I Can’t Explain All These Sounds That I Hear*

If you’re owned by a dog, then you’ve no doubt seen that dogs will prick their ears up and attend to the faintest of sounds. Dogs get a lot of information from what they hear, actually. My canine overlords, for instance, can easily tell the difference between the sounds of a delivery van (cue: a barking fit) and a waste-disposal van (not a reason for barking). Those who are owned by cats can probably tell similar stories about the ability of their overlords to detect sound.

As humans, our hearing isn’t as sensitive as is other animals’ hearing. But what we hear can still have a real impact. Studies show, for instance, that newborn babies can distinguish between their mothers’ voices and other, similarly-pitched, female voices.

It’s not always easy to write about what we hear, but those sensory details can add a lot to a story. And in a crime novel, details of sound can provide interesting clues or misdirection, to say nothing of added atmosphere.

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Speckled Band, for instance, Sherlock Holmes gets a visit from a new client, Helen Stoner, who has an eerie story to tell. It seems that she and her sister Julia lived at an estate called Stoke Moran. Julia had begun hearing a strange series of noises during the night, and couldn’t make much sense of them. Then, one night, she suddenly died after some cryptic final words. Now, Helen’s been hearing the same weird noises that Julia heard. She doesn’t know what they are, either, but she’s afraid that she’s about to be the next victim. She wants Holmes to find out what’s going on, and he agrees. And he soon discovers that Helen was very wise to be concerned. As it turns out, those strange noises she and Julia heard are very important clues to the mystery.

Agatha Christie used sounds as both clues and ‘red herrings.’ In Death on the Nile, for instance, a new bride, Linnet Doyle, is shot on the second night of her honeymoon cruise of the Nile. The evidence points at first to her former best friend, Jacqueline ‘Jackie’ de Bellefort, who’s on the same cruise. After all, Linnet ended up marrying Jackie’s former fiancé. But it’s soon shown that Jackie could not have committed the crime. Hercule Poirot is on the same cruise, and he works to find out who really killed the victim. Along the way, he learns of several sounds people heard at the time in question. Some are related to the crime; some aren’t. All add to the story. I see you, fans of Murder on the Orient Express

Keigo Higashino’s The Devotion of Suspect X introduces readers to Tokyo physicist/mathematician Dr. Manabu ‘Galileo’ Yukawa. In the novel, police detective Shunpei Kusanagi investigates the murder of Shinji Togashi. Kusanagi suspects the victim’s ex-wife, Yasuko Hanaoka, of the crime. But he can’t find any convincing evidence against her. So, he brings in Galileo to consult on the case. It turns out that he’s up against a formidable opponent, though, in Tetsuya Ishigami, a mathematics teacher who lives in the same building as Yasuko Hanaoka. Ishigami has fallen in love with her and would do anything to protect her. As it turns out, sound plays an important role in this story. What is heard, not heard, and so on, all figure in.

Kwei Quartey’s Wife of the Gods introduces readers to Accra-based DI Darko Dawkins. In the novel, he is seconded to the small town of Ketanu, when the body of Gladys Mensah is discovered there. She was a promising medical student, with hopes of making a real difference in her community. At first, it’s hard to say how exactly she died, and there is talk of witchcraft. But it’s soon discovered that she was strangled. Dawkins is already at a bit of a disadvantage, since he’s not from the area (although his aunt and uncle live there). But he gets to know the various people in Gladys’ life. Bit by bit, Darko works out who might have had a motive for murder, and there’s more than one possibility. One of the things that helps him is that he has a very nuanced sense of hearing. He notices very subtle changes in voices, that indicate when someone is upset, or lying, or at the very least hiding something. He’s sensitive to other sounds, too, and they give him clues along the way as to what the truth is.

And then there’s Brian McGilloway’s The Nameless Dead. In one plot thread of this case, Garda Ben Devlin is asked to investigate a very strange phenomenon. Christine Cashell has reported hearing a baby cry on her baby monitor. But she and her partner have no children. They had wanted a family, but their son was stillborn, and they haven’t yet got rid of the baby things they’d bought (hence, the monitor). Christine swears that she’s not ‘hearing things,’ but if she’s not, then how can a monitor transmit infant cries if there’s no baby? Cashell is emotionally very fragile, but Devlin doesn’t think she’s either hallucinating or lying. So, he looks into the matter further. What he finds helps him in another case he’s investigating, and shows just how important sound can be.

And it really can. Not only does the effective use of sounds help an author to ‘show not tell,’ but it also allows for clues, misdirection, atmosphere, and lots more. Wait – just a second – was that footsteps I just heard?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bill Sheffield’s Hearing Things.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Brian McGilloway, Keigo Higashino, Kwei Quartey

Aren’t People Helpful?

We just moved onto this block a week ago, so I haven’t finished opening the moving boxes. The furniture’s been delivered, at least, so we can sit down, and our bed’s put together. Benny made the movers set up the TV right away, too. And he made me get the cable people out here the morning we moved in. No way he would miss his games.

I’m hoping to get the kitchen set up quickly. It doesn’t really feel like home in there yet. I wanted to do something about the living room, too. The ashtray in there’s already overflowing, and there are pizza boxes and beer bottles on the table. I asked Benny to take all that trash out last night, and he said he would. Didn’t happen, though. I started to say something about it again this morning, but when I got into the living room, he was already flopped on the sofa, pointing the remote at the TV. I know better than to ask him to do anything at all when the game’s on. Oh, well, I’ll try to do it later, I guess.

I like the street we live on. The people seem nice. A couple of them have already said hello and welcome. They’re helpful, too. The day we moved in, I was taking some suitcases and smaller things out of our van. You know how it is when you move. Benny was on a beer run, so it was just me. I was trying to pull one of our end tables out, but it was too heavy. The guy across the street – he said his name’s Paul – came over and helped, and thank God for it. We got that end table inside in no time. He offered to help with the rest of the things in the van, but I didn’t think that was a good idea. Benny has a way he likes things done. Anyway, Paul was really nice about it, so I gave him a cold drink before he left.

I’ve also met Cyndi, who lives next door. She’s amazing. I think her house must be the cleanest one on the block. I haven’t been inside it, but you should see how neat it is on the outside. I’m no snoop or anything, but I’ve even seen her with a bucket of what looks like heavy-duty cleanser, heading for the garage. Even that must be sparkling. I don’t know how she does it all, either, because I’m pretty sure she has an outside job, maybe in sales or something.  She has a mini-van, and the other day I saw her putting boxes in it. Not moving boxes, more like sample boxes, bags, that kind of thing.

That morning, I was trying to open up some of our outdoor furniture, so we could put it on our patio. I didn’t want Cyndi to think I was sneaking around, spying on her, so when she glanced over my way, I waved and she waved back. Then she crossed over to say hello. See what I mean? The people who live here are nice. Anyway, we exchanged names, and she welcomed me.
‘Need a hand with that stuff?’ Cyndi asked, pointing at the chairs.
‘Nah, thanks, I can manage.’
‘Well, let me know if I can do anything. I’m right over there.’
‘Thanks, I will.’
‘See you, Michele.’
‘Bye.’ See? Very helpful people. It was a good thing Cyndi left when she did, because I heard Benny call me from inside. Then I remembered that I hadn’t taken the clothes out of the dryer. No wonder he couldn’t find a clean shirt.  It was definitely better to hurry in and help him now. The furniture would have to wait.

Later that day, I was in the middle of hanging some pictures up when I glanced out the window. There was Cyndi, pulling into her drive. I tried to look away – like I said, I’m not a snoop – but I saw her open up the back of her mini-van and pull some garden-shop bags out. Benny was taking a nap, so I went over and offered to help. Cyndi seemed glad to see me, and we put the bags into her garage. I was right. It really is sparkling in there. Anyway, we got to chatting a little while we were moving the bags. I asked if she’s into gardening, because I noticed a couple of big shovels in the garage (even they were glistening!), and the bags were bags of lime. She told me she likes to garden, and then she asked about me.

‘Not much to tell,’ I admitted. I told her about Benny and me and how I work out of my home. I teach online classes, which makes it easier for me to take care of Benny and the house and everything. Cyndi seemed impressed. Then I asked what she does. I was right. She’s a sales rep. By now I felt more comfortable, so I asked, ‘You married?’
‘I was.’
‘Oh, sorry. I didn’t know – I –’
‘Don’t worry. I’m better off. It’s nice to have my life back, let’s put it that way.’ Then she smiled. She really did seem happy.

Just a little while ago, I looked out of my office window to give my eyes a break from the computer screen. I can see into Cyndi’s back yard from that window.  There’s some freshly-turned soil in the corner of the yard. Maybe she’s been planting, but I don’t think so. It all made me wonder. I thought about Cyndi, and then about me and Benny and everything else. I think I’ll stop over there again really soon. I’ll bet there’s a lot Cyndi could teach me.

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So Similar and Estranged*

Estrangement in families can happen for any number of reasons, really. Sometimes they happen for specific reasons, and sometimes it’s more a matter of drifting apart. Sometimes, the people involved simply go on to live very separate lives, with no real rancor.

But when circumstances bring together estranged family members, all of the emotion can also come up to the surface. And that can add tension to a reunion. It can add quite a bit of tension to a crime novel, too. And it raises the question: is blood thicker, as the saying goes? Can people who’ve been estranged work together? It makes for an interesting and sometimes suspenseful sub-plot or thread through a story.

Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (AKA Murder for Christmas and A Holiday For Murder) bring together the various members of the Lee family. Patriarch Simeon Lee has always been both malicious and tyrannical, but he is also very wealthy. And, when he decides to gather his family at the family home for Christmas, no-one dares refuse the invitation. So, his sons, David and George, together with their wives, Hilda and Magdalene, make the trip. Another son, Alfred, already lives at the family home with his wife, Lydia. And Lee’s son Harry, who’s been estranged from the family for years, is also invited. There’ve been several estrangements in the family, actually. For one, David has always blamed his father for his mother’s poor health and eventual death. For another, Alfred sees Harry as a selfish cadger who’s never taken his share of responsibility for the family business. Harry sees Alfred as a ‘stick in the mud’ who’s far too quick to toady to their father. All of this bad feeling comes to the fore when the various family members get together. And, when Simeon Lee is murdered on Christmas Eve, matters get even worse. Hercule Poirot is staying in the area with a friend, and he works to find out who killed the victim. As he gets to know the various family members, we see how this estrangement plays its role in the way the different family members interact.

John Alexander Graham’s The Involvement of Arnold Wechsler introduces readers to Classics professor Arnold Wechsler, who works at a small Massachusetts school, Hewes College. The novel was published in 1971, a time of great change and, sometimes, student unrest, at many US colleges and universities. Hewes College is no different in that respect. Wechsler is aware of what’s going on, but he tries his best to stay out of it all, and simply do the best he can. That all changes when he is summoned to a meeting with Winthrop Dohrn, the college’s president. Dohrn is concerned because of Wechsler’s younger brother, David. It seems that David was a Hewes student until he dropped out of sight after joining a radical movement. Now he’s returned to campus, and Dohrn wants to know whether David is or will be involved in subversive activities. Wechsler is loath to spy on his brother. For one thing, they’re quite different, and they’ve been estranged for some time. They really don’t have much to say to each other. For another thing, Weschler really does want to stay out of politics. But he can’t really refuse the college president. So, reluctantly, he contacts his brother. The two are very awkward with each other, and that estrangement makes for quite a lot of tension. It’s ramped up when there’s a bombing, a kidnapping, and a theft. Is David involved? If he’s not, can his brother trust him to help find out who is?

Lawrence Block’s The Sins of the Father is the first novel to feature his PI sleuth, Matthew Scudder. At this point, Scudder isn’t a formally licensed PI. Rather, he informally looks into things when friends and acquaintances need his help. One day, he gets a visit from successful executive Cale Hanniford, who has an unusual sort of request. Hanniford’s twenty-four-year-old daughter, Wendy, has recently been murdered. The police have arrested her twenty-one-year-old roommate, Richard Vanderpoel, for the crime, and there’s plenty of evidence against him. What’s interesting is that Hanniford doesn’t want Scudder to solve the murder. He believes that Vanderpoel is the killer. Rather, he wants Scudder to find out what sort of person Wendy had become, and what led to her death. It turns out that he’d been estranged from his daughter for years. It’s too late now for a reconcilement, but he’s hoping to at least learn more about her. Scudder’s not sure how much help he can be, but he agrees to at least ask some questions. He arranges to interview Vanderpoel in prison, but the young man is too dazed, or drugged, to be very informative. Then, not long afterwards, Vanderpoel commits suicide. Now it’s clear that this case is more complicated than Scudder thought, and he’s no longer sure the police got their man in the first place.

Former journalist Robert Dell, whom we meet in Roger Smith’s Dust Devils, has a wife and two children whom he loves, and a life that seems to be going well. It all changes one terrible day when he and his family are taking a drive just outside of Cape Town. His car is ambushed and goes over an embankment, and Dell is the only survivor. As if that’s not devastating enough, the police soon accuse him of engineering the accident, and he’s thrown into prison for murder. In fact, it’s very likely he’ll be executed after a ‘kangaroo court’ hearing. It’s clear that he’s being framed, but he doesn’t know why or by whom. Unbeknownst to Dell, his father, Bobby Goodbread, has found out what’s going on. He and his son have been estranged for a long time, mostly because of their diametrically opposed viewpoints on apartheid. It hasn’t helped matters that Dell married a woman who wasn’t white, and that Goodbread has been linked with several reactionary pro-apartheid groups. Nonetheless, Goodbread engineers his son’s escape from prison, and the two go into hiding. For different reasons, they’re each going after the man who killed Dell’s family. The rift between them makes for a lot of tension and awkwardness, but they manage to work together as they head towards the village where the killer lives.

And then there’s Dorothy Fowler’s What Remains Behind. In that novel, archaeologist Chloe Davis, her business partner, Bill, and some of their archaeology students travel to Kaipara Harbour, on New Zealand’s North Island. They’ve been contracted to excavate the remains of religious community that was burned down in the mid-1880s. The excavation is required before the land can be sold for development, so there’s a lot of pressure for the team to do their work quickly. For Davis, there’s a great deal of other pressure, too. For one thing, her cousin Shane is a member of the development consortium, and wants to move as quickly as possible to get the new construction done. For another, her sister Phaedra, from whom she’s been estranged for many years, has title to a house and piece of land that’s critical to the consortium’s plan. And she’s not willing to move. So, as the dig team is uncovering the truth about the religious group, Davis is also having to deal with the tense and difficult reunion with her sister and cousin, as well as with the rift between the branches of her family. And it turns out that what happened to the religious community has repercussions even now.

Estrangements can happen in just about any family. They aren’t always violent, but they’re often very difficult. And they can add a great deal of suspense, to say nothing of character development, to a novel.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Eastmountainsouth’s Father. 

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Dorothy Fowler, John Alexander Graham, Lawrence Block, Roger Smith

And Always You’ll See That You Reflect on Me*

You know the feeling, I’ll bet. A child misbehaves in public, and one of your first thoughts might be, ‘What is that mother/father thinking?’ Or, you cringe when your child’s teacher asks to speak to you, and brings up something that may be going on at school. In many societies, what children do is often seen as a reflection on their parents. When children are ‘well-behaved,’ get high grades, and so on, the parents must be doing something right. When they aren’t, or don’t, that’s largely seen as ‘the parents’ fault.’

We all know, of course, that it’s not as simple as that. Children have their own identities, priorities, and thoughts. And their dreams may very well be different to their parents’. That’s not to mention that even loving, involved parents don’t always know everything their children do. In society’s eyes, that doesn’t always matter, though, and it’s interesting to see how this plays out in crime fiction.

In Agatha Christie’s Dead Man’s Folly, for instance, we are introduced to the Tucker family. They’re a working-class family that stays out of trouble. And the parents are happy that their older children are settled and have ‘respectable’ lives of their own. Then, tragedy strikes. Fourteen-year-old Marlene Tucker is murdered during a fête at Nasse House, the property of Sir George and Lady Hattie Stubbs. Detective novelist Ariadne Oliver is at the event, since she designed one of the activities. She asks Hercule Poirot to look into the matter, and he agrees. He works with Inspector Bland to find out who would want to kill Marlene. Poirot interviews her parents, and gets very little help from them. They saw their daughter as ‘a good girl,’ if not exactly brilliant. And that respectability is important to them. But, as Poirot learns from Marlene’s younger sister Marylin,
 

‘‘Mum don’t know everything.’’
 

And he learns that Marlene had a habit of finding out people’s secrets – something her parents would not have approved of her doing. And that put her squarely in the sights of a killer.

Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn Shreve is a political scientist and (now retired) academician. She is also a mother. And, as is the case with most parents, she wants the very best for her children. She doesn’t expect them to be exactly like her, but they do, in their way, reflect on her. So, when her oldest child, Mieka, decides to withdraw from university and open her own business, it’s hard for Joanne to accept. Part of it is that Mieka’s choice is a very risky one. But part of it is that children’s choices are seen as reflecting on their parents. In the end, entrepreneurship turns out to be right for Mieka, and Joanne is justly proud of her daughter’s success. But it’s not always easy to accept that Mieka will go her own way.

Martin Clark’s The Legal Limit introduces us to Mason Hunt, commonwealth prosecutor for Patrick County, Virginia. He is also the widowed father of fifteen-year-old Grace. The main plot of the novel has to do with a long-ago murder committed by Mason’s brother, Gates. At the time of the murder, Mason helped his brother cover it up out of a sense of loyalty. But that comes back to haunt him later. In the meantime, Grace has problems of her own. She becomes pregnant, and it’s very clear that the father will not be a part of the baby’s life. That’s not at all what Mason had envisioned for his daughter, and in the small town where they live, he has reason to believe Grace’s choices may reflect on him. But, he loves his daughter, and he knows that she has never needed him more than she needs him now. So, he stands by her, and when the baby is born, helps to take care of the child.

Herman Koch’s The Dinner has as its context a full-course dinner at one of Amsterdam’s most exclusive restaurants – the kind where you have to call months in advance to even have a hope of getting a reservation. The two couples at this particular dinner are Paul and Claire Lohman, and Paul’s older brother, Serge, and his wife, Babette. As the dinner moves on through the courses, we learn that this isn’t an ordinary dinner where brothers and their wives get together to catch up. Little by little, we learn that Paul and Claire’s son, Michel, and Serge and Babette’s son, Rick, are responsible for a terrible crime. The police are looking into the case, and before they get too far, the two couples have to decide what to do. No matter what happens, what the boys did reflects badly on their parents. And both sets of parents are particularly interested in preserving their veneer of respectability. That’s an important thread woven through the story.

We see this issue from the other side, as it were, in Natsuo Kirino’s Real Life. This novel’s focus is four Tokyo teenagers: Toshiko Yamanaka, Kazuko Terauchi, Kiyomi ‘Yuzan’ Kaibara, and Kirari Higashiyama. One day, the mother of the family who lives next door to Toshiko is murdered. And, as it turns out, her son, Ryo, is suspected of the crime. He acts quite guilty, too, stealing Toshiko’s bicycle and telephone and going on the run. Toshiko and her friends each come into contact with Ryo, and each has a different reaction. But they all decide not to inform the police or their parents about what they know. As the events of the next few days play out, things start to spin out of control for everyone, and it all leads to tragedy. Throughout the novel, we see how clearly these young people understand that they are seen as reflecting on their parents. That sense of responsibility is an important part of the way they think.

And then there’s Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies. The story features families who send their children to Piriwee Public School, on Piriwee Peninsula, near Sydney. Three families in particular are the focus of the novel; all of them have at least one child in Kindergarten. When one child is accused of bullying another, the parents begin to divide into two ‘camps.’ That resentment is enough of a problem, but there are other resentments, too. Everything boils over one night at a fundraiser, and it ends up in a tragedy. In this story, we see how important it is to some of these families that their children be perceived as ‘good,’ as ‘bright,’ as ‘well-behaved.’ In a small community like this one, the way children behave really is seen as, at least in part, a reflection on their parents.

And that’s the thing about parents and children. We know intellectually that children are not the same as parents, and that the children of excellent parents can still make serious mistakes. But that’s not always how it plays out…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Matthias Meissner, Thomas Schwarz-Janen, Frank Peterson and Andrea Silveira’s The Second Element

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Gail Bowen, Herman Koch, Liane Moriarty, Martin Clark, Natsuo Kirino

Filling Out Forms, Standing in Line*

Just try getting a passport, a bank account, a lease, or a marriage license, and you’ll find out just how much paperwork there is in modern life. Admittedly, a lot of it’s online in modern times, but it’s still official ‘hoops.’ As ‘regular’ citizens, we may find that sort of ‘red tape’ annoying, but it can be very useful for police investigators who want to get background information on a person. Telephone records, for instance, can give the police valuable information on a victim (or suspect)’s communications network. Auto loan and registration information can tell police about someone’s financial situation, as well as link up an owner with, say, a car involved in a crime.

There are plenty of other examples, too. So, it’s no surprise at all that we see a lot of this sort of paperwork in crime fiction. And it’s been going on for quite some time. For instance, in Agatha Christie’s Taken at the Flood, we are introduced to Rowley Cloade. He’s a farmer who’d doing his best to cope with the major changes in farming regulations that came about after the turn of the 20th Century. As the novel begins, he’s not exactly getting wealthy, but he’s always been told that he can count on his wealthy uncle, Gordon Cloade, for financial support. Then, unexpectedly, Gordon Cloade marries; soon afterwards, he dies in a bomb blast before he can change his will to protect his family. Now, the Cloades will have to find a way to manage without that security. Then, a stranger comes to town, who hints that Cloade’s widow was already married at the time of her wedding. If so, the Cloades get the fortune, so it’s of great interest to them. When that stranger is killed, Hercule Poirot gets involved in the investigation. In one scene, Rowley goes to see his uncle Jeremy, ostensibly for help with some of the mountain of official forms he has to cope with as a farmer. That’s not really his purpose, but it’s the reason Jeremy isn’t in a very big hurry to finish his dinner and meet with his nephew. To Jeremy’s surprise, Rowley abruptly leaves. And, as it turns out, Rowley has found out something that plays an important role in the story.

Official paperwork is an important part of James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity. Insurance agent Walter Huff happens to be in the Hollywood Hills, when he decides to pay a visit to one of his clients, H.S. Nirdlinger. He’s hoping to get an agreement for a policy renewal. Nirdlinger isn’t home, but his wife, Phyllis, is. She and Huff start talking, and find themselves attracted to each other. Before long, they are involved in a relationship. Phyllis soon tells Huff that she wants to kill her husband. In fact, she wants a policy double-indemnity set up so that she’ll inherit twice the value of her husband’s life insurance in case of an accident. That involves paperwork that she can’t do, but by this time, Huff is so besotted with her that he agrees to go along with her plan. In fact, he’s the one who draws up the new policy, and participates in Nirdlinger’s murder. Huff thinks this’ll be the worst thing he has to deal with, but, as it turns out, that’s only the beginning of his troubles…

Paperwork is also critical in Rebecca Cantrell’s A Trace of Smoke, which takes place in 1931 Berlin, just before the Nazi rise to power. Hannah Vogel is a crime reporter who discovers by accident that her brother Ernst has been found dead. She wants very badly to find out how and why he died. She faces several challenges, though. One is the fact that, at the moment, she has no official identity documents. She and Ernst lent theirs to some Jewish friends so they could leave Germany, and those friends haven’t yet returned the papers (which they promised to do). So, she’ll have to stay out of the way of any official, and ask her questions very quietly and carefully.

In Megan Abbott’s Die a Little, we are introduced to Lora King, a Pasadena schoolteacher. When her brother, Bill, introduces her to his new girlfriend, Alice Steele, Lora’s not at all sure she likes this woman. But, for Bill’s sake, she tries to be friendly with Alice. Despite Lora’s sense of unease, Bill and Alice marry, so now, there’s even more motivation to try to work things out with Alice. But soon, Lora begins to have doubts. For example, at one point, she agrees to help Alice get a teaching job at her school. Alice has said that she has a teaching certificate, but Lora can find no record of it. And, even in the 1950s, when this novel takes place, there was plenty of ‘red tape’ involved in getting a teaching license. This, plus other little hints, make Lora very uneasy. But, at the same time as she’s repelled by Alice’s life, she’s also drawn to it. Then, there’s a murder, and Alice could be mixed up in it. Now, Lora has to decide what she’ll do about her sister-in-law, who might very well be a killer.

Ian Hamilton’s Ava Lee depends quite a lot on official paperwork. She’s a Toronto-based forensic accountant who works for a Hong Kong company run by Chow Tung, a man Lee refers to as ‘Uncle.’ This company’s specialty is recovering money – sometimes a great deal of it – for people who are desperate to get that money back. Lee is in demand, because she is very good at what she does. In the process of looking for missing money, she often uses her knowledge of the sort of paperwork involved for loans, funds transfers, international transactions, and so on. Even the most accomplished thief still usually leaves a ‘paper trail.’

And that’s why that sort of bureaucracy is important, at least in crime fiction. You may grumble about all the ‘hoops’ involved in registering your home for sale, or in making a large purchase such as a car. But it all does matter. And it can all add to a crime novel.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Allentown.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Ian Hamilton, James M. Cain, Megan Abbott, Rebecca Cantrell