Category Archives: Stefan Tegenfalk

What a Brave New World We Live in*

Limits of TechnologyIn Agatha Christie’s One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (AKA The Patriotic Murders and An Overdose of Death), Hercule Poirot is talking to two young people about the brand-new world they want to create:

 

‘In your new world, my children, let there be freedom and let there be pity…that is all I ask.’

 

He touches on an important point. What should be the limits to our technological and sociological development? To put it another way, just because we can do something, does that mean we should?

It’s a complicated question and I don’t have the complete answer. But it’s addressed in a lot of novels including crime fiction. Let me just give you a few examples.

In Ngaio Marsh’s The Nursing Home Murder, Home Secretary Sir Derek O’Callaghan has prepared an Anarchy Bill which is specifically directed against leftist revolutionaries and their activities. One day he suffers a ruptured appendix during a speech in the House, and is rushed to a private hospital run by his physician Sir John Phillips. He is taken into surgery, but dies shortly after the procedure. At first it looks as though it’s a tragic case of ‘nothing the doctors could do.’ But it’s not long before it’s proven he was poisoned. Chief Detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn and Inspector Fox investigate the murder and soon find that there are several suspects. And because of the sequence of events, almost all of them had the opportunity. When Alleyn and Fox put the pieces of the puzzle together, they find that the killer believed that because something can be done, it should.

Several of Robin Cook’s medical thrillers also explore the limits of what medicine can and should do. To take just one example, there’s an interesting debate about stem cell research in Seizure. US Senator Ashley Butler has been an outspoken opponent of stem cell research. But when he is diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, he knows that barring some sort of miracle, he will never achieve his dream of becoming President of the US. So he secretly contacts Dr. Daniel Lowell, who runs a biotechnology company that does stem cell work. The agreement that they work out is this: Butler will quietly withdraw his objection to stem cell research if Lowell operates on him. Plans are made to perform the controversial operation Lowell has in mind at the Wingate Clinic in the Bahamas. The surgery is carried out, but it has some frightening unforeseen consequences. This novel addresses both the important benefits and the potential terrible consequences of certain kinds of medical research and procedures.

One of the story arcs in Stefan Tegenfalk’s trilogy (Anger Mode, Project Nirvana, The Missing Link) has to do with a ‘wonder drug.’ Stockholm County CID Inspector Walter Gröhn and Detective Jonna de Brugge investigate what appear to be a series of killings that are committed for no apparent reason other than rage. That investigation leads to a much larger exploration as the novels go on of what science and biotechnology are capable of doing – and whether it should be done. The trilogy also explores the ramifications of the wrong people getting hold of certain kinds of technology.

In Geoffrey McGeachin’s Blackwattle Creek, which takes place in 1957, Melbourne cop Charlie Berlin gets involved in a dangerous investigation that starts with a funeral. Berlin’s wife Rebecca asks him to speak to a friend of hers Beryl Moffit, whose husband Cyril recently died. There was an oddity about the funeral and Beryl isn’t exactly sure what to do about it. Berlin agrees to talk to her and soon finds himself drawn into something much larger than he thinks. What looks on the surface like odd procedures at a funeral home is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg in a larger case of intrigue, high-level cover-ups and murder. And at the core of it all is a set of serious questions about whether ends justify means. Does being capable of doing something mean it should be done? And what are the larger consequences if it is done?

 These kinds of questions are also explored in William Ryan’s The Twelfth Department, which takes place in pre-World War II Moscow. CID Captain Alexai Korolev and Sergeant Nadezhda Slivka are asked to investigate the murder of noted scientist Boris Azarov. As it is, the matter is delicate because Azarov was working on a top-secret government project. But the detectives begin their investigation. Then there’s another murder; this time, the victim is someone Korolev and Slivka thought might be a suspect in Azarov’s murder. The Powers That Be have a theory about the killings, and that’s the one they want Korolev to ‘rubber stamp.’ But he and Slivka are fairly certain that it doesn’t explain everything. So they decide to continue with their investigations. In the end they uncover something both chilling and unexpected. And that discovery raises again the disturbing issue of the limits to which we should go.

Science, medicine and technology have moved us forward in critical ways. We need those fields, and supporting them is essential. But as crime fiction shows us, this raises some important questions. How do we support scientific and technological development, and at the same time retain our humanity if I may put it that way? How do we balance medical achievement with protecting individual people?  Just because we can push the button, so to speak, does this mean we should? The answers are not easy. What do you think?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Adrian Belew’s Brave New World.

29 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Geoffrey McGeachin, Ngaio Marsh, Robin Cook, Stefan Tegenfalk, William Ryan

And in the Middle of Negotiations You Break Down*

NegotiationsIf you think about it, just about every relationship we have involves at least some negotiation. It can be as simple as ‘What should we do about dinner?’ or as complex as, ‘Under what terms will your country establish a treaty with ours?’ A lot of people associate negotiation with adversarial relationships and of course sometimes that happens. But negotiation isn’t always bitter and angry. It’s really just the search for common ground. Negotiation is an important part of communication and it certainly plays a role in real-life and crime-fictional investigations. There’s negotiation among different agencies involved. There’s negotiation in an investigation team to determine who will do what and which direction the investigation will take. And when it comes to prosecution of crime there’s a great deal of negotiation among the opposing counsels and the judge or equivalent and that’s just scratching the proverbial surface of legal negotiation. We see this quite a lot in crime fiction, so I couldn’t possibly mention all of the examples of it in this post. I know I’ll be leaving a lot out, so do add your own examples.

We see a few different kinds of negotiation in Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders. In that novel, Hercule Poirot works with Scotland Yard and local police to solve a series of murders that look like the work of a psychopath. That co-operation in itself involves negotiation in terms of who actually follows up on what and who will be involved in which part of the investigation. The killings begin with the murder of an elderly shopkeeper/newsagent. Her husband is the most likely suspect but Poirot received a cryptic warning before the killing that’s unlikely the work of the chief suspect. The police are just getting to work on that murder when Poirot receives another letter. Then there’s another death. And a third. At one point, Franklin Clarke, brother of the third victim, suggests that a group of friends and relations – ‘interested parties’ – of all three murder victims work together to try to come up with a strategy to catch the killer or at least a clue as to who that person is. In the conversations the group has, we see them negotiate what is important and what isn’t, and what should be done. Those conversations turn out to be very useful to Poirot as he eventually ties the murders together and finds out who the killer is.

In Peter Robinson’s Gallows View, we meet DI Alan Banks, who in this novel has recently moved to the Yorkshire town of Eastvale. He’s arrived in time to face some unpleasant situations. First, there’s been a series of house-breakings that have many of the residents worried. Also a voyeur has been making the lives of several of Eastvale’s women miserable and frightening. Then there’s a murder. As Banks and his team work to find out what’s behind all of these incidents, we see a lot of negotiation going on. For instance, Banks is in charge of the investigation so technically he’s the one who should direct it. However, he’s an ‘incomer,’ having recently moved from London. He knows that the locals don’t entirely trust him and he knows that he doesn’t know the histories of the people in the area. For that he has to depend on his second-in-command Sergeant Hatchley, who’s a local. So the direction the investigation takes involves negotiation between the two. It’s not always peaceful but it’s productive. As another thread in this story, local feminist Dorothy Wycombe has made a very public set of complaints that the police are sexist and are not doing all they can to catch the voyeur. Banks knows that to dismiss her entirely will lead to a media furor he doesn’t need. Besides, he agrees that the peeping is wrong and must be stopped. On the other hand, it’s clear that she doesn’t have a real appreciation for the time, money and staff required to do what she wants done. Working matters out with her (and they never exactly do become friends) takes a lot of negotiation.

Stefan Tegenfalk’s Project Nirvana begins with the deaths of four German scientists. German police authorities believe that Swedish national Leo Brageler may be involved in the deaths, but there isn’t a clear motive. So they request help from the Swedish National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). The NBI works with police detectives Walter Gröhn and Jonna de Brugge of Stockholm County CID and their team to track down Brageler and get some answers. All of this communication among law-enforcement entities involves quite a lot of negotiation. There’s the question of who gets access to what information, who does exactly what and who has jurisdiction. Then matters get even more complicated. Brageler and another possible suspect (also a Swedish national) disappear. And, the Swedish Security Service (SÄPO) starts to take a serious interest in the case. Then there’s a frightening hostage situation – another instance in which negotiation plays a major role. All of these events are related, and they’re tied to something much bigger than someone killing a few scientists.

And of course, hostage negotiation is a very important thread running through other crime fiction too. In fact, it’s a major part of Max Kinning’s Baptism. London Underground train driver George Wakeham is a former musician and writer who always wanted to make a real impact on society. That hasn’t happened though and he’s currently driving for the Northern Line. One morning his predictable life is shattered when three strangers invade his home and capture his wife and children. His family’s only chance, so Wakeham is told, is to do exactly as the hostage-takers say. He’s given a mobile ‘phone and told to go to his job as usual and follow all instructions as they are telephoned to him. Wakeham does so and soon finds out what the people who’ve taken his family want. They want to capture everyone on his train – about 400 people – and they need his driving skills to get the train into the tunnel where they intend to trap everyone aboard it. DCI Ed Mallory, who is a skilled hostage negotiator, is called in to find out exactly why the hostage-takers have captured these people and what exactly they want. Part of the tension in this novel comes from the interactions among Mallory, Wakeham and Tommy Denning, who’s leading the hostage-takers. Another source of tension in this novel is the negotiation between Mallory, who has one view of what ought to be done, and his superiors, who have another. In the end, that negotiation is part of what leads to the way Mallory and his team deal with this crisis.

And then there’s the negotiation that PI Jayne Keeney conducts in Angela Savage’s Behind the Night Bazaar. Keeney lives and works in Bangkok, but travels north to Chiang Mai to visit her friend Didier ‘Didi’ de Montpasse. Then de Montpasse’s partner Nou is murdered. Shortly afterwards de Montpasse himself is shot. The official report is that de Montpasse killed his partner and then violently resisted arrest when the police came to confront him with the evidence. Keeney is certain that’s not true though and begins to look into the matter. She soon learns that these two murders are tied in with a truly ugly case of corruption, child trafficking and the Thai sex trade. Keeney knows that she can’t stop the corruption and sex trade single-handedly, much as she would like to. The one thing she does want though is for de Montpasse’s name to be cleared. He wasn’t a murderer and she wants that to be made public. Once she finds out the real truth behind the murders, she feels she’s in a position to negotiate. I don’t think it’s giving away spoilers to say that her exchanges with the people who are on ‘the other side of the table’ in this case show how negotiation works in the real world.

You’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned the many fine legal mysteries and thrillers that involve negotiation among parties. That’s in part because there are so many of them; that would be a post in and of itself. But I do want to at least mention that negotiation is a critical part of these novels, as it is in real-life legal cases.

Most of know that almost any interaction with another person involves at least a little negotiation. Sometimes it’s low-stakes; sometimes it’s high-stakes. Always it’s interesting and it can add a solid level of tension to a crime novel.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Beatles’ You Never Give Me Your Money.

24 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Max Kinnings, Peter Robinson, Stefan Tegenfalk

In The Spotlight: Stefan Tegenfalk’s Project Nirvana

In The Spotlight A-LHello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. Instead of choosing either the standalone or the ongoing series, some crime fiction authors opt for trilogies. The trilogy makes sense too, as it allows the author to develop story arcs, character evolution and longer-term investigations without sacrificing completely the self-contained plot. And trilogies make sense for readers, who may not have the time or inclination to keep up with a long-term series. To show you a little of what I mean, let’s take a closer look at a trilogy today. Let’s turn the spotlight on Stefan Tegenfald’s Project Nirvana, the second in his trilogy featuring Stockholm police detectives Walter Gröhn and Jonna de Brugge.

The real action in the novel begins when German police authorities request help from the Swedish National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). Four German scientists have been murdered, and Swedish national Leo Brageler is a possible suspect. There’s evidence that implicates him but there doesn’t seem to be a motive. That’s where the Germans hope that Swedish law enforcement will be helpful. So the NBI and Stockholm County CID begin to look into the four deaths and try to link them to Brageler. Gröhn also wants to follow up on another possible lead in the deaths and he and his team, including de Brugge, also start to trace that person.

Very soon the investigation runs into two major obstacles. One is that both Brageler and the other possible suspect have disappeared. So before Gröhn and his team can get any information from either person they’re going to have to find both of them. The other obstacle is that this investigation doesn’t fall neatly into the purview of just one of the various police authorities. The NBI and Stockholm CID can both claim a legitimate interest in the case. So can the Swedish Security Service (SÄPO). And savvy fans of Swedish crime fiction will know that that in itself adds some real complications to any case. The various authorities will have to co-operate with each other and with the German police authorities if they’re going to get to the truth about the murders. Still, the investigation starts off well enough.

Then, there’s a hostage situation. A former convict breaks into the home of retired couple Einar and Ingregärd Mattson and takes them hostage. The situation quickly escalates and it takes most of Gröhn and de Brugge’s resources to cope with it. But it turns out that their efforts aren’t wasted as the hostage-taking is related to the case they’re investigating.

Bit by bit, Gröhn and de Brugge discover that they’ve uncovered something much more than the murder of the German scientists. In fact, this case involves high levels of the Swedish police authorities. So now, the two sleuths have to go up against not only a ruthless killer but also what looks like a deliberate coverup of a very frightening conspiracy. In the end though, they get to the truth about the murders.

This is a thriller so as you might expect, tension level and action are very strong elements in the story. The tension’s ratcheted up on several levels. One is the conflict among the various Swedish police authorities. Neither Gröhn nor de Brugge wants to be unemployed, and the reality of trying to investigate a ‘tinderbox’ case with international implications while not losing one’s job adds to the suspense. Another way that the tension is kept strong is through the pacing and timing. Things happen quickly and some of those things are very dangerous. There are some very nasty people who don’t want the truth about this case to come out and they are not afraid to do whatever it takes to keep things secret. The violence in the novel is also in keeping with the fact that it’s a thriller. But it’s not ‘over the top’ and not drawn out. And (so refreshing!) it’s not a case of a crazed international murderer who hunts down beautiful young women and kills them in gruesome ways.

he reader knows quickly who’s behind the events in the novel, so in that sense, this is a ‘cat and mouse’ kind of story. We follow along as Gröhn and de Brugge slowly find out the truth and match wits with the killer. That ‘game of chess’ adds to the suspense of the novel as each side targets the other. There are several players in this game, too, so it’s not always clear who can be trusted and who can’t and that also adds to the overall sense of suspense.

The story is told from several different perspectives, so readers who prefer just one point of view will be disappointed. That said though, it’s clear throughout the story whose perspective is being shared, so the reader isn’t confused. And following everyone’s role in the story allows the reader to get a full picture of what’s going on.

The fact that this is part of a trilogy plays an important role in the novel. First, the characters have backstories and they evolve as the story moves on. Gröhn for instance is grieving the loss of his daughter Martine, who was killed in a drink driving incident. That affects a lot of his outlook in life. In fact, part of the reason he enjoys working with de Brugge is that her personality reminds him of Martine’s. As the story evolves, he finally reaches the point where he can begin to move on. For her part, de Brugge is trying to carve out a life for herself on a personal and professional level. She’s good at what she does, but she’s somewhat inexperienced and sometimes very unsure of herself. And yet, she’s strong-minded, idealistic and determined. As the novel continues she learns a little self-confidence and starts to put the pieces of her personal life together just a little too. It’s not hard to be on this team’s side as they search for the truth about the murders.

The solution of the case is not what you’d call a ‘typical’ solution (if there is such a thing). It involves some larger scientific, philosophical and sociopolitical issues and debates. Readers who prefer a more straightforward solution (e.g. ‘I did it for the money,’ or ‘I did it because s/he knew too much.’) will be disappointed. But the solution does make sense if one considers the people involved and the way they think.

This is the second novel in the Gröhn/de Brugge trilogy. So those who haven’t yet read the first novel Anger Mode are well-advised to do that before reading Project Nirvana. There are a lot of spoilers to the first novel in this one. And there are mentions of incidents and people from the first novel that make a lot more sense if one’s read that novel. But that said, it’s certainly possible to follow the story without having first read Anger Mode. Tegenfalk gives enough backstory and details so that it’s not difficult to pick up the thread of the larger story.

Project Nirvana has its share of conspiracies and paranoia, kidnappings, bugged telephones and chases. Yup; it’s an international thriller. It’s not hard to like the main protagonists and it’s not hard to get caught up in the action as they try to outwit the ‘bad guys.’ And Tegenfalk leaves enough story-arc questions unanswered so as to lead naturally to the last novel The Weakest Link. But what’s your view? Have you read Project Nirvana? If you have, what elements do you see in it?

 
 
 

Coming Up On In The Spotlight

 

Monday 24 December/Tuesday 25 December – Betrayal –Karin Alvtegen

Monday 31 December/Tuesday 1 January – The Innocence of Father Brown – G.K. Chesterton

Monday 7 January/Tuesday 8 January – The Cape Cod Mystery – Phoebe Atwood Taylor

2 Comments

Filed under Project Nirvana, Stefan Tegenfalk