What a kick – the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme has arrived in exciting K City, our eleventh stop on this jitter-filled journey we’re taking. One of the big attractions here is K & K’s Bar and Grill, where you can get some delicious food. Right now though everyone’s posting their ‘photos to Facebook and Twitter, so I’ll take this time to offer my contribution for this week: knives.
Knives are one of the more common weapons in crime fiction and that makes sense when you think about it. They’re easy to acquire, they don’t require any special preparation or background and when they’re sharp enough, just about anyone can use them. There are far, far too many examples for me to mention them all in this one post, so I’ll just offer a few.
One of the most famous knives used in crime fiction appears in Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. Wealthy American businessman Samuel Ratchett is en route through Europe on the Orient Express train. On the second night of that journey he is stabbed. Hercule Poirot is on the same train and he is persuaded to look into the case before the official police come on board at the next frontier. Poirot discovers who killed Ratchett and why, and there’s actually an interesting postscript, so to speak, about the knife. It’s mentioned later in Cards on the Table. In that novel Poirot investigates the murder (also with a knife, as it happens) of the eccentric Mr. Shaitana during a dinner party. There are only four possible suspects, so it’s a very interesting psychological puzzle. At one point, one of the suspects Anne Meredith and her roommate Rhoda Dawes pay a visit to Poirot. While they’re there he invites Rhoda to see the knife and in that invitation, Christie gives a major spoiler to Murder on the Orient Express. So if you haven’t read that one, read it before you read Cards on the Table…
In Lawrence Block’s The Sins of the Fathers, Cale Hanniford pays a visit to former NYPD cop Matthew Scudder. Hanniford’s daughter Wendy was brutally stabbed in her apartment and Hanniford wants to know what led to the murder. The police have caught the most likely suspect, Wendy’s roommate Richard Vanderrpoel, so Hanniford believes the case is solved. But he’s been estranged from Wendy for a long time and wants to know what kind of person she became. Scudder agrees to ask some questions, starting with an interview with Vanderpoel. That conversation doesn’t help much as Vanderpoel is either mentally unhinged or under the influence of drugs. Still, he says some things that make Scudder wonder whether he is really guilty. Shortly after that, Vanderpoel commits suicide. Now Scudder is even more curious about what exactly happened to Wendy Hanniford and he keeps digging for answers. As it turns out, both young people’s deaths have everything to do with their pasts.
Martin Edwards’ All The Lonely People features Liverpool attorney Harry Devlin, and begins when Devlin gets a surprise visit from his ex-wife Liz. He’s still in love with her, so his first hope is that she wants to patch things up. Instead, she says that she’s run away from her current lover Mick Coghlin because she’s afraid of him. She wants to stay with Devlin for a few days until she decides what to do next. Devlin agrees, still hoping he and Liz can get back together. The next night though, Liz is stabbed and her body left in an alley. It’s not long before the police begin to suspect that Devlin is guilty. So in part to clear his name, and in part to deal with his feelings for Liz, he begins to investigate. To find out the truth, he’s going to have to learn an uncomfortable about Liz’ complicated life.
In Adrian Hyland’s Gunshot Road, former prospector Albert ‘Doc’ Ozolins is stabbed one night after a drunken quarrel. The police, including Aboiginal Community Police Officer (ACPO) Emily Tempest, are called to Green Swamp Well where the murder happened. Tempest’s boss Bruce Cockburn believes that John ‘Wireless’ Petherbridge, with whom Ozolins had quarreled, is guilty. But Tempest sees little signs that something more might be going on than a drunken fight that ended tragically. So she begins to ask questions. Eventually, she finds that Ozolins was killed because he’d stumbled onto something that some very dangerous people wanted to keep secret.
T.J. Cooke’s Defending Elton tells the story of the stabbing death of the very enigmatic Sarena Gunasekera. When her body is found at the bottom of a cliff at Beachy Head near Eastbourne, the police find evidence that the killer is Elton Spears. Spears is a troubled young man with a history of mental problems and of inappropriate conduct towards women. There’s enough strong evidence against Spears that he’s held over for trial and in fact, the police think it’s an open-and-shut case. But some of the Spears’ comments suggest that he isn’t the murderer. Besides, under British law, Spears is considered innocent until proven guilty. So, solicitor Jim Harwood begins the work of representing Spears, with whom he’s worked before. Together with barrister Harry Douglas, Harwood intends to do everything he can to ensure that Spears is acquitted. That includes looking deeply into the victim’s life to see who else might have wanted to kill her. As it turns out, there are several hidden layers to Sarena and as we find out about her past, we also learn that more than one person could have wanted her dead.
And then there’s Cath Staincliffe’s Split Second. That novel begins on a bus, when three young people begin bullying Luke Murray. The harassment keeps up until Jason Barnes, who’s on the same bus, tells the others to stop. He gets off the bus, as does Luke, but so do the bullies, and the fight escalates. When it’s over, Luke has been gravely injured and may die, and Jason has been stabbed to death. The police investigate what happened, interviewing everyone and slowly getting to the truth about who the killer was. In the process we learn how the incident affects both boys’ families as well as how it affects Emma Curtis, who was on the bus when the tragedy started.
Of course, knives can also be handy for self-protection, as we also find out in a lot of crime fiction novels. I don’t want to give away titles because I think it has more impact when the reader doesn’t know that knife is going to be pulled out just in time to save the day, so to speak. But if you’ve read novels where that happens, you know what I mean.
Still, knives are extremely dangerous, mostly because they’re so accessible and it doesn’t take much for them to do a lot of damage. Now, I’m sure you’re ready for a good meal. How about we go to K & K’s Bar & Grill with the others and watch the staff chop up the steaks and the veges? ;-)