In The Spotlight: Helen Fitzgerald’s The Cry

>In The Spotlight: Kel Robertson's Smoke and MirrorsHello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. Domestic noir has gotten a lot of attention in the past few years, and it’s not hard to see why. Most relationships, especially intimate relationships, are complex, and the people involved in them could have any number of secrets. Family relationships are very effective contexts for a crime novel; and most readers can identify at some level with the characters. Let’s take a look at an example of domestic noir today and turn the spotlight on Helen Fitzgerald’s The Cry.

The real action in the story begins as Alistair Robertson and his partner Joanna Lindsay take a very long flight from Scotland to Victoria, where Alistair grew up. As if the length weren’t hard enough, they have with them their nine-week-old son Noah. As anyone who’s ever taken a long trip with an infant can tell you, it’s difficult even under the best of circumstances. And these are not the best of circumstances. For one thing, Noah is still more or less a newborn, so his parents are sleep-deprived. For another, he is not an ‘easy’ baby. Many new parents would have been unwilling to make such a long journey with such a young baby, but Alistair has an important purpose in mind. His ex-wife Alexandra lives in Victoria with their teenage daughter Chloe. As he tells Joanna, Alistair doesn’t trust Alexandra, and wants custody of Chloe. He feels his chances are much better if he, Joanna and Noah are in the area.

The trip is horrible and physically and emotionally draining; but the flight lands safely in Melbourne, and Alistair and Joanna start the long drive from the airport to their destination. That’s when their nightmare really begins. Along the way, they face every loving parent’s greatest fear: the loss of baby Noah. Alistair gives the alarm, and a massive search is soon underway. Many, many people are questioned, and the Australian media make much of what’s happened.

At first, there’s a great deal of sympathy for the couple. There are international fund-raising efforts, ‘Find Baby Noah’ campaigns, and a lot more. Even Chloe, who has every reason to resent her father, creates a Facebook page to raise money to find her half-brother.

Little by little, though, questions begin to arise. Even the police, who’ve thus far been very supportive of Alistair and Joanna, start wondering if they might know more than they’re saying. Sadly, it’s not unheard-of for parents to be responsible for the loss of their children. Did that happen here? Joanna in particular comes under intense scrutiny. As the case goes on, matters get worse and worse. In the end, though, we do find out the truth about Noah.

This is a domestic noir sort of novel, so a great deal of the focus is on Alistair and Joanna and their relationship. As the story evolves, we see that bond start to fray as the pressure on them increases. We also learn how they met and what the dynamic between them has been. As the layers of their life are peeled away, we also learn about Alistair’s relationship with Alexandra and with Chloe. Without spoiling the story, I can say that the ways in which these people interact play an important role in it.

Another element in this novel is way the media and the public behave in situations such as this. When Noah is first reported missing, journalists and cameras are everywhere, and much is made of the trauma Noah’s parents are suffering. And with today’s global communication, it’s not long before there’s a worldwide reaction to the event. Comments on news stories and blogs are staunchly supportive of the couple, too. But when the questions start to surface, things change quickly. Blog posts, Tweets, and other commentary become critical, then vilifying. The media’s reaction changes too, with a lot of criticism directed at, especially, Joanna.  Everyone, including many of the other passengers on that long flight, weighs in. Then, when a new big story comes along, the media is just as quick to lost interest in Alistair and Joanna and move on to something else. Being under the proverbial media microscope wreaks havoc on the family, and we see how that impacts them as well.

The stories of Joanna, Alistair, Alexandra and Chloe are told in flashback form, and from different perspectives. In this way, we learn what each is like and how their relationships evolved. Readers who prefer linear stories told from one point of view will notice this. Readers will also notice that some points of view are told in present tense, others in past tense. That said though, it is clear (at least it was to me) whose point of view is being shared at any given time, and when the different events in the story happen. Through this slow reveal of the characters, we also see what led to the events in the story.

Along with everything else, this novel is about the loss of a child. Fitzgerald shows in several ways how devastating that really is for all involved. It’s a very, very sad undertone, and readers who dislike stories in which children are gone will want to know this. It’s also worth noting that, this being a noir story, everything isn’t all right again at the end. For a few of the characters, we do get the sense that life will gone and they will survive. But this is not a light, easy story.

The story raises a number of difficult questions, too. For instance, there’s the reactions of the passengers on the flight from Scotland to Melbourne. To say the least, most are not sympathetic. And it’s certainly understandable, as you’ll know if you’ve ever been on a long flight with a constantly-crying infant. On the other hand, as any parent can tell you, one can’t just magically make an infant travel quietly. There’s also the question of what, exactly, the media’s response should be in situations such this. What’s the balance between reporting the news and invading privacy?

The Cry tells the story of a couple whose lives are shattered (or weren’t they already?) when they face the loss of their baby. It takes close looks at all the relationships involved, and raises some important questions. But what’s your view? Have you read The Cry? If you have, what elements do you see in it?

 
 
 

Coming Up On In The Spotlight

 

Monday 13 July/Tuesday 14 July – The Intruder – Håkan Östlundh

Monday 20 July/Tuesday 21 July – Jamaica Inn – Daphne du Maurier

Monday 27 July/Tuesday 28 July – The Blackhouse – Peter May

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Filed under Helen Fitzgerald, The Cry

Are You Gonna Be My Girl?*

honey-brown-thumbnail-portraitThere’s nothing quite like discovering the work of a new author to keep the ‘reading spark’ alive. Of course, it often spells trouble for the TBR, but I do enjoy ‘meeting’ new-to-me authors. So I’m happy and proud to be a part of the New (to Me, Anyway) Authors meme, hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise.

For this quarter, my choice is Australian writer Honey Brown (Admittedly, I’m cheating just a bit here, because I actually ‘met’ her before April). Originally from Tasmania, she now lives in Victoria with her husband and two children. Brown’s been writing for a number of years, but it’s not always easy to get Australian books here in the US. I’ve got a connection, though, who was kind enough to introduce me to Brown’s work.

Thus far, Brown has written standalones (Red Queen, The Good Daughter, After the Darkness, Dark Horse, and Through the Cracks) which makes it all the easier to catch up on her work as one can. The standalone through which I ‘met’ her is Through the Cracks. In that novel, we are introduced to fourteen-year-old Adam Vander, who has finally summoned up the physical and mental resources to leave his abusive father, Joe. One of the major problems Adam faces is that he’s been kept hidden away – very much under lock and key. So he has little knowledge of the outside world and no networks of relationships.

Adam finds an ally in Billy Benson, a young man who comes to the house just as Adam is ready to flee. The two strike up a friendship and spend the next week together. As they do, they learn more about each other, and each comes up against some uncomfortable truths from the past. Each also comes up against real danger in the present. It turns out that they are both connected to the ten-year-old disappearance of Nathan Fisher, who was with his parents at Market Day when he went missing. As we learn the truth about Adam’s and Billy’s stories, and about what happened to Nathan Fisher, we see the impact of past trauma on present life.

 

Want to find out more about Honey Brown? Her Penguin Australia bio page is right here. There’s also an interesting interview with her here.

Want to find out more about Through the Cracks? It’s right here.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Jet.

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I’ve Come to Look For America*

FireworksWhen you travel in the US, you see one thing very clearly: America is composed of a lot of very different communities. Of course, many other countries are quite diverse, and have all sorts of different smaller communities within them. Those smaller communities add depth, texture and complexity to the fabric of the country and (in my opinion) make it richer. And fortunately, there’s plenty of good crime fiction that gives readers a look at those communities. There’s not nearly enough space here to mention all of the smaller communities that make up America. Here are just a few that have added to the national tapestry.

The Native Americans were here first, and several crime fiction series and novels offer insight into their experiences. You’ll probably already likely know about the work of Tony Hillerman, whose Joe Leaphorn/Jim Chee novels focus on life in the Navajo Nation. These novels give a fascinating perspective on the Southwest US, among other things. But Hillerman is hardly the only writer who explores the Native American experience. So does Stan Jones, whose Nathan Active novels take place in Alaska. Active is an Alaska State Trooper, and a member of the Inupiaq Nation. Although he was raised in Anchorage, Active now lives and works in the small town of Chukchi. This series does feature crime and its investigation. But it’s also a look at life among the Native Americans who live in Alaska. There’s also Margaret Coel’s Vicky Holden/Father John O’Malley series. Those novels take place mostly on Wyoming’s Wind River Reservation, among the Arapaho people. Holden is a member of that community; she’s also an attorney. As she and Fr. O’Malley investigate, readers learn a lot about life among the Arapaho. There are plenty of other crime novels and series that take place among, or that feature, Native Americans (I know, I know, fans of Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series). To understand the United States, it’s important to have at least some understanding of the people who were here first.

Another fascinating community of the modern US is the Cajun community of (mostly) Louisiana. You’ll know from your history that they’re the descendants of Acadians, who migrated to what was then French territory after being expelled from what are today Canada’s Maritime Provinces. Cajun music, food, lifestyle and language have had a powerful impact on Louisiana. And that influence has spread as people have discovered that rich resource. James Lee Burke has shown millions of readers life among the Cajuns through his Dave Robicheaux novels. As fans will know, Robicheaux is a cop with the New Iberia (Louisiana) Police. He himself is a Cajun; and he certainly interacts with many other Cajuns in the course of his work. So readers get a really interesting perspective on that community.

I don’t think it’s possible to accurately discuss the American experience without discussing the Black experience. Perhaps the most important, and basic, thing about that experience is that it’s been fundamentally different to the White experience. Understanding that fact, and gaining a perspective on Black America, is important (at least I think it is) to understanding the modern USA. Walter Mosely has written a few series that explore the Black experience. His Ezekiel ‘Easy’ Rawlins novels take place in Los Angeles in the years just after World War II, and leading up to and through the Civil Rights movement of the early 1960s. In those novels, we follow Rawlins, who starts out as an informal PI, but later gets his license. Another of his series features Leonid McGill, a modern-day New York PI. What’s interesting is that a comparison of this series shows that the Black experience is not identical across the country. What’s more, it’s not identical over time. You could say the same thing about Attica Locke’s work. Her novels explore both the Houston area and Louisiana, both in the present day and the recent (and not at all recent) past. Throughout those stories, we see the complexity as well as the evolution of the Black community.

No less rich and complex is the US Latino community. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that there really isn’t one Latino community. Still, for the sake of space, there are crime writers who’ve explored the Latino experience in America. One is Manuel Ramos. His Denver-based attorney Luis Móntez was at one time involved in the Chicano activist movement. When we meet him in The Ballad of Rocky Ruiz, he has to return to that past when he learns that several other former activists – members of El Movimiento – are dying. The key seems to be their history and their possible involvement years ago in the death of one of their own, Rocky Ruiz. Steven Torres’ Precinct Puerto Rico series features Luis Gonzalo, a small-town Puerto Rico Sherriff. There are plenty of other novels, too, that depict different Latino communities.

Just about every major American city has a Chinatown of one sort or another. The Chinese community in the US has become a unique blend of traditional Chinese culture, language and lifestyle with elements of the surrounding culture. And the list of ways in which that Chinese culture has influenced the US would go on for far too long. Both S.J. Rozan and Henry Chang explore life in New York’s Chinatown. And Michael Connelly’s 9 Dragons takes a look at life in Los Angeles’ Chinatown.

There are plenty of other smaller communities in the US, too. For instance, Linda Castillo explores the Amish community in her Kate Burkholder novels. And Mette Ivie Harrison depicts life in the Mormon (Latter Day Saints) community in The Bishop’s Wife. All of these communities are unique and distinctive.

But here’s the thing. They are also all American. So although every community’s experience is different, there’s also a shared history. Stitching all of this together to form a national identity is an extremely complicated, sometimes horribly messy, and always fascinating process. After 239 years, it’s still a work in progress. It’ll be exciting and interesting to see where the journey takes us next. Happy Independence Day/Fourth of July to those who celebrate it!

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel’s America.

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Filed under Attica Locke, Craig Johnson, Henry Chang, James Lee Burke, Linda Castillo, Manuel Ramos, Margaret Coel, Mette Ivie Harrison, Michael Connelly, S.J. Rozan, Stan Jones, Steven Torres, Tony Hillerman, Walter Mosley

Fancy Dress

Fancy Dress

This fantastic ‘photo was taken by Natasha at Coffee Rings Everywhere. When I saw it, I mentioned how intriguing that hat was. What was it doing there? Natasha challenged me to write a story about the ‘photo. This is the story that ‘photo inspired. Thanks, Natasha :-)

 

Anish would have known him anywhere, even though it had been ten years. He’d had no idea that Vinay was back in Hyderabad, and that was going to be a problem. A big problem. Anish had stayed completely out of trouble for a long time now. His parents had even found someone for him. Baruni was a legal aide, and really pretty, too. They’d seen each other a few times and found they had a lot in common. There was a very good chance this marriage would happen, and would work out. And now this! Hopefully, Vinay wouldn’t look out of the costume shop window and notice him.

Too late! Vinay raised his hand in greeting and in two steps, was out the door of the shop, holding a green hat. ‘Now, this is the sort of coincidence you only read about in books,’ he said, with that heartless smile of his. He twirled the hat a little in his hand and added, ‘I was just getting this for my little cousin, who’s going to a fancy dress party next week. And who should I see right here? It’s a lucky day for me.’

‘How are you, Vinay?’ Anish asked. As though he had any choice but to talk to this man.
‘I’ve only just come back to Hyderabad, so I am still getting settled. I hear you’re doing very well, though. Nice job in a bank, and I’m told you are getting married, too.’
‘Well, it hasn’t all been arranged yet.’
‘But I’m sure it’ll all go very well for you. I hope you won’t forget your old friend Vinay when you have that nice big house and a new car.’

This was exactly what Anish had been afraid of. Vinay was the only one who knew what had happened ten years ago. Even then he hadn’t been trustworthy, and he certainly wouldn’t be now. He might as well find out what Vinay wanted. Not to take his hint would be worse.
‘Of course I won’t forget you,’ he said.
‘That’s good. Because I could use your help.’
Here it came. ‘With what?’
‘Let’s go find a place to have a coffee and we’ll discuss it.’

Ten minutes later, Anish decided there’d been enough small talk. ‘So what sort of help do you need?’ he asked.
Vinay took a sip of his coffee and looked over the rim of his cup. ‘Nothing much. It’s just I could use a friend in the banking business. Someone who could help me make some financial arrangements.’

Anish knew where this would be headed. He’d heard lots of stories about such ‘arrangements,’ which amounted to embezzlement and money-laundering. Not being naïve, he knew that it went on, and probably more often than most people guessed. But he didn’t want to be a part of it. ‘I don’t know, Vinay,’ he said. ‘I come up for promotion next month. Any questions about my work, and there won’t be a chance of it.’
Vinay kept his gaze on Anish. ‘Do you think there will be a promotion if anyone finds out about that road accident?’
Anish lowered his voice. ‘I wasn’t even driving that night! None of it was my fault.’
‘But Indra’s not alive any more to admit that he was driving. So who can say exactly what happened?’
‘You know I did not kill that girl. I was a passenger. We both were.’
‘Will that matter to – what is her name? – Baruni and her family? Or to your bank? The minute anyone finds out you were there, you’ll be finished.’

The two young men were quiet for a moment. Vinay finished his coffee, a look of quiet triumph on his face. Anish finally said, ‘I will have to think about this. Give me a week.’
‘Fair enough. But I think you’ll agree it’s a good arrangement for both of us.’
Anish nodded and they stood up to go. Vinay reached behind him to pick up the hat as they left. Just outside the coffee bar, Anish said, ‘I will remember what you said. No reason we can’t make some sort of agreement.’
Vinay nodded. ‘I thought you might see it that way.’
‘Let’s forget all this for now. There’s a bread shop down that street. They make wonderful stuff. I’m going to just get a few things. You should come along.’
‘Why not?’ Vinay matched his stride to Anish’s and they turned down the narrow street.

As they did, Anish glanced quickly around; there was nobody there. That made sense, since it was getting too hot to be out and about. He let Vinay get two steps ahead of him, then picked up a heavy rock he’d seen on the ground. ‘I’m sorry, Vinay,’ he murmured as he struck him in the head. Vinay fell instantly, and the hat he’d been holding rolled back into the street they’d just left. His cousin would have to find something else to wear to the fancy-dress party.

‘Did you see that?’ Rathi hissed, tugging at her sister’s sleeve.
‘What?’ Kaira asked, with an annoyed expression. She was eager to get home for lunch.
‘Look!’ Rathi pointed. The two sisters watched as the man in the narrow lane dropped the rock and ran.
‘What’s going on?’ Ganika asked. Rathi and Kaira had been her best friends for as long as she could remember. Rathi said nothing, just pointed again.
‘That’s a dead man!’ Ganika gasped.
Now Kaira was afraid. ‘We need to go! Now!’
‘We’ll have to tell mummy,’ Rathi insisted.
‘We will. We need to tell the police, too.’
‘Do you think they’ll listen to us?’
‘We saw him. Of course they will. Come on!’

The three girls turned to rush home. Then Ganika noticed something on the ground and stopped. Her friends didn’t even bother to turn around and look at the hat lying in the street.

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Do You Wanna Join the Race?*

GoSetaWatchmanIn one of the biggest pieces of literary/fiction news this year, Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman is about to be released. As you’ll no doubt know, the only other novel she’s released has been the critically acclaimed To Kill a Mockingbird. There’s no need to detail the long list of prizes it’s won, or the impact it’s had. Suffice it to say that it’s considered by many to be one of the best pieces of American literature. The University of Alabama Law School and the American Bar Association (ABA) have even instituted the Harper Lee Prize for Best Legal Fiction because of that novel.

There’s a great deal of anticipation about Go Set a Watchman, and there will no doubt be lots of people reading it. However, unlike many authors, Harper Lee won’t be making review copies available, giving interviews, or doing blog tours. So Bill Selnes at Mysteries and More From Saskatchewan had a terrific idea. Why not put together our own blog tour? It’s a great way to get some conversation going about the book, and see what each of us thinks.

 

Wanna be a part of it? You know you do! Here’s Bill’s idea:

 

  • Decide whether you’d like to be a part of the blog tour.

  • If you’re willing to commit to being a part of this tour, let Bill or me know by 10 July, so we can put the tour together.

  • The tour will start 23 July and run for approximately a week (it could certainly go a bit longer if there’s enough interest!). So it’ll also be very helpful to us if you’d let us know which date works best for you.

  • Once we know who’s interested, we’ll put the tour stops together and publish a list, so that everyone will be able to follow along.

  • Read the book and write your review or discussion of it. Then, plan to publish it on your blog when the tour stops there.

 

See? Couldn’t be easier!!

Don’t miss the tour!  You can use the comments section of this post to let us know you’re interested, or you can send an email to Bill (mysteriesandmore(at)gmail(dot)com) or to me (margotkinberg(at)gmail(dot)com). Any questions? Ask Bill or me, and we’ll be happy to answer them. All aboard!

 

ps.  Do feel free to use the logo to help us spread the word!

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Boo Radleys’ Find the Answer Within.

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