Strut My Stuff, My Stuff is so Shiny*

An interesting review of Donald Henderson’s A Voice Like Velvet at FictionFan’s excellent review blog has got me thinking about the all-too-human wish for things. This novel’s focus is Ernest Bisham, a radio broadcaster who is also a burglar. I admit I haven’t read the novel (yet), but I intend to. You’ll want to read FictionFan’s fine review of it to get a sense of the story. And while you’re there, you’ll want to check out the rest of that top-notch blog. It’s one of my must-visits.

Batham doesn’t take things because he wants to be rich. He takes them for the thrill of doing so, and because he likes that sensation of ‘Ooh, shiny!’ And he’s not the only crime-fiction character who feels that way.

For instance, Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone begins as Colonel John Herncastle steals a diamond called the Moonstone from a palace in India. He doesn’t take it because he’s desperate for money; he takes because he is acquisitive. Legend has it that anyone who disturbs the temple by taking that diamond will be cursed, and so will anyone who ends up with the stone. As the story goes on, we see how that dire prediction plays out. Herncastle bequeaths the stone to his niece, Rachel Verinder, with the proviso that it be given to her on her eighteenth birthday. Herncastle and Rachel’s mother, Lady Julia Verinder, have had a rift for quite some time, so there is talk that his gift is actually a curse. And so it seems to be. First, the stone is stolen. Then, one of the housemaids disappears, and is later found dead. There are other incidents, too. Sergeant Cuff investigates, and slowly, over the course of two years, traces the stone and learns who stole it and why.

In Agatha Christie’s Cards on the Table, we are introduced to Anne Meredith. She is among eight people who are invited to a dinner party at the home of the eccentric Mr. Shaitana. This isn’t a ‘typical’ dinner party though. Shaitana has invited four people (of whom Anne is one) who he believes have gotten away with murder. He also has invited four sleuths, among whom are Hercule Poirot and detective novelist Ariadne Oliver. During the meal, Shaitana drops hints about the sorts of murders he suspects have been committed. After dinner, everyone settles down to play bridge. At some point in the evening, someone stabs Shaitana. The only possible suspects are the four people Shaitana believes are murderers. Poirot and the other sleuths investigate to find out who the killer is. And they find that each suspect was, indeed, mixed up in a possible murder. In Anne’s case, the victim was a woman to whom she was companion, and who died of poison. At the time, it was believed that this death was accidental: the woman ingested hat paint instead of her medication. But, was it an accident? It turns out that Anne Meredith has a habit of taking things, not because she is desperate for them, but because she wants to have them. Was that enough to drive her to kill – twice?

As Erle Stanley Gardner’s The Case of the Shoplifter’s Shoe opens, Perry Mason and Della Street duck into a department store to get out of a sudden rainstorm. There, they witness a store security officer arrest Sarah Breel for shoplifting. It seems that this is a regular habit of hers; she sees things that she wants, and she takes them because she wants them. Her niece, Virginia Trent, usually goes shopping with her to avoid any trouble, but this time, the two got separated for just long enough for Sarah to take advantage of the opportunity. Mason gets involved with the family when some valuable diamonds go missing, and then there’s a murder. Aunt Sarah is suspected of the theft and the possibly the murder, and Mason goes to work to find out the truth.

Adrian Hyland’s Gunshot Road features Aboriginal Community Police Officer (ACPO) Emily Tempest. In the novel, she investigates the death of a geologist named Albert ‘Doc’ Ozolins. On the surface, it looks as though he was killed as the result of a drunken quarrel. But Emily sees little pieces of evidence that suggest otherwise, and she decides to investigate. In one sub-plot of this novel, she happens to be in the small town of Bluebush, when a local electronics store owner rushes out of his shop, complaining that someone has stolen a valuable iPod. It’s not long before Emily identifies the thief as fifteen-year-old Danny Brambles. She is a friend of his family, and she knows that Danny is not a violent, dangerous person. He didn’t take the iPod out of greed, either; he saw it and wanted it, and couldn’t resist the urge to take it. And there’s the fact that this particular shop owner isn’t exactly a fan of Aboriginal people. Emily knows that if she arrests Danny, he could go to jail, which would do him much more harm than good. At the same time, he stole from the store. So, with a little tact and finesse, she gets the store owner to take the iPod back and not pursue the matter, in exchange for which Danny will do chores and work off his debt to the owner.

And then there’s Patricia Abbott’s Eve Moran, whom we meet in Concrete Angel. All her life, Eve has wanted to acquire. And she’s been willing to do whatever it takes, including murder, to get what she wants, whether it’s jewelry, men, clothes, or something else. Her daughter, Christine, has been raised in this toxic environment, and has a very dysfunctional relationship with her mother. Everything begins to change when Christine sees that her younger brother is getting drawn into the same toxic world.  Now, she’s going to have to find a way to free both her brother and herself from their mother, and it’s not going to be easy.

There is something about acquiring things that has an irresistible appeal for some people. That trait can have all sorts of terrible consequences. It can also lend layers to character development.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Lin-Manual Miranda’s Shiny.

11 Comments

Filed under Adrian Hyland, Agatha Christie, Donald Henderson, Erle Stanley Gardner, Patricia Abbott, Wilkie Collins

11 responses to “Strut My Stuff, My Stuff is so Shiny*

  1. Thanks for the mention and the kind words, Margot! 😀 I can’t come up with any examples to add at the moment, but will add a factlet I learned form Martin Edwards’ introduction to Portrait of a Murderer, the name of which’s author Agatha Christie appropriated for her character in Cards on the Table – Anne Meredith! I love how these Golden Age authors all referenced each other in their books… 🙂

    • It’s my pleasure to plug you and your excellent blog, FictionFan. And I agree about the way the GA authors referenced each other. When I notice one of those references, I always feel like I’m understanding an ‘inside joke.’ It’s great! 😀 And thanks for mentioning Portrait of a Murderer. I do want to spotlight that one at some point.

  2. Col

    I like the sound of the Hyland book and intend to read something by Garner with Perry Mason at some point in the future. I can’t think of any “shiny” type thefts in my own reading.

  3. Spade & Dagger

    Andrew Martin’s The Yellow Diamond is a contemporary mystery of jewelry theft & conspiracy amongst the high living Champagne set of London’s Mayfair, including the Russians. I guess it didn’t make a huge impression on me, as beyond remembering the title & that I had actually read it, I can’t remember any thing else about the plot or the police characters who sort it all out 🙂

    • That’s happened to me, too, Spade & Dagger, where a book hasn’t made a really strong impression on me. Still, it sounds like a solid example of what I had in mind with this post, so I’m glad you brought it up.

  4. It’s interesting that robbery purely for the purpose of obtaining stuff doesn’t feature often in fiction although I would think more people are materialistic nowadays- but perhaps that’s just a question of perception?

    • That’s an interesting point, Cleo. People are often materialistic, so you’d think there’d be more crime fiction that has a focus on that. But you don’t (well, I haven’t) as much as you might. Hmm….’food for thought,’ for which thanks. Of course, as you say, it might just be a matter of perception.

  5. tracybham

    I thought of Concrete Angel as soon as I read the beginning of this post, Margot. A wonderful book by Patti Abbott. I will have to check into the other titles here.

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