Category Archives: P.D. Martin

We Know Where We’re Going, We Know Where We’re From*

Among other things, crime fiction allows us to experience other cultures, or to look at our own through different eyes. And one way authors do that is through creating expatriate (ex-pat) characters. When someone from one culture lives and works in another, there’s a fascinating ‘meeting of minds’ if you want to call it that, and that can add a very interesting perspective to a novel. Well-drawn ex-pat characters don’t necessarily give up their own culture or language, but they do learn the ways of the new culture and that adds to their perspective and to the reader’s.

For instance, Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot is an ex-pat Belgian. One could argue that because he left Belgium as a refugee he is, strictly speaking, not an ex-pat as he didn’t leave his country voluntarily. But I include him here because he provides an interesting look at what it’s like to be from one country but live and work in another. In many ways he is quite distinct from the English people among whom he lives. Besides the language difference (he’s had to learn English and sometimes needs to learn a new idiom or two), there are also cultural differences. Just as an example, although Poriot is familiar with the custom of tea, he’s never really made it his own habit. There are other English customs too, such as shaking hands rather than embracing, that he’s had to get used to and he’s never really lost his own Belgian way of life. In a way, you could argue that Poirot allowed Christie to hold up a mirror to her own culture.

In Walter Mosley’s A Red Death, we meet ex-pat Chaim Wenzler, a former member of the Polish Resistance who’s since moved to the United States. Wenzler has become the object of FBI interest because he is believed to be a communist. At the time this novel takes place (the early 1950’s), being a communist in the United States is a very serious matter so if the allegations about Wenzler are true, then FBI Agent Darryl Craxton wants to bring him down. Craxton gets the opportunity to get close to Wenzler through then-amateur private investigator Ezekiel ‘Easy’ Rawlins. Rawlins is in deep tax trouble, so Craxton offers him a deal: if he agrees to get close to Wenzler, Craxton will make his tax problems go away. Rawlins agrees and starts volunteering at the First African Baptist Church, where Wenzler too has been volunteering. The two men get to know each other and before long Rawlins finds himself liking Wenzler and increasingly reluctant to give him up to the FBI. Then there’s a series of murders for which Rawlins is framed and it looks as though someone has begun to target him. Now he has to clear his name by solving the murders and walk a very thin line between giving enough information about Wenzler to the FBI without giving too much away.

Alexander McCall Smith introduces us to American ex-pat Andrea Curtin in Tears of the Giraffe. Curtin and her husband lived in Botswana for a few years as a part of her husband’s job. Their son Michael fell in love with Botswana while the family was there and decided to remain when his parents returned to the United States. He joined an eco-commune and all seemed well enough until he disappeared. The official explanation for his disappearance is an attack by wild animals. But his mother Andrea has never quite believed that and wants closure. She’s moved back to Botswana where she’s decided to remain. She hires Mma. Precious Ramotswe to help her find out the truth about her son’s disappearance so she can move on with her life. Mma. Ramotswe takes the case and goes to the eco-commune where the young man lived. Bit by bit she finds out what
happened to him and is able to give his mother the answers she needs.

Dicey Deere created a four-novel series featuring American ex-pat Torrey Tunet, who now lives in Ballynagh Ireland when she’s not ‘on the road’ as part of her job. Tunet is a language specialist and interpreter who often travels, but she always returns to her ‘base’ in Ballynagh. Through her
eyes we get to see the interesting, sometimes quirky local characters and the unique customs and culture of the area. Tunet has respect for the local ways, too; it’s obvious that Deere doesn’t fall into the trap of the ‘fish-out-of-water who annoys everyone’ kind of character.

P.D. Martin’s Sophie Anderson is an ex-pat Australian who now lives and works in the U.S. as an FBI agent. She started her career with the Victoria police force but fell in love with the idea of being an FBI profiler after she took a course offered by the agency. She makes an excellent profiler too; not only does she have the training and skills, but she also has an added ‘plus.’ Anderson has psychic dreams – visions, if you want to call them that – that allow her to ‘get into the heads’ of the killers she pursues. Although she isn’t always comfortable with that ability, she does learn to channel it and make use of it as she investigates.

Vicki Delany’s Constable Moonlight ‘Molly” Smith is purely Canadian. But her parents aren’t. Lucy ‘Lucky’ and Andy Smith are former hippies and ex-pat Americans who moved to Canada when Andy was drafted for service in the Vietnam War. Andy had real doubts about leaving the U.S. at the time they moved but Lucky strongly believed that the war was wrong, so they made the move. Since then they’ve settled there comfortably and now run an adventure tour company and store. Although neither is ashamed of having come from the U.S., they’ve more or less embraced the local way of doing things.

And then there’s Angela Savage’s Jayne Keeney. She’s an ex-pat Australian PI who now lives and works in Bangkok. Although in many ways she’s purely Aussie (if there is one way to be purely Aussie), but she has also learned quite a lot about the different culture, language and way of life in her new home. She speaks fluent Thai, understands and follows the local customs and has begun to appreciate the complexity of life there. In Behind the Night Bazaar and The Half-Child, Keeney’s ability to move between her own culture and her adopted culture proves to be very useful as she solves cases.

And that’s the interesting thing about ex-pat characters. We get to see, through their eyes, what a different culture is like. There’s also a terrific opportunity for a complex, ‘fleshed out’ character if she or he is from one culture but has had to get accustomed to living and working in a different one. I’ve only had space here to mention a few examples; which ones do you like?

 

 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bob Marley’s Exodus.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alexander McCall Smith, Angela Savage, Dicey Deere, P.D. Martin, Vicki Delany, Walter Mosley

I’m a Night Stalker*

One of the most frightening experiences one can have is being stalked. The vulnerability one feels is bad enough, as is the sense of violation of privacy. If you add to that the threat of danger, it’s no wonder that people who’ve had that experience have found it so traumatic. What’s worse is that unless the stalker actually threatens or commits harm, the police can’t do much to keep away a stalker who is determined to frighten his or her victim. Stalking is a sad and scary reality for people in real life, and the tension it brings makes it also a very suspenseful plot point for crime fiction. That said though, it’s also been done frequently – sometimes quite deftly and sometimes…not. If the “stalker” plot point is to succeed, it’s got to be done carefully, thoughtfully, and not (necessarily) in connection with a serial-killer motif.

For instance, in Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, wealthy and beautiful Linnet Ridgeway Doyle is on a honeymoon cruise of the Nile with her new husband Simon. The trip is supposed to be a luxurious celebration but it’s marred for Linnet because she feels she and Simon are being stalked. Before he met Linnet, Simon was engaged to Linnet’s former best friend Jacqueline “Jackie” de Bellefort. Since the marriage, Jackie has followed the Doyles everywhere they’ve gone. She doesn’t threaten either Linnet or Simon, but her presence makes Linnet feel vulnerable. Normally a calm and authoritative person used to being in charge of her own life, Linnet feels frightened. But she really can’t do much about it because there’ve been no threats or physical attacks. Her nerves frayed, Linnet approaches Hercule Poirot, who’s on the same cruise, and asks him to intervene and make Jackie stop her stalking. Poirot agrees to speak with Jackie, although he says he can’t force her to stop. His intervention doesn’t save Linnet though; she’s shot on the second night of the cruise. Jackie is the most logical suspect, but it’s soon proven that she couldn’t have been the killer. So Poirot and fellow passenger Colonel Race have to look elsewhere for the murderer.

DI Alan Banks has to deal with a different sort of stalker in Peter Robinson’s Gallows View. Banks and his family have recently moved from London to the Yorkshire town of Eastvale, where they hope things will be less hectic. But the move turns out to be anything but peaceful for Banks when a peeper starts to make life frightening and miserable for the women of Eastvale. At first, several members of the police force, including Banks’ second-in-command Sergeant Jim Hatchley, don’t think that the voyeur is a very serious matter. But Banks becomes convinced that the peeping might escalate into something worse, so he keeps the investigation going. At the same time, Banks and his team have to contend with a series of house-breakings and the murder of one of Eastvale’s residents. In the end, we see how all of these crimes are related. One of the themes that runs through this novel – and is actually a source of interesting debate in it – is how scary it really is to feel that one’s being watched. Robinson makes it clear that for the women of Eastvale, the voyeurism is a horrible violation of their privacy.

We see another kind of stalking in Carl Hiaasen’s Skinny Dip. In that novel, we meet Charles “Chaz” Perrone, a barely-qualified marine biologist who has discovered a way to alter the results of water testing to make it look as though the water being tested is not polluted. That discovery will prove very helpful to Samuel Johnson “Red” Hammernut, owner of the successful agribusiness Hammernut Farms. Hammernut’s company has been dumping toxic waste into the Florida Everglades and he has no intention of stopping. But there’ve been questions about his business practices and lots of government “red tape.” Hammernut wants “proof” that his company is obeying the laws about toxic waste dumping so he makes a “business arrangement” with Chaz Perrone that will give Perrone an easy income and keep the government from interfering with Hammernut. The only hitch in the plans is that Perrone’s wife Joey suspects what’s going on. Perrone needs to stop her from getting in the way of his scheme so he surprises her with what he says is an anniversary present – a cruise. During the cruise, Chaz Perrone pushes his wife overboard, convinced she’ll drown. What he doesn’t remember though is that she is a world-class competitive swimmer. Joey Perrone survives and is rescued by former cop Mick Stranahan. Joey wants to know exactly why her husband tried to kill her and besides, she wants revenge. So she and Stranahan hatch a scheme to stalk Chaz and make him think someone saw what happened on the cruise. They put their plan into action in all sorts of little and not-so-little ways and before long, Chaz is convinced that he’s the target of a blackmailer who’ll continue to stalk him until he pays up.

We see the darker side of stalking in P.D. Martin’s Body Count. Sophie Anderson has recently moved from her native Australia to the U.S. and now works as a profiler in the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit. Her job there is to “get into the heads” of serial killers to track and find them as quickly as possible. What she’s never admitted to herself, let alone confided to anyone else, is that she is helped in her job by psychic visions that often come to her in dreams. In those visions she sees and feels what the killer sees and feels. Her skills are put to the test when she and her team investigate several murders committed by a killer nicknamed “The D.C. Slasher.” Anderson and her team are starting to put together a profile of the killer and getting clues when her friend and colleague Samantha “Sam” White is abducted. That adds a real sense of urgency to the investigation and that urgency is only increased when it becomes clear that Anderson herself is being stalked. The worst thing is that the stalker is apparently someone Anderson knows. Now she has to do her best to find the killer – and White – before she or White become victims.

Nicci French’s Beneath the Skin is another eerie portrait of stalking. One hot summer, Zoe Haratounian, Jennifer Hintlesham and Nadia Blake, three very different sorts of women, all begin to be stalked. It starts with love letters that become increasingly threatening. Bit by bit, the women begin to lose their self-confidence and sense of trust in the world. The police do their best to offer protection but the women are still not safe. Objects in their homes are removed or moved around, and the stalker seems able to psychologically manipulate these women to sap their strength. One of them though chooses not to be a victim and decides to find out for herself who the stalker is and why the stalker has chosen those particular women as targets. This decision leads to a proverbial game of nerves between the stalker and the would-be victim.

And then there’s Kerry Greenwood’s Earthly Delights, in which a stalker seems bent on harassing several residents of Insula, a Roman-style building in Melbourne. First, there’s ugly graffiti. Then one by one the residents begin to receive threatening letters from someone who seems to know personal things about them. The police ask questions but there’s not much they can do since no-one knows who the stalker is. One of Insula’s residents is Corinna Chapman, who owns a bakery in the building. When she finds out what’s been going on, she’s upset about it for the sake of her neighbours and friends. One night, she and her lover Daniel Cohen are returning from volunteering with the Soup Run, a mobile soup kitchen for Melbourne’s street people. They go into the building only to find a particularly gruesome-looking message. Chapmen tells Cohen what’s been going on and he offers to help her find out who’s responsible for stalking and frightening Insula’s residents. This plot thread adds a very real tension to the story.

Being stalked is frightening, even if the stalker never hurts the victim physically. And in crime fiction, the theme of stalking can add a very authentic level of suspense to a story when it’s well-done and not stereotypical or melodramatic.

 
 
 

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

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Carl Hiaasen, Kerry Greenwood, Nicci French, P.D. Martin, Peter Robinson

When You Dream What do You Dream About?*

An interesting comment exchange has got me thinking about dreams. I don’t mean aspirations; rather, I mean the dreams we have when we sleep. Not being a neurobiologist, I don’t know precisely and exactly what purposes dreams serve, but the research shows that we need to dream and all of us do dream whether or not we remember what we’ve dreamt. There’s one interesting argument that dreams are one way we have of processing things that happen to us. They’re a way of helping us make sense of our experiences. We even take on tough problems when we dream. That argument makes sense when you take a look at crime fiction. Several crime fiction novels mention detectives’ dreams; sometimes those dreams are very helpful, too. And even when they’re not, they’re a natural part of a sleuth’s life, and with everything sleuths have to cope with, it’s not surprising that their dreams can be very vivid at times.

For example, in Agatha Christie’s After the Funeral (AKA Funerals are Fatal), Hercule Poirot investigates the death of wealthy patriarch Richard Abernethie. At first everyone thinks that Abernethie died a natural death. But at his funeral, his younger sister Cora Lansquenet says that he was murdered. Everyone says that idea is ridiculous; Cora herself retracts what she’s said. But secretly everyone begins to wonder whether it might be true. Then, Cora is murdered and now everyone is sure that she was right about her brother’s death. The family attorney Mr. Entwhistle visits Poirot and asks him to look into the case and Poirot agrees. Since Richard Abernethie was a wealthy man with relations who wanted money, there are several suspects. Poirot works to find out which of them had the motive and opportunity to kill both Abernethie and his sister, but the case seems complicated. One night, a dream helps Poirot put the pieces into place:

 

“He slept then, and as he slept, he dreamed… If he could just see…he would know…
Hercule Poirot woke up – and he did know!”

 

All of the pieces of the puzzle come up in Poirot’s dream, and he’s able to make sense of them that way.

James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux frequently has dreams in which he deals with the dangers and trauma he encounters. They seem to be a way for him of facing his fears. For example, in A Morning for Flamingos, Robicheaux and his partner Lester Benoit are assigned to transport two prisoners to the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. Along the way, one of the prisoners Jimmie Lee Boggs manages to escape, killing Benoit and seriously wounding Robicheaux. Robicheaux survives and for the next few months takes some leave time to recover from his wounds. The physical wounds heal steadily but Robicheaux has several mental trauma wounds as well:

 

“He waited for me in my dreams. Not Tee Beau Latiolais or Jimmie Lee Boggs but a metamorphic figure who changed his appearance every night but always managed to perform the same function… When he squeezed the trigger I felt the steel jacketed bullet rip through my throat as easily as it would core a cantaloupe…I would awake on the couch, my T-shirt and shorts damp with perspiration, and sit in a square of moonlight on the edge of the couch, my head bent down, my jaws clenched tight to keep them from shaking.”

 

Robicheaux is still trying recover when he gets a visit from DEA agent Minos Dautrieve, who’s an old friend. Dautrieve wants Robicheaux’s help in a DEA “sting” operation against New Orleans crime boss Tony Cardo. Robicheaux refuses at first, but then Dautrieve tells him that Jimmie Lee Boggs may be associated with Cardo, so Robicheaux will have the chance to get the man who killed his partner. That’s enough for Robicheaux to reluctantly agree to take part in the operation and get close to Cardo. What he finds, though, is that things aren’t as “black and white” as the DEA has made them out to be. The deeper Robicheaux gets into the case, the harder he finds it to tell who the “bad guys” and the “good guys” really are. And even the chance to stop Boggs doesn’t prevent the nightmares…

P.D. Martin’s Sophie Anderson has very unusual dreams. She is an Australian-born FBI profiler whose specialty is “getting into the heads” of killers. She does this through psychic dreams that allow her to see what the killer sees and feel what the killer feels. For example, in Body Count, Anderson and her team are on the trail of a serial killer they’ve nicknamed the “D.C. Slasher.” The team collects evidence and tries to make sense of the case, and they’re making a bit of progress. Anderson, though, continues to be plagued by the dreams that seem to show her what the killer is doing. She confides what’s happening to her friend and co-worker Samantha “Sam” Wright, and Wright helps Anderson begin to make use of her “gift.” Then Wright goes missing. Now the team has to work even harder and more frantically to find the killer if they can before Wright is killed. As the series goes on, Anderson slowly learns to use her dreams effectively to track down killers.

Arnaldur Indriðason’s Inspector Erlendur has quite vivid dreams, and although he doesn’t believe in psychic powers or the paranormal, his dreams often give him clear pointers to the solution of the case he’s investigating. And his daughter Eva Lind seems to have inherited that capacity for vivid dreaming. There are lots of examples in the Erlendur novels; I’ll just give one from Jar City. In that story, Erlendur and his team are investigating the murder of Holberg, a seemingly inoffensive elderly man who has some deep secrets in his past. As the team digs into that past, they find that Holberg was accused of rape, although never arrested, and that he might actually be guilty of multiple rapes. Erlendur is trying to find a clue that will link that past with the crime scene when he has a vivid dream that gives him a possible connection:

 

“This time he remembered most of the dream. He knew it was the same dream that had visited him in recent nights but which he had failed to get hold of before the waking state turned it into nothing.”

 

Once he remembers the dream, Erlendur gets a sense of the direction the case is taking. In the end, he and his team find out who killed Holberg and why.

In Åsa Larsson’s The Blood Spilt, attorney Rebecka Martinsson’s law firm is working on courting a new client: the Swedish church. The firm has found that the church may be glad of legal advice in all sorts of areas. Martinsson is still recovering from the trauma she experienced at the end of The Savage Altar (AKA Sun Storm), but she wants to get back to work, if for no other reason than to once again be a part of the firm. So she returns to her hometown Kiruna to assist in the transfer of property when a local priest Mildred Nilsson is murdered. That’s how she re-encounters Inspector Anna-Maria Mella, who is investigating Nilsson’s death. What Martinsson doesn’t know is that she made an indelible impression on Mella in The Savage Altar, especially since Mella was in labour at the end of that novel and couldn’t do anything to spare Martinsson the trauma she endured. Mella’s actually been having dreams about Martinsson:

 

“In the dream she was riding a snowmobile through the darkness and the blizzard. Rebecka lay bleeding in the sledge. The snow spraying up into her face. All the time she was afraid of running into something. Then she got stuck. Standing there in the cold. The snowmobile roaring in vain.”

 

This recurring dream has been Mella’s way of coping with her inability to do anything to help Martinsson when she needed it. Now the two work together again to solve Mildred Nilsson’s murder. Martinsson herself sometimes has vivid dreams.  In Until Thy Wrath Be Past, that’s how she “communicates” with seventeen-year-old Wilma Persson, whose body is recovered from Lake Vittangijärvi one spring. Persson and her boyfriend Simon Kyrö died when they went diving into the lake to explore the ruins of a plane that went down there during World War II. In Martinsson’s dream, Persson tells her that their deaths were not an accident. At first, Martinsson puts the experience aside as “only a dream.” But as it turns out, both young people were murdered, and Martinsson works with Mella to find out how those deaths are connected with the plane’s going down.

There are a lot of other fictional sleuths, too, who have vivid dreams – more than there is space for in this one blog post. The real meaning of dreams is best left to those with minds much better than my own, but there is no doubt that dreams can be vivid and powerful. They certainly are in crime fiction.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Barenaked Ladies’ When You Dream.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arnaldur Indriðason, Åsa Larsson, James Lee Burke, P.D. Martin

Come On and Rescue Me*

As I’ve mentioned before here on Confessions of a Mystery Novelist…, sleuthing can be very dangerous work. Sleuths go after sometimes very nasty people who don’t want to be caught. And when people are desperate – as a killer who doesn’t want to be caught can be – they can become very dangerous indeed. So it’s not surprising that sometimes, sleuths need to be rescued. Of course, like most characters and plot points in crime fiction, this particular one can be overdone and become cliché; the “damsel in distress” stereotype is annoying and certainly doesn’t add to a story, and a sleuth of either sex who comes off as incompetent or bumbling (i.e. always needing to be rescued) is just as annoying. So it’s got to be handled with care, as the saying goes. But when it is, a character who comes to the rescue can add a solid layer to a story and keep the action and suspense going.

For instance, in Agatha Christie’s The Murder on the Links, Poirot and Captain Hastings are investigating the stabbing murder of Paul Renauld, a Canadian émigré to France. Renauld wrote to Poirot asking his help; in the letter, Renauld claimed his life was threatened. By the time Poirot and Hastings get to the Renauld home, though, it’s too late. But Poirot feels an obligation to investigate so he and Hastings work with the police to find out who killed Paul Renauld and why. In the meantime, Hastings has made a friend – an acrobat who calls herself Cinderella. Poirot deduces who committed the crime and he and Hastings set a trap, if you will, for the killer. Cinderella insists on going along and proves herself invaluable. At one point Hastings and Poirot are trapped in one part of the house while the killer is in another room, preparing to murder again. It’s Cinderella who comes to the rescue and manages to stop the killer.

In Tony Hillerman’s The Ghostway, Navajo Tribal Police Officer Jim Chee is looking into the murder of Albert Gorman, a Los Angeles Navajo who’s recently moved to the Big Reservation. Then, word comes that sixteen-year-old Margaret Billy Sosi has left the boarding school she attends and apparently disappeared. Chee’s assigned to find her. It’s not long before Chee suspects that her disappearance is related to the case he’s working on, and so it proves to be. He traces Sosi to the outskirts of Los Angeles just in time to see her nearly get abducted by the killer. Desperate to think of a way to keep her safe, Chee pretends to be “just another drunken Indian” and distracts the killer long enough for Sosi to escape. But in a neat twist, it’s she who rescues Chee when the killer wounds him badly. Sosi gets Chee to a hospital and safety before disappearing again. She rescues Chee again later in the story, too, when he has a showdown with the killer who’s behind everything.

James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux is a tough and strong character whom you might not necessarily think of as needing to be rescued. But he sometimes gets into very dangerous situations. For example, in A Morning For Flamingos, he and his police partner Lester Benoit are assigned to transport two prisoners to Louisiana’s State Penitentiary at Angola. One is Jimmie Lee Boggs. The other is Tee Beau Latiolais. The four are en route to Angola when Boggs uses a ruse to free himself and Latiolais. Boggs murders Benoit and shoots Robicheaux, leaving him for dead. In fact, Robicheaux thinks he is going to die, but he’s rescued by Latiolais, who gets help for him. Robicheaux later gets the chance to go after Boggs when he finds that Boggs may be working for New Orleans crime boss Tony Cardo. Robicheaux is persuaded to take part in an undercover operation to bring down Cardo in part because it will give him the chance to “get” Boggs, too. In an interesting parallel plot, it turns out that Latiolais wasn’t guilty of the crime for which he was convicted, and Robicheaux is able to find out the truth about that crime, too when he tracks Latiolais down.

In P.D. Martin’s Body Count, we first meet FBI profiler Sophie Anderson. Her specialty is “getting into the heads” of serial killers, and she meets her match in the D.C. Slasher, a killer who’s already claimed more than one victim. Anderson and her team use all of the evidence and information they can get to try to track down the killer before another victim is killed. The case strikes very “close to home” when Anderson’s friend and colleague Samantha “Sam” Wright is abducted. Now the team tries frantically to find Wright before she’s murdered. As the novel evolves, Anderson discovers that the killer knows who she is and has begun to track her and at one point, she herself is abducted. To Martin’s credit, Anderson is far from a stereotypical “persecuted heroine;” still, she’s in a dire situation until one of her team-mates tracks her down and gives her the time and distracter she desperately needs.

And then there’s the cobra incident in Alexander McCall Smith’s Blue Shoes and Happiness. One morning Mma. Grace Makutski, Associate Detective and second-in-command at the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, notices a cobra under her desk. She alerts her boss and McCall Smith’s main sleuth Mma. Precious Ramotswe. The two detectives know how dangerous cobras are and they’re not sure what to do, but they manage to get out of the office and alert the two apprentice mechanics who work at Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, which shares a building with the detective agency. The two young men try to kill the cobra but succeed only in making matters worse. Then, Neil Whitson of the Mokolodi Game Preserve happens to come by, as he’s a friend of Mr. J. L.B. Matkeoni, who owns Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors. Soon enough he’s able to catch the snake and put it in a sack in preparation for returning it to the wild. The two sleuths are extremely grateful to have the snake gone although it is interesting to read the difference between the story of Whitson’s arrival that they tell and the snake story that the apprentice mechanics tell ;-).

In Riley Adams’ (AKA Elizabeth Spann Craig’s) Hickory Smoked Homicide, the third of her Memphis Barbecue series, we meet Tristan Pembroke, a very successful but snobbish and malicious beauty pageant coach. Her daughter Steffi is a waitress at one of Memphis’ most popular eateries, Aunt Pat’s Barbecue, which is owned by Lulu Taylor. When Tristan and Steffi Pembroke have a serious argument, Tristan ends up throwing her daughter out of the house and Lulu takes the girl in. All seems to return more or less to normal until the night that Lulu and her daughter-in-law Sara attend an auction at Tristan Pembroke’s home. At the auction, Sara Taylor and Tristan Pembroke get into a violent argument. Later, Lulu finds Tristan’s body stuffed into a closet. Now the police suspect that Sara took things too far and murdered the victim. Lulu knows this isn’t true and begins to ask questions. It turns out that there’s quite a list of people who wanted Tristan Pembroke dead for several reasons. Lulu gets to the truth of the matter but not before she ends up in very real danger. Coming to the rescue in this case is Lulu’s friend Cherry Hayes, a docent at Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley. Cherry’s a little eccentric (which, in my opinion, adds to her appeal), but she’s far from stupid and she can act quickly when she has to do so. Oh, and in a related note, I’ve recently learned that there will be a new Memphis Barbecue Restaurant novel. Great news, Elizabeth, and I look forward to reading it!

In Paddy Richardson’s Hunting Blind, Stephanie Anderson is about to complete her psychiatry program in Dunedin. One day, she learns something disturbing from one of her patients Elizabeth Clark. Years ago, Clark’s younger sister Gracie disappeared one night and hasn’t been seen since. This trauma has devastated Clark and is part of the reason for her suffering. Clark’s story strikes close to home for Anderson, whose own little sister Gemma was abducted seventeen years earlier. When Anderson hears Clark’s story, she decides to find out who is responsible for all of this horror. So she takes time off from work and goes in search of the perpetrator. She finds out who’s committed the crimes and lays her plans. Anderson is refreshingly far from a “persecuted heroine,” and she’s by no means stupid. But she falls into very serious danger at one point. She gets herself out of that situation, but then she faces a whole new set of problems. The person who rescues her is her mother Minna. It’s ironic, too because Anderson and her mother have had a very difficult relationship for a long time, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that they’re very much alike.

Crime fiction shows us that anyone can rescue someone else. And when it’s done well, that plot point can add some real interest to the story.

 

 

 

On Another Note…

 

A year ago, Christchurch was devastated by a terrible earthquake. Hundreds of lives were lost and many beautiful buildings were destroyed. Parts of the city will never be able to be re-built, and it’ll take years to repair what can be repaired. This post is dedicated to the memories of those who lost their lives that terrible day and in the following days.

It is also dedicated to the hundreds of rescuers who gave up food, sleep, washing, families and anything like a normal life to try to save others. They won’t tell you what they did – they’re real heroes who don’t boast. But I will. They dug through rubble, they stayed up for days on end, they kept vigil, they moved in blankets, tents, water, vital medical supplies and lots more. They are responsible for saving many, many lives and we owe them a debt of gratitude. I wasn’t there that day, but there many people who are alive because those rescuers were. Thanks to all of you.

Oh, and one more thing. See the New Zealand flag on my sidebar? Yes, that one. Click it. Go on, I’ll wait. It gives you the opportunity to help re-build Christchurch. When you click, you’ll be taken to the New Zealand government’s donation website for re-building the Canterbury area. It doesn’t take much to help. Even if you would prefer not to donate, please pass the word. Let’s not forget…

 

 

 

 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Fontella Bass’ Rescue Me.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alexander McCall Smith, Elizabeth Spann Craig, James Lee Burke, P.D. Martin, Paddy Richardson, Riley Adams, Tony Hillerman

Longing For Shelter From All That We See*

As I’ve often mentioned on this blog, being a sleuth is really difficult. Apart from the obvious physical and mental toll the job takes, there’s the added fact that most people don’t have a really clear idea of what the work is like. Among the few people who really do “get it” – at a deep level – are other cops and law enforcement professionals. So it’s no surprise that a lot of “office romances” spring up. For one thing, investigating cases usually involves an awful lot of time, so people working on them spend quite a lot of time together. And then there’s the adrenaline “rush” that comes during an intense investigation; that, too, adds to the mix. Add in the empathy factor and you’ve got a very ripe atmosphere for romance. A quick look at crime fiction shows what I mean.

Tony Hillerman’s Jim Chee is a hard-working member of the Navajo Nation and the Navajo Tribal Police. In the course of the novels that feature him, Chee has three serious relationships. The first two are not with fellow cops. But in The Wailing Wind, Chee meets rookie Tribal Police Officer Bernadette Manuelito. In that novel, she finds a dead man in a truck in the desert. At first, she thinks the man was drunk and the death accidental. But the case proves to be murder. Unfortunately, by then, Manuelito has compromised the crime scene and gets into trouble for it. Sergeant Jim Chee suspects there’s something particularly strange about this murder and he and “The Legendary Lieutenant” Joe Leaphorn begin to look for answers. For Chee, the motivation is that he doesn’t want the FBI taking over his case and he likes Manuelito (and he respects her, too). For Leaphorn, the case reminds him of another, unsolved case from two years earlier. As the case gets more dangerous and the hours longer, Chee and Manuelito spend more time together and find they’re mutually attracted. To add to this, Manuelito is in many ways a traditional Navajo; she and Chee share a strong bond in that way. In the end (and after a few novels), we see a happy ending for Chee and Manuelito. One of the things that’s most appealing about this “office romance” is that it develops very believably and naturally. It doesn’t feel contrived at all.

Peter Robinson’s Alan Banks finds himself swept up in an “office romance,” too.  In In a Dry Season, the once-buried Yorkshire village of Hobb’s End has become uncovered due to a drought. A young boy exploring the ruins discovers that a skeleton’s been buried, too. Banks and his team begin the work of finding out who the woman was and how and why she died. One of his team members is DS Annie Cabot. Cabot’s far from perfect, but she’s a hard-working and skilled cop, and Banks finds her attractive, too. To add to that, Banks and his wife Sandra have separated, and he’s still dealing with the fact that she was unfaithful to him. So it seems only natural that Banks and Cabot would be drawn to each other and they are. They begin a relationship that certainly has its ups and downs, but shows clearly how “office romances” can start when the ingredients are there. Again, this relationship makes sense and adds to the story because it falls out naturally from the plot. It’s not contrived just to add “spice” to the series.

The romance between Åsa Larsson’s Rebecka Martinsson and her boss Måns Wenngren is also natural.  When we first meet them in Sun Storm (AKA The Savage Altar), Martinsson is a tax attorney working in Stockholm. She and Wenngren have an icily polite relationship; Wenngren thinks that Martinsson is cold and distant, and Martinsson is smarting because of Wenngren’s management style as well as what she sees as Wenngren’s lack of respect for her. Martinsson returns to her hometown of Kiruna to help a former friend who’s been charged with murder. In the course of that case, Martinsson herself gets into a very traumatic situation from which she’s just beginning to recover when the events of the next novel The Blood Spilt take place. Throughout that novel and The Black Path, Wenngren and Martinsson get to know each other better even though they don’t spend a lot of time together at first. The more they learn about each other, the more they respect and come to love each other. What’s appealing about this relationship is that it takes a very natural course. It develops over time (three novels) and we can really imagine people like Martinsson and Wenngren pursuing a relationship in the way they do.

And then there’s the relationship between P.D. Martin’s Sophie Anderson and Darren Carter. Anderson is an F.B.I. profiler whom we meet in Body Count. She and her team are on the trail of a vicious killer nicknamed “The D.C. Slasher.” That trail leads to Tucson, Arizona, where it seems the killer has struck before. In the course of working that part of the investigation, Sophie meets Carter, with Arizona Homicide. The two begin a friendship as they work this case; later it blossoms into more. Again, this is a realistic relationship. Anderson and Carter don’t magically fall in love and get whisked away, as the legend goes. They have their awkward moments and difficulties, one of which is that it’s often a long-distance romance. But that’s what makes this relationship work in terms of character development; it’s authentic.

The relationship between Deborah Crombie’s Gemma James and Duncan Kincaid is authentic, too. When we first meet them in A Share in Death, they work together as colleagues. Over time they come to like and trust each other and they build a life together. But there’s nothing contrived or “magical” about this couple. The stress of their jobs takes it toll, and they each have personal issues to deal with as well. That’s part of why this “office romance” works in this series. It’s natural and believable, and it develops between two people who are human.

It’s just as interesting to see how incipient “office romances” don’t happen as it is to see how they do happen. Plenty of people notice those with whom they work, but don’t pursue a relationship. Sometimes it’s because they’re committed to other people. Sometimes it’s because they realise the pitfalls of an “office romance.” That sub-plot can be add an interesting layer to a story as well. For instance, Martin Edwards’ DCI Hannah Scarlett is the leader of the Cumbria Constabulary’s Cold Case Review team. Her second-in-command in the first few novels of Edwards’ Lake District series is Nick Lowther. Scarlett and Lowther work well together and there are hints – just hints – that under other circumstances they might become more than friends and colleagues. But the novels wouldn’t be as effective as they are if this couple did explore a relationship. In this case, the faint hints are far more effective and add some depth to both characters.

The same is true of Carolyn Graham’s Tom Barnaby. Barnaby is happily married to his wife Joyce – has been for a number of years. But in A Ghost in the Machine, Barnaby acknowledges the risks of police work when it comes to “office romances.” He’s noticing that Sergeant Gavin Troy and WPC Abby Rose Carter are mildly flirting. Here’s his reaction:

 

“The physical and emotional closeness police work often entailed made such situations especially hazardous. Barnaby himself had never been unfaithful, although there had been one or two very close calls. The second so close it had led to a request for a transfer.”

 

This is just my opinion, so feel free to differ with me if you do, but the series is stronger because Barnaby admits to not being immune, as it were, but doesn’t completely slip.

“Office romances” can fall out very naturally in a plot. When they do, that thread can add some character depth, especially if it’s done over time. When it’s contrived, though, or not done subtly, an “office romance” can spell disaster for a novel or series. What’s your view on this? Do you think authors ought to steer clear of this plot point? Or do you think it makes sense as a plot point?

 

 

 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bob Seger’s We’ve Got Tonight.

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Filed under Åsa Larsson, Caroline Graham, Deborah Crombie, Martin Edwards, P.D. Martin, Peter Robinson, Tony Broadbent