Been Caught Stealing*

One of the big challenges that a lot of retailers face is shoplifting. I got to thinking of this after I read a fascinating post by K.B. Owen, author of the Concordia Wells historical mysteries. Her post is an interesting reminder that shoplifting has been around for a long time. It’s well worth the read. And so are the Concordia Wells stories, so you’ll want to try them.

Shoplifting shows up in a lot of crime fiction, as you can imagine. Sometimes, it’s a sub-plot; sometimes, it’s a major part of the main plot. Either way, it’s interesting to see how it’s been treated over the years.

In Agatha Christie’s short story, The Veiled Lady, Hercule Poirot gets a visit from Lady Millicent Castle Vaughn. She says she is being blackmailed over an indiscreet letter she wrote several years earlier. The blackmailer – a Mr. Lavington – will send her letter to her wealthy, titled fiancé if she doesn’t pay. She wants Poirot to try to get the letter for her. Poirot manages that feat in a very creative way. And, he and Hastings find that the letter is connected to the audacious daylight robbery of an upmarket jewelry store.

Erle Stanley Gardner’s The Case of the Shoplifter’s Shoe begins as Perry Mason and Della Street take refuge from a rainstorm in a department store. There, they witness a store security officer arrest Sarah Breel for shoplifting. It turns out to be a regular habit of hers; so usually, her niece, Virginia Trent, goes shopping with her to prevent any incidents. But this time, the two got separated for just enough time for Aunt Sarah to fall back into her usual pattern. Mason gets involved in this family’s problems when Virginia Trent comes to him with an even more difficult situation. Her uncle is a gem expert, who buys, sells, cleans, and custom-cuts gems on commission. When he’s away, Aunt Sarah runs the business, and now, a valuable set of diamonds has gone missing. And there’s every reason to believe she has it. Austin Cullens, the dealer who acted as ‘go-between’ for the diamonds, doesn’t think that Aunt Sarah stole the diamonds, though. Everything changes when Cullens is murdered, and Aunt Sarah becomes the prime suspect. Now, Mason goes to work to find out who the murderer really is, and what happened to the diamonds.

In John Dickson Carr’s Death-Watch, a police detective named Ames is found dead in a rooming house owned by Johannes Carver. He’s gone to the boardinghouse in the guise of a homeless man to investigate a rash of shoplifting incidents. He’d settled on one of Carver’s lodgers as the guilty party, and was ready to make an arrest. But this case doesn’t turn out to be as simple as a shoplifter who killed a police officer to avoid arrest. This is Carr after all…

The main plot of Martha Grimes’ The Old Contemptibles concerns the Holdsworth family. Inspector Richard Jury meets Jane Holdsworth at a marketplace, and they are drawn to each other. They begin a relationship, but then, Jane is murdered. Jury finds himself a suspect in the killing, but he knows (and so do the rest of us) that he’s not guilty. His friend, Melrose Plant, helps him look into the backgrounds of the other members of the family, to find out which one of them would have wanted the victim dead. And it turns out that there’s more than one possibility. One of the characters we meet in the story is a local shoplifter named Jimmy the Dip. Early in the story, Jury’s at the marketplace where he meets Jane, when he sees Jimmy, prowling for opportunities. In fact, he actually witnesses Jimmy ‘accidentally’ bumping into a customer who’s just made a purchase. He decides not to make the arrest. For one thing, Jimmy seems to make apologies, so it’s not clear he actually stole anything. For another, Jimmy is a valuable source of information on other criminals who,
 

‘…did more than just work the Passage.’
 

Finally, it’s not that Jury condones shoplifting; he certainly doesn’t.  But he does have a soft spot for Jimmy.

And then there’s Sue Grafton’s V is For Vengeance. In it, Marvin Striker hires PI Kinsey Millhone to find out the truth about his fiancée’s death. It seems that Audrey Vance (Striker’s fiancée) committed suicide, and that’s what’s on the official report. But Striker doesn’t think that’s the case, and he wants Millhone to investigate. She soon learns that the dead woman was a shoplifter and professional thief. In fact, she believes that Striker is wrong, and that his fiancée was conning him. The search for answers leads to a Los Vegas ‘private banker’ and a wealthy ‘attorney to the stars’ and his wife.

Even though it doesn’t usually end in violence, shoplifting costs retailers millions a year. And, of course, that cost ultimately gets passed on to the rest of us. So, in real life, it’s little wonder that shops want to do everything they can to reduce ‘shrink.’ In crime fiction, though, shoplifting can be an interesting sub-plot, or add an interesting layer to a character.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Jane’s Addiction.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner, John Dickson Carr, Martha Grimes, Sue Grafton

Rest Stop

‘Friendless!’
‘Loser!’
‘Shut up!’
‘Mom!’
Callie heard the verbal storm brewing in the back seat of the car. And she knew that Justin and Riley would be able to keep their feud going for the rest of the trip – about two and a half hours.
‘Both of you, stop it!’ Callie used her best I-am-being-serious voice. Wonder of wonders, the noise died down.
‘Whatever.’ Thirteen-year-old Riley had already perfected rolled eyes and a scornful tone.

About two miles later, ten-year-old Justin saw a familiar red and gold sign. ‘Hey, Mom. Can we stop? I’m starving.’ Callie glanced at the time displayed on the car’s dashboard. ‘Yeah, might as well,’ she said. ‘It’s close enough to dinner time, anyway.’ Even Riley looked less sullen. Finally, Callie thought, a decision that won’t have either of them hating me. Feeling a little less weary, she pulled off the highway and within minutes, they’d parked in the restaurant’s lot.

For the first few minutes after they sat down, there was blissful silence as all three started to eat. Callie basked in the peace. In the six months since she’d left Len, she doubted that she’d had more than two or three days without any drama. She knew it was hard on the kids. It was hard on her, too. But she’d always promised herself that she’d leave, no matter what it took, if Len ever raised a hand to her or the kids. And he had. ‘Work pressure,’ he said after the first time. Then there was the apology and the big bouquet of flowers. ‘I was drunk’ was the next excuse, and that was all it took for Callie to take the kids and leave. As she thought about it, she knew it had been coming on for a while. Len wasn’t like that when Riley and Justin were little, but things had changed. Len kept saying he was fine, but he wasn’t. Whatever it was, she had no more room for it in her life. Now she watched her son and daughter stuff themselves, and knew she’d made the right choice.

Justin looked up from his burger and glanced out the window of the restaurant. ‘That guy out here looks kind of like Dad,’ he said.
‘Does not, you goober. And anyway, it’s too dark to tell,’ Riley snorted. The guy Justin was looking at was the same height as their father, and stood sort of the same way. But, no, it wasn’t the same guy. Callie glanced out the window. The fries she’d been eating felt stuck in her throat as she watched. No, that guy wasn’t Len, thank God. It looked like him, though, and that reminded her that she would have to be really careful about everything, at least for a while. Knowing he might follow them was enough to keep her wide awake all night.

‘Oh, my God, look,’ Riley said, ‘a fight.’ The guy-who-looked-like-Dad-but-wasn’t was in a huge argument with another guy. Justin looked up, eager for his own ringside seat. It was dark in the parking lot, but there was no doubt these two men were in a major argument. Then the yells turned to pushes. Just when it looked as though things might get serious, the manager went out of the restaurant and over to the two men. He must have threatened to call the police, because after a few minutes, the two men went to their cars. A middle-finger gesture, a slammed car door, and the cars roared off in different directions.

When Callie, Riley and Justin were finished eating, they got back in their car and got ready for the rest of the drive. They would spend the night at a hotel (‘No, Riley, you cannot have your own separate hotel room!’) and then start early the next morning. Callie was hoping they’d make it to their new home late on the second afternoon. The kids had spent a long time looking at the layout of the new apartment online, arguing over who was going to have which bedroom, and trying to find out what was nearby.

Two and a half hours later, they got to the hotel and checked in. An exhausted Callie wanted nothing more than to curl up in bed and fall asleep. Riley found out how to access the hotel’s WiFi system and immediately got online, and Justin played video games.

Len pulled out of the restaurant parking lot, furious that Georgie had followed him there. He’d told Georgie and Matt that he’d be away for a few days, and would pay them when he got back. What the hell had that been all about? All he needed was a little time to get some things together, and then this whole money mess would be cleared up.

The worst thing was that now, he’d have to find a way to catch up with Callie and the kids. He couldn’t believe she’d just packed up and left. OK, he’d let his temper get the better of him a few times, but who didn’t? He’d been under a lot of stress lately, scrambling to pay back that loan. And Callie had a way of pushing him too far, especially lately, with everything going on. And if she thought she was going to keep him from seeing Justin and Riley, she had another thing coming.

Len glanced at the clock on his car’s dashboard. He’d better think of finding a place for the night pretty soon. He was tired, and it was getting late. Tomorrow morning, he’d get an early start. Then he noticed the car following him. How long had it been there? Stupid of him not to have seen it sooner. He sped up. So did the other car. He sped up more. So did the other car. Damnit! Georgie was following him! He made the next sharp right turn he could, but the other car was quick enough to follow. Now sick of this chase game, Len stopped his car abruptly. He got out of the car and watched as the other car stopped, and the doors opened. There was Georgie, all right. Moron! Wait, he wasn’t alone. Two other guys got out of the back of the car. What were they carrying? Looked like pipes or something. Len stood frozen in place as they got closer. Then he started to run…

‘Mom, can I have some money?’ Justin asked.
‘It’s eleven o’clock, Justin. What do you need money for at this hour?’
‘There are vending machines down in the lobby. I want a Coke and something to eat.’
‘All right,’ Callie said reluctantly. She opened her purse and took out a few singles. ‘That’s it for tonight,’ she added as she handed them over.
‘Get me a Coke, too,’ Riley said, without looking up from her telephone.

Justin left the room and went down to the lobby towards the self-service snack area he’d seen. A man in jeans and a hoodie had just checked in and was coming in Justin’s direction. He looked familiar, but Justin couldn’t remember why. The man unzipped his hoodie as he went, and Justin noticed his T-shirt. It was covered with – was that blood? He turned his head quickly as the man got closer, and ducked into the alcove where the vending machines were. Wait ‘til he told Riley he saw a man with a bloody shirt. She’d freak out.

When Justin got back up to the room, Callie and Riley were watching the late news. ‘Mom, Riley, guess what? I saw a –’
‘Shut up! We’re watching!’ Riley snapped. Just then, the announcer said,

‘And, a late-breaking story tonight. About an hour ago, a man’s body was discovered on Route 286. The victim has been identified as 41-year-old Leonard Parsons. Police are investigating the incident as a murder.’  

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In The Spotlight: Finn Bell’s Dead Lemons

Hello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. This will be the first of five special editions of this feature. For each of the next several weeks, I’ll be spotlighting one of the finalists for this year’s Ngaio Marsh Award for Best First Novel. I was privileged to be on the panel this year, and had a great experience. So, what better than to share it with you? We’ll start with this year’s winner, Finn Bell’s Dead Lemons.

Thirty-seven-year-old Finn Bell is at a crossroads in his life. A car crash left him without the use of his legs, and his marriage to his wife, Anna, has ended. He wants to start over, so he buys a small cottage in the tiny town of Riverton, on New Zealand’s South Island.
 

‘…almost as close to the bottom of the world as you can get without actually moving to Antarctica.’
 

He settles in and reluctantly arranges to meet with his assigned therapist, Betty Crowe. He also begins to meet some of the other local residents, and is surprised to find that the word is already out about him. It’s that sort of a small town.

When Bell discovers a tabby cat living in the cottage, he decides to try to track down the cottage’s former owner, Emily Cotter, to see if the cat belongs to her. That’s how he learns about a double tragedy that took place at the cottage. In 1988, Emily’s daughter, Alice, disappeared. Brothers Darrell, Sean, and Archie Zoyl, who own land nearby, were suspected of killing the girl, and there was evidence against them. But it wasn’t enough to convict them, although they were arrested three times. A year later, Emily’s husband, James, also disappeared.

Finn’s curious about what happened, so he begins to read up on the disappearances. He starts to ask questions, too. In fact, his determination to find out what happened to the Cotters begins to feed his openness to starting his life again. So does his work with Betty.  But it seems very few people are willing or able to give him any answers, although it’s hard to believe that no-one would know anything.

Then, some frightening things begin to happen, and it’s soon clear that someone does not want Finn to find out the truth about that old case. And, the more he looks into it, the more certain he is that something truly ugly is going on in the town. It’s not long before Finn’s not even sure who can be trusted and who can’t. And the closer he gets to the answers he wants, the more real danger there is for him.

This novel is a thriller. So, there are narrow escapes, people who seem trustworthy but aren’t, and real danger for Finn. The pace is consistent with that sort of novel, too. And there are plot twists and nasty characters.

At the same time, the novel tells Finn’s personal story (from his point of view), so in that sense, it is more reflective than many thrillers are. Finn’s rather an unlikely hero. He’s had a serious drinking problem (hence his divorce and the car accident), but has stopped drinking. Now, he’s trying to figure everything out. He’s prickly, sometimes aloof, and quite cynical; he himself admits that he’s not a happy person, and not a nice one. At the same time, he slowly learns to conquer the depression that led to his other problems. It’s not an easy process, a matter of two steps forward and one back, as the saying goes. For Finn, finding out what happened to the Cotters is a form of redemption.

And it’s an ugly truth, too. The secrets of Riverton go back for a long time, and involve some horrible things. This isn’t one of those light ‘murder in a small town’ sorts of mysteries. There’s sadness and darkness here, and finding out the truth doesn’t really make everything all right again. That said, though, Finn does slowly find himself healing and beginning to fit in to his new life.

Another element in this story is its setting. Riverton is a small town with a long history (it’s one of New Zealand’s oldest towns), and a motley crew of residents. Everyone knows everyone, and there are a lot of kinship ties within the town. For instance, Patricia, the local hair stylist, is a cousin of Tai Rangi, who introduces Finn to Murderball – wheelchair rugby. There are other networks, too, based on the Māori concept of family, which is quite different to what Finn’s known. The town can feel isolated, though. In fact, Finn describes it as ‘the middle of nowhere.’ And that isolation adds to the suspense of the novel.

The story is told in two timelines, both mostly using the present tense. In one timeline, the present, Finn is at a very dangerous cliff, at risk of falling off it. In the other timeline, five months previously, Finn tells the story of how he ended up in Riverton, why and how he got interested in the Cotter case, and what led to the scene at the cliff. The timelines come together towards the end of the book, as one timeline catches up to the other and we learn the truth about the town, its history, and its secrets. Readers who prefer only one timeline will notice this. So will readers who prefer their stories not be told in the present tense.

Dead Lemons is the story of a man who comes to a small town to start over, and finds himself drawn into the dark secrets of the town’s past. It features some ugly crimes, and shows how people can still be affected by trauma, even years after a tragedy. It’s set in a distinctly New Zealand town, and offers a look at life there, and at the slow process of healing. But what’s your view? Have you read Dead Lemons? If you have, what elements do you see in it?

 
 
 

Coming Up On In The Spotlight

Monday, 27 November/Tuesday, 28 November – Days Are Like Grass – Sue Younger

Monday, 4 December/Tuesday, 5 December – The Student Body – Simon Wyatt

Monday, 11 December/Tuesday, 12 December – The Frozen Shroud – Gordon Ell

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Filed under Dead Lemons, Finn Bell

And Though She’s Not Really Ill, There’s a Little Yellow Pill*

Most of us would probably agree that what have sometimes been called ‘street drugs’ (heroin, for instance) are dangerous and just as well illegal. Certainly, they’ve wreaked havoc on innumerable families. And, of course, crime fiction is full of references to those sorts of drugs and the trade in them.

It’s sometimes not as clear-cut with other sorts of drugs, though. For instance, people with certain mental and emotional illnesses benefit greatly from certain drugs. There are other people, too, such as people with certain learning and attention disabilities, who can benefit from certain medications. It’s not always an easy question what role those drugs should play, and people have very different opinions on the topic.

That question comes up in crime fiction, and it’s interesting to see how the answer to it has changed over time as public and professional views on the topic change. And even today, there isn’t consensus. There rarely is with complex issues that don’t have easy answers.

Fans of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes will know that he is a user of both morphine and cocaine. He doesn’t use drugs for fun, and he doesn’t deal in them. Rather, his drug use reflects the views of his generation. More than one easily-available medication of that time contained cocaine or heroin, and people saw those drugs as perfectly legitimate. Dr. Watson disapproves of Holmes’ use of those drugs, but he doesn’t make much headway in getting his friend to stop.

There’s an interesting discussion of barbiturate use in Agatha Christie’s Lord Edgware Dies. In one plot thread, we are introduced to American actress Carlotta Adams. She’s quite the sensation of the day, with a one-person impersonation show. She’s quite gifted, too, and popular. One night, she apparently takes an overdose of Veronal and is found dead the next morning. At first, it’s put down to a tragic accident. At the time, plenty of people take sleeping medicine (it’s actually mentioned in more than one of Christie’s stories). So, no-one thinks much of it. And yet, the dead woman’s maid swears she wasn’t a regular drug user. And it turns out that this overdose was far from accidental. Hercule Poirot connects this murder to the stabbing murder of wealthy, unpleasant Lord Edgware, and finds the surprising link between them. On the one hand, a local doctor expresses his strong disapproval of drug use:
 

‘‘Why these girls must have drugs, I can’t think.’’
 

On the other hand, it’s not an unusual thing to use powerful barbiturates.

In Barbara Vine’s (AKA Ruth Rendell) The Minotaur, we meet Kerstin Kvist, a Swedish nurse who’d decided to move to England to be closer to her lover, Mark Douglas. She accepts a job with the Cosway family, where her duty will be to look after thirty-nine-year-old John Cosway, who’s been diagnosed with schizophrenia. On the surface, the job looks like exactly the right choice for Kerstin. But all too soon, she begins to suspect that all is not what it seems. For one thing, the family still seems to be living in the Victorian Era, which is odd in itself. Also, family matriarch Mrs. Cosway has given strict instructions that her son is to be kept heavily medicated. Kerstin doesn’t think he needs that much medication; so, bit by bit, she reduces his dosages without telling anyone. Her decision has tragic consequences, which she documents in a diary that she keeps.

One of the ongoing debates in the world of education, especially special education, is how much (if any) medication children should be given when they are diagnosed with attention and other learning disorders. It’s not an easy question. It’s addressed a bit in Jonathan Kellerman’s When the Bough Breaks, in which we first meet child psychologist Alex Delaware. One day, he gets a visit from his friend, LAPD detective Milo Sturgis. It seems that a psychiatrist named Morton Handler and his lover, Elena Gutierrez, have been brutally murdered. The only witness is seven-year-old Melody Quinn. Getting any information from her is going to be difficult, though. For one thing, she’s a child, with a child’s perspective. For another, she’s on heavy medication for ADHD and other learning issues. Sturgis is hoping that Delaware will be able to communicate with the child and find out whatever information she has. Delaware is reluctant to take on this task, but he agrees. He soon finds, though, that it’s all but impossible to have any meaningful conversation with Melody. The child’s doctor, Dr. Lionel Towle, refuses to reduce her medication, so Delaware convinces her mother to let him reduce it. At first, it seems that Melody might open up and trust Delaware. Very soon, though, she begins to have severe nightmares. That’s enough for her mother and doctor to bar Delaware from seeing her again. By this time, though, Delaware is curious about the case, so he works with Sturgis to find out the truth.

Several medical thrillers, such as those by Robin Cook, also explore questions around the ethics of medication. In Acceptable Risk, for instance, a new line of psychotropic drugs is being developed, and the result turns out to be disastrous. One of the issues Cook raises is how much pressure pharmaceutical companies should put on researchers to develop new medications. Another is what the limits of such research should be, especially if the result could potentially be helpful to millions of people.

These aren’t easy questions. Nor are other questions about pharmaceuticals and medications. Attitudes towards them have changed as time has gone by, and we see both that complexity and those changes in crime fiction. These are just a few examples. Over to you.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Rolling Stones’ Mother’s Little Helper.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Barbara Vine, Jonathan Kellerman, Robin Cook

You Can Rely on the Old Man’s Money*

If you’ve ever been concerned that you haven’t been able to give your children what you wish you could, you’re not alone. Most parents want the best for their children. I’m sure you’ve heard people say, ‘I don’t want them to struggle the way I had to.’

It’s only natural for parents to want their children to have everything. But there’s an old expression, ‘Be careful what you wish for.’ And it might very well apply here. If you’ve met children who’s always had everything they wanted, and never had to work for it, you know the effect that can have on their dispositions. And that’s to say nothing of how unprepared such children are to deal with life’s challenges.

There are plenty of examples of young people who’ve always had everything they wanted in crime fiction. They don’t always make for sympathetic characters, but they can add interest to a story, and they can add plot threads.

In Agatha Christie’s Lord Edgware Dies, for instance, we are introduced to Ronald Marsh. Having grown up in a ‘blueblood’ family, he hasn’t really wanted for anything. He’s never learned to manage his money, so he’s in quite a difficult financial situation. In fact, that makes him a suspect when his wealthy uncle, 4th Baron Edgware, is murdered. The victim’s wife, famous actress Jane Wilkinson, is the primary suspect. She wanted a divorce so that she could marry again. But she says she was at a dinner party in another part of London, and there are twelve people willing to swear that she was there. So Chief Inspector Japp has to look elsewhere for the murderer. Hercule Poirot is involved in the case, since he visited the victim on the day of the murder. Throughout the novel, it’s interesting to see how Ronald Marsh copes with the stress of being suspected of murder, of being in need of money, and so on. It’s clear that he was never prepared to work for goals and to deal with adversity.

Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep introduces us to the Sternwood family. General Guy Sternwood is upset because a book dealer named Arthur Geiger has sent him an extortion letter that mentions his daughter, Carmen. Sternwood hires Los Angeles PI Philip Marlowe to find Geiger and stop him from harassing the family. Marlowe doesn’t find the Sternwoods pleasant at all, but he agrees to take the case. By the time he tracks Geiger down, though, it’s too late: Geiger’s been murdered. Carmen Sternwood was in the room at the time of the killing, but she’s either too drugged or too dazed to say much or remember anything. Marlowe quickly gets her out of the way before the police suspect her, and thinks that this will be the end of his work with the Sternwoods. The next day, though, the Sternwoods’ chauffer dies in what looks like a suicide (but is it?). Now, Marlowe gets more and more deeply involved with the family as he helps to find out what’s behind that death. Throughout the novel, we see that Carmen Sternwood and her older sister, Vivian, have always had every material thing they wanted. They haven’t had love and affection from their parents, but they’ve always been indulged. And that has a profound impact on them.

Shadaab Amjad Khan’s Murder in Bollywood gives readers a look at the ultra-privileged lives of Bollywood superstars. In it, top film director Nikhil Kapoor is found dead in his writing studio, apparently of a freak electrical accident. His wife, superstar actress Mallika Kapoor, also dies of an apparent cocaine overdose. The Powers That Be want this case wrapped up quickly, and the deaths attributed to tragic accident; but Senior Inspector Hoshiyar Khan isn’t so sure. So, he begins to look into the matter. He learns that, not long before the deaths, Nikhil Kapoor had hosted a private party at which he said one of those present had killed before, and would kill again. With this information in hand, Khan begins to investigate the people who were at the party, and find out which one Kapoor might have had in mind. And in the end, he finds out the truth about those deaths, and one other murder. As the story evolves, we meet the Kapoors’ son, Rohan. He’s been very much indulged his whole life, and is thoroughly spoilt. He’s smart enough, but he’s never had to work for a living, or make a life for himself. That overindulged background has an important impact on him.

In Jill Edmondson’s Blood and Groom, Toronto PI Sasha Jackson gets a new client, Christine Arvisais. It seems that her former fiancé, ‘blueblood’ Gordon Hanes, was shot on the day that was supposed to be their wedding. Everyone thinks that Christine’s responsible, but she claims she is innocent. Sasha doesn’t care at all for this new client; Christine is spoiled, self-entitled, and rude. But a fee is a fee. So, she starts looking into the case. And it’s not long before she finds that there could definitely be other explanations for Hanes’ murder. Throughout the novel, we see that Christine has always had everything she wanted. And she’s actually quite hampered by not knowing how to work for herself or deal with life’s unexpected blows. And that life of indulgence has certainly had an impact on her personality.

Wendy James’ The Mistake is the story of the Garrow family.  Angus Garrow is a successful attorney who comes from a ‘blueblood’ family. He’s doing quite well, even being spoken of as the next mayor of Arding, New South Wales. He’s been indulged most of his life, and his mother still works to make sure he has whatever he wants. And on the surface, he does. His wife, Jodie, is smart and attractive, and he’s got two healthy children. Then, everything changes. His daughter, Hannah is involved in an accident and is rushed to the same Sydney hospital where, years earlier, Jodie gave birth to another child. Angus doesn’t know about this child, but a nurse at the hospital remembers Jodie and asks about her baby.  Jodie says she gave the baby up for adoption, but the overzealous nurse can’t find any formal records. Soon, the whispers start. Then there are some very public questions about what happened to Jodie’s baby. There’s even talk that Jodie may have had something to do with the baby’s disappearance. Now, Jodie is a social pariah, and Angus finds it very hard to cope with this challenge. He’s never really had to face adversity before, and he’s always had everything. It’s interesting to see what happens to him as the novel goes on.

There are plenty of other examples of fictional children who’ve never been refused anything (right, fans of James. M. Cain’s Mildred Pierce?). They’re almost never really pleasant, happy people. But they can add to a story.

 
 
 

*NOTE:  The title of this post is a line from Daryl Hall and John Oates’ Rich Girl.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, James M. Cain, Jill Edmondson, Raymond Chandler, Shadaab Amjad Khan, Wendy James