Beckons You to Enter His Web of Sin*

EVilConspiraciesNew information on the next in the James Bond film series is now out. Thanks very much to Tipping My Fedora for the information. Do go pay that excellent blog a visit and see for yourself how great it is!

It’s all gotten me to thinking about nasty criminal groups like the fictional SPECTRE. Thrillers are full of such groups, and even crime fiction that we don’t normally think of as ‘thriller-like’ can have them. This kind of novel doesn’t always work well for readers who like to keep their disbelief securely by their sides. But for those who are content to leave it at the door, they can add a suspenseful plot point.

Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes goes up against a fairly nasty criminal group in several of the stories featuring him. Led by Professor Moriarty, Holmes’ nemesis, the group is responsible for a string of murders and robberies. Matters come to a head in The Adventure of the Final Problem, in which Holmes and Watson are in enough danger from the group that they have to flee London. They end up in Switzerland where Holmes has a very famous final confrontation with Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls. And Holmes fans will know that Holmes’ battle with this group doesn’t really end at the falls.

Agatha Christie toyed with such groups in a few of her stories. In Passenger to Frankfurt, for instance, we meet Stafford Nye, a low-level diplomat with a very ordinary sort of life. He’s at an airport one day when a strange young woman approaches him. She claims that her life is in peril and she needs to flee the country. Then she begs Nye for his boarding pass and diplomatic credentials. At first Nye’s unwilling, but the young woman persuades him to help her. That act draws Nye into a dangerous web of international intrigue and conspiracy, to say nothing of murder. In this case, the criminal group is dedicated to the principles of Nazi-ism and bent on world domination.

In Alex Scarrow’s Last Light, the world’s supply of oil is suddenly cut off through the work of a shadowy group of businessmen with its own agenda. Life as most people know it changes abruptly and dramatically, and it affects everyone. Most especially, the story depicts the effects on Andy Sutherland, a geologist working in Iraq; his wife Jenny, who’s stranded in Manchester at a job interview; his daughter Leona, who’s at university; and his son Jake, who’s at boarding school. As the four of them struggle to re-unite, we see how powerful this conspiracy has really been .

There’s also a very nasty conspiracy in Lindy Cameron’s Redback. Team Redback is a crack Australian team of retrieval specialists. Their job is to rescue people who are ‘caught in the crossfire’ of dangerous conflicts. For example, as the novel begins, the Pacific Tourism and Enviro-Trade Conference is taking place on the island of Laui when it’s disrupted by a group of rebels. The rebels abduct the delegates, and Team Redback, led by Bryn Gideon, is called in to rescue the hostages. Then, there’s a murder. And a train explosion in Europe. And a disaster at a U.S. Military base. And other murders. The members of Team Redback know now that some larger group is behind all of these various acts of terrorism and they work to find out about the group and stop it. A big part of the answer lies in information turned up by journalist Scott Dreher. By chance he gets his hands on a copy of a new video game called Global War Tek, which is being used to recruit and train new terrorists. With that information and what they learn on their own, Team Redback finds out who is responsible for the terrorism and what the group’s goal is.

Stefan Tegenfalk’s Anger Mode features, among other things, a bizarre series of ‘rage’ murders that don’t seem to have much in the way of motive. Walter Gröhn of the Stocholm County CID and his rookie assistant Jonna de Brugge take on the investigation, but it’s soon taken out of their hands by Säpo, the Swedish intelligence agency. And as fans of Swedish crime fiction will be able to guess, Säpo has its own agenda. But Gröhn and de Brugge persist, and discover why the murders have occurred and what they have to do with a kidnapping, anti-Muslim prejudice and greed.

There’s also a sinister society at work in K.B. Owen’s Unseemly Ambition. It’s 1898 at Hartford Women’s College, where Concordia Wells teaches English. She’s busy enough with her own classes and her duties as ‘housemother’ at Willow Cottage. But then she’s saddled with a lot of the work for the school’s upcoming production of Othello. She’s also trying to stay on the right side of Dean Maynard, who has his own ideas of what’s ‘seemly’ for ladies. Trouble arises when an unknown woman claims to be the real mother of Eli, a former ‘street child’ who’s about to be adopted by Concordia’s best friend Sophie and her soon-to-be-husband, Lieutenant Aaron Chapshaw of the police. Permission is very reluctantly given for Eli to spend time with his birth mother; but not long afterwards, she is found murdered. Then, Eli disappears. Concordia is torn about getting involved in this investigation. After all, it could mean real trouble for her. But she contacts her former mentor and the two of them begin to look into the matter. It’s soon clear that some powerful and dangerous people do not want this case solved. Their reach is far and they have no compunctions about killing, so it’s going to be very risky to solve the murder and find Eli before it’s too late.

Some fictional nasty criminal groups are more believable and more dangerous than others. But when it’s done well, that plot point can add a layer of suspense to a story. And for those who don’t mind sending their disbelief packing for a bit, stories featuring large, international, evil conspiracies can be a lot of fun.

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from John Barry, Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley’s Goldfinger.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Alex Scarrow, Arthur Conan Doyle, K.B. Owen, Lindy Cameron, Stefan Tegenfalk

24 responses to “Beckons You to Enter His Web of Sin*

  1. Oh my, Margot, as you point out, there certainly are a lot of these organizations active in mysteries/thrillers. Just to name a few in the “classic” sphere, Edmund Crispin’s Gervase Fen comes up against a particularly nasty gang of murderous spies in Holy Disorders. Arthur Upfield’s DI Napoleon Bonaparte takes on a fantastic group of Nazis after WW II in “The Mountains Have a Secret.” Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe is up against a super-bad-guy and his organization in three books that co-star the notorious Arnold Zeck. Bulldog Drummond was always fighting an amorphous international organization in Sapper’s books. And let’s not forget the notorious Dr. Fu Manchu and his Si Fan organization that is just barely thwarted in their goal of world domination in each of Sax Rohmer’s classic books. And that barely scratches the surface!

    • Les – Such great examples of the way those sinister groups infiltrate classic and GA crime fiction. I’m very glad you mentioned them. As you say, there are dozens and dozens of them, some better-written than others. These are deliciously ‘baddie’ groups 🙂

  2. Thanks for the nice mention Margot 🙂 From Moriarty onwards, there is a traditional thrill one associates with master criminals and their secret societies, though it was nice in THE SEVEN DIALS MYSTERY when the group turned out to be benign!

    • Sergio – Always a pleasure to mention your blog. And you’re right about that extra ‘zip’ that comes with those secret societies and master criminals. Lots of ‘thriller’ possibilities there. But you’re right; Crhistie turned that on its head neatly in Seven Dials….

  3. This post also reminded me of AC’s The Big Four which contains the stereotypical group of super villains that Poirot finally captures. Excellent post. Can’t wait to see the new James Bond.

    • Clarissa – Oh, I’m glad you mentioned The Big Four. It is indeed a terrific example of the way Christie dealt with super villains. I actually debated between that one and Passenger… when I was writing this post, so I appreciate your filling in that gap.

  4. The conspiracy that came to mind for me, reading this, was the international art fraud ring in Dick Francis’ “In the Frame.” A conspiracy doesn’t have to have global-domination ambitions to cause a lot of grief.

    • Chacha1 – True enough. And that’s a great example of the kind of conspiracy that can wreak havoc even if it’s not worldwide. And of course, Dick Francis was really talented.

  5. I’m not a huge fan of criminal gangs in general (in fiction, that is! Well, in fact too, I suppose…) but a couple of great books came to mind. I know you’re not too keen on follow-on novels but Anthony Horowitz does a great job with ‘Moriarty’ – not just the evil professor’s old gang but a gang from America trying to take over in London after the Reichebach Falls incident. And in Dwayne Alexander Smith’s ‘Forty Acres’ we have a secret society of powerful men, as they see it, righting an old wrong – hard to be more specific on that one without spoilers.

    But more importantly, who is the gorgeous cat??

    • FictionFan – I’ve actually heard good things about the Horowitz; I may have to unbend a bit about that one. You’re not the only one who’s recommended it. And I remember your excellent review of Forty Acres. I’ve put that one on my list and am keen to read it.

      Oh, and the cat? Please don’t tell anyone will you, but – erm – let’s just say it’s the wonders of modern ‘photo creation and editing. My ‘photo in the background with some – erm – enhancement. I just couldn’t resist the opportunity to do my ‘evil villain’ impression. 😉

      • The Horowitz seems to be going down much better in the US than in the UK – there seems to be a feeling amongst some readers over here that it’s too violent for a Holmes world book – I don’t agree, needless to say. I’ve never thought of Holmes as ‘cosies’…

        Haha! I did wonder how the dogs would have reacted to the introduction of a feline friend…

        • 😆 I know better than to commit that sort of insubordination against my overlords. 😉 And I can’t imagine any self-respecting feline who’d consent to live with a servant of dogs…
          As to the Horowitz, I think you’re right about its reception in the US v in the UK. Still not quite persuaded to give it a go, but ‘never’ is a very long time…

  6. Col

    I’m wondering if you could count the men-folk in Levin’s Stepford Wives as such a group?

  7. Margot: The early Robert Ludlum books had the most convincing conspiracies of my reading youth. For years he managed to come up with credible conspiracies involving the issues of those times. I especially loved the Bourne books and The Matarese Circle.

  8. I always thought Christie was sensible in that she didn’t bother with too much detail of her sinister-world-conspiracy groups – none of them stood up to much examination, but that’s fine, they served their purpose, which was to give her bright young things a reason to run round having adventures. She gave much more attention and care to the minor motives and thoughts and considerations of individuals in the straight murder stories – they were all cleverly worked out.

    • Moira – You make a very well-taken point there. She did, as you say, set up circumstances where her protagonists (love your name for them!) could do whatever it was she wanted them to do. But I think her straight murder mysteries are by far her better work. And it is those small details of character and so on that make all the difference.

  9. Kathy D.

    Oh, that beautiful cat looks too innocent to have organized a conspiracy.
    However, a large number of mysteries deal with conspiracies and schemes of all kinds. Sometimes, they’re organized to cover up a murder or two and then the plot thickens.
    In Donna Leon’s books set in Venice, there are often conspiracies, whether in the military, Church, among rich lawyers, factory owners, and so on, Guido Brunetti often uncovers them. But few get justice.

    • Kathy – Cats always look innocent… 😉 – As you say, there are a lot of different kinds of conspiracies in crime novels. Sometimes they’re very large; sometimes it’s only a small conspiracy. But once there’s murder, there’s then an even bigger conspiracy to cover it up. You’re right that Donna Leon’s Guido Brunetti deals with that a great deal. He doesn’t always bring ‘the bad guys’ to justice, but he doesn’t give up.

  10. I love James Bond novels and movies. That’s good news. I think thrillers with big criminal organizations whose evil plans are thwarted by an individual or small group are great reads.

    • Pat – When they’re done well, those sorts of plots can be terrific. And of course the Bond series is iconic. Everyone’s different about this, but (and no disrespect to other actors) I think Sean Connery makes the best Bond. Just my personal opinion…

  11. Kathy D.

    I can see that Mr. Me Too and his pal have influenced this blog against lovely, innocent felines. Lillian Jackson Braun should be remembered
    for the smart cat detectives.

    • Kathy – No doubt about it: there are some great feline forces for good in crime fiction. Lilian Jackson Braun’s Koko and Yum Yum are just two examples – and good ones, too.

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