Category Archives: Y.A. Erskine

People Put Me Down ‘Cause That’s the Side of Town I Was Born In*

Wrong Side of TownWe may not be entirely comfortable admitting it, but social class plays a role in the way some people treat one another. What’s even less comfortable to discuss is that it can play a role in the way people are treated when they go to the doctor, when they need legal representation or when they need police assistance. This is, I admit, a rather broad topic, so one post won’t be nearly enough to do it justice. Let me if I may just give a few examples from crime fiction where social class plays an important role in people’s interactions. I’m sure you’ll think of many others.

In Agatha Christie’s Sad Cypress, Elinor Carlisle stands accused of murder. The allegation is that she poisoned Mary Gerrard, daughter of the lodgekeeper at Hunterbury, the family estate. She had quite a good motive, too: her fiancé Roderick ‘Roddy’ Welman was infatuated with Mary. What’s more, her wealthy Aunt Laura was devoted to Mary and many people thought she would leave most, if not all, of her considerable fortune to her instead of to Elinor. The family physician Dr. Peter Lord has fallen in love with Elinor and wants her name cleared. So he asks Hercule Poirot to look into the matter. Poirot agrees and begins asking questions. As he does, we learn about the way Mary was viewed because of her social class. More than one person thought she was ‘above herself’ for associating with Roddy Welman. And it’s not necessarily seen as a good thing that Laura Welman took an interest in the girl and had her educated ‘above her station.’

In Gail Bowen’s The Wandering Souls Murders, political scientist and academic Joanne Kilbourn is drawn into a case of multiple murder when her daughter Mieka discovers the body of seventeen-year-old Bernice Morin in a trash bin. At first it looks as though she is the most recent victim in a series of killings that the police have dubbed the ‘Little Flower’ murders. So that’s how the murder is handled. The police don’t ignore her murder, but Bernice was not exactly born into a wealthy and powerful family so they also don’t focus all of their energy on that case. In the meantime, Kilbourn has other concerns. For one thing, her son Peter’s ex-girlfriend Christy Sinclair comes back into the family’s life. She even claims that she and Peter are getting back together. When Christy tragically drowns in what looks like a suicide, Kilbourn starts to wonder whether something more is going on. She is soon proven right. Christy’s death, and some other incidents that happen in the novel, have everything to do with her upbringing on the ‘wrong side of town’ in Blue Heron Point. Social class and background do play roles in this story.

They also play roles in Wendy James’ The Mistake. Jodie Evans has been born and raised on ‘the wrong side of town.’ She doesn’t exactly have a happy life or live in a functional family. But she manages to steer clear of real trouble, work hard and move along in school. Then she meets Angus Garrow, a promising attorney-to-be from a well-to-do family. The two fall in love, marry and have two children, Hannah and Tom. Everything seems to finally be going right for Jodie, until the day that Hannah is involved in an auto accident and is rushed to a Sydney hospital. It turns out that this is the same hospital in which years earlier, Jodie gave birth to another child – a child she’s never mentioned, even to Angus. A nurse at the hospital remembers Jodie and asks about the baby. Jodie says she gave the baby up for adoption, but the nurse does some checking and finds out that there are no formal adoption records. Now some ugly questions start to be asked. Where is the baby? If she’s alive, why aren’t there adoption records? If she’s not alive, did Jodie have something to do with it? Jodie soon becomes a social pariah and her upbringing just makes things worse. In fact, her mother-in-law, who’s always looked down on her, becomes one of Jodie’s loudest critics. I can say without spoiling the story that the truth about the baby isn’t really related to Jodie’s ‘wrong side of town’ background. But social class issues are woven through this novel.

In Gene Kerrigan’s The Rage, we meet brothers Vincent and Noel Naylor. They’ve been raised on the ‘wrong side of town’ and Vincent’s been in trouble with the law more than once. In fact, he’s just recently been released from prison. He’s become convinced that he’s not going to get anywhere in life just by working hard; he’s seen too much evidence that that’s not how things work. Instead, he dreams of the perfect crime: a real payoff that’s worth the risk involved and that will set him up financially. So in one plot thread of this novel, he and his brother and some friends plan an armed robbery. The target is Protectica, a company that transports cash among banks. Everything is carefully arranged and the heist is pulled off. But then things fall apart quickly and end tragically. Now Vincent makes other plans, this time for revenge. And it’s interesting to see how social class affects everyone’s perception of this case.

And then there’s Y.A. Erskine’s The Brotherhood. In that novel, Tasmania Police Sergeant John White and probationer Lucy Howard respond to a break-in one afternoon. When White is fatally stabbed, his death hits everyone hard, especially those with whom he worked. The most likely suspect is seventeen-year-old Darren Rowley, who comes from one of Hobart’s ‘wrong side of town’ districts. He’s been in trouble with the law before, and his family is one of those families about whom people say ‘Well, what could you expect from them?’ For a number of reasons, the police are inclined to handle this matter in their own way, without paying attention to the niceties of policy. But they don’t want to be branded as bullies by the media. What’s more, their suspect is part Aboriginal and there could be all sorts of accusations of racism if the police don’t handle this matter carefully. So the cops are told to do everything strictly ‘by the book.’ This novel addresses all sorts of challenging questions about social class, poverty, its effect on people and its effect on perceptions.

Paddy Richardson’s Swimming in the Dark also treats the question of how people from certain social classes are perceived. In one thread of this novel, we follow the story of fifteen-year-old Serena Freeman, who comes from a very dysfunctional family on the ‘wrong side’ of Alexandra, on New Zealand’s South Island. She’s determined to do better though, and make something of herself. She works hard in school and shows real academic promise. Then she disappears. Her older sister Lynnette ‘Lynnie’ travels from Wellington back to Alexandra when she learns of Serena’s disappearance, and begins to search for her. As she does, we see how powerful the effect of social class and people’s perceptions are. And when you combine that with dysfunction, the impact is even greater. Lynnie is shocked, for instance, to find that Serena has been missing for three weeks, and almost nobody has done anything about it. And she is well aware that that wouldn’t be the case if the missing girl were from a wealthy family from the ‘right side of town.’

Not all murders, fictional or real, are committed because of social class and a person’s upbringing. But where you live does make a difference, and that’s woven all through crime fiction. Which examples of this plot thread have had an impact on you?



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Joe South’s Down in the Boondocks, made popular by Billy Joe Royal.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Gail Bowen, Gene Kerrigan, Paddy Richardson, Wendy James, Y.A. Erskine

Everybody Needs an Education*

Cop as TeacherA lot of learning to be a good detective comes from on-the-job experience. Even police detectives, who presumably go through police academy, don’t really learn how to be detectives until they actually do the work. So among many tasks that fall to more senior detectives is teaching new arrivals. Sometimes the teaching is very informal. The new detective simply starts working with the more senior sleuth and observes and gradually learns. Sometimes the process is more formal. Either way it’s interesting to see how more senior detectives fit into their roles as teachers. It’s certainly part of the job in real life and it is in crime fiction too.

For instance, Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is a veteran investigator. He’s therefore expected to help coach new arrivals and he has a good reputation as a teacher. So when Yvette Nichol is named to the Sûreté du Québec in Still Life, she is determined to make a good impression. Gamache and his team are looking into the murder of former schoolteacher Jane Neal, and being assigned to the group is Nichol’s chance to make her mark. Gamache tries to coach her in his own way, and makes several attempts to teach her how to think and act like a detective. But unfortunately, Nichol isn’t an apt pupil. She’s intelligent and observant, but she is also smug, arrogant and defensive. She refuses to pay attention when Gamache gives her advice and hints. He tries to be patient with her but that doesn’t work. Even his second-in-command Jean-Guy Beauvoir, who respects his boss, says that Gamache is putting forth too much effort. Gamache tries to use the opportunity to coach Beauvoir too in how to supervise in difficult situations. But it doesn’t work very well because Beauvoir turns out to be all too accurate in his estimation of Nichol. And as fans of this series know, Nichol plays an important role in a story arc. It’s an interesting look at Gamache-as-teacher.

As Katherine Howell’s Violent Exposure begins, paramedics Carly Martens and Aidan Simpson are dispatched to the scene of what seems like a case of domestic violence between Connor Crawford and his wife Suzanne. Carly much prefers working with her usual partner Mick Schultz. However, she’s a training officer and Simpson’s been paired with her to complete his training. Both Crawfords claim that all’s well, and with no other option, the paramedics leave. The next day Suzanne is murdered and Connor disappears. New South Wales police detective Ella Marconi and her partner Dennis Orchard are assigned to the case. When they try to trace Connor Crawford, they find no records at all on him. So as well as solving the murder, they’ll have to find out who Connor Crawford really is or was. In the meantime, Carly and Mick have problems of their own. Aidan Simpson is overconfident and arrogant. He’s got a lot to learn and refuses to take any advice or pitch in when he’s needed. He’s defensive too and can be sneaky. He’s certainly not ready to be a full-fledged paramedic and both of his training officers are fed up with him. It adds a layer of interest in this story to see the two veteran paramedics cast as coaches.

As we learn in Y.A. Erskine’s The Brotherhood, Sergeant John White of the Tasmania Police takes seriously his role as coach and teacher. That’s one of the reasons that the members of his team have a lot of respect and liking for him. It’s also why probationer Lucy Howard is eager to make a good impression when she and White are called to the scene of a home invasion one afternoon. It ends in tragedy when White is killed. The most likely suspect is seventeen-year-old Darren Rowley, who has a police record and a bad reputation. But it may not be as clear-cut a case as it first seems, and matters are not made any better by the team’s grief at the loss of their sergeant. One of the people who are deeply affected by White’s murder is Constable Cameron ‘Cam’ Walsh, whom White mentored. In fact, that’s part of what Cam remembers best about his boss – the skilled way he had of teaching new arrivals how to do their jobs.

In Jean-Pierre Alaux and Nöel Balen’s Treachery in Bordeaux, well-respected winemaker and oenologist Benjamin Cooker takes on a new role – that of teacher. He’s been joined by a new assistant Virgile Lanssien. Lanssien is eager to make a good impression on his new boss/teacher, and it’s clear that he’s open to learning. For his part, Cooker soon finds that Lanssien is quick, interested, and quite knowledgeable himself. The two soon get involved in a mystery when fellow vintner Denis Maissepain discovers that four barrels of his wine have been contaminated. Massepain is a careful and scrupulous winemaker so it’s unlikely he would have been careless enough to allow his own wine to be spoiled. The most likely other possibility is that someone else sabotaged the wine. So Cooker and Lanssien investigate to find out who would have wanted to ruin Massepain. Throughout the novel, we see several moments where Cooker takes some time to do some coaching. To his credit, Lanssien is fully aware of the opportunity he has and takes advantage of it.

Sarah Caudwell’s Hiary Tamar has an interesting opportunity for teaching. Tamar is a law professor who still keeps in touch with former student Timothy Shepherd, who now works in London with a group of other young attorneys. Shepherd and his co-workers have also become friends. In this four-book series, the group of lawyers gets involved in a series of murder cases and Tamar helps them to find out the truth behind the killings. The young people all have solid professional skills and they’re competent. But it’s interesting to see how, in their own ways, they have a teacher/pupil view of their relationship with Tamar even though none of them is in law school.

And then there’s Jean Pierre ‘J.P.’ Taine, whom we meet in Anthony Bidulka’s Dos Equis. Saskatoon PI Russell Quant is taking what you might call a leave of absence from life (Read Date With a Sheesha to find out why – I don’t want to spoil anything). He’s spending time at a friend’s home in Mexico when he gets a call from another PI Jane Cross, who works in Regina. She says that she needs his help, presumably on a case, so he goes to her office. By the time Quant gets there though, it’s too late. Jane’s been murdered. And that’s how he meets Taine, who’s had his brushes with the law, but who wants to be a detective. Quant doesn’t trust Taine at all at first, but they work together on this murder and on the case that Jane was working when she was killed. Throughout the novel, we see how Quant has to develop some teaching skills (he’s not very patient with Taine’s inexperience at first). Among other things it’s an interesting development to Quant’s character.

Many professional detectives don’t think of themselves as teachers too, but as crime fiction clearly shows, they are. Oh, and you’ll notice that I’ve not included a lot of partnerships such as Reginald Hill’s Andy Dalziel and Peter Pascoe (It would probably be quite an experience to have Dalziel as a teacher!), or Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse and Sergeant Lewis. Too easy. ;-)



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Kinks’ Education.


Filed under Anthony Bidulka, Colin Dexter, Jean-Pierre Alaux, Katherine Howell, Louise Penny, Nöel Balen, Reginald Hill, Sarah Caudwell, Y.A. Erskine

And That’s Why You’ll Need the Best Lawyer in Town*

Unpopular CasesIn many countries’ legal systems, a person accused of a crime is considered innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. That concept may be phrased differently in different systems, but the basic idea is that the prosecution has to prove that the defendant is guilty. Most people would tell you that that assumption is a good idea as it makes it less likely that an innocent person would be ‘railroaded’ into prison. It also helps ensure that everyone gets a fair trial.

It also means though that lawyers sometimes defend very unpopular clients and get involved in very difficult cases. As a wise attorney I know has said, the job of defending counsel is to defend, not to judge. But that job is a lot harder when a defendant has already been found guilty in the ‘court of public opinion.’ Let me just offer a few examples from crime fiction to show you what I mean.

We see a bit of this in Agatha Christie’s Five Little Pigs. Hercule Poirot takes on a sixteen-year-old case of poisoning when Carla Lemarchant hires him to find out who killed her father Amyas Crale. Crale was a famous artist who was painting a portrait of his mistress Elsa Greer when he was murdered. At the time, his wife Caroline was arrested, tried and convicted. And there was plenty of evidence against her too. But Carla is convinced that her mother was innocent, and wants to clear her name. One step that Poirot takes is to discuss the matter with Montague Depleach, defending counsel in this case. Depleach explains that there was a lot of sympathy for Caroline as her husband had been unfaithful to her. But even he admits that he’s always thought she was guilty. And so, as it turns out, has everyone else. Depleach is a skilled attorney with a good reputation, but that wasn’t enough to make people question their assumptions about Caroline Crale. You could say he was fighting a proverbial uphill battle against the presumption of her guilt.

In Ellery Queen’s Calamity Town, Queen travels to the small town of Wrightsville to get some peace and quiet for writing. He takes a guesthouse on the property of town leaders John F. and Hermione ‘Hermy’ Wright. That’s how he gets involved in their family drama. The Wrights’ youngest daughter Nora was engaged to Jim Haight when he jilted her, leaving town with no explanation. Now he’s back and against everyone’s wishes, he and Nora resume their relationship and marry. Then, Nora becomes mysteriously ill. She recovers, but then becomes ill again. Then, Haight’s sister Rosemary, who’s come for an extended visit, is killed at a New Year’s Eve party when she has a poisoned drink intended for Nora. Now Haight is arrested for murder and the evidence is against him. So is the town. The Wrights are not just powerful, but popular. Eli Martin takes on the task of defending Haight, and it’s not easy. For one thing, there is convincing evidence against Haight. And that’s to say nothing of motive, as Haight stands to inherit if Nora dies. In the end only Nora’s sister Pat and Ellery Queen really believe that Haight could be innocent and it takes all of their efforts to prove that they’re right.

One of the best-known (and in my opinion, most powerful) examples of a lawyer taking on an unpopular client is in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Maycomb, Alabama is a small Southern town where racism is more or less an institution. Certainly it’s deeply ingrained in the culture. So when Mayella Ewell, who is White, accuses Tom Robinson, who is Black, of rape, the town is up in arms against him. In fact, he’s nearly lynched before his case can even be tried. Well-known lawyer Atticus Finch takes Robinson’s case and prepares to defend him, a decision that puts him and his children in some danger. But that doesn’t stop Finch from carrying through on his commitment to defend his client as vigourously as he can. That commitment drives Finch to find out the real truth about what happened.

John Grisham’s A Time to Kill deals with a very difficult case for attorney Jake Brigance. Ten-year-old Tonya Hailey, who is Black, is viciously attacked and raped by two White men Billy Ray Cobb and Pete Willard. The small town of Clanton, Mississippi is shocked at the incident and there is a great deal of sympathy for the girl and her family. But Tonya’s father Carl Lee Hailey is determined not to let Cobb and Willard escape justice. So he lies in wait for them and as they go into the courthouse, he murders them. Now the town is tragically divided and Brgance walks a proverbial minefield as he does his best to defend his client. And he’s up against a considerable force too, since there are some powerful people who want Hailey found guilty or worse. And after all, there’s little doubt that Hailey committed the killings.

In Y.A. Erskine’s The Brotherhood, we meet attorney Andy Woods. He has the thankless task of defending seventeen-year-old Darren Rowley, who’s been accused of murdering Tasmania Police Sergeant John White. Rowley isn’t exactly a ‘misunderstood, nice young boy.’ He’s been in trouble with the law numerous times, and he s both rude and cocky. But he is still entitled to counsel. Besides, he’s part-Aboriginal, and nobody much wants the legal and political repercussions of giving the appearance of racism. So Woods is reluctantly given access to his client, the necessary reports and so on. Still, he is not in the least popular with the police:


‘..when he announced his reason for being there [at the police station]…any pretence of civility disappeared quicker than you could say ‘Aboriginal Legal Service.’  Announcing that you were not only a criminal lawyer, but a criminal lawyer subcontracted to the ALS was tantamount to announcing that you were a paedophile with a rampant case of swine flue who’d recently returned from a baby-seal-bashing expedition around the Arctic Circle.’


As it turns out, not even Woods’ client is particularly helpful or grateful to him.

In T.J. Cooke’s Defending Elton, the body of a mysterious young woman Sarena Gunasekera is found at the bottom of a cliff at Beachy Head near Eastbourne, She was stabbed before being thrown over the cliff, and blood and other evidence suggest that her murderer is Elton Spears. He’s a troubled young man with a history of mental illness. He isn’t exactly a likeable client and can’t do much to defend himself. But his solicitor Jim Harwood knows the young man and agrees to take the case. He briefs barrister Harry Douglas, who will defend the case in court, and the two go to work to try to find out what really happened to the victim. As the reader learns, it’s a very tricky case for Harwood…

One of the more difficult things attorneys do is defend clients who are unpopular, especially in heated and controversial cases. But it’s part of the job and it happens a lot. And I haven’t even mentioned novels where it’s the prosecuting attorney who has to take up an unpopular side…


On Another Note….


My sincere thanks to Rebecca Bradley, who invited me to stop by her blog today. I’m really honoured. Please come pay me a visit there and find out some background stuff about In a Word: Murder that you only thought you knew. And no, I’m hopeful I won’t need my lawyer… ;-)

While you’re there, you’ll want to soak in Rebecca’s terrific blog. It’s a wonderful resource for crime fiction readers and writers. Oh, and Rebecca hosts a great online book club.

Thanks, Rebecca, for your support of this project!



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Irving Gordon’s Allentown Jail, made popular by The Seekers and The Kingston Trio.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Harper Lee, John Grisham, T.J. Cooke, Y.A. Erskine

Well I’ll Be Loyal to You in Every Way*

Loyalty1One of the more valuable qualities humans can have is arguably loyalty. If we can’t count on loyalty from family, friends, co-workers and so on, then it’s easy to start wondering whether we can really trust anyone. And that’s unsettling, to say the least. Of course, like most things about humans, loyalty is a proverbial double-edged sword. Loyalty can be an important part of simple safety and security. On the other hand, loyalty can be tragically misguided. It’s an important aspect of human interaction though, so it’s no wonder that we see it in crime fiction.

Agatha Christie addresses loyalty in several of her stories. I’ll just mention one example. In Murder on the Orient Express, Hercule Poirot travels across Europe on the world-famous Orient Express train. On the second night of the journey, fellow passenger Samuel Ratchett is stabbed to death. Poirot is persuaded to investigate and try to find out who the killer is before the train is stopped at the next border. That way, the solution (and presumably, the killer) can be handed over to the police. Poirot has a limited number of suspects since the only possibilities are the other passengers in the same car as Ratchett. As Poirot interviews the passengers and gets to know the background of the case, we learn that loyalty plays an important role in this mystery. Here is what one passenger, Princess Natalia Dragomiroff, says about it:


‘I believe, Messieurs, in loyalty – to one’s friends and one’s family and one’s caste.’


And as the story evolves, we see how much loyalty determines what people do and say.

A bright thread of loyalty adds much to Wendy James’ The Mistake. In that novel, we meet Jodie Evans Garrow, who seems to have the perfect life. She’s married to a successful attorney, she’s got two healthy children, and her own life seems content and ordered. Then her daughter Hannah is involved in a traffic accident and is taken to a Sydney hospital. It turns out it’s the same hospital where years earlier, Jodie gave birth to another child Elsa Mary – a child she’s never told anyone about, not even her husband. A nurse at the hospital remembers Jodie from that other time and asks about the baby. Jodie says she gave the child up for adoption, but when the overly curious nurse does some checking, she finds no records of an adoption. That’s when the questions and later the accusations begin. What happened to Elsa Mary? If she’s alive, where is she? If not, did Jodie have something to do with her death? It’s not long before Jodie becomes a social pariah, with everyone she thought was in her circle turned against her. Then one night, Jodie is invited to a book club gathering. The gathering itself is a disaster, but through it Jodie is re-united with an old friend Bridget ‘Bridie’ Sullivan. The two were very close when they were younger but hadn’t seen each other in years. When they re-establish their friendship, Jodie finds that Bridie is truly loyal to her. And that loyalty proves to be a real source of solace.

Martin Clark’s The Legal Limit also has a theme of loyalty.  In that novel, brothers Mason and Gates Hunt come from an abusive and unhappy background. But they’ve dealt with it in very different ways. Mason has made the most of every opportunity he’s gotten and has become a lawyer. Gates on the other hand has squandered his considerable athletic ability and now lives on money he gets from his mother and from his girlfriend’s Welfare payments. Then one day, Gates has an argument with his romantic rival Wayne Thompson. Later that night, the Hunt brothers are coming home from a night out when they encounter Thompson again. Before anyone really knows what’s happened, Gates has shot his rival. Out of a sense of loyalty to his brother, Mason helps cover up the crime. Years later that loyalty comes back to haunt him when Gates is arrested for cocaine trafficking. He begs Mason, who’s now a Commonwealth of Virginia prosecutor, to help get him out of prison, but Mason refuses. Gates then threatens to implicate his brother in the still-unsolved murder of Wayne Thompson unless he co-operates. When Mason calls his Gates’ bluff, Gates makes good on his threat. Now Mason is indicted for murder and has to find the best way he can to clear his name. When this happens, we see the positive side of loyalty as Mason learns just how loyal his deputy prosecutor Custis Norman is to him.

Y.A. Erskine’s The Brotherhood explores loyalty within the police force. One tragic morning, Sergeant John White of the Tasmania Police Force is stabbed when he and probationer Lucy Howard investigate a home invasion. The most likely suspect is seventeen-year-old Darren Rowley, who comes from a poor neighbourhood of Hobart and who’s been in trouble with the law more than once. As the police look into this case, some evidence turns up that suggests that White may not have been the sterling cop everyone thinks he was. And one of the plot threads in this novel is the way in which the other police rally round his memory out of a sense of loyalty to him and to the police.

Andrew Nette’s Ghost Money introduces us to Australian ex-cop Max Quinlan. He’s turned out to be fairly good at finding people who don’t want to be found, which is part of the reason Madeleine Avery hires him to find her brother Charles. Charles Avery’s last known residence was Bangkok, so Quinlan starts his search there. When he gets to Quinlan’s apartment, he finds the body of Avery’s business partner Robert Lee. He also finds evidence that Avery has gone to Cambodia, so he decides to pick up the trail there. In Phnom Penh, Quinlan meets journalist’s assistant Heng Sarin. He also finds out that there are several ruthless and very dangerous people who don’t want him asking any questions. Gradually though, Quinlan finds out that Avery went to Northern Cambodia, so he decides to follow that lead, and that’s where the answers to the mystery turn out to be. Through it all, Sarin proves to be a very loyal friend and colleague. The two go through some frightening situations together but Sarin remains a steadfast companion.

Loyalty is also a theme in Mark Douglas-Home’s The Sea Detective. Two young girls Preeti and Basanti have become part of the dhanda – a term used to refer to India’s sex trade. The girls’ families were paid money for their services with the idea that the girls will work in the trade for a certain amount of time and then return to their villages. Preeti and Basanti are taken to Scotland together to meet client demand there. On the trip, they become close friends and promise to be loyal to each other. They’re separated soon after their arrival though, and Basanti doesn’t know what’s happened to her friend. So as soon as she can, she escapes from the people who’ve been holding her and goes in search of Preeti. That’s when she discovers that the body of an unknown girl has been found in the sea and that it’s most likely the body of her friend. Basanti finds out that Ph.D. student Caladh ‘Clad’ McGill is also interested in the body. He’s an oceanographer who’s an expert in tides and water-based movement so he may be able to help Basanti find out how Preeti’s body ended up where it was found McGill and Basanti form an unlikely and strange kind of partnership and together, they find out what happened to Preeti. Throughout that thread of this novel, we see how Basanti’s loyalty to her friend has kept her strong throughout everything that’s happened to her, and how it motivates her to find Preeti’s killers.

There are, of course, a lot of other examples of loyalty and the role it plays in what we do. And I haven’t even touched on the myriad examples of sleuths and partners who are loyal to each other – too easy…


ps. Oh, the ‘photo? I rarely see an expression of loyalty quite like a dog eagerly watching and waiting for the human it owns…



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Brendan Benson’s The Pledge.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrew Nette, Mark Douglas-Home, Martin Clark, Wendy James, Y.A. Erskine

Exercise Your Freedom*

Stretch YourselfHave you ever ‘stretched yourself’ to read something that you don’t usually read? Even something that you thought you might not like? Sometimes ‘stretching’ like that can end up being disappointing if the book you choose to read isn’t well-written. I know that’s happened to me. But it’s surprising how often opening one’s mind a little and trying something new can be a really valuable experience. And one of the things about crime fiction is that it often addresses important issues that need to be addressed. ‘Stretching’ can encourage readers to think about things they hadn’t thought about before, in new ways. And for me anyway, that’s as good a reason as any for taking a chance on a book. Granted, there are some books we choose not to read, and that’s fine too. A reader has the right not to read something. Every once in a while, though, it’s helpful to dip a metaphorical toe in some new water. Let me just give a few examples of what I mean.

Readers who aren’t science fiction fans might be very reluctant to try Isaac Asimav’s Elijah ‘Lije’ Baley novels. After all, they do take place in a futuristic world, they involve positronic robots, and there’s a lot of gadgetry and science discussed in them. And yet, these are very much crime fiction novels. The series (The Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun and The Robots of Dawn) features New York detective Lije Baley, whose police partner is R. Daneel Olivaw, a positronic robot. In The Caves of Steel, they investigate the murder of a famous scientist. It’s actually an interesting ‘impossible-but-not-impossible’ sort of mystery. In The Naked Sun, they investigate the murder of Rikaine Delmarre, who operated the planetary birthing center of Solaria. As much as a discussion of what the future might hold (which it is), this novel is also a whodunit. So is The Robots of Dawn, in which Baley and Olivaw work to find out who destroyed the mind of Jander Panell, one of Olivaw’s colleagues. Rejecting these novels out of hand because they are science fiction might mean readers would miss out on a solid set of crime stories.

Ernesto Mallo’s  Needle in a Haystack is the story of Buenos Aires cop Venancio ‘Perro’ Lescano. The story takes place in 1979, a very dangerous time to live and work in Argentina. The military junta is in power and determined to stay there, and anyone suspected of not going along enthusiastically is in mortal danger. Against that backdrop, Lescano investigates the murder of Elías Biterman, a successful pawn shop owner. The authorities want very much for this to be put down as an Army hit, in which case no more will be said about it. But Lescano is sure that’s not true, and continues investigating. This novel is written in a very literary style, with innovative use of dialogue, tense and so on. In some places it’s almost poetic. Readers who usually wouldn’t be interested in a novel like that might put this one aside at first. But the story paints a compelling portrait of 1979 Buenos Aires and introduces us to (in my opinion anyway) a likeable protagonist. The novel also raises important and thought-provoking questions about class, government, repression and anti-Semitism among other things.

Sometimes trying something one hasn’t tried before lets one think about things in a new way. For instance, in Angela Savage’s Behind the Night Bazaar, Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney is visiting her friend Didier ‘Didi’ de Montpasse when his partner Nou is murdered. Then Didi himself is killed in what the police call an unfortunate incident of resisting arrest. They claim Didi was guilty of Nou’s murder and got violent when the police came to question him. But Keeney doesn’t believe any of that. Mostly in order to clear her friend’s name, she investigates the murders. She finds a connection between those killings and the Thai human trafficking and sex trades. This novel presents a complex and thought-provoking portrait of that trade, and doesn’t offer any easy answers. And that’s realistic because there aren’t any. It encourages the reader to really think through assumptions about how that trade starts, who keeps it going and what might be needed to stop it.

There’s also Y.A. Erskine’s The Brotherhood, in which Tasmania police sergeant John White is stabbed one morning as he and probationer Lucy Howard are investigating a break-in. The most likely suspect is seventeen-year-old Darren Rowley, who’s been in trouble with the law before. As the crime and its aftermath are depicted from different points of view, we get a very complex and provocative picture of life as a cop. How should juveniles be treated? What if they’re repeat offenders? How far should the police go in solving a crime? What about government policies? What if they don’t work, practically speaking? There are a lot of other issues discussed in this novel too.

That’s also the case in Kishwar Desai’s Witness the Night. That’s the story of the murder of thirteen members of the Atwal family in Jullundur, Punjab. The most likely suspect is fourteen-year-old Durga Atwal, who was there on the night of the murders. She hasn’t said anything about that night since she was arrested, so no-one knows for sure what happened. There’s enough confusion about the evidence that social worker Simran Singh is asked to return from her home in Delhi to Jullundar, where she grew up. It’s hoped that if she gets Durga to talk about that night, the police will get the answers they need. This novel isn’t a comfortable, easy read. It discusses issues such as class, sex roles, and corruption among other things. In fact, it may make readers uncomfortable. But those issues are important, and the novel addresses them clearly while still placing the main emphasis on what happened in the Atwal family.

It’s helpful for readers and (I think anyway) helpful for society when we try different kinds of books and topics. When we ‘stretch,’ we think about things in a new way, we grow, and sometimes, important things get discussed and addressed.

The only way we can continue to do this is to keep having access to a lot of books.  Even books we don’t like. Even books we would never read. When certain books are impossible to get, that weakens all of us. During this Banned Books Week, let me invite you to try a book you might not otherwise try. Let me also invite you to support access to books you never intend to read. Let’s keep the diversity in reading alive and support everyone’s right to read (or not read) any book.




*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Divine Comedy’s Love What You Do.


Filed under Angela Savage, Ernesto Mallo, Isaac Asimov, Kishwar Desai, Y.A. Erskine