One of the best things about blogging is the ideas and inspiration I get from folks who are kind enough to read and comment on what I write. Just as an example, I’ve recently gotten inspiration from two separate sources. One was an excellent book review on Fair Dinkum Crime, which is the place to go for all things related to Australian crime fiction. In this case I was inspired by Bernadette at Reactions to Reading. You really need to be following that superb crime fiction review blog if you’re not. The other source that got me thinking was an interesting comment exchange with Moira at Clothes in Books, which is the most interesting and informative place I know of for discussions of clothes, style, fashion, and what they’ve meant in novels, including lots of good crime fiction. Now, I’ll be glad to wait a moment while you go ahead and stop by those blogs to follow them if you’re not already doing so. They’re all excellent blogs and more than worth being on your blog roll if you’re a crime fiction fan.
Back now? Thanks. So what did these top-notch bloggers get me thinking about? Escaping the weather. Right now, it’s blistering hot in many parts of the Southern Hemisphere. It’s cold, dark and damp in many parts of the Northern Hemisphere. That’s January for you. And many people like to escape those weather extremes through what they read. So I thought it might be interesting (OK, fun, too) to look at some novels that people might use to escape that January weather.
Beat the Heat
Tired of the mid-summer January heat? One novel that comes to my mind is Arnaldur Indriðason’s Arctic Chill. In that novel, the frozen body of a young Thai boy called Elías is found near the building where he lived. There’s no question that the boy was murdered, so Reykjavík Inspector Erlendur and his team begin to investigate the case. They find an ugly and unexpected undercurrent of anti-immigration feeling that may have been behind the murder. At the same time, there are stories of a paedophile who may be in the area. If that’s true it too could have something to do with the murder. As the team is working on these cases, Erlendur also has to face another long-ago tragedy. When he was a boy, his younger brother Bergur was lost in a blizzard. He was never found and Erlendur’s had to cope with that since then. Now his daughter Eva Lind brings up the topic and forces him to confront that sorrow. There’s plenty of snow, ice and plunging temperatures in this novel.
Stan Jones’ Nathan Active series takes place in and around Chukchi, Alaska. Active, who is Inupiaq, is an Alaska State Trooper who was born near the Arctic Circle but raised in Anchorage. Now he’s returned to the Far North and the mysteries featuring him include lots of snow, ice and cold weather. For instance, in White Sky, Black Ice, Active investigates two suspicious deaths, both supposed suicides. One is of George Clinton, whose body is discovered near a local bar. The other is of Aaron Stone, who went on a hunting trip and never returned. In both cases, Active suspects that these deaths are not suicides at all and he searches for the connection between them. His suspicions seem even more logical when he finds out that the two men knew each other. Bit by bit he uncovers the truth about what happened to the two victims. A big part of this series is the look it takes at Inupiaq life, and of course for most of the year that life includes frigid weather and snow.
And then there’s Peter Høeg’s Smilla’s Sense of Snow (AKA Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow). Smilla Jaspersen is a half-Inuit, half Danish Greenlander and not really at home in Copenhagen, where she lives. She’s more or less a loner, but she does befriend Isaiah Christiansen, a young boy who lives in her building. Isaiah too is a Greenlander who’s never quite fit in, so the two form a kind of friendship. Then one day Isaiah is killed in what looks like a tragic but accidental fall from the room of the building where they live. Jaspersen isn’t sure that’s what happened though. As a Greenlander, she has a real sense of snow (hence, the title of the novel) and what she learns from the snow on the roof gives her the first clue that this death was not accidental. So she begins to ask questions. The trail leads to an expedition that Isaiah and his father made to Greenland, and what happened there. When Jaspersen learns that, she follows the trail to Greenland where she finds the answers she’s been seeking. Snow, ice, glaciers, all of them play a role in this novel, so it’s definitely one for cooling down a hot day.
Ready for a break from snow and slush, ice, plunging temperatures and heavy winter coats and boots? Here are just a few examples of novels with plenty of ‘tropical heat’ that may help take the chill off.
You may want to start with a tropical cruise like the one Agatha Christie describes in Death on the Nile. Linnet Doyle and her new husband Simon are on their honeymoon trip, which includes a cruise of the Nile. On the second night of the journey she’s shot, and Hercule Poirot and Colonel Race, who are on the same cruise, work together to investigate. The most likely suspect is Linnet’s former best friend Jacqueline ‘Jackie’ de Bellefort. They were on bad terms and Jackie had even threatened to kill Linnet. But it’s conclusively proved that she couldn’t have committed the murder so Poirot and Race have to look elsewhere for the killer. There’s plenty of warm weather and several tropical drinks to be had in this novel.
There’s also Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza’s December Heat. In that novel, Inspector Espinosa of the Rio de Janeiro police has to face a particularly challenging case. His former colleague retired police officer Vieira is suspected of murdering his girlfriend Lucimar, who calls herself Magali. Vieira went out with her on the night of her murder, but he got very drunk and can’t remember much of what happened. His belt has been found in her apartment though, and it is possible that he killed her. Espinosa begins to look into the case and soon concludes that it’s not the kind of murder that Vieira would have committed. At the same time as he’s investigating Magali’s murder, he’s also dealing with what looks like a drugs ring and the police corruption that allows the ring to operate. The two cases might or might not be connected. Either way Espinosa deals with the underside of Rio as he searches for the truth. Rio de Janeiro is warm – even tropical – no matter what time of year it is. Trust me. So there’s plenty of hot weather and tropical drinks to warm you up.
And of course, no discussion of warm-weather ‘escape’ novels would be complete without a mention of Andrea Camilleri’s series featuring Sicily police inspector Salvo Montalbano. He lives and works in the fictional town of Vigàta, where the weather never gets truly cold. He spends plenty of time in outdoor cafés and restaurants and swims most mornings. We get a real sense of the heat in Sicily in August Heat, when Montalbano has to stay in Vigàta for the summer instead of escape the heat as he’d planned to do. His lover Livia Burlando joins him, but things don’t work out at all as they had planned. Livia had planned to stay with some friends and their son at their beach house rental but that turns into a disaster. First, the house is infested with rats. Then, a body of young girl is discovered in the basement. She is identified as Catarina “Rina” Morreale, who was reported missing some time earlier. Now, Montalbano has to negotiate the always tricky business of his relationship with Livia as well as find out who killed Rina Morreale and why.
So there you have it: just a few suggestions for escaping from whatever temperature extremes you’re facing. But I’ll bet you have your own suggestions. Which books have you read to beat the cold or the heat?
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn’s Come Fly With Me, made popular by Frank Sinatrra.