When You See the Southern Cross For the First Time*

While many fictional sleuths solve crimes in their own home cities and towns, there are plenty of cases, too, where the sleuth travels. That plot point can add a “lift” to an ongoing series and it’s often interesting for readers to learn about a new-to-them-place when their favourite sleuths go “on the road.” It’s also interesting when different places are woven into a crime fiction novel even if the sleuth doesn’t travel there. One place that seems to crop up more than you might expect is New Zealand. It’s a lovely place (trust me), so it’s easy to see what the appeal might be to have mentions of it in crime fiction.

For example, in Agatha Christie’s  Death in the Clouds (AKA Death in the Air), Hercule Poirot is en route from Paris to London when one of his fellow air passengers, Marie Morisot AKA Madame Giselle is poisoned. The only possible suspects in her murder are her fellow passengers, so Poirot and Inspector James “Jimmy” Japp begin to look into those passengers’ lives to see who would have wanted to kill the victim. Madame Giselle was a well-known moneylender who used knowledge of her clients as a lever to make sure they paid up, so there are several likely suspects. One of the passengers is hairdresser’s assistant Jane Grey. She doesn’t have an obvious motive for murder although she, like the other passengers, falls under some suspicion. For Jane, one unexpected consequence of this flight is that she meets Norman Gale, a dentist who was also on the flight. The two are attracted to each other and in the course of the investigation, it becomes clear that they intend a future together. That’s complicated by the fact that Gale has lost many of his patients because of the publicity about the murder. So Gale and Grey plan to go to New Zealand to start over. Of course, Poirot has other plans…

In Ngaio Marsh’s Died in the Wool, New Zealand MP Flossie Rubrick is planning an important speech. She goes out to one of the sheep pens on her husband’s farm to practice one day, and doesn’t return. Three weeks later, her body turns up inside a bale of wool. Rubrick’s nephew writes to Inspector Roderick Alleyn and asks him to investigate, so Alleyn travels to New Zealand to find out who killed the victim. He gets to know the various members of Flossie Rubrick’s family and in the course of his investigation, he discovers some hidden secrets and some good reasons for murdering Rubrick. In the end, Alleyn discovers that Rubrick’s murder is connected to espionage and to one member of her family.

In Nancy Atherton’s Aunt Dimity Down Under, ex-pat Americans Lori and Bill Shepherd and their children are living in a home in the Cotswolds. Lori is shocked she is told her friends Ruth and Louise Pym may be dying. They’re both very weak and their hearts aren’t expected to last much longer. Their one request of Shepherd is that she go to New Zealand and find their long-lost older brother Aubrey. It turns out that Aubrey Pym had a bad reputation for drinking, chasing women and gambling. The proverbial last straw came when he was caught stealing money from the poor box of the local church. He was sent away and cut out of the family will. The Pym sisters want Shepherd to find Aubrey if she can before they die. Shepherd agrees and goes off on her trip. She begins the search for Aubrey Pym and finds out the truth about him. She also finds out that Pym’s eighteen-year-old grand-daughter Bree has disappeared. So she decides to search for the girl and in the process, finds out some long-held Pym family secrets. Along the way, she is helped by “Aunt” Dimity Westwood, her mother’s deceased best friend who communicates by means of writing in a journal.

In Greg Scowan’s The Spanish Helmet, we meet archaeologist Dr. Matthew Cameron of the University of South-West England. One day he gets a call from his friend Warren Rennie. Rennie has unearthed an incredible find – gold coins and an ancient mirror that suggest that Celts might have been in New Zealand even before the Maori. This a theory that’s been getting some interest, although established academics in general don’t agree with it. But Rennie’s find is so exciting that Cameron goes to New Zealand to examine Rennie’s finds and see if he can authenticate them. When he gets there he finds himself caught up in a conflict among the New Zealand government, Maori leaders and the Clan of Truth, an activist group out to prove the Celtic origins of New Zealand. This novel isn’t the “typical” murder mystery (if there is such a thing) although there are some deaths in the story. Rather, it’s an interesting archaeological/academic thriller.

And then there’s Martin Edwards’ The Serpent Pool, in which DCI Hannah Scarlett and her Cold Case Review Team investigate the six-year-old drowning death of Bethany Friend. They discover that that death is related to two more recent deaths: book collector George Saffell and attorney Stuart Wagg have both been murdered. Scarlett’s friend and colleague Fern Larter is in charge of the team that’s investigating the two recent deaths, and she and Scarlett compare notes more than once. At one point, Scarlettt and Larter are talking about George Saffell’s family and background and they discuss his wealth:


“‘For good measure, there’s a villa in Spain, but so far I haven’t managed to wangle a trip out there to hunt for clues.’
‘You’re slipping.’ Fern’s ability to persuade the top brass that trips overseas were vital to her latest investigation was the stuff of legend. ‘How about New Zealand, for a word with the daughter? They say it’s a beautiful country.’
‘Lynsey came back to England for the funeral,’ Fern pouted…”


In the end, Larter and Scarlett, with help from Oxford historian Daniel Kind, find out what links the three deaths even though they don’t go to New Zealand to do so…

As you can see (and I’ve only mentioned just a few examples here), New Zealand is a popular destination. I’ll bet you can think of some examples, too, of novels in which sleuths travel there. And of course, there are plenty of sleuths who work there.

So why am I going on about New Zealand? Because I’m on my way there for a conference this week :-)! So if I don’t comment on your terrific blogs as often as I would like, it’s because I’m en route or at a presentation. But fear not. I’ll be posting regularly here on Confessions of a Mystery Novelist…. Look for In The Spotlight tomorrow as per usual, and other posts throughout the week. And I promise not to subject you to an interminable show of my ‘photos ;-).

If you’re interested in my own presentation, you’re welcome to look up the details on my Workshop tab. I’ve uploaded my Power Point slides that may give you a bit of information.

Kia Ora, all!



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Crosby, Stills and Nash’s Southern Cross. (OK, it’s not my first time seeing the Southern Cross, but I couldn’t resist these lyrics…)


Filed under Agatha Christie, Greg Scowan, Martin Edwards, Nancy Atherton, Ngaio Marsh

31 responses to “When You See the Southern Cross For the First Time*

  1. You lucky girl, have a great trip to New Zealand! 😉

  2. Have a wonderful and safe trip Margot.

  3. Ooooooh! I hope it will be fabulous, Margot!
    Have a wonderful time!

  4. Patti Abbott

    Have a great trip. I hear it’s just lovely and it will be spring, right?

  5. Margot: I am sure you will have a great trip. I am sad to say I could not find in memory or notes any mystery I have read that involves New Zealand. I am going to have to remedy the deficiency.

    • Bill – Thank you for the good wishes :-). I’m certain, too, that I’ll have a wonderful time. And knowing you, I’m certain you’ll find some excellent New Zealand-themed mystery to share with us.

  6. kathy d.

    Have a great time — and no, we won’t get tired of seeing photos!
    Bring them on!
    I’ve only visited New Zealand once, and that was vicariously, through a novel by Vanda Symon.

    • Kathy – Thank you :-). And thanks for the invitation to put up ‘photos. I’ll share some of them, then… And if you’ve read some Vanda Symon, then you’ve gotten a real taste of New Zealand :-), not to mention the work of a talented author.

  7. I hope you have a great trip, Ms Kinberg! I can’t think of any sleuths to travel with you to New Zealand!! That may be because I don’t know of any. Outside of New Zealand, I can instantly think of Miss Marple in the Caribbean and Hercule Poirot in the blue train from Istanbul.

    • Prashant – Thank you for your good wishes. I am really excited to be here. And it’s interesting isn’t it that although Agatha Christie mentions New Zealand in several of her novels, her characters don’t really go there…

  8. Hope you have a great trip to New Zealand, Margot! Great examples of travel here, as usual!

  9. Have a safe trip, Margot. I’m currently doing what you said by uprooting my sleuth from beautiful San Diego and putting him in Northeastern Pennsylvania in January to help an estranged uncle. It not only helps with the change in scene, but the obstacles of cold and snow make life difficult for my PI. I’m giving him an opportunity to feel my pain.

    • R.J. – Thanks for the good wishes. And I think it’s really a creative idea to have your Jason Duffy have to be a little uprooted. Not only does it make for a good, good story, but it helps your character evolve, and it allows you, as you say, to tap your experiences. I look forward to reading what you create.

  10. Have a great trip Margot. I’ve been to the South Island and it was beautiful. A vert good kiwi friend of mine lives there. I will be looking at your slides with interest.

    • Sarah – Thanks! I hear the South Island is gorgeous. I’ll be on the North Island for this conference but no matter – I’ll still share slides :-), but only because you’ve asked ;-).

  11. Have you been to New Zealand before? I haven’t but I hear it’s beautiful. Have a wonderful time and I wouldn’t mind seeing a few pictures, that’s for sure.

    • Clarissa – This is actually my third trip to NZ. The conference I’m attending takes place every four years, and I’ve been to the other two. It really is pretty here, so I promise – I’ll share ‘photos.

  12. How exciting, Margot! I’ve never been anywhere in the southern hemisphere. Have a wonderful time!

  13. Oh, sounds wonderful, Margot! Have a lovely time, I am sure you will. I read a couple of books with an “escaped to New Zealand” plot but of course I can’t remember them now, except that one was by John Harvey, possibly his first Frank Elder book.

    • Maxine – Thank you :-). I expect it’ll be a very good time. You wouldn’t by chance be thinking of Far Cry would you? That’s the only Harvey one I can think of with that theme. But I could be very wrong.

  14. Have a safe and wonderful trip to New Zealand. I hope you share photos.

    Thoughts in Progress

  15. Safe trip, Margot. Friends of mine went there with a group from Princeton a couple years ago. They loved it, and made me want to go someday.

  16. I’ve always wanted to visit New Zealand but can’t get excited about traveling the distance…so I hope you post a lot of photos.

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