Category Archives: Sylvie Granotier

Ah, But I Was So Much Older Then, I’m Younger Than That Now*

OlderPerspectivesHave you ever noticed how your perspective on things changes as you get older? For instance, if you visit a home that you lived in as a child, you may see that it’s a lot smaller than you remember. You remember that house with a child’s perspective, but now you see it with a different set of eyes. That different way of looking at things is arguably part of the reason for which our memories can be so unreliable.

We see that plot point quite a lot in crime fiction, and that makes sense. Not only is it realistic, but also, it allows the author to add to the suspense of a story. And in the case of ‘whodunit’ crime novels, it allows for all sorts of ‘red herrings’ and proverbial wrong turns. Here are just a few examples; I know you’ll be able to think of many others.

In Agatha Christie’s Five Little Pigs, Carla Lemarchant hires Hercule Poirot to solve a sixteen-year-old case. Her father, famous artist Amyas Crale, was poisoned one afternoon during a painting session. At the time, Crale’s wife (and Carla’s mother) Caroline was arrested, charged and convicted, and with good reason. For one thing, there was physical evidence against her. For another, she had a motive, as her husband was having an affair with the subject of his painting Elsa Greer. But Carla is convinced that her mother was innocent, and wants Poirot to find out the truth. This he agrees to do, and he interviews all five of the people who were ‘on the scene’ at the time of the murder. He also asks for Carla’s own memories. In two cases, Carla’s and that of her Aunt Angela Warren, the memories of that time are those of children. Carla was five, and Angela Warren was fifteen when Crale was murdered. And it’s interesting to see how their perceptions of things have changed. There are two incidents in particular that didn’t make sense to a younger mind, but now make a lot of sense. The difference in perspective isn’t the solution to the mystery, but it explains several things and adds an interesting layer to the story (I know, I know, fans of Sleeping Murder).

Paddy Richardson’s Hunting Blind begins in 1988, at a lakeside school picnic at Wanaka. The members of the Anderson family, including fourteen-year-old Stephanie, her younger brothers Jonny and Liam, and her four-year-old sister Gemma, are there with many other local people. During the picnic, Gemma disappears. The police are called in and there’s a thorough search. But no trace of Gemma turns up – not even a body. The family tries to move on as best they can, and seventeen years go by. Now Stephanie is a fledgling psychiatrist who lives and works in Dunedin. One day she hears a haunting story from a patient Elisabeth Clark. Years earlier, her sister Gracie was abducted, and no trace of her was found. This story is so much like Stephanie’s own that, as the saying goes, it won’t leave her alone. Against her better professional judgement, she decides to find out who was responsible for causing so much devastation to these two families. She takes a leave of absence from her work and begins to search for the truth. The trail leads her back to Wanaka and in the end, she does find out who abducted both girls. Throughout the novel we see the way Stephanie viewed everything as a fourteen-year-old versus the way she looks at life now.

In Ferdinand von Schirach’s The Collini Case, we meet Caspar Leinen, a young attorney who is just beginning his career. One day his name comes up on the legal aid rota and he gets a call from the local examining magistrate. Fabrizio Collini, an Italian immigrant to Germany, has been arrested for murder. It seems that he went to Berlin’s Hotel Adlon, headed for the suite occupied by Jean-Baptiste Meyer, and shot the man. Collini says that he committed the crime and doesn’t want a lawyer. But German law requires that he be represented. So Leinen prepares to handle the case as best he can. Collini doesn’t do much to defend himself, which means that Leinen will have to take on a lot of the work. He digs into the backgrounds of both men and finds some surprising truths. He also finds a little-known point of German law on which the whole case will ride. In the course of the novel, we also get to know Leinen’s own history, and that plays a role in the story’s events too. It’s interesting to see how his perspective as a boy and teenager changes as he reflects on the same events with adult eyes.

Sylvie Granotier’s The Paris Lawyer also deals with the different perspectives that we acquire as adults. Catherine Monsigny is a beginning attorney who gets her chance at a major case when she is asked to defend Myriam Villetreix against a murder charge. She has been accused of poisoning her wealthy husband Gaston, but claims to be innocent. And as Monsigny looks into the case, she sees that there are other possibilities. In the meantime, she comes up against a tragedy from her own past. When she was three years old, she was a witness to the murder of her mother Violet. Her memories are understandably very sketchy, but some things have stayed with her. As it happens, the Villetreix murder happened not very far from the scene of the long-ago murder, and the location haunts Monsigny. In the course of the novel she learns who killed her mother and why. As she does so, we see that her adult perspective, and some discoveries she makes, helps her to see certain events and people in a very different light.

There’s also Megan Abbott’s The End of Everything. In that novel, thirteen-year-old Lizzie Hood and her friend Evie Verver are inseparable. Then one terrible day, Evie doesn’t come home from school. The later it gets, the more worried Evie’s family becomes, and they ask Lizzie to tell them anything she may know that could help. But Lizzie can’t be of much assistance, not to the family and not to the police when they talk to her later. She wants to know what happened to Evie, though, and in her own way, begins to search for the truth. She finds that many of her memories don’t reflect what really happened. And since it’s the adult Lizzie who narrates the story, we also see how her perspective on everything has changed since she was thirteen.

And then there’s Wendy James’ The Lost Girls. That story really begins in 1978, when fourteen-year-old Angela Buchanan disappears and is later found strangled. This tragedy devastates her parents, the aunt and uncle with whom she was staying when it happened, and her cousins Mick and Jane. At first the police thought that someone in the family might be responsible. But then not many months later, another girl, sixteen-year-old Kelly McIvor, was also found strangled. Everyone began to believe that these deaths were the work of a serial killer dubbed the Sydney Strangler. The cases were never solved, and years went by. Now, more than thirty years later, journalist Erin Fury is doing a documentary on the effect of tragedies like this on the families involved. She interviews both Jane and Mick, along with Jane’s husband Rob, who also knew Angela. As the novel goes on, we see how these characters viewed Angela and the circumstances surrounding her death. We also see how different some of their youthful perspectives are to what really happened and to the adult perspectives they now develop on everything.

And that’s the thing about looking back. On the one hand, there are some very clear memories we have that are actually quite accurate. On the other hand, when we look back, we often do so with our childhood perspective. It’s not until we really think about things with adult maturity that we really understand them. I’ve only brought up a few examples here. Which books with this plot point have stayed with you?
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bob Dylan’s My Back Pages.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Ferdinand von Schirach, Megan Abbott, Paddy Richardson, Sylvie Granotier, Wendy James

Now Here I’m Facing Adventure, Then Why Am I So Scared*

YouthAt some point in life, we’ve all faced the prospect of starting out – of beginning our careers. It’s an exciting time in many ways; there’s so much to look forward to, and young people often have a lot of passion for their work. On the other hand, it’s a very nerve-wracking time too. Many young people don’t yet have confidence in themselves as they will when they’re older. And they often don’t have the wisdom that they will when they’re older either. So it can be a scary experience to get started in a career. In fiction, characters who are just getting started in their careers can add some richness to a story just because of that interesting mix of energy and anxiety. Here are a few examples from crime fiction.

In Agatha Christie’s  Appointment With Death, we are introduced to the Boyntons, an American family on a tour of the Middle East. During their travels, they decide to make a visit to Petra for a few days. On their second day there, family matriarch Mrs. Boynton suddenly dies of what looks like a heart attack. But Colonel Carbury isn’t sure that’s what happened, so he asks Hercule Poirot, who’s making his own trip to the area, to investigate. Poirot agrees and interviews each of the people in the Petra tour group. One of those people is seventeen-year-old Ginevra ‘Ginny’ Boynton, Mrs. Boynton’s daughter. She is mentally fragile after a lifetime of living with her tyrannical mother, but Dr. Theodore Gerard, who was on the Petra tour, sees great potential in the girl. He is a specialist in psychological cases and plans to treat her at one of his clinics and then see that she gets her preparation for the stage. I don’t think it’s spoiling the story to say that Ginny shows herself to be a talented actress. And yet, she still shows some of the natural anxiety of young people starting out.

Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn is a proud mother and now grandmother. The series featuring her shares her home life as well as her life as an academic and a political science expert. Readers get to know the members of her family and we see how their lives evolve. As the series begins, Kilbourn’s oldest daughter Mieka is off to university, with the mixture of excitement and anxiety that you might expect. Later, she decides to start her own catering company. Her mother has lots of concerns about this, since she wanted Mieka to finish her degree program. But Mieka is determined to make a go of it and see if she can be a success. As she talks about her business plan, we can see how she is both anxious about it and excited at the same time:

 

‘Her [Mieka’s] voice was strong. ‘I want my chance. I know I may get flattened but I have to try.’ 

 

As the series goes on, Mieka continues to develop and gets some of the confidence that people often acquire as they mature.

We see the same development in Vicki Delany’s Moonlight ‘Molly’ Smith. As the series featuring her begins with In the Shadow of the Glacier, Smith has just started her career with the Trafalgar Police. She’s smart and determined to do well, but at the same time, she’s inexperienced and anxious. That’s especially evident when she discovers the body of developer Reginald Montgomery in an alley. At first it’s assumed that Sergeant John Winters will work with his usual partner Detective Lopez. But Lopez is out of town and Winters is paired with Smith. This makes her almost as nervous as finding the body did. But at the same time, she’s excited at the opportunity to work on this murder case. And she’s got the makings of a good cop. Smith matures as the series develops, and it’s interesting to watch her growth.

In Chris Grabenstein’s Tilt a Whirl, we are introduced to Danny Boyle, a ‘summer cop’ in Sea Haven, New Jersey. He’s used to police work like directing traffic and issuing parking tickets. But then one morning, the body of wealthy developer Reginald Hart is discovered at an amusement park. Boyle works with Officer John Ceepak to find out who killed Hart and why. As the novel goes on, we see that he’s anxious about working as a full-time cop. He’s also a little nervous about working with Ceepak. At the same time, he’s got a sense of excitement about it and wants to make good.

Sylvie Granotier’s The Paris Lawyer sees beginning attorney Catherine Monsigny taking on her first major case. Myriam Villetreix has been charged with poisoning her wealthy husband Gaston and she wants Monsigny to defend her. As Monsigny prepares for the trial, she’s excited at the opportunity to work this high-profile case. It could make her career. She’s also anxious though, and takes quite a lot of time over the research, her strategy and even the clothing she’ll wear. She doesn’t see herself as incompetent, but she’s not yet confident enough in her skills to really trust her instincts. At  the same time she is haunted by the memory of her mother’s death. Monsigny’s mother Violet was murdered and because she was not much more than a toddler at the time, Monsigny doesn’t have clear memories of that day. As it happens the trial will take place not far from where the murder occurred, so she also returns to that earlier murder to find out who killed her mother and why.

Shona MacLean (who now writes as S.G. MacLean) created Alexander Seaton, a former candidate for the ministry who is now a teacher. In The Redemption of Alexander Seaton, he is undermaster of the grammar school in Banff, Scotland. When the body of apothecary’s assistant Patrick Davidson is found in Seaton’s classroom, he gets involved in investigating the murder. Towards the end of the novel, Seaton gets an opportunity for a teaching job at a school in Aberdeen. For a young man like him, it’s a plum job and on that level he’s excited about it. On the other hand, Seaton already has doubts about himself and he’s anxious about how he’ll do. But his mentor Dr. John Forbes encourages him and helps him to develop some faith in himself, and as the series goes on, we see Seaton start to mature.

In Jean-Pierre Alaux’s and Noël Balen’s Winemaker Detective series, oenologist Benjamin Cooker takes on a new assistant Virgile Lanssien. Cooker has a notable reputation as a wine expert, and Lanssien is a little nervous about working with him, and anxious to make a good impression. At the same time, he is himself quite competent, and he’s excited to develop his knowledge and skills. In Lanssien’s character we see that combination of anxiety and excitement that’s characteristic of young people just starting their careers.

If you remember what it was like to start out, you know just what that combination feels like. Which examples from crime fiction have stayed with you?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s I Have Confidence.

  

 

 

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Chris Grabenstein, Gail Bowen, Jean-Pierre Alaux, Nöel Balen, Shona MacLean, Sylvie Granotier, Vicki Delany

Well, It’s a Rainy Night in Paris and I’m Sitting by the Seine*

paris-riverseine9There’s something about Paris. Whether it’s the world-class food and wine, the art, the music or the fabled romance of the place, people are often drawn to that city. There’s something almost magical about it for some people. But besides everything else, Paris is a large, modern city. And there’s crime there, just as there is in other places. Let’s take a look at some crime fiction that takes place in Paris and you’ll see what I mean.

Although Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot makes his home in London, he travels to Paris too when it’s needed. In Death in the Clouds (AKA Death in the Air), for instance, Poirot is faced with an unusual case. Marie Morisot, a Paris moneylender who does business as Madame Giselle, suddenly dies during a flight from Paris to London. It’s soon shown that the victim was poisoned and Chief Inspector Japp begins to investigate. The only possible suspects in this case are the other passengers, one of whom was Hercule Poirot. In fact, the jury at the coroner’s inquest suspects him of the crime. Poirot works with Japp and with French authorities to find out who the killer is, and part of the trail leads to Paris, where Madame Giselle lived and did business. In fact, Poirot finds several useful clues during his trip there.

Fans of Georges Simenon’s Jules Maigret will know that he is a member of the Direction Régionale de Police Judiciaire de Paris, the criminal investigation division of France’s Police Nationale. Maigret does of course investigate crimes that occur in the French countryside and in other French cities. But he and his wife live in Paris. Fans will know that he’s acquainted with just about every café and bar in the city, as that’s where he often does his best observation and deduction.

Also set in Paris are many of Fred Vargas’ Commissare Adamsberg novels. Adamsberg, also of the Police Nationale, works with a disparate group of people whom others might consider eccentric, even misfits. But he and his team actually form a very effective group of detectives. These novels have an almost surreal feel about them, but they also offer a picture of what it’s like to live and work in Paris. Adamsberg is an unusual sort of detective. He doesn’t necessarily follow obvious clues or go after obvious suspects. He also solves cases and settles problems in sometimes-unorthodox ways, to the occasional chagrin of his team members. But he and his team (including of course, Snowball the office cat) get there in the end.

Sylvie Granotier’s The Paris Lawyer offers, among other things, an interesting look at the way Paris has become increasingly diverse in the last decades. Catherine Monsigny is a newly-minted attorney who volunteers for a group that works with undocumented immigrants who get into legal trouble. She has a full-time paid position too, but this volunteering gives her valuable experience. It’s also the way she learns of the case of Myriam Villetreix, an immigrant from Gabon who’s been accused of poisoning her wealthy husband Gaston. With support from her employer and mentor, Monsigny takes this case and prepares to defend Myriam. It turns out that this case will force Monsigny to confront a terrible incident from her own past. As a three-year-old, she witnessed her mother’s murder, which took place not far from where the Villetreix case is unfolding. The two cases aren’t, strictly speaking, related. But Monsigny finds the answers to both sets of questions. And in this novel, we get a solid sense of Paris as well as an interesting look at French jurisprudence.

We also get a look at modern-day Paris in Frédérique Molay’s The 7th Woman. This novel features Chief Nico Sirsky, head of the Paris CID La Crim’, and his team. The body of Marie-Hélène Jory is found in her Paris home. It’s not a typical robbery-with-murder sort of killing, and although the murder is brutal, there’s not much to go on in terms of evidence. Then there’s another murder. The second victim is Chloé Bartes, who is murdered in the same brutal way as the first victim. This time, the killer has left a message: seven days, seven women. Now the team sees that the murderer has a specific plan and that they’ll have to act fast if they’re to prevent more killings. Besides the murder plot itself, Molay also gives readers a look at the way a Paris criminal investigation of this magnitude is carried out, and how different agencies (police, crime scene experts, psychologists, the courts, etc.) work together.

There are also plenty of novels in which the protagonist travels to Paris, even if the main investigation takes place elsewhere. For instance, in Teresa Solana’s A Not So Perfect Crime, Barcelona private investigators (and brothers) Eduard and Josep ‘Borja’ Martínez are hired by powerful politician Lluís Font. He believes that his wife Lídia is having an affair, and he wants the brothers to find out if he is right. A week of following her produces no results, and the Martínez brothers are inclined to report to their client that he’s wrong about his wife. Then one evening they do get a possible lead that she may be hiding something, quite possibly an affair. Before they can follow up on that lead though, Lídia is poisoned. Her husband becomes the obvious suspect even though he is wealthy and powerful. So he insists that the Martínez brothers stay in his employ and find out who killed his wife. Although they’ve never investigated a murder before, the brothers agree. One key to this mystery is a painting that was done of Lídia by an artist who may in fact be her mysterious lover, if there was one. To track down the artist, the brothers travel to Paris. At first, the city doesn’t impress Eduard very much. It seems to have changed a lot since he was there many years earlier, and no longer has the appeal for him that it did. But Paris works magic on him as it does on a lot of people, and by the end of that short trip there, Eduard remembers what he loved so much about it. And in the end, the Martínez brothers find out who killed Lídia Font and why.

And that’s Paris for you. It’s got its share of crime, nasty history and secrets. But it’s got an irresistible appeal, delicious food and wine, and wonderful art and music. Little wonder so many stories and series are set there. I’ve only mentioned a very few. Your turn.

 

ps  Thanks to A Paris Guide for the lovely ‘photo!

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Somewhere Along the Line.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Frédérique Molay, Fred Vargas, Georges Simenon, Sylvie Granotier, Teresa Solana

Clean Shirt, White Shoes*

Clothes and JudgementsAn interesting post from Moira at Clothes in Books has got me thinking about the judgements we make based on the way people dress. Even though we know that that’s a very superficial and usually inaccurate way to decide what we think of a person, it’s still something we all do. That’s why for instance people wear suits to job interviews and evening dress to certain events. The way we dress really does affect others’ opinions in real life, and it certainly does in crime fiction too.

For instance, in Agatha Christie’s Five Little Pigs, Carla Lemarchant hires Hercule Poirot to solve the sixteen-year-old murder of her father Amyas Crale. Crale was a famous artist who was working on a painting of his mistress Elsa Greer when he was poisoned. At the time, his wife Caroline was arrested, tried and convicted for the crime. And there was solid evidence against her too. But Carla is convinced that her mother was not guilty. So she asks Poirot to take another look at the case. To do so he interviews the five people who were present on the day of the murder. He also gets their written accounts of what happened. That information gives Poirot the clues he needs to find out the truth about the murder. One of the interesting aspects of this novel is the different perceptions people have of the various characters in this story. For instance, Elsa Greer is beautiful and rich, but at the time of the trial, she was regarded as ‘jumped up trash.’ In part it’s because of her role as a ‘homewrecker.’ But that opinion isn’t improved by the fact that Elsa wore trousers at a time when ‘nice young ladies’ wouldn’t have considered it. It’s an interesting reflection of how dress affects people’s opinions.

Any skilled trial lawyer will tell you that dress plays an important role in the impression one makes in a courtroom. So clients are often carefully coached on the kinds of clothes to wear and not wear when they are in court. A lot of legal novels mention this issue. I’ll only bring up a few examples.

In Perri O’Shaughnessy’s Breach of Promise, Tahoe attorney Nina Reilly faces a very difficult civil case. Her client Lindy Markov has been served with eviction papers that order her to leave the home she’s shared with her partner Mike for twenty years. What’s more, she’s being removed from her position as an executive vice-president in the company she and Mike built together. It all stems from Mike’s affair with his financial services vice president Rachel Pembroke, and there seems little Lindy can do about it. She was never legally married to Mike, so there is a strong argument that she has no legal claim to any of his assets. And yet, there is also a solid argument that she does. So she and Reilly prepare for a civil trial in which Lindy is suing for her share of the company assets. Part of the preparation for the trial is careful discussion about what Lindy will wear. She can’t give the impression of being rich for obvious reasons. But it’s well known that she and Mike have a successful business, so dressing as though she’s poverty-stricken won’t work either. All their preparation stops mattering though when there’s a shocking event that changes everything. Still, it adds an interesting layer to the story to see how both she and Reilly carefully choose what they’ll wear.

Paris attorney Catherine Monsigny and her client Myriam Villetreix have similar conversations in Sylvie Granotier’s The Paris Lawyer. Monsigny is a recently-minted attorney who gets a real chance to make a name for herself when Myriam Villetreix is charged with murdering her husband Gaston. Gaston was well-liked in the small town where they lived, so as it is, his widow is not particularly popular. What’s more, she’s a foreigner. And it doesn’t help matters at all that her accusers are Gaston’s wealthy cousins, who have quite a lot of social power. And yet, Myriam says that she is innocent. So she and Catherine get down to work. One of the many conversations they have is about what Myriam will wear for her trial:

 

‘She chooses the clothes that she will advise Myriam to wear, which will not make her too invisible but won’t make her stand out too much either. She selects a slightly flared caramel-colored skirt with a beige sweater and a pair of gray pants with a white blouse. Myriam will choose.

Myriam chooses the pants and a sweater of her own, which is bright yellow. She won’t change her mind. This is what she is like, who she is’

 

And it’s very interesting to see the impression both women make in the courtroom.

In Helen Fitzgerald’s The Cry, Joanna Lindsay and Alistair Robertson have just arrived in Melbourne after a long trip from Scotland. That’s when they suffer the most awful loss any couple can:  the loss of their nine-week-old son Noah. When Noah goes missing, everyone’s initial reaction is support for the distraught couple. The media makes much of the case and an exhaustive search is made. Little by little though, questions are raised about the disappearance. Before long, both the police and the media begin to wonder whether one or both of Noah’s parents might be responsible. At one point in the novel there’s a trial, and Joanna is scheduled to give testimony. Her lawyer advises her carefully about what to wear and how to conduct herself, but Joanna has her own ideas:

 

‘Was the red dress a sane decision? Maybe not…But the grey trousers and cream blouse [Joanna’s best friend] Kirsty brought in for her felt all wrong.’

 

And even Kirsty warns her that

 

‘You shouldn’t wear that dress. People will hate you.’

 

Although Joanna’s attire isn’t a main theme of the novel, her choice here is an interesting plot point.

Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman series features a group of disparate people who share a large Melbourne building called Insula. One of the residents is a woman who goes by her professional name of Mistress Dread. She owns a leather shop and dresses the part. She’s also a skilled seamstress and more than once provides Chapman with clothes. When she’s not on duty, Mistress Dread dresses quite differently as we learn in Earthly Delights:

 

‘In her tweed skirt and brogues she looked like an English countrywoman out for a ramble – one looked for the Labrador and the green gumboots.’  

 

And yet Mistress Dread knows that dressing and looking a certain way is important in her line of work. She needs to give the impression she wants to give – and so she does.

And that’s the thing about dress. It really can predispose one towards or against a person. Thanks, Moira, for the inspiration.

Now, may I suggest your next blog stop should be Clothes in Books? It’s a wonderful resource for all things related to clothing and what it says about people, cultures and eras. G’wan – you’ll be glad you did.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from ZZ Top’s Sharp Dressed Man.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Helen Fitzgerald, Kerry Greenwood, Perri O'Shaughnessy, Sylvie Granotier

And I’m Tangled Up in You*

ComplicatedRelationshipsWhen we think of fictional sleuths and criminals, it’s easy to think in terms of an adversarial relationship. The criminal kills and the sleuth’s job is to catch that criminal and see that the killer is brought to justice. But very often even in real life, the sleuth/criminal relationship isn’t that simple. Sometimes the sleuth has a good reason to be sympathetic towards the criminal. Sometimes the sleuth even has a personal relationship with the criminal. When that sort of thing happens it can lead to real complications in the traditional catch/arrest/try/convict procedure. In stories that sort of complication can add to the tension and suspense. Certainly it can make for an absorbing plot thread.

We see that for instance in Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile. Beautiful, wealthy and successful Linnet Doyle and her husband Simon are on a honeymoon cruise of the Nile. When Linnet is shot on the second night of the cruise, suspicion falls immediately on her former best friend Jacqueline ‘Jackie’ de Bellefort, who’d been engaged to Simon before he met Linnet. But Jackie can be proven not to be the murderer, so Hercule Poirot, who’s on the same cruise, has to look elsewhere for the killer. He finds out who the murderer is and that causes him difficulty because as he puts it, he has much sympathy for that person. Here is a bit of the conversation he and the killer have:

 

‘‘Don’t mind so much, Monsieur Poirot. About me, I mean. You do mind, don’t you?’
‘Yes…’’

 

And this comes from a detective who says more than once that he does not approve of murder. Thanks Moira for this inspiration. Your comment put me in mind of this topic.

There’s another kind of complex relationship between sleuth and killer in Isaac Asimov’s The Caves of Steel. The people of the futuristic Earth depicted in this novel are more or less divided between two groups. One group, the Spacers, is descended from humans who explored space and then returned. The other group, the Earthmen, is descended from humans who did not explore space – who remained on Earth. The two groups have different cultures and values and they dislike and distrust each other for a variety of reasons. When noted Spacer Dr. Roj Nemennuh Sarton is murdered, Spacers begin to suspect that an Earthman is responsible. New York police commissioner Julius Enderby assigns Earthman Elijah ‘Lije’ Baley to the case. Not only does Enderby think Baley is a skilled sleuth, but he also wants to choose an Earthman as proof that this investigation will be transparent. As a further gesture, Enderby assigns Baley a Spacer partner R. Daneel Olivaw. And this in itself poses complications. Olivaw is a positronic robot and if there’s anything Earthmen dislike and distrust more than Spacers it’s robots. Still, Baley and Olivaw begin to work together on the case. They discover who killed Sarton and when they do, Baley has to deal with the fact that he already has a relationship with that person. So in that sense he feels quite conflicted about pursuing what most people think of as justice.

Craig Johnson’s Absaroka County, Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire faces a conflict about a murderer too in The Cold Dish. Two years before this novel begins, three local boys were convicted of gang-raping sixteen-year-old Melissa Little Bird. They’ve just recently been released from prison when one of them, Cody Pritchard, is found murdered. Then there’s another death. It seems logical that someone in Melissa’s family is taking revenge for what happened to her so Longmire and his team look into the backgrounds and alibis of Melissa’s friends and relations. They don’t make a lot of progress at first but slowly, Longmire puts the pieces of the puzzle together. When he discovers who the killer is he finds it extremely difficult because he already knows that person (after all, the town Longmire lives is one of those small towns where everyone knows everyone). At the end of the novel especially we see how difficult it is for Longmire to deal with the identity of the killer.

In Karin Fossum’s He Who Fears the Wolf, Inspector Konrad Sejer and his assistant Jacob Skarre investigate the murder of Halldis Horn. She lived alone in a somewhat remote area, so when her body is discovered, there aren’t many witnesses who can give a lot of information. But the information the investigation team does get suggests that a young mentally ill man named Errki Johrma is probably responsible. The only problem is that he seems to have disappeared so Sejer can’t interview him. At the same time, Sejer and Skarre are also investigating a bank robbery and hostage-taking situation. These two events are related, and as Sejer and Skarre unravel what really happened, Sejer develops a kind of relationship with the person who turns out to be the killer. He learns about that person and what he learns makes him quite conflicted about what to do in terms of pursuing this case.

Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn is also conflicted when she discovers the truth about a series of killings in A Colder Kind of Death. Kilbourn is in the process of healing after the murder of her husband Ian. But all of the progress she’s made is threatened when the man convicted of the crime Kevin Tarpley is shot in the yard of the prison where he’s serving his sentence. Then Tarpley’s wife Maureen, who was present on the night of Ian Kilbourn’s murder, is also killed. Joanne falls under a certain amount of suspicion since she had every motive for murder. So partly in order to clear her name, she looks into both killings. What she discovers – and part of what makes this case very difficult – is that she knows the killer and has a history with that person. That complexity doesn’t stop her from acknowledging what happened but when that person confesses we can see that this is not a simple case of finding out who committed a crime and getting that person convicted of it.

And then there’s Sylvie Granotier’s The Paris Lawyer. In that novel, newly-minted attorney Catherine Monsigny gets what she hopes will be her chance at a major case. Myriam Villetreix has been arrested for and charged with the murder of her wealthy husband Gaston. She claims innocence but there is evidence against her. She wants Monsigny to defend her and when Monsigny’s boss gives approval, the process begins. The murder of Gaston Villetreix took place not far from where a tragedy in Monsigny’s own life occurred. When she was a toddler, Monsigny’s mother Violet was murdered. Monsigny was present but was too young to remember very much at all. She wants to lay those ghosts to rest so to speak, but she doesn’t have a lot of reliable information about her mother’s murder. So while she’s in that area preparing for the trial of Myriam Villetreix, she also looks more deeply into the truth about her mother’s death. When she discovers that truth, we see how complicated the relationship between Monsigny and her mother’s killer is. That fact adds an interesting twist to this story.

Sometimes it’s cathartic to think of sleuths as the ‘good guys’ who catch ‘the bad guys,’ put them in jail and restore order. But in both real life and crime fiction, the relationship between sleuths and killers isn’t that clear-cut. And sometimes it can get downright complicated…
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Howie Day’s Collide.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Craig Johnson, Gail Bowen, Isaac Asimov, Karin Fossum, Sylvie Granotier