Category Archives: Nevada Barr

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?


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.


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.


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.


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

I Wish You Could be Here*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


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


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

‘Cause He Was in the Mood For a Little Confrontation*

ConfrontationOne of the strategies authors use to build suspense is confrontation between people. In crime fiction that confrontation is often between the sleuth and the suspect/culprit, but it doesn’t have to be. Whenever there are two people who are opposed or perhaps are rivals, there is the possibility of a confrontation. It certainly happens in real life, so it makes sense that it would also happen in crime fiction too. It’s not always easy to write about a confrontation because unlike film-makers, authors don’t have the advantage of the visual. But when it’s done well, a confrontation adds to the suspense and builds tension. It’s realistic too. As you’ll imagine, there are far, far too many well-written confrontations in crime fiction for me to mention them all. So I’ll rely on you to help fill in the gaps.

There’s a very effective confrontation between Hercule Poirot and M. Giraud of the Sûreté in Agatha Christie’s The Murder on the Links. In that novel, Poirot and Captain Hastings travel to Merlinville-sur-Mer to the home of Paul Renauld. They’ve come because Poirot received a letter from Renauld claiming that his life was in danger and begging for Poirot’s assistance. But by the time Poirot and Hastings get to France, it’s too late: Renauld has been stabbed. M. Giraud is placed in charge of the case and it’s clear from the outset that he and Poirot will not get on. Matters between them steadily worsen until they have a confrontation:


‘Poirot drew himself up. A dangerous light showed in his eyes.
‘Monsieur Giraud, throughout the case your manner to me has been deliberately insulting. You need teaching a lesson. I am prepared to wager you five hundred francs that I find the murderer of Monsieur Renauld before you do. Is it agreed?’
Giraud stared helplessly at him and murmured again: ‘Toqué!’
‘Come now,’ urged Poirot, ‘is it agreed?’
‘I have no wish to take your money from you.’
‘Make your mind easy – you will not!’
‘Oh, well then I agree! You speak of my manner to you being insulting. Well, once or twice, your manner has annoyed me.’
‘I am enchanted to hear it’ said Poirot. ‘Good morning, Monsieur Giraud. Come, Hastings.’’


Fans of Poirot will not be surprised that he wins that bet. And this confrontation shows part of the human side of Poirot.

In Ian Rankin’s Resurrection Men, the team at St. Leonard’s Police Station is investigating the case of Edward Marber, a murdered Edinburgh art dealer. There haven’t been many productive leads in the case and everyone’s nerves are getting frayed. Then one morning, DCS Gill Templar is holding a meeting for her staff to discuss the case. DI John Rebus is fed up with what he sees as another useless round of time-consuming ‘phone calls, interviews and so on. He makes a remark under his breath and Templar calls him on it:


‘‘Well I’m sure we all can learn something from you, DI Rebus.’ Not ‘John’ anymore. Her voice rising to match his…
‘Maybe you’d like to come up,’ she was saying, ‘and give us the benefit of your thoughts on the subject of just exactly how we should be proceeding with this inquiry.’ She stretched an arm out, as if to introduce him to an audience.
‘Ladies and gentlemen…’

Which was the moment he chose to throw the mug. It traveled in a lazy arc, spinning as it went, dispensing cold tea.’


That choice gets Rebus remanded to Tulliallan Police College for a ‘last chance’ opportunity to learn to work better with a group of other people. In this case, it’s a group of police officers who have difficulty working with others. That assignment isn’t going to stop Rebus looking into the Marber case though…

Nevada Barr’s Track of the Cat introduces readers to National Park Service Ranger Anna Pigeon. In this novel, she’s been assigned to the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. One day, she finds the body of fellow ranger Sheila Drury. All of the signs point to the likely possibility that Drury was killed by a mountain lion. Pigeon is truly hoping that’s not so, as she fears for what will happen to the park’s population of mountain lions of people hear that one of them killed a human. What’s more, some of the evidence just doesn’t seem to add up to a lion kill. So Pigeon starts asking questions. Almost immediately she meets a ‘wall of resistance’ from locals who are only too happy to shoot the animals, and from the authorities, who don’t want any unfavourable attention. In the end though, Pigeon finds out how and by whom Sheila Drury was killed. When she does, there’s a strong final confrontation scene between her and the killer, who thinks Pigeon will be easy prey. It turns out though that she is not…

In Gail Bowen’s A Killing Spring, political scientist and academician Joanne Kilbourn is drawn into the investigation of the murder of Reed Gallagher, a university colleague. As it happens, Kilbourn knows the victim’s wife Julie, so she comes along to help break the news of Gallagher’s death. Julie’s history with Kilbourn has not always been pleasant, and of course, the news of her husband’s death is a shock, so when Kilbourn and Regina Police Force Inspector Alex Kequahtooway go to the Gallagher home, they aren’t exactly received warmly. Julie is silent at first, and then lashes out, insulting both of her visitors. They do their best to keep their tempers in check, but it’s a real scene of conflict. In fact, here’s what Kilbourn and Kequahtooway say about it afterwards:


‘‘My grandmother used to say that every time we turn the other cheek we get a new star in our crown in heaven.’
Alex raised an eyebrow. ‘Let’s hope she’s right. I have a feeling that before Reed Gallagher is finally laid to rest, his widow is going to give us a chance to build up quite a collection.’’


Neither sleuth lets this conflict get in the way of finding out what happened to Gallagher.

Peter Temple’s Jack Irish gets into more than one confrontation in his line of work. He’s a sometime lawyer who also has a side business of finding people who don’t want to be found. When a former client Danny McKillop is murdered in Bad Debts, Irish decides to find out why and by whom. At one point, he’s following up a lead at the Safe Hands Foundation, a charitable organisation. He wants to speak Father Gorman, who’s head of the group. Here’s what happens when Irish gets to the door and confronts the security man:


‘Then he wanted my driver’s license.
‘I’m not trying to cash a cheque here, sonny,’ I said. ‘Just phone the man.’
Tight little smile. ‘The body corporate lays down the security proceedings.’ Flat Queensland voice. Pause. ‘Sir.’
‘This isn’t Pentridge,’ I said. ‘Didn’t they retrain you for this job? Just phone.’
He held my  gaze briefly but I’d got him in one. ‘I’ll check,’ he said.’


As it turns out, Irish gets an interesting lead on a man he’s trying to find once he gets past security. 

Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Carl Mørck is not the most cheerful of people under the best of circumstances. And in Mercy (AKA The Keeper of Lost Causes), he is especially testy as he copes with the aftermath of a line-of-fire shooting incident. He was gravely wounded and one of his colleagues was killed in the tragedy. Another has been left with paralysis. Mørck becomes so difficult to work with that he is ‘promoted’ to head a new department, ‘Department Q,’ that’s charged with investigating cases of ‘special interest.’ The first such case is that of Merete Lynggaard, an up-and-coming politician who disappeared five years ago. Evidence soon suggests that she may still be alive, so Mørck and his assistant Hafez al-Assad re-open the case. Along the way, Mørck finds more than one instance where the original investigator Børge Bak missed important evidence. At one point, the two have a meeting in the office of their boss Marcus Jacobsen. Here’s what Mørck says:


‘So,Bak! That was a hell of a job you lot did on the Lynggaard case. You were up to your necks in signs that everything wasn’t as it should be. Had the whole team caught sleeping sickness or what?…So now I want to know if there’s anything else in the case that you’re keeping to yourself…Was there someone or something that put the brakes on your excellent investigation, Børge?’


Of course, that’s exactly the wrong approach to take to enlist Bak’s help in providing any information he has. Eventually, though, Jacobsen gets Bak to add to the reports he’d submitted, and that information helps greatly in the investigation.

Confrontations are difficult to write, as they have to be authentic. But when they’re well done, they can add a solid thread of tension to a story. I’ve only had space here for a few examples. Your turn.



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Carole King’s Smackwater Jack.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Gail Bowen, Ian Rankin, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Nevada Barr, Peter Temple