I Must Be On My Way*

authorsandtravelAn interesting post from Brad, who blogs at ahsweetmysteryblog, has got me thinking about fictional sleuths who travel to foreign countries. In his post (which you should read), Brad shows the link between Agatha Christie’s personal life (fans will know that she spent time in the Middle East) and the setting for some of her work (e.g. Death on the Nile).

Christie is by no means the only example, either. Plenty of crime writers who’ve been to other countries make use of that experience when they write. And that makes sense, if you think about it. We’re all influenced by our experience; that’s just as true of crime writers as it is for anyone else.

Jean-Denis Bruet-Ferreol, who writes under the pseudonym Mallock, is French, as is his creation, Amédée Mallock of the Paris CID. In The Cemetery of Swallows, Mallock travels from France to the Dominican Republic. It seems a French citizen, Manuel Gemoni, went to that country specifically to kill Tobias Darbier, a Dominican citizen. When questioned by the police, Gemoni killed Darbier because,

‘‘…he had killed me first.’’

Gemoni’s sister, Julie, works for the CID, and wants to help her brother as much as she can. He’s been badly injured, so the plan is to bring him back to France and then, as soon as his condition allows, have him answer to the charges brought against him. Mallock finds, though, that this is not going to be an easy case. As though the legal complications of this case weren’t enough, there’s also the enigma surrounding what Gemoni said. He can’t be much help in the investigation, so Mallock and the team have to dig into the histories of both men to find out what’s behind this killing. While I don’t know for a fact that Bruet-Ferreol has been to the Dominican Republic, I wouldn’t be surprised.

Anna Jaquiery has lived in several places, and that has influenced her writing. In Death in a Rainy Season, for instance, her sleuth, Paris Commandant Serge Morel, has gone to Phnom Penh for a holiday. While he’s there, another French citizen, Hugo Quercy, is murdered in his hotel room. The victim was the son of the French Interior Minister, so the French police have every motivation to look into the matter and find out what happened. Morel cuts his holiday short and starts to ask questions. And as he does, he finds that there are several possibilities. Not the least of them is that Quercy was the head of a humanitarian group, and had been looking (perhaps a little too closely) into reports of land-grabbing in the area. Like her creation, Jaquiey was born in France. But she has lived in many places, including Russia (you can see a trace of that in The Lying Down Room) and Southeast Asia. So, it’s not surprising that those travels have influenced her writing.

Both Andrew Nette and his partner, Angela Savage, are Australian (currently Melbourne-based). But they’ve lived in Southeast Asia as well, including Thailand and Cambodia. That experience has found its way into their crime writing. Nette’s Ghost Money, which features Australian ex-cop Max Quinlan, takes place mostly in Bangkok and Cambodia. In that novel, Quinlan is hired to find out what happened to Charles Avery, who seems to have disappeared from his Bangkok apartment. The trail leads to Phnom Penh, and then to the northern part of Cambodia.

Savage’s series features PI Jayne Keeney. Originally from Melbourne, Keeney has settled in Bangkok, where she’s found a market for her ability to navigate two very different cultures. In Behind the Night Bazaar, The Half Child, and The Dying Beach, Keeney travels to different parts of Thailand, and the novels reflect that context. It’s interesting to see how both of these authors have written novels that reflect their experiences in other countries.

The same is true of Paddy Richardson. Like most of her protagonists, she is from New Zealand. But she’s been on several travels, including to Leipzig. That experience is reflected in Swimming in the Dark. In that novel, we meet Ilse Klein and her mother, Gerda. Both are originally from Leipzig, but left in order to escape the Stasi, the feared East German secret police. Now, Ilse is a secondary school teacher in the small South Island town of Alexandria. Everything changes when Ilse begins to get concerned about one of her students, Serena Freeman. Once one of Ilse’s most academically promising pupils, Serena has stopped coming to class regularly. When she does show up, she has no interest in the content or in participating in class. Then, Serena disappears. Now, Ilse and Gerda find themselves drawn into this mystery in ways they hadn’t imagined. In this novel, we learn the backstories of both Gerda and Ilse. That part of the story takes place in Leipzig, so readers get the chance to see what the city was like during the Cold War, and what it’s like now. It’s an interesting example of the way in which foreign travel has found its way into an author’s work.

And, as I say, that’s not really surprising. All of our experiences impact us in some way or other. So, it’s only natural that, when authors travel to another country, that might be reflected in their work. Which examples have stayed with you?

Thanks, Brad, for the inspiration. Now, may I suggest your next blog stop should be ahsweetmysteryblog? It’s a fantastic and thoughtful resource for thought-provoking posts on crime fiction.

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Hoodoo Gurus’ 10000 Miles Away.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrew Nette, Angela Savage, Anna Jaquiery, Jean-Denis Bruet-Ferreol

20 responses to “I Must Be On My Way*

  1. Margot, I’m really touched by the recommendation! And so glad to have inspired you!! 🙂

  2. Glad to see Mallock mentioned, as there is quite a scene there with a trip to a shaman in the Dominican Republic… As an anthropologist, I always love a bit of insight into another culture, as long as it’s well done and not just tourist schmaltz. (Although I like a bit of that too – yes, Bruno Chief of Police, I’m looking at you!) These are very often my favourite kind of crime fiction: Donna Leon, Anne Zouroudi, Barbara Nadel and John Burdett all seem to be spending part of the year in the countries they write about in their crime novels – Italy, Greece, Turkey and Thailand respectively.

    • That is, indeed, quite a scene with the shaman, Marina Sofia… And you’re right that there’s a big difference between a real discussion of culture and ‘tourist stuff.’ Some authors (and Martin Walker’s definitely one of them) do that quite well, but most of the time, I’m not much for it, either. It’s interesting, too, that you mention Leon et al. Timothy Hallinan does the same thing, too (for those who don’t know, one of his series takes place in Thailand). I do think authors who spend a great deal of time in a place find it easier to write authentically. I’ve read excellent books where that wasn’t the case, but I think it’s easier.

  3. Thank you Margot for pointing me in the direction of Brad’s blog – a fascinating theme and although I’d realised Agatha Christie’s books were inspired by her own life and travels, I didn’t know about the other writers you mentioned.

    • Isn’t Brad’s blog great, Cleo? It’s on my ‘must visit’ list. And you know, I didn’t really think about how many authors are inspired by places they’ve been until I started to think about it. There are plenty of them!

  4. Ruth Rendell had Wexford visit China in Speaker of Mandarin.

  5. Margot: Anthony Bidulka with his Russell Quant series and Ian Hamilton in his Ava Lee series always have part of each book in Canada and trips to other parts of the world for their sleuths. Not every sleuth travels well but Russell and Ava are excellent characters away from home.

    • They really are, Bill. And I know that their creators have done their share of travel as well. I’m sure that must influence the way they write. I’m actually very glad you brought up both of these series. I’d meant to include them – they’re certainly relevant! – but didn’t. Just goes to show that I should not schedule a post for publication until I have had enough coffee. Thanks for filling in that gap.

  6. One of the reasons that I think Peter May’s Lewis books stand out as some of his best work is because of the authenticity of the setting. He spent months there every year for several years when he was producer and scriptwriter of a Gaelic-language drama serial set there, Machair. And I’ve just finished yet another of the British Library Crime Classics – Death on the Riviera by John Bude – and Martin Edwards in the introduction tells us Bude and his family often went to the Riviera and stayed in some of the little towns mentioned in the book.

    • You know, those Lewis settings are really authentic, FictionFan. The time that May spent there really getting to know the place show clearly in those novels. I’m glad you mentioned them, as I think the setting and cultural context are two of the great things about them. And Bude’s written some interesting things, too. I didn’t know he’s spent so much time on the Riviera, but I’m not surprised that it founds its way into his work.

  7. As a reader I enjoy the ‘travel experience’ I get from such fascinating authors as the ones you mentioned, Margot. It makes the protagonist more realistic if they travel especially depending on the type of job they might have.

    • I know what you mean, Mason. Travel is a part of life for a lot of people, so it only makes sense that characters would travel. That’s especially true if, as you say, they have the sort of job that requires it. And when authors weave that experience into their work, it can really add to a story.

  8. Whenever you travel, especially to foreign places, you become acutely aware of every detail. You look intensely at things you would otherwise ignore. What a wonderful thing for a writer!

    • Oh, I agree, Almost Iowa! There’s a sense of heightened awareness that really does go along with foreign travel. And you’re right; it’s a real boon for a writer.

  9. Anne Cleeves wrote her wonderful series of Shetland novels – I think after working in the Scottish islands for a time.

  10. How did I miss this post?! Thanks as always for the mention, Margot, especially one alongside my partner in life and crime (fiction).

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