Category Archives: Ross Macdonald

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

We Are Detective, Come to Collect*

PIsOne of the ways in which crime fiction has evolved in the last sixty or seventy years has arguably been the increasing variety of PI sleuths. And perhaps this is just my opinion (so do feel free to differ with me if you do) but I think it’s a good thing. In real life, private investigators take all kinds of cases, from spouses who suspect their partners of cheating to pre-hiring background checks to investigators who work with attorneys on their cases. And it hardly need be said that today’s PIs come from all kinds of backgrounds.

‘Gentleman detectives’ such as Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot and Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes paved the way for the modern PI novel, which today ranges from the light (e.g. Alexander McCall Smith’s Mma. Precious Ramotswe series) to the noir (e.g.  Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series). One post is hardly enough to do the modern PI novel justice, but let’s just take a quick look at the sub-genre.

Authors such as Raymond Chandler, Ross Macdonald and Mickey Spillane were at the forefront of the ‘hard boiled’ PI novel. In Macdonald’s The Drowning Pool for instance, Maude Slocum hires PI Lew Archer to find out who sent a slanderous letter to her husband James. The letter alleges that Maude’s been having an affair, and she is afraid that if James finds out, the marriage will end in divorce. Archer takes the case and begins his investigation. Right from the beginning he learns of the dysfunction in the Slocum family. James’ mother Olivia is quite wealthy and uses her financial power to manipulate the family. Maude and her mother-in-law have never been exactly friends, and Maude resents the fact that James is somewhat of a ‘mother’s boy.’ So when Olivia is found dead one day in her swimming pool, there’s every chance one of the family could be responsible. But then again, oil magnate Walter Kilbourne wanted to drill on the Slocum estate and Olivia was firmly set against the idea. So the murder could be the work of Kilbourne or one of his paid ‘associates.’ As Archer investigates, we get to see the seamier side of the way the wealthy live.

Anthony Bidulka’s PI sleuth Russell Quant also sometimes sees the not-so-very-nice side of ‘the beautiful life.’ In Tapas on the Ramblas for instance, wealthy business executive Charity Wiser believes that someone in her family is trying to kill her. She hires Quant to find out who it is and invites him on a family cruise to get to know the other members of the Wiser clan so he can ‘scope them out.’ As he does so, he discovers that just about everyone in the family had a motive for murder. It’s not just a matter of greed, either. There’s a lot of dysfunction in this family and the better Quant gets to know the family members, the more he uncovers about the undercurrents of resentment. Then, there are two attempts at murder and later, a death. In the end, Quant puts the pieces of the puzzle together but not before he comes close to being a victim himself.

We get an interesting look ‘behind the scenes’ of a PI firm in Julie Smith’s Talba Wallis series. Wallis lives and works in New Orleans, where she’s employed by E.V. Anthony Investigations. The firm does background checks on potential employees and at the beginning of Louisiana Bigshot, we learn that Wallis also investigates cheating spouses. In fact that’s what her friend Clayton Robineau (who goes by the name Babalu Maya) hires her to do. Babalu thinks that her fiancé Jason Wheelock has been unfaithful and wants Wallis to find out whether it’s true. At first Wallis doesn’t want to take the case; she would rather Babalu simply break up with Wheelock than learn all of the sordid details of any affair he’s having. But Babalu insists, so Wallis begins to investigate. She finds out that her friend was right and breaks the bad news. Shortly after that, Babalu is found dead, apparently a successful suicide. Wallis doesn’t think it was a suicide though, and neither does Jason Wheelock. So Wallis starts to look into the case more closely. She finds that Babalu’s family history and someone’s desperate need to protect a reputation are the keys to the murder.

Jill Edmondson’s Toronto PI Sasha Jackson doesn’t work for a firm; she’s set up in business for herself. And one of the very effective elements in this series is that we get to see what it’s like to try to build up one’s client base, take care of the bills and so on. And in Dead Light District we get an interesting perspective on why some people hire private detectives instead of going to the police. Candace Curtis owns a brothel which she staffs with only the best employees. The client list is carefully vetted too. It’s an illegal business though, so when one of her employees Mary Carmen Santamaria goes missing, she can’t call the police about it. So she hires Jackson to find out what happened to Mary Carmen. Jackson is uncomfortable about the case. For one thing, she’s not comfortable with the thought of young women who, as she sees it, are being exploited. For another, Mary Carmen could simply not want to be found. If so, why shouldn’t she be left in peace? But Curtis is persuasive and a fee is a fee, so Jackson begins her investigation. But this turns out to be much more than a missing person case. First an alleged pimp is stabbed to death in a hotel and then there’s another murder. Then Curtis becomes a target. Jackson finds that what started out being a case of a prostitute who’s disappeared has led her to the underside of Toronto’s sex trade.

Some PIs don’t really think of themselves as PIs – at least not at first. Walter Mosley’s Ezekiel ‘Easy’ Rawlins doesn’t. In the first few novels, before he gets his PI license, he thinks of it as ‘doing favours.’ So does Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder. In fact in The Sins of the Fathers, he says,


‘Sometimes I do favors for people. They give me gifts.’


And yet in both of these cases the sleuths learn that the PI business can be, if not exactly lucrative, at least a source of income.

Today’s PIs are a very diverse group. There’s the wisecracking ‘world’s greatest detective’ Elvis Cole (courtesy of Robert Crais), the not-domestically-inclined Kinsey Millhone (courtesy of Sue Grafton) and lots of others too. And that variety has added to the sub-genre.

Now, you may be wondering why I’ve not mentioned one of the best known PI sleuths, Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski. I was saving this mention because today is (or yesterday was, depending on when you read this) Sara Paretsky’s birthday. So this post is in honour of what Ms. Paretsky has contributed to the crime fiction genre. V.I. Warshawski is one of the most popular PI sleuths in crime fiction. She’s a unique character with a strong commitment to social justice, a deep love of her home town (Chicago) and a true-blue sense of loyalty to her friends. She was one of the groundbreaking fictional female PIs and the novels featuring her have gained Ms. Paretsky a worldwide audience.

Happy Birthday Sara Paretsky and many more.



*NOTE:  The title of this post is a line from The Thompson Twins’ We Are Detective.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Alexander McCall Smith, Anthony Bidulka, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jill Edmondson, Julie Smith, Lawrence Block, Mickey Spillane, Raymond Chandler, Ross Macdonald, Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton, Walter Mosley

Tell Me That You Want the Kind of Things That Money Just Can’t Buy*

MoneyandWealthIf you’ve ever thought, ‘If I only had some money, everything would be so much better,’ you’re not alone.  It’s easy to see why people think that way. Money represents security, especially if you don’t have much of it. To other people it represents status and prestige. But does having a lot of money really make everything good? Well, yes in the sense that you don’t have to worry about whether the electric bill is paid and the car is in good working order. We need money for survival in today’s world. But having a lot of money brings with it its own stresses and trouble. Just a quick look at crime fiction should show you what I mean.

Several of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories touch on this theme of money, what it can do to people and the fact that having a lot of it isn’t necessarily a cure-all. In The Adventure of the Copper Beeches, for instance, Holmes gets a visit from Violet Hunter. She’s a governess who’s just had an extremely lucrative offer from Jephro Rucastle, who wants to hire her to teach and look after his six-year-old son. Violet isn’t sure she wants the job and Holmes has serious doubts too. The offer seems too good to be true and what’s more, Rucastle has made some seemingly inconsequential but odd requests of Violet.  In fact, Holmes urges Violet not to take the position. But then, Rucastle increases his offer to the point where Violet can’t really resist it. So she takes the job and moves into the Rucastle home.  Holmes has told Violet that if she needs him, she should contact him, and it’s not long before she does. Some strange and dark things are going on in the home and Violet soon sees that she’s in real danger. She writes to Holmes and he goes to the Rucastle home – just in time to save Violet’s life. This case turns out to be all about money.

In Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile we meet Linnet Ridgeway, who’s not only beautiful, but has had money – a lot of it – all her life. And yet, her wealth can’t protect Linnet from everything. When she marries Simon Doyle and plans a honeymoon cruise of the Nile with him, she’s hoping all will go well. But she and Simon soon find that there’s a very unwelcome fellow passenger on the cruise: Simon’s ex-fiancée and Linnet’s former friend Jacqueline ‘Jackie’ de Bellefort. Jackie’s managed to follow the couple everywhere they go and Linnet is, quite simply, frightened and vulnerable despite the security you would think her money would provide. When she is shot on the second night of the cruise, Jackie becomes the first suspect. But it’s soon proven that she couldn’t have committed the crime. So Hercule Poirot, who’s on the same cruise, works with Colonel Race to find out who the killer is. It turns out that Linnet’s wealth made her a very attractive target for a number of people.

Ross Macdonald addresses the whole issue of money and its effects on people in The Far Side of the Dollar. Ralph and Elaine Hillman are rich and successful. They have a life that most people would like. But all is not exactly well. They’ve been having difficulties with their seventeen-year-old son Tom, to the point where they’ve placed him in Laguna Perdida, an exclusive school for ‘troubled’ young people. Dr. Sponti, head of the school, is well aware of the Hillmans’ power and wealth, so he’s distraught when Tom disappears from the school. It’s not that he’s coldhearted about Tom, but he’s particularly concerned about the consequences for him if the Hillmans find out that Tom is gone. So he hires PI Lew Archer to find Tom and bring him back to the school. Before Archer even leaves Sponti’s office though, Ralph Hillman bursts in saying that Tom’s been kidnapped. Archer goes back to the Hillman’s home with Ralph, and agrees to work to find out who has Tom. It’s not long though before Archer realises that something isn’t what it seems in this case. For one thing, it soon appears that Tom may not be a kidnap victim at all, but may have voluntarily gone with his abductors. What’s more, neither Ralph nor Elaine is very helpful in finding their son. Then, one of the people Tom is with is killed. Then there’s another death. Little by little, Archer learns about the Hillman family dynamics, and the role that money has played in them. He also learns about the events in the family’s past that have led to Tom’s disappearance.

Vicki Delany’s Winter of Secrets introduces us to the Wyatt-Yarmouth family. Jason Wyatt-Yarmouth, his sister Wendy and a group of their wealthy university friends have planned a skiing holiday in the British Columbia town of Trafalger over the Christmas break. Tragedy strikes when the SUV that the group has rented plunges into the Upper Kootenay River. Inside the police find Jason’s body and that of his friend Ewan Williams. Forensic evidence shows that Jason died as a result of the accident, but Ewan had been dead for several hours at the time the SUV went into the river. In fact, he died of blunt force trauma. So Constable Moonlight ‘Molly’ Smith and Sergeant John Winters look more closely into the matter. They find that despite (maybe in part because of) the Wyatt-Yarmouth family’s wealth, they aren’t particularly happy. There’s a great deal of dysfunction in the family. When Drs. Jack and Patricia Wyatt-Yarmouth arrive in town to claim their son’s body, it’s even more apparent that their wealth has helped to skew their perceptions. I can say without spoiling the story that money is not the reason Ewan Williams has been killed. But it plays an important role in many of the characters’ views, assumptions and treatment of others.

We also see how being really wealthy has its own stresses in Perri O’Shaughnessy’s Breach of Promise. Mike and Lindy Markov have been together for over twenty years, and have built up a very lucrative business together. In fact, they’re one of Tahoe, California’s most powerful couples, with lots of prestige and influence. But that money soon becomes a weapon and a real source of strife when Mike falls in love with his vice president for financial services Rachel Pembroke. In short order, Lindy gets a court order to leave their home and loses her position in the company. Desperate to get Mike back, and candidly, afraid of losing the money she’s gotten accustomed to, Lindy hires Nina Reilly to sue Mike. The case is complicated by the fact that Lindy and Mike were never legally married. So Mike has a very good legal argument that he owes nothing to Lindy. But Lindy was responsible for a lot of the business’ success. What’s more, she stayed faithfully with Mike for twenty years, living and being introduced as his wife. There are other arguments too that support Lindy’s claim, so Nina thinks she may have a case. The trial goes on and both sides of the case are heard. The jurors deliberate and a verdict is planned. That’s when there’s a shocking event that changes everything and ends up putting Nina in real danger. Throughout this novel, we see how money, rather than make everything all right, turns into a tool/weapon and an object of greed, and skews everyone’s perceptions.

I know there are a lot of other examples in crime fiction that show that money isn’t really the panacea people often believe it is. I think that if you asked most people whether they’d like a lot of money, quite a few would say, ‘Of course!’ But sometimes it’s good to remember that it can be a lot less stressful not to have extreme wealth, as fun as the prospect seems. Of course, that’s not going to stop people from wanting a lot of money. Now, if you’ll excuse me, the US Powerball Lottery jackpot is up to US$475 million. I’m off to buy a ticket for Saturday’s drawing; you never know…



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Beatles’ Can’t Buy Me Love. Dare ya to try to get that song out of your head now. You’re welcome. ;-)


Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Perri O'Shaughnessy, Ross Macdonald, Vicki Delany