Category Archives: Ruth Rendell

Anything You Want, You Got It*

Standalones and seriesMany crime fiction authors choose to write series (some in fact write more than one series). Other crime writers opt for standalones. And of course there are good reasons for each choice. There are also authors who do both. There are some challenges when an author writes both series and standalones. The author has to make the standalone distinctive enough to have its own character. At the same time, fans of a series likely chose it because of its unique ‘personality.’ So the author has to maintain the quality of the series. That includes characters, setting, type of plot, and even things such as marketing choices. Some authors have made it work though.

For instance, Agatha Christie is well known for her novels featuring Hercule Poirot, and for her novels featuring Miss Marple. Fans will know that she also wrote a series featuring Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, as well as some stories featuring Parker Pyne. But she also wrote several standalones, and they’ve been just as well regarded as her series. To give one example, there’s And Then There Were None (AKA Ten Little Indians). In that novel, ten people gather on Indian Island, off the Devon coast. Each received an invitation or offer of employment and for different reasons, each accepted. After dinner on the first night, everyone is shocked when each person is accused of having been responsible for at least one death. Not long after those accusations, one of the guests dies of poison. Late that night there’s another death. And then, one by one, there are other murders. It’s clear now that someone lured everyone to the island and that if the survivors are to stay alive, they have to find out who’s behind it all.

Tony Hillerman fans will know that he created the Jim Chee/Joe Leaphorn series featuring members of the Navajo Tribal Police. That series takes place in the US Southwest and its focus is often the Navajo Reservation. But Hillerman also wrote a standalone Finding Moon, which takes place in 1975. In that novel, Malcolm ‘Moon’ Mathias, managing editor for a Colorado newspaper, finds out that his mother has collapsed in the waiting room at Los Angeles International Airport and has been rushed to a nearby hospital. At first, Moon is stunned. His mother lives in Miami; what would she have been doing in LA, and where was she going? He discovers that, unbeknownst to him, his mother was planning a trip to Southeast Asia. Then he learns the reason for the trip: she was going to recover the body of his brother Ricky, who died there. What’s more, Ricky left behind a daughter, and Moon’s mother was going to try to find her. With his mother incapacitated, Moon takes on the task himself. He’s hoping to find out more about the brother he only thought he knew, and he wants to do something to mend his troubled relationship with his mother. In the process of looking for his niece, Moon finds out quite a lot about life in Cambodia and Vietnam. He also finds out quite a lot about himself. Although there’s plenty of suspense in this novel, as well as atmosphere and setting, it’s not a crime novel in the sense that Hillerman’s series is.

Ruth Rendell is very well-known for her Inspector Reg Wexford series. It’s highly regarded and popular. But Rendell fans know that she’s also written many standalones both under her own name and under her Barbara Vine pen name. And some of those standalones are at least as highly regarded as her series. For example, A Judgement in Stone is the story of the wealthy and educated Coverdale family. In the novel, George and Jacqueline Coverdale hire Eunice Parchman as their housekeeper without giving her background a very thorough check. All goes well enough at first, but what the Coverdales don’t know is that their new housekeeper has a secret. When one of the family members accidentally discovers that secret, there are tragic consequences. This novel is often thought of as one of Rendell’s best.

C.J. Box is perhaps best known for his Joe Pickett series. Pickett is a game warden in rural Wyoming, and many of the novels focus on the interplay of development, ecological and local interests. There are also plots that focus on Pickett’s family within the context of larger mysteries. Box took a different approach with his standalone Three Weeks to Say Goodbye. That novel, which takes place in Denver, features Jack and Melissa McGuane. They’re the loving adoptive parents of baby Angelina. Everything begins to fall apart for them when they learn that Angelina’s biological father Garrett Moreland never waived his parental rights, and now intends to exercise them. Garrett’s father is powerful Judge John Moreland, who at one point tries to persuade the McGuanes to give up Angelina in return for financial and court support for them to adopt another child. The McGuanes refuse this fairly obvious attempt at a bribe, and the Morelands move from bribes to threats. The McGuanes are given twenty-one days to relinquish custody of Angelina or face prosecution. The McGuanes choose to do whatever it takes to keep their daughter, with no idea of how far ‘whatever it takes’ will actually take them.

Vanda Symon has also written both a series and standalones. Her series features Samantha ‘Sam’ Shephard of the Dunedin Police. In Overkill, The Ringmaster, Containment and Bound, we follow her career as she works her way up, sometimes against very difficult odds, to Detective. The series is well-regarded; Bound, for instance, was shortlisted for New Zealand’s 2012 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel. Symon has also written a standalone, The Faceless, which was shortlisted for the Ngaio Marsh award in 2013. In that novel, the fates of three unhappy characters come together when one ill-advised tryst gets out of control. This story takes place in Auckland and doesn’t involve any of the ‘regulars’ from the Sam Shephard series. But it’s well-thought-of in its own right.

The same is true of Geoffrey McGeachin’s work. He’s written three novels featuring Melbourne cop Charlie Berlin. Beginning with The Diggers Rest Hotel, which takes place in 1947, each novel takes place ten years after the previous one. So we get to see how Berlin evolves over time, and how his family life and his life as a cop changes as society does. Before the Berlin series though, McGeachin wrote a standalone Fat, Fifty and F***ed, which features bank manager Martin Carter. As the story begins, Carter’s been made redundant at his job. As if that’s not enough, his marriage has fallen apart. On his last day of work, Carter can’t resist the chance to get his hands on a million-dollar payroll. He escapes in a stolen police 4WD, and that’s just the beginning of his adventures.  This novel is different in tone to the Berlin novels, and of course, with different characters. Yet both the Berlin series and this standalone have been very well-received.

It isn’t easy for an author to pull off both a well-done series and an equally solid standalone, but there are some out there. Which ones have you liked best? If you’re a series author, do you stick with that series, or do you include standalones?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Roy Orbison, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne’s You Got It.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, C.J. Box, Geoffrey McGeachin, Ruth Rendell, Tony Hillerman, Vanda Symon

We Just Saw It From a Different Point of View*

PerspectivesonCultureWhile I was in Madrid I had several interesting conversations with José Ignacio at The Game’s Afoot. One of them was about the differences between books written by authors who are members of the cultures they write about, and books written by authors who aren’t. One the one hand, someone who’s not a member of a given culture can offer a distinctive perspective on that culture. On the other, a member of a culture has an intimate knowledge of that culture’s subtleties and nuances. So the reader can really get an ‘insider’s view.’

The diversity of crime fiction lets us use both perspectives, and that in turn gives us a better understanding of the places and cultures that are discussed in the genre. Let me just offer a few examples to show you what I mean. I know you’ll have many more to offer.

Ruth Rendell is English. Her novels under her own name and as Barbara Vine reflect her background; she is very much a member of the culture that’s featured in her work. Whether it’s her Inspector Wexford novels or one of her other works, we really get the ‘insider view’ on her culture. The same could be said of course of many other English authors. By contrast, Martha Grimes is American, although most of her Inspector Richard Jury novels take place in England. Like any two authors, these two have different writing styles and that’s clear in their novels. But beyond that, there’s an interesting question of the way they write about England. One has the intimate knowledge of the ‘insider.’ The other has the distinctive perspective of someone from a different culture.

We also see a contrast in crime fiction that takes place in Spain (and this is what José Ignacio and I spoke of in our conversation). In recent decades, there’ve been several Spanish authors who have given readers an ‘insider’s’ look at life in different parts of Spain. Authors such as Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, who wrote the Pepe Carvalho series, and more recently Domingo Villar (the Inspector Leo Caldas series) and Teresa Solana (the Martínez brothers PI series) have portrayed Spanish life from a ‘local’s’ point of view if I may put it that way. There’ve also been many novels set in Spain that weren’t written by Spanish authors. For instance, Roderic Jeffries (the Inspector Enrique Álvarez series) is English. And Jason Webster, author of the Chief Inspector Max Cámara series, is Anglo-American. There are lots of other such examples too. These authors do vary in their writing styles of course. But you could also argue that there is a difference in perspective between novels about Spain written by Spaniards, and novels about Spain that are written by members of other cultures.

Both H.R.F. Keating and Tarquin Hall have written series that take place in India. Keating’s of course features Inspector Ganesh Ghote of the Bombay police force. Hall’s sleuth is Delhi private investigator Vishwas ‘Vish’ Puri. Neither author was born in India, so you could argue that these series are written from the perspective of people who aren’t members of a given culture. On the other hand, Kishwar Desai is Indian. Her Simran Singh series has an ‘insider’ perspective because she is a member of one of India’s cultures. When it comes to India, one could make the point that because the British were in India for a long time, they became members of one Indian culture – the Anglo-Indian culture. And there are still close ties on many levels between India and the UK. But there is arguably a difference between books about India written by, say, English authors and those written by members of one of India’s original cultures.

The Chinese detective story has a long history, and many Chinese crime fiction stories haven’t been translated into other languages. But there are authors such as A Yi, Qiu Xiaolong and Diane Wei Liang, whose novels have been translated. Through those authors’ perspectives, readers get an ‘insider look’ at life in Beijing, Shanghai and other places in China. There have also of course been crime fiction stories set in China that aren’t written by Chinese authors. For instance, there’s Robert van Gulik’s Judge Dee series, which is set in China’s northwest. Shamini Flint’s A Calamitous Chinese Killing takes place mostly in Beijing. So does Catherine Sampson’s The Pool of Unease. And of course plenty of authors have had their protagonists visit China, even if the novel wasn’t set there. Those novels also depict life in China, but many people would say the authors have a different perspective, since they are not native members of any of the Chinese cultures.

Thai author Tew Bunnag has given readers a unique perspective on life in Bangkok and other parts of Thailand. Admittedly he doesn’t exclusively write crime fiction, but through his stories we get an ‘insider’ look at the country. Many other authors, such as John Burdett, Andrew Grant, Timothy Hallinan and Angela Savage, also write about Thailand. Their perspectives are different because they aren’t members of that culture, but that’s just what makes those perspectives valuable. We get a broad look at the country from both points of view, if you will.

And that’s the beauty of the diversity in the genre. There’s room enough for both perspectives. These are just a few examples. Lots of other countries and cultures have been portrayed in crime fiction both by members and by non-members. My guess is that you’d be able to contribute a much longer list than I would.

How do you feel about this issue? Do you see a difference between novels written by members of a culture, and novels that aren’t? Writing style aside, for instance, do you see a difference between the work of Donna Leon and that of Andrea Camilleri, both of whom write about Italy? Do you see a difference between the portrayal of South Africa in the work of Malla Nunn, who is Australian, and its portrayal in the work of Deon Meyer, who is South African?  If you do see such a difference, do you find it off-putting?

And then there’s perhaps a more difficult question. How do you feel about the way your own culture is portrayed in crime fiction? Does it bother you when it’s portrayed by someone who’s not a member (assuming of course that the writer is accurate)?

If you’re a writer, do you write about another culture? If you do, what drew you to it?

 

ps  The ‘photo is of a sculpture by Joan Miró, which now makes its home in Madrid’s Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía,

 

 

 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bob Dylan’s Tangled Up in Blue.

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Filed under A Yi, Andrea Camilleri, Andrew Grant, Angela Savage, Barbara Vine, Catherine Sampson, Deon Meyer, Diane Wei Liang, Domingo Villar, Donna Leon, H.R.F. Keating, Jason Webster, John Burdett, Kishwar Desai, Malla Nunn, Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, Martha Grimes, Qiu Xiaolong, Robert Van Gulik, Roderic Jeffries, Ruth Rendell, Shamini Flint, Tarquin Hall, Teresa Solana, Tew Bunnag, Timothy Hallinan

The Underlying Theme*

ThemesofBooksMost of us read crime novels for the stories. Plots, characters, settings and so on draw us in when they’re done well, and they keep us interested. But if you look a little deeper, you can also often see some larger themes in crime novels. A novel’s theme may not be the reason you choose to read it, or even the reason you richly enjoy it (or don’t!), but a theme can add to a novel and give the reader something to think about when the novel is finished. And it’s surprising how many crime novels and series address larger themes without losing focus on the stories themselves.

For example, the theme of justice is explored in Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. Wealthy American businessman Samuel Ratchett is on his way across Europe on the famous Orient Express train. On the second night of the journey, he’s stabbed. The only possible suspects are the other passengers in the same coach. Since Hercule Poirot is among that group, he’s asked to investigate and see if he can find the killer before the train gets to the next international border. The idea is that if he can present the solution to the police, there’ll be less trouble and delay. Poirot agrees and interviews all of the passengers. He also finds out what he can about their backgrounds. In the end, we find that this killing has its roots in a past event. Throughout this novel, questions of justice, what constitutes justice and how we serve justice are raised. It’s really a very important theme here.

Of course, justice is a theme in a lot of other crime fiction too. So is family.  Gail Bowen explores that theme quite often. Her sleuth is Joanne Kilbourn Shreve, an academic and political scientist who has her own family. Several story arcs and sub-plots involve her family members. But Bowen explores family in other ways too. For instance, in The Nesting Dolls, an unknown young woman gives a baby to a friend of Joanne’s daughter Taylor. With the baby is a note identifying the mother as Abby Michaels. Abby makes it clear that she wants Isobel’s mother Delia to have full custody of the child. The situation is very complex, and of course a search is made for Abby. But she seems to have disappeared. She’s later found raped and murdered, her body left in her car. The themes of family in its many forms, family ties and family identity come up clearly in this novel.

Ruth Rendell explores family quite frequently too, both under her own name and under the pen name of Barbara Vine. Of course, those novels (I’m thinking for instance of A Dark-Adapted Eye) often explore families that aren’t particularly healthy. The theme of what family is and how family ties play out is a strong characteristic of her work though.

Honour is explored in a lot of crime fiction too. In David Whish-Wilson’s Line of Sight for instance, Superintendent Frank Swann of the Perth Police investigates the murder of brothel owner Ruby Devine. Although they were on opposite sides of the law, so to speak, they were friends, and he is determined to find out who killed her. It’s not going to be easy though. Swann’s run afoul of the ‘purple circle,’ a group of fellow cops he reported for corruption. He’s ‘broken the code,’ so very few people will co-operate with him. Little by little though, Swann finds out the truth about Ruby Devine’s death. The theme of honour, of who has honour and of what it means and can cost is clear in this novel. And yet, the story itself is the main focus.

That’s also true in Y.A. Erskine’s The Brotherhood. The main plot is the murder one morning of Tasmania Police Sergeant John White. The main suspect in the killing is seventeen-year-old Darren Rowley. For various reasons, the police have to tread carefully in this case to make sure that everything is done ‘by the book.’ But in the end, we do find out the truth about White’s murder. Throughout the novel, the theme of loyalty comes up in several ways. For example, there’s the loyalty that White’s colleagues had towards him. There’s the loyalty that’s expected in general among cops. And there are other kinds of loyalty too. We see how that loyalty can be both an important social ‘glue’ and an impediment. But the real central focus of the novel is the murder, its investigation and its effects on everyone involved.

Guilt is a theme that’s often explored in crime fiction. Certainly we see it clearly in Arnaldur Indriðason’s series featuring Inspector Erlendur. One of the story arcs that runs through this series is Erlendur’s search for the truth about his younger brother Bergur’s fate. Years earlier, when the two were boys, Bergur was lost during a terrible blizzard, and Erlendur has always felt responsibility and guilt about this, since he was supposed to be ‘in charge.’ That guilt plays a powerful role in his thinking and choices. Guilt also plays a role in some of mystery plots in this series too. For instance, guilt is woven into the plot of Jar City, in which Erlendur and his team investigate the murder of a seemingly inoffensive old man named Holberg. The more they dig into his past though, the more possibility there is that he wasn’t as inoffensive as it seemed. As the case goes on, we see the theme of guilt in Holberg’s life. Guilt is also explored in the way that various people who knew Holberg react. But that theme doesn’t take over. The mystery plot is the focus of this novel.

And that’s the thing about an effective use of theme in a crime novel. Themes can add richness to a novel, and a layer of interest. They can also make the reader remember a novel long after it’s done. But the main focus of the high-quality crime novel is its plot, characters and context.

There’s only been space here for a few themes and examples. Which main themes do you see in the crime fiction you like to read? If you’re a writer, do you consciously address themes?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Rush’s Limelight.

 

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arnaldur Indriðason, Barbara Vine, David Whish-Wilson, Gail Bowen, Ruth Rendell, Y.A. Erskine

I Am the Entertainer, the Idol of My Age*

FangirlThere’s something about rock stars, film stars and other idols. People sometimes almost hero-worship them. Now, personally, I can’t imagine being obsessed about, say, a rock star – ahem. ;-) – But there are a lot of people who are. Just check Twitter, Instagram or other social networks and you’ll see that those kinds of stars get a lot of attention. And if you check news stories, that attention can quickly turn to obsession and more. That happens in crime fiction, too.

For instance, there’s a classic example of that kind of obsession in Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Cracked From Side to Side (AKA The Mirror Crack’d). Heather Badcock and her husband Arthur have moved into the new council housing that’s come to the village of St. Mary Mead. Heather is extremely excited because her idol Marina Gregg has bought Gossington Hall, right nearby. She and her husband Jason Rudd are planning to carry on the tradition of an annual charity fête, and Heather can’t wait for the opportunity to speak to Marina Gregg in person. The big day comes and to Heather’s delight, she actually gets the chance to have a short conversation with the film star. Shortly after that though, Heather is taken ill and later dies. It’s soon shown that she was poisoned, and at first, everyone believes that the intended victim was Marina Gregg. But Miss Marple and her friend Dolly Bantry discover that Heather was the target all along. Now they have to figure out why.

In Michael Connelly’s The Overlook, LAPD cop Harry Bosch and his new partner Ignacio ‘Iggy’ Ferras are investigating the death of a physicist Stanley Kent. He was killed on an overlook on Hollywood’s Mulholland Drive, and of course Bosch and Ferras want to talk to anyone who might have been in the area and seen something. That’s how they meet twenty-year-old Jesse Milford. Milford came to L.A. as so many people do, to ‘make it’ in the film business. He’s obsessed with entertainer Madonna, and was actually on her property at the time of the murder. He wanted a photograph or some sort of memento to send to his mother to let her know he was all right. He may not be a major character in the novel, but he shows how obsessed we can be with our stars.

In Peter Lovesey’s Stagestruck, rock star Clarion Calhoun is getting a little older, and losing some fans. She wants to stay on top, so she decides to make a move from rock music to theatre. Her choice is a production of I Am a Camera, and everyone is counting on her ‘name draw’ to ensure a long run. When rehearsals start though, the cast and crew discover that Clarion has little acting talent. She insists on keeping her role though, and the production goes on. Then on opening night, Clarion is attacked by what turns out to be tainted makeup. Her makeup artist/dresser Denise Pearsall is the first suspect, but when she’s found dead, it’s clear that something more is going on.  Superintendent Peter Diamond investigates the attack and the murder and when he starts digging, he finds out that as cliché as it sounds, appearances here are deceiving. In the end he discovers that it all has to do with someone’s past.

Peter James’ Not Dead Yet looks even more closely at how obsessed a fan can be. Rock star Gaia Lafayette has decided to do some film acting. She will be starring in a film about Maria Fitzherbert, mistress to King George IV. Everything’s set for the filming to take place in Brighton, where Gaia was born and raised. There are some security concerns though, because Gaia has received a death threat. Then there’s an attempt on her life. Superintendent Roy Grace is assigned to ensure the star’s security during the filming, but he’s got other issues he’s dealing with at the moment. One is a dead body found in a chicken coop. When that body turns out to be tied in with the threats on Gaia’s life, Grace knows that he’s going to have to take this protection case seriously. One of the characters in this novel is Anna Galicia, Gaia’s biggest fan. Anna is obsessed with her idol, and is more than excited when she finds that Gaia is actually coming to Brighton. It’s an interesting psychological portrait of a person who is consumed by her devotion to a star.

And it’s not just rock stars who are the focus of this kind of obsession. For instance, in Barbara Vine/Ruth Rendell’s Gallowglass, a troubled young man named Joe is saved from suicide by a man named Sandor. Sandor convinces Joe that he is destined to ‘serve the chief.’ It’s all part of Sandor’s plan to kidnap one of the world’s most beautiful women, supermodel Nina Abbott. Sandor’s been obsessed with her for some time, and is determined to, as he sees it, free her from imprisonment in the heavily guarded home in which she lives, so she can be with him. Of course, things don’t work out as Sandor intends…

As you can see, there are a lot of obsessed fans out there, both in real life and in crime fiction. I’ve only given a few examples here. And of course, obsession can certainly go too far. But there’s nothing wrong with some posters, t-shirts, memorabilia, music, right? What!?   ;-)

 

Happy Birthday, Mr. Joel!

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s The Entertainer.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Barbara Vine, Michael Connelly, Peter James, Peter Lovesey, Ruth Rendell

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.

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