she’d drowned in a tragic ferry accident, but Mørck and Assad soon suspect she may still be alive. If she is, they may have very little time in which to find her. In the meantime, Mørck’s boss informs him that his promotion will mean he has to take a qualification course. Mørck refuses to do so, and there’s an interesting thread running through this story of their running battle about it.

And then there’s Qiu Xiaolong’s Death of a Red Heroine, in which we are introduced to Shanghai Chief Inspector Chen Cao. Chen and his assistant Yu Guangming investigate the rape and murder of an unknown woman whose body is found in Baili Canal. It turns out that the woman was Guan Hongying, a National Model Worker and a Party member, so the authorities want this case handled very delicately. Chen, on the other hand, wants to find out who killed the victim and why. He and Yu begin work on the investigation but at first no leads turn up. Then there’s an added complication. Chen is invited to attend and present at the Central Party Institute’s annual seminar. It’s an important honour and it indicates that Chen is well regarded. To refuse the invitation is out of the question, but it means that Chen has to prepare his presentation at the same time as he’s working on this difficult case.

And that’s the way it is with most professional development. It’s not that it’s always bad. Some professional development is actually very useful. But it always seems to come when the sleuth least wants to take the time…

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jimmy Buffett’s Domino College.

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Filed under Ian Rankin, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Michael Connelly, Qiu Xiaolong, Simon Beckett

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

A Gambler’s Share, The Only Risk That You Would Take*

GamblingThe focus of yesterday’s blog post was that jolt of adrenaline that many people enjoy. Some people get that ‘rush’ from things like scary movies, certain kinds of thrillers and ‘haunted house’ attractions. For other people, it comes from gambling and card/poolroom games. There’s the possibility of real stakes and real payoffs when you gamble. There’s also the chance of real losses, too. I’m not a psychologist, so I can’t speak with authority about it, but I suspect that part of the appeal of gambling and games is that adrenaline jolt that comes from taking a risk. It’s a fascinating aspect of human psychology, so of course it’s no wonder we find it in crime fiction.

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Solitary Cyclist, Violet Smith comes to Sherlock Holmes with an unusual problem. She spends the weekdays at Chiltern Grange, where she teaches piano to the daughter of Bob Carruthers, whose home Chiltern Grange is. She spends the weekends in London visiting her mother. Lately, she’s noticed that as she rides her bicycle from Chiltern Grange to the nearest train station, she’s been followed by a strange-looking man. He hasn’t hurt her or verbally threatened her but she’s getting worried about it and wants Holmes to investigate. He agrees and he and Dr. Watson look into the matter.  They find that Violet Smith is in great danger; she’s being used as a pawn, as you might say, and the stakes are high. And one of the major plot points in the history that led to her situation is a card game…

Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds (AKA Death in the Air) begins as a group of passengers boards a flight from Paris to London. A few of them have just come from a holiday at the gambling resort of Le Pinet and are on their way back to their respective homes. One of those passengers is Cicely Horbury. She’s a former chorus girl who caught the eye of Lord Stephen Horbury. Their marriage has been a failure, but Cicely has bigger problems than her feelings about her husband. She is a gambler who plays much more than is good for her. She’s had a heavy series of losses and had to borrow money from French moneylender Madame Giselle. Then, she lost again and couldn’t repay what she owes. She’s not sure what she’ll do, as Madame Giselle has threatened to reveal some scandalous information she knows about Cicely if she doesn’t pay her debts. As it happens, Madame Giselle is on this flight. So when she suddenly dies of what turns out to be poison, Cicely is a very likely suspect. Hercule Poirot also happens to be on this flight (much to his discomfiture) and he works with Chief Inspector Japp to find out who killed Madame Giselle and why.

One of the recurring characters in Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series is Eleanor Wish. When we first meet her in The Black Echo, Wish is an FBI agent who works with Bosch to solve the murder of Billy Meadows. Bosch and Meadows served together during the Vietnam War, so Bosch has a personal interest in how his former friend’s body ended up stuffed into a large drainpipe. Wish eventually leaves the FBI and becomes a professional gambler. That’s what she’s doing when we meet her in Trunk Music. In that novel, Bosch investigates the murder of film-maker Tony Aliso, whose body was found, execution-style, in the trunk of his car. Wish and Bosch develop a relationship that ends up in marriage and in the birth of their daughter Maddie. The marriage ends, but Wish plays an important role in several Bosch stories.

One of the ‘regulars’ in Craig Johnson’s Sheriff Walt Longmire series is Dena Many Camps. She’s a member of the Cheyenne Nation and when we first meet her in The Cold Dish, she is a bartender at The Red Pony, which is owned by Longmire’s friend Henry Standing Bear. Dena is a highly skilled pool/billiards player. In fact, she’s won several competitions and wants to try her luck in a pool tournament in Las Vegas. She does go to Las Vegas and in Death Without Company, we learn that she’s decided to stay there. I don’t think it’s spoiling the series to say that she doesn’t make her home there permanently, but it’s really interesting to see how the jolt of competition affects her.

Gambling and casinos have actually become a major source of income on many Native American reservations. There are several such casinos actually within an hour’s drive from where I live. I have to say I’m not a ‘regular’ at them, but it’s a fascinating socioeconomic development. And we see it in crime fiction in Tony Hillerman’s Hunting Badger. There’s been a violent robbery at a Ute casino. The thieves are said to be members of an extremist right-wing militia group that wants to use their haul to buy arms. The police think that Deputy Sheriff Teddy Bai is in league with the thieves. The robbery couldn’t have gone off without an ‘inside person,’ and Bai worked part-time as a security guard for the casino. Navajo Tribal Police officer Bernadette ‘Bernie’ Manuelito doesn’t think that Bai is guilty though.  When she brings up her concerns to Sergeant Jim Chee, he starts asking some questions. It turns out that this robbery is connected with an old Ute legend, and with a modern-day murder.

Gambling on horse races features in a lot of crime novels; I’ll just mention one. In Peter Temple’s Bad Debts, sometime-lawyer Jack Irish investigates the murder of a former client Danny McKillop. At the same time, he’s involved in a betting plan with some friends and his occasional employer. The betting arrangement isn’t, admittedly, the main plot of this novel. But it’s interesting to follow as the group pays attention to the races, makes its plans and tries to win.

There are a lot of other examples too of characters who are gamblers and players. There’s a real allure to the possibility of ‘the big win’ and the risk of a big loss. No wonder there are so many sport pools…

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bob Seger’s Still the Same.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Craig Johnson, Michael Connelly, Peter Temple, Tony Hillerman