While the Millionaires Hide in Beekman Place*

Have you ever noticed those truly elegant, super-expensive homes? The kind that ‘the rest of us’ could never even imagine owning? The kind you see in magazines or television shows? Yeah, those homes. One of the interesting things about them is that they tend to be set apart. Sometimes they’re in gated, even guarded, communities. Sometimes the properties themselves are gated and/or guarded. Either way, just looking at the houses is a reminder that the very wealthy often live lives that are far removed from the rest of us. And very often (certainly not always!)  that’s by design.

When it’s handled well, that physical gulf between the very rich and other people can add some interesting tension to a novel. Little wonder it’s been a part of literature for a very long time (I’m thinking, for instance, of Émile Zola’s Germinal). And it’s woven into crime fiction, too.

For example, in Vicki Delany’s Winter of Secrets, we are introduced to the Wyatt-Yarmouth family. Drs. Jack and Patricia Wyatt-Yarmouth are both very wealthy, influential people. Their children, Jason and Wendy, have been raised with every privilege, too. It’s that sort of family. One Christmas, Jason and Wendy take a ski trip to the small British Columbia town of Trafalgar. With them, they bring four of their wealthy friends, and stay in a local B&B. On Christmas Eve, Jason and his friend, Ewan Williams, are in the group’s rented SUV when it skids on ice and plunges into the Upper Kootenay River. Constable Moonlight ‘Molly’ Smith goes to the scene and begins the investigation. Soon, though, she and her boss, Sergeant John Winters, discover that, while Jason was killed by the accident, Ewan had already been dead for some time before the incident. Now the investigation becomes a murder investigation. When they hear of their son’s death, the Wyatt-Yarmouth parents travel to Trafalgar. It’s immediately obvious that they are not accustomed to mixing with ‘regular folks.’ Their attitude causes no end of difficulty and conflict as Smith and Winters try to solve the mystery.

Ernesto Mallo’s Needle in a Haystack takes place in late 1970s Buenos Aires. It’s a very dangerous time to be in the city, what with the military in firm control of the government. Anyone who is even suspected of disagreeing with the government, or of ‘causing trouble’ is likely to be killed, or worse. No-one is really trustworthy, and even a whisper of dissidence could easily be passed along. Against this backdrop, police detective Venancio ‘Perro’ Lescano investigates the murder of Elías Biterman, a successful pawnbroker and moneylender. The death looks at first like a standard army ‘hit,’ so it’s obvious that those in authority want the case left alone. But that’s not the kind of detective Lescano is. So, he begins to ask a few questions. The trail leads to some very high places, too, as people from even the highest socioeconomic levels made use of Biterman’s services. And one of the important elements in this novel is the divide between the very rich and everyone else. The wealthy separate themselves, and do everything they can to jealously guard their privilege. And the desire to penetrate that ‘wall’ factors into the story.

Claudia Piñeiro’s Thursday Night Widows also takes place in the Buenos Aires area (about 30 miles away), this time, at the end of the 1990s. Most of the action takes place in an ultra-exclusive residential community called Cascade Heights Country Club. Only the very wealthiest people can afford to live there, and even they are carefully ‘vetted’ before being allowed to purchase a home in ‘the Heights.’ Every effort is made to keep these very rich people from having to interact with ‘regular people,’ too. There’s a wall, a guard, and a procedure for showing identification before being allowed on the property. Disputes aren’t handled by the regular police, either, but by a special Commission set up by the residents. Many of those who live in the Heights feel a real sense of security living in a community that’s removed from the rest of the area. That ‘safety net’ is torn, though, when the financial problems of the late 1990s/early 2000s find their way into the Heights. Little by little the security is eroded, until tragedy strikes.

Kalpana Swaminatham’s Greenlight is the sixth in her series featuring retired Mumbai police detective Lalli. In it, a series of ugly child abductions and murders has struck a local slum called Kandewadi. At first, the incidents don’t get very much press or police attention. But finally, there’s enough pressure on the police to step up the investigation, and Inspector Savio is assigned to the case, He consults regularly with Lalli, so she, too, gets involved in the case. Throughout the novel, there’s a strong sense of the gulf between the very rich and everyone else. The rich separate themselves, and it’s clear that they want to stay far removed from, especially, the poor. And there’s a lot of resentment about that fact that plays a role in the story.

There are, of course, other series where we see the way the wealthy live quite far removed from everyone else. For instance, there’s Brian Stoddart’s Superintendent Christian ‘Chris’ Le Fanu series, which takes place in Madras (today’s Chennai) in the 1920s, in the last years of the British Raj. India is still in the hands of the wealthy and titled English, and they want to retain control. Most of the English in India live in separate communities. The really wealthy ones belong to exclusive clubs, where only the ‘right’ people belong. In other ways, too, many of the wealthy English choose to remain at a distance from any of the ‘regular’ people.

And there’s Sulari Gentill’s Rowland ‘Rowly’ Sinclair series. Those novels take place in the early 1930s, mostly in New South Wales. At the time, the Great Depression has taken firm hold, and many people are desperate. There is a small group, including the Sinclair family, who have money, power and privilege. And many want to keep it that way. So, the very wealthy separate themselves, and work to keep that physical divide between themselves and ‘everyone else.’ Rowly himself isn’t nearly so conservative, and has friends from different socioeconomic strata, much to the dismay of his older brother and head of the family, Wilfred.  

And Wilfred’s not alone. There are plenty of fictional wealthy people and communities that try to stay as far removed as possible from the rest of us. That can add some interesting tension to a novel.

Ps. Oh, the ‘photo? That’s a ‘photo of Billy Joel’s Florida home. Yes, I took several shots of it during a recent trip. What?! 😉

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Close to the Borderline.

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Filed under Brian Stoddart, Claudia Piñeiro, Ernesto Mallo, Kalpana Swaminathan, Sulari Gentill, Vicki Delany

But the Sailors Threw Him Overboard*

Most killers don’t want to be caught. So, they do whatever they can to hide the evidence. And that means they often have to do something about the body of the person they’ve killed. After all, with today’s technology, bodies often contain evidence that points to the murderer.

One way to deal with this, if you’re a killer (fictional only, of course!) is to commit the murder on board a boat or ship, so the victim, or at least the victim’s body, can go overboard. Of course, a lot of things have to fall into place for that sort of plan to work. But when it does, the murderer has a solid chance to get away with the crime. So, it’s little wonder that we see this in a lot of crime fiction. Here are just a few examples; I know you’ll think of more than I could.

In Patricia Wentworth’s Grey Mask, we are introduced to Margot Standing, an ingenuous and immature young woman whose very wealthy father, Edward, went overboard and was lost at sea. She now stands to inherit a fortune. But then, it comes out that she may not be eligible to inherit, and that her cousin, Egbert, may be the heir. The papers that would prove Edward Standing’s intent have disappeared, so there’s no easy way to determine who will get the money. Egbert suggests that he and Margot marry, but she refuses. When he insists, she refuses again, and leaves home. Unbeknownst to her, this puts her in danger from a gang led by a man named Grey Mask. They want to get rid of her, so they can get her money. Margot happens to meet Margaret Langton, who’s already mixed up with Grey Mask and his gang (‘though not in the obvious way). Margaret takes pity on the younger woman, and takes her in. And in the end, Margaret and her fiancé, Charles Moray, find a way to thwart Grey Mask.

Carl Hiaasen’s Skinny Dip introduces readers to Charles ‘Chaz’ Perrone. He’s a marine scientist (at least nominally) who’s found a way to make water samples seem clear, even if they are tainted. His employer, Samuel Johnson ‘Red’ Hammernut, finds that very useful; he owns an agri-business that pollutes the water, and has no interest in changing what he does, or in being cited by the authorities. When Chaz begins to suspect that his wife, Joey, has found out what he’s doing, he decides to solve his problem. He takes Joey on what he tells her is an anniversary present: a cruise of the Everglades. While they’re on the water, he throws her overboard. He hasn’t counted on the fact that Joey is a former competitive swimmer, though. Instead of dying, she survives and is saved by former police offer Mick Stranahan. With Mick’s help, Joey plans to make Chaz pay for what he did by ‘haunting’ him. And, as Chaz gets more and more unsettled by the things Joey does, Hammernut gets more and more concerned about their arrangement. And Broward County police detective Karl Rolvaag gets more and more suspicious of Chaz…

Jussi Adler-Olsen introduces his protagonist, Copenhagen police detective Carl Mørck, in Mercy (AKA The Keeper of Lost Causes. In that novel, Mørck returns to duty after being wounded in a line-of-duty shooting incident. He’s always been difficult to work with, but the trauma of what he’s been through has made dealing with him impossible. So, he is transferred to the newly-created ‘Department Q,’ which is dedicated to ‘cases of special interest’ (cold cases). It’s a move to appease members of the public and the government who believe that the police aren’t doing enough to solve crimes. The first case that Mørck and his new assistant, Hafaz al-Assad take on is the five-year-old disappearance of promising politician Merete Lynnggard. At the time she went missing, everyone thought she went overboard in a terrible ferry accident. But Mørck and Assad begin to suspect otherwise. If they’re right, and she is still alive, there may be very little time left to find her. So, the two sleuths are under a great deal of pressure as they try to find out what really happened.

Mark Douglas-Home’s The Sea Detective features Edinburgh oceanographer and Ph.D. Candidate Caladh ‘Cal’ McGill. His special interest is wave patterns, and he’s working on them for his thesis. In one plot thread of this novel, he’s also got a project of his own underway. Many years earlier, McGill’s grandfather, Uilliam, was on a fishing trip when he disappeared. The official account was that he went overboard accidentally, and McGill wants to know the truth about what happened. So, he’s using his knowledge of wave patterns to try to find out where his grandfather might have washed up, if he did. The search for the truth leads McGill to some dark truths about the island community where his grandparents lived at the time of the disappearance.

And then there’s Jonothan Cullinane’s Red Herring. It’s 1951 in Auckland, and PI Johnny Molloy is hired to find a man called O’Phelan. He takes the case and begins his search. Soon enough, he discovers that his quarry died in an overboard accident. But something doesn’t seem right about the incident, and Molloy starts to suspect it was a case of murder. What he doesn’t know at first, though, is that this death is related to a web of conspiracy, political intrigue, and ‘backroom deals.’ The closer Molloy gets to the truth about O’Phelan, the more dangerous the case becomes for him.

Seas and oceans can be very convenient places, if I may put it that way, for fictional murderers to hide their crimes. So it’s little wonder we see so many overboard ‘accidents’ in crime fiction. These are only a few. Your turn.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Ryan Shupe and the Rubberband’s Walk the Walk.

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Filed under Carl Hiaasen, Jonothan Cullinane, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Mark Douglas-Home, Patricia Wentworth

Livin’ On The Edge*

Anyone who’s ever lived in wildfire/bush fire country can tell you that, when even a small fire starts, things can turn very, very bad, very, very quickly. So, there’s often a lot of tension as everyone looks at things such as prevailing winds, terrain, availability of firefighting staff, and size of the blaze. Wise people take precautions, in case they need to evacuate. After all, there may only be 10-30 minutes to evacuate once the order is given. That’s not the time to discuss who will take what, or where to go. By the way, if you want to read a realistic account of what this situation is like, read Adrian Hyland’s Kinglake-350. G’wan, read it. Admittedly, it’s not crime fiction, but it’s such a good fit here that I decided to mention it, anyway.

That tension, as people wait to see what will happen, is almost palpable. In real life, it can be a big challenge. In fiction, it can add an engaging layer of suspense. And crime writers have used it in several different ways.

For instance, Agatha Christie’s Taken at the Flood begins in Hercule Poirot’s club. Everyone’s taking shelter there against World War II air raids, and it’s not in the least clear how things will pan out. So, there’s a lot of tension. In part to break that tension, Poirot listens to a story told by fellow member Major Porter. It seems he knew a Robert Underhay who died in Africa. Underhay’s widow, Rosaleen, later married Gordon Cloade. But Porter’s story suggests that Underhay might still be alive. This possibility becomes crucial later, when Cloade is killed in a bombing. He dies without having made a will, which in most cases would mean Rosaleen inherits all of his considerable wealth. But if her first husband is alive, that would mean she couldn’t inherit. And that’s exactly what Cloade’s family wants, for various reasons. So, Poirot’s interest is piqued when he learns that a stranger named Enoch Arden has been killed in Warmsley Vale, where most of the Cloads lived. Arden hinted that he knew Underhay was still alive, and that could certainly have something to do with his murder. Poirot travels to the village and slowly learns the truth about Arden, the Cloades, and Rosaleen.

Dorothy L. Sayers’ The Nine Tailors takes place mostly in the East Anglia village of Fenchurch Saint Paul. When a car accident strands Lord Peter Wimsey and his assistant/valet, Mervyn Bunter, the village’s vicar, Reverend Theodore Venables, rescues the men and lodges them in the rectory until the car is fixed. That’s how Wimsey ends up getting involved in a case involving an unknown ‘extra’ corpse in a grave, some missing emeralds, a long-ago robbery, and change-ringing. In one plot thread of this novel, heavy rains bring on a flood. Venables wants to do what he can to save the villagers, and there are some very tense moments as everyone watches and waits to see how high the waters will rise, and how severe the damage will be.

Rebecca Cantrell’s A Trace of Smoke introduces Berlin crime reporter Hannah Vogel. It’s 1931, and the Great Depression has meant that everyone is desperate for money. Hannah herself has very little, although she has enough to eat and keep her home. What’s more, there’s a great deal of tension as everyone waits to see whether and to what extent the Nazis will get power. They’re already a force to be reckoned with, and people know that it’s best not to get in their proverbial sights. Against this very suspenseful background Vogel learns that her brother, Ernst, has been found dead. She wants to know why, and, if he was murdered, who killed him. So, she starts to ask questions. She’ll have to work very quietly, so as not to call too much attention to herself. But she’s determined to find answers. The background tension to this novel adds a real layer of atmosphere, as people watch and wait and wonder what will happen to the country.

Adrian McKinty’s The Cold, Cold Ground is the first of his series to feature Sean Duffy. He’s that rare thing, a Catholic member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). The novel takes place in 1981, in the midst of the Troubles, when everyone’s nerves are frayed from the constant conflict. People do try to go about their lives, but they watch and wait to see what ‘the other side’ will do, and where the next attacks might be. There aren’t many really trustworthy people, and for Duffy, it’s especially difficult. For one thing, almost all of his colleagues are Protestant, reason enough for suspicion on both sides. For another, the public is suspicious, too. He’s a police officer, which is a problem in itself. Then, he’s a Catholic in the RUC; hence, he’s a traitor to a lot of Catholics. And Protestant civilians won’t trust him, either. All of that undercurrent of tension, as people wait to see what will happen, adds to the story as Duffy works to solve two murders that seem to be related.

And then there’s Peter Temple’s Truth.  That novel takes place during a siege of brush fires that are threatening the state of Victoria. It’s an extremely tense time, and it’s not at all clear how much damage there will be, which way the fires will go, and so on. Everyone is very much on edge as people watch and wait. Against this backdrop, Inspector Stephen Villani and his team work to solve the murder of an unknown woman whose body was found in a very posh apartment.  Meanwhile, they’re also investigating the killings of three drug dealers whose bodies were found in another part of the Melbourne area. The brush fires are not the central focus of the novel. But the suspense they cause adds much to the novel.

Watching and waiting, and not knowing how things will pan out, can be extremely hard to deal with in real life. In a novel, though, that suspense can add much to a plot if it’s not done in a melodramatic way. Which examples have stayed with you?

ps. The ‘photo is of a wildfire evacuation map. Red means a mandatory evacuation. Purple is voluntary/evacuation warning. Everyone who’s anywhere near a wildfire pays close attention to those maps, and the tension often builds as people watch and wait to see what will happen on their streets.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of an Aerosmith song.

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Filed under Adrian Hyland, Adrian McKinty, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Peter Temple, Rebecca Cantrell

Don’t Blame Them, You’re the Same*

It seems to be a part of human nature that we’re sometimes very critical of others, for the very same things we do ourselves. We use a different set of standards, if you like to put it that way (e.g. ‘Well, it’s different in my case!’). Or, we simply don’t see the same trait in ourselves.

t’s certainly a human characteristic, so it’s realistic. It’s little wonder, then, that it comes up in fiction, including crime fiction. And it can make for interesting character development, not to mention tension.

In Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, for instance, we are introduced to Miss Emily Brent. She’s among a group of people who are invited to spend time on Indian Island, off the Devon coast. When the group arrives, they’re surprised to find that their host hasn’t yet made an appearance, but everyone settles in. Then, that night, each one is accused of having caused the death of at least one other person. Not long afterwards, one of the guests dies of what turns out to be poison. Later that night, another guest dies. Soon, it’s clear that someone has lured the guests to the island, and plans to kill them all. Now, the survivors have to find out who the killer is, and stay alive themselves. Miss Brent denies causing anyone’s death, and has no problem sitting in judgement, if you will, of the others as we learn about their situations. But little by little, we learn that she’s no different. She refuses to see that she’s no less guilty, though, and it’s an interesting layer to her character.

Nicholas Blake’s The Beast Must Die introduces readers to novelist Frank Cairns, who writes as Felix Lane. His son, Martin ‘Martie’ was tragically killed in a hit-and-run incident, and now, Cairns wants to kill the man who was responsible. So, he returns to the town in which he and Martie lived at the time of the death, and begins to track down the driver of the car. He finds out that that man is George Rattery, and slowly makes his plans. His idea is to take Rattery out sailing and make sure he drowns. But Rattery finds out what Cairns has planned, and tells Cairns that if anything happens to him, Cairns will be suspected. Later in the day, Rattery is murdered by what turns out to be poison. Now, Cairns contacts poet and amateur sleuth Nigel Strangeways. He tells Strangeways that, while he plotted to kill Rattery, he isn’t actually the murderer. Strangeways agrees to look into the case and find out who the real killer is. Throughout the novel, it’s interesting to see how Cairns views what he planned. He doesn’t put his plot to murder Rattery in the same category as Rattery’s killing of Martie. He doesn’t see what he’s doing as the same thing at all.

In Megan Abbott’s historical novel (1950s) Die A Little, we meet Lora King, a Pasadena, California, teacher. She has a very close relationship with her brother, Bill, so she’s concerned when he begins to date former Hollywood seamstress assistant Alice Steele. At first, Lora tells herself that she’s being overprotective of her brother, but her concerns only grow when Bill and Alice marry. She tries to be nice to her new sister-in-law for Bill’s sake, but she starts to find out some things about Alice that really unsettle her. At the same time as she is repulsed by Alice’s life, though, she is also drawn to it. Then, there’s a murder, and Alice could very well be mixed up in it. Lora tells herself she’s trying to help her brother, and begins to ask questions. Throughout this novel, there’s a very interesting and real question about whether Lora is really very much different to Alice, despite the way she judges her sister-in-law.

In Maureen Carter’s Working Girls, Birmingham police detective Beverly ‘Bev’ Morriss and her team investigate the murder of fifteen-year-old Michelle Lucas. When it’s discovered that she was a sex worker, the team looks among Michelle’s fellow sex workers and clients to find out who would have wanted to kill her. And it’s not long before they find several different possibilities. Throughout the novel, we see a clear prejudice against sex workers among many people. One thread of that (albeit not a major point in the novel) is that those who use sex worker services see a big difference between what they do and what the sex workers do.

And then there’s Edney Silvestre’s Happiness is Easy. That novel is the story of a plot to kidnap the son of wealthy São Paolo business tycoon Olavo Bettencourt. Bettencourt has a life that just about anyone would envy. He’s rich, he has a beautiful ‘trophy wife,’ Mara, and quite a lot of ‘clout.’ He also has a young son, Olavinho. A gang decides to kidnap the boy, and sets the plan in motion. Everything falls apart, though, when they get the wrong boy. Instead of Olavinho, they abduct the mute son of the Bettencourt’s housekeeper. Now, the gang has to decide what to do about this situation. And Bettencourt has to decide what to tell the media and the police about the situation. His business deals have not all been entirely legal, and he’s reluctant to have any of that brought to light. As the novel goes on, we learn more about the Bettencourts. Mara grew up desperately poor, and has done a lot of questionable things to get to the wealthy life she has now. She despises her husband, but it’s arguable that she’s not much different. For his part, Olavo is contemptuous of his wife and her ‘low class’ background. But again, it’s arguable that he is no different.

There are plenty of other examples of characters who look down on, or at the very least, judge, the very qualities in others that they themselves share. It’s a human trait, so it makes sense that we’d see it in fiction.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice’s Good Night and Thank You.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Edney Silvestre, Maureen Carter, Megan Abbott, Nicholas Blake

I’m Not the Same Person*

Most of us grow and change over time. That’s usually a positive thing, since it means we’re getting more mature. That process of changing and evolving can be a challenge, though, especially when others insist on thinking of us in the ‘same old ways.’ If you’ve ever returned to your home town, for instance, where people knew you as you used to be, you may know that feeling of frustration (e.g. ‘I’m not that person now! I’ve changed!).

In fiction, including crime fiction, changes in characters can certainly add to the story. And it can make for suspense, even conflict, when others don’t seem to want to accept those changes. There are plenty of examples in the genre. Here are just a few.

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Dancing Men, we are introduced to Hilton Cubitt. He’s concerned about his wife, Elsie. Before they married, Elsie warned him that she’d had some ‘unpleasant associations’ in her life, although she herself hasn’t done anything wrong. Because of this, she made her husband promise that he wouldn’t ask about her past, and he agreed. But now, it seems the past has caught up with her. She’s been getting cryptic letters written in code. They’re clearly upsetting to her, but she won’t confide in Hilton. So, he brings the case to Sherlock Holmes, who agrees to look into it. Then, messages are scrawled on one of the window sills of the Cubitt house. Now, Elsie seems terrified, but still won’t tell her husband why. Then a tragedy occurs, and Hilton is shot. Holmes works out the code, and discovers that someone has refused to let Elsie change, grow, and, if you will, reinvent herself.

Agatha Christie’s The Moving Finger features brother and sister Jerry and Joanna Burton. Originally from London, they’ve taken a home in the village of Lymstock, so that Jerry can recover from a plane crash injury. They’re just settling in when they receive a vicious anonymous letter that claims they’re lovers, not siblings. Soon enough, they find out that they’re not the only victims of these ‘poison pen’ letters. Someone in town is sending out anonymous letters to several other people. Then, there’s a murder. And another murder. Miss Marple gets involved in the investigation, and discovers the truth behind both the letters and the murders. One of the villagers is 20-year-old Megan Hunter. When we first meet her, she’s awkward and frumpy, and most people dismiss her. Jerry gets to know her, though, and finds himself falling for her. He takes her on a trip to London, where he pays for her to have a makeover and new clothes. When they return, Megan looks and learns to act more sophisticated and mature. But it’s a bit awkward at first, as not everyone is ready to forget the dowdy, clumsy Megan they knew.

In Ian Vasquez’ Lonesome Point, we meet brothers Leo and Patrick Varela. They grew up in Belize, but moved to Miami. Now, Patrick has a very promising career in local law and politics. He’s even being spoken of as a very good choice for the next mayor of Miami, with all sorts of possibilities after that. Leo is a poet, who also works at Jefferson Memorial, a mental hospital. He doesn’t travel in his brother’s circles, but they do have their past in common. And it comes back to haunt them. One day, Leo gets a visit from Freddy Robinson, whom he knew in Belize. Freddy’s now working for some ‘associates’ who want Leo to release one of the patients, Herman Massani. It seems that Massani has some information on voter fraud in the Miami-Dade County area. If that information is accurate, it implicates Patrick. At first, Leo doesn’t want anything to do with Freddy, who’s become a convicted felon. But Freddy insists, and reminds Leo that he knows about some dark things that happened in the Varela brothers’ past. Leo’s tried his best to move beyond Belize, but now, it seems that Freddy won’t let that happen. When Leo contacts his brother, Patrick wants to wait and see what will happen. But things soon begin to spin out of control for both brothers, and it’s clear that they won’t be easily allowed to get past what happened when they were younger.

In Kishwar Desai’s Witness the Night, social worker Simran Singh returns to her home town of Jullundur, in the state of Punjab. She’s been living and working in Delhi, which suits her. But, when an old university friend asks for her help in a case, she finds it impossible to refuse. It seems that a horrible tragedy has occurred at the home of the wealthy Atwals. Thirteen members of the family have been poisoned, and some stabbed. What’s more, someone set fire to the house. The only survivor is fourteen-year-old Durga Atwal. The evidence isn’t clear on whether she was responsible for what happened, or was a victim who managed to survive. Durga herself has said nearly nothing about that night, so the police don’t know how to proceed with her (or the investigation). It’s hoped that if Simran works with the girl, she can get her to open up and talk about what happened. In one of the sub-plots of the novel, Simran faces the challenge of people who want to see her only as the girl she was, and not as the skilled, educated professional she is now. That proves to be a real stumbling block for her, although she does find out the truth about the Atwal case.

And then there’s Peter May’s Fionnlagh ‘Fin’ MacLeod, who makes his entrance in The Blackhouse. He’s originally from the Isle of Lewis, but left there several years ago. Now, he’s a police detective, living and working in Edinburgh. Then, there’s a murder on the Isle of Lewis that closely resembles an Edinburgh case MacLeod’s working. He’s seconded to the island, the idea being that if the two murders were committed by the same person, the two police forces should work together. For MacLeod, though, this isn’t a happy homecoming. He had good reasons for leaving in the first place, and had no real desire to go back. He does, though, and meets up again with the people he grew up with, several of whom never left the island. His interactions with them add some interesting tension to the novel. Over the years, he’s grown up, become a skilled detective, and made a new life for himself. But plenty of people on the island still see him as the boy he once was.

And that’s a big challenge when we try to grow up and remake ourselves. We sometimes have to deal with the fact that not everyone sees the ‘new us.’ That can make for real-life tension, and interesting conflict and character development in a novel.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Bettye Crutch, Allen Jones, and Booker T. Jones.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Ian Vasquez, Kishwar Desai, Peter May