Foreman Says These Jobs Are Going, Boys, and They Ain’t Coming Back*

If you’ve ever been fired, you know how awful an experience that is. Even if you’re made redundant because of cutbacks (and not, say, job performance), it hurts. A lot. And a wise employer doesn’t fire someone on a whim. It’s a very serious step to take.

Being fired/terminated/separated is very hard, but it is a part of life. So, it makes sense that we’d see it in crime fiction, too. It can be the basis for tension and conflict, or it can be a plot point. It can also add a layer of character development.

For instance, in Robert Pollock’s Loophole: or, How to Rob a Bank, we are introduced to architect Stephen Booker. When he is made redundant, it’s a real blow for him and his wife. He likes his profession; so, at first, he tries to get another job in the field. He isn’t successful, though, and as time goes by, he begins to feel more and more desperate. Finally, he takes a job driving cab at night, thinking he can still use the days to look for a new position. One night, he meets professional thief Mike Daniels. Before long, Daniels becomes one of Booker’s regular fares and they get to know each other. When Daniels finds out that Booker is an architect, he decides to let him in on a secret. Daniels and his team have been planning a major heist: the robbery of the City Savings Deposit Bank. The bank is, of course, carefully guarded, so the team needs to find a way to work around the security. For that, they need an architect, and Daniels thinks he’s found his man. It takes some persuading, because Booker is basically a law-abiding person. But he’s also desperate for a job – any job – and falls in with the group’s plans. Everything goes along well, until a sudden rainstorm comes up and changes everything.

In the ‘Emma Lathen’ team’s Murder to Go, a big merger is in the works. Southeast Insurance is planning a merger with an up-and-coming fast food company called Chicken Tonight. The Sloan Guaranty Bank is involved in the merger, so it’s got an interest in making sure everything goes smoothly. But it doesn’t. Several people are sickened by one of Chicken Tonight’s new recipes. One of them even dies. This puts the merger in grave doubt and raises all sorts of questions about Chicken Tonight. So, the company wants to find out right away how the poisonings happened and do ‘damage control.’ At first, it looks very much as though the culprit is a man named Clyde Sweeney. He is a former delivery driver for the company, and he had access to the spices and food. What’s more, he had been fired recently and was bitter and angry about it. That certainly gives him motive to sabotage the company. It doesn’t help Sweeney’s case that he’s gone missing. But when he turns up dead, it’s clear that something more is going on. Sloan Vice President John Putnam Thatcher gets involved in the case and starts asking questions. He finds that the solution lies in behind-the-scenes greed and manipulation.

Geoffrey McGeachin’s Fat, Fifty and F***ed begins just after bank manager Martin Carter is made redundant. With his marriage falling apart, and now no job to provide stability, Carter hasn’t got much to lose. On his last day of work, he can’t resist the lure of a million-dollar payroll and takes the money. He makes his escape in a police-issue 4WD and is soon on his way. But that act of desperation is only the start of Carter’s adventures. Along the way, he meets a New Age bike gang, a librarian who’s get her own secrets and past, and plenty of other characters as well.

Nelson Brunanski’s Crooked Lake introduces John ‘Bart’ Bartowski. He and his wife, Rosie, own Stuart Lake Lodge, a holiday fishing lodge in the northern part of Saskatchewan. They live in the small town of Crooked Lake, where everyone knows everyone else. And one of those people is Nick Taylor, head greenskeeper for the Crooked Lake Regional Park and Golf Course. One day, Taylor is fired from his job. He’s devastated and furious, especially since he sees no specific reason for being let go. He blames Board member Harvey Kristoff, who has never liked him and has been looking for a reason to get rid of him. Later that day, Kristoff’s body is discovered on the green near the golf course’s seventh hole. Taylor is, of course, the most likely suspect, and he admits that he was very angry about being terminated. But he says that he’s not guilty of the murder. Taylor’s lawyer asks Bart’s help in clearing his client’s name, and Bart is happy to oblige, as he and Taylor are long-time friends. When the killer finds out that Bart’s asking questions, this spells danger for the Bartowski family. But Bart feels a strong obligation to an old friend, so he persists. And, in the end, he finds out the truth.

And then there’s Paul Levine’s Solomon vs Lord, which introduces his protagonists, Miami lawyers Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord. As the novel begins, they’re on opposite sides of a case involving illegal smuggling of animals. Solomon’s defending; Lord’s prosecuting. They can’t stop scrapping with each other and bickering, though, which annoys the judge so much that they’re held on charges of contempt of court. When they’re finally released, they go back to the case, which is soon decided. The whole incident does nothing for Lord’s reputation, and she is summarily fired, publicly and in a humiliating way. It’s very upsetting for her, of course, and even Solomon feels compassion for her. Besides, as Solomon sees it, she may be a rookie, but Lord is a good lawyer who will develop into a truly great lawyer. So, he invites her to work with him in a new case he’s trying to get. Katrina Barksdale has been accused of killing her extremely wealthy husband, Charles. She claims she’s innocent, and Solomon knows that if he gets the case and wins it, there’s a large fee in it for him. He needs Lord’s ‘blueblood’ connections and her skills; she needs a job. So, they start working on the case together. And it turns out this case is more complicated then just a wife who kills to get her husband’s fortune.

Losing a job is hard, often painful, and always disruptive. It can have all sorts of consequences, too. So, it makes sense that this plot point would show up in crime fiction.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bruce Springsteen’s My Hometown.


Filed under Emma Lathen, Geoffrey McGeachin, Nelson Brunanski, Paul Levine, Robert Pollock

Your Name’s Not Down, You’re Not Coming In*

You probably see them without even thinking about it. They’re there when you go to clubs, certain places such as museums, tourist attractions, and sometimes government buildings. Yes, I’m talking about security people.

They really do play an important role in our lives, if you think about it. It can be annoying to have your handback searched or have to empty your pockets when you go to a major sporting event. But at the same time, many people argue that security procedures keep everyone safer. If you go to a nightclub, it’s good to know you can shout for security if there’s a problem.

Security people play a part in crime fiction, too. And that makes sense. Their role is to prevent trouble if they can and stop it if it starts. So, they develop the ability to ‘read’ people and watch for early ‘warning signs.’ Those ‘warning signs’ and that trouble are often the focus of crime novels, so it’s a fairly logical match. There are lots of examples in the genre; there’s only room in this one post for a few of them.

One of Stuart Kaminsky’s most popular series features Toby Peters. Fans can tell you that Peters started out as a security guard for Warner Brothers Studio (the series takes place in the 1940s). He was fired from the position and has since become a private investigator. Still, the various big studios see him as a ‘known quantity,’ and so do the Hollywood stars with whom Peters interacts as the series goes on. So, they often turn to him when there’s trouble. And Peters knows the town and the studios, so he’s got the background he needs to do the job.

There’s an interesting instance of private security in Robert Colby’s novella No Experience Necessary. Glenn Hadlock has recently been released from prison and is looking for a new start. It’s not easy, though, as plenty of places won’t hire an ex-convict. So, he pays attention when he sees an advertisement for a bodyguard/escort. It seems that wealthy Victor Scofield is looking for personal security for his wife, Eileen. He himself is disabled and can’t leave his home. But he doesn’t want to restrict his wife. So, he’s hit on the idea of hiring someone to provide security and be a chauffeur/escort. Hadlock gets the job, and all starts out well enough. The work isn’t difficult, Eileen Scofield is pleasant company, and the pay and benefits are good. But Hadlock learns soon enough that there’s more going on here than it seems, and he’s in much more danger than he imagined.

In Tony Hillerman’s Hunting Badger, we are introduced to Deputy Sheriff Teddy Bai. He works part time as a security officer in a casino on the Ute Reservation. One night, the casino is robbed by a group of far-right militia members who want to use the takings to buy weapons. If you know anything about casinos, then you know that security is a big priority. It’s nearly impossible to take anything, let alone a large haul of money, without ‘inside help.’ And the police think that Bai has provided that help. He says that he’s innocent, though, and his friend, Navajo Tribal Police Officer Bernadette ‘Bernie’ Manuelito, believes him. So, in one plot thread of this novel, she asks Sergeant Jim Chee to help her find out what really happened at the casino. It turns out that this case has its roots in the past and is connected to an old Ute legend.

Eoin Colfer’s Daniel McEvoy is an Irish ex-pat and former member of the military. Now, he works as a bouncer at Slotz, a rundown, dirty bar/casino in fictional Cloisters, New Jersey. It’s not the sort of place you go for an elegant dinner and some time at the baccarat table. In his line of work, McEvoy runs into all sorts of low-life, sometimes very dangerous people.

In Zoë Sharp’s Killer Instinct, we are introduced to Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Fox. She’s a former member of Her Majesty’s Special Forces, who now lives near Lancaster. One night, her friend Clare persuades her to go to the New Adelphi Club, where there’s to be a karaoke competition. Clare wants to take part but wants some moral support. So, the two women go to the club. When another contestant tries to attack Clare, Fox steps in and the other contestant ends up getting ejected from the club. The owner, Marc Quinn, finds out what Fox has done, and decides to hire her as part of the security team. That doesn’t go down well at first with some of the other security folk, since Fox is a woman. But she proves herself to be more than a match when it comes to preventing trouble in the first place and stopping it when it starts. As she starts to work at the club, Fox soon discovers some ugly things that the club is hiding. She starts asking questions and finds that some people are determined to do whatever it takes to keep her from finding out the truth.

Of course, not all security is physical security. With today’s Internet and other electronic technology, cyber security becomes ever more important. That’s where Cara Black’s Aimée Leduc comes in. She and her business partner, René Friant, own Leduc Detective, a private investigation firm. Leduc’s specialty is computer security, which proves useful in Murder in the Marais. In that novel, an encrypted code that Leduc is hired to decrypt turns out to be connected to two murders.

Security experts can be very useful at the front door, so to speak. And they can make interesting characters, too. Which have stayed with you?


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Klaxon’s The Bouncer.


Filed under Cara Black, Eoin Colfer, Robert Colby, Stuart Kaminsky, Tony Hillerman, Zoë Sharp

Deep Breathing

Brittany hurried into the gym, almost catching her towel in the front door as it swung shut behind her. One minute to go. She quickly checked in at the front desk and rushed up the staircase to the second floor, where the evening yoga class had already gathered.

When she got to the second floor, Brittany slipped in as inconspicuously as she could and found a place towards the back of the room. The lights had already been dimmed, and most of the other people in the class were sitting on their mats, meditating. Brittany hated to interrupt other people’s focus, so, as silently as she could, she unrolled her yoga mat, took off her trainers and socks, and sat down. She had time for two deep breaths before Kimberly, the instructor, started the class.

As the hour went by, Brittany started to feel calmer. It had been a crap day at work, and she still didn’t know what she was going to do about Shelby. But at least she would have a better perspective. The deep breathing, stretching, and toning started to work their magic as Brittany felt her mind settle a little.

Just before class ended, Kimberly thanked everyone and slowly turned the lights back on full power. Brittany blinked a little, then stretched once more, put her socks and trainers back on, and rolled up her mat. She was bathed in sweat, but it felt good. She’d stop and have a protein drink on the way out of the gym, then take a long shower when she got home. She was on her way out of the classroom when she felt a tap on her right shoulder.

‘Hey, Brittany, I didn’t know you came here.’ It was, of all damned people, Shelby.
‘Um, yeah, I’ve been coming here for a couple of months.’
‘This is my first time. I like it, though.’
Brittany nodded. She had no idea what she ought to say to Shelby. She was just thinking of how to get away when Shelby said, ‘Look, I think you and I ought to talk. Want to get a protein pickup or something?’
There was no way out of it. ‘OK,’ Brittany finally said.

The two women walked down the stairs and headed for the juice bar. ‘I’ll get the drinks if you’ll get seats,’ Shelby said.
When they were seated, Brittany took a sip as she waited for Shelby to start.
‘Look, I can guess what you’re thinking, but I had no choice.’
‘Shelby, you stole money from the company. I can’t just let that go!’
‘I’m trying to tell you, there was nothing else I could do. You don’t understand. If I hadn’t done what I did, all hell would have broken loose. I’m pretty desperate, OK?’
‘You could get a loan or –’
‘Don’t you think I tried? With my credit rating, they practically laughed in my face.’
‘But it’s theft. I think that’s a felony.’
‘Not if you don’t tell anyone.’

That was the thing. If Brittany didn’t say anything, she’d be an accessory. That was the problem.  She took a long sip from her drink and then another as Shelby watched her carefully. Finally, she took a deep breath. ‘All right, let me figure this out, OK? I need a day or so.’
‘Good enough,’ Shelby said. ‘Look, I have to go. We’ll talk on Monday?’
‘All right.’

Brittany watched as Shelby gathered her things and left. Then, she coughed. And coughed again. She tried to catch her breath, but she couldn’t. She felt her heart start to race. She tried to stand up but couldn’t keep her balance. As she slumped back onto the seat, gasping, she tried to remember her yoga breathing. In. Out. In. Out. Then, everything went black as she vaguely heard someone yelling about an ambulance.

Shelby couldn’t make herself look back as she walked towards her car. She hadn’t wanted to hurt Brittany, but there was nothing she could do. If Brittany shot her mouth off to the police, everything would fall apart. She just didn’t understand how it was with Shelby. Fortunately, Shelby had done her research. She figured it would be best to talk to Brittany outside of work. So, she found out which gym Brittany used, figuring she’d be off her guard there. And Shelby had come prepared. She didn’t figure Brittany could keep quiet, so she’d brought along a little insurance that she’d put in Brittany’s protein drink. After all, who paid attention?

‘Hi, Shelby.’ The voice behind Shelby startled her. So did the hand on her shoulder. She spun around and then caught her breath.
‘Oh, hi, Vince,’ Shelby said. ‘You scared me.’ Shelby didn’t know Vince very well, since he was in a different department. But she’d seen him at a couple of company mixers.
‘Sorry about that. You got a minute?’
‘Honestly, not really. I’m already running late.’
‘Oh, I think you should stay for a minute or two,’ Vince said, staring hard at her.
‘What is it?’

Vince looked away. ‘You know,’ he started, ‘It’s interesting how people don’t always pay attention to what’s right there.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I was getting some nutrition bars. I heard you and Brittany talking. Then I saw you get protein drinks and put something in one of them. You gave it to Brittany.’  Then he looked back at Shelby and watched as her face paled.
She swallowed hard and said, ‘And?’
‘And, I think you and I ought to do some business.’
She should have known that was coming. Still, she decided to play ignorant. ‘What sort of business?’
‘You give me half of what you took. I keep my mouth shut. Pretty simple, actually.’

There was only one answer. Shelby would have to think of a way to deal with Vince later, but for now, she said, ‘All right. We’ll set something up.’
Vince turned as they both heard the ambulance screaming towards the gym. ‘Oh,’ he added. ‘And you better hope to God Brittany makes it. We might have to renegotiate things.’


Filed under Uncategorized

Looking For Margot?

Hello, Humans,

For those of you who haven’t met me, I am Mr. Metoo. My roommate, Indy, and I own Margot Kinberg, who keeps this blog.

She’s not here today, I’m afraid. She’s off gallivanting at Mystery Thriller Week, talking about her new book, Downfall. No doubt she’s having a glass of wine and lots of nibbles. Not that I’m getting any treats – unfair, I call it!!

Do feel free to go visit her at Mystery Thriller Week. And as you’ll be there, anyway, check the site out. It’s a great gathering place for authors, publicists, book bloogers, and others who are passionate about crime fiction. You don’t want to miss this year’s big event, coming your way in April.

And when you come back here, please bring me a doggy bag. I just know Margot won’t remember. Thanks!


Filed under Uncategorized

In The Spotlight: Sarah Dunant’s Birth Marks

Hello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. As time has gone by, the PI novel has become more and more diverse. And that makes sense, as more different kinds of people get into that business, both in fiction and in real life. Modern fictional PIs are more varied than ever, and so are the stories about them. Let’s take a look at one today, and turn the spotlight on Sarah Dunant’s Birth Marks, the first in her Hannah Wolfe series.

Wolfe is a former employee of a security/investigation firm owned by her mentor, Frank Comfort (yes, that’s his real name), who’s an ex-copper. When she finds that her financial situation isn’t working out the way she’d hoped, she asks Frank for freelance work. And the case he offers her is a strange one.

Augusta Patrick is a former dancer who served as a surrogate mother and mentor for Carolyn Hamilton, a talented dancer in her own right. Carolyn did well, and they had hopes that she could have a great career. After she left to pursue that career, Carolyn kept in regular touch with her mentor, mostly by postcard. But Miss Patrick hasn’t heard from Carolyn in a long time and is worried about her. Wolfe takes the case and starts trying to trace the young woman’s whereabouts.

Then, the body of a young woman who turns out to be Carolyn is pulled from the Thames. At first, Wolfe thinks the job is over. And Miss Patrick doesn’t seem to want more information. It looks like a rather clear-cut case, too. Carolyn was eight months pregnant when she died, and it wouldn’t be out of the question for a young, pregnant woman with nowhere to turn to take her own life.

But Wolfe doesn’t think it’s as simple as that. And it turns out not to be. An unknown client who works only through a legal representative hires Wolfe to look into the circumstances of Carolyn’s death. So, she starts to investigate more deeply.

One of the most important questions is, of course, who is the father of the baby? To find out, Wolfe traces Carolyn’s last year of life. The trail leads through several dance groups, and, ultimately, to the top of Paris’ ‘A-list.’ Slowly, Wolfe finds out the truth about the father of the baby. But that doesn’t explain how and why Carolyn died.

The closer she gets to the truth, the more Wolfe learns that almost no-one is being honest with her. If she’s going to find out what really happened to Carolyn, and be able to answer to her client, Wolfe is going to have to peel back several layers of dishonesty. She’s also going to have to keep herself out of danger.

This is, as I say, a PI novel. Readers follow along as Wolfe talks to people, gets her hands on information (some of it confidential) and otherwise follows up leads. She doesn’t have the force of he law behind her, so she’s had to become skilled at getting people to talk to her. The novel was published in 1991, before the Internet was a real factor in detection, and before most people had mobile telephones. So, readers get the chance to see how PI work was done before the age of apps, Google, and social media.

One important element in the novel is the network of family relationships. There’s Carolyn’s relationship with her own biological parents and with Miss Patrick. There’s Wolfe’s own relationship with her family, especially her sister, Kate. There are other family dynamics explored, too. As she looks into this case, Wolfe faces her own torn feelings about being a mother at some point.

This isn’t a ‘happy ending’ sort of novel, where all is put right again in the end. Knowing the truth about Carolyn doesn’t make anyone happy about it all, and few of the characters were really content, anyway. In that sense, there’s just a hint of noir.

And yet, it’s not a completely bleak story. There is wit woven in, too. For instance, here’s Wolfe’s reaction when Frank offers her the case:

‘‘So, do you want it?’ [Frank]
Not really. Missing girls seldom turn up somewhere their mothers want them to be. But if I didn’t want it, the gas and electricity board did. And I could hear the sound of British Telecom cheering on from the sidelines.’

The wit serves to lighten what is a very sad story. Without getting too close to spoilers, I can say that no-one really wins, if you want to put it that way, in the end.

The story is told from Wolfe’s point of view (first person, past tense), so readers get to know her character. She’s smart and resourceful – no ‘helpless female’ here. She’s determined to make her own way. But at the same time, she has her own vulnerabilities, as we all do.

Readers who dislike a lot of violence will be pleased to know that there’s very little of it here, and none of it brutal. There is explicit language, although it doesn’t pop up in every conversation. In that sense, and in terms of the topics explored, this is grittier than a cosy novel. At the same time, it’s not ‘hardboiled.’

Birth Marks is the story of a young woman who started out wanting to be a dancer and ended up in a quite different place. It explores several questions of family, of parenting, and of what you can get if you just have enough money. And it introduces a contemporary London PI who’s got brains and good instincts, even as she’s trying to sort out her own direction. But what’s your view? Have you read Birth Marks? What elements do you see in it?


Coming Up On In The Spotlight

Monday, 26 March/Tuesday, 27 March –  Koreatown Blues – Mark Rogers

Monday, 2 April/Tuesday, 3 April – The Salaryman’s Wife – Sujata Massey

Monday, 9 April/Tuesday, 10 April –  The Ghosts of Belfast – Stuart Neville


Filed under Birth Marks, Sarah Dunant