>One of the major social changes of the last one hundred fifty years has been mobility. People travel and move now more than ever. And, with the increasing power of communications technology, even when people don’t travel physically, they’re better able than ever to communicate with others all over the world. Case in point: blogs. Crime investigation has gone “global,” too. Now, it’s not uncommon for investigators from different countries to work together to solve crimes. We see that development in crime fiction, too, and that makes a lot of sense; crime fiction is more effective when it’s authentic.
Several of Agatha Christie’s novels show the beginnings of this global approach to crime investigation. For instance, in Death in the Clouds (AKA Death in the Air), Madame Giselle, a well-known French moneylender, is on a flight from Paris to London. During the flight, she suddenly dies of what seems at first like heart failure. When the plane lands, an investigation into her death begins, and it soon becomes clear that Madame Giselle was poisoned. Hercule Poirot is on the same flight, so he works with Chief Inspector James “Jimmy” Japp to solve the crime. The only possible suspects are the other passengers on the flight, and they are not all English. So Poirot and Japp work with M. Fournier of the Sûreté and French attorney Maître Thibault to sift through the clues and find out which of the passengers is the killer. In the course of the investigation, Poirot also works with Canadian and Belgian sources who provide him with valuable information.
We also see some of this global approach to investigation in Ngaio Marsh’s work. In several of Marsh’s novels, Inspector Roderick Alleyn works with authorities in other countries to solve cases. For instance, in Died in the Wool, he works with New Zealand authorities to find out who killed MP Flossie Rubick. She goes out to a wool shed one day to practice a speech, and doesn’t return. Three weeks later, her body is found inside a bale of wool. When her nephew suspects that her death may have something to do with international espionage, he contacts Alleyn, who travels to New Zealand and investigates the case.
In Marsh’s Spinsters in Jeopardy, Alleyn is asked by MI5 and the Sûreté to investigate a drugs ring that they think is operating in the south of France. He decides to combine business with pleasure and bring his family on a holiday. While they’re en route, though, Alleyn and his wife, Agatha Troy, happen to look out of the train window and see what looks very much like a murder. Then, one of their fellow passengers suffers an attack of appendicitis, and needs emergency surgery. The only place where the train can stop is the same château where the murder (if it was a murder) occurred. As it happens, that’s the very place, too, where the drugs ring is supposed to be operating. So Alleyn and Troy, and later their son, get drawn into the drugs ring in a very different way from the way they’d planned, and Alleyn works with French authorities to stop the ring.
There’s an interesting example of that kind of global criminal investigation in Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s Roseanna. In that novel, the body of a young unidentified woman is dredged up from Lake Vättern. Stockholm detective Martin Beck and his team are called to Motala, where the woman’s body was discovered, to investigate the case. After a time, the woman is identified as Roseanna McGraw, from Lincoln, Nebraska. Once that identification is made, Beck and the team work with Detective Elmer Kafka of the Lincoln, Nebraska police. Together, they determine that Roseanna McGraw had been on a trip through the Scandinavian countries. She was taking a cruise in Sweden when she was killed. Now, Beck and his team also have to work with authorities from several other countries, since several of the passengers and crew members on that cruise are not Swedish. In the end, that kind of global view of a case is an important factor in finding out who Roseanna Mcgraw was and why she was killed (and of course, by whom). This novel was first published in 1967, and we can see the limits of the communication of the times. For example, in one instance, Beck has placed an international call to Kafka, and the two have a great deal of difficulty understanding each other, and not just because of the language difference. The long-distance telephone communications of the day were not nearly as advanced as they are now. Still, this is an interesting example of the kind of international co-operation that’s sometimes needed to solve crimes.
Of course, Roseanna was written before the advent of the Internet. Today, web sites, Email, electronic documents and faxes allow for easy communication and exchange of information. That’s how many international authorities keep in touch and work together. Of course, this doesn’t mean that this kind of global approach always works smoothly; sometimes it doesn’t at all. But it’s more instantaneous and efficient than ever. That’s what we find, for instance, in Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s Last Rituals. Harald Guntlieb is a German student studying in Reykjavík. When he is found murdered and his body mutilated, the police arrest his former friend Hugi Thórisson. But Gunltieb’s family doesn’t believe that Thórisson is guilty. So they contact Reykjavík attorney Thóra Gudmundsdóttir and ask her to work with the family banker Matthew Reich to find out what really happened. Thóra is eager for a well-paid case, so she accepts. As she and Matthew look into Harald Guntlieb’s past, they make quite a lot of use of international sources of information. In fact, those sources prove extremely useful as the two sleuths figure out why Harald Guntlieb was really killed.
In Michael Ridpath’s Where the Shadows Lie, we meet Magnus Johnson, a Boston police officer who is also half-Icelandic. Johnson has valuable information on a large Boston-area drug-smuggling operation which puts his life in danger. So when Iceland’s police authorities ask for U.S. help with a new kind of crime wave, Johnson is a natural choice. He’s got his own reasons, too, for wanting to travel to Iceland. He lived there as a child, and he wants to look into the unsolved mystery of his father’s death. So he travels to Iceland to work with the local police. While he’s there, he gets involved in another murder mystery as he waits for his opportunity to testify against the Boston crime lords who’ve targeted him. In this novel, too, we see a global approach to dealing with crime and criminal investigation.
Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch has depended more than once on a global approach to solving crime. For instance, in The Black Ice, Bosch investigates a Mexican drug-smuggling operation and its relationship to the death of police officer Calexico “Cal” Moore. The operation seems to be based in the Mexican town where Moore grew up, so Bosch travels there. In the process of finding out what happened to Moore, and tracing the operation, Bosch works with some members of the Mexican State Judicial Police. It’s interesting in this novel to see how much this kind of global approach depends on mutual respect and the willingness to share information.
This is also apparent in Connelly’s 9 Dragons. In that story, Bosch is investigating the shooting death of a Chinese liquor store owner. The murder is possibly linked to a tong, a Chinese gang, so Bosch begins to go after the gang that he thinks is responsible for the killing. Then, Bosch finds out that his daughter Maddie, who lives in Hong Kong, has been kidnapped. Bosch is convinced that the kidnapping is related to his investigation of tong activity, so he flies immediately to Hong Kong to try to free Maddie. As he searches for his daughter, Bosch has to rely on the co-operation of several people in Hong Kong, including Sun Yee, a bodyguard, and the Hong Kong police, who are anxious to avoid a public scandal about the dangers to Americans living in Hong Kong.
There are a lot of other crime fiction novels where sleuths have to work with people from other countries and take a global approach to crime investigation. I’ve only had space to mention a few. Which ones have you enjoyed?
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Who’s Going Mobile.