Here’s the Mystery of Fitting In*

Human interactions can be complicated, since people are complex. That may be part of why each group of people develops rules – some of them very subtle and unspoken – for being accepted. If you know and follow those rules, you have a much easier time in that particular group. If you don’t, it’s more difficult; you may even be made unwelcome.

Those rules permeate our lives, whether we’re aware of it or not. So, it shouldn’t be surprising that they’re also woven into crime fiction. For example, Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot is Belgian, with a lifetime of that culture’s subtle and not-so-subtle ‘rules’ for interaction. He’s smart and observant enough to know that things are different in his adopted home of England. So, he’s made the adjustment. In The Murder on the Links, for instance, he and Captain Hastings investigate the murder of Paul Renauld, who lived with his wife and son in Merlinville-sur-Mer, in France. At one point, Poirot makes a trip to Paris to follow up on a lead. Here’s how he takes his leave of Hastings:

‘‘You permit that I embrace you? Ah, no, I forget that it is not the English custom. Une poignee de main, alors.’’

Needless to say, a handshake is much more suited to Hastings’ style.

In Vicki Delany’s In the Shadow of the Glacier, Trafalgar, British Columbia (BC) Constable Moonlight ‘Molly’ Smith and her boss, Sergeant John Winters, investigate the murder of land developer Reginald ‘Reg’ Montgomery. There are plenty of suspects, too. He wanted to create the Grizzly Resort, an upmarket tourist attraction that some people say would have brought in a lot of welcome revenue. But, there are just as many people who didn’t want the resort, saying it would wreak havoc on the environment and make life harder for the local people. The victim had some secrets in his personal life as well. There were certainly plenty of people who didn’t like Montgomery, but he knew some of the ‘rules’ for fitting in in Trafalgar:

‘…he made a point of shopping at the local stores, rather than the Wal-Mart in Nelson, eating out regularly, usually in family-owned restaurants, and tipping well. Ellie, his wife, had her hair done at Maggie’s Salon on Front Street, bought her clothes from Joanie’s Ladies Wear, and contributed generously, in time as well as money, to the hospital and the seniors center.’

Montgomery wanted the locals to accept him and his wife, and learned how to help make that happen.

In many groups, new members get the least desirable assignments, and sometimes have to be good sports about having tricks played on them. Once they show they can ‘take a joke,’ and are willing to do lowly tasks, they’re accepted. Of course, such ‘rules’ can be taken much too far, and amount to hazing. But they’re a part of a lot of groups’ cultures. For instance, Y.A. Erskine’s The Brotherhood is the story of the murder of Sergeant John White of the Tasmania Police. One day, he’s called to the scene of a home invasion, and takes probationer Lucy Howard with him to investigate. He’s killed at the house, and everyone assumes that the murderer is seventeen-year-old Darren Rowley. Howard didn’t see the murder, though, as she was at a different part of the house when it happened. So, the police have to investigate. As they do, we get to know the people White worked with, and the bond they share. One of those people is Constable Cameron Walsh, who considered White a mentor, even though White played a ‘new guy’ prank on him. Walsh was accepted among his fellow coppers, including White, in part because he proved he ‘could take a joke.’

One of the most important things one learns in the LGBT community is that you don’t ever ‘out’ someone. People choose to come out or not of their own accord. And Anthony Bidulka’s Saskatoon PI Russell Quant knows and follows that rule. In Flight of Aquavit, Quant gets a new client, successful accountant Daniel Guest. Guest is a ‘closeted’ married gay man, who’s being blackmailed over some trysts he’s had with other men. He wants Quant to find the blackmailer and stop that person. Quant’s first reaction is that it would be a lot easier if Guest simply went public with the fact that he’s gay. But that’s not Quant’s decision to make, and Guest is unwilling to take that step. So, he takes the case and begins to look into the matter. It’s a challenging case, and leads to murder; but in the end, Quant finds out the truth.

Matsumoto Seichō’s Inspector Imanishi Investigates takes place in Japan, mostly in Tokyo. In that culture, at that time (the book was written in 1961), there are a number of expectations for the way one is supposed to interact. There are several ‘rules’ for verbal and other communication. Some indicate who has authority and who doesn’t; others are used to get along with others and to be accepted. Some of those expectations are still in place (we see some of them, for instance, in Natsuo Kirino’s Real Life, which was published in 2003). And it’s interesting to see how those rules and rituals allow for social harmony among a large group of people concentrated in a small place.

It’s much harder to be accepted among a group of people if you don’t know the social subtleties and rules. Just ask Harry Bingham’s Detective Constable (DC) Fiona Griffiths, whom we first meet in Talking to the Dead. In this novel, she’s the most junior member of her Cardiff-based police team. It’s vital for a group of police officers to be able to work together, and Griffiths knows that. But knowing and following those ‘rules’ is difficult for her, because she is dealing with a mental illness. It’s not so debilitating that she can’t work, but it does hamper her ability to interact productively with others, and to live on what she calls ‘Planet Normal.’ Things such as joking around, small talk, dating, and so on can be real challenges. She’s not the only one who faces this, either, is she, fans of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time?

Most of us learn the ‘rules’ and expectations for interaction very early on. And that’s a good thing, as they make it much easier to work with others and get through life. In fact, they’re so much a part of our lives that we probably don’t pay a lot of attention to them. Little wonder we see them so often in crime fiction.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Pale Pacific’s How to Fit In.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Bidulka, Harry Bingham, Mark Haddon, Matsumoto Seichō, Natsuo Kirino, Vicki Delany, Y.A. Erskine

We’re Off to the Pub to Play in the Trivia Club*

As this is posted, it’s the birthday of famous quiz show host Alex Trebek. If you think about it, quiz shows such as Jeopardy and Mastermind are interesting examples of how much people like trivia. If you watch those shows, or you’ve ever played Trivial Pursuit or games like it, you know what I mean. And sometimes, knowing trivia can be lucrative.

Even if all you get is bragging rights, trivia can be interesting. Trivia even finds its way into crime fiction. And sometimes, it can end up being important, and not trivial at all.

Take Agatha Christie’s Lord Edgware Dies, for instance. In that novel, famous American actress Jane Wilkinson comes to Poirot with an unusual (for him) sort of problem. She wants a divorce from her husband, Lord Edgware, so that she can marry again. But she says he won’t consent. Her solution is for Poirot to visit Edgware and ask him to withdraw his objection. It’s a strange request, but Poirot agrees. When he and Captain Hastings visit Edgware, though, their host tells them that he’s already written to his wife to tell her that he consents to the divorce. Confused, Poirot and Hastings leave, only to learn the next day that Edgware’s been stabbed. Jane is the most likely suspect, but there are a dozen people willing to swear that she was at a dinner party in another part of London at the time of the murder. So, Poirot and Chief Inspector Japp, who’s assigned to the case, have to look elsewhere for the killer. In the end, a piece of trivia casually mentioned turns out to be part of the murderer’s undoing.

In Karin Alvtegen’s Betrayal, we are introduced to Jonas Hansson. He’s got deep scars from an unhappy childhood and very dysfunctional parents. But he found solace in his fiancée, Anna. Then, Anna nearly died in a fall from a pier at a local boat club. She’s been in a coma since then, and Jonas spends as much time as he can by her side. At first, that attention impresses the staff at the hospital where Anna lives. But soon enough, we see that Jonas isn’t dealing with his life in a very healthy way. One night, he happens to be in a pub where he meets Eva Wirenström-Berg, who’s just found out that her husband, Henrik, has a mistress. Both she and Jonas make some fateful decisions that end up having tragic consequences for everyone. Interestingly enough, Jonas uses a particular set of trivia – distances between different places in Sweden – to cope with stress.

‘Alingsås to Arjeplog 1179 kilometres, Arboga to Arlanda 144, Arvidsjaur to Borlänge 787.’

He uses the ritual of repeating the distances to himself to calm down.

Trivia turns out to be useful to Saskatoon PI Russell Quant in Anthony Bidulka’s Flight of Aquavit. Successful accountant Daniel Guest is being blackmailed, and he wants Quant to find out who’s responsible, and get that person to stop. He gives Quant the information he has about who the blackmailer might be, and Quant gets started. At one point, the trail leads to a local community theatre, where Quant hopes the secretary might provide him with some photographs he wants to see:

‘‘Hello, my name is Rick Astley and I’m the Artistic Director for Theatre Quant in Mission.’ I was betting she wasn’t old enough to be up on her late 1980’s teen idol trivia or informed enough about British Columbia community theatre to catch on to my clever ruse. And actually she looked pretty unimpressed with life in general regardless of the decade. I continued on, hoping my enthusiasm, if not my really bad English accent, would be contagious.”

Quant’s knowledge of musical trivia helps get him the photographs he wants, and a tiny piece of the puzzle.

Catriona McPherson’s Dandelion ‘Dandy’ Gilver series begins with Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains. In that novel, private detective Dandy Gilver gets a new client, Walburga ‘Lollie’ Balfour, who believes her husband, Philip ‘Pip,’ is trying to kill her. She doesn’t want Pip to know she’s consulted a detective, so she asks Dandy to visit her in the guise of a maid seeking a job. Dandy agrees, and takes a position under the name of Fanny Rossiter. The idea is that she’ll find out what she can, and try to protect her client. Late on the first night of ‘Fanny’s’ employment, Pip is stabbed. Dandy gets involved in the case as she tries to clear her client’s name. At one point, she comes upon the maid who discovered Pip’s body, desperately trying to get bloodstains out of her clothes. Dandy doesn’t think this maid is the killer, so she tries to be practical about it:

‘‘Apart from anything else, Miss Etheldreda, hot water sets a bloodstain so nothing will ever shift it. A cold water and salt soak is what’s needed.’’

That little bit of knowledge helps Dandy get some information she wants, and brings down the barrier between her and Etheldreda.

One of the major events in Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies is a Trivia Night event at Piriwee Public School, on Piriwee Peninsula, near Sydney. It’s intended as a fundraiser to provide the school’s classrooms with Smart Boards. Everyone’s ready for a fun event, but instead of a friendly competition in aid of a good cause, disaster strikes. The hors d’oeuvres don’t arrive, which means that people are drinking too much without anything to eat. The alcohol fuels already-simmering resentments, and the end result is tragedy. Then, the book takes readers back six months to show how the resentments built, and what led to the events of Trivia Night.

You see?  Trivia isn’t just for Jeopardy or for Quiz Night at the pub. And, of course, trivia isn’t always deadly. Just ask Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse. He depends on that sort of knowledge, and his knowledge of language, to do his crossword puzzles. And where would he be without those?


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Squeeze’s Sunday Street.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Bidulka, Catriona McPherson, Colin Dexter, Karin Alvtegen, Liane Moriarty

What’s That Called? ;-)

It’s time for fireside books in the Southern Hemisphere, and beach reads in the Northern Hemisphere. With all of those books, it can be hard to keep the titles straight. And that’s got me thinking about…





…a quiz!!  Oh, please!  It’s not as though you’ve never been warned to be careful around here!  😉


Titles are very important parts of books. They get our attention, and they tell a bit about the book. And, as a dedicated crime fiction fan, you know all of your famous crime fiction titles, don’t you? Or do you? Take this handy quiz and find out. Match each question to the correct answer, and see how many you get right.


Ready? Open the book to the title page to begin… if you dare! 😉



Filed under Uncategorized

Everybody Get Together*

One of the best things about the crime fiction blogging world is that we get to learn about excellent novels – books we might not have thought of, or known about, before. Of course, that’s not always good for the TBR, but it broadens our reading horizons. I know I’ve learned an awful lot from reading reviews on blogs I follow, and read much more widely because of them.

That’s one reason I’m glad to be a part of Petrona Remembered. For those of you who don’t know (or have forgotten), Petrona Remembered is a fantastic collection of reviews of fine crime fiction. It’s dedicated to the memory of Maxine Clarke, who was a true friend of the genre. I was fortunate enough to know Maxine (virtually, at any rate), and was always impressed with her knowledge of the genre and her support for high quality crime writing. I will also always be grateful that she chose to befriend me, and visit my blog. Her support of me and of my writing meant a lot to me.

But that’s not the only reason I love the idea of Petrona Remembered. It’s a fine place to look for that next great book you want to read. It’s also (and here’s where you come in) an excellent place to let everyone know about that great crime novel you just finished. You know the sort of thing I mean – the book or author that’s turned you into an evangelist. And the more you share those fabulous books with the rest of us, the better a resource Petrona Remembered becomes. To put it simply, it’s made all the richer for your contributions.

Bill Selnes at Mysteries and More From Saskatchewan had an excellent idea for keeping Petrona Remembered stocked with fine reviews. His thinking was that we in the crime fiction blogosphere could take turns adding reviews. Each month, a different blogger would send in a review, so that there’d be 12 new reviews each year. I think that’s a fantastic idea. If you do, too, all you need to do to be a part of it is to email me (margotkinberg(at)gmail(dot)com) and let me know which month you’d like to take. Then, I’ll post your review that month. It’s a perfect way to be a part of this rich resource even if you’re not quite ready to do it right now.

Don’t want to commit to a particular month? That’s fine, too.  All you need to do is email me (margotkinberg(at)gmail(dot)com) any review that you’d like posted on the blog. I’ll do the rest. You’ll learn about other great blogs and bloggers, and they’ll learn about you. Oh, and you’ll get to share your enthusiasm for that fantastic book you want everyone to read.

Questions? Just let me know and I’ll be happy to answer them. Rather not participate yourself? That’s perfectly fine. But I sure would appreciate your passing the word along to crime fiction book bloggers who might be interested. Let’s make Petrona Remembered a top online library of crime fiction reviews!


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Chet Powers’ Get Together.


Filed under Uncategorized

Wine Country

Not long ago, I had a terrific comment exchange with crime writer and fellow blogger Christine Poulson . At the time, she challenged me to write a story that begins and ends with exactly the same sentence. I accepted the challenge, and I’m delighted to say that Christine agreed to do her own story, also beginning and ending with the same sentence.

Below is the story that came from this conversation. And be sure you check out Christine’s story, which is right here. Try her crime fiction, too – you won’t be disappointed.

Wine Country

‘You’re going to love this place.’
Gabe looked around behind him at the group of people on the bus. Nine of them this time – a nice number. Easy to keep track of, but a big enough group that they’d start talking to each other once they’d visited a couple of the wineries on the schedule. He’d been doing these tours a few years now, and it had gotten to the point where he could almost predict exactly when the ice would break. It hadn’t yet, though.

He surveyed the group. A middle-aged couple – nice the way they were holding hands. What did they tell him? Thirty-third anniversary? That was something these days. Three other, younger, couples. One of them had said this was their year-delayed honeymoon. And there was one young woman in the back. Her name was Stephanie. Alone for the tour, with a smile that didn’t reach her eyes.  She said almost nothing. He walked back and asked her if she was all right. She said she was. There were a few other quiet murmurs, and some heads bent over the brochures he’d passed out when they first boarded the tour bus. No real enthusiasm yet, but that usually came later, after a few tastings. Now, he went back to the front of the bus and continued his spiel.

‘So, this vineyard’s one of our most popular stops. They’ve got some great, full-bodied reds, and some nice, light, crisp whites, too. And you’ll get to see a little of the actual property. Now, I’ll stop talking and let you get started. Your vineyard host’ll take it from here.’

The group shuffled off the bus, a few people blinking in the strong sunlight. One or two put on sunglasses. Gabe watched them go up the steps to be greeted by their host. He’d been a cop for a number of years before retiring and taking on this job, and he found those skills were still useful. He was good at observing, and could tell when someone needed a break from drinking, or a chance to sit for a few minutes. You didn’t often get trouble on these wine country tours, but he was good at spotting and preventing that, too. A lot of it was in the eyes: glazed with a little too much wine; or bright with excitement and interest. Now he looked again at his passengers as they headed into the winery. Everyone seemed to be comfortable, if a bit reserved. Everyone except Stephanie.

Gabe hurried over to Stephanie and gently pulled her aside. ‘You sure you’re OK?’
‘I am, thanks.’ She gave him a tired sort of smile.
He wasn’t about to pry. He nodded and she joined the group.

Gabe was curious, though. He went back to the bus and looked at his passenger list again to remember her last name. Greenvale. Where had he heard that name? It took a few minutes, but it came to him. Dan Greenvale. A suicide. It made the news because there was a Greenvale Winery here in Temecula at the time. Must be hard on the kid to come back here if she was a relative.

Stephanie followed the rest of the group into the winery, pretending to listen as their guide explained how the place got started. She didn’t need to pay attention; she knew damned well how Marquise Winery began. Now this place, and its owner, Ned Priestly, were raking in money. And that was why she was here.

The tour group followed dutifully as the guide led them out to the vineyard itself. Everyone stopped at the different designated points to look at the young grapes, taste some samples (the Chenin blanc really was nice and crisp), and hear about the process of harvesting and winemaking.

‘Now, here’s a nice treat,’ the guide said. ‘Our owner, Ned Priestly, is here today. Come say hello, Ned.’
A man in his sixties, dressed for the weather in a light sport shirt and khaki trousers, joined the group. ‘Nice to see you all here,’ he said. ‘I hope you’re enjoying the tour.’ Everyone murmured a greeting, and Ned soon took his leave and made his way along one of the trails.

When the tour had finished, the visitors were invited to visit the tasting room, use the restrooms, and, of course, browse the gift shop. Stephanie walked with the group as far as the restrooms. Then, as soon as she saw that no-one was watching her, she went back the way they’d come –to the vineyard itself.

There he was, still fussing with the vines. Stephanie walked up to him.
‘Can I help you?’ he asked. The expression on his face added the word, ‘Sweetie’ to his question.
‘I hope so. You’re Ned Priestly, aren’t you?’
‘Yes, I am.’ His smile widened.
‘Then you’re the person I need. I’d like to go into the business.’
Ned’s smile turned condescending. ‘Well, you know, it takes a long time to learn the winemaking business. You have to –’
‘I know. I grew up in a winemaking family. We owned a vineyard. I know a lot about wine and winemaking.’
Now, Ned was interested. With those looks, if she also knew about the company’s wines, she could sell a lot of them. ‘What do you know about Marquise wines?’

Stephanie moved closer. Her voice got softer, but the edge was unmistakable. ‘I know you and your company took over this winery from a man named Dan Greenvale. I know you used some dirty tactics to get the land and the grapes. I know Dan Greenvale never got over it. He killed himself. I know that.’
Ned was slowly backing away. ‘I – I never – I –’
She kept coming, slowly reaching into the tote she had with her. ‘And you know how I know all that?’
Ned shook his head, flicking drops of sweat as he did.
‘Dan Greenvale was my father!’

It was just a quick glint of silver, but it caught Gabe’s eye. He’d been on his way to gather the group for the trip to the next winery when he noticed Stephanie talking to the owner, and wondered what was going on. He moved close enough to hear, making sure he stayed out of their line of sight. Then he saw Ned Priestly fall, and Stephanie take something that looked like tissues out of her bag to wipe the handle of the knife she’d used. She dropped it and turned away. Gabe waited until she’d slipped back to the main building. Then he called the emergency number.

It was time to leave. The tour group slowly filed back on board the bus. Gabe watched their eyes as they did. No one had had too much to drink – yet. But everyone was starting to talk a little. Stephanie was the last to get on, and went to take her seat at the back. That’s when they heard the siren. People craned their necks, trying to get a glimpse of what was going on.
‘Do you know what’s happening?’ someone asked Gabe.
‘No idea,’ he said. He managed to catch Stephanie’s eye and nodded just enough for her to see. Then, he glanced down at his schedule. ‘OK, our next stop is the beautiful J & J Winery. You’re going to love this place.’


Filed under Uncategorized