Such a Shame She Wandered Into Our Enclosure*

Colonialism, tourism and other forces have created a very interesting social reality: enclaves of people (often privileged) from one culture, who live in another culture. These enclaves have their own cultures and social rules and are sometimes completely disconnected from the local cultures. Even when there is some connection, it’s often a case of two very different cultures living side by side.

This context can be a really interesting one for a crime novel. The social dynamics within an enclave can add to character development and tension. So can the dynamics between an enclave and the larger community.

For instance, in Agatha Christie’s A Caribbean Mystery, Miss Marple travels to the Golden Palm resort on the Caribbean island of St Honoré. She’s been in poor health, and her generous nephew has paid for her to spend some time recuperating. The Golden Palm is a privileged British enclave on the island, although many the staff are from the local area. And the dynamics among the English people add to the tension in the story. That tension is heightened when Miss Marple hears a story from another guest, Major Palgrave, about a man who got away with murder more than once. Oddly enough, Palgrave stops mid-story and changes the subject when he sees a group of people not far away. Later, he is murdered, and Miss Marple is certain that his death s connected to the story he had started. She’s right, too, and she finds that this murder has everything to do with past secrets that someone is hiding. At one point in the story, we see a glimpse outside this enclave, in a few domestic scenes with one of the staff members, Victoria Johnson. It’s an interesting contrast to the Golden Palm. I see you, fans of Murder in Mesopotamia.

Rex Stout’s Too Many Cooks sees Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin travel to the exclusive Kanawha Spa in West Virginia. Wolfe has been tapped to deliver the keynote address at Les Quinze Maîtres, a meeting of the world’s top chefs. The resort is beautiful and all-inclusive, with the amenities you’d expect at a very upmarket place. And it’s nothing like the surrounding area. The chefs and those with them duly arrive and the gathering starts. Then, one of the master chefs, Phillip Laszio, is murdered. The evidence seems to point to another chef, Jerome Berin, as the guilty party. But Wolfe doesn’t think Berin is the killer. He’s reluctant to get involved in the case, but he starts investigating, and, in the end, finds out who the killer is. In a few scenes in the novel, we see the contrast between the chefs and other guests, who are a part of this enclave, and the staff members who live outside it.

Roderic Jeffries’ Mistakenly in Mallorca introduces his sleuth, Inspector Enrique Alvarez.  In the novel, John Tatham travels from England to Mallorca to stay for a time with his great-aunt, Elvina Woods. She grows fond of him, and even tells him that she is set to inherit a large fortune, which she wants him to have when she dies. She even promises to make a new will indicating that wish. Then one day, Tatham, who’s been out, returns to the house he’s sharing with Aunt Elvina, only to find that she has died of a fall from a balcony. Now he has a serious dilemma. If he reports her death immediately, as he should, he has no way of knowing whether her benefactor has predeceased her. If not, he won’t get any of the money. If, on the other hand, he keeps her death to himself until he hears that her benefactor has died, he’ll inherit the money. Against his better judgement, that’s what he decides to do. He duly waits and then reports the death to the police. Inspector Alvarez looks into the matter, and, at first, is prepared to treat it as an accident. But little signs suggest otherwise. Soon, it’s a sort of battle of wits between Tatham and Alvarez as Tatham tries to hide what’s happened, and Alvarez tries to find out the truth. Throughout the novel, there’s an interesting contrast drawn between the mostly-British ex-pat/second home community and the local Mallorcans. Neither side is particularly fond of the other, although the British know that they depend on the locals, and the locals know that the British enclave adds to the economy. It’s an interesting dynamic.

Jassy Mackenzie’s Random Violence begins as private investigator Jade de Jong returns to her native Johannesburg after an absence of ten years. She’s there for her own personal reasons, but she is drawn into the case of the murder of Annette Botha. At first, the victim’s murder looks like a carjacking gone tragically wrong. But little pieces of evidence begin to suggest otherwise. Inspector David Patel wants to look into the matter further, but he’s under a lot of pressure to get the case solved and shelved quickly. He asks de Jong, whose father was his mentor, to help in the investigation, and she agrees. Then, there’s another murder. And another. The murders turn out to be tied together, and when de Jong and Patel find the link, they learn what’s behind the killings. Throughout the novel, there’s a strong sense of the divide between the wealthy, mostly-white enclaves, and the ‘regular people,’ mostly non-white, who live elsewhere. Security in those wealthy enclaves is of paramount importance, and it’s interesting to see how those who live in them set themselves apart from others.

And then there’s Brian Stoddart’s Superintendent Christian ‘Chris’ Le Fanu series. These novels take place in 1920’s India, towards the end of the British Raj. The British are still in control of the country, although there is agitation for Home Rule. Many of the British live near each other in certain areas and have formed their own networks. Other than the members of their domestic staffs, they don’t mix much with those who aren’t British, and their social interactions are usually with other British people. It’s an interesting case of a ‘world within a world.’

And that’s the thing about enclaves. They’re small, sometimes-exclusive communities set in larger communities. And sometimes the two groups have little in common. These are only a few examples. Your turn.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Time Rice’s Perón’s Latest Flame.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Brian Stoddart, Jassy Mackenzie, Rex Stout, Roderic Jeffries

9 responses to “Such a Shame She Wandered Into Our Enclosure*

  1. Reblogged this on Author Don Massenzio and commented:
    Check out this interesting post from the Confessions of a Mystery Novelist Blog on the use of enclaves in crime fiction

  2. Col

    I think the only colonial crime fiction I have encountered is Stoddart’s Le Fanu series. I’m not a massive fan of the TV series myself, I don’t know if you get it in your neck of the woods – Death in Paradise? It’s a detective series set on a Caribbean Island somewhere. I may be wrong, but the lead detective always seems to be white and British and has been transplanted in from the UK to a position of authority. He leads a team of black underlings and uniformed officers in the hunt for the weekly murderer. The chief of police is black, but it kind of smacks of a bit of white superiority. Don’t get me wrong they all contribute and work well as a team, but I do wonder.

    • I have watched that show, Col, and I’ve noticed that phenomenon, too. As you say, the team does work together, but, yes, I’m not fond of the subtle message that’s sent when the team leader is always a white UK guy.

      As for Stoddart, he writes a good story, I think, and evokes Raj India effectively.

  3. Spade & Dagger

    I think quite a number of mysteries are set in enclaves created almost inadvertently – for example in small villages by the self-contained lives of the inhabitants; by live-in staff & occupants of large country houses & estates; and around various hubs of daily activity such as Tea Shops, Food Trucks etc etc.

    • You make a well-taken point, Spade & Dagger. Those self-contained groups engender their own cultures, ‘rules,’ and conflicts. So it’s little wonder there’s also a context for a mystery.

  4. Kathy D.

    I’d rather read books from the point of view of those who are Indigenous to a country, not ex-pats or those from colonial governments who impose law and order or the privileged. For instance, if I read about India, I want to read about the country from the viewpoint of people of Indian descent, even if it’s about the British Raj.

  5. It’s not quite the same thing, but Beat Not the Bones by Charlotte Jay made a big impression on me – a very sad story of culture clash in Papua New Guinea. Hard reading at times, but very well done.

    • Oh, that’s a Jay I’ve not (yet) read, Moira. She did write some fine books, and that one sounds like a great example of what I had in mind with this post, so thanks.

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