I Know That It’s Time For a Cool Change*

Did you ever have the urge to make a major change in your life? Sometimes people make those big changes because they’re not happy with the way their lives are going (a job one dislikes for instance). Sometimes a tragedy or setback such as a death or job loss can force a major change. Either way, making a major change can be just as challenging as it can be positive.  Even if it’s a change for the better, and a change one’s chosen, it’s never easy to leave a familiar way of living life. And that’s part of what can make that kind of major change an interesting backdrop or plot point for a crime fiction novel. The anxiety of a major change (and sometimes the reasons for it) can add an interesting thread of suspense to a story.

For example, Agatha Christie’s Murder in Mesopotamia begins with a major change in the life of Amy Leatheran, who works at Miss Bendix’s Nursing Home. One of her maternity patients, a Mrs. Kelsey, is moving with her husband and brand-new baby to Iraq, and Leatheran accompanies her to look after the baby. Once they arrive in Baghdad, the family no longer needs Leatheran’s services so she plans at first to return to England. Then she gets an interesting proposition. Dr. Giles Reilly, whom she meets in Baghdad, is acquainted with a noted archaeologist Eric Leidner, who’s leading a dig team about four hours from Baghdad. Leidner is in need of a nurse/companion for his wife Louise, who’s been troubled by what some people call fancies: hands tapping at windows, faces looking into windows and so on. Reilly thinks that Leatheran may be the right choice for this position, so he puts the idea to her. After a bit of thought she agrees to make this change. And it is a major change. Leatheran’s used to living in England and it’s hard to get accustomed to the different lifestyle and culture she encounters in Iraq. But she’s not the fearful kind, so she plunges into her new work. Then one afternoon Louise Leidner is killed by a blow to the head. Hercule Poirot is travelling in the area on his way back to London. He’s persuaded to take a little time and investigate the murder. He finds that Louise Leidner’s fears were based on her past, and that her past has a lot to do with the murder.

Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone finds he has to make some major changes in Night Passage. He and his wife Jenn have ended their marriage, and although they both knew the marriage wasn’t healthy, they both have to deal with their feelings for each other. Stone deals with his by drinking. A lot. In fact he drinks his way out of his job as an L.A.P.D. homicide cop. He gets a chance for a fresh start when he is interviewed for the job as chief of police of Paradise, Massachusetts. It’s a small town on the other side of the continent and it’s about as different from his L.A. life as one can get. Even though he shows up drunk for the interview, Stone is surprisingly offered the job and takes it. He starts over in Paradise only to find that he’s plunged into something very ugly. First he gets into a feud with local thug JoJo Genest. Then, the body of a young woman is discovered. In the meantime, Stone finds proof of what he’s suspected: he wasn’t exactly hired to perform high-quality police service. He was hired because the town council thought he would be easily manipulated. They’re wrong though and in the end, Stone uncovers what’s really going on in Paradise and how that is connected with the death and with the reason the town needed a new police chief in the first place.

In Rebecca Tope’s A Cotswold Killing, Thea Osborne has to face another kind of change. A year ago her husband Carl was killed by a careless driver and she’s been grieving since that time. As she slowly starts to deal with the loss, Thea decides to make a major change and take up a job as a professional house-sitter. Her first clients are Clive and Jennifer Reynolds, who live in the Cotswold village of Duntisbourne Abbots. They’re going on a three-week cruise and are very anxious that everything should run smoothly at the house. Thea takes the job but it’s soon clear that this isn’t an ordinary house-sitting job. Clive Reynolds has given her a long list of exhaustively detailed instructions for just about everything in the house, garden, yard and fields. Thea’s a little put off by the long and particular “to-do” list but she gets started. On the first afternoon, she gets a visit from a neighbour Joel Jennison, who says that he’s stopped by to let her know where they are if she needs anything. Sometime late that night, Jennison is murdered and his body left in the pond at the Reynolds’ home. Thea knows nothing about detection but she is curious and besides, Joel Jennison was the only villager who’d taken the time to welcome her. So she begins to ask questions. Thea soon finds that Jennison’s brother Paul was killed only six months earlier. Now it seems as though something strange and very, very dangerous is going on in this village and that one of the reasons the locals are cold to her is that they know more than they’re saying.

A family death also brings great change for Alan Orloff’s Josh Handleman in Diamonds for the Dead. Handleman lives in San Francisco where his life is at a crossroads. His marriage has ended and so has his job. Then he gets word that his father Abe has died after a fall down the stairs at the family home in Virginia. So Handleman goes to Virginia to plan his father’s funeral and settle his estate. That’s when one of Abe Handleman’s friends tells Josh that his father’s death was not an accident – he was murdered. What’s more, Josh discovers that his father had a cache of very valuable jewels, and they’ve disappeared. Now he’s anxious about his future, dealing with his feelings about his father’s death and trying to find out who killed his father.

In Martin Edwards’ The Coffin Trail, we meet Oxford historian Daniel Kind. He’s become very successful not only as a scholar but also as a television personality. Then his girlfriend Aimee commits suicide and Kind has to entirely re-think his life. He meets a new woman Miranda and they begin a relationship. Kind needs a major change in his life so he and Miranda take Tarn Cottage in the Lakes District, hoping to settle into a quieter life away from the stress and frantic pace of life in London. In the meantime, DCI Hannah Scarlett is facing a major change of her own. She’s been named to head the newly-created Cold Case Review team. Although it’s seen as a demotion, Scarlett is a dedicated cop and wants to do her best. She and her team take up the case of the murder of Gabrielle Anders, whose body was found on an old sacrificial stone near the village of Brackdale. At the time of Anders’ death, everyone thought she was killed by Barrie Gilpin, who himself was killed in a tragic fall not long afterwards. Scarlett has never thought Gilpin killed Anders. So she and her team look into both deaths. As it turns out, Tarn Cottage used to belong to Barrie Gilpin and Kind even knew Gilpin. So in his own way, Kind gets involved in this murder investigation too. The anxiety both Scarlett and Kind feel about the changes in their lives add a thread of interest and suspense to this novel.

Simon Beckett’s forensic anthropologist David Hunter has to face that same anxiety at change in Whispers of the Dead. Hunter feels strongly the need to get out of his native London for a time. His relationship with his girlfriend Jenny has ended although he still has feelings for her. And because of the events in Written in Bone, the previous entry in this series, Hunter has the need to heal both physically and psychologically. So he decides to do some research at Tennessee’s Anthropological Research Laboratory. He’s settling in for his stay there when a decomposed body is found near a remote cabin not far from the laboratory. Then another body is found. Now Hunter finds himself involved in a complicated investigation that will use all of his forensics skills.

And…speaking of major changes and things new, Elizabeth Spann Craig’s new series has just been launched! Today is the release date for Quilt or Innocence, the first in her Beatrice Coleman series. In that novel, Beatrice Coleman has just retired from her career in Atlanta. She takes the opportunity that major change brings and moves to Dappled Hills, North Carolina, to be near her daughter Piper. Her plans to settle into a more relaxed lifestyle and enjoy retirement soon get scuttled when she is “volunteered” for the local quilting guild. It’s not long before Coleman finds out that the members of this guild do as much mean-spirited gossiping and backstabbing as they do quilting. Then one day she finds the body of one of the guild members. As if that’s not enough she herself begins to get threatening notes. It seems that someone is targeting the guild members, so Coleman has to find out who the guild’s enemy is before she becomes the next victim. Congratulations, Elizabeth, on your release and I wish you much success. Folks, if Elizabeth’s other two series, her Myrtle Clover series and her Memphis Barbecue series (which she writes as Riley Adams) are any indication, this is going to be a fine cosy series!



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Little River Band’s Cool Change.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Alan Orloff, Elzabeth Spann Craig, Martin Edwards, Rebecca Tope, Riley Adams, Robert B. Parker, Simon Beckett

24 responses to “I Know That It’s Time For a Cool Change*

  1. It’s funny you mention Nurse Leatheran in Murder in Mesopotamia as she is one of my least favourite characters. She is such a snob but I think the dynamics between her and Poirot work very well.
    I agree that major changes can be as unsettling as they are exciting and this of course makes a great setting for a crime novel, for example in Stav Sherez’s ‘The Black Monastery’ where an rural Greek idyll proves to be anything but that.

    • Sarah – No doubt at all that Amy Leatheran has her share of flaws. I can see why you think she’s a snob, too; she’s certainly class-conscious and ethnocentric. As you say, though, her character and that of Poirot do create a solid dynamic and I think it adds interest to that story that she is so completely out of her element.
      And thanks for mentioning The Black Monastary. I must read that one! Sherez has a lot of talent, in my opinion.

  2. Great post. It reminded me of A DEEPER DARKNESS by J.T. Ellison that I just listened to. In that story medical examiner Samantha Owens is faced with changes when her husband and children are killed and she blames herself.

    I’m looking forward to reading Elizabeth’s new release and learning more about her latest protagonist. It’s sounds like it will be a fun read.

    Thoughts in Progress

    • Mason – Thank you 🙂 – And I agree about Elizabeth’s release; I can’t wait to read Quilt or Innocence myself! And thanks for reminding of A Deeper Darkness. I’ve been interested in that one since I read your review of it. It’s exactly the kind of thing I had in mind, too, where the protagonist needs to make a major change in her or his life.

  3. Changed is good. Especially if you gain a new series from it like Elizabeth’s new series and I just love Edward’s series too.

    • Clarissa – Well-put indeed! Change can definitely result in good things and when the result is a new series from Elizabeth Spann Craig and/or Martin Edwards, so much the better. 🙂

  4. Margot: No sleuth has made a greater physical change than Nero Wolfe who lost over 100 pounds to prepare himself for a showdown with Arnold Zeck. Wolfe would probably say no sleuth has ever made a greater personal sacrifice than himself giving up beer and fine foods.

    • Bill – Right you are indeed. Nero Wolfe goes through considerable change as he gets ready for his confrontation with Zeck. And yes, Wolfe probably would say he’s made the greatest sacrifice that any sleuth could.

  5. I love this song! And I love change. I feel so inspired when I read about anyone’s struggles and just adore it when they make a drastic change. I guess cuz I’ve made quite a few- moving to the east coast with my two little kids and not a pot to pee in for instance.
    I read all the Travis McGee books (John D. McDonald) back in the day and I always loved it when he would get energized to stop his drinking and philandering and start running on the beach to get in shape!
    Or, not a mystery, but when the gang in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel chuck their limiting lives in England to discover adventure in India. And all at a rather advanced age!

    • Jan – Isn’t it a great song?! And I admire you so much for picking up your own life and making such a big change. It must have been scary for all of you.
      I haven’t seen The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel yet, but I hear that it’s very good. I’m glad you enjoyed it. People keep telling me to make time for that film…
      And I agree; there’s a certain appeal about Travis McGee when he decides to start running, stop drinking and chasing women, etc. Among other things, it shows some self-reflection which I like.

  6. I live for change, always love a new adventure. However, I think the number of books with a plot of someone dying and a niece or daughter or whoever has to go through the house and finds a mystery is becoming overdone. It has to be unique to be that interesting now.

    • Barbara – New adventures can be really invigourating, can’t they? But I do see your point; in crime fiction, that plot point has been done an awful lot – more times than I had space to mention. So yes, it’s got to have some innovation and be well-done if it’s going to pull the reader in.

  7. interesting points! Harry Bosch tries radical change a few times but currently is still a cop…..nothing else will do it seems 😉 Harry Hole is another character who has recently tried a radical life-change across the other side of the world, but that does not seem to be working, either.

    • Maxine – Thank you 🙂 Right you are too about both Harrys. And it’s interesting that you brought those particular examples up. It shows that there may be characteristics about us that are just too ingrained to be changed. It brings up the fascinating question of whether even with a radical change, we have a core that stays the same. Hmmm……

  8. Great post, Ms Kinberg! How do you recollect the specifics from so many different books post after post? You do a fine job of it too. Your variety of posts is making me pay more attention to the seemingly inconsequential aspects of the novels I read. Many thanks..

    About change, well, I’m putting my head through the guillotine by saying that men are more averse to change then women who flow with the tide.

    • Prashant – Thank you so very much for the kind words *blush!* I really appreciate them 🙂 There’s not a lot else rattling round in my brain, so plenty of room for crime fiction things.
      As to your point about men and women? Your comment reminded me of an old saying: men marry women expecting that they won’t change, but they do. Women marry men expecting that they will change, but they don’t. I don’t know if that’s true, but your comment made me think of it.

  9. Hakan Nesser’s brilliant detective Van Veeteren makes a huge life change when he retires to run an antiquarian book shop. His team still find themselves consulting him for advice, and he is sadly personally involved in Hour of the Wolf.

  10. kathy d.

    Well, I was going to raise the huge life changes that befall Harry Bosch in Hong Kong in Nine Dragons. Not only is the book a more thriller-type with more violence than the usual Bosch fare, but the death of a key person in his life and the full-time acquisition of another change his life drastically.
    And there are personal issues that come up in The Drop that differ from those in his previous books, in terms of his responsibilities.

    • Kathy – One thing I’ve always really liked about Michael Connelly is that he develops Bosch over time. Your example of 9 Dragons is a really clear instance of this too. As you say, two very important changes happen to Bosch, and we see how deals with them in the subsequent novels.

  11. kathy d.

    Now I’m going to have to take out the credit card to buy Hour of the Wolf. No word that the library is ordering it, but I can’t resist Inspector Van Veeteren. His exploits keep getting better.

  12. Oh, that’s right. I appreciate the reminder about Elizabeth’s new release. The concept of new beginnings or major life changes is a great way to develop an interesting story with fascinating characters.

    • Pat – I’m really excited about Elizabeth’s new release – I’m sure it’ll be terrific. Major life changes can add a lot to a story because they open up so many possibilities for characters and plot and they add a solid layer of tension. After all, change often makes us at least a little nervous.

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