Let Me Make My Final Stand*

good-guy-bad-guyEven if you’re not thoroughly familiar with the story, you may very well have heard of the famous gunfight at the OK Corral, in Tombstone, Arizona. It’s a classic story of the famous 1881 showdown between Sheriff Wyatt Earp and his friend, Doc Holliday on one side, and Ike Clanton and his gang on the other. And it’s a legendary story of ‘good guys’ versus ‘bad guys.’

Of course, that particular gunfight isn’t the only showdown between the ‘hero’ and the ‘villain,’ either in fiction or in real life. But it highlights the tension that builds up with that sort of confrontation. That suspense can add a great deal to a crime novel, too, so it’s little wonder we see so many examples of this plot point in the genre. There are far too many for me to mention here; I’m sure you could think of more than I could, anyway. But here are just a few.

One of the most famous crime-fictional confrontations comes in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Final Problem. In that story, Sherlock Holmes is up against his nemesis, Professor Moriarty. Holmes is, of course, formidable, but Moriarty has plenty of his own resources. In fact, things get so dangerous for Holmes that he and Watson temporarily leave their London lodgings and end up in Switzerland. As Holmes fans can tell you, he and Moriarty have a dramatic confrontation at the Reichenbach Falls. Conan Doyle had intended this to be his last Holmes story; but fans wouldn’t hear of it. Still, it’s a ‘power-packed’ story with plenty of buildup.

There are a few tense final showdowns in Agatha Christie’s stories and novels. We see one of them in The Murder on the Links. Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings travel to France at the request of Canadian émigré Paul Renauld. He wrote to Poirot, claiming that his life was in danger because of a secret that he possessed. Poirot doesn’t usually take kindly to being summoned, but somehow, this letter is different. By the time he and Hastings get to France, though, it’s too late. Renauld has been murdered. Poirot and Hastings slowly find out the truth about who the murderer is, and it all comes to a head one night in a dramatic way. It’s one of those times when Poirot doesn’t announce the solution to a drawing room full of suspects. I know, Christie fans, there are lots of other great examples of this sort of drama in her work.

In Tony Hillerman’s The Blessing Way, readers are introduced to Joe Leaphorn of the Navajo Tribal Police. In the story, Leaphorn works with ethnologist Bergen McKee, who’s worried about the disappearance of his friend, Luis Horseman. It seems that Horseman went missing after getting into a drunken quarrel, and hasn’t returned. Later, his body is found in Many Ruins Canyon; and at first, it looks as though his death is the result of Navajo witchcraft. But Leaphorn isn’t superstitious, nor does he follow Navajo spiritual traditions. So he looks for a more prosaic solution, and that’s what he finds. In the novel, there’s a dramatic scene as Leaphorn and the killer face off in a place that’s very much ‘in the middle of nowhere.’ That geographical setting adds to the suspense of the confrontation, too, as it’s got its own very real dangers.

You could say the same thing about the confrontation between National Park Service ranger Anna Pigeon and a killer in Nevada Bar’s Track of the Cat. Pigeon has been assigned to Guadalupe Mountains National Park, in the Chihuahuan Desert of western Texas. One day, she comes upon the body of another ranger, Sheila Drury. At first, it looks as though Drury was killed by a mountain lion, and that’s the explanation the authorities want. But Pigeon isn’t sure it’s true. Besides, she’s afraid that, if word gets out that a mountain lion killed a person, then all of the park’s mountain lions could be in danger. So Pigeon starts looking into the matter more closely. As she does, she finds that there are other possibilities, and several people who could have had a motive to murder Drury. Finally, Pigeon finds out who the killer is, and one night, she has a final confrontation with that person. It’s very dramatic, and not least because of the physical setting.

A final confrontation doesn’t have to take place in a remote area to be dramatic, though. For instance, in Gail Bowen’s A Killing Spring, academician and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn gets involved in investigating the murder of a colleague, Reed Gallagher. His body is discovered in a cheap rooming house, and it looks as though he was living some sort of double life that got him killed. But it’s not as simple, or as complex, as that. As Kilbourne starts looking into the matter a little more, she finds that more than one person might have had a motive for murder. And when she finally discovers who the real killer is, she confronts that person. Then, there’s a very tense final scene between them in an elevator. It’s a small, enclosed space, and that adds to the suspense.

Some dramatic fictional final showdowns take place in lonely, outdoors spots. Others can be as close as the sleuth’s front door (I’m thinking, for instance, of Christine Poulson’s Murder is Academic). There are many other settings, too, including some very famous film scenes. Whichever way it’s done, that ‘good guy’-against-‘bad guy’ final scene can add a strong layer of tension to a story. Little wonder the story of the gunfight at the OK Corral has become iconic. These are just a few examples. Your turn.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jon Bon Jovi’s Blaze of Glory.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Christine Poulson, Gail Bowen, Nevada Barr, Tony Hillerman

Warning! Contents are Toxic ;-)

poison-quizAt this time of year, there are plenty of delicious treats around. But they’re not all as safe as they seem. And that’s got me thinking about…






…a quiz! Oh, come on! You had to know there’d be a quiz sooner or later, so don’t complain!😉

Where would crime fiction be without poison and the people who use it? And as a dedicated crime fiction fan, you know all of your fictional cases of poisoning, don’t you? Or do you? Take this handy quiz and find out. Match each question with the correct answer, and see how many you get right.

Ready? Open that ‘medicine’ bottle to begin…if you dare!😉




Filed under Uncategorized

In the Spotlight: John Daniell’s The Fixer

>In The Spotlight: Martha Grimes' The Anodyne NecklaceHello, All,

Welcome to another special edition of In The Spotlight. For many people, New Zealand just wouldn’t be New Zealand without rugby. And plenty of Kiwis are true fans of the game. So it’s only natural that there’d be at least one rugby-themed book among this year’s finalists for the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best First Novel. Let’s take a look at that book today, and turn the spotlight on John Daniell’s The Fixer.

Mark Stevens is a former member of New Zealand’s legendary All-Blacks. Heading towards the end of his career, he’s now playing for a French professional team, and planning for the end of his playing days.

One day, he gets word that someone wants to interview him for a magazine. That someone turns out to be Rachel da Silva, who works for a Brazilian magazine. She’s been sent to France to do an in-depth piece on rugby, its popularity, and the rugby life. Rachel is both smart and attractive, and she seems genuinely interested in getting her material, so Stevens is only too happy to meet with her.

Soon, Rachel tells Mark about a friend of hers named Philip, a wealthy man who’s apparently made quite a bit of money betting on rugby. In fact, she tells Mark that it was Philip who suggested she do the rugby story. Before long, Mark finds himself the object of Philip’s (extremely generous) gratitude, and Rachel’s (extremely personal) attention. Soon drawn in, Mark finds out that what’s at stake is betting on matches using his ‘inside information.’

The chance to shore up the future for his sister and her family (and to secure a comfortable retirement for himself) is too alluring, and Mark goes in with Rachel and Philip’s plan. Then things change. Now the plan is match-fixing, which to Mark, crosses the line. He’s very uncomfortable with the idea, and he knows what it’ll do to his reputation, both in the club and with his family. And for Mark, that matters.

The only problem is that by now, Mark is in deep, as the saying goes. What’s more, his family back home in New Zealand has been threatened. If he and his family are to come out of this intact, and if he’s to maintain any kind of integrity, he’s going to have to shake off the people who have pulled him in. And that could prove to be a fatal decision.

Rugby features heavily in this novel, and it’s an important element. Readers who understand the game and have played it will appreciate the authentic descriptions of the matches. Readers who don’t know much about rugby will find that there’s a lot of useful information about the game, and for the most part, it’s clear even to the uninitiated. Readers who dislike sport, and would rather not read about it, will notice the focus on rugby. That said, though, there’s as much emphasis on the suspense of betting on and fixing matches as there is on the game itself.

Because the novel is about rugby, there’s also some focus on the behind-the-scenes interactions among team members. There’s a unique camaraderie that comes from playing on a team, being on the road with those people, drinking with them after games, and so on. This isn’t to say that everyone’s close friends. But we do see how team members depend on each other, and how intimately they know each other in some ways.

The questions of betting and match-fixing are central to the novel, so, as you can imagine, there are some really interesting ethical questions. Most people would probably agree that betting on a sport with ‘inside information’ is at least ethically questionable. Match-fixing is, for plenty of people, even more ethically wrong. But what happens if the reason isn’t to become rich? What happens if the goal is to help family members who are in difficult financial situations? Daniell doesn’t make light of the choices that Mark makes. But we do come to understand why he makes them.

I’m not sure you could really call this a noir story, but it certainly has a few elements. For example, Mark is presented with a situation where there really is no easy, ‘correct’ alternative. Whatever he decides to do, there will be serious consequences. And things are not made all right again at the end. This isn’t one of those stories where a ‘bad guy’ is led off in handcuffs.

There’s also the character of Rachel da Silva. As is the tradition in many noir novels, you could consider her a femme fatale. On the other hand, Daniell makes it clear that she is, in her way, a victim, too. Or is she? Readers who prefer complex characters will appreciate that Rachel is neither presented as an ‘angel who’s trapped’ or an ‘evil temptress.’

Mark is from rural New Zealand, and Daniell shares that growing-up experience with readers. There are flashback scenes to his uncle’s farm, for instance, that show the reader what that life is like. Daniell uses that to explain Mark’s character, and to show his relationships with his family members. Readers who dislike flashbacks will notice this.

The rest of the story is told more or less sequentially, in present tense. Readers who have a tense preference will either appreciate or be disappointed in that choice. It’s worth noting, too, that Daniell sets the flashback scenes apart by using past tense for those, so that readers know when the different parts of the story occur.

The Fixer is an inside look at rugby, at who plays it, and what it means to the players and fans. It’s also a look at what happens when a person is faced with a set of choices that don’t really have any good outcomes. It features a skilled player who’s looking back on his career and trying to leave whatever legacy he can, and is set in the distinct context of a sport team. But what’s your view? Have you read The Fixer? If you have, what elements do you see in it?


Coming Up On In The Spotlight

Monday, 31 October/Tuesday, 1 November – Twister – Jane Woodham

Monday 7 November/Tuesday, 8 November – Montana, 1948 – Larry Watson

Monday 14 November/Tuesday, 15 November – The Eye of Jade – Diane Wei Liang



Filed under John Daniell, The Fixer

It’s the Blackjack Blog Scavenger Hunt!

blackjack-blog-scavenger-huntIf you’ve been kind enough to read this blog lately, then you may know that my newest Joel Williams mystery, Past Tense, will be coming out on 1 November. Now, a lot of authors like to do blog tours when they have a new novel coming out. I think that’s a terrific idea, and I’ve decided to do it, too.

But this won’t be a typical blog tour, where I visit different blogs. Instead, I thought it’d be fun to do a blog scavenger hunt, so you can perhaps visit some new blogs, and so that some talented and richly-deserving blog friends of mine can get the readership they deserve.

So here it is: Your own game of Blackjack! It’s the Blackjack Blog Scavenger Hunt!

Here’s how it works.

  • I’ll give you a list of 21 clues to a few of the various blogs on my rounds.

  • All you have to do is match the clue to the right blog. I promise: All of the correct answers can be found on the blog roll on my sidebar.

  • When you’ve got all of the answers, email me (margotkinberg(at)gmail(dot)com) your list of blog titles (just the titles will be fine). That’s your entry ticket. On release 3d-past-tenseday (1 November) I’ll draw three lucky names. Each winner will receive a signed copy of Past Tense (Here’s the blurb)! If you’re a winner, I’ll send you your prize no matter where you live.


Already pre-ordered the book? First, thank you! Second, you’re still welcome to play. If you win, that’s one name crossed off your holiday list.

Rather not play? That’s perfectly fine. But I really would appreciate your passing the word along on your social media. Thank you!


Ready?  Here are your clues:


  1. This blogger/author is usually busy ‘Chasing the Cozy Thrill’

  2. This bilingual blog frequently lets readers know: Esta entrada es bilingüe, so that whether you speak Spanish or English, you’ll understand.

  3. This blog’s logo comes straight from Poe. No wonder it features ‘Criminally Good Reads.’

  4. This blog uses tips of a particular kind of hat to rate books and films.

  5. This crime writer’s blog has ‘Murder Down to a Tea.’

  6. This Aussie blog logo includes a magnifying glass and a sketched-out map of Australia.

  7. This blog tells us that ‘Bitter hot tea is the perfect companion’ to a mystery.

  8. This blog includes ‘Reviews of books…and occasional other stuff’ – including Mr. Darcy.

  9. This blog offers ‘One reader’s view’ of books – and shares its name with a famous ancient royal.

  10. This blog is a place ‘Where Mystery Writers Talk Shop,’ and gets its name from the three keys to finding a suspect guilty.

  11. On this blog, Sundays are ‘Dress Down’ days. But of course, the blog’s focus is wardrobe-oriented…

  12. This blog features the beautiful Australian Galah bird. And that makes sense, since the blogger is an Aussie.

  13. Every day’s different on this blog, which features, ‘An Eclectic Mix of Books, Writing, Crafting, Green Living and Nature.’

  14. This blog has a great feature called ‘Logging the Library.’ And it’s a criminal log…

  15. This blog features a Maya Angelou quote that ends: ‘You’ve got to go out and kick a**.’

  16. This blog is ‘A place for my mind to gather its images.’

  17. This blog’s owner just had a new novel, A Deadly Thaw, released.

  18. This blog’s theme features prairie grass, a perfect choice for a blog that comes straight from a Canadian ‘prairie province.’

  19. This blog finds time for ‘Thinking, Writing, Thinking About Writing.’

  20. The logo on this India-based blog urges us, ‘When you write, don’t just write, tell a story.’

  21. This Aussie blog features all sorts of book reviews and recipes. Even its title includes a very nice wine.


Ready to play? Have fun!!  Tell ‘em all Margot sent you!


Filed under Uncategorized

At Every Occasion I’ll be Ready For the Funeral*

funeralsAn interesting comment exchange with crime and true crime writer Vicky Blake has gotten me thinking about funerals. Now, before I go on, do pay a visit to Vicky’s excellent website, and try her work. You’ll be glad you did.

Right, funerals. It’s inevitable that, in crime fiction, there’d be plenty of crime-fictional funerals. After all, in a lot of crime novels, there’s at least one murder. Police and other sleuths can find those events quite useful, actually. Most people are killed by people they know. So, attending a funeral can give the police a good idea of how people react to the death in question. And that can give them important clues.

In Agatha Christie’s After the Funeral (AKA Funerals are Fatal), the family of wealthy patriarch Richard Abernethie gathers for his funeral. After the actual ritual, they return to the family home at Enderby, where Abernethie’s attorney, Mr. Entwhistle, prepares to read his client’s will. At that gathering, Abernethie’s youngest sister, Cora Lansquenet, blurts out that he was murdered. At first, everyone hushes her up. Even she tells everyone not to pay any attention to what she’s said. But privately, people do begin to wonder. And when she herself is murdered the next day, it seems clear that she was right. Mr. Entwhistle has his own concerns, and asks Hercule Poirot to investigate. As it turns out, something at that funeral gathering provides an important clue. And so does something that’s said at a later gathering, where Abernethie’s family members decide which pieces of furniture and other belongings they want.

Gail Bowen’s Deadly Appearances marks the debut of her sleuth, academician and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn. In that novel, up-and-coming politician Androu ‘Andy’ Boychuk is poisoned one afternoon when he’s about to make an important speech at a community picnic. He was a good friend and political ally of Joanne’s so she is devastated by his death. As a way to deal with her grief, she decides to write a biography of her friend, and starts to gather material. As she does, she slowly finds out what really happened to him and why. At one point, she accompanies Boychuk’s widow, Eve, to his funeral. There’s quite a police presence there, and it doesn’t go unnoticed. The purpose is, of course, to see who attends and how the different people react. It’s an interesting look at the way police use information they get from funerals.

The real action in Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent begins with the funeral of Carolyn Polhemus. She worked as a prosecutor for (fictional) Kindle County before she was murdered. Because of her ties with that office, it’s extremely important that the investigation into her death be handled scrupulously and transparently. So Kindle County Prosecutor Raymond Horgan assigns his best deputy prosecutor, Rožat “Rusty” Sabich, to the case. At the funeral, Sabich notes how big the police presence is, and for good reason:

‘Killing a prosecutor is only one step short of killing a cop, and Carolyn had many friends on the force…’

Attending the funeral doesn’t give Sabich (or the reader) the answer to the question of who killed Carolyn Polhemus. But it’s interesting to see how the police react to this ‘(almost) one of their own’ funeral.

In Jane Casey’s The Burning, Met DC Maeve Kerrigan. Her team is investigating the case of a killer who tries to incinerate his victims. For that reason, the press has dubbed him ‘The Burning Man,’ and there’s a lot of pressure to solve the case quickly. And Kerrigan wants to be a part of the investigation. When the body of PR professional Rebecca Haworth is discovered, it’s believed at first that she was another victim of this serial killer. But Kerrigan isn’t completely sure. There are enough differences between Haworth’s murder and the others that it could also be a case of a ‘copycat’ killing. She’s put on the Haworth case, both to prove to the public that the police aren’t neglecting other cases, and to explore that lead if this is a ‘Burning Man’ killing. As a part of looking into the murder, Kerrigan attends Haworth’s funeral. There, she meets the victim’s parents and other people close to the victim. She also witnesses something that turns out to have some significance later in the novel.

Riley Adams’ (AKA Elizabeth Spann Craig) Finger Lickin’ Dead features her sleuth, Lulu Taylor, who owns and runs Aunt Pat’s, one of Memphis’ most popular eateries. She gets drawn into a case of murder when food critic Avery Cawthorn is murdered. One of the suspects is Lulu’s friend, Evelyn Wade, so she has a personal interest in finding out the truth about the murder. And there are plenty of possibilities, too, as Cawthorn had been merciless in his criticisms, and not exactly a ‘model citizen’ in his private life, either. Several of the people involved in the case attend his funeral, and it’s interesting to see how people’s reactions to it and one another provide clues.

And that’s the thing about funerals of murder victims. As harrowing as they are for family members, they can provide interesting opportunities for the police (or other sleuths) to find out information. These are only a few examples. Your turn.

Thanks, Vicky, for the inspiration!


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Band of Horses’ The Funeral.



Filed under Agatha Christie, Elzabeth Spann Craig, Gail Bowen, Jane Casey, Riley Adams, Scott Turow, Vicky Blake