An interesting post from Tim at Beyond 221B Baker Street has got me thinking about context. Every book is written within a sociocultural and historical context, and that is often reflected in the book. As I’ve been reflecting on that, it’s got me thinking about the way people’s curiosity can be aroused when they read. To put it another way, sometimes, we read books (or, at least, I do) that make us curious about the context, and wanting to read more.
Everyone gets curious about different things, of course, but I suspect I’m not the only one who’s read a book and then wanted to know more about something. It might be details about an incident, an era, or something else. Whatever it is, the author’s presented it in a way that makes you want to know more. As I say, everyone’s different, but here are a few things I’ve wanted to know more about because of the crime fiction I’ve read.
As Agatha Christie fans know, her second husband was an archaeologist, and she accompanied him to the Middle East. Several of her stories are set there, including Appointment With Death. That story’s focus is the Boynton family, a group of Americans who are on an extended trip through the Middle East. One of their stops is a trip to the famous red city of Petra. On the second afternoon of their visit, Mrs. Boynton dies of what looks like a heart attack. Colonel Carbury isn’t satisfied, though. He asks Hercule Poirot, who’s in the area, to investigate, and Poirot agrees. Even ardent Christie fans admit that this isn’t her best. But it does have an interesting setting – Petra – and I got curious about that. So, I did a little reading on the place. Am I an expert? Not even close. Not at all. But I did learn some interesting things, and it’s because the book piqued my curiosity.
After I read Kel Robertson’s Smoke and Mirrors, I got interested in Australia’s 1972-75 Gough Whitlam government. Here’s why. In the novel, Australian Federal Police (AFP) officer Bradman ‘Brad’ Chen and his team investigate two murders. One victim is Alec Dennet, who was a member of the Whitlam government, and is now writing his memoirs. The other is Dennet’s editor, Lorraine Starke. The two were killed at Uriarra, a Canberra-area writers’ retreat. One very good possibility is that Dennet was killed because of what might be written in his upcoming book. There are plenty of people in some high places who wouldn’t want what he had to say to come out. So, Chen and his team pursue that lead. Robertson gives some interesting information about the Whitlam government – enough to leave me wanting to know more. So, I looked up a few things. I couldn’t quote you anything like chapter and verse on the ins and outs of that government, nor all of the details of the events that brought it down. But I found the reading I did do fascinating.
Simon Beckett’s Whispers of the Dead takes place mostly at Tennessee’s Anthropological Research Laboratory, also known as The Body Farm. Anthropologist David Hunter wants some time away from London to recover from the events of Written in Bone. So, he decides to go to Tennessee to do some research and catch up with his former mentor, Tom Liebermann. When the lab receives word of a decomposed body found at a cabin not far from the lab, Hunter is persuaded to get involved in the investigation. And that leads to a complex and difficult case. After I read this novel, I got interested in The Body Farm and what it does. It’s actually a fascinating place where a great deal of forensic and other scientific research is conducted. So, I did a bit of reading. It certainly got the crime writer in me very interested.
As fans of Andrea Camilleri’s Salvo Montalbano series can tell you, many of his books have been translated into English by Stephen Sartarelli. His translations go beyond simply expressing Camilleri’s stories in another language (as though that weren’t enough). He also adds notes and commentaries to the novels, to give readers background information on everything from history, to the origins of certain sayings, and much more. Several times, I’ve found myself reading a little more about one or another topic Sartarelli’s mentioned. I always find them interesting, and they add context to the series.
Brian Stoddart’s Superintendent Christian ‘Chris’ Le Fanu series takes place in the early 1920s, during the last years of the British Raj, in Madras (today’s Chennai). Le Fanu is assisted by the very capable Sergeant Muhammad ‘Habi’ Habibullah. I knew a little about those years before I started reading this series. But some of the information Stoddart provides made me curious to learn more. So, I did a bit of reading on the topic, and I’m glad I did. I learned things that I wouldn’t otherwise have known, and (I hope) I have a better perspective on that period of time.
Those are just a few books and series that have gotten me curious to learn more. The things that pique your interest are bound to be different. Which novels and series have inspired you to find out more?
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Grateful Dead’s Caution (Do Not Step On Tracks).