Category Archives: Nelson Brunanski

And You Know it Don’t Come Easy*

Investigating FriendsOne of the difficult things about being a detective is having to investigate people you know and perhaps like very much. In larger police forces in larger places, it’s easy enough to simply pull oneself or be pulled from a case (although that certainly doesn’t always happen). But in smaller communities, it’s sometimes unavoidable. It’s very hard on the suspect or witness, and it’s no easier for the detective. That tension and awkwardness can add a layer of suspense to a story, though, and it does happen. So it’s little wonder we see this plot point in crime fiction.

Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple faces this situation at times. In novels such as The Body in the Library and The Murder at the Vicarage, it’s clear that someone who lives in or near Miss Marple’s village of St. Mary Mead is a killer. In that sort of community, at least at the time these novels were written, everyone knows everyone and that includes Miss Marple. On the surface, Miss Marple is a harmless elderly spinster whom some people dismiss easily. But under that surface she’s really not that sentimental when it comes to finding out who committed a crime. But that doesn’t mean she enjoys suspecting someone who’s lived in the village for a long time. She’s sometimes in a very awkward position when it turns out that someone she’s known has committed murder.

Vicki Delany’s Constable Moonlight ‘Molly’ Smith faces the same sort of awkwardness. She grew up in Trafalgar, British Columbia, and now serves the community as a police constable. Many of the people she interacts with watched her grow up, or went to school with her, or in some other way have known her for a long time. And that can make things difficult when she’s on a murder case. For instance, in In the Shadow of the Glacier, Smith discovers the body of developer Reginald Montgomery in an alley. It’s soon established that he was murdered, and Smith works with Sergeant John Winters to find out who the killer is. For Smith, part of the process involves interviewing suspects and witnesses that she’s known for a long time. And there are several possibilities; Montgomery was a partner in a new resort/spa that’s planned for the area. Many of the local people don’t want the resort, as they’re concerned about its effect on the environment and on the local culture. And like everyone else, Montgomery had a personal life that also needs to be explored. That aspect of the case is awkward for Smith, especially since she’s new on the job. Despite that though, Smith and Winters find out the truth about Montgomery’s murder.

In Nelson Brunanski’s Crooked Lake, we meet fishing lodge owner John ‘Bart’ Bartowski. He and his wife Rosie live in the small Saskatchewan town of Crooked Lake, where they’re raising their two children. Bart gets involved in a murder investigation when his friend Nick Taylor is accused of murder. Taylor was recently fired from his job as Head Greenskeeper at the Crooked Lake Regional Park and Golf Course. When he learned of his separation, Taylor had a loud and public argument with Harvey Kristoff, who’s on the course’s Board of Directors. He believes Kristoff is behind a move to ‘railroad’ him and blames him for what’s happened. So Taylor is the most logical suspect when Kristoff is found murdered on the golf course. But Taylor claims that he’s innocent. Bart was one of the last people to speak to Taylor before the crime, so his insights are important, and Taylor’s lawyer wants his help in clearing his client’s name. Bart agrees to help, but there is evidence against his friend and that makes him uncomfortable. And matters don’t improve even after he learns things that cast real doubt on Taylor’s possible guilt. If Nick Taylor is innocent, it means someone else – quite probably someone Bart has lunch with or does business with – is guilty. That tension adds a real layer of interest to this novel as Bart goes about finding out who killed Harvey Kristoff.

Several entries in Martin Walker’s Benoît ‘Bruno’ Courrèges series take place in the small French town of St. Denis, in the Périgord. Bruno has lived there for some time, and in a town like St. Denis, everyone knows everyone anyway. He’s established solid ties with the local residents and in turn, they more or less trust him. On the one hand, that makes for strong community relations, which does make it easier to do police work. On the other, it means that sometimes Bruno has to deal with the awkwardness of interviewing witnesses and suspects he knows well and likes. We see a situation like this in Black Diamond, which begins with the closing of a local sawmill that has been in business for a long time. New pollution regulations from the EU, plus a vocal and active group of environmentalists, have meant that the factory is having to close. Bruno isn’t looking forward to the event, because it will mean job losses for the area. It’ll also mean very hard feelings since he has to protect the factory’s owner, whom he knows and with whom he has some sympathy. It doesn’t help matters that the factory owner’s chief critic is his own estranged son. As Bruno fears, the closure doesn’t end well, and it means trouble for St. Denis. So does the discovery that illegal smuggling may be undercutting the valuable local truffle trade. When one of Bruno’s good friends is murdered, it seems this death may be connected with that smuggling, since he was tracking it. But as you can imagine, it’s not that simple…

And then there’s Julia Keller’s Bitter River, which takes place mostly in the small West Virginia town of Acker’s Gap. When the body of sixteen-year-old Lucinda Trimble is pulled from Bitter River, it looks on the surface as though she drowned as the result of her car plunging into the river. But soon enough it’s proven that she was dead of strangulation before the car went in. Now it’s a murder investigation and Sheriff Nick Fogelsong has to interview people he’s known for years – people he doesn’t want to believe are guilty. For example one of the people Fogelsong has to talk to is Lucinda’s mother Maddie, with whom Fogelsong had a relationship many years earlier. Prosecuting attorney Belfa ‘Bell’ Elkins works with Fogelsong to find out who killed Lucinda and why. Elkins is from Acker’s Gap, so she too faces the uncomfortable prospect of interviewing people she’s known all her life.

And that’s the thing about working among people one knows. On the one hand, there’s a lot to be said for strong community relations. They’re important. On the other hand, that means that sometimes, the detective ends up having to investigate acquaintances and friends, even very good friends. And that can be terribly difficult. I’ve mentioned a few examples. Over to you.
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Ringo Starr’s It Don’t Come Easy.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Julia Keller, Martin Walker, Nelson Brunanski, Vicki Delany

Home, Where My Thought’s Escaping*

HomebodiesPlenty of crime-fictional characters travel in the course of their work. Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, for instance, doesn’t really have a settled place to live. And although Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot likes his home at Whitehaven Mansions, he also travels quite a bit. Fans will know that he solves some of his more famous cases away from home.

But there are some characters who are homebodies. They prefer not to travel, and the comforts of home are far more appealing to them than a luxurious hotel. If you’re a homebody yourself, you know exactly what that’s like. There are plenty of them in crime fiction, too. Here are just a few examples; I’m sure your list will be much longer than mine could be.

Christie’s Miss Marple is rather a homebody. She does travel now and again, but she prefers life in her home in St. Mary Mead. In A Caribbean Mystery, for instance, she’s had a bout with illness, so her generous nephew has arranged for her to stay at the Golden Palm Hotel in the West Indies. On the one hand, Miss Marple knows her nephew is trying to help, and she’s grateful that he cares about her. But on the other, life at the Golden Palm means:

 

‘Everything the same every day – never anything happening. Not like St. Mary Mead where something was always happening.’

 

Miss Marple seems happiest in her own surroundings.

Fans of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe will know that Wolfe is very much of a homebody. He’s got his New York City brownstone house set up the way he wants it, complete with orchid room and elevator. He has a world-class live-in chef, an orchid expert and of course, Archie Goodwin right there. So Wolfe sees very little reason to leave his home. Besides, as Goodwin puts it in Too Many Cooks,

 

‘He [Wolfe] hated  things that moved, and was fond of arguing that nine times out of ten, the places that people were on their way to were no improvement whatever on those they were coming from.’  

 

Fortunately, the Wolfe/Goodwin team is successful enough that Wolfe can afford to have anything he needs and most things he wants come to him, rather than the other way round.

There’s an extreme example of a homebody in some of Ellery Queen’s adventures. She is Paula Paris, a famous and very popular Hollywood gossip columnist. We first meet her in The Four of Hearts, when Ellery Queen is looking for some background information on a case. Famous actors Blythe Stuart and John Royle had a stormy relationship for years, but surprised everyone by re-kindling their romance and even marrying. When they are both poisoned, Queen investigates. Paris is the hub for all sorts of information about Hollywood, and she knows everyone who is anyone. What’s interesting though is that she never leaves her home. She is agoraphobic, so going anywhere is out of the question from her point of view. Instead, people come to her. And of course, she makes effective use of the telephone. In the process of the investigation, Queen and Paris begin a friendship that later blossoms into a romance.

Alexander McCall Smith’s Mma Precious Ramotswe isn’t agoraphobic, but she prefers life in her quiet home on Zebra Drive to just about anything else. She chose her home carefully, and even after she marries, she and her husband Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni live there with their two adopted children. Mma. Ramotswe sometimes travels, but never really very far, and she’s always happy to return to her house and the familiarity of her detective agency office on Tlokweng Road. Mma. Ramotswe finds, too, that she doesn’t have to travel very far to get new clients. Her reputation as the owner of Botswana’s only female-run detective agency has spread, and people often seek her out.

Linwood Barclay’s Bad Move tells the story of science fiction writer Zack Walker and his family. Walker isn’t a coward, but he is concerned about safety. So he’s excited about the family’s planned move to a home in Valley Forest Estates. Life in this suburban community will be less expensive than life in the city, so Walker will be able to write full-time. And he’s convinced his family will be safer in the suburbs. Walker isn’t a ‘do-it-yourself’ sort of person, but he does like being a homebody. Everything changes though when he goes to the development’s sales office to complain about needed repairs to his home. While he’s there, he witnesses an argument between one of the Valley Forest Estates executives and local environmental activist Samuel Spender. Later, Walker finds Spender’s body in a creek, and that’s the beginning of his involvement in a web of fraud, theft and murder. The irony in this novel is that every time Walker tries to get free of this case so he can return to his homebody writing life, he gets in deeper…

Nelson Brunanski’s Small-Town Saskatchewan mysteries feature fishing-lodge owner John ‘Bart’ Bartowski and his wife Rosie. Their lives focus on their home in the small town of Crooked Lake, and on their fishing lodge in the northern part of the province. They’re certainly aware of life outside their own town, but they have no burning desire to be jet-setters. They like their comfortable home life. And that’s what makes it so difficult for Bart when he gets mixed up in murder investigations. On the one hand, he has no desire to upend his life or that of his wife. On the other, he is a devoted and loyal friend, so he finds himself getting involved whether he wants to or not. Still, at heart, Bart likes the comforts of home.

And so do a lot of other crime-fictional characters. Which ones do you like best?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Simon & Garfunkel’s Homeward Bound.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alexander McCall Smith, Ellery Queen, Lee Child, Linwood Barclay, Nelson Brunanski, Rex Stout

And I’ll Take Her On All the Rides*

Festivals and FairsFood, games, rides, competitions…yes, festivals and fêtes offer fun for the whole family, don’t they? Sometimes they’re charity events, and sometimes they’re held at holiday spots in order to drive tourism. Either way, those events bring together a lot of disparate people and there’s often a lot going on in the background, so to speak. What’s more, it’s easy to ‘hide’ in the anonymity of the big crowds of people that often attend fairs and festivals. So it’s no wonder they’re such an interesting context for mystery novels. Even when they’re not the main plot point, fairs, festivals and fêtes can add to mystery plots.

Agatha Christie writes about such events in a few of her stories. For example in Dead Man’s Folly, preparations are underway for a charity fête at Nasse House, the home of Sir George and Lady Hattie Stubbs. This year, detective novelist Ariadne Oliver has been commissioned to create a Murder Hunt as one of the events. She begins to suspect that something more is going on than just a fête, and persuades Hercule Poirot to investigate. Sure enough, on the day of the fête, fourteen-year-old Marlene Tucker, who was to play the part of the victim in the Murder Hunt, is actually killed. Poirot works with Inspector Bland to find out who killed the girl, and their task is made more complicated by the fact that hundreds of people have come to the fête, and few people can be really sure of where they were at particular times. Then it becomes clear that Lady Hattie has disappeared. In this novel, Christie gives readers a close look at this style of fête, from first preparations to the actual event. And Poirot wins a large doll at a ‘guess-the-weight-of-a-pig’ stall.

In Earlene Fowler’s State Fair, folk art museum curator Benni Harper Ortiz is gearing up for the annual Mid-State Fair in San Celina, California. There are plans to exhibit a very special quilt along with other art from the museum. All goes well enough at first, but there are ‘behind the scenes’ problems. For one thing, this year the fair has its first non-White director, and there is resentment about that. For another, this is a small community in that everyone knows everyone and a lot of the people have a history together. So there are several simmering conflicts. Then, the focal point of the exhibit, a special quilt that’s a replica of a very famous one, is stolen. Then there’s a murder. The people involved in the case are friends and acquaintances that Benni’s known for some time, so she is determined to find out what really happened.

In Shelly Reuben’s The Boys of Sabbath Street, we are introduced to Maggie Wakeling, press aide and assistant to Angus Ackerman, who is mayor of the small town of Calendar. The town is preparing for its annual Founder’s Day festival, which is important for bringing in tourism and convincing businesses to set up shop there. As the preparations are getting underway, there’s a fire on one of the local streets. Two local boys Jubilant ‘JuJu’ McBean and Deacon Spry manage to rescue some of the occupants of the building and it’s decided to give them a special award on Founder’s Day. Then there’s another fire. And another. Now it looks as though there’s an arsonist at work. This threatens not only the Founder’s Day celebrations, but also Mayor Ackerman’s plan to turn a disused theatre into a museum of magic. What’s more, there’s now a real sense of fear and suspicion in the town. Maggie works with Fire Marshal George Copeland to find and stop the arsonist before anyone else’s life is put at risk.

In Nelson Brunanski’s Burnt Out, fishing lodge owner John ‘Bart’ Bartowski and his wife Rosie face a terrible crisis when their business Stuart Lake Lodge is destroyed by fire. The Bartowskis face the awful prospect of having to start all over again, and they’re not in their twenties any more.  What’s worse, the fire is a definite case of arson, and Bart is of course a person of interest. It doesn’t help his case that he was at the lodge at the time of the fire. When a body is discovered in the ruins of the fire, it looks even worse for the Bartowskis. Gossip and accusations start spreading in their small town of Crooked Lake, and Bart knows that he’ll have to find a way to get to the truth about this case if he and his family are to clear their names. All of this takes place against a backdrop of preparations for Crooked Lake’s centenary celebration, complete with floats, baking, and all of the rest of the ‘trimmings’ you’d expect. In this novel, the murder doesn’t occur at the festival, but it’s an important part of town life.

And then there’s Alan Bradley’s A Red Herring Without Mustard. In that novel, eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce is attending a church fête. She decides to visit a Gypsy fortune-teller’s tent but to say the least, the experience goes badly. Flavia feels a sense of responsibility for what happened and wants to do something to help the Gypsy. Then she learns that the Gypsy and her husband were once forced off the property of Buckshaw, where the de Luce family lives. Against her better judgement Flavia invites the Gypsy to return to Buckshaw and stay as long as she likes. She knows she’ll be in big trouble with her father and older sisters for such a rash invitation, but she extends it anyway. As if that decision doesn’t have enough consequences, the Gypsy is later found murdered. Now Flavia decides to find out who the killer is, and it turns out that there are several suspects since the victim may have been responsible for a past abduction.

Chris Grabenstein’s Ceepak and Boyle mysteries take place in the holiday town of Sea Haven, New Jersey. Sea Haven has an amusement park complete with rides, games and unhealthy food. It also has a boardwalk with arcades, souvenir shops, food booths and other ‘tourist traps.’ Although Sea Haven is of course busiest during the North American summer, it’s the kind of place where there are rides and amusements most of the year. People are always coming and going, and events are always being planned, so it’s quite an effective context for a murder mystery. Officers John Ceepak and Danny Boyle find themselves mixed up in plenty of them, too. In novels such as Tilt a Whirl, Whack a Mole and Fun House, Grabenstein shows how the combination of locals and visitors, the crowds and the behind-the-scenes chaos of carrying off events can hide some very well-planned murders.

So do be careful, please, if you plan to attend a fête, a festival or a fair. You never know what can happen! Roll up and give it your best shot! C’mon, try for a prize! Everyone a winner, guaranteed! ;-)

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Tom Waits’ and Kathleen Brennan’s Jersey Girl. Yes, I know I’ve used this one before. I’m homesick and it’s my blog. ;-) – Besides, it’s a great song, so you’re welcome. ;-)

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alan Bradley, Chris Grabenstein, Earlene Fowler, Nelson Brunanski, Shelly Reuben

I’ve Been Moved By Some Things That I’ve Learned*

Lessons From ReadingOne of the real pleasures of reading, at least for me, is the things that I learn about when I read. My guess is, that’s true of most book lovers. Of course a good plot and believable, interesting characters matter. Otherwise a novel becomes a textbook. But a well-written story can also offer readers insights and information that they didn’t know before. And perhaps it’s just my perspective, but I think that knowledge is a good thing. We all know different things and read different books, so for each of us, what we learn will also be different. But, speaking strictly for myself, here are a few things I’ve learned from the crime fiction that I’ve read.

 

Different Communities I Didn’t Even Know Were There

 

Of course people migrate all over the world. But I’ve still been surprised to learn about some of the communities there are in some unexpected places. For instance, in Craig Johnson’s Death Without Company, Absaroka County, Wyoming Sheriff Walt Longmire is faced with a very difficult crime. Mari Baroja, a resident of the Durant Home for Assisted Living, is found dead of what turns out to be poison. Longmire, his deputy Victoria ‘Vic’ Moretti, and new hire Santiago Saizarbitoria begin sifting through the evidence, starting with the members of the victim’s family. Bit by bit, we learn about Mari Baroja’s past, and how incidents from fifty years ago have influenced what happens in the present day. One of the interesting things about this novel is that the victim is a member of Wyoming’s Basque community. It turns out that Wyoming has a large Basque population, something I hadn’t known before. But Johnson weaves that into the story so that it comes up naturally, rather than feeling forced.

Another community I learned about through crime fiction is the Ukrainian community in Canada’s prairie provinces. We get a look at that community in Gail Bowen’s first Joanne Kilbourn mystery Deadly Appearances. Up-and-coming politician Androu ‘Andy’ Boychuk is poisoned during a speech that he’s giving at a Sunday School picnic. Kilbourn was a friend of Boychuk’s as well as being one of his political campaign workers. So she’s devastated at his loss. She decides to write a biography of Boychuk to help her deal with her grief. In the process of finding out about Boychuk’s life, she also finds out who murdered him. And readers find out about Saskatchewan’s Ukrainian community, to which Boychuk belonged. Anthony Bidulka’s PI Russell Quant is also a member of that community since his mother is Ukrainian, and readers learn about Saskatchewan Ukrainians in the novels that feature him. In those series and in Nelson Brunanski’s John ‘Bart’ Bartowski series, readers learn about the Ukrainian influence on the Canadian prairie. There are even Ukrainian language programs in some schools in that part of the country.

I’ve learned about other communities I hadn’t been aware of too. There just isn’t room to mention all of them.

 

Things About the Legal System

 

One of the things that I enjoy about well-written legal mysteries is that sometimes, they turn on an important point of law that isn’t always widely known. So besides solid characters and plotting, I’ve also learned some interesting legal precedents and facts.

For example, in Perri O’Shaughnessy’s Breach of Promise, the case of Lindy Markov hinges on what’s been called ‘palimony’ in the United States. Lindy and her common-law husband Mike have been together for twenty years when Mike has an affair with his company’s vice-president for financial services Rachel Pembroke. Very soon Lindy finds herself removed from the company position she’s held and ordered to evacuate the home she’s shared with Mike for their entire relationship. She hires Tahoe attorney Nina Reilly to sue Mike on her behalf for her share of the profits from the company she helped him build. In part, this case has to do with the rights that a common-law spouse has. The answer isn’t clear-cut, and it varies by jurisdiction. This novel also taught me a lot about the process of jury selection and the work involved in preparing for a major trial.

Martin Clark’s The Legal Limit features Virginia brothers Mason and Gates Hunt. The two share an unhappy childhood, but that’s about all they have in common. Gates squanders his athletic ability and ends up living on his girlfriend’s Welfare money and money he gets from his mother. Mason on the other hand makes use of every opportunity he gets, wins an academic scholarship to university and then goes on to law school. One night, he’s with his brother when an argument flares up between Gates and his romantic rival Wayne Thompson. Before anyone really knows what’s happened, Gates has shot Thompson. Out of a sense of duty, Mason helps his brother cover up the crime and the Hunt brothers move on. Years later, Gates is arrested for cocaine trafficking and begs his brother, now a Virginia commonwealth prosecutor, to help get him out of prison. Mason refuses, and Gates then threatens that if his brother doesn’t co-operate, he’ll implicate him in the still-unsolved Thompson murder. Mason calls his brother’s bluff and soon enough he’s indicted for a murder he didn’t commit. With the police targeting him and Gates willingly lying about the murder, Mason doesn’t have many options. But there’s one point of law that may be exactly what he needs. It’s a fact of law that I didn’t know until I read this novel. With help from his deputy prosecutor Custis Norman, Mason uses that legal point to his advantage.

Those are of course just two examples of novels where an important aspect of the law is explored. When they’re done well, such novels make points of law not just comprehensible to a non-attorney, but really engaging as well.

 

Politics and History That I Didn’t Know Before

 

Some political history makes international headlines, but there’s a lot that I didn’t know about before I started reading crime fiction. And sometimes, politics can be really interesting. For instance, in Kel Robertson’s Smoke and Mirrors, readers learn about Australia’s 1972-1975 Gough Whitlam government. In that novel, Australian Federal Police (AFP) officer Bradman ‘Brad’ Chen and his team investigate the murders of former Whitlam government official Alec Dennet and the editor of his memoirs Loraine Starck. Then it comes out that the manuscript they were working on has disappeared. Now it looks as though someone was afraid that Dennet might reveal some uncomfortable things about high-ranking people in the Whitlam government. The truth is both more complicated and simpler than that, but it leads to some interesting background on that government.

I also learned a lot about Australia’s women’s movement in Wendy James’ Out of the Silence. That’s a fictionalised account of the 1900 trial of Maggie Heffernan for the murder of her infant son. As the novel makes clear, it’s much more complicated than a mother who simply ‘snapped.’ As James gives readers the background on Maggie’s life and the circumstances that may have led to the death of her son, we also learn that her cause was taken up by leading members of the Australian movement for women’s suffrage. One character in the novel for instance is Vida Goldstein, the first woman to run for Parliament in the British Commonwealth. I didn’t know that. The novel also gives some really interesting background on the women’s movement that had a powerful effect on the Heffernan trial. I also didn’t know before reading this novel (and afterwards, doing a bit of looking on my own) that South Australia was the first state to grant women’s suffrage (in 1895). Australian women were given the vote at the federal level in 1902, nearly twenty years before it happened in the U.S.  The things crime fiction teaches you!

Those are just a few of the many things that I’ve learned about that I never knew before reading crime fiction. What about you? I’m not talking here of things like recipes or names of places, as interesting as those can be. Rather, I mean things going on, perhaps even in your lifetime, that you never knew. If you’re a writer, has something you learned inspired you to write a story about it?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bill Staines’ River.

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Filed under Anthony Bidulka, Craig Johnson, Gail Bowen, Kel Robertson, Martin Clark, Nelson Brunanski, Perri O'Shaughnessy, Wendy James

I’m in a Playground in My Mind*

Fictional Places that Seem RealI’m going to let you in on a little secret if I may. It’s not always easy to create an entirely fictional place when you write. On the one hand, creating a fictional setting means that you don’t have to verify street names, local landmarks and the like. You can locate buildings, parks, streets and so on anywhere you like. And there’s no end to the possibilities for the kinds of characters you create.

But on the other hand, a completely fictional setting still has to be credible. Even readers who live in the region where the fictional town or city is located have to believe the place could really exist. The climate, the kinds of businesses, the pastimes and the character types have to ring true or readers won’t be drawn into the story. And if you write a series set in that fictional place, it has to change and evolve as the series goes on. That happens to real-life places. Buildings go up and are torn down. People move in and out. Businesses open, close and change. A fictional setting has to reflect that evolution if it’s to be believed.

Some authors have created fictional settings that are so authentic that people have believed they actually exist. For example, Agatha Christie created St. Mary Mead, the home of Katherine Grey in The Mystery of the Blue Train and later of course the home of Miss Jane Marple. Interesting that in a village like that, the two women never meet. Still, St. Mary Mead is a very credible kind of English village with a cast of ‘regular’ characters who fit in there. There’s the vicar Leonard Clement and his wife Griselda, there’s Colonel Arthur Bantry and his wife Dolly, and there are others too. St. Mary Mead also changes as time goes by, as you would expect. That’s one of the themes for instance in The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side (AKA The Mirror Crack’d). In that novel, council housing and other social changes have come to the village, and some residents aren’t too happy about them. Miss Marple takes the changes in stride but it’s clear that the village is evolving as real places do.

K.C. Constantine’s Mario Balzic series takes place in fictional Rocksburg, Pennsylvania. It’s a mining town in the western part of Pennsylvania and most of the characters there fit right in. Chief of Police Balzic for instance reflects the Polish-American and Italian-American influences in that region and the town residents tend to be working-class ‘regular folks.’ It’s a fictional town but the series reflects the culture, economy, character types and climate of that area. Trust me. To my knowledge (but please, correct me if I’m mistaken), Rocksburg is completely fictional. But it might be a real place for its authenticity.

That’s also true of Ruth Rendell’s Kingsmarkham. Fans of her Inspector Reg Wexford series will know that most of the novels in it take place in this fictional town. It isn’t a real place, but it’s certainly authentic. In novels such as Road Rage and Simisola, we see the town adapt (or not) to social and other changes. The cast of ‘regulars’ is authentic; so are details such as climate, kinds of businesses and physical setting. Fans of the series will tell you that to them, Kingsmarkham might very well be an actual place. In fact, it’s said that Rendell once had to remind a reader that she created the place when that reader questioned her about it. I don’t have all of the details but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it were true. Kingsmarkham is very genuine.

So is Three Pines, the rural Québec creation of Louise Penny.  As fans of this series will know, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec spends his share of time there. Beginning with Still Life, readers have gotten to know many of the locals very well. Gamache doesn’t live there, but he’s become one of them in his way. The place is authentic. It fits in with the region and it develops and evolves as the series goes on. Buildings change hands, people come and go, and there’s a cast of recurring characters that adds much to the authenticity of this fictional place. The climate and culture are also realistic. I would guess that plenty of people have done an Internet search for Three Pines, thinking they would find it on an actual map. Here’s what Penny says about the place:

 

‘I love Three Pines. I created it because I would want to live there.’

 

It may not be on maps, but it’s a believable town.

We could also say that about Vigàta, the fictional home of Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Salvo Montalbano. Vigàta is located in Sicily and is based on Camilleri’s home town of Porto Empedocle. It’s not a real place, but it’s quite authentic. The trattorias, the buildings, the local culture and the character types ring very true, and that’s not just because it’s inspired by a real place. Camilleri creates an authentic sense of setting with the subtle and not-so-subtle details that make a place genuine.

There are other series too that are set in fictional towns based on real places. For example, Nelson Brunanski’s John ‘Bart’ Bartowski series is set in Crooked Lake, Saskatchewan. That town is based on a real place, Wakaw, Saskatchewan. Robert B. Parker’s Paradise, Massachusetts is the home of his Jesse Stone series. Paradise is loosely based on Swamscott, Massachusetts. And fans of Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series will know that Durant, Wyoming, the setting for those novels, is based on an actual place, Buffalo, Wyoming.

Plenty of cosy mystery series are also set in fictional places that feel quite real. Lilian Jackson Braun’s Cat Who… series is like that. It’s set mostly in Pickax, a small town in Moose County, ‘400 miles north of nowhere.’ And Elizabeth Spann Craig’s got two series set in fictional towns in North Carolina. But those places seem genuine. They’re populated with believable characters, the places evolve as the series goes on, and the culture and climate reflect the region.

Now if you’ll excuse me, the Tilton Sentinel’s newest edition is out and I want to catch up on the news. :wink:  While I’m gone, feel free to share the fictional places that seem very real to you.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss’ Playground in My Mind.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Craig Johnson, Elizabeth Spann Craig, K.C. Constantine, Lilian Jackson Braun, Louise Penny, Nelson Brunanski, Robert B. Parker, Ruth Rendell