Category Archives: Nevada Barr

Gonna Climb a Mountain*

MountainsThe ‘photo shows one of the real natural treasures of Colorado – the US Rocky Mountains. Little wonder Colorado’s called the Rocky Mountain State, and Denver’s baseball team is the Colorado Rockies. The mountains are breathtaking, even from a distance. But of course, mountains can be awfully dangerous too, even if one’s accustomed to living in them. So it shouldn’t be surprising that there’s plenty of mountainous crime fiction out there. Space only allows for a few examples; I’m sure you’ll be able to fill in the gaps I leave.

Patricia Moyes’ Dead Men Don’t Ski introduces readers to Scotland Yard inspector Henry Tibbett and his wife Emma. In this novel, they take a trip to Santa Chiara, in the Italian Alps, where they stay at the Bella Vista Hotel. This hotel caters mostly to skiers, and it’s only accessible via a long ski lift. That ski lift becomes a crime scene when of the hotel’s guests Fritz Hauser is shot and his body found on one of the downward facing cars. Capitano Spezzi and his team take on the investigation, and when Spezzi finds out that Tibbett is with Scotland Yard, he gradually takes takes Tibbett into his confidence. Together they begin to investigate, and as they do, they learn that several people at the hotel have been hiding things. It turns out that there are several people who had a motive to murder the victim. Then there’s another murder. Now the two sleuths have to find out how those two deaths are connected.

In Craig Johnson’s The Cold Dish, Sheriff Walt Longmire of Absaroka County, Wyoming investigates the murder of Cody Pritchard. The victim’s body was found on public land, and there’s not much evidence at first to connect him with the murderer. Then, there’s another murder. Jacob Esper is shot by what appears to be the same gun. Now Longmire suspects he knows what may be behind these deaths. The two victims were part of a group of four young men who gang-raped then-sixteen-year-old Melissa Little Bird. All four got off with what many people thought was far too light a sentence. That fact, plus some of the evidence, suggests that the killer might be a member of the Cheyenne Nation out for revenge. If so, most people won’t be in a hurry to go after that person, and the killer could be planning to target the other two young men involved in the earlier crime. So Longmire decides to track them down and try to prevent more murders. That proves to be far more difficult than he thinks, and he and his friend Henry Standing Bear end up following the trail of one of them into the mountains. When a sudden storm comes up, they end up in as much danger from nature as from the killer.

Nevada Barr’s Track of the Cat is set mostly in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. US National Park Service Ranger Anna Pigeon has been assigned to work at that park, and she’s settled into her job. One day Pigeon discovers the body of fellow Ranger Sheila Drury. She immediately reports the death and the police machinery is put into motion. It looks at first as though Drury was killed by a mountain lion, but Pigeon’s hoping that’s not so. If the news gets out that a mountain lion was responsible for killing a human, it’s likely that all of the other mountain lions in the area will soon become targets for the locals. And that might put the lion population in real danger, since many of the area’s residents are none too fond of them. Besides, Pigeon has noticed a few things that aren’t consistent with murder by a big cat. So she begins to ask questions about Drury’s death, and comes up against something going on at the park that’s bigger than she had imagined.

Sam Hilliard’s Mike Brody is a former Special Forces operative who now operates an extreme adventure company S&B Outfitters. Before their divorce, he and his ex-wife Jessica Barrett had arranged a holiday at Montana’s Pine Woods Dude Ranch. Despite the awkwardness, they decide to go ahead with that plan, hoping that it’ll be good for their son Andy. While they’re there, fourteen-year-old Sean Jackson disappears from the ranch, where he was staying with his family. It turns out that Sean witnessed the murder of David St. John, and he’s afraid that the killer might have seen him and might come after him. So he’s run off without thinking things through – straight into some very unforgiving country. Detective Lisbeth McCarthy has found out that Brody is in the area and asks for his help in tracking Sean before the killer, or the elements, find him.

And then there’s Anne Holt’s 1222. A group of passengers is en route by train from Oslo to Bergen when there’s a crash that kills the conductor. The passengers are rescued and taken to a hotel until arrangements can be made for them. Among those stranded by the crash is former police detective Hanne Wilhelmson, who simply wants to be left alone to live her life. But when there’s a murder at the hotel, she’s drawn into it very much against her will. Then there’s another death. And another. Now she’ll have to use her detection skills to catch the killer if there are to be no more murders.

There’s also Vicki Delany’s Under Cold Stone, which features Alberta’s Rocky Mountains. In that novel, Lucy ‘Lucky’ Smith and her partner Paul Keller (Trafalgar, British Columbia’s Chief Constable) decide to have a private getaway. Their plan is to take a trip to Banff, Alberta and enjoy the natural beauty – and each other’s company. Everything changes though when Keller’s estranged son Matt disappears. It’s not going to be easy to find him either, as he’s a very experienced camper who’s accustomed to outdoor life. What’s more, he could well be guilty of a murder that’s recently been committed, so he has to be found as quickly as possible. Lucky’s daughter, Constable Moonlight ‘Molly’ Smith, doesn’t have jurisdiction in the Banff area, but she goes there to be of whatever support she can to her mother. While she’s there, Matt Keller’s girlfriend asks her to find him and help clear his name. So Smith begins to ask questions. She soon finds out that the natural dangers on a mountain are far from the only threats to her…

So as you see, mountains are beautiful. They’re important parts of the ecosystem too, and they’re delightful holiday destinations too. But safe?
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this song is a line from The Marshall Tucker Band’s Can’t You See?

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Filed under Anne Holt, Craig Johnson, Nevada Barr, Patricia Moyes, Sam Hilliard, Vicki Delany

It’s a Light and Tumble Journey*

Wildlife SanctuariesI’ve been fortunate enough to visit animal preserves and sanctuaries on three different continents. They can be breathtakingly beautiful places, and certainly give one a perspective on a lot of things. At least they do me. And it is fascinating to see all sorts of animals that you can’t see anywhere else.

But animal preserves and sanctuaries have a dangerous side to them too. There are all sorts of political and economic issues around them, and that’s to say nothing of the animals themselves. So it’s no wonder that this setting comes up in crime fiction. Here are just a few examples; I know you can think of lots more than I could.

Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon is a US National Park Service Ranger. In that capacity, she is sent to a variety of different US parks and preserves, and she knows first-hand how dangerous those places can be. For instance, in Track of the Cat, she’s been assigned to Guadalupe Mountains National Park. There she discovers the body of a fellow ranger Sheila Drury one morning. At first, it looks as though Drury was killed by a mountain lion, and there’s the local outcry about it that you’d expect. It doesn’t help matters that the locals have never liked the fact that mountain lions living within the boundaries of the national park are off limits to hunters. They resent what they see as the damage caused by the animals and the government’s unwillingness to protect their land. Pigeon isn’t so sure that the culprit was a lion though, and she certainly doesn’t want mountain lions to become the targets of hunters. So she begins to ask questions. In the process she discovers that the victim’s death had a very human cause…

Banff National Park, Canada’s oldest national park, features in Vicki Delany’s Under Cold Stone. In that novel, Lucy ‘Lucky’ Smith and her partner Paul Keller (Trafalgar, British Columbia’s Chief Constable of Police) have decided to take a trip to Banff, in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains. Their plan is for some relaxing ‘just the two of us’ time. But that’s not how it works out. Keller’s estranged son Matt disappears. And since he’s experienced at camping and living in the outdoors, he could be anywhere and it would be very hard to find him. What’s more, he may very well be guilty of murder. Banff isn’t within the jurisdiction of Lucky’s daughter, Trafalgar Police Constable Moonlight ‘Molly’ Smith. But she travels there to be of whatever support she can to her mother. Then Matt’s girlfriend begs her to clear his name, claiming that he’s innocent. So Molly begins to ask some questions. And you thought bears, cougars and wolverines were the biggest living threats in the park…

In Michael Sears’ and Stanley Trollip’s (AKA Michael Stanley) A Carrion Death, Professor of Ecology Benani Sibisi has taken a trip to Dale’s Camp, on the verge of Botswana’s Central Kalahari Game Reserve. He’s out in the field one day when he discovers the body of an unknown man. At first it looks as though the man was killed by wild animals; certainly hyenas have already paid the body a visit. Botswana CID Assistant Superintendent David ‘Kubu’ Bengu is called to the scene and supervises sending the remains for forensics testing, mostly to try to identify the victim. Results of that testing suggest that the man was murdered. Now it’s even more important to find out who he was and what he was doing at the Reserve. So Kubu and his team begin to look more closely into the case. They find a connection between the dead man and the Botswana Cattle and Mining Company (BCMC), a powerful voice in the country’s economic and political arenas. That connection makes this case delicate, since the Botswana government has a major interest in making sure that the company remains a going concern. In the end, though, Kubu is able to find out who the dead man was and how his murder is related to events and interactions at BCMC.

Much of Michael Allan Mallory and Marilyn Victor’s Killer Instinct takes place at the Minnesota Wolf Institute (MWI), which in part functions as a preserve for wolves. Zookeeper Lavender ‘Snake’ Jones is invited to the MWI to film an episode of her television documentary series Zoofari. When she arrives, she finds herself in the middle of a dangerous controversy. Her friend Gina Brown, a biologist associated with the MWI, is a passionate defender of wolves and their preservation. That pits Brown against several locals, led by Ivar Bjorkland, who want to see the wolves exterminated. In fact, they have a very public dispute about the matter when four wolves are illegally killed. Then, Bjorkland is found murdered. Jones is worried that her friend might have been involved in the killing, although she doesn’t want to think so. Then there’s another murder. And another. Now Jones has to help clear her friend’s name and stop the killer before there’s another death. Wolves are by no means the most dangerous species in this novel…

In Deon Meyer’s Blood Safari, Emma le Roux hires professional bodyguard Martin Lemmer to accompany her from Cape Town to the Lowveld to find out the truth about her missing brother Jacobus. He disappeared twenty-five years earlier in what everyone thought was a skirmish with poachers. But now Emma thinks he’s still alive. So she wants to trace his history from Kruger National Park, his last known whereabouts. She and Lemmer arrive in the area only to find out that this is much more than the case of a man who was killed by dangerous poachers. In the end, they find out that the truth about Jacobus le Roux is related to coverups, corruption and ugly realities about politics and environmentalism. Along the way, they visit more than one animal preserve, and it’s interesting to read the different perspectives and views on taking care of South Africa’s unique ecosytems while at the same time nurturing the economy.

New Zealand’s Rimutaka State Forest is the scene of some of the action in Donna Malane’s Surrender. Wellington missing person expert Diane Rowe is hired by Inspector Frank McFay to trace the identity of a ‘John Doe’ whose body has been found in the forest. There isn’t much to go on at first, but with the help of pathologist Grant ‘Smithy’ Smith, Rowe slowly learns that the man was in his twenties when he died, and that he died sometime during the early1970s. Bit by bit, Rowe puts the pieces together and finds out who the man was. At the same time, she’s on another case of her own choosing. Her sister Niki was murdered a year ago. Now, the man who claims he was paid to kill Niki has himself been murdered in the same way. Rowe believes that if she can find out who killed the ‘hit man,’ she’ll find out who’s responsible for her sister’s murder. Although the wildlife in the forest doesn’t hold the key to Niki’s death, the forest does have its role to play in the events in the story.

And that’s thing about animal preserves and sanctuaries. They can seem like peaceful places, and their natural beauty is practically unmatched. But safe? Erm – possibly not. I’ve only had space here to mention a few examples (I know, I know, fans of Ann Cleeves’ The Crow Trap and Blue Lightning). Which stories with this context have stayed in your mind?
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Paul Simon’s At the Zoo.

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Filed under Ann Cleeves, Deon Meyer, Donna Malane, Marilyn Victor, Michael Allan Mallory, Michael Sears, Michael Stanley, Nevada Barr, Stanley Trollip, Vicki Delany

God Only Knows What I’d be Without You*

WF3It’s been…well…an interesting couple of days here at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist…. Since Tuesday, the area where I live has had record heat for the time of year (95°F/ 35°C) and high winds. With the ongoing lack of rain, it’s been the perfect recipe for wildfires, and we’ve had them. The ‘photos you see are of smoke and ash from one of the fires. Those ‘photos were taken from the balcony of my home, so although it’s not nearly as close as it looks, the fires have made their presence felt, to say the least. And even today, with the air calm and the temperature down, there’s still ash on people’s cars and particulates in the air. There’s still an acrid, oily smell of smoke in the air too.

But lest you worry for me, thanks for caring, but my WF2family and I are fine. We are safe and comfortable. Know why? A little bit of it is luck or whatever you want to call it. The winds didn’t blow the fires close enough to where I live for an evac order. But the big reason I am safe and comfortable is the tireless work of the brave and skilled members of the San Diego County Fire Department. Those people are heroes to me. They’ve been out on the line without food, sleep, showers and family time for three days now. And so have the dispatchers and others who keep everything connected and running smoothly. And all so that the rest of us would be safe. I know that’s their job, but if that’s not heroic, tell me please, what is?

WF1

I’ll bet most of us would agree that firefighters deserve our support, praise, thanks, whatever. They do work that most of couldn’t imagine doing. And there’s an argument that that generally positive (and well-deserved!!!) view of firefighters is a big part of the reason they’re usually depicted in positive ways in crime fiction. Here are just a few examples.

In Deborah Crombie’s In a Dark House, we meet Rose Kearny, one of a group of London firefighters who are called to the scene of a warehouse fire. All fires are serious matters, but this one is also very tricky in other ways. For one thing, the warehouse’s owner is MP Michael Yarwood, an outspoken member of the Labour party. That makes his ownership of the warehouse a delicate business. What’s more, the body of an unidentified woman is found in the remains of the building. Scotland Yard’s Duncan Kincaid and his lover Gemma James begin the work of finding out who the woman was and who killed her. Meanwhile, there’s another fire. And another. Kearny sees a link between them and despite pressure not to do so, reports what she has found to Kincaid. As it turns out, she’s exactly right about that connection. Those fires have everything to do with the past.

Nevada Barr’s Firestorm takes a look at the lives of firefighters in US National Parks. National Park Service Ranger Anna Pigeon has been working in Northern California’s Lassen Volcanic National Park. A wildfire – the Jackville Fire – has broken out and Pigeon is serving as a medic at a spike camp, a temporary camp located as close as safely possible to the fire. A drop in temperature and calming winds mean the team may be able to leave the area. But then a freak thunderstorm whips up winds and sends a firestorm sweeping through. Everyone dives for cover in individual shelters, and when the storm has passed, the group tries to assess the damage. That’s when Pigeon discovers that firefighter Len Nims has been murdered. As Pigeon works to find out who killed him and why, we get a look at what firefighters really have to deal with on a regular basis.

For another look at the firefighter’s life, you’ll want to read Adrian Hyland’s Kinglake-350. Admittedly it’s not crime fiction. It’s the story of Black Saturday, 7 February 2009. On that day, a terrible firestorm swept through the Australian state of Victoria, and Kinglake-350 is the story of the people who fought that fire and of those who lived through it. It’s a powerful read.

In Lilian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who Smelled a Rat, everyone in Moose County (‘400 miles north of nowhere’) is eager for the first major snowstorm of the year. It’s been a hot, dry summer and autumn, and the risk of wildfire is getting greater and greater. And the heat has been hard on everyone’s nerves. Then, a series of fires breaks out in the area. At first it’s put down to the weather conditions, which are tailor-made for fires. But then, the bookshop belonging to local dealer Eddington ‘Edd’ Smith is burned. What’s more, Smith himself is found dead. Now it’s clear that this is much more than a series of wildfires. Newspaper columnist James ‘Qwill’ Qiwilleran works with Police Chief Andrew Brodie to find out who’s been setting the fires and why, and who killed Edd Smith.

And then there’s Shelly Rueben’s The Boys of Sabbath Street. Artemus Ackerman, mayor of the small town of Calendar, wants to turn the Baldwin Theater into a museum of magic. To do that he’ll need the project to be bankrolled. So he’s hoping to put the most positive spin on his idea. But then there’s a fire on Sabbath Street, the same street where the building is located. Ackerman wants to know everything he can about the fire, because he doesn’t want it to lessen his chances of getting the museum of magic funded. So he sends his assistant and publicist Maggie Wakeling to get the facts. For that, she turns to Fire Marshal George Copeland. Then there’s another fire. And another. Now she and Copeland face the frightening reality that there’s an arsonist in their town. And Ackerman has to face the fact that the museum of magic may very well not materialise. As Wakeling and Copeland work to find out who’s behind the sabotage, readers get to see what the threat of fire does to an area and to people’s sense of stability.

There are lots of other novels too that focus on firefighters. By and large they present firefighters in a positive way, and that’s exactly as it should be. The ones who live in my area are heroic. My thanks to each of them.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Beach Boys’ God Only Knows.

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Filed under Adrian Hyland, Deborah Crombie, Lilian Jackson Braun, Nevada Barr, Shelly Reuben

Got to Get Back to the Land*

Hiking and CampingMany people enjoy the feeling of ‘getting away from it all’ by taking camping and hiking trips. There is definitely something to be said for spending some time with nature, turning off the computer and the telephone and enjoying some peace. Other people camp because that’s their culture and way of life. Either way, camping can be a rich experience. But as crime fiction shows us, camping isn’t always the relaxing, peaceful experience it’s sometimes made out to be.

In Agatha Christie’s Appointment With Death, the Boynton family tours the Middle East, making a special excursion to Petra. While they’re on their camping/hiking/sightseeing tour, family matriarch Mrs. Boynton suddenly dies of what seems to be heart failure. But Colonel Carbury isn’t satisfied, and asks Hercule Poirot to investigate. It soon turns out that Mrs. Boynton was poisoned, and Poirot interviews each of the people at the sightseeing encampment. There are plenty of suspects too, since Mrs. Boynton was a tyrant and a mental sadist who kept everyone in her family cowed. In the end Poirot establishes who the murderer is. One of the interesting clues in this murder comes from the location of each of the campers’ tents.

Dorothy Sayers’ Harriet Vane decides to take a hiking holiday in Have His Carcase. She’s just been through a traumatic time standing trial for murder (Strong Poison gives the details on that experience), and she is in need of a rest. During her hiking trip, Vane stops one afternoon for a rest and soon dozes off. When she wakes up, she finds the body of a dead man. She alerts the authorities who start the investigation. The dead man is soon identified as Paul Alexis, a professional dancer at a nearby hotel. At first it looks as though Alexis may have committed suicide, but it soon turns out that he was murdered. With help from Lord Peter Wimsey, Vane discovers who killed Alexis and why. So much for a peaceful hiking holiday…

Scott Young’s Murder in a Cold Climate introduces readers to Matthew ‘Matteesie’ Kitologitak of the RCMP. Matteesie has been asked to investigate the disappearance of a Cessna with three men aboard. He’s getting ready to do just that when he witnesses the shooting death of Native activist Morton Cavendish. It’s not long before Matteesie establishes that the two cases are related, so he changes his focus to an investigation of the murder. He’s hoping that by finding the killer, he may find the answer to what happened to the plane and the men on it. As Matteesie investigates, we get a look at the way things are done in Canada’s Far North. One fact of life there is that people go on hunting and fishing trips that can take them far from home. So they camp. In fact, it’s a popular tourist activity too. It’s not surprise then, that there are several scenes in this novel that take place at different camps. One of those scenes in fact tells us a lot about the mystery.

M.J. McGrath’s White Heat also takes place in Canada’s Far North. Edie Kiglatuk is a hunting guide with an excellent reputation. That reputation is threatened when one of her clients Felix Wagner is shot during a camping/hunting expedition. At first his death is put down to a tragic accident and Edie is given the message to just leave it alone. But then her stepson Joe commits suicide (or did he?) and there’s another death as well. Soon Edie is involved in a complicated case of murder and greed. If she’s going to clear her reputation and find out why her stepson died, she’s going to have to find the murderer. She works with Ellesmere Island police offer Derek Palliser to investigate the case. As they do so, we see how deeply camping is embedded in that culture. People go out for days or more to hunt, trap and fish and in that climate, a good campsite can mean the difference between life and death.

In Paddy Richardson’s Hunting Blind, novice psychiatrist Stephanie Anderson takes an unexpected camping trip. One of her clients Elisabeth Clark is troubled by the disappearance years earlier of her younger sister Gracie. This story haunts Anderson, as her own sister Gemma disappeared in a similar way seventeen years earlier. Anderson decides to lay her ghosts to rest, so to speak, by finding out who was responsible for abducting the young girls. So she makes a trip from Dunedin to her family’s home in Wanaka, trying to trace the culprit as she goes. During one stop she meets a hunting guide named Dan, who invites her on a hunting and shooting trip. Anderson demurs at first, but Dan wants to prove to her that

 

‘…all hunters aren’t blokey yobbos.’

 

Finally Anderson agrees and she and Dan take a three-day camping and hiking trip. Making the trip doesn’t catch the criminal. But it does give Anderson a new kind of confidence as well as some interesting and important information. And she finds herself more interested in Dan than she’d imagined she would be.

There’s also Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon series. Pigeon is a US National Park Service Ranger, so she spends quite a bit of time camping. She’s assigned to different parks for different amounts of time, so her accommodations vary. But she’s grown quite accustomed to tents, bedrolls and campfires.

There are a lot of other novels of course that feature camping trips (I know, I know, fans of Arnaldur Indriðason’s Strange Shores). And in novels such as Donna Leon’s The Girl of His Dreams, Arthur Upfield’s Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte series and Adrian Hyland’s Emily Tempest novels, we meet groups of people for whom camping is a way of life. It certainly does have a lot to offer. But – erm – do be careful…

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock, made popular by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

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Filed under Adrian Hyland, Agatha Christie, Arnaldur Indriðason, Arthur Upfield, Donna Leon, Dorothy Sayers, M.J. McGrath, Nevada Barr, Paddy Richardson, Scott Young

When the Underdog is Hungry, the Favorite Might Fall*

Avoiding and Setting TrapsSkilled sleuths have all sorts of ways of catching criminals. Sometimes, they even use the criminals’ own weapons against them. I don’t mean something as obvious as grabbing a gun from a murderer. Rather, I mean using the criminal’s own methods, tools, etc. to catch him or her. There are a lot of examples of this in crime fiction; let me share just a few to show you what I mean. 

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Dancing Men, Sherlock Holmes gets a visit from Hilton Cubitt. Cubitt’s concerned about his wife Elsie, who had some very dubious associations in her past. As she tells her husband, she’s done nothing of which she personally need be ashamed. But now it seems that her past has caught up with her. Lately she’s been receiving some cryptic messages that have left her terrified. She won’t explain what they mean to her husband, but it’s obvious something is very, very wrong. Holmes agrees to look into the matter and Cubitt shows him some of the coded messages Elsie’s gotten. From those, Holmes is able to crack the code; that’s how he learns that Elsie may be in real danger. Then one night, Cubitt is murdered and Elsie is badly wounded. Holmes uses the very trap that the culprit set – the code – to lure the killer out of hiding. 

Nevada Barr’s Track of the Cat introduces readers to U.S. National Park Service Ranger Anna Pigeon. She’s in the healing process after the death of her husband Zach and has accepted a posting in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park in West Texas. One day she discovers the body of fellow ranger Sheila Drury. At first, it looks as though Drury might have been killed by a mountain lion, but Pigeon hopes that isn’t’t the case. Mountain lions are endangered as it is. If word gets round that a mountain lion killed a human, there’ll be a backlash of mountain lion killings by locals who would be only too happy to see the population disappear. Then little pieces of evidence begin to suggest that Drury’s killer was human. Now Pigeon starts to ask more questions, and slowly discovers who murdered Drury. At one point, she has a confrontation with the murderer, who has laid a trap for her. But Pigeon finds a way to make that trap work in her favour.

In Michael Dibdin’s Ratking, Aurelio Zen is seconded from the Ministry of the Interior in Rome to the town of Perugia. Wealthy patriarch Ruggiero Miletti has been kidnapped, and no real progress has been made on the case. The Perugia Questura has asked for assistance and Zen is sent to provide it. It’s not long before Zen learns that there are several people who don’t want the case solved. He also learns that someone’s been reporting on his movements, telephone conversations and the like. Zen is up against some powerful opposition too. For one thing, the Miletti family doesn’t want to co-operate with the police, and isn’t happy about Zen’s ‘interference.’ For another, there are the kidnappers, who are not exactly nice people. There are also some highly-placed and influential people who want this case to go away quietly. Then Zen discovers a trap that’s been laid for him. Once he finds it, he’s able to neatly use the same trap against the culprits.

Sometimes sleuths even have to out-manoeuvre people who are on ‘the right side of the law.’ For example, in Alexander McCall Smith’s The Kalahari Typing School For Men, a successful civil engineer Mr. Molofelo hires Mma. Precious Ramotswe to find some people from his past. He’s been re-thinking his life and would like to make amends to the family of his former landlord, and to a former girlfriend. After hearing Mr. Molofelo’s story, Mma. Ramotswe agrees and begins her search. It turns out that the landlord has died, but his widow is still alive and collecting her husband’s pension. So Mma. Ramotswe goes to the government pension office. There she encounters a self-important clerk who refuses to provide her with the widow’s address, since it is against the regulations. Here is how Mma. Ramotswe uses that ‘weapon’ – the regulations – against the clerk:

 

 

‘‘But that is not the rule,’ said Mma. Ramotswe. ‘…The rule says that you must not give the name of a pensioner. It says nothing about the address.’
The clerk shook his head. ‘I do not think you can be right, Mma. I am the one who knows the rules. You are the public.’
‘Yes, Rra. I am sure that you are very good when it comes to rules…But sometimes, when one has to know so many rules, one can get them mixed up. You are thinking of Rule 25. This rule is really Rule 24(b), subsection (i)…The rule that deals with addresses is Rule 18, which has now been cancelled.’’

 

 

The defeated clerk finally provides the information Mma. Ramotswe needs and she is able to help her client. 

Copenhagen detective Carl Mørck uses a bureaucratic ‘trap’ to his own advantage in Mercy (AKA The Keeper of Lost Causes). He’s recovering from a line-of-duty shooting that left one colleague dead and another permanently disabled. The event has left Mørck even more difficult to work with than usual. In fact things get so bad that his colleagues don’t want to work with him any more. So his boss comes up with an idea. There’s been political pressure to follow up on older ‘cases of interest,’ so that the police give the impression of taking every case seriously. In order to respond to the pressure, a new department – Department Q – will be created and Mørck will be ‘promoted’ to lead it. The idea is to shunt him aside and keep him away from actual department work. But Mørck uses that new position to his advantage. In fact, he gets an assistant Hafez al-Assad, and other amenities too. And soon enough he and Assad begin work on their first case, the disappearance of an up-and-coming politician Merete Lynggaard, whom everyone thought had drowned in a ferry accident five years earlier. She may very well be alive though… 

And then there’s Qiu Xiaolong’s Death of a Red Heroine. In that novel, Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Bureau and his assistant Yu Guangming investigate the murder of an unknown woman whose body is discovered in the Baili Canal not far from Shanghai. The case becomes very delicate when the victim is identified as Guan Hongying. She was a national model worker and rather a celebrity in her way. So the Powers That Be want this case handled very, very carefully, especially if the killer turns out to be a Party member, or some other important person. The first official theory – that Guan may have been raped and murdered by a taxi driver – isn’t supported by some of the evidence that turns up so despite the delicacy, Chen and Yu press on with their investigation. At one point the trail begins to lead to a very influential person. And that person uses ‘clout’ to get Chen transferred to a new position as Director of Metropolitan Traffic Control. On one level it’s a promotion with several perquisites. On the other of course, it’s a trap for Chen to keep him away from the Guan case. But Chen knows that, and finds a very neat way to use his new office to solve the murder. 

Being able to use an opponent’s tools against that person takes skill and cleverness. It also makes for some interesting crime-fictional plot twists and character development. These are only a few examples. Your turn.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Was (not Was)’s Anything Can Happen.

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Filed under Alexander McCall Smith, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Michael Dibdin, Nevada Barr, Qiu Xiaolong