Category Archives: Ross Macdonald

A Fortress Steep and Mighty*

SecurityOne of the most important needs we have is the need for security. We need to feel that we can depend on our lives to stay more or less stable. In fact, if scholars such as Abraham Maslow are right, the only needs that are more urgent are our physical needs such as air, water, food, and physical safety. The need for security plays a major role in many of our decisions. If you’ve ever known someone who kept a dull and dreary job because it was more secure than risking a career change, you know what I mean.

The need for security also plays an important role in crime fiction. It acts as a motivator, it adds to character development and it can add a layer of tension to a story. Here are just a few examples from the genre.

In Agatha Christie’s Taken at the Flood, we meet the Cloade family. They’ve always had the security of knowing they’d have no financial worries. Family patriarch Gordon Cloade has seen to their needs and has promised they’d never have to be concerned about money. Then everyone’s sense of security is shaken when Cloade marries Rosaleen Underhay. What’s worse, he dies tragically in a bomb blast without changing his will. Now Rosaleen is set to inherit everything, leaving the rest of the Cloades with nothing. The possibility of security returns in the form of a mysterious stranger who calls himself Enoch Arden. He hints that Rosaleen may actually have been married to someone else at the time of her marriage to Cloade. If that’s true, then she can’t inherit. When ‘Enoch Arden’ is killed, Hercule Poirot gets involved in the investigation. Throughout this novel, we see how each of the Cloades deals with the feeling that their precious security may no longer be a given.

Ross Macdonald’s The Far Side of the Dollar is the story of the Hillman family, who’ve built a secure, safe upper-middle-class life. When their seventeen-year-old son Tom begins to have some difficulties, they send him to Laguna Perdida, a boarding school for troubled teens. One day he disappears from the school. Fearing that the school will be held liable, headmaster Dr. Sponti hires PI Lew Archer to find the boy. During their meeting, Tom’s father Ralph Hillman comes into the office with the news that Tom’s been abducted and that there’s been a ransom demand. Archer returns with Hillman to the family home where he agrees to find out who’s kidnapped Tom. In the process, he finds that things are not at all what they seem on the surface. This is not a case of kidnapping a rich boy for the money. Then, there’s a murder. As Archer gets closer to the truth, he finds that the Hillmans depend greatly on the sense of security they get from their reputation and their social standing. When that’s threatened, it’s a threat to their very identity.

Karin Fossum’s  Calling Out For You (AKA The Indian Bride)  includes another treatment of the need for security. Gunder Jormann has lived all his life in the Norwegian village of Elvestad. It’s the kind of place where everyone knows everyone, and life is slow-paced, even a bit dull, but secure. Jormann himself isn’t exactly the quickest thinker, but he is steady and dependable, a lot like the town.  Then he makes the surprising announcement that he’s going to find a bride. What’s more, he’s going to Mumbai to do so. His sister Marie isn’t at all sure he should do this. It certainly doesn’t sound like a safe, smart thing to do. But Jormann goes ahead with his plan and travels to Mumbai, where he meets Poona Bai. They strike up a relationship and Poona agrees to marry him. He travels back to Norway to make the house ready for her, while she stays behind to finish up her life in India. On the day of Poona’s arrival in Norway though, Marie is involved in a car accident and Jormann has to stay with her. So he asks an acquaintance to meet Poona at the airport. They miss each other though, and Poona never arrives at Jormann’s house. The next day her body is discovered in a nearby field. Inspector Konrad Sejer and his assistant Jacob Skarre investigate the killing. In this case, security isn’t specifically the reason for Poona’s death. But it does play an important role in the way everyone responds to her and to her murder.

Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time introduces us to fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone. He has autism, but functions at a high enough level that he can go to school and learn academic material. Because of his autism, Christopher has a high need for security. Everything has to be in a certain order, there are certain routines he has to follow, and so on. His comfort and ability to function depend quite a lot on his sense that things are stable. One day Christopher discovers that the neighbour’s dog has been killed. At first, he’s accused of being responsible. So to prove his innocence, he decides to become a detective just like Sherlock Holmes and discover who the guilty person is. In the process of finding out the truth, Christopher finds out a lot about himself. A lot of his assumptions come into question and all of it calls into question the stability he’s always assumed.

We also see the role that the need for security plays in Virginia Duigan’s The Precipice. Thea Farmer is a former school principal who’s planned the perfect dream house in New South Wales’ Blue Mountains. She’s looking for the security of a quiet, secluded life in her new home. Then, poor financial decision-making results in a serious blow that means she has to sell her perfect house and settle for the smaller house next door. Her security is further threatened when Frank Campbell and Ellice Carrington buy ‘her’ house and move in. She doesn’t want anyone living nearby and even refers to them as ‘the invaders.’ Soon afterwards, Frank’s twelve-year-old niece Kim comes to live with them and Thea’s sense of security is even further threatened when Kim takes an interest in her. Little by little though, she and Kim form a kind of awkward friendship and she senses real promise in the girl. That’s why she feels particularly upset when she begins to believe that Frank is not providing an appropriate home for Kim. When she learns that the police aren’t going to do much, Thea decides to take her own action. This story is told in the form of journal entries Thea makes as a part of a writing class she’s taking. The journal prompts force Thea to confront her own past and it’s interesting to see how her security is threatened by that too.

And then there’s Claudia Piñeiro’s Thursday Night Widows. The setting for this novel is an exclusive gated community outside Buenos Aires called The Cascade Heights Country Club. The community represents security to its wealthy residents. There’s a six-foot-high perimeter fence, a group of security guards, etc., all designed to keep the scary ‘larger world’ out. But no-one is really as secure as we’d like to think. And when national economic troubles find their way into Cascade Heights, everyone begins to feel the crumbling of that sense of security. Then one night there’s a tragedy at the home of one of the residents. That tragedy shakes the foundations of life for several of the people who live in Cascade Heights, and we really see how dependent people are on their sense of security, whether or not that security is illusory.

It seems we all have the need to feel secure. When that sense of security is threatened, the experience can shake us to the core. And that can make for a rich layer in a crime novel. I’ve given just a very few examples. Your turn.



*NOTE The title of this post is a line from Simon and Garfunkel’s I Am a Rock. Yes, I know I’ve used this one more than once. It’s a great song. You’re welcome.  ;-)


Filed under Agatha Christie, Claudia Piñeiro, Karin Fossum, Mark Haddon, Ross Macdonald, Virginia Duigan

This is Your World, I’m Just Livin’ In It*

Matriarchs and PatriarchsOne of the more enduring character types in fiction is the patriarch or matriarch. She or he is the head of the family and, formally or informally, has the final say on family decisions. Sometimes these heads of families are warm, loving people. But that’s not always the case. There’s a wide variety of patriarchs and matriarchs in crime fiction, and only space enough to mention a few of them. But this should give you an idea of what I mean.

Agatha Christie created several head-of-family characters. One of them is Roger Ackroyd, whom we meet in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. He’s a retired manufacturing magnate who’s amassed a large fortune. He does ‘rule the roost,’ but although he’s thought of as frugal, you couldn’t really call him despotic. In fact, Christie shows a sympathetic side to his character. One night he is stabbed in his study. The most obvious suspect is his stepson Captain Ralph Paton, and there’s plenty of evidence against him. But his fiancée Flora is sure he’s innocent. So she persuades Hercule Poirot to look into the matter. Needless to say, with a large fortune like that, there are plenty of suspects.

Ross Macdonald’s The Drowning Pool lets readers into the wealthy Slocum family. Maude Slocum hires PI Lew Archer to find out who sent a slanderous letter to her husband James. The letter alleges that she’s been having an affair, and Maude is sure that if James finds out about it, he’ll divorce her. Archer takes the case and begins to look into the matter. He soon finds that the Slocum family is headed by Maude’s mother-in-law Olivia Slocum. She’s the one with control over the family fortunes and as Archer finds out, she also has control over her son James. The family isn’t what you’d call happy, so when Olivia is found dead in the family’s swimming pool, Archer starts looking close to home for suspects. There are other people to consider though. The Slocum property includes land that oil company executive Walter Kilbourne wants for drilling, and Olivia refused to grant drilling rights. There are other possibilities too.

Michael Dibdin’s Ratking introduces us to the Miletti family, the wealthiest and most powerful family in Perugia. When their family patriarch Ruggerio Miletti is abducted, Aurelio Zen, who works with the Ministry of the Interior in Rome, is seconded to Perugia to help find him. He soon finds that the searching out the people who abducted Miletti is just one of his challenges. The members of the Miletti family have been told not to involve the police, so they’re wary of accepting help or input from anyone in law enforcement. And the Perugia police, who aren’t too happy about Zen’s presence as it is, are unwilling to upset the family or to appear too eager to toady to the rich. So the process of solving this case is difficult. It gets even more difficult when there is a ransom demand and a lot of disagreement about how to handle it. The family finally agrees to involve Zen in their plan, but things don’t go as intended. Throughout this novel we get a look at the dynamics in the Miletti family, and we see through their eyes what Ruggerio Miletti is like.

In Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, journalist Mikael Blomqvist is hired by Vanger family patriarch Henrik Vanger. Nearly forty years earlier, his grand-niece Harriet disappeared, and was always thought to have drowned. But he has reason to believe she may still be alive. He wants Blomqvist to find out what happened to Harriet. In exchange, he agrees to help Vanger bring down industrialist Hans-Erik Wennerström, who won an expensive libel suit against Blompvist and his publication Millennium. Blomqvist agrees, and he and his research assistant Lisbeth Salander go into the background of the Vanger family and the history of the day that Harriet disappeared. And that history yields all sorts of family and business secrets.

Wendy James’ The Mistake features the Garrow family. Helen Garrow is the matriarch of this ‘blueblood’ family, and is none too pleased when her younger son Angus falls in love with Jodie Evans. Jodie is from ‘the wrong side of the tracks’ as the saying goes, and only managed her scholarship to a good school through hard academic work. Helen believes that Jodie is ‘not our sort,’ and too ambitious, and discourages Angus getting serious about her. But Angus and Jodie are in love, and they marry anyway. Over the years, Helen and Jodie get used to each other, and they have in common Angus’ well-being. But then comes a bombshell. It’s discovered that Jodie had a baby years earlier – a baby she never discussed with Angus. When she’s first asked about it, Jodie says she gave the baby up for adoption. But no formal records of adoption can be found, and before long, some ugly questions are asked. If the child is alive, where is she? If not, did Jodie have something to do with it? Once the questions begin to threaten the family’s reputation, Helen Garrow does her best to ‘close ranks’ and keep the family’s social position intact. It’s easy to see though, that although she loves her grandchildren, Jodie’s well-being and the truth about the other baby are not her prime concerns.

Anthony BIdulka’s Tapas on the Ramblas is the story of the wealthy Wiser family, which is led by matriarch Charity Wiser. She believes that someone in her family is trying to kill her. At her behest, her granddaughter Flora hires Saskatoon PI Russell Quant to find out who the would-be murderer is. Her plan is to invite Quant to join the whole family on a cruise on her private boat, so that he can sleuth the various family members. Quant finds he’s got more than he bargained for when first, there’s an attempt on Charity Wiser’s life and then, there’s a murder. Woven throughout the novel is the indomitable and powerful personality of Charity Wiser. She is most definitely a matriarch.

There are a lot of other fictional powerful heads of family. I’ve probably not mentioned the ones that most stick out in your mind. Who are they?



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Willa Dean Parker, Homer Banks and Bettye Jean Crutcher’s It’s Your World. It’s best known as a Sam & Dave song.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Bidulka, Michael Dibdin, Ross Macdonald, Stieg Larsson, Wendy James

Mother’s Gonna Keep You Right Here Under Her Wing*

MotheringSpeaking as a mother, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. You may already know this, but mothers spend a lot of time second-guessing themselves. Trust me. Most mothers (fathers, too!) love their children very much and want to do a good job of raising them. The trouble is that children don’t come with user’s manuals (wouldn’t it be wonderful if they did?). So there are plenty of times when it’s easy to wonder if you’ve done the right thing (e.g. Was I too harsh? Did I just get manipulated into saying ‘yes’ when I shouldn’t have? Should I give advice?).

Ever interested in providing public service, I’m here to dispel any doubts you may have about your parenting skills. As crime fiction shows us, there are plenty of mums out there whose bad parenting and dysfunction are guaranteed to make you feel much better about yourself as a mother.

Take Agatha Christie’s Mrs. Boynton, for example. When we meet Mrs. Boynton and her family in Appointment With Death, they are touring the Middle East and planning a trip to Petra. Mrs. Boynton is a tyrant and a mental sadist who has all of the members of her family thoroughly cowed. One afternoon during the family’s trip to Petra, Mrs. Boynton dies of what seems like a heart attack. That’s not far-fetched either, as she is getting on in years and her heart is weak. But Colonel Carbury has some questions about that explanation and he asks Hercule Poirot to look into the matter. Poirot agrees and talks to each person on the sightseeing tour, including the members of the Boynton family. It turns out that each one of them had a very good motive for murder, and as we find out more about the family, we find out how dysfunctional a mother Mrs. Boynton really was.

Ross Macdonald’s The Drowning Pool tells the story of the wealthy Slocum family. Maude Slocum hires PI Lew Archer to find out who sent a slanderous letter about her to her husband James. The letter alleges that she’s been having an affair, and Maude is sure that if her husband finds out about it, he’ll divorce her. Archer agrees to take the case and begins his work. He soon finds that the Slocum family has its share of dysfunction. Maude’s mother-in-law, matriarch Olivia Slocum, has control of the family money and manipulates everyone financially. What’s more, she’s the domineering type who keeps her son tied to her proverbial apron strings. When Olivia is found dead in the family swimming pool, it seems quite possible that a member of her family could have been responsible. Archer also finds out though that oil magnate Walter Kilbourne wants the drilling rights to the Slocum land, and Olivia Slocum was not willing to cede them. So it’s just as possible that Kilbourne or someone he paid could have killed the victim. Among other things, this is definitely a case of a mother who makes other mothers feel better about their parenting.

In Minette Walters’ The Scold’s Bridle, the body of Mathilda Gillespie is found in her bathtub with her wrists slashed. On her head is a ‘scold’s bridle,’ a medieval punishment device with a tongue clamp that was used on nagging wives. The first theory is that this is a bizarre case of suicide. But then it comes out that the victim has willed her considerable fortune to her doctor Sarah Blakeney. Now it’s rumoured that Blakeney killed her patient to get her hands on that money. In order to clear her name, Blakeney goes back through the dead woman’s life to see who could have wanted to kill her. Then she discovers some old diaries that give her the real clues to the murder. Without spoiling the story I can say that Mathilda Gillespie wouldn’t win the award for ‘Mother of the Year.’

Ruth Rendell has written more than once about dysfunctional motherhood both under her own name and as Barbara Vine. Let me just offer one example. In One Across, Two Down (which Rendell wrote under her own name), we meet Stanley and Vera Manning, who live with Vera’s mother Maude. Maude is not exactly ‘perfect mother’ material – at all. She belittles her daughter and despises her son-in-law and for Stanley’s part the feeling is most definitely mutual. But Maude is a wealthy woman, and Stanley and Vera are barely getting by. So there doesn’t seem much choice but to bide their time until Maude dies. Matters come to a head though, and Stanley decides on a course of action. Things don’t work out as planned though, and in fact, they soon spin out of control. Throughout the novel, we can see clearly that Maude is by no means a paragon of good motherhood.

Louise Penny’s A Fatal Grace (AKA Dead Cold) introduces us to C.C. de Poitiers. She has set herself up as a sort of ‘life coach’ and celebrity, but in her personal life, she is far from a role model. She is verbally sadistic and extremely selfish, and no-one is happy when she and her family move to the small Québec town of Three Pines. Soon enough, de Poitiers has alienated just about everyone and caused some serious resentment. Then, at the traditional Boxing Day curling match, she is murdered by electrocution. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his team take on the case. They soon find that they have a long list of suspects. One of the threads that run throughout this novel is the way dysfunction and dysfunctional motherhood have worked in the de Poitiers family.

There are of course a lot of other crime novels in which mothers prove to be severely dysfunctional to say the least. Some of them I’m not mentioning because it would give away spoilers. Besides, the vast majority of mothers care deeply about their children and do the best job they can to raise their children with love. But those other kinds of mothers are certainly out there. Mums like that may give you the shivers, but they do make those of us who are mothers ourselves feel a lot better about our own parenting.  Which ones stand out in your mind?

Many thanks for the inspiration to Moira at Clothes in Books. Her post on bad mothers in literature at the Guardian’s book page really got me thinking. Do read it and do pay her excellent blog a visit. It’s a treasure trove of commentary on clothes, culture, fiction and what it all says about us.



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Roger Waters’ Mother.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Louise Penny, Minette Walters, Ross Macdonald, Ruth Rendell

‘Cause I Know You Understand*

Crime Writing PairsIt isn’t always easy to share your life with a crime writer. Just ask Mr. Confessions of a Mystery Novelist… Or perhaps, better not. ;-) Now, the one kind of person who does know what it’s like to be a crime writer is…another crime writer. And we do see several very successful examples of crime writers who share their lives with other crime writers.

Some of these partnerships have resulted in some memorable co-authored books and series. One of the most famous in crime fiction is arguably the partnership of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. Fans will know that these two real-life partners created the ten-book series featuring Stockholm police detective Martin Beck and his team. Each has individual writing credits too, but they’re most famous for this joint series.

You could say a similar thing about Nicci Gerrard and Sean French, the husband/wife team who write as Nicci French. They’ve written several standalones together and recently they’ve also been co-writing the Frieda Klein series – the ‘days of the week’ novels. Both Gerrard and French have written individually as well, but most readers know them best through their collaboration.

And then there are Alice Alfonsi and Marc Cerasini, who are married in their personal lives and co-authors of the Coffeehouse Mystery Series professionally. They use the name Cleo Coyle for that series, and the name Alice Kimberly for their Haunted Bookshop mysteries. They write individually as well, but their best-known work is collaborative.

Sometimes, crime-writer partners are more famous for their individual work than they are for their collaborations. For instance, Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini have been married for over twenty years. Each of them is famous as an individual. Muller fans will know that she is the creator of the Sharon McCone PI series, which was one of the original American female PI series. Pronzini is of course the author of the Nameless series as well as several other series and standalones. He’s edited a number of anthologies as well. Muller and Pronzini have collaborated on the Carpenter and Quincannon historical series, the second of which came out in December of 2013. But each also has a very long individual ‘track record.’

The same is true of Kenneth and Margaret Millar. As Ross Macdonald, Kenneth Millar was most famous for his Lew Archer novels and story collections. He wrote and edited other work, but his name is most closely linked with Archer’s. Margaret Millar wrote a few short series including the three Tom Aragon novels. But she is possibly better known for her standalone psychological mysteries and character studies. To my knowledge (so please, put me right if I’m wrong!), the Millars didn’t collaborate on novels or series. I wonder what it would have been like if they had…

More recently both Faye and Jonathan Kellerman have each created very successful crime writing careers.  Faye Kellerman is best known for her Peter Decker/Rina Lazarus series, although she’s written other novels as well. And fans will know that Jonathan Kellerman is the author of the well-regarded Alex Delaware/Milo Sturgis series. He’s also written other fiction as well as non-fiction books. It seems the family tradition is being passed on, too, as their son Jesse Kellerman is also a crime/thriller writer as well as a playwright.

And then there’s Angela Savage and Andrew Nette. Savage is the author of a PI series featuring Bangkok-based Jayne Keeney. She has also written short fiction as well as non-fiction articles. Her partner is Andrew Nette, the author of Ghost Money. Nette is also the author of several short noir crime stories as well as several non-fiction articles. Both Savage and Nette have also been very active in the Australian crime writers’ community, and they’ve worked together on some projects, such as Crime Factory’s Hard Labour, a collection of Aussie noir stories.

There are of course other crime writers whose partners also write crime fiction. There isn’t really space to mention them all.  I know that there are some interesting conversations around my home because I write crime fiction. And only one of us is a crime writer…




*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Alex Hill and Fats Waller’s I’m Crazy ‘Bout My Baby (And My Baby’s Crazy ‘Bout Me).


Filed under Alice Alfonsi, Alice Kimberly, Andrew Nette, Angela Savage, Bill Pronzini, Cleo Coyle, Faye Kellerman, Jonathan Kellerman, Kenneth Millar, Maj Sjöwall, Marc Cerasini, Marcia Muller, Margaret Millar, Nicci French, Nicci Gerrard, Per Wahlöö, Ross Macdonald, Sean French

I Know a Pretty Little Place in Southern California Down San Diego Way*

PandaA lot of people tell me I’m very lucky to live in the greater San Diego area. After all, you couldn’t ask for a much more pleasant climate. The scenery is beautiful too, and there’s a laid-back pace to life in a lot of ways. And there’s a fascinating mix of cultures and languages here – enough to keep linguists, sociologists and anthropologists busy for decades. But don’t let that fool you. San Diego is not immune to crime. You’d probably assume that anyway, simply because it’s a large city. But just to show you what I mean, I thought it might be interesting to take a crime-fictional look at the area.

Ross Macdonald, the pen name of Kenneth Millar (but I’ll bet you knew that) and his wife Margaret Millar (yes, that Margaret Millar) lived in San Diego for a time, and that experience shows up in his Lew Archer stories. For instance, in The Far Side of the Dollar, Archer is hired by Dr. Sponti, who runs Laguna Perdida School, a boarding school for troubled students. The school is located about halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego, so much of the story takes place in North San Diego County. One of the students Tom Hillman has disappeared and his parents are holding the school responsible. Sponti wants Archer to find the boy as soon as possible. Just as they’re discussing the case, Tom’s father Ralph Hillman bursts in saying that he’s been contacted by kidnappers who say they are holding Tom for ransom. Archer goes with Hillman to the family’s home to see what he can do to find the boy. It turns out that this is not a straightforward ‘kidnapping of a rich boy’ case. For one thing, the Hillmans are not very helpful although their son is missing. For another, evidence surfaces that Tom may actually have gone with the kidnappers of his own free will. After two deaths, Archer finds out the truth about the troubled Hillman family.

Speaking of the Millars, Margaret Millar’s Mermaid also takes place in the region north of San Diego. In that novel, attorney Tom Aragon takes on an interesting case. He gets a visit from twenty-two-year-old Cleo Jasper. She wants to know exactly what her rights are. When Aragon asks her to be more specific, she really can’t, and it’s then that he notices that she seems to have a form of mental retardation, although she’s high-functioning. He isn’t able to help her much and soon enough she leaves. That’s the end of the case as far as Aragon is concerned – until a few days later when Cleo’s much-older brother Hilton pays him a visit. Hilton Jasper says that his sister has disappeared and that Aragon is the last person she was known to have seen. Aragon tries to explain that he’s an attorney, not a missing person’s expert, but Jasper wants his sister found. So Aragon starts asking questions, beginning with the staff and students at Holbrook Hall, the special school Cleo attended. He also looks into her troubled family life and the lives of her friends. Bit by slow bit, he traces her movements and finds out what happened to her. As he does, we get a look at the life of the privileged in that part of the US at that time. We also get a look at yachting and wharfside life as well as the Spanish/mission influence on the architecture and some of the culture.

Two of Joseph Wambaugh’s novels are also set in San Diego. Finnegan’s Week is the story of San Diego cop and part-time actor Finbar ‘Fin’ Finnegan. He’s had three divorces and is in a midlife crisis – in short, not in a happy situation. Then things begin to get complicated. Two thousand pairs of shoes are stolen from a warehouse and Detective Bobbie Ann Doggett is assigned to find out what happened to them. Meanwhile, Fin is investigating the disappearance of a truckload of toxic waste. For help with that he turns to District Attorney’s Office investigator Nell Slater. And both Slater and Doggett find that they’re interested in Fin. In the midst of that though, and each from a different angle, Fin, Slater and Doggett connect the thefts with two deaths that occur.

Wambaugh’s Floaters introduces us to Mick Fortnoy, a Harbor Patrol police officer on San Diego’s Mission Bay. He’s had enough personal complications in his life to fill a therapist’s notebook. But things come sharply into focus for him when the world-famous America’s Cup regatta comes to San Diego. Then, the body of an unknown woman is found floating in the bay. She turns out to be Jane Kelly AKA Dawn Coyote, who is, as the saying goes, known to the San Diego Police. Then there’s another death. Now Fortnoy and his patrol partner Leeds look into lives and relationships among the various America’s Cup competitors to see who would have wanted to commit murder. Both of these Wambaugh novels give the reader an authentic look at the San Diego lifestyle and setting.

So does RJ McDonnell’s Jason Duffy series. Duffy is a former rock musician who now works as a San Diego-based PI. Because of his musical background, Duffy is well-known in the rock community, and more than once he’s hired by members of it. In Rock and Roll Homicide, Rock and Roll Rip-Off and The Concert Killer, we get a real sense of the Southern California music scene. And the novels also feature a distinctive sense of the setting. One of them even mentions the San Diego-area town where I live.

When a lot of people think of San Diego/Southern California, they think of surfing. And there is indeed a lot of surfing in the area. Just ask Boone Daniels, whom we meet in Don Winslow’s The Dawn Patrol. Daniels and his friends are a dedicated group of surfers who call themselves the Dawn Patrol.  They have ‘day jobs,’ but their passion is surfing. Then, a local stripper Tamara Roddick disappears. And then her best friend, who goes by the professional name of Angela Hart, is killed. Daniels gets drawn into the case and in the process of solving it, has to confront a case from several years earlier – the heartbreaking disappearance of a local young girl from her front yard.

For readers who like short stories, you might want to try San Diego Noir, a collection of dark San Diego crime stories. Edited by Maryelizabeth Hart, it’s got work by Winslow, T. Jefferson Parker, and lots of other area authors.

As you can see, San Diego may have a wonderful climate, a world-famous zoo (at least the panda in the ‘photo thinks so ;-) ) , great culture, music and food and all the rest of it – even surfing. But peaceful it ain’t…


On the other hand, some of the nicest people turn up in San Diego. I was recently fortunate enough to meet up with crime fiction blogger and Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel judge Craig Sisterton. He’s been spending time in the US and his travels brought him to Southern California. No worries – he’s stayed perfectly safe while he was here. ;-)    You’re doing yourself a very big favour by checking out his crime fiction blog Crime Watch.



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bruce Springsteen’s Rosalita.


Filed under Don Winslow, Joseph Wambaugh, Kevin Millar, Margaret Millar, Maryelizabeth Hart, R.J. McDonnell, Ross Macdonald, T. Jefferson Parker