Category Archives: Vicki Delany

Hello It’s Me*

TelephonesYou don’t see many public telephones any more, at least not in the area where I live. In part that’s because so many people have mobile ‘phones; there’s just no need for them. Telephones have become rich storehouses of people’s information, so when there is a murder, the police check the victim’s telephone to see who might have contacted that person and when the last calls were placed. All of this helps to narrow down the possibilities when it comes to suspects and motives for murder.

Actually telephone records have been around for a long time as very useful tools. And an interesting comment exchange with Rebecca Bradley has got me thinking about that. Now, I’ll wait while you go visit Rebecca’s blog. It’s an excellent resource for readers and writers of crime fiction. And Rebecca hosts the online Crime Book Club, which discusses a different crime novel each month (This month: Alan Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie – Wednesday 16 April, 8PM GMT).

Back now? Right – telephones. Hercule Poirot uses records of telephone calls in Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (AKA A Holiday For Murder and Murder For Christmas). In that novel, we meet the various members of the Lee family, which is headed by unpleasant and tyrannical patriarch Simeon Lee. When he invites his family to gather at Gorston Hall for Christmas, no-one really wants to accept. But at the same time, no-one dares to refuse. On Christmas Eve, Lee is murdered in his private room. Hercule Poirot is staying nearby with a friend, and he works with Superintendent Sugden to find out who the murderer is. It’s not easy either because all of the family members have motives for murder. One of them is Lee’s son George, a Member of Parliament and very concerned about his image. He claims that he was making a telephone call at the time of the murder. It’s interesting to find out what the truth about that telephone call reveals about George Lee. What’s more, it shows that even then, detectives traced calls.

We see that in Erle Stanley Gardner’s The Case of the Velvet Claws too. Perry Mason’s been hired by Eva Belter to stop sleazy tabloid reporter Frank Locke from blackmailing her. Locke found out that she was having an affair with an up-and-coming politician and plans to milk that for all it’s worth. Mason agrees to meet with Locke to try to get him to leave Belter alone. They do meet but Mason is sure that Locke knows more than he’s saying. So he follows Locke one day, ending up at a local hotel. There, he arranges with the hotel telephone operator to trace a call that Locke makes. The information from that call gives Mason the information he needs about why his client has been targeted for blackmail. But that’s when things get complicated. When Eva’s husband George is murdered, she becomes the prime suspect and appeals to Mason to clear her name.

Qiu Xiaolong’s Death of Red Heroine takes place in 1990’s Shanghai, not many years before mobile telephones became easily available to almost everyone. In that novel, Chief Inspector Chen Cao and his assistant Yu Guangming investigate the murder of national model worker Guang Hongying. Her body is found one afternoon in the Baili Canal, and it’s thought at first that she was raped and killed by a taxi driver. But there are pieces of evidence that suggest otherwise. This case will be delicate though, because the victim was linked to several powerful people. Still, Chen and Yu persevere. One of the leads they follow is a series of telephone calls that ties the victim to one particular person. Those calls are all made from and received at a public telephone and it’s interesting to see how those records are kept.

As I say, most people now have mobile telephones, and those records can prove extremely helpful. Of course, people who want to cover their tracks know that too, so they often use pay-as-you-go ‘phones. But the police can find those useful too at times. In one plot thread of Gene Kerrigan’s The Rage for instance, DS Bob Tidey is working with Garda Detective Rose Cheney on the murder of Emmet Sweetman, a dubious banker who made a lot of money during the ‘Celtic Tiger’ years, but got into serious financial trouble when the crash came. He did business with some dangerous people and the detectives want to know who those associates are. They’re lucky enough to find Sweetman’s pay-as-you-go ‘phone, which he used for his off-the-record dealings, and that discovery proves quite informative.

Today’s telephones are also frequently used for texting, and those texts can also be very helpful to detectives. In C.J. Box’s Below Zero for instance, Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett is on the trail of the Mad Archer, a poacher who shoots animals and leaves them to die. Then Pickett’s daughter Sheridan begins receiving text messages from her foster sister April Keeley, whom everyone thought was tragically killed six years earlier. Pickett rushes home to find out the truth about those texts. If they were from April, then he wants to trace her. Where has she been and why hasn’t she contacted her foster family? If the texts are not from April, Pickett wants to know who would want to play the sick game of pretending they are. Those text messages turn out to be very helpful in leading Pickett to the truth about April.

Of course, it’s not always as easy as it may seem to use telephone records. In Vicki Delany’s Winter of Secrets, Constable Molly Smith and Sergeant John Winters investigate the Christmastime deaths of Jason Wyatt-Yarmouth and his friend Ewan Williams. Part of that investigation is a set of interviews with the victims’ friends. At one point Winters asks one of them if Jason got a call on Christmas Eve:

 

‘‘I don’t know. We didn’t keep him under armed guard, you know. Can’t you check his phone calls or something?’
Everyone knew too much these days, or thought they did, about police methods. Ewan and Jason both had cell phones on them. Completely ruined by their immersion in the icy river. Winters had put in a request for the phone records of the dead men but had yet to hear back. It was a slow week everywhere.’

 

It’s sometimes a difficult process to get telephone information, although of course, you don’t see that on television or films.

Still, telephone records give extremely valuable information in solving cases. With modern messaging, Internet capability and so on, they’re increasingly individual too. Little wonder cops always look for people’s telephones.

Oh, sorry, I’ve got a call – must take this. Thanks, Rebecca, for the inspiration!

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a Todd Rundgren song.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, C.J. Box, Erle Stanley Gardner, Gene Kerrigan, Qiu Xiaolong, Vicki Delany

Introducing: Vicki Delany

Vicki DelanyHello, All,

Welcome to another edition of Introducing…  Today I’d like you to meet Canadian author Vicki Delany. Based in Ontario, Delany had a career in computer programming and later, in systems analysis. But she also had an interest in writing and had two novels of suspense published while she was working and raising her children.

Since that time Delany has written other standalone novels of suspense as well as an adult literacy development novel Juba Good. She’s alsoGold Digger Delany
written two series. One of them, the Klondike Mystery series, takes place in 1898 Dawson, Yukon. It features Fiona McGillivray, who is the mother of a young teenager and the owner of the Savoy Dance Hall. Currently the series consists of Gold Digger, Gold Fever, Gold Mountain and Gold Web.  I hope there’ll be another.

The other series, for which she is perhaps better known, is her Smith and Winters series. That series takes place in Trafalgar, British Columbia and features Constable Moonlight ‘Molly’ Smith and her boss Sergeant John Winters. This series begins with In the Shadow of the Glacier. The seventh Smith and Winters novel, Under Cold Stone, has just been released.

undercoldstoneIn this novel, Smith’s mother Lucy ‘Lucky’ and her partner Paul Keller (Trafalgar’s Chief Constable of Police) are taking a ‘just for the two of us’ trip to Banff, in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains. Their plan is to indulge themselves at the Banff Springs Hotel. But they get drawn into a murder when Keller’s estranged son Matt disappears. What’s worse, it looks as though Matt may have committed murder. Matt’s experienced in wilderness life, so he could be anywhere, and RCMP Sergeant Edward Blechta thinks Matt’s escape is proof that he’s guilty. The case isn’t within Molly Smith’s jurisdiction, but she goes to Banff to be of whatever support she can to her mother. At first, she doesn’t plan to get involved in the investigation, but when Matt’s girlfriend begs her to find out the truth and clear Matt’s name, she starts asking questions.

In the meantime, Winters has his hands full in Trafalagar. Some ugly protests against the Grizzly Resort have been launched, and Winters has to do his best to keep the peace. Although the two plot threads seem distinct, Delany ties them together.

One of the things readers will very much appreciate about this series is that both Smith and Winters are normal people, if I can put it that way. They both have scars, as we all do, but neither is demon-haunted, addicted, or unable to work with others. The novels follow the plots from each one’s perspective too so that we see a broader picture of the story.

One thing that often concerns readers about a series is whether they can start with a later novel rather than at the beginning. In this case, one can. Delany does include story arcs in the series, but readers who haven’t been ‘in on it’ from the beginning can easily pick up the gist of those arcs. And each novel has a self-contained mystery plot that doesn’t require any knowledge from previous books.

Delany’s work is distinctly Canadian and gives the reader a real sense of setting. And for those who prefer not to have a lot of gore and violence in their reading, I’ll note that these two series do not include really ugly depictions of violence. And yet, they have enough of a ‘bite’ that it would be hard to call them ‘cosy.’ Now that I’ve whetted your appetite…

 

Want to know more about Vicki Delany? Her website is here and her Twitter page is here.

Want to know more about Under Cold Stone? Check it out here.

Want to know more about the Klondike Mysteries? You can find more here.

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Blue Suits and Bankers With Their Volvos and Their Valentines*

GentrificationGentrification is a fact of life in a lot of places. The idea is that a place will have greater appeal, a stronger economy and a wealthier tax base if it attracts people who can afford to pay upmarket prices for places to live, shop and so on. On the surface of it, that makes some sense. Most people would agree that it’s good to have a tax base that can sustain a place.

But here’s the problem, according to a lot of other people. Gentrification makes places too homogeneous (let’s face it; shopping malls don’t vary that much). It tends to take away the distinctive nature of an area, a city or a town. Gentrification also means that many middle- and working-class residents can’t afford to live in a place any longer. And it causes traffic and lots of other logistical problems.

That conflict – between those who support gentrification and those who oppose it – certainly plays out in real life. Perhaps you even live in an area affected by it. And it makes for a solid level of interest in crime fiction too.

In Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile for instance, Linnet Ridgeway has purchased Wode Hall, in Malton-under-Wode. She’s completely remodeling the place and intending to make some major changes. Part of her plan is to have some of the local cottages torn down and the residents moved. As you can imagine, some of those residents are not happy at all at being forced out of their homes. Here though is Linnet’s view:

 

‘They don’t seem to realize how vastly improved their living conditions will be!’

 

Linnet has money – a lot of it – and high social position, so the locals’ protests aren’t going to be very successful. But Linnet’s lovely new home won’t do her much good. Shortly afterwards, she’s shot during her honeymoon trip. Hercule Poirot is on the same cruise that Linnet and her new husband were taking, so he and Colonel Race investigate the murder. Although this example of gentrification isn’t a major plot thread, it shows an aspect of the victim’s character and it’s reflective of how gentrification can work.

In Peter Temple’s Bad Debts, a huge gentrification plan is underway for Melbourne. Called Yarra Cove, it’s to comprise a waterfront, marina, exclusive shops and restaurants and more. It’s intended to be

 

‘…arguably, Melbourne’s smartest new address.’

 

A lot of people want that upmarket money. What’s more, the area is currently run-down and seen by many as not safe. But not everyone agrees. In fact, an activist group led by Anne Jeppeson has been protesting the closing of the public housing located in that area. There hasn’t been much opportunity for public comment on the gentrification plan either. Sometime-attorney Jack Irish gets involved in this debate when a former client Danny McKillop is murdered shortly after being released from prison. McKillop was convicted of the drink-driving killing of Anne Jappeson and all of the evidence was against him. But now that McKillop’s been murdered, Irish comes to suspect that he might have been framed for Jeppeson’s death. If so, there’s something much bigger going on here than a tragic incident of drink driving.

Michael Connelly’s Echo Park forces Harry Bosch to return to a case he wasn’t able to solve when he first investigated it. Marie Gesto disappeared one day after leaving a Hollywood grocery store and Bosch was assigned the case. But although he had a suspect in mind, he wasn’t able to get the evidence he needed. Now, Raynard Waits has been arrested in Los Angeles’ Echo Park area for two other brutal murders. Incontrovertible evidence links him to the killings, so he’s not going to get away with them. His plan is to make a deal with the police. He’ll trade information on other cases, including the Gesto case, in exchange for avoiding the death penalty. Bosch works with what he learns from Waits to re-open the Gesto case and find out what really happened. Here are Bosch’s thoughts about the Echo Park area:

 

‘These days Echo Park was also a favored destination of another class of newcomer-the young and hip. The cool. Artists, musicians and writers were moving in. Cafés and vintage clothing shops were squeezing in next to the bodegas and mariscos stands. A wave of gentrification was washing across the flats and up the hillsides below the baseball stadium. It meant the character of the place was changing. It meant real-estate prices were going up, pushing out the working class and the gangs.’

 

Gentrification isn’t really the reason for Marie Gesto’s disappearance. But it’s an underlying part of the context of this novel.

On the other hand, gentrification is an important theme in Barry Maitland’s The Marx Sisters. A development company has made plans to tear town Jerusalem Lane, an historic area of London, and replace it with an upmarket shopping, dining and entertainment district. There’s a lot of money involved, so there is a great deal of pressure brought to bear on the residents of Jerusalem Lane to sell up and leave. It is a unique district though, and not everyone wants to leave. One holdout is Meredith Winterbottom, who lives in Jerusalem Lane with her two sisters Eleanor Harper and Peg Blythe. When Meredith suddenly dies, it looks a lot like a suicide. But DS Kathy Kolla isn’t so sure. So she and her boss DCI David Brock begin to ask some questions. They find that there are several people who’ve benefited from the victim’s death. One for instance is the development company’s representatives, who now have a clear path to completing their gentrification project. Another is the victim’s son, who will inherit his mother’s home and therefore, who stands to gain by the sale of it. And then there are the other residents of Jerusalem Lane, who could have had their own motives. That’s not to mention the fact that the three sisters are the great-granddaughters of Karl Marx. They had several old books and letters that would be of great interest to collectors and academics. Among other things, this is an interesting look at a district that will be forever changed by gentrification.

Vicki Delany’s In the Shadow of the Glacier is in part the story of the murder of Reginald Montgomery. He and his business partner have been planning the Grizzly Resort and Spa near the small town of Trafalgar, British Columbia. The idea is to bring a gentrified, upmarket group of tourists (and their money) to the area. Some people like the idea. The economy can use the boost, and the gentrification will mean more jobs. Others though see the resort as a threat to the environment and the local ecosystem. So the resort is by no means a ‘done deal.’ When Constable Moonlight ‘Molly’ Smith finds Montgomery’s body in an alley one night, she and Sergeant John Winters look into this whole gentrification plan as one possible motive for the killing. There are others, too, including issues in Montgomery’s personal life. Throughout the novel, there’s a real layer of interest as the debate goes on about the effects of having an upmarket resort nearby.

Planned gentrification also plays an important role in Shamini Flint’s A Calamitous Chinese Killing. Some wealthy and influential people want to tear down one of Beijing’s impoverished but historic districts to make room for a new, gentrified district full of upmarket shops, restaurants and housing. Professor Luo Gan has been among those protesting this gentrification, claiming that it will drive people out of their homes and will cheat them financially. When one of his students Justin Tan is found murdered, the official police theory is that he was killed by thugs in a robbery gone wrong. But Tan is the son of Susan Tan, First Secretary at the Singapore Embassy in Beijing. She doesn’t believe her son’s murder was the work of robbers, and she wants answers. So she arranges for Inspector Singh to travel from Singapore to Beijing and look into the matter. Singh reluctantly agrees and makes the trip. Soon enough, he finds evidence that the victim’s murder was likely deliberate. Now, Singh works with former Beijing cop Li Jun to find out who the murderer is. Someone involved in the gentrification project could be responsible for the murder. But that’s not by any means the only possibility. In the end, and after another murder, Singh and Li Jun find out what happened to Justin Tan and why.

Gentrification has a way of eliciting really strong feelings. It’s very much a proverbial double-edged sword, and not always popular. It’s a fact of life though, and it adds to a lot of crime fiction novels. Which gaps have I left?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s No Man’s Land.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Barry Maitland, Michael Connelly, Peter Temple, Shamini Flint, Vicki Delany

Well, I Was Born in a Small Town*

SmallTownI don’t usually stay on the same topic over two days on this blog, but an interesting comment exchange has got me thinking even more about how small towns are portrayed in crime fiction. There are of course plenty of creepy small towns and villages in the genre. But there are also many very pleasant small towns. Yes, murders happen there or affect the people there, but the towns themselves are good places to live, with good people. So let’s turn the topic on its head today and look at some of the nicer small towns in crime fiction.

There’s an interesting little town Market Basing depicted in Agatha Christie’s Dumb Witness (AKA Poirot Loses a Client). Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings visit Market Basing when Poirot receives a letter from Emily Arundell, asking for his assistance in a delicate matter. She doesn’t specify the problem, and by the time Poirot and Hastings get to Market Basing, she has already died of what seems to be liver failure. It turns out that she was poisoned though, and Poirot and Hastings begin to investigate. There are several suspects, too, since Emily Arundell was a wealthy woman with some financially desperate family members. The village of Market Basing is a sleepy sort of place with its share of eccentric characters. For instance, there’s Miss Caroline Peabody, an outspoken and witty elderly lady who provides Poirot and Hastings with some valuable information. And there are sisters Julia and Isabel Tripp, who have all sorts of eccentricities. But none of the local characters is portrayed as sinister, nor is the village depicted as a group of people all hiding an awful secret. It’s just not an eerie place.

Neither is Trafalgar, British Columbia, home to Vicki Delany’s Constable Moonlight ‘Molly’ Smith. It’s got appeal as a skiing and winter holiday destination (Check out Winter of Secrets for more on that) and as a place to enjoy the area’s natural beauty (In the Shadow of the Glacier and Valley of the Lost have more about that). But it’s a quiet, peaceful small town. Smith was actually born and raised in Trafalgar, and everyone there knows her. In fact that sometimes makes it a little awkward for her when she’s trying to do her job. But the people of Trafalgar are basically good people. They don’t always agree on things of course, and sometimes that leads to real dissent. But at the heart of it, Trafalgar is a good place to live and work, and its residents do generally care about one another.

That’s also true of Crooked Lake, Saskatchewan, the home of Nelson Brunanski’s John ‘Bart’ Bartowski. Everyone knows everyone in Crooked Lake, and people work together and help one another. It’s that sort of town. So in the first Bart Bartowswki novel Crooked Lake, it’s a real shock to the community when Harvey Kristoff, who’s on the Board of Directors of the Crooked Lake Regional Park and Golf Course, is killed. The chief suspect is former Head Greenskeeper Nick Taylor, who’s recently been terminated. Taylor is understandably furious and upset at losing his job, but he claims he didn’t kill Kristoff. Bart wants to believe his friend, so when Taylor asks him to clear his name, Bart agrees. As he talks to people and follows up on leads, we see what the town of Crooked Lake is like. People know one another and care about each other. The town itself is a safe, good place to live and that actually adds to the distress everyone feels at the murder and at what happens as Bart asks questions. This is definitely not one of those ‘sinister towns with a smiling façade.’

Louise Penny fans will know that Three Pines, a small Québec town, is also a good place to live. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec learns that in Still Life. He and his team go to Three Pines when beloved former schoolteacher Jane Neal is found dead, apparently from a tragic hunting accident. The evidence soon suggests that she was murdered though, and Gamache and the team set up an investigation. As they look into the victim’s history and relations with others in the town, we see what a pleasant community Three Pines is. The residents really do care about each other. They all have flaws and histories, and they’re hardly perfect people. But they’re also not sinister people who are hiding awful, awful secrets. And I certainly wouldn’t mind eating at the bistro. :-)

Rhys Bowen’s Constable Evan Evans lives and works in the Welsh village of Llanfair. He’s attached to the people of Llanfair and the feeling is mutual. It’s a small, quiet place where people really do care about one another. That’s part of the trouble in Evanly Bodies, when Evans is named to a new Major Incident response team that’s to be ‘on call’ in case of an emergency. The team is called into action to investigate a series of shootings, and Evans is hard at work on that case. But trouble is brewing at home. The Khan family has recently arrived from Pakistan and set up shop in Llanfair. Their sixteen-year-old daughter Jamila strikes up a few new friendships, including one with Evans’ wife Bronwen. She has adapted well to the local ways and wants to stay in Wales, but her parents’ plan is to send her back to Pakistan to get married. When Jamila disappears, her family blames the locals, and in particular Bronwen Evans. In order to help Jamila if he can, Evans returns to Llanfair and looks into the girl’s disappearance. As he does so, we can see how much he values the village and the people who live there. And as the truth comes out, we see that Llanfair is really a good place to live and work, and not at all a sinister ‘evil in the heartland’ kind of place.

You could say the same thing about Tumdrum, Ireland, which we get to know in Ian Sansom’s Mobile Library series. When librarian Israel Armstrong first arrives in Tumdrum in The Case of the Missing Books, he’s not at all prepared for the village and its distinctive ways. In fact at first, he doesn’t like the place at all. And when he discovers that the fifteen thousand books he’s supposed to have charge of have been stolen, matters only get worse. But as Armstrong investigates, he also gets to know Tumdrum better. He finds that it’s actually a rock-solid village with people who may be eccentric but are actually good neighbours.

And then there’s M.C. Beaton’s Lochdubh, a small Highlands town in the police care of Constable Hamish Macbeth. Macbeth is quite fond of his peaceful life; in fact he’d rather be fishing than detecting. The town itself is peaceful and quiet, and it’s easy to see that it’s basically a good place to live. Macbeth cares about the people of Lochdubh, so when the need arises, he turns out to be a shrewd, skilled detective. You can see the way the residents of the village feel about each other in Death of a Bore. In that novel, well-known screenwriter John Heppel moves to the Lochdubh area and announces a series of writing classes. Several of the local residents are writers with aspirations, so they’re eager to sign up. At the first class session though, Heppel denigrates the students and their work. Everyone’s upset and dismayed and of course, Macbeth hears about it. He pays Heppel a friendly visit and suggests that he be more supportive of the members of the class. Heppel won’t listen though and the second class goes, if possible, worse than the first. Now there’s real anger against Heppel and Macbeth can see why. When Heppel is murdered, Macbeth has the thankless job of finding out who hated Heppel enough to kill him. It’s not easy, since he feels a real connection to Lochdubh and its people.

Fans of Fred Vargas’ Commissaire Adamsberg series and of Georges Simenon’s Jules Maigret series will know that those two detectives often spend time in quiet, small villages and towns. And those places are not at all sinister.

That’s the thing about small towns. A lot of them are genuinely friendly places with good people. Thanks to Bill Selnes at Mysteries and More From Saskatchewan and to Marina Sofia at Finding Time to Write for reminding me of that. Now, may I suggest you do yourself a favour and go visit their excellent blogs. Both well worth a prominent place on your blog roll.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from John Mellencamp’s Small Town.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Fred Vargas, Georges Simenon, Ian Sansom, Louise Penny, M.C. Beaton, Nelson Brunanski, Rhys Bowen, Vicki Delany

Mommy’s All Right, Daddy’s All Right, They Just Seem a Little Weird*

Dysfunctional Wealthy FamiliesLet’s face it; dysfunction and worse can happen in any family, no matter what the family’s socioeconomic level is, or where the family lives. But as any crime fiction fan can tell you, it seems that the richer and more powerful a family is, the more likely it is to be plagued by real dysfunction. Not being a family therapist or psychologist, I can’t say exactly why that is. It may be the pressure of being at the top of the proverbial social tree. It may be that being able to have anything one wants removes social restraints. Or it may be something else. But whatever the reason, there seems to be an awful lot of emptiness, unhappiness and worse among wealthy and influential families. Just a quick look at crime fiction should show you what I mean (but you probably know it already).

Agatha Christie addresses this issue in several of her novels. For example, there’s 4:50 From Paddington (AKA What Mrs. McGilliguddy Saw!). When Elspeth McGillicuddy witnesses a woman being strangled on a train, no-one wants to believe it really happened. There is no body, and no-one’s reported anyone missing who fits the description of the victim. But Mrs. McGillicuddy’s friend Miss Marple believes her. Miss Marple establishes that if there was a body, it probably ended up on the grounds of Rutherford Hall, the property of the Crackenthorpe family. With help from her friend professional housekeeper Lucy Eyelesbarrow, Miss Marple discovers the connection between the dead woman and the Crackenthorpes. In the process, we get to know the various members of this wealthy family, and there’s plenty of dysfunction, spite and worse to go round. And that’s just one instance of Christie’s treatment of the topic (I know, I know, Christie fans. There’s the Leonides family, the Lee family, the Abernethie family…)

Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe gets involved with a very wealthy, powerful and dysfunctional family in The Big Sleep. It all starts when General Guy Sternwood hires Marlowe to stop book dealer Arthur Geiger from blackmailing the family. Marlowe goes to visit Geiger only to find out that he’s too late: Geiger’s just been murdered. In the same room is Sternwood’s daughter Carmen. Is she a murderer or a victim? She’s in such a dazed (or drugged) state that she can’t be much help, but Marlowe doesn’t think she’s a killer. So he gets her away from the scene as quickly as possible. He thinks his involvement with the family ends there, but really, it’s only beginning. One of the threads that run through this novel is the decadence and dysfunction in the family. Here for instance is what Sternwood says about his own daughters:

 

‘Neither of them has any more moral sense than a cat. Neither have I. No Sternwood ever had.’

 

Not exactly a healthy family…

Neither is the Wynant family, whom we meet in Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man. Nick and Nora Charles have come from their home in San Francisco to visit New York. Dorothy Wynant happens to spot Nick and immediately asks for his help. She hasn’t seen her father Claude since his not-exactly-amicable breakup with her mother Mimi, and she’d like to track him down. Nick is at first reluctant to take on the case. Then, Claude Wynant’s secretary Julia Wolf is murdered and before he knows it, Nick’s drawn into the case. He’s also drawn into the Wynant family circle and it’s not exactly a happy one. For one thing, Mimi Wynant cannot seem to tell the truth about anything. And there’s all sorts of dislike and spite in the family too. That dysfunction makes for an interesting thread of tension in the novel.

Michael Dibdin’s Ratking introduces us to the Miletti family. This is an extremely powerful family that basically runs things in and around Perugia. Then, family patriarch Ruggiero Miletti is abducted. With a family that powerful, the police naturally get involved right away, even though the family is wary of ‘interference.’ Finally, the Perugia Questura requests assistance and Aurelio Zen is seconded from Rome to take over the investigation. As he gets to know the members of the family, we learn just how much dysfunction there is in the group. Each member has a personal agenda, and the layers of hatred, greed and malice run very deep. Not at all the kind of family with whom one wants to spend holidays…

That’s also true of the Hofmeyr family, whom we meet in Michael Stanley’s A Carrion Death. This very powerful family has the controlling interest in the Botswana Cattle and Mining Company (BCMC), which is considered extremely important to the country’s economy. When the body of an unknown man is discovered near rural Dale’s Camp, Botswana CID Assistant Director David ‘Kubu’ Bengu launches an investigation to find out who the man was and how exactly he died. It’s not very long before Bengu finds a connection between the dead man and BCMC, so he begins to suspect that someone at the company may have had something to do with the death. This brings him into direct conflict with the wealthy and powerful Hofmeyrs, to say nothing of the Botswana authorities who have a vested interest in the company’s success. As Bengu and his team get to the truth, we get to know the Hofmeyr family, and there is plenty of dysfunction in it. What makes this case even more interesting is that the family tries hard to maintain an image of unity.

In Vicki Delany’s Winter of Secrets, we meet the members of the Wyatt-Yarmouth family. Wendy Wyatt-Yarmouth and her brother Jason take a skiing holiday with four friends in Trafalgar, British Columbia. Tragedy strikes when the SUV the group has rented goes off an icy road into the Upper Kootenay River. Constable Moonlight ‘Molly’ Smith and Sergeant John Winters investigate what first seems like a tragic accident. In one sense it is; Jason Wyatt-Yarmouth is proved to have died as a result of the plunge into the river. Then it turns out that his passenger and friend Ewan Williams had already been dead for several hours when the accident occurred. Now there’s a possible murder case and Smith and Winters look more deeply into it. That’s when they get to know the members of the Wyatt-Yarmouth family. Drs. Jack and Patricia Wyatt-Yarmouth are wealthy and influential, and Jack uses that fact in every way possible. But as we learn, that money hasn’t resulted in any real happiness in the family.

Anthony Bidulka’s Saskatoon PI Russell Quant meets a rich but very dysfunctional family in Tapas on the Ramblas. Charity Wiser is not just a wealthy heiress, but a successful business executive, and her family has quite a lot of power and influence. She claims someone in her family is trying to kill her, and hires Quant to find out who it is. She invites Quant along on a family getaway cruise with the idea that he’ll get to know the various members of the family and figure out who the would-be murderer is. During the cruise there are two attempted murders. Then ‘would be’ turns real when there is a killing. As Quant gets to the truth about the events on the cruise, he also learns more about the Wiser family, and a lot of it isn’t very happy. He has to negotiate a proverbial minefield of jealousy, spite, repressed anger and more as he works to solve the case.

And then there’s the powerful Atwal family, the focus of Kishwar Desai’s Witness the Night. One awful night, thirteen members of the family are poisoned and several stabbed. The house is burned too, presumably to hide the evidence of murder. Only one member seems to have survived: fourteen-year-old Durga Atwal. She’s the most likely suspect, but she hasn’t said anything since the tragedy. Besides, there are also clues that she may have been a victim who just happened to survive the attack. Social worker Simran Singh is asked to travel from her home in Delhi to the Punjab town where the Atwals lived to try to get Durga to talk about what happened. As Simran slowly unpeels the layers of the incident, she learns more and more about the Atwals. Superficially wealthy, successful and powerful, they were also a desperately unhappy and dysfunctional family. That dysfunction plays a major role in Durga’s view of life and in a lot of what happens in the novel.

There are of course lots of other examples in crime fiction (and other fiction too) of that correlation between wealth/power and real dysfunction. Maybe it’s not so bad to be a ‘regular’ family…

 

 

 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Cheap Trick’s Surrender.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Bidulka, Kishwar Desai, Michael Dibdin, Michael Stanley, Raymond Chandler, Vicki Delany