They Put a Parking Lot On a Piece of Land*

ParkingLotsOne of the major developments of the last century has been the ever-increasing popularity of cars. I don’t have to tell you how the auto has changed our lives. The thing about cars, though, is that you have to have a place to put them while you’re working, shopping, doing personal business, or out enjoying yourself. And that means parking garages and cark parks/parking lots. Such places are very handy for drivers. They’re also, if you think about it, very effective places for a murder or for leaving a body.

Most of the time, we don’t pay much attention to the people and cars around us when we park. We stop the car and lock it and go about our business. So who’s to say how long a particular car is in a particular place? Or whether there’s someone in the car? And people don’t usually pay a lot of attention to individuals coming or going through a parking area. Even with CCTV cameras in a lot of today’s parking garages, it’s sometimes hard to tell who goes where and does what. And in outdoor parking areas it’s even more difficult. Little wonder we see so many crime-fictional incidents of people being murdered and bodies found in such places. Here are just a few examples to show you what I mean.

In Colin Dexter’s Last Bus to Woodstock, two women are waiting to catch a bus. When it becomes clear that there won’t be another bus any time soon, one of them, Sylvia Kaye, takes the risk of hitchhiking. Later that night her body is found in the parking area outside a pub. Inspector Morse and Sergeant Lewis investigate the murder, beginning with the task of identifying the body. Then, they look into her relationships and past history to see who would have wanted to kill her. The other task is to trace her last movements. And as it turns out, those interactions and those last movements are crucial to solving the case.

Andrea Camilleri’s The Shape of Water features an informal but notorious parking area called The Pasture, located near the Sicilian town of Vigàta. It’s a meeting place for prostitutes and their clients and for small-time drug dealers and their customers. Managed by Gegè Gullotta, The police generally leave The Pasture alone; in return, Gullotta more or less keeps order in the place and makes sure that his ‘business enterprises’ don’t cause trouble. Early one morning, the body of up-and-coming politician Silvio Luparello is discovered in a car at The Pasture and Inspector Salvo Montalbano is called to the scene. The official theory is that Luparello died of a heart attack at a very inopportune time and place. But Montalbano suspects that it might have been something more. So he’s given grudging permission to take two days and investigate the case more thoroughly. One of the challenges he faces is that the body was discovered in an easily-accessible parking area, where nobody really noticed who came and went.

Parking places play a role in Peter Temple’s Bad Debts, too. Danny McKillop has recently been released from prison after serving time for a drink driving incident in which citizen activist Anne Jeppeson was killed. One night he leaves a message for Jack Irish, the attorney who defended him. Irish doesn’t pick up the message until later and even then, doesn’t take it seriously at first. Then McKillop leaves more urgent messages and this time, Irish pays attention. By the time he takes heed though, it’s too late: McKillop’s been shot in a hotel carpark. Irish feels a real sense of responsibility here. In the first place, he believes that he should have paid closer attention to the messages McKillop left him. And more than that, Irish knows he did a miserable job of defending McKillop in the drink driving case. At the time, Irish was in the depths of mourning the loss of his wife Isabel, who was shot in a parking garage by a deranged client. So at the time of McKillop’s case, Irish was spending far too much time drinking and far too little time working on behalf of his client. Now he decides to make as much right as possible and find out who shot McKillop and why. 

Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza’s The Silence of the Rain begins with a murder in a parking garage. Rio de Janeiro business executive Ricardo de Carvalho is found shot in the parking garage he uses. His body is left in his car and his wallet, briefcase and money have been taken. At first it looks as though someone was waiting for him in or near his car, with the idea of robbing him. And that’s not impossible given that the parking garage is dark, with lots of places to hide. Inspector Espinosa begins the routine work of tracking down the killer and it’s not long before he comes to suspect that this might not be a ‘typical’ robbery/murder. In the end, he finds out that he’s quite correct.

In Philip Margolin’s  Executive Privilege, Washington-area cop-turned-PI Dana Cutler gets a new client and a new assignment. Attorney Dale Perry wants Cutler to shadow Charlotte Walsh and report where she goes, whom she sees and what she does. Cutler agrees and prepares for her surveillance. One night, Walsh drives to a mall and leaves her car in its parking lot. She’s picked up by the driver of another car and taken to a secluded house in a remote area. Cutler follows and discovers to her shock that Walsh has come to the house to meet U.S. President Christopher Farrington. She starts taking ‘photos, but is discovered and barely gets away. The next morning, Cutler learns that Walsh was murdered after she got back to her car. What’s more, some very powerful and nasty people know that she has photographic evidence of the victim’s meeting with the president, and those people are after her. What started out as a straightforward surveillance case draws Cutler into a very dangerous and high-level conspiracy.

And then there’s Gail Bowen’s The Nesting Dolls. Academic and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn Shreve and her attorney husband Zack attend a concert at their daughter Taylor’s high school. As they’re leaving the performance, a woman approaches Taylor’s friend Isobel and gives her a baby. A note with the baby makes it clear that the woman, whose name is Abby Michaels, wants to give up the child and wants Isobel’s mother Delia to have full custody of him. It’s a complicated situation and a search is made for Abby, but she seems to have disappeared. Later, her body is found in her car in a parking lot behind a jeweler’s/pawn shop. The key to the murder lies, as it often does, in the past and in the network of relationships in the victim’s life.

See what I mean? A good parking spot may seem like a godsend, but do look around carefully as you get in and out of your car. You never know what can happen. I’ve given a few examples. Now it’s your turn.



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Kinks’ Come Dancing.


Filed under Andrea Camilleri, Colin Dexter, Gail Bowen, Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza, Peter Temple, Philip Margolin

25 responses to “They Put a Parking Lot On a Piece of Land*

  1. Oooh, now you’ve hit upon the place that I find most scary – in real life! There’s something about an empty multi-storey carpark, the way your footsteps echo, the way a noise from two floors away will be magnified and reverberate around the place, the way there always seems to be a strange looking man a couple of aisles away, the way the security lighting is always flickering as if about to go out, the way there always seems to be a chuckle or a murmur coming from an unseen source…ooh, I probably move faster through carparks than anywhere else… 😉

    • FictionFan – They are pretty creepy places aren’t they? I find them especially so at night, when every shadow looks like someone watching you. It’s not a big deal when I’m with someone, but alone? The imagination runs away a bit. I get the ‘eeries’ just thinking about the myriad things that could happen. But it’s just that atmosphere that makes those places absolutely custom-made for a crime novel I think.

  2. I am actually wary of parking lots, nowadays, since I read (and watch) too much crime fiction. Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza’s The Silence of the Rain is one of my favorite books that I read in the last few years. I have more books to read by that author. Looking forward to reading Bad Debts by Temple.

    • Tracy – I tend to be very careful in parking areas too, even in the daylight. A lot of nasty things can happen there, simply because people can be so careless. They drive too fast, they don’t look where they’re going and you never know who’s a truly creepy person. I hope you’ll enjoy Bad Debts. To me, the Jack Irish series is a truly fine crime fiction series and a solid look at Australian life.

  3. There’s a book by Jim Kelly – Death Wore White – which has a brilliant setup: eight cars are stuck in a blizzard, trapped in one place by a blocked road. Then one of the drivers is found to be dead, so who could have killed him? It’s a really good, creepy concept….

  4. Margot: In Stray Bullets by Robert Rotenberg the murder takes place in a street level parking lot next to a Tim Horton’s coffee shop. Defence counsel spends a lot of time dealing with the angles of bullets.

    I asked the author about diagrams. He said he considered and rejected diagrams. I wish a contemporary author would use diagrams in a mystery.

    • Bill – Oh, that’s an interesting example of how very dangerous parking areas can be. And you make such an interesting point about diagrams. Many of the classic and Golden Age authors used diagrams of one sort or another in their stories, but you’re right; modern novels don’t have them very often. I think they’d be very helpful, especially in novels such as Stray Bullet.

  5. It’s the trunks of cars that worry me most. Everyone seems to have someone stuffed inside in crime fiction.

  6. This is too funny…I just wrote a scary scene in a deserted parking lot (gravel, actually).

    I loved “Last Bus to Woodstock.” May have to give it a reread.

    • Elizabeth – Ha! Great minds! 😉 – That’s such interesting timing. I’ll bet that scene came out great, and gravel adds a nice opportunity for the creepy sound effect of the crunch of feet or tires. I agree, too – Last Bus to Woodstock is terrific.

  7. Maybe it’s from reading too many murder mystery stories, but parking lots make me leery, especially parking decks. I always have scenes playing through my head as I walk back to my car. Fun post, Margot.

    • Mason – Thanks – glad you enjoyed the post. I do the same thing in parking decks! If you read enough crime fiction, you can just imagine all of the things that could happen there. So atmospheric, I think.

  8. Margot – Again cinematic references here : loved Last Bus to Woodstock, not the novel, which I haven’t read, but the episode on the TV series Inspector Morse.
    Also, wasn’t there an important murder scene in a parking lot, or something like a parking lot, in the Prime Suspect series, all caught on video by Britain’s expert surveillance system.
    Finally, weren’t those creepy scenes in All The President’s Men where Woodward meets with Deep Throat done in a parking lot late at night? High marks for creepy and suspenseful.

    • Bryan – Those are all such excellent examples. Yes, indeed, All the President’s Men features some world-class parking-garage scenes. They add so much to the overall feeling of paranoia in the film I think. And I’d completely forgotten about <i?Prime Suspect. Dame Helen Mirren does such a fine job in her role there and yes, if I remember correctly, there is a murder in a parking lot in that series. It’s been a while… I hope you get the chance to read Last Bus to Woodstock. I think it’s a very well-done novel.

  9. I once read a great (news) story about a guy – I believe this was in Australia, if memory serves – who rented a car, drove a few hours then investigated the smell in the boot… you can probably guess the punchline! I’ve always thought that would be a fantastic kick-off for a story, though I haven’t gotten around to using it yet!!

    • Claire – Oh, that is a great story idea. My mind is buzzing with ideas already. It reminds me of a news story I just read, where some guys were taking a a bachelor-party week-end trip from Minneapolis/St. Paul down to Kentucky for the Kentucky Derby. They rented an RV for the purpose and one day, discovered….. well, you can guess what they found in one of the compartments. All kinds of seeds for stories…

  10. Loved Patti’s comment! 😀

    I think there are several examples in Sue Grafton’s alphabet series, but do you think I can come up with any on the spot???

    • Dorte – I loved that comment too. And thank you for reminding me about the alphabet series. There are indeed several examples of dangerous parking areas in the series, but do you think I thought of putting any of them in the post????

  11. Col

    One of my recent Dan O’Shea reads, Greed has a shoot out in a car park which was memorable. I’m sure I have encountered it more in my reading though memory falls me at the minute.

  12. Pingback: Every Picture Tells a Story* | Confessions of a Mystery Novelist...

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