Category Archives: Stephen Booth

If You Think I’m Feeling Older and Missing My Younger Days*

RetiredCopPolice officers see and learn a lot over the course of their careers. So when they retire, they’re often treasure troves of information about different cases and often, about the history of an area. Their perspectives can be helpful and certainly they can add richness to a crime novel. When retired cops are consulted, they can give the fictional sleuth a lot of insight and, provided they are well-drawn, can be really interesting characters in and of themselves. Here are just a few examples; I know you’ll think of more than I ever could.

Fans of Agatha Christie will know that Hercule Poirot works with Superintendent Albert ‘Bert’ Spence on more than one case. By the time of Hallowe’en Party, Spence has retired to the village of Woodleigh Common, where he lives with his sister Elspeth. Poirot knows the value of Spence’s experience and wisdom. So he pays Spence a visit when a village girl, thirteen-year-old Joyce Reynolds, is murdered during a party. On the afternoon of her death, Joyce boasted that she’d seen a murder, but wouldn’t give any details about it. The fact that she’s now dead leads Poirot to believe that she might have seen something. So he asks Spence about the history of the area, and Spence is able to give him some valuable input. And in fact, Joyce’s murder has everything to do with past history and past crime.

In Stephen Booth’s Dying to Sin, DS Diane Fry and DC Ben Cooper investigate when the remains of two women are found on the property of Pity Wood Farm in the Peak District. The farm was owned for many years by brothers Derek and Raymond Sutton. Derek has died but his brother is still alive and living in a care home. The police interview him, but he can’t add much to their investigation, as he sold Pity Wood Farm before the bodies were buried there. The current owner is Manchester attorney Aaron Goodwin, but he bought the land for development, and has no connection to it or to the area. While the Suttons and Goodwin aren’t completely crossed off the suspect list, Fry and Cooper do see that they’ll need to look into the history of Pity Wood Farm and the nearby village of Rakedale. They soon discover though that Rakedale is a very insular community. No-one seems willing to talk to outsiders, and certainly not about any of the local ‘dirty laundry.’ But there is one person who’s lived there a long time, and who may be able to help. He is ex-PC David Palfreyman, who was the local bobby for thirty years before he retired. Cooper and Fry pay Palfreyman some visits, and it’s interesting to see what his perspective adds to the story. He gives them some background information on the Sutton family and about Rakesdale, and it’s clear that as they talk, he enjoys being part of an investigation again and that he’s missed his ‘police’ role.

Jan Costin Wagner’s Silence features detective Antsi Ketola. After years with the Turku police, Ketola has retired and is just beginning the next phase of his life. But he is still obsessed with one case that he never solved. In 1974, Pia Lehtinen disappeared and later was found in a field, raped and murdered. Ketola followed all the leads, but was never able to catch the criminal. A new case comes up when Sinikka Vehkasalo rides her bicycle to volleyball practice one day and never makes it. Her bicycle is later found, covered in blood and with the handlebars twisted round, in exactly the spot where Pia Lehtinen’s body was found. Inspector Kimmo Joentaa soon suspects that the same killer is responsible for both murders, so he decides to seek Ketola’s help in finding out who killed these two girls and why. And it turns out that Ketola’s knowledge of the old case and the area are very helpful in getting to the truth.

Reginald Hill’s novella One Small Step takes place in the future (well, it was the future when Hill wrote it in 1990). In this story, Superintendent Andy Dalziel has retired, and Peter Pascoe is now the Commissioner of the EuroFed Police. An international team of scientists and astronauts is conducting research on the moon, when one of them, a French astronaut, is murdered. Pascoe takes charge of the investigation and benefits greatly from the input and help he gets from Dalziel. This may not be regarded as Hill’s finest work, but it’s an interesting look at how he imagined the future might be.

Fans of Håkan Nesser will know that at the beginning of his Maardam series, Inspector Van Veeteren is a homicide detective who leads the investigating team. But after decades on the force, he has plans to move on with his life. In the course of the series, he leaves the force and becomes part owner of an antique bookshop. He enjoys his new life, but he still misses solving investigation puzzles. And for their parts, his former team-mates miss working with him and getting the benefit of his experience and his skill at detection. So in stories such as The Unlucky Lottery and The Weeping Girl, his former colleagues informally consult with him on their cases. In the former, Intendant Münster taps Van Veeteren’s wisdom as he solves the murder of retiree who’d just won a lottery. In the latter, Inspecter Ewa Moreno gets involved in the investigation when eighteen-year-old Mikaela Lijphart disappears. Moreno met the girl once and hasn’t been able to forget her. She finds that Makaela’s disappearance is connected with the disappearance of her father and with two murders.

Wendy James’ The Lost Girls concerns two murders that took place in 1978. One is the murder of fourteen-year-old Angela Buchanan. The other is the murder of sixteen year-old Kelly McIvor. The police investigated both deaths, but were never able to solve them. Now, journalist Erin Fury is making a documentary on the effect of murders on the victims’ families. As part of the film, she wants to interview Angela’s family members. Her parents are no longer alive, but her cousins Jane Tait and Jane’s brother Mick Griffin are. So are Jane and Mick’s parents Doug and Barbara Griffin. Doug is a retired police officer who could likely shed a great deal of light on the case and Erin wants very much to interview him. The problem is that he’s been diagnosed with possible dementia. He’s not spoken in a very long time, and seems to be losing his connection to the outside world. So he’s now living in a care home and there’s very little likelihood that Erin will be able to interview him. She finds her own way to gain access to him though, and we learn a surprising amount from what he has to say.

And that’s the thing about retired cops. They’ve seen a lot and been through a lot. They may be ‘straight arrows’ or ‘bent,’ and they may be willing or unwilling to talk about old cases. But they all provide a fascinating perspective on policing, and they often can give some very good insight and advice. Which retired police characters have stayed with you?
 

In Memoriam
 
WarrenClarke

This post is dedicated to the memory of Warren Clarke, who brought Superintendent Andy Dalziel to life on the small screen. He will be much missed.
 
 
 

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

26 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Håkan Nesser, Jan Costin Wagner, Reginald Hill, Stephen Booth, Wendy James

When the Sun Comes Up on a Sleepy Little Town*

Small TownLook at any picture postcard and you’ll see that the image of the village or small town is supposed to be peaceful, quiet and inviting. But beneath the surface of small-town hospitality and pleasantness can lurk an awful lot of nastiness. In a way that’s not surprising. After all, people in small towns tend to know each other well. That means all sorts of resentments can build up. And small towns and villages can be insular – outsiders not welcome at all. Add to that the history that small-towners can have together and it can make for a very effective context for a murder. There are many examples of the ‘creepy small town’ sort of crime novel. I’ll just give a few of them here.

Agatha Christie’s The Moving Finger takes place in the village of Lymestock. Jerry Burton and his sister Joanna have recently moved there so that Jerry can recover from a wartime injury. They’re not there long when they receive a vicious anonymous note that suggests that the Burtons are not siblings, but lovers. Soon, they discover that they’re not the only victims. Several other villagers have gotten awful anonymous notes, and soon, some very ugly rumours begin. Then, a letter to the local solicitor’s wife results in a suicide. Then there’s another death. The police investigate, but the local vicar’s wife thinks Miss Marple will be far better suited to find out what really happened. Miss Marple is very familiar with village histories, animosities and so on, and is in a good position to make sense of what she hears. It turns out the network of relationships among the villagers has a lot to do with the letters and the deaths.

Central City, Texas is the setting for Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me. It’s a quiet, peaceful town on the surface, but there’s a lot going on underneath that bucolic tranquility. When a local prostitute Joyce Lakeland is badly beaten, deputy sheriff Lou Ford investigates. He’s what most folks think of as the ‘nice but dull,’ plodding sort, but he’s not stupid. And he’s hiding something most people don’t know about – something he calls ‘the sickness.’ He’s looking into the attack on Joyce Lakeland when there’s a murder. Now it’s clear that something sinister is going on in the town and that things are not nearly as peaceful and pleasant as it seems.

Caroline Graham wrote seven Inspector Barnaby novels, but as anyone who’s watched Midsomer Murders knows, those few novels inspired a television series that’s been on the air since 1997. In the novels, Graham takes a look at the hidden lives of villagers and the sometimes ugly things beneath the surface of an ‘ordinary English village.’ In The Killings at Badger’s Drift for instance, Emily Simpson suddenly dies of what looks on the surface like a heart attack. But her friend Lucy Bellringer thinks otherwise. In fact, Miss Bellringer is so insistent that this is a case of murder that the police make an investigation. It turns out that the victim was poisoned with hemlock. As Inspector Tom Barnaby and Sergeant Gavin Troy investigate, they discover that there is a lot going on beneath the surface of the quiet village of Badger’s Drift, and that Miss Simpson found out more about it than was safe for her to know.

Stephen Booth’s Dying to Sin takes place in the Peak District near the village of Rakedale. A skeleton is discovered at Pity Wood Farm not far from the village, and DS Diane Fry and DC Ben Cooper begin the investigation. Then another skeleton is found, and the investigation moves into high gear. The current owner of the farm is Manchester attorney Aaron Goodwin, but he bought the land for development and doesn’t know much about the farm or the area. So Fry and Cooper try to get information about the farm’s former owners, brothers Derek and Raymond Sutton. Derek Sutton has died, but Raymond Sutton is still alive and in a nursing home. He claims to know nothing about the bodies and in fact, forensic evidence suggests that the remains were buried after Sutton sold the farm. As a part of the investigation, Fry and Cooper try to talk to the people who live in the area, but the Rakedale villagers are not interested in talking to outsiders, especially if they’re police. In fact there’s a very telling scene in which Fry goes into the local to try to get some answers. It’s very clear that Rakedale keeps itself to itself as the saying goes. That insularity adds a layer of tension to the novel, and so does the set of old traditions, beliefs and superstitions that the detectives uncover as they find out the truth about the deaths.

In P.J. Parrish’s Dead of Winter, police detective Louis Kincaid takes a new job in the small town of Loon Lake, Michigan. Loon Lake is popular with hunters, anglers, and those who like ice fishing, so there are lots of ‘getaway’ cottages and homes in the area. But the town itself is small and on the surface of it very peaceful. Soon after he arrives, Kincaid discovers that he was hired to replace Officer Thomas Pryce, who was recently murdered in his own home. Kincaid has some questions about the official police theory, and his boss Brian Gibraltar gives him permission to pursue the investigation. Bit by bit, Kincaid finds that Pryce was keeping some secrets; finding out what they are will be critical to solving his murder. But there are several other people in this supposedly peaceful community who also aren’t telling everything they know. So Kincaid doesn’t get much help on the case, even from people in whose interest you would think it would be to find the killer. Along with Kincaid’s sense of increasing isolation as he investigates, there’s also a sense of lingering racism in this community. Certainly anyone who’s ‘different’ is considered odd. That atmosphere adds a layer of tension to this story.

And then there’s Tom Franklin’s Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, which features the lives of the residents of Chabot, Mississippi. After twenty-five years of absence, Silas Jones returns to Chabot to serve as its constable. Soon, he finds himself investigating the disappearance of Tina Rutherford. Everyone assumes that local ‘oddball’ Larry Ott is responsible and in fact, he’s attacked in his own home by a vigilante. Ott’s the most likely suspect because years earlier, he took Cindy Walker out on the only date he’s ever had, and she never returned. No-one could prove what happened to her, but everyone thinks Ott’s guilty of murdering her. Jones finds that as he investigates the Tina Rutherford case, he also has to face the town’s (and his own) past and find out what really happened to Cindy Walker.

There are other series too that uncover the hidden layers of nastiness in small towns and villages. For instance, Ellery Queen visits the small town of Wrightsville in three Queen novels: Calamity Town, Ten Days Wonder and The King is Dead. There’s also Rebecca Tope’s Thea Osborne series, and Linda Castillo’s Kate Burkholder series. There are also lots of small-town series for those who prefer cosy mysteries. Elizabeth Spann Craig’s Southern Quilting series is just one example. Who said small towns are the safest places to live??? ;-)

Thanks to Keishon at Yet Another Crime Fiction Blog for the inspiration. Go pay that terrific blog a visit; you’ll find some excellent crime fiction reviews there.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Doobie Brothers’ China Grove.

37 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Caroline Graham, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Ellery Queen, Jim Thompson, Linda Castillo, P.J. Parrish, Rebecca Tope, Stephen Booth, Tom Franklin

Are You Sorry We Drifted Apart?*

Letting Series Get AwayThere are all kinds of things that can draw us in to a crime fiction series. We may identify with the protagonist, or we may find the setting irresistible. Sometimes it’s the cast of ‘regular’ characters. There are other things too that draw us in. You’d think that with all of these appeals, people wouldn’t stop reading the work of their favourite authors. And yet, they do. I’m not talking here of series we stop reading because the quality of it goes down. That’s happened to all of us I’d imagine. Rather, I’m talking of series we truly enjoy but nonetheless stop reading.  If you’ve ever thought to yourself, ‘I haven’t read those books for years. Wonder why I stopped..,’ you know exactly what I mean. Why do we stop reading series we really enjoy?

Part of it may simply be sheer volume. For example, Evan Hunter AKA Ed McBain wrote more than 50 of his 87th Precinct novels.  And although they vary in quality, they’re all of high calibre. So a reader might be very hard-put to follow the entire series, no matter how engaging the books are. Gladys Mitchell’s Mrs. Bradley series is like that too. Mitchell was a prolific writer. A lot of people think this series is more uneven than the 87th Precinct series but even if one would choose only the best among them, there would still be dozens of novels. It wouldn’t be easy to keep up and manage all of them. And the thought of trying to do so can be daunting, especially for those who prefer to read all of the books in a series and not skip any of them.

In the opposite sort of phenomenon, there are also series, even beloved series, that people stop reading because there hasn’t been a new entry in a long time. For example, Lilian Jackson Braun began her Jim Qwilleran series in the late 1960s. But after the first three novels, Braun took a break from writing the series until the mid-1980s. By that time of course, a lot of readers had moved on to other authors. Philip Kerr did a similar thing with his Bernie Gunther series. He took a fifteen-year break between the first novels in the series and 2006’s The One From the Other. In both of those cases, readers found other series to love and for a time it was a matter of, ‘Oh, I used to read ____’s books and loved them. There just aren’t any new ones.’

People’s tastes change over time, too. For instance, you may have started your crime fiction reading with a real interest in PI novels such as John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series. But as time has gone by, perhaps you’ve gotten away from those novels, as high-quality as they are. Maybe you’ve become more interested in police procedurals such as Stephen Booth’s Fry and Cooper series, or Reginald Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe novels. Or perhaps you’ve developed an interest in more noir kinds of novels such as Andrew Nette’s Ghost Money. In cases like that, it’s got nothing to do with the quality of a series. Rather, it’s changes in taste and reading priorities.

Sometimes people drift away from series because those series don’t get a lot of press, and don’t stay on one’s proverbial radar. For instance, Margaret Coel has been writing her Wind River Reservation series featuring attorney Vicky Holden and Franciscan priest Fr. John O’Malley since 1996. It’s certainly gotten some attention, and (at least in my opinion) it’s a well-written series with well-developed characters. But it hasn’t gotten nearly the international attention that, say, Tony Hillerman’s Jim Chee/Joe Leaphorn novels have gotten. And with the constant media hype of certain books and authors, it takes concentration to focus on those whose work isn’t always being hyped. So it’s easy to let series like that slip away without even being aware of it.

Perhaps the biggest reason people don’t keep up with series they truly enjoy is that there is so much other well-written crime fiction to read. And with today’s technology, we have instant access to reviews, news about new releases and so on. On the positive side, that means that we can read more kinds of well-written crime fiction by more different kinds of authors than ever before. We have more choices than we’ve ever had. And that’s a good thing for the crime fiction fan. On the other hand, it does make it harder to keep up with one’s favourite series.

What about you? Which series have you really enjoyed, but let get away from you? How do you keep up with series you love without ignoring new releases and new-to-you authors? If you’re a writer, what do you do to keep your fans loyal (beyond, of course, telling good stories as well as you can)?

 

 
 

NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Lou Handman and Roy Turk’s Are You Lonesome Tonight?

30 Comments

Filed under Andrew Nette, Ed McBain, Evan Hunter, Gladys Mitchell, John D. MacDonald, Lilian Jackson Braun, Margaret Coel, Philip Kerr, Reginald Hill, Stephen Booth, Tony Hillerman

No, it Don’t Mean Nothing Till You Sign it on the Dotted Line*

Paper TrailsSometimes it seems as though there are a lot of ‘hoops to jump through’ as the saying goes when we want to get certain things done. Do you really need that marriage certificate to prove your love? Can’t you raise a child in a loving and caring way without an adoption decree? And do you really have to have purchase papers for a friendly exchange of an auto for money if the two people involved know each other? The fact is that there’s a lot to be said for ‘paper trails’ and legal documents. They can do a lot to protect a person. Just a quick look at the way they’re used in crime fiction should show you what I mean. Oh, and you’ll notice as you read this that there won’t be any mention of wills. Too easy! ;-)

Agatha Christie uses marriage documents more than once in her novels. For instance, in One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (AKA The Patriotic Murders and An Overdose of Death), Chief Inspector Japp investigates the shooting death of Henry Morley, a seemingly inoffensive dentist who is killed during his surgery hours. Since Hercule Poirot is one of his patients and actually had an appointment on the day of the murder, Japp seeks his help in the case. Morley didn’t have dangerous enemies, nor did he have a fortune to leave. So there seems no motive for the murder.  Shortly after Japp and Poirot begin their search for answers, one of Morley’s patients dies of an overdose of anaesthetic. Then another disappears. It’s now clear that this case is complicated. As Poirot discovers, a marriage certificate plays an important role in this novel.

A marriage certificate – or rather, a lack of one – plays a crucial role in Perri O’Shaughnessy’s Breach of Promise. In that novel, Tahoe, California attorney Nina Reilly gets a new client Lindy Markov. Lindy has been living with Mike Markov for twenty years, and in fact helped him build an extremely successful business. She recently found out that Mike was having an affair with his company’s vice-president of financial services Rachel Pembroke and now, Lindy’s been served with an eviction order. She’s required to vacate her home, and it doesn’t look as though Mike is planning to provide for her in any way. Lindy wants Nina Reilly to defend her interests in a civil suit. Reilly agrees, but she knows that this will be a difficult case. Lindy and Mike were never legally married, so Lindy has no legal claim on any of Mike’s money or other assets. There’s not a lot of court precedent for such cases either. Still, Reilly pulls a team together and they work hard to prepare for the trial. The trial starts and a jury is seated. After contentious testimony and even more contentious debate among the members of the jury, a verdict is reached. Then, a shocking event changes everything about the case.

A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife also addresses the issue of a marriage certificate. Jodi Brett is a successful Chicago psychotherapist who’s been in a relationship with developer Todd Gilbert for twenty years. The two have never been legally married, but Jodi regards Todd as her husband. Then, Todd has an affair with a college student Natasha Kovacs, who is the daughter of Todd’s longtime friend Dean Kovacs. Todd’s been unfaithful before and Jodi has dealt with it. But this time it’s different because Natasha gets pregnant. What’s even more shocking for Jodi is that Todd decides to leave her and marry Natasha. Then comes even more unpleasant news. Through his attorney, Todd serves eviction papers to Jodi, and she’ll be forced out of their home. When Jodi sees a lawyer, the first point brought up is that she was never legally married to Todd, so she has no legal claim on his home or his assets. Then, Todd is murdered and everything changes.

C.J. Box’s Three Weeks to Say Goodbye deals with a different kind of legal ‘trail’ – adoption papers. Jack McGuane and his wife Melissa are the loving adoptive parents of beautiful baby Angelina. They adopted her legally, so they have the paperwork to support their claim to her. Then, they get the devastating news that all is not as much in order as they thought. Angelina’s biological father is eighteen-year-old Garrett Moreland. At the time of her birth, he never waived his parental rights and now that he is of legal majority, he’s chosen to exercise them. Moreland has never been the least bit interested in Angelina, so the McGuanes do not believe that he wants to be a real father to her. In fact, they strongly suspect his motives. But he won’t sign the papers granting the McGuanes full custody, and he is supported by his father, who is a powerful local judge. So when the McGuanes refuse to relinquish Angelina, Judge Moreland serves them with a court order that gives them twenty-one days to relinquish custody of Angelina. This the McGuanes vow not to do, and they decide to do whatever is necessary to keep Angelina. ‘Whatever is necessary’ turns out to be much more than either of them imagined…

One of the most difficult ‘legal trails’ to follow is paperwork regarding works of art. For one thing, people do sell art informally sometimes, so there isn’t an official set of transaction papers. For another, some people are willing to pay for art without asking too many questions. So the matter of the art’s provenance doesn’t come up. But art can be extremely valuable, so proof of ownership can become a matter of real importance. That’s what we find for example in Aaron Elkins’ Loot. Art historian/expert Benjamin ‘Ben’ Revere gets a call one day from an acquaintance Simeon Pawlovsky, who owns a pawn shop. Pawlovsky thinks that a painting he’s just gotten in may be valuable, and he wants Revere to look at it. Revere agrees and discovers that Pawlovsky is right: the painting is very likely a valuable Velázquez that’s been missing since World War II. When Pawlovsky is murdered shortly afterwards, Revere decides to try to trace the painting and therefore, possibly find out who the killer is. It turns out that this painting was one of many stolen by the Nazis and now there isn’t a clear ‘paper trail’ leading to its current legal owner. Revere untangles the messy question of ownership and that information helps lead him to the killer. What’s interesting too is that readers get a look at questions of provenance and how one actually goes about proving that a) a painting is genuine; and b) it is legitimately owned by a given person/family.

In Stephen Booth’s Dying to Sin, it’s property ownership documents that become vitally important. DS Diane Fry and DC Ben Cooper are called to the scene when a female skeleton is found at Pity Wood Farm in England’s Peak District. Shortly afterwards, another female skeleton is found. The current owner of the farm is attorney Aaron Goodwin, who bought the land for development purposes. He claims to know nothing about the remains; in fact, he has no real connection to the farm other than as its owner. So although he’s still a suspect, Fry and Cooper also consider other possibilities. Before Goodwin bought the property it was owned for many years by the Sutton family, most recently by brothers Derek and Raymond Sutton. Derek has died, but Raymond is still alive and in a care home. He claims to know nothing about the deaths and forensics evidence supports him. The bodies were apparently buried after he sold the farm. So now the team has to find out who actually owned the farm, who actually lived there, and what the young women were doing there if they’re going to find the killer.

Legal documents can be the source of an awful lot of conflict. But they are often very effective sources of protection. Sometimes that ‘piece of paper’ isn’t meaningless at all…

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Richard Marx and Bruce Gaitsch’s Don’t Mean Nothing.

18 Comments

Filed under A.S.A. Harrison, Aaron Elkins, Agatha Christie, C.J. Box, Perri O'Shaughnessy, Stephen Booth

And Nothing’s as Precious as a Hole in the Ground*

MineAs any crime fiction fan can tell you, a murder can happen just about anywhere. That said though, some settings just lend themselves to crime fiction in ways that others might not.  Take mines as an example. You probably don’t think about mines very often unless you come from a mining town or family. But they really are terrific settings for a crime novel. For one thing, there’s the mine shaft itself. That’s a very effective place to commit a crime or at least hide a body. And there’s mining in many, many different countries, so there’s a lot of flexibility in terms where the story can take place. Mining communities can be close-knit and insular too, and that can lead to all sorts of motives for murder.

Mining turns out to be a deadly industry for Wu Ling, whose murder Hercule Poirot investigates in Agatha Christie’s short story The Lost Mine. He is the head of a Chinese family that owns valuable documents relating to some Burmese mines. He’s willing to sell them (and the mining rights) to a British syndicate, but only if he can meet with the principals. So it’s arranged that he’ll travel to London and attend a board meeting of the company that’s going to buy the documents. He makes the journey without incident, but when his body is later found in a seedy district of East London, Inspector Miller is assigned to the case. Not long afterwards, Charles Lester is arrested for the crime. He was known to be in debt, and the papers were worth a lot of money. What’s more, he’d made the acquaintance of the victim on the trip to England, and was the last person to have been seen with the victim. Hercule Poirot’s been hired by the company to find the papers so he gets involved in the investigation. And as you can imagine, he’s not satisfied with the case against Lester…

Much of the action in Reginald Hill’s Under World takes place in the coal mining town of Burrthorpe. Several years earlier, a young girl Tracey Pedley disappeared. The police thought that she was a victim of Donald Pickford, who had already admitted to being a child molester and has since committed suicide. But others thought Tracey was killed by Billy Farr, a Burrthorpe miner who disappeared. When Farr’s skeleton is found in the mine, it looks as though he either had a tragic accident or committed suicide, and Andy Dalziel, Peter Pascoe and their team investigate. Billy’s son Colin has come back to the UK to take over his father’s mining job. He’s angry and bitter and has never really believed the stories about his father, but he settles back into life in Burrthorpe. Tragedy strikes again when Harold Satterthwaite is killed in the mine. And Colin Farr is the main suspect, since he and Satterthwaite were both romantic rivals and enemies. As Dalziel and Pascoe and the team look into this new murder, we see how it relates to the disappearance of Tracey Pedley and the death of Billy Farr. We also get a look at life in a mining town, and at the network of relationships that develop there.

Several of the novels in Lilian Jackson Braun’s Cat Who… series take place in the small town of Pickax, ‘400 miles north of nowhere.’ As you can guess from the name of the town, it was originally a mining town, and in fact there are still stories told of mining explosions, ghosts of miners and so on. And in The Cat Who Smelled a Rat, those abandoned mines are used for a modern-day murder. There’s been a series of suspicious fires in some of the abandoned mines and columnist James ‘Qwill’ Qwilleran is looking into them. Then, one of the volunteer firefighters Ralph ‘Ruff’ Abbey is shot at the Big B Mine. It turns out that he witnessed one of the fires being set and was killed because of what he’d seen. Qwill and Police Chief Andrew Brodie look into the case and find out that these events are connected with the murder of a local book dealer and the destruction of his business.

Martin Edwards’ The Arsenic Labyrinth shows us just how useful mines can be for hiding bodies. In that novel, journalist Tony di Venuto plans to do a ten-years-on retrospective on the disappearance of Emma Bestwick, who went off on her bicycle one day and never returned. When di Venuto gets a tip that Emma is dead, and a clue as to where her body can be found, her case is re-opened. DCI Hannah Scarlett and her Cold Case Review Team find Emma’s body in The Arsenic Labyrinth, a series of underground tunnels that were used to mine arsenic and remove it from ore. What’s even more shocking is the team also finds a skeleton that’s been buried for fifty years. Now they’ve got two murders to investigate and as it turns out, the two are related. With help from Oxford historian Daniel Kind, Scarlett and her team trace the deaths to local family histories and long-held secrets.

An abandoned mine shaft figures strongly in Giles Blunt’s Forty Words For Sorrow, too. Detective John Cardinal of the Algonquin Bay (Ontario) police department is called in when the body of thirteen-year-old Katie Pine is discovered in an abandoned mine shaft on Windigo Island. At first, everyone had believed that Katie had run away from home, but Cardinal never believed that. So now that the body’s been discovered, he and Detective Lise Delorme re-open the investigation. They find that Katie’s death is connected to two other deaths. Then, they get word of another disappearance and now they know that if they don’t catch the killer, there’ll be yet another murder…

Patricia Stoltey’s The Desert Hedge Murders takes place in mostly Laughlin and Oatman, Nevada. When retired judge Sylvia Thorn accompanies her mother’s travel group on a sightseeing tour to that part of Nevada, she’s hoping all will go smoothly. But it’s not long before tragedy strikes. First, the body of an unknown man is found in the hotel bathroom shared by two of the group members. Then another tour group member disappears and her body is later found in an old mine. Thorn gets drawn into the murder investigations mostly because she wants to keep her mother and the remaining members of the tour group as safe as she can and in the end, she finds that the deaths are related to greed and to secrets that someone’s been keeping.

There’s also a climactic scene at an old mine in Stephen Booth’s Dying to Sin. In that novel, DS Diane Fry and DC Ben Cooper investigate the discovery of two sets of remains at Pity Wood Farm, near Rakesdale in the Peak District. The deaths turn out to be related to Pity Wood Farm’s background and to a later, related murder. At one point in the novel, Cooper and Fry connect what’s been happening at the farm with the old Magpie Mine, a former lead mine. Saying much more about what happens at the mine would come closer to spoiling the novel than I want, but the mine itself is a suitably eerie place and does figure in this novel.

Mines are unique. They foster a special kind of community and the settings themselves are fascinating – and dangerous. I don’t wonder at all that there are so many of them in crime fiction.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Midnight Oil’s Blue Sky Mine.

28 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Giles Blunt, Lilian Jackson Braun, Martin Edwards, Patricia Stoltey, Reginald Hill, Stephen Booth