And Everywhere Was a Song And a Celebration*

WoodstockIt’s no secret that people are all different. Sometimes our differences lead to conflict and worse. But sometimes exactly the opposite happens. When people find a common interest – something that really means something to them, this can draw even very disparate people together. We certainly see it in real life, and it’s there in crime fiction too. Here are just a few examples.

In Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders, Hercule Poirot, Captain Hastings, and the police are trying to track down the murderer of Alice Ascher, a seemingly inoffensive elderly shopkeeper. Soon afterwards, the same killer strikes again. This time, the victim is twenty-three-year-old Betty Barnard. The detective team is busy on those two cases when there’s a third murder, of wealthy retired specialist Dr. Carmichael Clarke. Now it looks as though there might be some sort of disturbed killer at work. A cryptic note has warned Poirot that the next murder will occur in Doncaster, and the police begin to make plans to catch the killer there. But one of the characters says,


‘‘It’s easy to see you’re not a sporting man, Inspector.’
Crome stared at him.
‘What do you mean…?’
‘Man alive, don’t you realize that on next Wednesday, the St. Leger is being run at Doncaster?’


This race draws all sorts of people from many different walks of life. People from many different backgrounds will be gathering in Doncaster, drawn there by their common love of racing. So the detectives will have their work cut out for them as the saying goes.

Antiques are the common interest in Jonathan Gash’s Lovejoy series. Those novels focus on Lovejoy, who is a dedicated antiques collector and dealer. In fact, antiques mean more to him than almost anything else. And interest in antiques draws together a varied group of people from all sorts of different kinds of backgrounds. In The Judas Pair for instance, George Field hires Lovejoy to find out who killed his brother Eric. Eric Field was shot with one of a pair of extremely rare dueling pistols – guns that haven’t even been proven to exist. But Field is convinced that they do, and that if the owner of them can be found, that will solve the murder. Lovejoy can’t resist the opportunity to get his hands on those pistols if they do exist, so he agrees to see what he can do. As he moves among various people in the world of antiques, we see how a very disparate group of people can be drawn together by a shared passion for the same thing. They may not have much else in common, but a mention of antiques can always get a conversation started.

People who particularly love cats and/or dogs are the same way. They come from all sorts of backgrounds and belief systems. But when it comes to their pets, it’s an entirely different matter. That’s why we see so much interest in dog and cat shows. Those events attract a wide variety of people. We see this for instance in Laurien Berenson’s Melanie Travis mysteries. Travis is a special education teacher whose aunt has gotten her involved in breeding, raising and showing Standard Poodles. In fact, that’s how Travis meets her husband. In the course of the series, Travis goes to several dog shows and other events. And because the dog loving/dog showing community is both large and varied, there’s all sorts of opportunity for conflict and (this is a mystery series!) murder. But interestingly enough, there’s also an undercurrent of love of different breeds and a deep and commonly-held contempt for irresponsible dog ownership, raising and handling.

If you get people who love good wine talking about that topic, you’ll find a similar shared passion. They may not share very much else, but that particular interest unites them. We can see that in Jean-Pierre Alaux and Nöel Balen’s Winemaker Detective series. These novels feature noted oenologist and vintner Benjamin Cooker and his assistant Virgile Lanssien. As they investigate, we see how interest in fine wine can draw people together. In Treachery in Bordeaux for instance, Cooker and Lanssien look into a case of sabotage at Château Les Moniales Haut-Brion. Someone has contaminated four barrels of the vineyard’s wine, and its owner wants to find out who is responsible. What’s interesting about this is that none of the other local wine producers is really suspected. Part of the reason for that is that they all respect good wine too much to ruin even a competitor’s product. They may try to woo the vineyard’s customers away with their own fine wine, but they wouldn’t sabotage something they love so much.

Sometimes it’s a common place that draws a variety of people together. That’s what we see in Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman series. That series is mostly set in Melbourne, in a large Roman-style building called Insula. That’s where Chapman lives and has the bakery she owns. There is a motley crew of other residents, all with different backgrounds, belief systems, interests and the like. But they all love the building and they have a common identity as people who live there.

I couldn’t really keep a blog about crime fiction and not mention the love of books in general and crime fiction in particular that we share. That’s reflected in, well, crime fiction, too. In Ian Sansom’s Mobile Library series for example, we meet Israel Armstrong, a ‘blow in’ from London who how drives and manages Ireland’s Tumdrum and District Mobile Library. Armstrong couldn’t be more different in some ways to the locals. In fact, in The Case of the Missing Books, one of the plot threads is the culture clash between Armstrong and the people he interacts with as he moves to the area and begins his new job. But as both he and the Tumdrum locals learn, they share a love of books. It may be reflected in different ways, but it draws them together.

It’s interesting how people who are so different in some aspects can put their differences aside when they have a shared passion. It’s one of many reasons I feel so fortunate to be a part of this online crime fiction community. We all come from different backgrounds, have different tastes and different world views. But we share a love of crime fiction. And that draws us all together. A very happy thought, even if the topic we like to talk about is, well, murder…

This weekend is the 45th anniversary of a unique event that brought together hundreds of thousands of people from many, many different backgrounds. Yes, I’m talking about Woodstock. From 15-18 August 1969, a large group of very disparate people braved rain (lots of it) mud (lots of that too) and very long travel distances to get together for ‘three days of peace, love and music.’ And they did it without brawls, ‘turf wars,’ or worse. There could have been real trouble, but by and large there wasn’t. They were drawn together by their passion for music and their desire to get together in peace. I’ve read that there were three babies born there during the festival. I wonder how many were conceived… Far out, man!!

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock


Filed under Agatha Christie, Ian Sansom, Jean-Pierre Alaux, Jonathan Gash, Kerry Greenwood, Laurien Berenson, Nöel Balen

20 responses to “And Everywhere Was a Song And a Celebration*

  1. Margot, a great many cozy series are based on some common interest or shared passion – whether it’s quilting, scrapbooking or tea drinking. That shared passion can be the source of many interesting and varied plot ideas, as you say.

    By the way, the Woodstock lyrics are actually Joni Mitchell’s work, though CSN&Y certainly did a fine version of it (and the musicians involved certainly knew each other and worked on each other’s albums)!

  2. And writers — a bunch of totally different personalities who share the love of writing and start a critique group can become very close….if they don’t kill each other first. 😀

    • Pat – LOL! That’s a great example of what I had in mind with this post. Thank you for that terrific example :-). And as you say, critique groups can be helpful.

  3. Lots of great suggestions for series and authors I would like to try here. I have thought of trying the Laurien Berenson series. Do they need to be read in order?

    • Tracy – The Berenson series doesn’t, strictly speaking, need to be read in order. I recommend it highly though, as there are a few story arcs that are best understood if you follow along in order, if I may put it that way. But it isn’t critical.

  4. I like reading series that are serial. That way I can follow the development of the main character and how they interact with society

    • Scott – I know what you mean. I like to see character development over time too. And I think that’s easier to depict in a series than it is in a standalone.

  5. I also read somewhere beware of couples or families who have no common interests or passions… that’s where murderous thoughts might occur too!
    1969 was such an interesting year – moon landing, Woodstock, student riots in a lot of countries, Vietnam War, the Manson Family murders… and a few births, some more noteworthy than others!

    • Marina Sofia – You have a very well-taken point. Couples and families with no common interest could indeed run into all sorts of problems…
      You’re so right that 1969 was a very important year. So many changes and so many big events took place that year. And of course, it’s quite true that some very important people were born then.

  6. kathy d.

    Who would have thought that “murder” would have drawn together so many people around the globe to discuss and learn more? Books, blogs, discussions: the very elixir of life. And COAMN is certainly at the top of the charts.
    But where we be without the Internet? I suppose in book clubs, not always convenient for communication between readers in the U.S., England and Australia, for example. But this is now enabled by the cyberworld.
    And I’d add music as something that pulls people together, too.
    But what I want to know is how do I get into Insula? Is there a qualifying exam? I wonder if it’s booked forever. I must ask Kerry Greenwood about this, as I’d really love to be a resident — and there are cats and muffins ever-handy.
    Interesting that Woodstock is a topic. I, along with two friends drove to Woodstock in 1969, like about a million other people. We were stopped on the worst traffic jam ever, couldn’t get within miles of the event and had to stay in a fly-infested motel just to get off the road.
    Any memory I have of the actual concert came from friends, news, records, etc. I still wish I could have gotten in.
    And, ah, yes, students protests against the war in Vietnam and free speech, and more. In New York, they were against the war, and the draft, and other issues. Those were my students days and wow, would I love to be back then and there. It was a time of great intellectual ferment, too, study groups everywhere one turned, activities racing around like mad, people arguing over books, principles, ideas. Up until all hours thinking, talking, till collapse from healthy, good mental and physical exhaustion.
    My 1969! It was life!

    • Kathy – Thanks for the kind words. And it is amazing how so many of us from all over the world are drawn together as we are by our love of books. One of the great things about the Internet has been the way it can bring us together. Oh, and about music? I think it’s a major thing that can draw us together.
      I can certainly see why you’d want to live in Insula. Not only is it a beautiful building, but the residents really are great people. And there are those decadent muffins…
      Thanks for sharing your ‘semi-Woodstock’ story. I’m quite sure you’re not the only one who tried but couldn’t get close to the actual site. And there were so many other things going on that year too! And so many important ideas being discussed and debated. I’m not surprised that you have such good memories of the atmosphere of the times.

  7. Ruth Rendell’s Some Lie and Some Die – one of her earlier Wexford books – features a rock festival in Kingsmarkam, drawing many music fans to the tiny town. It is a very *British* version of a festival, and not very like Woodstock – but I suppose there is a basic similarity!

    • Moira – I like that example. I have to confess I’d forgotten about it until you were kind enough to remind me – thanks. The festival isn’t much like Woodstock in some ways, but it does feature people who want to come together to share music. And that travels…

  8. Col

    I’ve only read the first mobile Sansom from your examples and I haven’t rushed back to him if I’m honest. Too young to recall Woodstock (not often I get to say that)

    • Col – The Mobile Library series isn’t, I admit, for everyone. I don’t think any series really is. I think it’s a different sort of series, which adds to the genre because it’s not like all the others. But it’s not going to be everyone’s cuppa. And I know what you mean about age. Every once in a while it’s nice to be too young to remember something…

  9. Margot – Another great topic. Seconding Les’s observation, mysteries are pursued and solved based on connections, and sometimes that connection is a common interest or passion. The example I think of is the offbeat passion of collectible classical records which Jonathan Valin used in his final Harry Stoner mystery, The Music Lovers.

    • Bryan – Thank you. And you’re quite right about a passion connecting people. In fact, you’re reminding me of James Lee Burke’s Dixie City Jam, where it’s a passion for collecting rare jazz that leads Dave Robicheaux to a killer…

  10. And the biggest meeting ground of all- online groups and blogs. Who would have thought so many disparate individuals would come together to celebrate a common passion. Differences don’t matter anywhere near as much as the commonalities do.
    Incidentally, I just finished Blue Lightening- another great example of very different people coming together because of a shared passion.

    • Natasha – That’s quite true. People from all sorts of backgrounds, cultures, belief systems and so on come together in online groups and in the world of blogging. Technology has made that kind of worldwide sharing of a passion a reality as we could never have imagined it. And you’re right; the differences among us in the blogosphere don’t matter nearly as much as what we share.
      And thanks for mentioning Blue Lightning That is indeed a great example of what I had in mind with this post; I’m glad you filled in that gap.

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