Category Archives: Peter Robinson

Tough Kids, What Can I Do?*

Juvenile CrimeOne of the hardest challenges for law enforcement, social service and other professionals to face is working with young suspects and young people who are actually guilty of crimes. On the one hand, a crime is a crime regardless of the age of the culprit. On the other, there are real psychological and other differences between younger people and adults. What’s more, there are many people who argue that if you don’t give juvenile criminals genuine opportunities to make lives for themselves (as opposed, let’s say, to putting them in prison, especially with adults), you create repeat offenders who will probably be criminals for the rest of their lives.

There are no easy answers to these questions, and I don’t claim to have the solution. But young people’s involvement in crime is an important social reality, and so naturally, it comes up in crime fiction too. Space permits me only a few examples, but hopefully they’ll suffice.

In Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun, famous actress Arlena Stuart Marshall takes a holiday at the Jolly Roger Hotel on Leathercombe Bay. With her are her husband Captain Kenneth Marshall and her stepdaughter Linda. Shortly after they arrive, Arlena begins a not-very-well-hidden affair with a fellow guest Patrick Redfern. One day she’s strangled and her body is discovered on the beach at Pixy’s Cove, not far from the hotel. Hercule Poirot is staying at the same hotel and works with the police to find out who the murderer is. One of the people they interview is sixteen-year-old Linda Marshall. She disliked her stepmother intensely and as it turns out, doesn’t have a real alibi for the time. So she is a very real suspect for this crime. It’s interesting to note how the police (and Poirot) view her in light of her age. Saying a lot more would give away spoilers, but it’s an interesting treatment of a young suspect.

In Peter Robinson’s Gallows View, we meet Trevor Sharp, an Eastvale, Yorkshire teenager who’s having trouble fitting in at school and getting along. To his father’s dismay, he takes up with Mick Webster, who’s been in and out of trouble for a very long time. Although Trevor’s father warns him to stay away from Mick, Trevor doesn’t listen. He and Mick start getting involved in several ‘adventures’ that get them into real trouble. DCI Alan Banks encounters them in the course of a few cases he’s investigating: a voyeur who’s making the lives of the local women miserable; a series of home invasions; and a murder. As Banks and his team slowly follow the threads of these cases, we see how what starts as an adventure, a rebellious act, or an ‘I want to make my mark’ act can spiral out of control.

Kate Morgenroth’s Jude tells the story of a fifteen-year-old boy’s who’s been living with his drug-dealer father. Jude is a witness when one day, someone shoots his father. So he’s taken away for his own safety. Later he goes to live with his mother, who’s the local District Attorney. Jude is placed in an exclusive private school. He remains under suspicion for his father’s murder, but the police don’t have enough evidence to arrest him. He knows more than he’s telling, too, but his life depends on his not saying anything. Then one day his new friend Nick dies of a heroin overdose and Jude is implicated. He’s not guilty, but he’s persuaded to plead guilty so as to shore up his mother’s campaign for re-election on an anti-drugs platform. Jude is promised that as soon as the election is over, his name will be cleared. Instead, he’s tried as an adult and convicted. Then, a school friend David Marshall, who’s now a reporter, gets wind of the story. Together he and Jude work to find out the truth about Nick’s death – and about Jude’s own past.

There’s also William Landay’s Defending Jacob. In that novel, fourteen-year-old Ben Rifkin is stabbed to death. Before long, his schoolmate Jacob Barber is suspected and in fact arrested. At first, his father, Assistant District Attorney Andy Barber, doesn’t believe his son had anything to do with the crime. But little by little, pieces of evidence begin to suggest that things are not what they seem. Is Jacob guilty of the crime? If so, what led to it? If not, who’s trying to frame him and why? This novel takes a look at juvenile crime from the legal and the personal perspective.

And then there’s Kishwar Desai’s Witness the Night. Fourteen-year-old Durga Atwal is in prison for a horrific crime. One night, thirteen members of her family were poisoned, and some stabbed as well. Then the house was set on fire. Only Durga survived, and the evidence suggests she may have been a victim as well, as she was tied up and possibly raped. But the police can’t get very far on the case because Durga hasn’t spoken about that night. The Inspector General for the State of Punjab knows that this is an extremely delicate case. Durga is not an adult, so she can’t really be treated as one. And yet, she obviously knows more than she is saying. So he asks an old friend, social worker Simran Singh, to come to the village of Jullundur to interview Durga, work with her and perhaps get her to open up. Simran agrees and makes the trip from Delhi, where she lives. As Simran slowly gets to know Durga, we see that applying the ‘usual rules’ to certain juvenile cases can do more harm than good. We also see that this is definitely not a case of a teenager who ‘just snapped.’

In Y.A. Erskine’s The Brotherhood, Sergeant John White of the Tasmania Police is called to the scene of a home invasion. With him goes probationer Lucy Howard, who’s hoping to get some experience. Tragically, White is stabbed to death at the scene of the crime. The most likely suspect is seventeen-year-old Darren Rowley, who’s been in and out of the juvenile justice system for a long time. Since one of their own has been killed, the police are determined to catch the killer. But they know that to do that, they’ll have to ‘play by the rules’ no matter how much they’d rather not. It complicates matters too that Rowley is part Aboriginal, so the media will be very alert to any perceived discrimination. In this novel, there are some really interesting discussions of the protection provided by the juvenile justice system. There are also interesting questions raised about what kinds of crime young people commit, and at what point one considers them adults.

It’s challenging enough to decide what the best way is to deal with criminals. It’s even harder when alleged or actual criminals are (at least legally) children. I honestly don’t have all the answers. I don’t even know if there is just one answer. But it is a very real issue in real life, and it’s raised in crime fiction too. Which novels that deal with this issue have stayed with you?
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Pete Townhend’s Rough Boys.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Kate Morgenroth, Kishwar Desai, Peter Robinson, William Landay, Y.A. Erskine

I Feel Like Letting My Freak Flag Fly*

Living Other LivesIf you pay attention in Las Vegas casinos, restaurants, shops and so on, you see an interesting phenomenon: lots of people dress and act in ways that they probably wouldn’t at home. I’ve seen Elvis impersonators, people walking around wearing balloon hats, people dressed in costumes, and people wearing scanty, spangled clothes that I doubt very much they’d wear to work. Nobody seems to mind very much; after all, as I’ve been told more than once, ‘It’s Vegas.’

For many people, visiting places such as Los Vegas gives them an opportunity to live out fantasies in ways they can’t do in their regular lives. I don’t mean just sexual fantasies although of course, that happens too. Rather, I mean adopting a persona that one can’t ‘wear’ at home. Not being a psychologist, I don’t know exactly why people sometimes feel the need to do that, but it seems to be a human need, for at least some people. You sure see it in Los Vegas, and you see it in crime fiction.

For instance, In Agatha Christie’s The Man in the Brown Suit, we are introduced to Anne Beddingfeld. She’s recently lost her professor father and now finds herself as the saying goes alone in the world. She decides that, since there’s nothing much holding her in London, she’ll have some adventure in her life:

 

‘I wound a black garment tightly round me, leaving my arms and shoulders bare. Then I brushed back my hair and pulled it well down over my ears again. I put a lot of powder on my face, so that the skin seemed even whiter than usual. I fished about until I found some lip salve, and I put oceans of it on my lips. Finally I draped a red ribbon over my bare shoulder, stuck a scarlet feather in my hair, and placed a cigarette in one corner of my mouth. The effect pleased me very much.’

 

Anne finds that ‘wearing a new self’ is more dangerous than she thought. One day she witnesses a terrible Tube accident in which a man is killed. She ends up with a piece of paper he had, which turns out to mention the upcoming sailing of the Kilmorden Castle for Cape Town. On impulse she books passage, deciding to live out what it’s like to be an adventuress. That choice gets her mixed up in murder, international intrigue and jewel theft.

Peter Robinson’s Bad Boys also touches on this theme. DI Alan Banks is away on holiday. So when Juliet Doyle comes to the police station to make a report, it’s Annie Cabot who takes the information. Juliet has found out that her daughter Erin has a gun. The gun belongs to Erin’s boyfriend Jaff, who is most definitely not the kind of person people want their children to date. As it turns out, Banks’ daughter Tracy is Erin’s best friend, and she knows exactly the kind of person Jaff is. When Jaff invites Tracy to run off with him, she’s excited at first. This will give her the chance to be someone she simply can’t be at home. But the excitement soon fades off when things start to spin completely out of control. Banks comes home from his holiday to find that a colleague’s been shot, there’s been a fatal accident, and his daughter has been taken hostage. Not the sort of homecoming one would wish for…

Jodie Garrow’s daughter Hannah wants to break free and be someone new in Wendy James’ The Mistake. She’s recently recovered from an accident that left her injured (that’s a story of wanting to break free in itself). But all is not well with Hannah’s family. She learns to her shock that her mother Jodie had a child several years before she, Hannah, was born – a child Jodie’s never mentioned to anyone. What’s more, there are rumours that Jodie herself may be responsible for the baby’s disappearance. Hannah’s never really felt completely comfortable with the quiet, middle-class life her family leads, and when her mother becomes a social outcast things are even worse. Then, Hannah learns something else that upsets her even more. She decides to ‘put on’ the life she fantasises about: a life moving around with her boyfriend, with no other ties. She imagines herself as a free spirit, and that’s the life she tries to ‘wear.’ So she runs off with her boyfriend only to find that an unsettled life with no boundaries isn’t exactly what she thought it would be. This sub-plot of wanting to be someone else is an interesting thread through the novel.

In Kerry Greenwood’s Earthly Delights, accountant-turned-baker Corinna Chapman helps to solve a few mysteries. One has to do with the deaths of several local junkies. Another is the question of who’s been sending threatening notes to several residents of the building where Chapman lives and has her bakery. There’s been vandalism to the building, too and Chapman and her lover Daniel Cohen look into the matter. The key to the deaths of the junkies seems to be a Goth club called Blood Lines. Getting into the club isn’t easy though, so if they’re going to see what’s going on there and figure out what connects it with the deaths, Chapman and Cohen will have to play roles. Chapman’s friend Pat, who goes by the name of Mistress Dread, owns a leather shop and creates the perfect Goth dominatrix outfit for her. That night, Chapman and Cohen go to Blood Lines and Chapman gets the chance to experiment in ways she doesn’t get to do in her regular life.

Jill Edmondson’s The Lies Have It has as a backdrop Toronto’s fetish club scene. In that novel, PI Sasha Jackson agrees to help her friend Jessica tend bar at Bound For Glory, a fetish club that’s planning a big event. When one of the club members Ian Dooley is murdered, Jackson gets involved in investigating the death. To do that, she gets to know some of the members and some of the things that go on ‘behind the scenes’ at Bound For Glory. In the meantime, she’s also working on another case: the disappearance of runaway teen Marcy Edquist. In this novel, it’s interesting to see how lawyers, accountants, doctors, and others who live what most people would consider ‘ordinary’ lives use the opportunity to live out some of their fantasies through the club.

Experimenting with another ‘self’ gives people the chance to do things they couldn’t normally do. Even wear a feathered costume. As you can see though, it doesn’t always go as planned…

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s Almost Cut My Hair.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Jill Edmondson, Kerry Greenwood, Peter Robinson, Wendy James

He Met a Girl Out There With a Tattoo Too*

TattoosIn the past few decades, tattoos have become more and more ‘mainstream.’ Of course as we’ll see, they’ve been around for a very long time, but it wasn’t really until more recent years that a lot of ‘regular’ people have been getting them. One of the things about tattoos is that they can be distinctive. Whether you like them or you don’t, they can give very clear clues as to a person’s identity, so it’s no wonder that when someone goes missing, one of the first things the police ask is whether that person has a tattoo or some other distinguishing mark. That’s also the case when someone is attacked; the cops almost always ask whether the assailant had a tattoo. Because tattoos have been woven into our culture for quite some time, it’s no surprise that we see them quite a lot in crime fiction. And sometimes they can be very useful.

For instance, a few of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories hinge on Sherlock Holmes’ knowledge of tattoos. In The Red-Headed League, we meet Mr. Jabez Wilson, a pawn-shop owner who’s had some odd things happen to him. He decided to earn a little extra money by responding to an advertisement for an open position. The job, as he found out, involved copying the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and it was easy enough. Then one day he found his new employer’s business had abruptly closed. He wants Holmes to find out what’s going on, and Holmes is intrigued enough to agree. It turns out that Wilson has been used by a group of thieves who wanted to use his shop as a base for digging a tunnel into a nearby bank. In the scene where we meet Wilson, Holmes notes that Wilson has been in China. He knows that by the look of a tattoo just above Wilson’s wrist – it’s made in a way that Holmes knows is distinctively Chinese. There are other stories too (I’m thinking, for instance of The ‘Gloria Scott’) in which Holmes’ knowledge of tattoos comes in handy.

In Michael Connelly’s 9 Dragons, liquor store owner John Li is shot and LAPD cops Harry Bosch and Ignacio Ferras are called to the scene. Li’s wife doesn’t speak English, and Bosch and Ferras are not thoroughly familiar with the Chinese culture of that part of Los Angeles. So Detective David Chu, who’s associated with the LAPD’s Asian Gangs Unit (AGU) is called in to assist. He proves to be very useful in helping Bosch and Ferras make sense of the culture and of the payments that Li had been making to a member of a triad – a ‘protection’ group. When Bosch shows Chu a video of one of Li’s payoffs to the triad member, Chu notices something else about the man: a tattoo. The tattoo gives Chu some interesting information that leads the police to suspect that Li might have been shot by a member of a particular triad with connections in Hong Kong. Then everything changes when Bosch gets a call from his daughter Maddie, who lives in Hong Kong. She says she’s been kidnapped and Bosch is sure that it has something to do with his current investigation. He goes as quickly as he can to search for his daughter. In the end, Bosch finds out what happened to John Li and to Maddie, and how the two are connected.

Inspector Salvo Montalbano makes effective use of a tattoo for identification in Andrea Camilleri’s The Wings of the Sphinx. A young woman is found dead near a local landfill. She has no clothes or other identification, so no-one knows who she is. The only identifying feature that’s really distinctive about her is the tattoo of a sphinx moth on her left shoulder. Montalbano doesn’t recognise the tattoo, but he asks his friend Nicolò Zito, who works for Vigatà’s Free Channel, to help. Zito broadcasts the picture of the tattoo and before long, Montalbano and his team are able to link the victim to a group of young Eastern European women who’d come to Sicily to find jobs. He also links the case to corruption in a social service agency and to some odd thefts.

Peter Lovesey’s Bath CID chief Peter Diamond has a similar challenge in The Tooth Tattoo. The body of a young woman is found in a canal in Bath. Oddly enough, there’s a sense of déjà vu for Diamond; he and his partner Paloma Kean have recently been in Vienna where they saw a memorial to another young woman who was also killed and dumped in a canal. Both were Japanese music students, too. The second victim – the one found in Bath – has only one identifying feature: the tattoo of a musical note on one of her teeth. It’s also discovered that she was a fanatic ‘groupie’ of Staccati, a string quartet. Bit by bit, Diamond and his team trace the relationship between the string quartet and its mysterious history and the deaths of the two victims.

In Angela Savage’s short story The Teardrop Tattoos, we learn that tattoos can also tell stories. This one is about a woman who’s recently been released from prison after serving time for murder. She and her dog Sully are settled into an apartment not far from a child care facility where one day, she gets into an argument with one of the parents. When a complaint is later lodged against her for keeping a restricted-breed animal (Sully is a pit bull), the woman blames her antagonist at the child care facility and plots her revenge. As she does so, we learn exactly what happened that sent her to prison. We also learn what the meaning is of her teardrop tattoos.

Peter Robinson’s Cold Is the Grave is the story of what happens to Emily Riddle, daughter of Chief Constable Jeremiah ‘Jimmy’ Riddle. Emily has left home, and her parents become alarmed when her younger brother Benjamin discovers pornographic ‘photos of her on a website. Riddle is now desperate to find his daughter and he asks DCI Alan Banks to help. The idea is that if Banks goes as a civilian, he’ll draw less attention to a personal matter that Riddle wants very much to stay private. Riddle and Banks have had a rancourous relationship in the past, but Banks is a father too. So he reluctantly agrees to look into the matter. Banks’ search for Emily takes him into some very seamy parts of London and one of the things that helps him find out what happened to her is the fact that in the ‘photos Benjamin saw, she has a spider tattoo.

And that’s the thing about tattoos. They can be very helpful in identifying a person. So they often cut down on the time it takes to find out who an unknown victim is. And they can be very interesting personal statements. That’s part of why sleuths such as Robinson’s Annie Cabbot and Patricia Stoltey’s Sylvia Thorn have them. No wonder we see them in crime fiction.

Oh, did you notice one very famous tattooed sleuth I didn’t mention? Oh, come on –  too easy! ;-)

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Tom Petty’s Into the Great Wide Open.

   

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Filed under Andrea Camilleri, Angela Savage, Arthur Conan Doyle, Michael Connelly, Patricia Stoltey, Peter Lovesey, Peter Robinson

Vacation, All I Ever Wanted*

VacationThe problem with being a talented crime-fictional sleuth is that it’s very hard sometimes to ‘get away from it all.’ Even if you want to take a break and escape for a holiday, you don’t always manage it. Of course, there are some sleuths who are so addicted to their work that they don’t ever really want to take a break. But there are also plenty of sleuths who do plan holidays – well, at least they try. But they’ve become so indispensable that they never really do manage to get away for long. 

For example, in Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, Hercule Poirot is taking a holiday cruise of the Nile. At first he hopes to have a nice, relaxing break, but then there’s a murder. Linnet Ridgeway Doyle, who’s on the same cruise with her new husband Simon, is shot on the second night. Poirot works with Colonel Race, who’s also aboard, to find out who the killer is, and the ship’s staff is only too happy to have them take charge of the investigation. The most obvious suspect is Linnet’s former best friend Jacqueline ‘Jackie’ de Bellefort, whose fiancé Simon was before he met Linnet. But although Jackie is on the cruise, her time is accounted for by reliable witnesses, so she can’t have committed the crime. Poirot and Race will have to look elsewhere for the criminal and they’re just beginning to do that when there’s another murder. Now instead of a holiday, Poirot faces a complex multiple murder. Interestingly, although Poirot does enjoy several holidays in the series that features him, he never really seems to mind interrupting them to solve crimes…

That’s not quite as true for DCI Richard Jury in Martha Grimes’ The Anodyne Necklace. In that novel, Jury is packing his things in preparation for a getaway weekend in Northamptonshire when he gets a call from his boss Superintendent Racer. Racer’s just gotten word that a human finger has been discovered at Littlebourne. When Jury protests that he’s not on call, Racer says that there is no other option since the two other DCIs on the rota are ill. So, very unwillingly, Jury changes his plans. He goes to Littlebourne where he finds that the finger belonged to Cora Binns, a secretary who worked for a temporary services agency and who’d gone to Littlebourne for an interview. She never made it, so now Jury works with Melrose Plant to find out who killed the victim and why. They find that her death is connected to a robbery and another death in the past, and to a vicious attack on another of Littleourne’s residents.

Ellery Queen also doesn’t always want to be disturbed, as we learn in The Origin of Evil. He’s taken a house in the Hollywood Hills so he can have some peace and quiet to write. But then, nineteen-year-old Laurel Hill pays him a visit. Her father Leander has recently died of a heart attack, but she is convinced his heart attack was deliberately brought on by a killer. In the weeks before his death, Hill received several macabre ‘gifts’ from an unknown person – gifts that made him increasingly upset. At first, Queen refuses to have anything to do with the gifts or with Laurel. He wants to have some time to write. But then, he finds out that Hill’s business partner Roger Priam has also been receiving cryptic warning ‘gifts.’ Laurel’s refusal to take ‘no’ for an answer finally convinces Queen to look into the mystery and before he knows it, he’s deeply involved. It turns out that Hill’s death and later, an attack on Priam’s life, has everything to do with the two men’s past.

DCI Alan Banks is away on holiday in Peter Robinson’s All the Colours of Darkness when a case of murder cuts his trip short. The body of Mark Hardcastle, a set and costume designer for the Eastvale Amateur Dramatic Society, has been found hanged in a local woods. It looks at first as though he’s committed suicide but then, Hardcastle’s partner Laurence Silbert is found murdered. DI Annie Cabot has begun the investigation but she knows that

 

‘…something big like this, you let the boss know immediately, or things have a nasty habit of coming back at you.’

 

Superintendent Catherine Gervaise takes the decision to call Banks back from his holiday and he and Cabot find out that there was much more going on in Silbert’s life than anyone knew. Far from being the murder/suicide that it seems on the surface, this case involves intrigue and espionage. And that’s not the only time either that Banks is called back from a holiday.

In Donna Leon’s A Question of Belief, Commissario Guido Brunetti is eager to escape the heat of August in Venice. He and his family are planning a trip to the mountains and everyone’s excited. While they’re on the train though, Brunetti gets a call from his colleague Glaudia Griffoni. It seems that Araldo Fontana, a clerk at the local courthouse – the Tribunale di Venezia – has been bludgeoned in the courtyard of the apartment building where he lives. On the surface of it, the killing looks like a mugging gone horribly wrong. But Fontana had been working for a certain Judge Coltellini, who may have been taking bribes from wealthy defendants in exchange for delaying their trials interminably. If Fontana knew about that, he might have been killed for that knowledge. And there’s the fact that he has some personal secrets too. Since this case is looking to be a lot more complicated than it first seems, Brunetti gets off the train, switches to a train back to Venice, and gets to work on the Fontana case. Perhaps this goes to show the down side of having a mobile ‘phone…

And then there’s Kel Robertson’s Smoke and Mirrors. In that novel, Australian Federal Police (AFP) Inspector Bradman ‘Brad’ Chen is taking some time off to recover from the events detailed in Dead Set. He’s even toying with the idea of not coming back, but finishing his Ph.D. instead. But his AFP colleagues have a different idea. Former Gough Whitlam government official Alec Dennet and his editor Lorraine Starck are found murdered at a writer’s retreat where they were working on Dennet’s memoirs. There are all kinds of possibilities for suspects too, since Dennet might have been planning to reveal quite a bit about some highly-placed individuals. This looks to be a very high-profile case and Chen’s colleagues want him on it. He reluctantly agrees and slowly finds himself drawn into what really happened to Dennet and Starck.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter whether a sleuth is officially ‘on leave’ or ‘on holiday.’ Sleuths who are good at their jobs will invariably be called back ‘on duty’ whether they want to or not. I know I’ve only mentioned a few examples here. Which gaps have I left?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Go-Go’s Vacation.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Donna Leon, Ellery Queen, Kel Robertson, Martha Grimes, Peter Robinson

We Figured it Out!*

Figuring out the killerThe other day I had an interesting comment exchange with Tracy at Bitter Tea and Mystery. Our exchange was about crime novels in which the reader can identify the killer before the author reveals who that person is. Sometimes that happens, but it doesn’t always mean that we stop enjoying the novel. There is, after all, more to a crime novel than just the whodunit aspect (not that that doesn’t matter of course). If you’ve ever really enjoyed a crime novel even though you spotted the ‘bad guy’ before the author revealed all, you know what I mean. Not all of us identify the murderer in the same novels, so I can only speak for the novels where it’s happened to me. But in those novels, there were other things that held my interest even though I’d worked out who the killer was, and that’s what kept me reading. Here are a few examples to show you what I mean.

Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds (AKA Death in the Air) is the story of the murder of Marie Morisot. a French moneylender who does business as Madame Giselle. One day while on a flight from Paris to London, Madame Giselle suddenly dies of what turns out to have been poison. The only possible suspects are the other passengers so Hercule Poirot, who was on the same flight, works with Chief Inspector Japp to find out which of the passengers is the killer. I don’t want to give away spoilers, so I won’t say what tipped me off to the killer, but I will say I figured out who it was before the answer was revealed. But a few things kept my interest throughout the novel. One was the motive, which I’ll admit I didn’t work out for myself; the motive is believable but it’s not obvious right away. Neither is the exact method of murder. This isn’t really an ‘impossible murder’ but it takes some figuring out, and I stayed along for the ride, so to speak, to find out how exactly the thing was accomplished.

In Dorothy Sayers’ Strong Poison, Lord Peter Wimsey attends the murder trial of mystery novelist Harriet Vane, who is accused of having poisoned her former lover Philip Boyes. There is evidence against her too. She had arsenic in her possession, the two had quarreled, and she was the last person known to give Boyes anything to eat or drink. So the prosecution thinks it has an ‘airtight’ case. But the jury can’t agree on a verdict, so she is given another trial. Wimsey has fallen in love with Vane, so he determines to clear her name during the month before her new trial. Little by little and with help from some friends and his valet Mervyn Bunter, Wimsey traces Boyes’ last days and weeks. In the end, he’s able to work out who really killed the victim and why. I admit I was able to identify the murderer before Wimsey did. But there’s more than just ‘whodunit’ in this novel. There’s the sub-plot of Wimsey’s interest in Harriet Vane, and her reaction to it. There are also some well-drawn characters in the story that keep readers (well, this one anyway) interested. For instance, there’s Katherine Climpson, who owns a temporary services agency. She and her employees prove to be very helpful to Wimsey; they’re quick-thinking, capable and interesting. There’s also a thread of humour throughout the novel. So at least for me, working out the killer’s identity didn’t stop me enjoying the novel.

Peter Robinson’s A Dedicated Man introduces us to Harry Steadman, an archaeologist who left his position at Leeds University when he inherited enough money to set him up for life. His passion is the Roman ruins in Yorkshire, so he and his wife Emma moved there to allow him to excavate them. One day, Steadman is found bludgeoned. DCI Alan Banks and his team begin the investigation with a close look at Steadman’s personal and professional lives. As they do so, they discover that there are several possible suspects, including people in Steadman’s professional circle as well as his friends. Then, sixteen-year-old Sally Lumb disappears and is later found dead. It turns out that Sally knew more than was safe for her to know about the murder of Harry Steadman, and when she put what she thought was the final piece of the puzzle together, she ended up paying with her life. I’ll confess I worked out who was behind the murders, but that didn’t stop me staying involved in that story. That’s in part because at first I didn’t know how the whole thing had been accomplished. I was really interested also in untangling the complicated set of relationships that we learn about in this novel. They all play a role in what happens, and they kept me wanting to know more.

And then there’s H.R.F. Keating’s Inspector Ghote’s First Case. In that novel, Ganesh Ghote has just been promoted from Assistant Inspector to Inspector in the Bombay (now Mumbai) police force. No sooner does he receive word of his new status than he is summoned to the office of Sir Rustom Engineer, who heads the Bombay police’s Crime Branch. Engineer wants Ghote to travel to Mahableshwar to follow up on a request from an old friend Robert Dawkins. Dawkins’ wife Iris recently committed suicide and Dawkins wants to know what led up to it. Ghote’s wife Protima is about to give birth to their first child, but he doesn’t see how he can refuse this request, so he reluctantly makes the trip. When he gets to Mahableshwar, he makes contact with Dawkins and his household staff, as well as with some of the people in Iris’ past. Soon enough Ghote begins to believe that Iris Dawkins was murdered. Although the local police are unwilling to upset someone with as much power as Dawkins has, Ghote persists and in the end, he finds out that he was right about Iris’ death. Part of the appeal in this story comes from the well-crafted setting, so even though I worked out who the killer was, I stayed engaged on that score. What’s more, although I had guessed who committed the crime, I wasn’t sure how that person managed to create an alibi. So I followed along eagerly as Ghote solved that part of the puzzle.

Donna Leon’s Through a Glass, Darkly takes Commissario Guido Brunetti and Ispettore Lorenzo Vianello into Venice’s glass-blowing industry. Giorgio Tassini is night watchman at Giovanni de Cal’s glass-blowing factory; late one night he is killed in what looks like a terrible accident. But Tassini had been quite vocal in his belief that that factory and others are guilty of illegal toxic waste dumping. In fact, he blames that waste for his own daughter’s disabilities. So Brunetti and Vianello have to consider the possibility that he was murdered. They begin their investigation with Tassini’s colleagues and bosses and soon find that more than one person could have had a motive for murder. I did work out who the killer was but the suspects in this case have alibis, and it was hard to break the killer’s. I didn’t feel too badly about that though, as Brunetti doesn’t break it either at first. And even if I had worked that one out, Leon’s depiction of Venice, and her portrayal of Brunetti’s family life are ‘draws’ for me. So are the ‘regular’ characters such as Signorina Elettra Zorzi, assistant to Brunetti’s boss, and one of the very interesting characters in this series. I had no trouble remaining engaged in this one even though I had guessed the ‘whodunit’ part.

Of course, your reading experience will be different to mine. Have you worked out whodunit before the author told you? Does that put you off a story? I’d be really interested in your input on this one. If you’re a writer, what do you add to your stories to keep readers turning/clicking pages even if they do figure out whodunit?

Thanks, Tracy, for the inspiration. Folks, I encourage you to add Bitter Tea and Mystery to your blog roll. It’s an excellent source of thoughtful and informed crime fiction reviews.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Richard Adler & Jerry Ross’ Seven-And-A-Half-Cents.

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Filed under Donna Leon, Dorothy Sayers, H.R.F. Keating, Peter Robinson