Category Archives: Virginia Duigan

I Never Claimed to be a Hero, And I Never Said I Was a Saint*

Non-Sleuth ProtagonistsMany crime novels are told from the point of view of the sleuth. The sleuth may or may not be a professional (i.e. police or PI), but in either case, we see the story unfolding from that vantage point.

But there are also plenty of crime stories where the protagonist, or at least the narrator, isn’t a sleuth at all. I’m not talking here of those stories where you find out what a serial killer is thinking as the novel goes on, or where the story alternates between the sleuth’s perspective and the murderer’s. Rather, I mean stories where the protagonist or narrator is a different person entirely – sometimes even a criminal.

For instance, John D. MacDonald’s short story Homicidal Hiccup takes place in the small town of Baker City, where Johnny Howard and his gang run everything. Then, Walter Maybree moves to town and buys the local drugstore. He wants to run a clean business without having to pay protection or sell drugs to his teen customers. After a time, several other local business owners join forces with Maybree and help to guard his store. Now Howard faces a big problem. If he allows Maybree to get away with this defiance, he’ll lose respect. And that will likely mean he’ll lose his stranglehold on the crime business in the area. So he desperately wants to get rid of Maybree. He and his girlfriend Bonny Gerlacher devise a plan to do just that. She’ll go into the store posing as a high school student. Then, at just the right moment, she’ll use a drink straw to shoot poison at Maybree. But, as the narrator tells us, things don’t work out the way they plan. In this case, the narrator, ‘though never named, is apparently part of the crime network – someone who’s in on the rivalry and politics of the criminal underground.

Robert Pollock’s Loophole: Or, How to Rob a Bank gives readers an inside look at the plans for a major bank heist. Mike Daniels is a professional thief who, with his teammates, decides to pull off the robbery of a lifetime from London’s City Savings Deposit bank. The bank is well constructed and well guarded, so it’s not going to be easy. In fact, the team will need expert help. This they get from Stephen Booker, an out-of-work architect who’s become desperate for a source of income. Booker is driving a night cab when he meets Daniels for the first time, and before too long, Daniels convinces him to join forces with the thieves. The group puts together a foolproof plan, and at first everything goes smoothly. Then a sudden storm comes up unexpectedly and changes everything for the robbers. This novel is told in the third person, but not from the point of view of the police or of bank officials. Rather, it’s told from the viewpoints of Daniels and Booker. This choice allows the reader to see the intricacies of planning such a robbery. It also gives the reader a fuller and even somewhat sympathetic picture of a professional thief’s life.

In Virginia Duigan’s The Precipice, we are introduced to retired school principal Thea Farmer. Her original plan was to have a dream home built in New South Wales’ Blue Mountains, but poor financial decisions have meant that she’s had to give up that perfect home. She’s been forced to settle for the house next door, a house she refers to as ‘the hovel.’ To add insult to injury, she soon learns that her dream home has been bought and that new people will be moving in. They are Frank Campbell and Ellice Carrington, and right from the beginning, Thea doesn’t like them. In fact, she calls them ‘the invaders.’ When Frank’s twelve-year-old niece Kim moves in with the couple, Thea is prepared to dislike her heartily as well, but slowly she finds herself developing a kind of bond with the girl. That’s especially true when she discovers that Kim is a very promising young writer. Then Thea begins to suspect that Frank and Ellice are not providing an appropriate home for Kim. Since no actual harm has come to the child, the police aren’t inclined to do anything about it, so Thea works out her own plan for dealing wth the situation. Thea isn’t a professional sleuth; she’s really not a sleuth at all. But we see the events of the story through her eyes, and that gives an interesting perspective on Frank, Ellice and Kim, as well as a fascinating look at how Thea sees herself.

Malcolm Mackay’s Glasgow Underworld trilogy (The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter, How a Gunman Says Goodbye, and The Sudden Arrival of Violence) features a different kind of protagonist also. Callum MacLean is a hitman who works for Glasgow crime bosses. He looks at his profession the way most people look at theirs. It’s what he does for a living and he takes pride in doing it well. In fact, although he walks a very thin line at times, given the volatile nature of the underworld, he manages to stay alive and even succeed. His reputation is a good one. The stories are told partly from his point of view, and partly from the points of view of others involved in the underworld. While Mackay doesn’t gloss over what MacLean does, nor what the Glasgow underworld is like, he still shows these people as humans.

And then there’s Wendy James’ The Lost Girls. This novel tells the story of the 1978 death of fourteen-year-old Angela Buchanan. At first the police suspect that someone in her family may have killed her, as is so often the case. But then, not very long afterwards, another young girl Kelly McIvor is also found dead. Like Angela’s body, Kelly’s is found with a scarf around her neck and head. Now it looks as though a multiple murderer (the press dubs the killer the Sydney Strangler) is at work. Neither murder is solved, and since there are no similar murders after them, the press and therefore the public gradually lose interest. And that’s just fine by Jane Tait, Angela’s cousin. She and her brother Mick and their parents have had to live with the aftermath of Angela’s death, and for her, it’s just as well people don’t really ask her about it any more. That is, until journalist Erin Fury decides to make a documentary about the effect of murders on the family left behind. Reluctantly, and mostly because her daughter Jess wants her to, Jane decides to talk to Erin. Through her eyes, as well as those of some other family members, we learn the truth about what really happened to Angela and to Kelly. None of these people is an official investigator, and it’s hard to say that any of them is a protagonist for whom we’re supposed to cheer. That choice allows James to slowly reveal what happened and what went on behind the news stories and police reports of the day.

And that’s what makes such protagonists/narrators interesting. They can show readers what a case is like from a very different perspective. And it’s an innovative approach to telling a crime story. Which stories like this have stayed with you?
 
 
 

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

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Filed under John D. MacDonald, Malcolm Mackay, Robert Pollock, Virginia Duigan, Wendy James

A Fortress Steep and Mighty*

SecurityOne of the most important needs we have is the need for security. We need to feel that we can depend on our lives to stay more or less stable. In fact, if scholars such as Abraham Maslow are right, the only needs that are more urgent are our physical needs such as air, water, food, and physical safety. The need for security plays a major role in many of our decisions. If you’ve ever known someone who kept a dull and dreary job because it was more secure than risking a career change, you know what I mean.

The need for security also plays an important role in crime fiction. It acts as a motivator, it adds to character development and it can add a layer of tension to a story. Here are just a few examples from the genre.

In Agatha Christie’s Taken at the Flood, we meet the Cloade family. They’ve always had the security of knowing they’d have no financial worries. Family patriarch Gordon Cloade has seen to their needs and has promised they’d never have to be concerned about money. Then everyone’s sense of security is shaken when Cloade marries Rosaleen Underhay. What’s worse, he dies tragically in a bomb blast without changing his will. Now Rosaleen is set to inherit everything, leaving the rest of the Cloades with nothing. The possibility of security returns in the form of a mysterious stranger who calls himself Enoch Arden. He hints that Rosaleen may actually have been married to someone else at the time of her marriage to Cloade. If that’s true, then she can’t inherit. When ‘Enoch Arden’ is killed, Hercule Poirot gets involved in the investigation. Throughout this novel, we see how each of the Cloades deals with the feeling that their precious security may no longer be a given.

Ross Macdonald’s The Far Side of the Dollar is the story of the Hillman family, who’ve built a secure, safe upper-middle-class life. When their seventeen-year-old son Tom begins to have some difficulties, they send him to Laguna Perdida, a boarding school for troubled teens. One day he disappears from the school. Fearing that the school will be held liable, headmaster Dr. Sponti hires PI Lew Archer to find the boy. During their meeting, Tom’s father Ralph Hillman comes into the office with the news that Tom’s been abducted and that there’s been a ransom demand. Archer returns with Hillman to the family home where he agrees to find out who’s kidnapped Tom. In the process, he finds that things are not at all what they seem on the surface. This is not a case of kidnapping a rich boy for the money. Then, there’s a murder. As Archer gets closer to the truth, he finds that the Hillmans depend greatly on the sense of security they get from their reputation and their social standing. When that’s threatened, it’s a threat to their very identity.

Karin Fossum’s  Calling Out For You (AKA The Indian Bride)  includes another treatment of the need for security. Gunder Jormann has lived all his life in the Norwegian village of Elvestad. It’s the kind of place where everyone knows everyone, and life is slow-paced, even a bit dull, but secure. Jormann himself isn’t exactly the quickest thinker, but he is steady and dependable, a lot like the town.  Then he makes the surprising announcement that he’s going to find a bride. What’s more, he’s going to Mumbai to do so. His sister Marie isn’t at all sure he should do this. It certainly doesn’t sound like a safe, smart thing to do. But Jormann goes ahead with his plan and travels to Mumbai, where he meets Poona Bai. They strike up a relationship and Poona agrees to marry him. He travels back to Norway to make the house ready for her, while she stays behind to finish up her life in India. On the day of Poona’s arrival in Norway though, Marie is involved in a car accident and Jormann has to stay with her. So he asks an acquaintance to meet Poona at the airport. They miss each other though, and Poona never arrives at Jormann’s house. The next day her body is discovered in a nearby field. Inspector Konrad Sejer and his assistant Jacob Skarre investigate the killing. In this case, security isn’t specifically the reason for Poona’s death. But it does play an important role in the way everyone responds to her and to her murder.

Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time introduces us to fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone. He has autism, but functions at a high enough level that he can go to school and learn academic material. Because of his autism, Christopher has a high need for security. Everything has to be in a certain order, there are certain routines he has to follow, and so on. His comfort and ability to function depend quite a lot on his sense that things are stable. One day Christopher discovers that the neighbour’s dog has been killed. At first, he’s accused of being responsible. So to prove his innocence, he decides to become a detective just like Sherlock Holmes and discover who the guilty person is. In the process of finding out the truth, Christopher finds out a lot about himself. A lot of his assumptions come into question and all of it calls into question the stability he’s always assumed.

We also see the role that the need for security plays in Virginia Duigan’s The Precipice. Thea Farmer is a former school principal who’s planned the perfect dream house in New South Wales’ Blue Mountains. She’s looking for the security of a quiet, secluded life in her new home. Then, poor financial decision-making results in a serious blow that means she has to sell her perfect house and settle for the smaller house next door. Her security is further threatened when Frank Campbell and Ellice Carrington buy ‘her’ house and move in. She doesn’t want anyone living nearby and even refers to them as ‘the invaders.’ Soon afterwards, Frank’s twelve-year-old niece Kim comes to live with them and Thea’s sense of security is even further threatened when Kim takes an interest in her. Little by little though, she and Kim form a kind of awkward friendship and she senses real promise in the girl. That’s why she feels particularly upset when she begins to believe that Frank is not providing an appropriate home for Kim. When she learns that the police aren’t going to do much, Thea decides to take her own action. This story is told in the form of journal entries Thea makes as a part of a writing class she’s taking. The journal prompts force Thea to confront her own past and it’s interesting to see how her security is threatened by that too.

And then there’s Claudia Piñeiro’s Thursday Night Widows. The setting for this novel is an exclusive gated community outside Buenos Aires called The Cascade Heights Country Club. The community represents security to its wealthy residents. There’s a six-foot-high perimeter fence, a group of security guards, etc., all designed to keep the scary ‘larger world’ out. But no-one is really as secure as we’d like to think. And when national economic troubles find their way into Cascade Heights, everyone begins to feel the crumbling of that sense of security. Then one night there’s a tragedy at the home of one of the residents. That tragedy shakes the foundations of life for several of the people who live in Cascade Heights, and we really see how dependent people are on their sense of security, whether or not that security is illusory.

It seems we all have the need to feel secure. When that sense of security is threatened, the experience can shake us to the core. And that can make for a rich layer in a crime novel. I’ve given just a very few examples. Your turn.

 

 
 

*NOTE The title of this post is a line from Simon and Garfunkel’s I Am a Rock. Yes, I know I’ve used this one more than once. It’s a great song. You’re welcome.  ;-)

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Claudia Piñeiro, Karin Fossum, Mark Haddon, Ross Macdonald, Virginia Duigan

We’re On Our Way Home*

HomesYou can tell a lot about people from the kinds of homes they have. For example, people who are fond of art deco may have homes that are furnished with geometric-patterned carpets and furniture with spare lines. People who love gardening may very well have as ‘open’ a home as they can, with a sun room or something like it.  When authors use that match between character and home setting, they can show (not tell) readers quite a lot. Let me just offer a few examples from crime fiction to show you what I mean.

Fans of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot will know that he is a neat, orderly person. Symmetry matters to him and it shows in the way he lives. Here’s a description of his home from Mrs. McGinty’s Dead:

 

‘The lift took him up to the third floor where he had a large luxury flat with impeccable chromium fittings, square armchairs, and severely rectangular ornaments. There could truly be said not to be a curve in the place.’

 

It’s an interesting way of letting readers know a little about Poirot. His home is in keeping too with his way of looking at life. It really suits him and adds harmony if I may put it that way to the stories in which he features.

The same might be said about the New York brownstone home where Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe lives. Fans will know that Wolfe is passionate about orchids. His home reflects that in that he has an entire area set aside for his prized plants. Stout didn’t have to go on and on about the way Wolfe feels about orchids; the orchid room shows us that. Readers also can see without having to be told that Wolfe is fond of ‘creature comforts.’ The furniture (at least the furniture he uses) is luxurious and comfortable. His kitchen and dining areas are large and well-appointed. And then of course there’s the custom-made elevator. The house is made to suit the needs of a large person, too, so although Archie Goodwin likes to remind readers of how large Wolfe is, he really wouldn’t have to; the size of the house and its rooms and furnishings show us that. I honestly couldn’t see Wolfe in a rustic country cottage. It would be jarring. As it is, Wolfe’s home and surroundings are, you might say, an extension of himself.

Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway also has a home that’s very well-suited to her particular needs, tastes and lifestyle. She and her daughter Kate share a small home in a rural part of North Norfolk, not far from the Saltmarsh. The house is small, with comfortable but certainly not luxurious furnishings. And although Galloway isn’t slovenly, it’s the kind of house that doesn’t need a lot of attention, tidying or heavy-duty cleaning. And that suits Galloway just fine, as she isn’t the ‘home conscious’ type. Galloway’s home also reflects her more or less solitary nature. She has a few close friends, and she works well enough with other people, but she’s no extrovert. She enjoys her own company and she is passionate about her work. So her small house out in the back of beyond suits her quite well. I couldn’t imagine her ‘fitting in’ in a flat in the middle of a large city.

Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza’s Inspector Espinosa has a home that reflects his tastes and personality. He’s a bibliophile. Or, to be more precise, he’s a person who loves stories. So he has a large collection of books and quite a lot of space in his home is devoted to them. But he is devoted to his work, and since he’s single, he doesn’t feel a powerful urge to spend all of his evenings at home. So the books remain stacked in various places rather than put onto bookshelves. His home is comfortable enough, but he hasn’t dedicated a lot of time to choosing a particular décor or style of furniture. And that makes sense given the fact that he isn’t married, doesn’t have children and spends a lot of time on the job.

And then there’s Åsa Larsson’s Rebecka Martinsson. When we first meet her in The Savage Altar (AKA Sun Storm), she’s living in a small Stockholm apartment. But circumstances in that novel and later novels take her back to her home town of Kiruna. There, she lives in the house previously owned by her grandparents, and she can still feel her grandmother’s presence at times. As time goes on, Martinsson learns (or re-learns) that she belongs in that part of Sweden, close to nature. Her emerging personality is reflected in her home too. It’s in a rural area, away from people, which is just how she likes it. It’s comfortably-enough furnished, but Martinsson is not one for luxuries or a lot of ‘creature comforts,’ so her home doesn’t have them. It’s interesting to see how her home and surroundings provide sanctuary for her, too.

There’s a strong example of personal investment in a home in Virginia Duigan’s The Precipice. Thea Farmer is a former school principal who’s decided to have a home built in New South Wales’ Blue Mountains. She has her dream house built exactly the way she wants it, and she’s pleased that it’s ‘away from it all.’ She’s not fond of her fellow human beings and is happy not to have anyone living nearby. The house exactly reflects her personality and tastes, and she’s preparing to enjoy life there. Then some financial setbacks and mistakes leave her no choice but to sell the house. Devastated at being forced to give up the home that so perfectly suits her, she has to settle for the house next door, which she refers to as ‘the hovel.’ To add insult to injury, her perfect home is bought by Frank Campbell and Ellice Carrington, people she considers ‘invaders.’ In her perception, they’ve taken over her home and therefore, taken a piece of her if I may put it that way. As if that’s not enough, they invite Frank’s twelve-year-old niece Kim to live with them. Against odds, Thea and Kim form an awkward kind of friendship though, and when Thea finds out that Frank may not be providing an appropriate home for the girl, she makes her own plans to deal with it.

There are a lot of other examples of the way a home can reflect its owner and show the reader what that person is like. It can be an effective strategy to reveal a character’s personality without going into a lot of verbal detail. Now, I’ve had my say. Your turn. Do you notice home surroundings in your crime fiction? If you’re a writer, did you consciously plan your protagonist’s home?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Beatles’ Two of Us.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Åsa Larsson, Elly Griffiths, Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza, Rex Stout, Virginia Duigan

I’ve Found a Paradise That’s Trouble Proof*

RetreatsLet’s face it: life gets a bit much sometimes. When that happens, it’s nice to have a sort of retreat – a special place to go to get away from it all. An interesting post from author and fellow blogger D.S. Nelson has got me thinking about how many fictional characters have those kinds of special places. Pop culture fans will know for instance that Superman has his famous Fortress of Solitude. And if you look at crime fiction, you see that there are plenty of characters who have special retreats like that. Here are just a few examples.

In Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, we meet James Sheppard, doctor for the village of King’s Abbot. Even in a peaceful village, life can get busy, especially for a doctor, so Sheppard has a special retreat in his house. He’s built a workroom where even the maid

 

‘…is not allowed to wreak havoc with a dustpan and brush.’

 

Sheppard gets drawn into a case of murder when his friend, retired manufacturing tycoon Roger Ackroyd, is stabbed in his study one evening. The prime suspect is Ackroyd’s stepson Captain Ralph Paton. Paton’s fiancée Flora Ackroyd is convinced that he’s innocent, so she asks Hercule Poirot to investigate. Poirot is impressed with Flora’s sense of conviction so he agrees to look into the matter. In the end, Poirot finds that Ackroyd knew more than was safe for him to know about one particular villager.

Scott Young’s Murder in a Cold Climate is the story of the shooting murder of Native activist Morton Cavendish. Matthew ‘Matteesie’ Kitologitak of the RCMP is a witness to the killing, and happened to know Cavendish anyway. So he’s determined to find the killer. He’s even more fixed on the investigation when it turns out that Cavendish’s death could be related to another case Matteesie’s working on: the disappearance of a Cessna with three men aboard. One of the people of interest in this case is Cavendish’s son William. William may or may not be involved in either or both incidents. But it’s likely that he has a lot of information no matter how innocent he may be. So Matteesie wants to find him. It turns out that William has a special place – a retreat he’s had since adolescence – where he goes sometimes just to be by himself. That retreat turns out to play a key role in the story.

In Gail Bowen’s Deadly Appearances, political scientist and academic Joanne Kilbourn is shocked and in grief when her friend Androu ‘Andy’ Boychuk is poisoned during a political speech at a community picnic. It’s bad enough that Boychuk was a friend, but what makes things worse is that this brings back the murder of Kilbourn’s husband Ian, whose loss she still mourns. As a way of dealing with her loss, Kilbourn decides to write a biography of Boychuck. As she gathers material for her book, Kilbourn also finds herself investigating the murder. As it turns out, Boychuk’s death had nothing really do to with his political views, and everything to do with his past. Kilbourn’s home has a ‘granny flat’ above the garage, and she uses that both as an office and as a retreat. She spends her share of time in the granny flat and in this book, that fact plays an important role in what happens.

Virginia Duigan’s The Precipice introduces us to retired school principal Thea Farmer. She bought what she intended as a retreat in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, and was planning it as her dream home. She’s not much of a one for people, and what she wants most of all is to be away from as many of them as possible. But financial issues and poor decisions mean that she has to give up her dream home and settle for the house next door, a house she calls ‘the hovel.’ To add insult to injury, Thea’s perfect retreat is soon purchased by Frank Campbell and Ellice Carrington. Thea refers to these new neighbours as ‘the invaders;’ not only have they purchased the home she considers her own, but they have also taken away her sense of retreat and privacy. Despite her intentions to have nothing to do with ‘the invaders,’ Thea finds herself getting involved in their lives when Frank’s niece Kim moves in. Thea reluctantly warms up to Kim and sees that she has real promise as a writer. So when she comes to believe that Frank and Ellice are not providing an appropriate home for Kim, Thea decides to do something about it. Special places and retreats play an important part in this story.

Many other sleuths also have retreats and special places they go when they want to get away. Fans of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe will know that he spends his share of time in his orchid room. And everyone in his life knows better than to disturb him when he’s communing with his plants. He does love the orchids, but he also uses to the time to get away.

James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux has his share of difficult times and trauma, both because of his personal life and because of his job as a New Iberia, Louisiana cop. He gets away from it all by taking his boat out and going fishing. It’s his escape – his special place.

And then there’s Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman. She has her home and bakery in a large Melbourne building called Insula. Although she doesn’t go looking for mysteries to solve, they seem to find her. And even when they don’t, she’s kept quite busy with her business, her relationship with her lover Daniel Cohen, and her duties as servant to three cats. So sometimes Chapman likes to get away and relax. When she does, she doesn’t have far to go. Insula has a lovely rooftop garden where Chapman takes a glass of wine or a drink and enjoys the view. The rooftop is also the scene of some terrific get-togethers of the building’s residents.

And of course, there’s D.S. Nelson’s own Blake Heatherington. As the series featuring him begins, he’s a milliner whose family has been in the business for a long time. He understands hats and the kinds of personalities that are best suited for different kinds of hats. You might say that hat-making is in his blood. So even when he’s no longer involved in the day-to-day business of millinery, Heatherington enjoys creating hats. And he’s got a special retreat for just that purpose. He goes there to try new creations, to think over his cases and to be alone with his thoughts.

Do you have a special sort of retreat like that? If you’re a writer, does your protagonist?

Thanks, D.S., for the inspiration! Folks, now that you’ve been kind enough to stop here, please consider making your next stop D.S. Nelson’s terrific site. It’s got good conversation about writing and some terrific collaborative short stories, among lots of other great things.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Gerry Goffin and Carole King’s Up On the Roof, made popular by the Drifters.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, D.S. Nelson, Gail Bowen, James Lee Burke, Kerry Greenwood, Rex Stout, Scott Young, Virginia Duigan

Oh, I Want to See You Again*

CHaracters You Want to See AgainStandalones have a lot to offer the crime fiction genre. They allow the author to experiment, they allow readers to try new-to-them authors without making a commitment to a series, and they allow for variety. But here’s the thing: they can also introduce us to characters we’d like to see again. The problem with that of course is that if a novel is a standalone, there’s no saying whether or when we’ll see those characters again. Everyone’s different, but here are a few standalone crime-fictional characters I’d like to see again. In a few cases, as you’ll see, it won’t be possible. But still…

Agatha Christie is of course well-known for her series and recurring characters, but she also wrote several standalones. One of them is Why Didn’t They Ask Evans (AKA The Boomerang Clue). In that novel, we meet Bobby Jones, who’s playing a round of golf with his friend Dr. Thomas when they make a horrible discovery. A man has fallen over a cliff where Jones and Thomas were looking for a golf ball. Thomas goes off to get help retrieving the body while Jones stays behind. At first Jones thinks the man is dead, but he isn’t – not quite. He manages to say, ‘Why didn’t they ask Evans?’ just before dying. The dead man is identified as Alex Pritchard, who’d recently returned to England after a ten-year absence. Jones is prepared to think of Pritchard’s death as a tragic accident until someone tries to kill him. Now it’s clear that something much more is going on, and Jones and his friend Lady Frances ‘Frankie’ Derwent begin to ask questions. To my knowledge (And please correct me if I am wrong), Christie didn’t write about these protagonists again. They’re appealing though, and I’d have liked to see more of them.

Dashiell Hammett’s Nick and Nora Charles are also an appealing duo I’d have liked to see in more than one novel. I know they appear in a series of films, but they only appear once in written crime fiction – in The Thin Man. In that novel, Nick and Nora are on a visit to New York when they are drawn into the search for a missing business executive Clyde Wynant. At first it seems possible that Wynant wanted to disappear. And it doesn’t take a lot of interaction with his family to see why. But then, his secretary Julia Wolf is murdered. Now the search for Wynant becomes even more important since he’s a suspect in her death. Nick and Nora Charles are both intelligent and resourceful, and they are a good match for each other. I’d have liked to see what Hammett would have done with them in further outings.

I’d also like to see more of Ben Revere, the Boston art historian we meet in Aaron Elkins’ Loot. Revere has gotten into the habit of visiting a pawnshop owned by Simeon Pawlovsky, and the two have a sort of friendship. One day, Pawlovsky calls Revere and asks him to take a look at a new acquisition. Pawlovsky thinks that a painting he’s just been sold may be valuable, but he’s no expert, so he wants Revere’s opinion. Revere finds the visit quite worthwhile, as the painting turns out to be an extremely valuable Velázquez. A short time later, Pawlovsky is murdered. The Velázquez is one of several paintings that were ‘taken to safety’ by the Nazis and later disappeared, so Revere thinks that if he can trace the painting from the time it was ‘acquired’ to the time it was sold to the pawn shop, he may be able to find out who killed Pawlovsky. The trail leads Revere to Russia, Hungary and Austria – and into some real danger as he goes up against several ruthless people. Revere is thoroughly knowledgeable about art, but he’s a very human character and he’s likeable. It’d be interesting to see more of him.

Paddy Richardson’s Stephanie Anderson is another character I’d like to see again. She’s a Dunedin psychiatrist whom we meet in Hunting Blind. She’s just starting her career when one of her clients Elisabeth Clark tells her a tragic story. Several years earlier, Elisabeth’s younger sister Gracie was abducted. No trace of the girl was ever found, and the loss has devastated the family. This story is eerily similar to what happened in Anderson’s own family. Seventeen years ago, her younger sister Gemma was abducted during a summertime school picnic. Despite an exhaustive search, no trace of her was found either, not even a body. Anderson decides to find out who was responsible for so much wrenching sorrow in both families. In the process, she’s hoping to move along in her own grieving process. So she journeys from Dunedin to her home in Wanaka. In the end, she finds out what happened to her sister and to Gracie Clark. She also truly begins to heal. I like Stephanie Anderson’s character very much, and I would like to know what happens next in her life.

And then there’s Virginia Duigan’s Thea Farmer. She’s a former school principal who had a dream home built in New South Wales’ Blue Mountains. Then, some poor financial decisions forced her to sell her home and settle for the house next door – a house she calls ‘ the hovel.’ To make matters worse, new neighbours Frank Campbell and Ellice Carrington move in to her ‘dream home.’ She dislikes them heartily, referring to them as ‘the invaders.’ Still, bit by bit she gets to know them and even forms an odd sort of friendship with Frank. Then Frank’s twelve-year-old niece Kim moves in with him and Ellice. At first, Thea’s not at all happy about this. But as she gets to know Kim, she sees in the girl some real writing talent and in her own way, she becomes fond of the girl. But that turns out to be exactly the trouble when Thea begins to suspect that Frank and Ellice are not providing an appropriate home for Kim. Thea is a fascinating protagonist. She’s highly intelligent with an acerbic kind of wit and a prickly, even misanthropic attitude towards her fellow humans. But there are really interesting depths to her and I’d like to see her again.

The thing about standalones is that they aren’t intended as series. So perhaps these characters wouldn’t fare as well if they ‘starred’ again. But they might.  Which standalone protagonists would you like to see again?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Dennis Wilson’s Farewell My Friend.

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Filed under Aaron Elkins, Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett, Paddy Richardson, Virginia Duigan