Category Archives: Peter Høeg

The Alphabet in Crime Fiction: Injections

InjectionsThe Crime Fiction Alphabet meme is making great progress on our treacherous trek through the letters of the alphabet. As ever, my thanks to Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise for keeping us all together and organized. Erm – You haven’t seen my passport have you, Kerrie? ;-)   This week we’ve arrived at the delightful Isle of I. The word is that there’s quite good fishing, hiking and outdoor sports here. So while everyone’s getting the anti-bug spray and changing into hiking shoes, I’ll share my contribution for the week: injections.

Some injections save lives. For instance, there’s naloxone (often marketed under the name Narcan) that reverses the effects of certain opiates such as heroin. And there’s epinephrine (adrenaline) that counteracts histamine reactions; it’s often carried by people who have severe allergies. But as any crime fiction fan can tell you, injections can be very dangerous too. There are a lot of examples in crime fiction of this kind of murder; I’ll just give a few of them.

In Agatha Christie’s Appointment With Death, the Boynton family makes a sightseeing trip to the ancient city of Petra. One afternoon while they’re there, family matriarch Mrs. Boynton suddenly dies of what seems to be heart failure. But a few details of the death don’t quite add up, and Colonel Carbury isn’t entirely satisfied that Mrs. Boynton died a natural death. So he asks Hercule Poirot, who is in the area, to investigate. It turns out that Mrs. Boynton was a tyrant and a mental sadist and no-one in her family is exactly mourning her loss. Neither are any of the other sightseers on this trip. It also turns out that she was murdered by an injection of digitalis. Poirot looks more closely into Mrs. Boynton’s life and that of her family members, and finds that the key to her murder lies in the kind of personality she had, and in an incident from her past. Some of Christie’s other work also features the role of injections, but no spoilers…

Peter Høeg’s Smilla’s Sense of Snow (AKA Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow) begins with the funeral of Isaiah Christiansen, a young Greenlander boy who moved to Copenhagen. The official account of his death is that he fell off the roof of the building where he lived – a terrible accident, but an accident nonetheless. Smilla Jaspersen lives in the same building and actually befriended Isaiah. Herself a half-Inuit Greenlander, Smilla felt drawn to the boy so she takes an interest in his death. Little signs in the snow on the roof suggest that Isaiah did not fall off the roof accidentally. This is enough for Smilla to start asking questions. Her suspicions are confirmed when she finds out that Isaiah had a puncture wound on his leg. There’s no sign of drugs, but Smilla is now sure that something about this death is not what it seems. So she keeps asking questions. The trail leads her to Greenland and an expedition that included both Isaiah and his father. That expedition turns out to be critical to the mystery.

Benjamin Black’s The Silver Swan is the story of the death of Deirdre Hunt. When her body is found off the rocks near Dalkey Island, the official explanation is that she committed suicide. Her husband Billy accepts that verdict and wants the case to go no further. In fact, he asks his old friend Dublin pathologist Garrett Quirke to do what he can to prevent an autopsy, saying that he doesn’t want his wife’s body subjected to being cut up. For the sake of their friendship Quirke agrees to see what he can do. But he begins to have suspicions about this death and when he prepares the body for a post-mortem examination, he finds evidence to support those suspicions. There’s a puncture wound in Deirdre’s arm, suggesting that she was injected with something. That needle mark is enough to get Quirke looking more deeply into the case. His search for answers leads him to the Silver Swan, a beauty shop in which Deirdre had an interest. There also turns out to be a connection in this case to an Indian faith healer and to Quirke’s own estranged daughter Phoebe, who’s dangerously mixed up in events at the Silver Swan.

Laos’ chief (actually only) medical examiner Dr. Siri Paiboun investigates a case involving injection in Colin Cotterill’s  The Coroner’s Lunch. Dr. Siri and his team are assigned to work on the politically-charged case of three Vietnamese men whose bodies are found in the Nam Ngum Reservoir in Kharmuon. There is a possibility that the men were spies, as there is no love lost between Vietnam and Laos. There are also signs of torture on the bodies. So the Vietnamese government is very interested in knowing what happened to its citizens and in knowing whether the Laotian government had anything to do with their deaths. Dr. Siri and his team are told to work as quickly and discreetly as they can so the press in both countries doesn’t fan the proverbial flames. Siri works with a Vietnamese counterpart Dr. Nguyen Hong on the murders and they find out something startling. Two of the men died not from torture or even from drowning, but from embolisms – injections of air. This suggests something more deliberate than simply the fate of captured Vietnamese spies and so it turns out to be.

Of course, injections can cause plenty of trouble even if they aren’t given directly to people. Just ask Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman. Chapman is a baker who lives and works in a Roman-style Melbourne building called Insula. As we learn in Heavenly Pleasures, her nearby neighbours Juliette and Vivienne Lefebvre own a chocolate shop called Heavenly Pleasures and sometimes use her as a taster for new creations. As Chapman puts it, Juliette

 

‘…really cares about chocolate in the same way that I care about bread.’

 

That’s one reason Chapman is so upset when some of the confections are sabotaged. Someone has injected chili into the chocolates, and although the Lefebvre sisters are quick to make things right, that doesn’t stop some questions being asked. There are other incidents of sabotage too and before long the Lefebvre sisters face having to close up shop until they find out what has happened to their chocolate. Chapman and her lover Daniel Cohen look into the question of who is trying to ruin Heavenly Pleasures while they are also investigating a suspicious new resident in Chapman’s building as well as a bomb threat.

See what I mean? Injections can be as dangerous as they can be helpful. And you’ll notice I haven’t even mentioned the many medical thrillers and hospital-based crime stories where injections play a role. Too easy. Now, if you’ll step over here, let me give you something guaranteed to help prevent a reaction to insect bites …   ;-)

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Benjamin Black, Colin Cotterill, Kerry Greenwood, Peter Høeg

The Alphabet in Crime Fiction: Falls

FallingThe Crime Fiction Alphabet meme has gotten through the first five stops on our treacherous tour and now we’re heading to our sixth destination, the historic F Falls. Our tour guide Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise has been doing a fantastic job keeping us all together and safe; thanks, Kerrie. It’s rather opportune that we’re visiting the Falls today actually because, well, that’s my contribution for this stop: falls.

Falls from heights (buildings, cliffs, etc.) can be very dangerous. In fact they’re often fatal. In a mystery novel they’re extremely useful though. A fall can look like an accident or a suicide, so it’s relatively easy to ‘cover up’ the fact of murder. And given the right circumstances, nearly anyone can arrange for someone to have a tragic fall. A good hard push in the right place is all it takes. So it’s really no wonder we see this plot point so often in crime fiction.

One of the most famous falls in crime fiction occurs in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Final Problem. Sherlock Holmes is about to get hold of the evidence he needs to put his nemesis Professor Moriarty and Moriarty’s criminal gang into jail for a long time. But Moriarty finds out and Holmes and Watson are forced to flee England. They end up in Switzerland where Morarity manages to track Holmes to the Reichenbach Falls. In a dramatic scene, the two enemies grapple and both go over the falls. Of course, as Holmes fans know, that’s hardly the end of the great detective’s story…

There’s a tragic fall in Agatha Christie’s short story The Edge. Clare Halliwell is one of the ‘pillars of the community’ of Daymer’s End. She’s a parish worker with a reputation for being a ‘very good sort.’ Clare and Gerald Lee have been friends for a long time, and in fact, Clare thinks their relationship is more than friendly. But then Gerald shocks her by marrying Viven Harper. Viven isn’t much liked in the village but at first Clare tries to get along with her. It’s not a successful attempt though and as time goes by, Clare dislikes Vivien more and more. Then she accidentally discovers that Vivien has been having an affair. Now Clare is faced with a decision: should she tell Gerald what she knows? Vivien begs her not to, and Clare soon finds that she rather enjoys having Vivien in her power so to speak. The tension between the two women mounts, and it results in a tragic fall from a cliff. An interesting question this story raises is: what really caused the fall?

In Anthony Berkeley’s Roger Sheringham and the Vane Mystery (AKA The Mystery at Lover’s Cave), writer and newspaper correspondent Roger Sheringham is preparing for a holiday with his cousin Anthony Walton when business changes his plans. Sheringham’s employer The Daily Courier wants him to go to Ludmouth Bay in Hampshire to report on the investigation into the death of Elise Vane, whose body has been found at the bottom of a cliff. There are now clues that her death was neither an accident nor suicide, so Sheringham is assigned to follow the story. That’s how he meets Inspector Moresby, who’s staying at the same inn and who is in charge of the investigation. Bit by bit, and each in a different way, the two men get to know the various people in the victim’s life, and they find that more than one of those people may have had a good motive for murder. Elise Vane was an unpleasant person with a large fortune to leave. In the end, Sheringham and Moresby find out who wanted the victim dead badly enough to actually murder her.

Peter Høeg’s Smilla’s Sense of Snow (AKA Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow) begins with the funeral of Isaiah Christiansen, a ten-year-old Greenlander who fell from the roof of the Copenhagen apartment building where he lived. His death has been ruled an accident and most people are quite satisfied with that. But Smilla Jaspersen, who also lives in the building and has befriended Isaiah, is not. As a half-Inuit who grew up in Greenland, she has a strong sense of snow, and she can see by the snow on the roof that someone else was involved in Isaiah’s death. So she begins to ask questions. The trail leads to an expedition that Isaiah made to Greenland with his father and the events that happened there, so Jaspersen travels to Greenland to search for answers. That’s where she finds the connection between a little-known piece of scientific research, the glaciers of Greenland, and the boy’s death.

In Helene Tursten’s Detective Inspector Huss, wealthy and powerful Swedish financier Richard von Knecht dies after a fall from the balcony of his posh penthouse. Göteborg police inspector Irene Huss and her team are called to the scene for what is supposed to be a ‘rubber stamp’ determination that von Knecht committed suicide. However there are two problems with this theory. First, as the team learns, von Knecht was not the kind of person who would have done such a drastic thing. And there had been no signs that he was unhappy enough to take his own life – and certainly not in this manner, as he was very much afraid of heights. What’s more, the forensic evidence suggests that someone else might have been present on the balcony and could have pushed von Knecht over the edge of it. As the team gets to know von Knecht’s widow, son, daughter-in-law and friends/business associates, we learn that there are several people who might very well have wanted von Knecht dead.

Maryanne Delbeck learns how dangerous falling from heights can be in Angela Savage’s The Half Child. She came to Thailand from Australia to volunteer at the New Life Children’s Centre in Pattaya. One night she is pushed, or jumps, or falls to her death from the roof of the hotel where she’s living.  The official police report is that Maryanne committed suicide but her father Jim doesn’t believe it. So he hires Bangkok PI Jayne Keeney to find out the truth about his daughter’s death. Keeney travels to Pattaya and goes undercover at the children’s centre to find out everything she can about Maryanne’s life and work. She discovers that the centre has its own secrets and that Maryanne may have known about them. What’s more, she learns that Maryanne’s life was more complicated than it seems on the surface. In the end Keeney and her partner Rajiv Patel find out what really happened to Maryanne Delbeck.

 

See what I mean? Falls from high places aren’t always very easy to prove as murder, even if they are. And sometimes what looks like murder ends up having been an accident. Or suicide. No wonder there are so many of these unfortunate run-ins with high places in crime fiction. Now, what do you say we take a nice walk to the top of that lovely cliff to see the falls? It’s a beautiful view… ;-)

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Anthony Berkeley, Arthur Conan Doyle, Helene Tursten, Peter Høeg

I’d Rather be Anything but Ordinary Please*

Outside the BoxOne of the things that can make a fictional sleuth or protagonist interesting and memorable is an unusual way of thinking. I’m not talking here about simple creativity of thinking although of course that can be an appealing trait. I’m really talking about a mindset that sees the world in a different way. Like anything else in a crime fiction novel, an unusual way of thinking can be overdone and so pull the reader out of the story. When that happens the sleuth is less believable. But when it’s done well, having a sleuth or other protagonist who looks at the world in a very unusual way can add richness to a story and can make for a very memorable character.

For instance, Arthur Upfield’s Queensland police inspector Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte is half Aborigine/half White. His way of looking at the world and his cases is unusual in part because of his cultural background. On the one hand, Bony is well aware of the European way of looking at life. He is a police detective, so he knows police procedure and he understands that way of thinking. At the same time, he is well versed in ‘the book of the bush.’ He thinks in terms of what the signs of the bush and nature tell him, and often gets very useful information from what he sees in nature when he investigates.  For instance, in The Bone is Pointed, Bony investigates the five-month old disappearance of Jeff Anderson, who was working Karwir Station, a ranch near Green Swamp Well, when he disappeared. One morning, Anderson went out to ride the fences on the ranch; only his horse returned. At first, everyone thought the horse (who was known for being difficult) threw him, but there is no sign of his body. No-one misses Anderson very much as he’s both sadistic and mean-tempered. But Sergeant Blake, who investigated the disappearance, now believes that Anderson either was murdered or deliberately went into hiding. Bony is assigned to investigate the man’s disappearance and begins to look into the case. He uses a very unusual but effective combination of his knowledge of the bush and the people who live there and his knowledge of police procedure and working with European-Australians to find out what really happened to Jeff Anderson.

Peter Høeg’s Smilla Jaspersen also has a very unusual way of thinking about the world. She is half-Inuit/half-White and was brought up on Greenland. So by the standards of most people in Copenhagen where she now lives, she doesn’t look at the world in the usual way. She is also a scientist who has learned to think about the world like a scientist does. And in Smilla’s Sense of Snow (AKA Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow), she uses her unusual way of thinking to solve the mystery of the death of Isaiah Christiansen. Isaiah is a young boy, also a Greenlander by birth, who lives in the same building where Jaspersen does. When he dies after a fall from the snow-covered roof of the building, everyone puts it down to a tragic accident. But Jaspersen thinks otherwise. First, Isaiah was extremely at home in the snow and wouldn’t have made the kinds of mistakes that can end up in a tragic fall. What’s more, certain aspects of the snow and the marks in it suggest to Jespersen that the boy’s death was more than just a fall. So she begins to investigate. The answers lead Jaspersen back to Greenland and an excavation there where Isaiah’s father died. Throughout this novel, we see Jaspersen’s unusual way of thinking, at the same time both scientific and informed by her cultural background. She understands snow, ice and glaciers in a very traditional, culturally-contextual and deep way; she has a real feeling for them. At the same time she understands them from a scientific point of view and those two ways of thinking give her a very unusual perspective. They also point her in the right direction in solving this mystery.

We see a very unusual way of thinking in Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Christopher Boone is a fifteen-year-old boy with autism. He’s high-enough functioning to communicate and to do quite a lot for himself. But he doesn’t think like ‘the rest of us’ do. When he discovers that his neighbour’s dog has been killed, he decides to be a detective like Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles and find out who was responsible. The novel is written from Christopher’s point of view and that gives us a glimpse into how a person with his form and level of autism might see the world. It’s an interesting perspective and although Christopher is not skilled socially, we see that he is highly accurate at remembering details. His unique skills are part of what leads him to the answers he’s looking for – and to a truth about himself that he never knew.

There’s also the unique perspective of Dr. Jennifer White, whom we meet in Alice LaPlante’s Turn of Mind. White is a skilled Chicago orthopaedic surgeon who specialises in hand reconstruction. She has also been diagnosed with dementia. As the novel begins, White is still able to function fairly well although she has had to retire from active work. Her daughter Fiona and son Mark have arranged for her to have a live-in caregiver Magdalena. One night, White’s neighbour Amanda O’Toole is murdered and Detective Luton is assigned to the case. Forensic tests show that O’Toole was mutilated in a way that points to a murderer with highly developed medical skill, so Luton begins to wonder whether White might be guilty. But the evidence isn’t completely convincing, so Luton isn’t sure White is the murderer. White’s advancing dementia means she has progressively fewer lucid times and even if she did think the way ‘the rest of us do,’ Luton knows she wouldn’t be likely to admit to the murder if she is guilty. So Luton has to use all of her abilities to get to the truth about Amanda O’Toole’s murder. It turns out that the O’Toole and White families have a long history together and that this murder has everything to do with their pasts. Since this novel is told from Jennifer White’s perspective, we get to see the case unfold through the eyes of someone who thinks in a very unusual way.

Catherine O’Flynn’s What Was Lost introduces us to ten-year-old Kate Meaney, who has a unique way of looking at the world. As the novel begins, Kate dreams of being a detective, and has already started her own detective agency Falcon Investigations. Her partner is Mickey the Monkey, a stuffed monkey who travels everywhere in Kate’s backpack. Kate’s favourite occupation is looking for suspicious characters and activity and there are few better places to do that than the newly-opened Green Oaks Shopping Center. Kate doesn’t have a lot of friends, and she doesn’t think the way other people do, but that doesn’t bother her. She’s perfectly content to live the way she’s living. But her grandmother Ivy, who is her caregiver, thinks Kate would be better served by going away to school. So she arranges for Kate to sit the entrance exams at the exclusive Redspoon School. Kate is finally persuaded to go when her friend twenty-two-year-old Adrian Palmer agrees to go with her to the school. The two board the bus together but Kate never returns. No trace of her is found, and everyone blames Palmer for her disappearance. In fact, his life is made so difficult that he leaves town. Twenty years later his sister Lisa is the assistant manager at Your Music, a store in Green Oaks. Her job is to put it mildly uninspiring and she’s in a dead-end relationship. But life changes for her when she meets Kurt, a security guard at the mall. Kurt’s been seeing strange things on his security cameras: a vision of a young girl with backpack that has a monkey sticking out of it. Lisa is reminded of Kate, whom she met a few times, and each in a different way, Lisa and Kurt explore the past as we learn what really happened to Kate. Throughout this novel we see that Kate thinks in a way that’s unlike just about anyone else. That aspect of her personality makes her perhaps the most alive person in the novel, even twenty years after she’s disappeared.

More recently, Belinda Bauer’s Rubbernecker introduces us to Patrick Fort, a young man with Asperger’s Syndrome. Fort’s father was struck by a car and killed when Fort was young and it’s partly for that reason that Fort is fascinated by what makes people die. He enrols at university in Cardiff to study anatomy mostly because of his fascination with the causes of death. Part of this novel is told from Fort’s perspective as he and his peers study a cadaver. Patrick notices some things about the cadaver that don’t tally with the official reports and that makes him curious about this death. Bit by bit we learn through Patrick’s very unusual way of looking at the world what happened to the dead man. Another thread of this story which is later tied in with Patrick’s experience is told from the perspective of Sam Galen, who’s in a coma in a neurological unit but hasn’t lost his ability to think. As he slowly re-unites with the world, we learn what happened to him and what life is like in that unit.  We get another perspective on the same unit from Tracy Evans, who is a nurse there. I confess I haven’t yet read this novel, but it was such a good example of a protagonist (in this case Patrick Fort) with a unique way of looking at the world that I couldn’t resist mentioning it.

Sarah Ward at Crimepieces has done a terrific review of Rubbernecker. Her review is what got me thinking about protagonists who don’t think like ‘the rest of the world’ so thanks, Sarah, for the inspiration. Folks, Sarah’s excellent blog is well worth a spot on your blog roll if you’re not already following it.

Characters with unique ways of thinking have to be drawn deftly or the story risks contrivance and melodrama, to say nothing of the risks to believability. But when such a character is done well, having an unusual way of looking at the world can add depth to a novel and set it apart from others.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Avril Lavigne’s Anything but Ordinary.

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Filed under Alice LaPlante, Arthur Upfield, Belinda Bauer, Catherine O'Flynn, Mark Haddon, Peter Høeg

Pack Up, Let’s Fly Away*

EscapingOne of the best things about blogging is the ideas and inspiration I get from folks who are kind enough to read and comment on what I write. Just as an example, I’ve recently gotten inspiration from two separate sources. One was an excellent book review on Fair Dinkum Crime, which is the place to go for all things related to Australian crime fiction. In this case I was inspired by Bernadette at Reactions to Reading. You really need to be following that superb crime fiction review blog if you’re not. The other source that got me thinking was an interesting comment exchange with Moira at Clothes in Books, which is the most interesting and informative place I know of for discussions of clothes, style, fashion, and what they’ve meant in novels, including lots of good crime fiction. Now, I’ll be glad to wait a moment while you go ahead and stop by those blogs to follow them if you’re not already doing so. They’re all excellent blogs and more than worth being on your blog roll if you’re a crime fiction fan.

Back now? Thanks. So what did these top-notch bloggers get me thinking about? Escaping the weather. Right now, it’s blistering hot in many parts of the Southern Hemisphere. It’s cold, dark and damp in many parts of the Northern Hemisphere. That’s January for you. And many people like to escape those weather extremes through what they read. So I thought it might be interesting (OK, fun, too) to look at some novels that people might use to escape that January weather.

 

Beat the Heat

 

Tired of the mid-summer January heat? One novel that comes to my mind is Arnaldur Indriðason’s Arctic Chill. In that novel, the frozen body of a young Thai boy called Elías is found near the building where he lived. There’s no question that the boy was murdered, so Reykjavík Inspector Erlendur and his team begin to investigate the case. They find an ugly and unexpected undercurrent of anti-immigration feeling that may have been behind the murder. At the same time, there are stories of a paedophile who may be in the area. If that’s true it too could have something to do with the murder. As the team is working on these cases, Erlendur also has to face another long-ago tragedy. When he was a boy, his younger brother Bergur was lost in a blizzard. He was never found and Erlendur’s had to cope with that since then. Now his daughter Eva Lind brings up the topic and forces him to confront that sorrow. There’s plenty of snow, ice and plunging temperatures in this novel.

Stan Jones’ Nathan Active series takes place in and around Chukchi, Alaska. Active, who is Inupiaq, is an Alaska State Trooper who was born near the Arctic Circle but raised in Anchorage. Now he’s returned to the Far North and the mysteries featuring him include lots of snow, ice and cold weather. For instance, in White Sky, Black Ice, Active investigates two suspicious deaths, both supposed suicides. One is of George Clinton, whose body is discovered near a local bar. The other is of Aaron Stone, who went on a hunting trip and never returned. In both cases, Active suspects that these deaths are not suicides at all and he searches for the connection between them. His suspicions seem even more logical when he finds out that the two men knew each other. Bit by bit he uncovers the truth about what happened to the two victims. A big part of this series is the look it takes at Inupiaq life, and of course for most of the year that life includes frigid weather and snow.

And then there’s Peter Høeg’s Smilla’s Sense of Snow (AKA Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow). Smilla Jaspersen is a half-Inuit, half Danish Greenlander and not really at home in Copenhagen, where she lives. She’s more or less a loner, but she does befriend Isaiah Christiansen, a young boy who lives in her building. Isaiah too is a Greenlander who’s never quite fit in, so the two form a kind of friendship. Then one day Isaiah is killed in what looks like a tragic but accidental fall from the room of the building where they live. Jaspersen isn’t sure that’s what happened though. As a Greenlander, she has a real sense of snow (hence, the title of the novel) and what she learns from the snow on the roof gives her the first clue that this death was not accidental. So she begins to ask questions. The trail leads to an expedition that Isaiah and his father made to Greenland, and what happened there. When Jaspersen learns that, she follows the trail to Greenland where she finds the answers she’s been seeking. Snow, ice, glaciers, all of them play a role in this novel, so it’s definitely one for cooling down a hot day.

 

Warming Up

 

Ready for a break from snow and slush, ice, plunging temperatures and heavy winter coats and boots?  Here are just a few examples of novels with plenty of ‘tropical heat’ that may help take the chill off.

You may want to start with a tropical cruise like the one Agatha Christie describes in Death on the Nile. Linnet Doyle and her new husband Simon are on their honeymoon trip, which includes a cruise of the Nile. On the second night of the journey she’s shot, and Hercule Poirot and Colonel Race, who are on the same cruise, work together to investigate. The most likely suspect is Linnet’s former best friend Jacqueline ‘Jackie’ de Bellefort. They were on bad terms and Jackie had even threatened to kill Linnet. But it’s conclusively proved that she couldn’t have committed the murder so Poirot and Race have to look elsewhere for the killer. There’s plenty of warm weather and several tropical drinks to be had in this novel.

There’s also Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza’s December Heat. In that novel, Inspector Espinosa of the Rio de Janeiro police has to face a particularly challenging case. His former colleague retired police officer Vieira is suspected of murdering his girlfriend Lucimar, who calls herself Magali. Vieira went out with her on the night of her murder, but he got very drunk and can’t remember much of what happened. His belt has been found in her apartment though, and it is possible that he killed her. Espinosa begins to look into the case and soon concludes that it’s not the kind of murder that Vieira would have committed. At the same time as he’s investigating Magali’s murder, he’s also dealing with what looks like a drugs ring and the police corruption that allows the ring to operate. The two cases might or might not be connected. Either way Espinosa deals with the underside of Rio as he searches for the truth. Rio de Janeiro is warm – even tropical – no matter what time of year it is. Trust me. So there’s plenty of hot weather and tropical drinks to warm you up.

And of course, no discussion of warm-weather ‘escape’ novels would be complete without a mention of Andrea Camilleri’s series featuring Sicily police inspector Salvo Montalbano. He lives and works in the fictional town of Vigàta, where the weather never gets truly cold. He spends plenty of time in outdoor cafés and restaurants and swims most mornings. We get a real sense of the heat in Sicily in August Heat, when Montalbano has to stay in Vigàta for the summer instead of escape the heat as he’d planned to do. His lover Livia Burlando joins him, but things don’t work out at all as they had planned. Livia had planned to stay with some friends and their son at their beach house rental but that turns into a disaster. First, the house is infested with rats. Then, a body of young girl is discovered in the basement. She is identified as Catarina “Rina” Morreale, who was reported missing some time earlier. Now, Montalbano has to negotiate the always tricky business of his relationship with Livia as well as find out who killed Rina Morreale and why.

So there you have it: just a few suggestions for escaping from whatever temperature extremes you’re facing. But I’ll bet you have your own suggestions. Which books have you read to beat the cold or the heat?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn’s Come Fly With Me, made popular by Frank Sinatrra.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Arnaldur Indriðason, Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza, Peter Høeg, Stan Jones

Vacation is Over and I’m Going Back to School*

An interesting comment exchange with Bill Selnes at Mysteries and More From Saskatchewan has got me thinking about boarding school. There are of course all sorts of boarding school situations. Some are exclusive, costly and basically intended for the elite. Others are targeted at other kinds of families.  Some boarding school experiences are rich and rewarding; others…aren’t. Just so you know, this post isn’t going to be about the boarding school setting in crime fiction; murders in academic settings such as the boarding school can be absorbing and interesting. They are also the stuff of another post. What I got to thinking about was really the number of sleuths who’ve been to boarding school and how it’s affected them. That experience may not be key to solving crimes, but it does affect the sleuth and therefore becomes part of her or his personality.

In Agatha Christie’s They Do it With Mirrors (AKA Murder With Mirrors) for instance, we learn that Miss Marple was educated at a finishing school in Florence. That’s where she met Ruth Van Rydock and her sister Carrie Serrocold. That friendship has endured for a very long time and that’s how Miss Marple gets drawn into the intrigue at Stonygates, the Victorian home where Carrie lives with her husband Lewis and which has been converted to a home for delinquent boys. The family includes several people related only through Carrie, many of whom either live there or are frequent visitors. Ruth is worried about her sister, mostly because of Carrie’s recent ill health. Although she has no concrete proof that anything is really wrong Ruth thinks Carrie is in danger and asks her school friend to look into the matter. Miss Marple agrees and pays a visit to Stonygates. One day an unexpected visitor arrives: Carrie’s stepson Christian Gulbrandsen. He is supposedly there on school business since he is one of the Stonygates trustees. That night Gulbrandson is shot while he is writing a letter and the letter he was working on goes missing. The most likely suspect is another of Carrie’s stepsons Alex Restarick; he can’t reliably account for his time, so the police pay particular attention to him. But Miss Marple isn’t sure the case is that easy and she continues to investigate. Miss Marple’s time away at school is not key to solving this mystery but it is a connection between her and the case.

Tony Hillerman’s Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn also attended boarding school, but with a different purpose. For a very long time in the U.S., it was believed that the best thing to do for young Native Americans was to send them to boarding schools and teach them ‘how to be White’ so they could assimilate into the larger society. Here in fact is how Leaphorn puts it in Dance Hall of the Dead.

 

…A Bureau of Indian Affairs high school that had a sign in the hall. It said, ‘Tradition is the Enemy of Progress.’ The word was, give up the old ways or die.’
 

That school experience has had some powerful effects on Leaphorn. He is a member of the Navajo Nation and among his people he’s respected as such. But he is secular. He doesn’t believe in the traditional ways of his people (although he knows about many of them). He has assimilated in many aspects of his life; in fact, he is much more secular than Hillerman’s other major sleuth Jim Chee. For all that though, Leaphorn has respect for what more traditional Navajos believe. He also is pragmatic enough to know that understanding more traditional ways can help him do his job better. And it does. You could even say that Leaphorn’s school experience helps him to be ‘on the outside looking in’ in some ways.

Peter Høeg’s Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow (AKA Smilla’s Sense of Snow) introduces us to Smilla Jaspersen, who was born and raised in her early years in the Inuit community in Greenland. She was then sent to a series of boarding schools, none of which was a good experience. Here’s what she says about it:

 

‘There have been quite a few boarding schools in my life. I regularly work at suppressing the memory of them, and for long periods of time I succeed.’

 

As we learn in this novel, she’s been expelled from or run away from a number of schools and it’s not hard to see why. In one school, for instance, none of the teachers spoke Greenlandic, and none wanted to. The children, largely immigrants, were expected to assimilate and become as ‘Danish’ as possible. That sense of being treated as a second-class citizen continues to permeate Jasperson’s view of her relationship with the Danish. So when a fellow Inuit Isaiah Christiansen dies after a fall from the roof of the building where he and Jaspersen live, she takes a special interest. The official explanation is that he had a tragic accident. But the marks of snow on the roof tell Jaspersen a different story and she starts investigating on her own.

And then there’s Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch. His mother was a prostitute, so he was made a ward of the state and placed in McClaren Youth Facility. In The Last Coyote we learn more about Bosch’s mother when he re-opens the case of her murder, a case that’s been largely ignored for thirty years. In the process, he visits an old friend of her mothers who was in the same business. Here’s what the friend says about McClaren:

 

‘What a depressing place. Your mother would come home from visiting you and just sit down and cry her eyes out.’

 

Bosch doesn’t have happy memories of his years there, but at the same time he acknowledges that being there meant he had a place to sleep and eat and a way to stay a little safe. He also believes it’s made him stronger. In fact, he has to cope more with his feelings of abandonment than he does with ‘school scars.’ His search for the truth about his mother gives him a different, more adult perspective on her and on what happened to him as a young boy.

In Ann Cleeves’ Raven Black we ‘meet’ Inspector Jimmy Perez, originally from Fair Isle, Shetland. As a young boy he had to leave his home to go to school in Lerwick. The difficulty of getting to and from the school (especially because of the unstable weather) meant that Perez stayed at the school during the week and only went home on weekends and holidays and then only when the weather permitted travel. For Perez, it wasn’t so much that he hated school. Rather, he was homesick. He was used to Fair Isle, the family croft and the way of life there and it was a major change for him to go to Lerwick. Then, two bullies began to make his life miserable – until he met and befriended Duncan Hunter. His friendship with Hunter was an important part of what made school bearable for him. Since then Hunter has grown up to be an unlikeable person and now Perez has little in common with him. But still, when Hunter becomes a possible suspect in the murder of seventeen-year-old Catherine Ross, their shared past adds an awkwardness to the investigation and an interesting layer to Perez’ character. It’s also interesting to see that Perez’ opportunity to leave Fair Isle has given him a different perspective on his home and family.

Boarding school can be a wonderful experience – or not. A lot of it depends on the student and the family, the school and the staff. But positive or negative, the experience has a real effect on those who go away to school. If you’ve been to boarding school you know what I mean. If you haven’t, you can imagine it.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Dee Clark’s I’m Going Back to School.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Ann Cleeves, Michael Connelly, Peter Høeg, Tony Hillerman