Category Archives: Peter Temple

Blue Suits and Bankers With Their Volvos and Their Valentines*

GentrificationGentrification is a fact of life in a lot of places. The idea is that a place will have greater appeal, a stronger economy and a wealthier tax base if it attracts people who can afford to pay upmarket prices for places to live, shop and so on. On the surface of it, that makes some sense. Most people would agree that it’s good to have a tax base that can sustain a place.

But here’s the problem, according to a lot of other people. Gentrification makes places too homogeneous (let’s face it; shopping malls don’t vary that much). It tends to take away the distinctive nature of an area, a city or a town. Gentrification also means that many middle- and working-class residents can’t afford to live in a place any longer. And it causes traffic and lots of other logistical problems.

That conflict – between those who support gentrification and those who oppose it – certainly plays out in real life. Perhaps you even live in an area affected by it. And it makes for a solid level of interest in crime fiction too.

In Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile for instance, Linnet Ridgeway has purchased Wode Hall, in Malton-under-Wode. She’s completely remodeling the place and intending to make some major changes. Part of her plan is to have some of the local cottages torn down and the residents moved. As you can imagine, some of those residents are not happy at all at being forced out of their homes. Here though is Linnet’s view:


‘They don’t seem to realize how vastly improved their living conditions will be!’


Linnet has money – a lot of it – and high social position, so the locals’ protests aren’t going to be very successful. But Linnet’s lovely new home won’t do her much good. Shortly afterwards, she’s shot during her honeymoon trip. Hercule Poirot is on the same cruise that Linnet and her new husband were taking, so he and Colonel Race investigate the murder. Although this example of gentrification isn’t a major plot thread, it shows an aspect of the victim’s character and it’s reflective of how gentrification can work.

In Peter Temple’s Bad Debts, a huge gentrification plan is underway for Melbourne. Called Yarra Cove, it’s to comprise a waterfront, marina, exclusive shops and restaurants and more. It’s intended to be


‘…arguably, Melbourne’s smartest new address.’


A lot of people want that upmarket money. What’s more, the area is currently run-down and seen by many as not safe. But not everyone agrees. In fact, an activist group led by Anne Jeppeson has been protesting the closing of the public housing located in that area. There hasn’t been much opportunity for public comment on the gentrification plan either. Sometime-attorney Jack Irish gets involved in this debate when a former client Danny McKillop is murdered shortly after being released from prison. McKillop was convicted of the drink-driving killing of Anne Jappeson and all of the evidence was against him. But now that McKillop’s been murdered, Irish comes to suspect that he might have been framed for Jeppeson’s death. If so, there’s something much bigger going on here than a tragic incident of drink driving.

Michael Connelly’s Echo Park forces Harry Bosch to return to a case he wasn’t able to solve when he first investigated it. Marie Gesto disappeared one day after leaving a Hollywood grocery store and Bosch was assigned the case. But although he had a suspect in mind, he wasn’t able to get the evidence he needed. Now, Raynard Waits has been arrested in Los Angeles’ Echo Park area for two other brutal murders. Incontrovertible evidence links him to the killings, so he’s not going to get away with them. His plan is to make a deal with the police. He’ll trade information on other cases, including the Gesto case, in exchange for avoiding the death penalty. Bosch works with what he learns from Waits to re-open the Gesto case and find out what really happened. Here are Bosch’s thoughts about the Echo Park area:


‘These days Echo Park was also a favored destination of another class of newcomer-the young and hip. The cool. Artists, musicians and writers were moving in. Cafés and vintage clothing shops were squeezing in next to the bodegas and mariscos stands. A wave of gentrification was washing across the flats and up the hillsides below the baseball stadium. It meant the character of the place was changing. It meant real-estate prices were going up, pushing out the working class and the gangs.’


Gentrification isn’t really the reason for Marie Gesto’s disappearance. But it’s an underlying part of the context of this novel.

On the other hand, gentrification is an important theme in Barry Maitland’s The Marx Sisters. A development company has made plans to tear town Jerusalem Lane, an historic area of London, and replace it with an upmarket shopping, dining and entertainment district. There’s a lot of money involved, so there is a great deal of pressure brought to bear on the residents of Jerusalem Lane to sell up and leave. It is a unique district though, and not everyone wants to leave. One holdout is Meredith Winterbottom, who lives in Jerusalem Lane with her two sisters Eleanor Harper and Peg Blythe. When Meredith suddenly dies, it looks a lot like a suicide. But DS Kathy Kolla isn’t so sure. So she and her boss DCI David Brock begin to ask some questions. They find that there are several people who’ve benefited from the victim’s death. One for instance is the development company’s representatives, who now have a clear path to completing their gentrification project. Another is the victim’s son, who will inherit his mother’s home and therefore, who stands to gain by the sale of it. And then there are the other residents of Jerusalem Lane, who could have had their own motives. That’s not to mention the fact that the three sisters are the great-granddaughters of Karl Marx. They had several old books and letters that would be of great interest to collectors and academics. Among other things, this is an interesting look at a district that will be forever changed by gentrification.

Vicki Delany’s In the Shadow of the Glacier is in part the story of the murder of Reginald Montgomery. He and his business partner have been planning the Grizzly Resort and Spa near the small town of Trafalgar, British Columbia. The idea is to bring a gentrified, upmarket group of tourists (and their money) to the area. Some people like the idea. The economy can use the boost, and the gentrification will mean more jobs. Others though see the resort as a threat to the environment and the local ecosystem. So the resort is by no means a ‘done deal.’ When Constable Moonlight ‘Molly’ Smith finds Montgomery’s body in an alley one night, she and Sergeant John Winters look into this whole gentrification plan as one possible motive for the killing. There are others, too, including issues in Montgomery’s personal life. Throughout the novel, there’s a real layer of interest as the debate goes on about the effects of having an upmarket resort nearby.

Planned gentrification also plays an important role in Shamini Flint’s A Calamitous Chinese Killing. Some wealthy and influential people want to tear down one of Beijing’s impoverished but historic districts to make room for a new, gentrified district full of upmarket shops, restaurants and housing. Professor Luo Gan has been among those protesting this gentrification, claiming that it will drive people out of their homes and will cheat them financially. When one of his students Justin Tan is found murdered, the official police theory is that he was killed by thugs in a robbery gone wrong. But Tan is the son of Susan Tan, First Secretary at the Singapore Embassy in Beijing. She doesn’t believe her son’s murder was the work of robbers, and she wants answers. So she arranges for Inspector Singh to travel from Singapore to Beijing and look into the matter. Singh reluctantly agrees and makes the trip. Soon enough, he finds evidence that the victim’s murder was likely deliberate. Now, Singh works with former Beijing cop Li Jun to find out who the murderer is. Someone involved in the gentrification project could be responsible for the murder. But that’s not by any means the only possibility. In the end, and after another murder, Singh and Li Jun find out what happened to Justin Tan and why.

Gentrification has a way of eliciting really strong feelings. It’s very much a proverbial double-edged sword, and not always popular. It’s a fact of life though, and it adds to a lot of crime fiction novels. Which gaps have I left?



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s No Man’s Land.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Barry Maitland, Michael Connelly, Peter Temple, Shamini Flint, Vicki Delany

Give it All to Charity*

CharitiesThis is the time of year when all sorts of charitable groups and causes make major appeals for donations. And that makes an awful lot of sense, as giving to others is (supposed to be, anyway) a part of the seasonal ethos. And we all have our particular favourite causes and charities that we support. Charitable groups are so much a part of our lives that it makes sense that we’d see them in crime fiction. After all, people in fictional worlds need a helping hand too sometimes…

In Agatha Christie’s One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (AKA The Patriotic Murders and An Overdose of Death), we meet Mabelle Sainsbury Seale. She’s recently returned to England from India, and one day, visits a local dentist Henry Morley. That’s where she encounters Hercule Poirot, who’s having his teeth cleaned. Poirot doesn’t think too much more about their encounter until Chief Inspector Japp informs him that Morley’s been shot. As a matter of course, all of the patients who came to the office that day need to be interviewed and Miss Sainsbury Seale is no exception. In talking with her and looking into her background, Japp and Poirot find that she’s an actress who works with Zenana Mission in India. Everything about her seems above board as the saying goes, until she disappears.  At almost the same time, they find that another patient has died of an overdose of anaesthetic. Now they’ve got two suspicious deaths and a disappearance to solve. I don’t think it’s spoiling the story to say that the Zenana Mission isn’t the reason for Morley’s death. But it adds an interesting layer to Miss Sainsbury Seale’s character.

In Peter Temple’s Bad Debts, sometime-attorney Jack Irish investigates when a former client Danny McKillop is murdered. The trail leads to a man named Ronnie Bishop, who may know more about this case than he says. But the only problem is that Ronnie disappears. So Irish tries to find him. It turns out that Ronny once worked for the Safe Hands Foundation, a charity group that supports homeless children. In fact, he called the foundation’s head Father Gorman. So Irish goes to Safe Hands to try to track Ronnie down. Safe Hands isn’t the reason Danny McKillop was killed, but it turns out to play a role in the novel, and Irish finds out some useful information about Ronnie there. It’s a good example too of the way a charity group operates.

Denise Mina’s Garnethill trilogy features Mareen ‘Mauri’ O’Donnell, who lives and works in Glasgow. In Exile, the second novel in the trilogy, Mauri works at Place of Safety, a shelter for battered women. While she’s there, she meets Ann Harris, one of the shelter’s residents. Soon enough, Ann disappears. That in itself isn’t that strange, as residents are not obliged to tell anyone where they go. But it does make the staff uncomfortable as it often means women are returning to abusive situations. That doesn’t seem to be the case with Ann though. But when she turns up dead in London two weeks later, it’s clear that something went horribly wrong. Everyone thinks that Ann’s husband Jimmy murdered her, but his cousin Louise, who runs the shelter, thinks he’s innocent. So she and Mauri start to ask questions. This novel is interesting in that many of the scenes take place at the shelter, so we get to go behind the scenes of a charitable organisation.

Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman is a volunteer for a Melbourne charity called the Soup Run. Its purpose is to deliver food, non-alcoholic drinks, medicine and clothes/blankets to Melbourne’s street people. Chapman is a baker, so she contributes to the Soup Run in two ways. She donates extra loaves of bread, rolls and other baked goods to the Soup Run’s collection. She also takes her turn riding with the Soup Run and helping to distribute the donations. The Soup Run may not be quite as formally organised as some other charities are, but it does a lot of good. There are other Melbourne charities too that we learn about in this series. In Devil’s Food, for instance, Chapman gets an unexpected visit from her mother, a back-to-nature hippie who goes by the name of Starshine. Starshine is worried because Chapman’s father, who goes by the name of Sunlight, has disappeared. Chapman agrees to see what she can do to find her father. She knows her father isn’t familiar with the city and doesn’t have money to get a hotel room. That leaves Melbourne’s various charities and missions including the Sunshine Sisterhood, Mission to the Miserable – the Sunnies. When Chapman goes there looking for her father, we see how a charity group works. Chapman encounters other charity groups too in the course of this novel, and it’s interesting to see how each operates.

In Andrea Camilleri’s The Wings of the Sphinx, Vigatà Inspector Salvo Montalbano is called to a local landfill, where the body of an unknown young woman has just been discovered. She has no identification other than a tattoo on one of her shoulders, so Montalbano has to start there. With help from his friend television journalist Nicolò Zito, Montalbano discovers that the victim was one of a group of Eastern European girls who came to Sicily hoping to find jobs. All of them had been helped by a charity called Benevolence, founded and now run by Monsignor Pisicchio. On the surface of it, the charity does a lot of good, and it’s supported by some important people. But Montalbano comes to suspect that it’s not as benevolent as the name would suggest…

And then there’s the New Life Children’s Centre, which we encounter in Angela Savage’s The Half Child. Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney gets an inside look at this charity when Jim Delbeck hires her to find out what happened to his daughter Maryanne. Maryanne was a volunteer at New Life when she jumped (or fell, or was pushed) from the roof of the apartment building where she lived. Keeney travels to Pattaya, where the charity is based, to do some investigating and goes undercover as a volunteer there. She learns that this charity, run by Frank Harding, prepares Thai babies for international adoption. It’s a charity, so it’s partly supported by donations. But it’s also supported by the Thai government. So any hint of irregularity in the organisation could be most embarrassing and politically very difficult. Keeney will have to be very careful as she investigates, especially since it’s possible that Maryanne might have found out something about New Life that could create problems for the organisation.  Among other things, this story shows the sometimes very complex relationship between charity groups and governments.

Charity groups do an awful lot of good. I’ll bet you have your own particular favourites that you support. That’s a good thing; there’s too much need out there for any one of us to fill it alone.



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Sublime’s (Love is) What I Got.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Angela Savage, Denise Mina, Kerry Greenwood, Peter Temple

I Want to Smile Again, Smile in Melbourne Again*

melbourne-tourist-information-cityI’m visiting Andrew Nette at Pulp Curry at the moment, and having a fabulous time. Since Nette is based in Melbourne, I thought it might be a good time to look around that great city for a bit. And why not? Melbourne’s got a lot going for it. There’s Flinders Lane, the National Galley of Victoria, several racecourses, the Melbourne Football Club, the beautiful Yarra Valley, and lots more. There’s world-class wine and delicious food too. There’s also some excellent crime fiction that takes place in Melbourne. There won’t be space for me to mention all of it, but hopefully you’ll see what I mean.

If you want to get a sense of Melbourne’s history, I recommend Wendy James’ Out of the Silence. This fictionalised account of a true story features Maggie Heffernan, who was convicted in 1900 of killing her infant son. James’ account begins in 1898, when Maggie Heffernan meets Jack Hardy. Maggie’s been raised in rural Victoria, and not long after she’s introduced to Hardy, who’s visiting from Sydney, the two begin a secret relationship. They become engaged, but Hardy says he wants to keep it private until he can afford to take care of a family. Shortly afterwards he leaves for New South Wales to find work. Then Maggie discovers that she’s pregnant. She writes to Hardy several times, but doesn’t hear from him. Knowing that she won’t be accepted in her family’s home, she makes her way to Melbourne, determined to track Hardy down. She finds work in a Guest House where she remains until baby Jacky is born. After a brief stint at a home for unwed mothers, Maggie hears that Hardy is in Melbourne. She finds his home and takes the baby there. When they arrive, Hardy claims not to know who she is and calls her ‘crazy.’ With nowhere else to go, Maggie searches for lodgings for herself and the baby and is turned away from six places. That’s when Jacky’s death occurs. After her arrest and imprisonment, Maggie’s case is taken up by Vida Goldstein, the first woman to run for Parliament in the British Commonwealth. Also interested is Elizabeth Hamilton, who moved to Australia after the death of her fiancé and now lives with cousins. In this story, we get to see several sides of turn-of-the-20th-Century Melbourne life, as well as rich discussion of social issues and politics.

Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher series takes place not many decades later, in the 1920’s. Fisher was born in Melbourne but moved to London. She returns to Melbourne in Cocaine Blues when Colonel Harper and his wife ask her to look into the well-being of their daughter Lydia. Lydia’s been in poor health and, not trusting their son-in-law, her parents suspect that she’s being poisoned. That case draws Phryne into all sorts of adventures in Melbourne and fans will know that she makes quite an impression. On a side note, I think Essie Davis does a terrific job of portraying Phryne in the television series based on these novels. I hope they continue.

Robert Gott’s The Holiday Murders takes place in 1943 over the Christmas holiday. It’s summer in Melbourne and not exactly a restful time for DI Titus Lambert and DS Joe Sable. As the story begins they’re called to the scene of a brutal double murder. John Quinn and his son Xavier have been killed and Lambert and Sable begin their investigation. They haven’t got very far when there’s another terrible murder. In the meantime, there’s a resurgence of Nazi sympathiser activity in the area and there’s a possibility that the murders may be connected with that group. But that’s hardly the only possible explanation, so there’s plenty of work to do. What with wartime privation, the team is stretched thin as the saying goes. But Lambert, Sable and Constable Helen Lord get to the truth about the murders.

We first meet Geoffrey McGeachin’s Melbourne cop Charlie Berlin in The Diggers Rest Hotel, which takes place in 1947. That novel has Berlin going to Wodonga to track down and stop a motorcycle gang that’s been responsible for several thefts. When a railroad paymaster is injured, there’s even greater pressure to solve these crimes. While Berlin’s in Wodonga, a murder is committed. Sixteen-year-old Jenny Lee’s body is found in an alley. At first it seems that the motorcycle gang must be responsible. But when Berlin learns otherwise, he’s got two cases to solve.

Berlin returns to Melbourne in Blackwattle Creek, which takes place in 1957. In that novel, he’s asked to look into an oddity surrounding the funeral of a family friend’s husband. What begins as a simple few questions leads to a high-level conspiracy, international intrigue and some very shady dealings. There’s plenty of police politics in this novel as well. And we get the chance to see post-war Melbourne.

More recently, Peter Temple has shown us what modern-day Melbourne is like. His series features Jack Irish, a sometimes-attorney who also has the knack of finding people who don’t want to be found. Beginning with Bad Debts, Irish shows us the grittier side of life Melbourne life with a black sort of humour:


‘Melbourne hated success. It didn’t match the weather. Melbourne’s weather suited introspective mediocrity and suicidal failure. The only acceptable success had to involve pain, sacrifice and humility.’


Irish really couldn’t imagine living anywhere else though, and certainly couldn’t imagine supporting any team but Fitzroy.

Temple fans will know that his novel Truth also takes place in greater Melbourne. This one features Victoria Police Inspector Stephen Villani, who’s investigating the murder of a teenage prostitute whose body is found in an exclusive apartment. Then, three more brutal murders are discovered. As if this isn’t enough, bush fires are threatening Melbourne, so there’s a real thread of tension in the novel as Villani and his team work their cases.

And then there’s Kerry Greenwood’s other series featuring former accountant turned baker Corinna Chapman. Chapman lives and has her business in a large Roman-style building called Insula, and has formed a real community with the other residents of the building. Among other things, this series shows the diversity of Melbourne. In the course of the series Chapman goes to several different parts of the city and interacts with all sorts of different people. Until you think about it, it’s easy to forget how diverse Melbourne is, but it really is.

And of course, there are Melbourne-based authors whose stories take place elsewhere, but who’ve been ‘seasoned’ by the city. For instance, Andrew Nette’s Ghost Money takes place mostly in Cambodia. But his Max Quinlan is a Melbourne ex-cop and the novel begins there, when Madeleine Avery hires Quinlan to find her brother Charles.

Angela Savage is also Melbourne-based. Her PI sleuth Jayne Keeney is based in Bangkok, but is originally from Melbourne. She’s more comfortable living and working where she is, but that doesn’t mean Melbourne has had no effect on her.

See what I mean? Melbourne’s a terrific city. There are lots of interesting things to do and see, great food and wine, and some fine, fine people. But – erm – do be careful…  ;-)

ps. Thanks very much to for the lovely image!


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Lucksmiths’ Welcome Home.


Filed under Andrew Nette, Angela Savage, Geoffrey McGeachin, Kerry Greenwood, Peter Temple, Robert Gott, Wendy James

I Write About What’s Real to Me*

Authentic Writing Phil Northern DEOne of the many things to love about reading is the sense of place one gets in a well-written novel. Some books give us a new perspective on places we know well; others show us places we’ve never been. But either way, a solid and authentic sense of place and therefore culture adds much to a story. Some would say it’s an essential ingredient.

Giving readers a sense of place and culture is partly a matter of scenery, locations and so on. But it’s more than that. It’s also giving readers a sense of the way the people who live in that place speak, act and interact. Subtle nuances such as eating customs, idioms and so on can give a novel a real richness. They can also add real authenticity to a novel and have readers thinking, ‘I felt like I was there.’

What’s interesting about that authenticity is that we may not pay close attention to it unless it’s not there. That’s when many readers get cranky.  For instance, I read a blog review recently of a novel that takes place in the US, but where the characters didn’t ‘feel American.’ I understand the point. However one defines ‘being American,’ or ‘being Australian,’ or ‘being English, ‘ or ‘being Russian,’ (or any other culture for the matter of that), one wants fictional characters to seem authentic.

As with most things in writing though, it’s a proverbial double-edged sword. On the one hand, people do notice a lack of authenticity and sense of place. And they often get ill-tempered about it. On the other hand, if the characters aren’t interesting in and of themselves (apart from their cultures), then what the author intends as authenticity can come off as stereotyped. If the plot isn’t interesting, then the setting can’t always save a story. And there is such a thing as ‘dumping’ information about a culture or setting. That makes readers cranky too. Nonetheless, a skilled author shows what a place is like in all sorts of obvious and not-so-obvious ways.

Some authors (I’m thinking for instance of Deon Meyer, Nelson Brunanski, Denise Mina and Domingo Villar) are members of the cultures depicted in their stories. They write authentically because they know from growing up in those cultures what they’re like. I’m sure you have your own list of favourite authors like that – authors who are skilled at sharing their own ‘home’ settings, cultures, speech patterns and the like. It takes a special ability to balance writing about one’s own culture while at the same time including and welcoming readers who may not know about it. And a word of praise is due too I think to those who translate these authors’ stories. It takes a great deal of skill to capture that authenticity in another language. Trust me. So kudos to people such as Stephen Sartarelli, Anne Trager, Marlaine Delargy and Martin Schifino.

Other authors write truly authentic novels because they’ve lived in an area for a long time and really gotten to know the culture. That’s true for instance of Peter Temple. Born in South Africa, he moved to Australia in 1980 and he’s set his novels there. His stories and characters are distinctly Australian. In fact, his novel Truth won Australia’s prestigious Miles Franklin Award, which is given to a novel


‘…which is of the highest literary merit and presents Australian life in any of its phases.’


You can’t get much more Australian than that.

The same sort of thing might be said of Tony Hillerman. Born in Oklahoma, he moved to the American Southwest and became thoroughly familiar with the Navajo Nation. Hillerman fans know that his Jim Chee/Joe Leaphorn series portrays life among the Dineh (the Navajo) in a respectful and authentic way. In fact it’s easy to forget (or perhaps it’s just me) that Hillerman was not a member of the Navajo Nation. He spent years among the Navajos and got to know the culture, the language and the subtle nuances of life and interaction before he really wrote about them. And he did so in such an authentic way that the Navajo Nation gave him their Special Friend of the Dineh Award – a mark of true respect.

As an interesting (well, I hope so) side note, Hillerman is said to have been much inspired by the work of Arthur Upfield, Upfield was originally from the UK, but moved to Australia in 1910. Most of his novels are about half-Aboriginal police detective Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte. Upfield was neither born in Australia nor a member of any of Australia’s Aboriginal cultures. And yet his depictions of the land and the people ring very true.

Authors can also do a lot careful research to make sure their stories are authentic in terms of characters, language, interactions, setting and the like. Of course, it’s a good idea for any author to ‘do the homework’ as a part of writing a story. Otherwise the story is not only inauthentic, it’s inaccurate. And that’s another thing that can make readers quite grouchy. And authors such as Shona (S.G.) MacLean and William Ryan have to rely quite a bit on that careful work because they write historical series. So they have the added challenge of giving readers a realistic sense of a different time with different technology, assumptions, lifestyles, and lots more.

What about you? Do you find yourself irritated if the characters and setting you’re reading about don’t feel authentic to you? Or are you more plot-driven, so if the story is a good one, that’s what matters? If you’re a writer, what do you tap to make the story authentic? Your own experience? Research? Something else?


ps. The ‘photo is of winter in Southeastern Pennsylvania/Northern Delaware. I write about that area in part because it’s my home. I know the place.



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Hands Like Houses’ Weight.


Filed under Anne Trager, Arthur Upfield, Denise Mina, Deon Meyer, Domingo Villar, Marlaine Delargy, Martin Schifino, Nelson Brunanski, Peter Temple, Shona MacLean, Stephen Sartarelli, Tony Hillerman, William Ryan

I Was Only Having Fun*

Banter and TeastingOne of the ways people can cement their relationships with each other is through teasing and banter. That’s not true of course in every culture; there are plenty of cultures in which that kind of teasing and joking isn’t considered appropriate. And of course, it can go very much too far. But in cultures where it is done, it’s a part of interacting with friends. In fact, among some social groups, people who don’t get involved in the back-and-forth of teasing are considered aloof – even cold. We do joke with each other in real life, so it’s only natural that we see teasing and banter in crime fiction too. If we didn’t, the interactions might not seem as natural and authentic. There are a lot of examples of this sort of interaction in the genre of course; let me just share a few.

In Agatha Christie’s Hickory, Dickory, Dock (AKA Hickory, Dickory, Death), Hercule Poirot’s frighteningly efficient secretary Miss Lemon asks him to consult with her sister Mrs. Hubbard. Mrs. Hubbard is the manager of a student hostel where some odd things have gone missing and some strange events have occurred. Poirot agrees to look into the matter and visits the hostel. When one of the residents Celia Austin admits to being responsible for some of the thefts, it’s assumed that the matter is solved. But then, the next night, Celia dies in what looks at first like a case of suicide. Then it’s proven that she was murdered, and Poirot and Inspector Sharpe investigate. As they do so, we get to know the various young people who live at the hostel. In their interactions, we see some of the bantering and teasing that often go along with friendship. And Christie makes use of this too. In some cases, that teasing is a sign of friendship. And in others, it’s thinly-veiled resentment…

Andrea Camilleri’s Vigatà-based Inspector Montalbano is not exactly what you would call the gushing kind. And yet, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t value his friendships. One of his friends is TV journalist Nicolò Zito, who works at Vigatà’s Free Channel. The two often co-operate, especially when Montalbano is investigating a case where high-level corruption may be involved. He gives exclusive information to Ztio, who uses all of his access and contacts to help Montalbano. The two of them have a solid friendship although neither is one for flowery words. In The Shape of Water for instance, Montalbano is investigating the possible murder of up-and-coming politician Silvio Luparello. He’s invited Zito for dinner to compare notes on the case. During their conversation, he chides Zito for not being more hard-hitting in the station’s coverage of Luparello’s death:


‘‘…you’ve refrained from dragging Luparello through the mud, as you would certainly have done in the past….the man dies of a heart attack in a kind of open-air brothel among whores, pimps and buggers, his trousers down around his ankles – it’s downright obscene – and you guys, instead of seizing the moment for all it’s worth, you all toe the line and cast a veil of mercy over how he died.’
‘We’re not really in the habit of taking advantage of such things.’
Montalbano started laughing.
‘Would you do me a favor, Nicolò? Would you and everyone else at the Free Channel please go f*** yourselves?’
Zito started laughing in turn.’


That conversation shows as much as anything the way that these men use banter to cement their friendship.

We also see that in the relationship between Peter Temple’s sometimes-attorney/sometimes-PI sleuth Jack Irish and cabinetmaker Charlie Taub. Irish has an interest in cabinet-making and he finds solace in working with wood. So he’s informally apprenticed himself to master carpenter Charlie Taub. The two men like and respect each other, but neither is particularly demonstrative about it. Certainly they’re not gushing. In Black Tide for instance, Irish pays a visit to Taub’s workshop after not having been there for a bit:


‘‘So,’ he said without looking at me. ‘Man who finds the scum of the earth. Man who breaks his parents’ hearts. Horses and criminals. That’s his life.’…
‘I gather you missed me a lot then?’
Another snort ‘What I miss, I miss someone finishes little jobs I give him. Like little tables. Day’s work for a man who actually works.’’


It’s clear in this series that the two are friends, and they express that with banter and teasing.

So does the group of young attorneys we meet in Sarah Caudwell’s Hilary Tamar series. Tamar is a law professor who informally works with former student Timothy Shepherd and his friends Selena Jardine, Michael Cantrip, Julia Larwood and Desmond Ragwort. The group members are friends; they support and help each other. They often show that friendship and keep those bonds through sometimes-sarcastic teasing. For instance, in The Sirens Sang of Murder, the group works together and pitches in to help when Cantrip gets drawn into a missing person case when an heir to a fortune disappears. At one point, some members of the group are discussing the case:


‘‘…I was surprised to find myself thinking,’ Julia paused and looked dreamily at the ceiling, drawing deeply on her Gauloise.
‘Thinking,’ said Ragwort, ‘if that is indeed the appropriate word for what we take to have been a not wholly cerebral activity – thinking what, precisely?’’


These attorneys are far from sentimental about each other, but their banter shows the bond they have.

So does the banter and teasing among team-mates that we see in Kel Robertson’s Smoke and Mirrors. Australian Federal Police (AFP) officer Bradman ‘Brad’ Chen is persuaded  to return to work after taking some time off when former Gough Whitlam government official Alec Dennet and his memoirs editor Lorraine Starck are murdered at a Canberra area writers’ retreat. In one scene, Chen and his new assistant Filipowski are heading to Dennet’s home after a long night of drinking. Already there waiting is another team-mate ‘Talkative:’


‘‘I thought I was going to have to read the finance section,’ he [Talkative] said, getting to his feet. ‘Your face is looking pretty ordinary.’
‘You ought to experience it from my side. What happened to Turner?’ [Chen]
‘He called in sick. Reckons he had a restless night.’
‘That’s not good,’ I said. ‘He’s a bloke who needs all the beauty sleep he can get.’…
‘The two of you aren’t in any position to throw stones….’’


Underneath the teasing we see the friendship that holds this team together; the banter is a reflection of that.

And then there’s Jill Edmondson’s Blood and Groom in which Christine Arvisais hires Toronto-based PI Sasha Jackson to find out who killed her ex-fiancé ‘blueblood’ Gordon Hanes. Arvisais says that everyone thinks she’s guilty, but she’s not, and she wants to clear her name. Jackson takes the case and ends up getting into a great deal of danger. At one point, she’s shot at and saved (trust me; it makes sense given the story) by the underwire in her bra. As you can guess, her friends Mick and Lindsey and her brother Shane can’t resist teasing her:


‘Shane grinned. ‘Nah, we’ve all been making up jokes about bras that lift and separate, eighteen-hour, .38 calibre support bras, cross your heart and protect it –  ’
‘Padded,’ Mick said. ‘Don’t forget padded.’’


The teasing is good-natured and readers of this series know that Mick, Shane and Lindsey are good friends to Sasha.

Teasing isn’t part of all cultures’ ways of showing friendship. And of course it can go tragically too far (that’s a topic for a separate post). But sometimes good-natured banter cements relationships and can add a light and authentic touch to a novel.



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s You May be Right.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Jill Edmondson, Kel Robertson, Peter Temple, Sarah Caudwell