I’m Talking to Myself*

An interesting post by Cleo at Cleopatra Loves Books has got me thinking about inner dialogue. Sometimes, a certain amount of inner dialogue is helpful. It can add some richness to a story, and add to character development. But, like everything else, inner dialogue is probably best given in measured doses.

Too much inner dialogue can slow a story down, and lead to ‘telling, not showing.’ And the wrong sort of inner dialogue can even be melodramatic if it’s not handled effectively. So, it’s important that any inner dialogue be carefully managed.

Inner dialogue is used in a very interesting way in Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. In that novel, we are introduced to eighteen-year-old Mary Katherine ‘Merricat’ Blackwood. She, her sister, Constance, and their Uncle Julian live in a large house not far from a small Vermont town. Almost from the beginning of the story, we get the sense that something is very, very wrong with the family, and we soon learn what that something is. Six years before the events in this novel, three other members of the Blackwood family died of poison. No-one was ever convicted, but the villagers are convinced that one of the Blackwoods is guilty. So, they give the family a very wide berth, as the saying goes. Still, the Blackwoods have managed to get along. Then, the outside world intrudes in the form of a family cousin, Charles Blackwood. He visits Julian, Constance, and Merricat, and his stay touches off a series of incidents that ends in real tragedy. The story is told from Merricat’s point of view, and it’s interesting to see how her internal dialogue is woven into the novel. Among other things, it gives the reader insight into her psychology, as everything is filtered through her thought processes.

Zoran Drvenkar’s You follows several plot threads, including the friendship among four teenage girls: Sunmi ‘Schnappi’ Mehlau, Ruth Wassermann, Isabell ‘Stink’ Kramer, and Vanessa ‘Nessi’ Altenburg. They’re concerned because the fifth member of their group, Taja, hasn’t been seen or heard from in several days, and they decide to check on her and make sure she’s all right. Their search for Taja, and what happens when they find her, involves them in the other two plot threads – and into serious danger. All of the plot threads are narrated in the second person, and in present tense, so the reader is drawn into what the characters are thinking in a different sort of way. Although there is plenty of action in the novel, there is also reflection, as we learn about the different characters’ backstories and interactions. So, there is plenty of inner dialogue; it’s told in second person, though:

‘You look at your wrist, the tattoo gleams dully. Gone. You can’t take your eyes off those four letters and wonder what would happen if you saw all the things in your dreams that you don’t want to see in real life.’

Some of the characters reflect on heir pasts in this way, too.

In Helen Fitzgerald’s The Cry, Joanna Lindsay and her partner, Alistair Robertson, make the long trip from Scotland to Victoria, where Alistair grew up. With them is their nine-week-old son, Noah. The flight itself is awful, but when they land and start the journey to Alistair’s home town, the real nightmare begins: they lose baby Noah. A massive search is undertaken, and the media and public are quite sympathetic at first. But there’s no trace of Noah. After a time, questions about, especially, Joanna, begin to come up. Could she or Alistair (or both) have had something to do with the baby’s disappearance? As more suspicions are raised, matters get worse and worse for the family. The novel is told from a few different perspectives, including Joanna’s, Alistair’s daughter, Chloe’s, and his ex-wife, Alexandra. As we see these different points of view, there’s plenty of inner dialogue. So, we learn how the different characters feel about each other, about the situation, and so on.

Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites is the fictional retelling of the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, one of the last people to be executed for murder in Iceland. The story begins in 1828, when Natan Ketilsson and Pétur Jónsson, are murdered, allegedly by Agnes Magnúsdóttir, Friðrik Sigurðsson, and Sigrídur ‘Sigga’ Gudmondsdóttir. All three suspects are found guilty, and it’s decided they will be hanged. In the months before the execution, Agnes will stay with District Officer Jón Jónsson, his wife, Margrét, and their two daughters, Steina and Lauga. It’s hoped that, by living with a ‘proper Christian family,’ Agnes will repent of what she’s done and talk about it. At first, it’s awkward for the family to have a convicted murderer with them. But gradually, they get to know Agnes, and they learn a little more about her. And, as Agnes reflects, we learn about her life, and about what happened that led to the murders. And part of that information comes from Agnes’ inner dialogue as she thinks about the family she’s with, and about her situation.

And then there’s Finn Bell’s Dead Lemons. That’s the story of thirty-seven-year-old Finn Bell, who’s reached a crossroads in his life. His marriage has ended, and he’s in a wheelchair as a result of a car accident.  He decides he needs a new start, and chooses the town of Riverton, on New Zealand’s South Island, to do so. The cottage he’s bought was previously owned by the Cotter family, and Bell soon finds out the tragedy in that family’s past. In 1988, Alice Cotter, who was then a child, disappeared and was never found. A year later, her father also went missing. Little by little, Bell gets drawn into the mystery of what happened to the Cotters. At the same time, he’s working with a therapist, Betty Crowe, to put the pieces of his life back together. As Bell works to find out the truth about the Cotter family, he discovers that some very dangerous people want the mystery buried. He also finds himself slowly coming back to life, as the saying goes. And readers follow that progress through inner dialogue, as Bell processes what he’s discovering.

And that’s the thing about inner dialogue. As Cleo points out, it can drag a story down, and it has to be used very carefully. But when it’s handled effectively, it can be very effective.

Thanks, Cleo, for the inspiration! Now, folks, may I suggest your next blog stop be Cleopatra Loves Books? Excellent reviews await you there!


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from George Harrison’s Stuck Inside a Cloud.


Filed under Finn Bell, Hannah Kent, Helen Fitzgerald, Shirley Jackson, Zoran Drvenkar

They Fight Over Turf, They Fight Over Land*

Land is a very valuable commodity in a lot of places. That’s especially true if the land has special significance, or if there is a valuable resource on it (e.g. oil or minerals). So, it’s little wonder that there are sometimes disputes over who actually owns a piece of land, or has the right to use it.

Some of those land disputes are relatively minor (e.g. is that tree on my property, or does it belong to the people next door?). In those cases, the dispute can often be settled peacefully, if not amicably. But other land disputes are more far-reaching, and have more consequences. They can cause serious conflict in real life, and they can add tension and plot lines to a novel. For a whodunit crime novel, a land dispute can even add a motive for murder.

There’s an interesting take on land use in Hake Talbot’s Rim of the Pit. In that novel, a group of people gather at a New England property called Cabrioun, the home of Frank and Irene Ogden. The Ogdens own a specialty wood production business with a family friend, Luke Latham. The business depends on a certain sort of wood that’s now no longer available on the Ogden land. The only solution is a piece of land called Onawa, which does have the proper wood. Irene Ogden says that she inherited Onawa from her first husband, Grimaud Désanat, with the proviso that it not be logged for twenty years. With the business in danger, Latham and the Ogdens have decided to hold a séance to contact Désanat and get his consent to log on Onawa. It’s not as far-fetched as it may seem, as far as these people are concerned. Irene is a self-styled medium, and both her husband and Latham believe in the power of the séance. So, all is arranged, and the séance begins. It’s an eerie experience, and frightens several of the people there. Then, later that night, Irene is killed. Now everyone is thoroughly afraid, and the group works to find out who the killer is.

Kate Grenville’s The Secret River tells the story of the Thornhill family. In 1806, London bargeman William Thornhill is sentenced to transportation to Australia for stealing a load of wood. He, his wife, Sal, and their children make the long journey, and end up in Sydney. William finds work making deliveries along the nearby waterways; Sal opens a makeshift pub. There’s tension between the new arrivals and the Aborigines, who’ve always been there. But things are more or less calm. Then, Thornhill begins to work for a man named Thomas Blackwell, delivering goods up and down the Hawkesbury River. That’s when he discovers what he sees as the perfect piece of land for him and his family. He’s determined to have that land, and of course, that leads to direct conflict with the Aborigines, who have a completely different view of land use. And Thornhill’s not the only one. As settlement in the Sydney area continues, there’s more and more such conflict, and some ugly things are done. Thornhill wants no part of the real ugliness, but he learns that, if he’s to hold on to the land he loves, he’ll have to get his hands bloody, too.

Nicole Watson’s The Boundary takes place mostly in Brisbane. The novel begins with a court case that the Corrowa people have brought. They claim that Merston Park belongs to the Corrowa; local developers and city officials dispute this. Justice Bruce Brosnan rules against the Corrowa, saying that they cannot prove their uninterrupted occupation of Merston Park. Soon after the ruling, the judge is murdered. Then, others involved in the case against the claim are also killed, and a red feather placed near each body. Police officers Jason Matthews and Andrew Higgins investigate the deaths. For Matthews, this is especially difficult, since he is Aboriginal, and has been trying to succeed in a very white world. Still, he is a police officer, and determined to find out who’s responsible. Along the way, he meets Miranda Eversley, the attorney who argued the Corrowa’s case. She has her own issues to deal with, not least of which is that she’s now questioning her competence as a lawyer. Each in a different way, the two get to the truth about the killings.

In Patricia Stoltey’s The Prairie Grass Murders, Willie Grisseljon visits his family’s old home in Illinois. While he’s there, he discovers the half-buried body of a man on the property. As if that’s not enough, he’s soon locked up himself on charges of vagrancy. He contacts his sister, Florida judge Sylvia Thorn, and she immediately travels to Illinois to see what she can do to help. With her intercession, Willie is freed, and the two prepare to leave. But Willie insists on returning to the place where he found the body. When they get there, though, there is no sign of a body, and the land has been plowed over. It’s soon clear that there’s a cover-up, and Sylvia and Willie get involved in a case of corruption, greed, and land dispute.

In James Lee Burke’s Black Cherry Blues, we meet former blues artist Dixie Lee Pugh. Drugs, alcohol, and a prison sentence ended his music career, and now he works as a leaseman. In that capacity, he travels to Montana’s Blackfoot Reservation, where a lease is being prepared that will allow oil drilling on some of the land. One night, Pugh happens to overhear two men discussing two murders they’ve committed. He doesn’t want to get involved, because of his history, so he asks his old friend, New Iberia, Louisiana police detective Dave Robicheaux, for help. At first, Robicheaux’s reluctant to look into the matter, but he finally starts asking questions. When he does, he discovers that the murders really did happen. This turns out to be a case of greed and corruption that are tainting the drilling and land dispute.

And then there’s R.J. Harlick’s Death’s Golden Whisper. Meg Harris has recently moved to Outaouai, in Western Québec, where she’s living in a house she inherited from her Great Aunt Agatha. Like her great-aunt, Meg wants to develop a good rapport with the local Migiskan people, and so far, has succeeded. So, Migiskan Band Chief Eric Odjik feels comfortable asking for her help in a difficult land matter. There’s a good chance that there may be gold on Whisper Island, which is very near Meg’s new home. A company called CanacGold wants to mine the island, but many Migiskan people object. The only way to resolve the dispute is to determine who, if anyone, actually owns the island. It’s quite possible that Meg herself is the owner, since the island may be part of her great-aunt’s property. But she’ll have to find the paperwork to prove it. As she’s working to do that, the conflict between CanacGold and some of the Migiskin gets more and more heated. And here’s conflict among the Migiskin, too, as some believe that mining will be good for the local economy, and will mean more jobs. Then, there is a disappearance. And then a murder. They may or may not be related to the land dispute, but they certainly impact the area. Meg gets involved in the search for the truth, since the land may be hers, and the woman who’s gone missing is a friend and employee.

Land disputes almost always lead to tension and conflict, sometimes end up in court, and can even end in violence. It’s little wonder, since land and what’s on it can be so valuable. So, it makes sense that we see this plot thread in crime fiction.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The King Blues’ The Future’s Not What it Used to Be.


Filed under Hake Talbot, James Lee Burke, Kate Grenville, Nicole Watson, Patricia Stoltey, R.J. Harlick

Any Two-Bit Job That Pays*

Not every PI or attorney is well-known and sought-after by the rich and famous. In fact, some lawyers and PIs are very much ‘low rent.’ There are a variety of reasons for this, of course. Sometimes it’s because of the sorts of cases they take. Sometimes it’s because they simply don’t have recognition. There are other reasons, too.

These sorts of attorneys and PIs can make for interesting characters in crime fiction. For one thing, they may have interesting backstories. For another, the sorts of cases and people they deal with are often (not always) gritty, if I can put it that way. And that can add a layer of interest to a story, to say nothing of plot points.

For instance, in William Hjortsberg’s Falling Angel, which takes place in 1959, we are introduced to low-rent PI Harry Angel. He’s not used to dealing with ‘upper crust’ clients, but one day, he gets a call from an upmarket law firm. It seems that one of their clients, Louis Cyphre, wants to find a missing man. His quarry is talented jazz artist Jonathan Liebling, also known as Johnny Favorite. According to Cyphre, he helped Liebling out at the beginning of his career, in return for which he was promised certain ‘collateral.’  World War II intervened, and Liebling came back from combat physically and emotionally damaged. He was placed in a psychiatric hospital, but now, he’s disappeared. Angel agrees to take the case, and starts to ask questions. But he soon finds that this is no normal missing person case. Instead, he’s drawn into a web of murder, horror, and evil.

Fans of Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder will know that he used to be a New York City police detective. A tragic accidental shooting changed everything, and as the series begins, he’s a down-at-the-heels occasional PI. He doesn’t even have his license at first, and he barely maintains a home. He doesn’t have his own office, either; instead, he holds court in local bars. As the series goes on, Scudder does a little better, gets his official PI license, and so on. But he still deals with plenty of gritty characters and places.

So does Walter Mosley’s Ezekiel ‘Easy’ Rawlins. When he loses his wartime (World War II) job at an aircraft manufacturing plant, he has to find some way to make a living. So, he accepts a commission to find a missing woman in Devil in a Blue Dress. From then, he begins to get a reputation for being able to find missing people and solve other problems. Like Scudder, he doesn’t have a regular office or a fine home. And a lot of the people he helps are ‘regular people,’ rather than wealthy, well-connected people. As the series goes on, he gets an official PI license, and has some success. But he generally doesn’t mix with those who go to ‘A-list’ parties.

There’s also C.B. McKenzie’s Rodeo Grace Garnet, whom we meet in Bad Country. He’s a former rodeo star who now works as an occasional bounty hunter and low-rent private investigator. He doesn’t have an office, or post advertisements. Instead, he gets clients by word of mouth. That’s how he hears that Katherine Rocha wants him to look into the death of her teenage grandson, Samuel. The official explanation for the boy’s death is that he fell from a bridge (or possibly, committed suicide). But there’s also evidence that he might have been shot, and knocked from the bridge. If so, his grandmother wants to know who shot the boy and why. Garnet takes the case, and soon finds that some wealthy and well-connected people do not want the death investigated.

Fans of Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski will know that she, too, starts out as what you might call a ‘low-rent’ PI. Certainly, she doesn’t live a wealthy life, and her clients are not always well-connected.

There’s also mystery novelist and fellow blogger E. Michael Helms’ Dinger. He’s a low-rent PI in post-World War II Las Vegas. He’s a tough, hardboiled sort of a guy, who’s not afraid to mix it up with all sorts of low-life types. Helms has published his Dinger stories in serial form. You can read Part One of one of them, Rose, right here. Once you do, you’ll want to read the other parts, too! I hope – I really do – that we’ll see more of Dinger. A-hem, Mr. Helms…

Martin Edwards’ Harry Devlin is a Liverpool-based attorney. But he’s not the sort you see in high-profile, lucrative cases. He’s a low-rent attorney who makes his living defending drunks, prostitutes and thieves, among others. He’s got a small place, and works in a cheap firm. So, he sees the gritty side of the city. In All The Lonely People, where we first meet him, Devlin is shocked when his ex-wife, Liz, comes for a visit. She says she’s left her current lover, Mick Coghlin, because he’s abusive, and she’s afraid of him. She asks to stay with Devlin a few days, and he agrees. Then, she disappears, and her body is found in an alley. Devlin feels guilty because he didn’t take Liz’ concerns seriously at first, and decides to find out who murdered her. At first, he assumes that Coghlin is the killer. But the more Devlin learns, the more possibilities there are. His search for the truth takes him into several of Liverpool’s seedy places.

And then there’s Attica Locke’s Jay Porter. When we are introduced to him, in Black Water Rising, he’s a low-rent Houston-area lawyer. It’s 1981, and Porter is trying to build his law business. But so far, he’s not been very successful. Then, in one plot thread, he gets drawn into the case of a fatal shooting. The trail leads to some very high, very well-protected places, and it’s a big risk for Porter. He’s black in what is still very much a white person’s world. And he’s up against some considerable opposition.

Low-rent, two-bit, down-at-the-heel, whatever you call it, such fictional attorneys and PIs add an interesting layer to crime fiction. They often deal with the sorts of cases others might not be willing to handle. And they themselves can be interesting characters.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Clouds’ Pocket.


Filed under Attica Locke, C.B. McKenzie, E. Michael Helms, Lawrence Block, Martin Edwards, Sara Paretsky, Walter Mosley, William Hjortsberg

I’m Poor as a Mouse, I’m Richer Than Midas*

As times have changed, so has society. And that shows, of course, in crime fiction. For instance, people don’t have paid companions as they once did. So, we don’t see them in the genre as much as, perhaps, they once were.

The same is arguably true of what used to be called wards. These are young people (usually, but not always, girls and young women) who live with guardians, rather than immediate family members. There still are such situations, but they are less common as social services have become broader and more common. For many young people, being a ward used to mean avoiding orphanages, workhouses and other places that could be dangerous or worse. Certainly, it meant the chance for a healthier life, depending on the guardian.

Wards are interesting characters in crime fiction. They aren’t exactly family members; but, at the same time, they’re also not paid employees. And they can add a layer to the family dynamics of a crime novel.

For example, you could arguably consider Charles Dickens’ Bleak House a crime novel. There’s a murder, there’s a detective, and so on. In one of the plot threads of the novel, we are introduced to Esther Summerson. She’s been raised by a very unpleasant, angry woman she calls Grandmother. Her life’s rather difficult until philanthropist John Jarndyce takes an interest in her. He takes her in as his ward, and arranges for her to be companion to a young woman, Ada Clare. The two become close friends, and Esther seems to have a relatively secure future. Even when Ada meets and falls in love with Richard Carstone, Esther remains in ‘the inner circle.’ Both Ada and Richard are distant kin to Jarndyce, so he stays in close contact with them. All of these characters are also linked, in their ways, to a dispute over a will that’s been languishing in the Court of Chancery for several generations. That will, and the people connected to it, are linked to a murder and another death. Admittedly, Esther’s story doesn’t turn out to be perfect. But her status as a ward is arguably much better than it might have been otherwise.

In Anna Katherine Green’s short story, The House of Clocks, New York private investigator Violet Strange gets a strange case. Wealthy Arabella Postlethwaite wanted her will drawn up, so she summoned an attorney for the purpose. When the attorney arrived, he discovered that his new client lives with her stepdaughter, Helena. But it’s not a close relationship. In fact, Helena is much more a ward who’s kept quite grudgingly than a loved member of the family. She’s not fed properly, and is treated like a slave. And it’s been made clear that she will get nothing when her stepmother dies. Violet’s charge is to look into the matter, so she goes to the house in the guise of a nurse/maid. She’s going to have to learn this family’s history, and find out the truth about the will, if she’s to rescue Helena.

Agatha Christie’s Cynthia Murdoch has a much easier time as ward. When we meet her, in The Mysterious Affair at Styles, she’s living with wealthy Emily Inglethorp, her husband Alfred, and Emily’s stepsons, John and Lawrence Cavendish. Also living at the house are John’s wife, Mary, and Emily Inglethorp’s friend/companion Evelyn Howard. Cynthia is the daughter of a school friend of Emily’s; when she was left an orphan, with no money at all, Emily took her in. On the one hand, she has a solid life, a comfortable room, a job, and so on. And, to be fair, she’s not treated like ‘one of the help.’ On the other, she knows exactly which way her bread’s buttered, as the saying goes, and is deferential to her benefactor. And Emily reminds Cynthia of her status in subtle, but real ways.

Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher series takes place in the mid/late 1920s, mostly in the Melbourne area. In Murder on the Ballarat Train, Phryne meets two young girls, Jane Graham and Ruth Collins. Both were orphaned, and ended up working in a boardinghouse as more or less slaves. In the course of the novel, Phryne takes both girls in as her wards, and they settle in to their new lives. Fans of this series can tell you that Jane and Ruth are treated much more like daughters than like servants in Phryne’s household. In fact, she ends up legally adopting both. It’s very interesting to see how much of this is done informally, as opposed to a more formal, more regulated fostering and adoption situation.

And then there’s M.R.C. Kasasian’s Victorian-Era Grover Street Detective series. These novels feature famous private detective Sidney Grice. In The Mangle Street Murders, we are introduced to him, and to his goddaughter, twenty-one-year-old March Middleton. When March’s father dies (her mother died years earlier), she is left an orphan, with no near relatives. So, she goes to London to stay with Grice, who has agreed to act as her guardian. Before long, she becomes not just his ward, but his assistant, and the two become a successful detecting team. This is a grittier series than, say, the Sherlock Holmes/Dr. Watson mysteries that you may be thinking of as you read this. And, although March does settle in with her godfather, this doesn’t mean they become immediate fast friends…

Young people without immediate family have always been in a precarious position. Even today, with modern social services, there’s no guarantee of a safe, caring home and a good life. And a look at the way crime-fictional wards have been treated shows that there’s just as much uncertainly in the genre. Which examples have stayed with you?


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Charles Strouse and Martin Charmin’s I Don’t Need Anything But You.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Anna Katherine Green, Charles Dickens, Kerry Greenwood, M.R.C. Kasasian

I Guess Every Form of Refuge Has Its Price*

I’m always grateful when I get inspiration from the rest of you kind folks. You have some terrific ideas, and I like learning from them. Take K.B. Owen, for instance. She’s a skilled crime writer (you want to read her Concordia Wells novels – you really do), and a fellow blogger. She had a great idea for a post, so I thought I’d run with it, as the saying goes.

Safety and security are really important to us. In fact, if you believe theorists such as Abraham Maslow, It’s not really possible to go on to higher things like emotional connections, higher cognitive processing, and so on, if one doesn’t feel safe. So, people will go to a lot of lengths to create a sense of safety – a refuge, if you will.

The problem is that choosing perceived safety or refuge can have consequences. As an extreme example, agoraphobics feel safest at home. But, this means they also limit themselves. But, if you think about it, we all trade some things in for safety. We trade the thrill of very fast driving in for road safety, for instance. That sort of tradeoff happens in real life, and it happens in crime fiction, too.

For example, in Agatha Christie’s Dead Man’s Folly, we meet Amy Folliat. Her family owned Nasse House, in Devon, for many centuries. But World War II and other problems meant that the house had to be sold. Now, it’s the property of Sir George Stubbs and his wife, Hattie. Mrs. Folliat lives in a lodge on the grounds of Nasse House. For her, it’s a safe, secure arrangement, and it means that she gets to stay among the local people she’s always known. But that safety has come at a price. And life has not always been kind to Mrs. Folliat. She’s stoic, though. As she says,

‘‘So many things are hard…’’

She gets involved in a murder investigation when detective novelist Ariadne Oliver is asked to create a Murder Hunt (along the lines of a scavenger hunt) for an upcoming fête to be held at Nasse House. On the day of the event, Marlene Tucker, who’s been chosen to play the ‘victim’ in the Murder Hunt, is actually killed. Mrs. Oliver has asked Hercule Poirot to the house, so he works with Inspector Bland to find out who the killer is.

Romain Gary’s short story, A Humanist, takes place in Munich at the time of Hitler’s rise to power. Toy manufacturer Karl Loewy enjoys a good book, a good glass of brandy and a good cigar. He’s a humanist who believes that common sense will prevail in Germany, and that there is no cause for alarm. Despite warnings from his Jewish friends, he’s determined to stay where he is. Finally, things get dangerous enough that Herr Loewy decides he will need to go into hiding. So, he gets help from Herr and Frau Schultz, who take care of his home and kitchen. They build a secret underground home, and agree to take over Herr Loewy’s affairs until the war is over. Herr Loewy now has a safe refuge from all of the ugliness in the world. But it comes at a very high price.

Robert Colby’s novella No Experience Necessary introduces us to Glenn Hadlock. He’s recently been released from prison, and he’s not finding it easy to get a job. One day, though, he sees something that might work. Victor Scofield is looking for someone to serve as a bodyguard/escort for his wife, Eileen. Scofield himself is permanently disabled, and can’t leave the house. But he doesn’t want his wife to be confined in the same way. So, he’s looking for someone to serve as her driver, and escort when that’s necessary. Hadlock gets the job, and at first, all’s well. The job pays well, it comes with a furnished apartment, and Eileen is pleasant company. But it’s not long before Hadlock learns the high price for all of this safety.

Love, Lies and Liquor is the 17th of M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin series. In it, Agatha’s ex-husband, James Lacey, persuades her to take a short holiday at Snoth-on-Sea, where he spent many holidays as a child. The resort, and the Palace Hotel, where they stay, are both deeply disappointing. In fact, Agatha wants to leave immediately. But she’s soon drawn into a murder that takes place there. Geraldine Jankers is staying at the hotel for her honeymoon (with her fourth husband). One night, her body is found on a nearby beach, strangled with Agatha’s own scarf. Agatha’s name is cleared soon enough, but now, she’s intrigued. So, she stays on at Snoth-on-Sea to investigate. And she soon finds that more than one person had a very good motive to want to kill the victim. Two possible suspects are the victim’s friend and childhood sweetheart Cyril Hammond, and his wife, Dawn. As Agatha gets to know them, she learns that Dawn may have been subjected to domestic abuse. In fact, Dawn actually leaves her husband at one point in the story. But, he has quite a lot of money – money she’s never really had before. So, in the end, it’s not spoiling the story to say that Dawn trades her newfound freedom for what she sees as the safety of a fine home and the other trappings of wealth.

And then there’s A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife. Jodi Brett and Todd Gilbert are a successful Chicago couple. She’s a psychotherapist; he’s a developer. They’ve been together twenty years, although they never legally married. Jodi sees herself as having a secure, safe life. Then, Todd begins an affair with Natasha Kovacs, the daughter of his business partner. He’s strayed before, but this time, it’s different: Natasha discovers that she’s pregnant. She wants to marry and have a family, and Todd tells himself, and her, that he wants those things, too. But Todd misses Jodi, also, and their life together. So, in an odd way, she is hoping he’ll come back to her. Instead of starting over, Jodi clings to the home they’ve had together, and depends on it as a refuge and a haven. But then, she gets a letter from Todd’s attorney, stating that the home isn’t legally hers, and she will have to vacate it. The lawyer Jodi contacts gives her the bad news that there is no common law marriage in Illinois, so she has no grounds to claim the house. Now, with her options dwindling, Jodi gets desperate…

Everyone seeks safety and refuge. We need to feel safe before almost everything else. So, it’s no wonder that people will sometimes choose what they see as safety – as a refuge – over anything else. Even if it has serious consequences for them.

Thanks, Kathy, for the inspiration!


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Eagles’ Lyin’ Eyes.


Filed under A.S.A. Harrison, Agatha Christie, K.B. Owen, M.C. Beaton, Robert Colby, Romain Gary