Category Archives: Aaron Elkins

Plastic Tubes and Pots and Pans*

People invent all sorts of ingenious devices. Some of them become hits, and their inventors do quite well. Others don’t. Either way, it’s really interesting to think about that aspect of human curiosity and innovation.

There are plenty of such devices in fiction, too, even outside of steampunk and other science fiction. And, when you think about it, that makes sense. Inventions and innovations are part of what moves us along as a society. Certainly, you see this in crime fiction.

In Rex Stout’s Fer de Lance, for instance, Peter Barstow, President of Holland University, dies suddenly during a golf game. At first, his death is put down to a stroke. But it’s soon clear that he was poisoned. And the weapon was a specially-designed golf club. Matters get murkier when Carlo Maffei, who designed the club, goes missing and is later found dead. When Maffei’s sister, Maria, becomes concerned about her brother’s disappearance, she hires Nero Wolfe to look into the matter, and he and Archie Goodwin get started. They find that, as you’d expect, Maffei’s and Barstow’s deaths are connected. And it’s all related to past history.

In Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Flora Ackroyd asks for Hercule Poirot’s help when her uncle is stabbed in his study. The most likely suspect in the murder is Flora’s fiancé, Captain Ralph Paton. It seems that Paton, who was Ackroyd’s stepson, had quarreled with Ackroyd about money. What’s more, he went missing on the night of the murder, and hasn’t been seen since. Flora is convinced that Paton is innocent, and wants Poirot to clear his name. Poirot agrees and begins to look into the matter. He finds that Paton is by no means the only possible suspect; in fact, everyone concerned in the case is hiding something. In the end, he finds out who killed Ackroyd. It turns out that the murderer used an ingenious little innovation to try to escape detection.

In Aaron Elkins’ Fellowship of Fear, we are introduced to academician and physical anthropologist Gideon Oliver. He’s been invited to give a series of guest lectures over two months at the United States Overseas College (USOC), which serves those who are stationed at US military bases in Europe. Things begin to go wrong very soon, though. First, he’s attacked in his hotel room by two thugs who are apparently looking for something. Then, he’s drawn into a web of espionage and counter-espionage when Tom Marks and Hilaire Delvaux, who work for NATO, ask for his help. They suspect that the USSR (the novel was published in 1982) is trying to steal something, but they don’t know what. They want Oliver to keep them informed, and let them know of any unusual occurrences. Without much choice in the matter, he agrees. And he soon finds himself the target of some ruthless people. It’s not spoiling the story to say that there’s one scene in which an ingeniously-altered umbrella is used as a murder weapon.

While Fellowship of Fear isn’t really a spy thriller, it gives a hint about how very effectively that sub-genre uses inventions and innovations. Fans of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, for instance will know that Bond has access to any number of devices that protect him, or that can be used as weapons. For some fans, that’s part of the appeal, really. And that’s by no means the only example.

Will Thomas’ Fatal Enquiry features his sleuths, London private enquiry agents Cyrus Barker and Thomas Llewellyn. In the novel, which takes place in the late Victorian Era, Barker gets a visit from Scotland Yard Inspector Terence Pool. It seems that a certain Sebastian Nightwine has been granted diplomatic immunity, and is soon to arrive in London. Nightwine has expressed concerns for his safety, and wants assurances of protection. He’s even specifically mentioned Barker, so Poole wants Barker’s promise that he will have no contact with Nightwine. It turns out that Barker was responsible for Nightwine’s having to leave England in the first place, as he’d discovered several of his crimes. Now the British government wants Nightwine’s help; hence, his return to London. Barker is convinced that Nightwine has plans of his own, which will probably involve crime. So, he’s going to have to find a way to thwart his nemesis, although he’s forbidden to have any contact with him. Then, there’s a murder, for which Barker is framed. Now, he and Llewellyn are on the run from the police and from Nightwine. And they still have a murder to solve. As it happens, Nightwine is a brilliant scientist. So, throughout the novel, there are all sorts of devices that play roles. I can’t say more without coming too close to spoiling the story, but it’s interesting to see how those innovations are woven into the novel.

There are also novels, such as Charles Stross’ Rule 34, and Frankie Y. Bailey’s The Red Queen Dies, that take place in a slightly altered near-future. In a sense, you might argue that they’re science fiction, or at least akin to it. But the settings and contexts are very real-world, and life in those novels closely resembles what we’re accustomed to seeing. That said, though, there are some innovations that we don’t yet have, and it’s interesting to see how those authors weave ingenious devices and new innovations into their plots.

It’s arguably human nature to want to innovate, so it shouldn’t be surprising that there are all sorts of inventions out there. Some of them are far-fetched, and not particularly practicable. But some are exciting and turn out to be wildly popular. Little wonder we see such things in crime fiction.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Oingo Boingo’s Weird Science.

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Filed under Aaron Elkins, Agatha Christie, Charles Stross, Frankie Y. Bailey, Ian Fleming, Rex Stout, Will Thomas

I Can’t Mind My Own Business*

minding-own-businessHave you ever heard or told a story that starts like this: I was minding my own business when…? Strange things do happen sometimes, just when we’re going about our daily lives, so those stories aren’t as fantastic as they may seem. But can it work in crime fiction?

Most readers want their crime fiction to be believable. And the ‘I was minding my own business when…’ plot point can stretch creditability too far. There are stories, though, where it’s done in an interesting way.

For example, Agatha Christie’s Passenger to Frankfurt is the story of Stafford Nye, a low-level British diplomat. He’s at the airport one day, when he’s approached by a young woman. She tells him that her life is in danger, and that she has to flee the country. Nye refuses at first. But she continues to beg for his help, and finally persuades him to lend her his passport and diplomatic credentials (I know – in today’s world, that would never get her on a plane). Before he knows it, Nye is drawn into a dangerous web of international intrigue and murder. Behind it all is a shadowy group bent on world domination. In this case, the story is the sort of thriller where the reader would need to put aside a lot of disbelief to begin with. So, the way in which Nye is involved in the plot isn’t out of place.

In One Good Turn, Kate Atkinson takes a very interesting approach to this way of drawing a character into a plot. One afternoon, crime writer Martin Canning is waiting at a radio station to pick up a ticket to a lunchtime radio comedy broadcast. His housemate, Richard Mott, is to be the featured comic, and he’s invited Canning to see the show. Canning’s minding his own business when he witnesses an incident of ‘road rage.’ Paul Bradley, who’s driving a silver Peugeot, brakes suddenly to avoid hitting a pedestrian. The driver behind Bradley, who’s in a blue Honda, hits Bradley’s car, and the two get into an argument. Then, the Honda driver brandishes a baseball bat and attacks Bradley. By instinct, Canning throws the computer case he’s been carrying at the Honda driver. That stops the fight, but it also draws Canning into a strange case of murders, fraud and theft.

Aaron Elkins’ Fellowship of Fear is the first of his novels to feature cultural anthropologist Gideon Oliver. In this story, Oliver has accepted an invitation to give a series of lectures at the United States Overseas College (USOC), which has branches in several European locations. It seems like the perfect opportunity for a change of scenery, and a way for Oliver to continue to cope with the loss of his beloved wife, Nora, who died two years earlier. Things don’t work out that way, though. First, Oliver is attacked in his hotel room by two men who apparently believe he has something of value that they want. He reports the incident to the police, but his troubles are just beginning. Tom Marks and Hilaire Delvaux, two leaders in the NATO Security Directorate (NSD)’s counterespionage bureau, approach Oliver. They claim that spies working for the USSR (the novel was published in 1982) are trying to steal something, although they don’t know what that something is. They want Oliver to inform them if anyone makes any unusual requests of him that might be seen as suspicious. Now Oliver is unwittingly drawn into a dangerous case of international espionage and murder.

In Pascal Garnier’s How’s the Pain?, we meet twenty-one-year-old Bernard Ferrand. He’s somewhat bored and restless, but not sure what he wants to do with his life. Then, ageing contract killer Simon Marechall approaches him with a proposition. Ferrand has a driving license, and Marechall needs a driver. He wants to make one last trip to the French coast to take care of some business. Ferrand agrees to the plan – after all, what else is there for him to do?  But he doesn’t know what sort of business Marechall is in at first. And by the time he does find out, he’s already in very, very deep, as the saying goes.

And then there’s Apostolos Doxiadis’ Three Little Pigs. That novel begins in 1974 at a monastery in the Swiss Alps. An unnamed art restorer is visiting the area, looking at some old frescoes in the chapel, with an eye towards restoring them. One day, an old man living in the elder care home attached to the monastery offers to tell the art restorer a story – a ‘good story.’ All he asks is that his tale be recorded on tape. This the art restorer agrees to do. He buys some blank tapes and the old man begins his tale That story concerns the Franco family, who emigrated from Italy at the turn of the 20th Century. At first, all went well, as family patriarch Benvenuto ‘Ben’ Franco succeeded in the shoe business. Then one night, he got into a bar fight and ended up killing the other man. That man turned out to be Luigi Lupo, son of notorious gangster Tonio Lupo. When Lupo found out, he cursed the Franco family, promising that each of Franco’s three sons would die at the age of forty-two, the same age as Luigi was when he was killed. The old man then proceeds to tell his listener what happened to those three sons, and how that curse impacted them. As it turns out, Lupo had made plans to be sure his curse would be carried out. And we see the impact of it even decades later. And all because the old man approached the art restorer with an offer to tell a good story.

And that’s the thing about crime fiction. At least in that genre, even minding your own business can get you into trouble. Which examples have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by the Kaiser Chiefs.   

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Filed under Aaron Elkins, Agatha Christie, Apostolos Doxiadis, Kate Atkinson, Pascal Garnier

Everybody Take Responsibility*

taking-responsibilityEver had the feeling that most companies and their representatives are only too happy to hide behind ‘company policy’ instead of providing good customer service? Yeah, me, too. And it can get disheartening.

But I’m here to say that it’s not always that way. Some people do take personal responsibility for what their companies do and what their customers need. Case in point: something that happened to me. Recently I had a situation with the auto insurance carrier I’ve had for decades. Without boring you with details, I’ll just say that there was a lapse in customer service – one that really disappointed me. But the story doesn’t end there. A few hours after dealing with the issue, I got a call from the representative who’d been working with me. She took personal responsibility for the choice her employer made, and took it upon herself to make things right. And she did. Among other things, it shows that there are people who do their jobs conscientiously and with integrity. It also made me an even more loyal customer. Thanks to that employee who had a sense of personal responsibility. Thanks, Liberty Mutual, for supporting that kind of integrity.

The whole situation got me to thinking about how integrity and conscientiousness can be woven through a genre such as crime fiction, in which we read about the horrible things people can do to each other. It’s got to be done deftly, or the result can be too ‘frothy.’ But it can be done.

Aaron Elkins’ Loot, for instance, introduces readers to Boston art expert Benjamin ‘Ben’ Revere. He gets a call one day from his friend, pawn shop owner Simeon Pawlovsky. It seems that Pawlovsky’s just gotten a painting he thinks might be very valuable, and he wants Revere to give him a sense of its worth. Revere agrees and goes to the shop. Much to his shock, the painting appears to be a priceless Velázquez. Revere is concerned about such a valuable item left in a pawn shop, and asks to take the art with him while he does some further investigation. This Pawlovsky refuses to do, and, in the end, Revere doesn’t fight him on the subject. He leaves for a few hours of research. When he gets back, he finds that Pawlovsky’s been murdered. Revere feels a real sense of responsibility that he didn’t work harder to keep his friend safe, so he decides to at least find out who killed him. The trail leads all the way back to World War II, when the painting was originally ‘borrowed for safekeeping’ by the Nazis.

In Giles Blunt’s 40 Words For Sorrow, Algonquin Bay (Ontario) Detective John Cardinal learns that a body has been discovered in an abandoned mine shaft on Windigo Island. It’s soon established that it’s the body of thirteen-year-old Katie Pine, who went missing five months earlier. Cardinal was assigned to that original case, and was never able to solve it. He takes personal responsibility for that, and goes himself to visit her mother and tell her the news – something that must be extremely difficult. He also takes responsibility for this new angle on the case, and follows the leads he gets. In the end, he’s able to discover who the killer is.

Peter Temple’s Bad Debts is the first in his series featuring sometimes-lawyer Jack Irish. He’s just coming back to life, so to speak, after the murder of his wife, and has been spending quite a bit of time at the bottom of a bottle. Unfortunately, that’s the state he was in when Danny McKillop was arrested for a drink driving incident that ended in the death of a Melbourne-area activist named Anne Jeppeson. Now McKillop’s out of prison, and wants to meet with Irish. But by the time Irish gets to it, McKillop’s been shot. Irish already feels responsible for McKillop’s imprisonment; he did a horrible job of representing him and he knows it. So he does what he can now to at least make things right for McKillop’s family. He digs into the case more, and finds that McKillop was framed for Jeppeson’s death, and that this ‘accident’ was quite deliberate.

In one plot thread of Vicki Delany’s In the Shadow of the Glacier, Trafalgar (British Columbia) Constable Moonlight ‘Molly’ Smith discovers that her best friend, Christa Thompson, is being stalked by Charlie Bassing. Smith advises her friend to swear out a complaint and get a restraining order, but that doesn’t go very well. What’s more, Smith’s dealing with a murder case at the moment, and it’s occupying her time. So she doesn’t really follow up. Then, the stalking turns very ugly. Smith feels responsible for what’s happened, and believes that the system (and she!) should have done a better job of protecting Thompson. So she takes it on herself to try to make things right. It’s extremely awkward and difficult, because the whole thing has ruptured the friendship. But Smith isn’t satisfied to just ‘put it in the files.’

Martin Edwards’ DCI Hannah Scarlett has a similar feeling in The Hanging Tree. One day she gets a call from Orla Payne, who wants her to investigate the twenty-year-old disappearance of Orla’s brother, Callum. Unfortunately, Orla’s drunk when she calls, and not particularly coherent, so Scarlett puts the matter aside. Then one day, she learns that Orla has committed suicide (or was it?). She feels a real sense of responsibility, especially since she’d brushed the victim off. Now Scarlett takes it on herself to dig into the mystery of Callum Payne’s disappearance, and find out what happened to him, and how that might be linked with his sister’s death.

And then there’s Annie Hauxwell’s In Her Blood, in which we meet London investigator Catherine Berlin. She’s been gathering background information on an illegal moneylending racket run by Archie Doyle. As a part of that, she’s been working with an informant who goes by the name of Juliet Bravo. One day, ‘Juliet’ is found dead in Limehouse Basin. Berlin knows that the victim’s safety was her responsibility, and she’s determined to try to make things right by at least finding out who killed her contact. That conscientiousness puts her at odds with her employer, and in very grave danger.

We all have stories, I’m sure, of people who didn’t have that sense of personal responsibility and integrity. I know I do. Once in a while, it’s nice to remember that there are people who act conscientiously – even in crime fiction…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Nylons’ Human Family.

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Filed under Aaron Elkins, Annie Hauxwell, Giles Blunt, Martin Edwards, Peter Temple, Vicki Delany

In the Jungle, the Mighty Jungle*

JunglesThere’s something about jungles and forests. If you don’t know what you’re doing, they’re very dangerous – even fatal. And if you couple that with the risk of murder, the context is even more menacing. So it’s little wonder that jungles feature in crime fiction. There’s also the fact that the jungle is, for a lot of people, an exotic setting. That can add a layer of intrigue to a crime novel.

In Agatha Christie’s Cards on the Table, for instance, we are introduced to Major John Despard. He is one of eight guests invited to a strange dinner party hosted by the very eccentric Mr. Shaitana. Four of those guests are sleuths (including Hercule Poirot). The other four (including Despard) are people Shiatiana thinks have gotten away with murder. During the dinner, Shaitana lets out various hints about the crimes some of his guests may have committed. That turns out to be a fatal mistake, as he is killed during a game of after-dinner bridge. The only possible suspects are the people Shaitana has accused of murder in his roundabout way, so Poirot and the other sleuths look into those people’s pasts to see which of them is guilty. That’s how they learn about Despard’s history. He’s spent plenty of time in wild places, and agreed to take Professor Luxmore and his wife into the Amazon jungle so that Luxmore could study some of the plant life there. Luxmore died there, and everyone said it was of a fever. But was it? Or did Despard commit murder? And if he did, did he also kill Shaitana? You’re absolutely right, fans of The Man in the Brown Suit.

In Aaron Elkins’ Little Tiny Teeth, anthropologist Gideon Oliver takes a trip into the Amazon rainforest. It’s partly a getaway adventure, and partly an opportunity to enhance his professional knowledge. Then, follow passenger Arden Scofield, an ethnobiologist, is murdered. Now, Oliver has to not only survive the jungle trip, but also find out which of the people with him is the killer.

There’s another Amazon jungle setting in Leighton Gage’s Dying Gasp. In that novel, Deputado Roberto Malan brings Chief Inspector Mario Silva a very disturbing case. Malan’s eighteen-year-old granddaughter, Marta, has gone missing. This isn’t an ordinary disappearance, either. The family is prominent and wealthy, and Malan doesn’t want any scandal attached to the Malan name. And scandal there would be, too. It turns out that Marta ran away from home after being beaten by her father. And her grandfather doesn’t want the media or the public to get word of the story. So he asks Silva to handle the case personally. This Silva agrees to do. The trail leads to Manaus, capital of the State of Amazonas, in the heart of the Amazon jungle. There, so it is believed, Marta is being held as part of an underage prostitution ring. If he’s going to learn the truth, and find Marta before it’s too late, Silva will have to go up against bureaucratic incompetence and greed, the jungle itself, and an old nemesis.

Of course, there are lots of other jungles besides the Amazon. For example, John Enright’s Apelu Soifua novels take place in American Samoa. Soifua is a police detective who’s originally from the island, but spent seven years with the San Francisco Police. In Pago Pago Tango, the first of the series, he’s returned to his homeland and now works with the local police force. One day, he’s called to the home of wealthy Gordon Turich, an executive with a powerful tuna company. Turich’s home has been invaded, and some things stolen. What Turich doesn’t tell Soifua is that one of the items is a gun. It turns out that that gun was used to commit murder, so Soifua soon finds himself going after a killer as well as a thief. Enright’s novels highlight the culture clash between the dominant US culture and the culture of the people who have always lived in Samoa. And that includes their views of living in and with the jungle.

And then there’s Donna Malane’s Surrender. That story features missing person expert Diane Rowe, who’s been commissioned by Wellington Inspector Frank McFay to help identify a ‘John Doe’ whose remains were found in Rimutaka State Forest. In one plot thread of this story, readers get to ‘follow along’ as Rowe goes into the forest where the remains were found, looks for any evidence at all that might help her, and slowly discovers the truth about the body. It turns out that this is a person who went missing twenty-five years earlier, so solving the case won’t be easy. But Rowe eventually learns the truth. And in more than one place in the novel, we see that a jungle can be a very dangerous place…

Although it’s not, strictly speaking, a jungle, a dense forest plays a role in Paddy Richardson’s Hunting Blind. Newly-minted psychologist Stephanie Anderson is living and working in Dunedin when she gets a new client, Elisabeth Clark. Years ago, her younger sister Gracie was abducted, and never found. Not even a body was discovered. That story is eerily similar to Stephanie’s own sad family history. When she was fourteen, her younger sister Gemma went missing. Despite a massive search, she was never found. Against her better professional judgement, Stephanie decides to lay her own ghosts to rest, and use what she learns from her client to find the person who devastated so many lives. She takes a journey back to her home town of Wanaka, and along the way, traces the person responsible. I won’t give away spoilers, but it’s another example of the danger of forests.

Jungles and forests are beautiful places, and necessary for the planet’s ecosystem. But that doesn’t mean they’re fun, worry-free places. At least, not in crime fiction.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Solomon Linda’s The Lion Sleeps Tonight, made popular by The Tokens. Ladysmith Black Mambazo has done a version, too, with the Mint Juleps, that I personally like very much. There are other versions, too, of course.

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Filed under Aaron Elkins, Agatha Christie, Donna Malane, John Enright, Leighton Gage, Paddy Richardson

Don’t Ask Me No Questions*

Don't Ask QuestionsOne of the challenges that sleuths face, both in real life and in crime fiction, is to get answers to their questions.  That can be difficult under the best of circumstances, since a lot of people aren’t comfortable talking to the police. It’s even more of a challenge among groups where the social rule is that you don’t ask too many questions.

In those situations, even an amateur sleuth, who might otherwise be considered less of a threat, can run into a proverbial roadblock. The friction between sleuths who need answers and people who aren’t accustomed to that culture of questioning can add a layer of tension and interest to a crime novel.

For example, in Agatha Christie’s Third Girl, Hercule Poirot gets a visit from a young woman who says she may have committed a murder. She doesn’t give her name, though, and leaves abruptly, before Poirot can find out anything more about her. When Poirot has a telephone conversation about it with his friend, detective story novelist Ariadne Oliver, she says that the young woman sounds familiar to her. And it turns out that she has met the woman and knows her name: Norma Restarick. By the time Poirot learns who his visitor was, though, Norma has disappeared. She shares rooms with two other young women, but in that youth culture, people don’t ask a lot of questions or really check up on each other. So neither of Norma’s two roommates knows where she is. Even her boyfriend says he isn’t sure of her whereabouts. So it’s not easy to trace Norma. Poirot and Mrs. Oliver have to follow several leads before they find out the truth about her and about the murder.

In Aaron Elkins’ Loot, Boston art expert Benjamin ‘Ben’ Revere learns all too well that the art buying community has its share of people who aren’t used to asking questions. One day, Revere gets a call from his friend, pawn shop owner Simeon Pawlovsky. He’s just gotten a new painting into his shop, and thinks it may be valuable. Revere stops over at the shop to have a look at the painting and is shocked to find that it is very likely a priceless Velázquez that was ‘taken for safekeeping’ by the Nazis. He can’t be 100% sure, though, so he wants to do a little research. Pawlovsky isn’t willing to let the painting leave his shop, even though Revere tries to convince him that it would be safer. Finally, a very reluctant Revere goes off to find out more. When he returns a few hours later, Pawlovsky is dead. Guilt-ridden over having left his friend in a vulnerable position, Revere wants to do something to help. He reasons that if he can trace the painting from the time it was taken by the Nazis until the time it went to the pawn shop, he’ll find the killer. So he travels to Europe to follow the trail. He finds, though, that a lot of people are all too happy to acquire art without asking too many questions about where it came from originally. So it’s difficult to follow the painting’s history. Still, Revere persists, and in the end, he finds out the truth about the Velázquez and about Pawlovsky’s murder.

Donna Leon’s Blood From a Stone begins with the execution-style shooting of an unknown Senegalese immigrant in an open-air Venice market. It takes Commissario Guido Brunetti and Ispettore Lorenzo Vianello some time and effort even to find out where the man lives, let alone anything about him. The victim wasn’t in the country legally, and among that immigrant community, people don’t ask questions. Even those in volunteer and social service positions know better than to ask too much. So it isn’t easy to find out anything at first. But when Vianello and Brunetti find a cache of diamonds among the dead man’s possessions, they know that this is no ordinary murder (if there is such a thing). It turns out that this killing is related to arms trafficking and ‘conflict diamonds. ‘

Eva Dolan’s Long Way Home also features an immigrant community in which it’s the custom not to ask questions. DI Dushan Zigic and DS Mel Ferreira investigate when the body of an unknown man is found in the burned-out remains of a shed belonging to Paul and Gemma Barlow. Since the dead man was very likely an immigrant, Zigic and Ferreira have two sets of leads to explore. One is the Barlows; they claim not to know who the man was, but it’s soon clear that they aren’t telling all that they know. There’s also the group of people whom the dead man knew. When he is identified as an Estonian named Jaan Stepulov, the police detectives begin to ask around to trace his last days and weeks. For that, they need to ask questions of his workmates, people who live in the same places he lived, and the people from whom he rented rooms. They quickly find that the community of immigrants and those with whom they interact are not accustomed to asking a lot of questions. Those who rent rooms don’t ask much about their boarders. Those who hire are interested only in getting enough people to do the job. And in both cases, they have their own secrets to hide from the police. The end result is that even those who might otherwise be willing to talk to the police aren’t always very helpful. They live and work in contexts where you just don’t ask questions.

The world of paid killing is also one where people don’t tend to ask a lot of questions. For instance, in Malcolm Mackay’s Glasgow trilogy, we learn about the lives of Glasgow’s crime bosses and gunmen. One of them, whom we meet in The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter, is Callum MacLean. Peter Jamieson and John Young hire MacLean to take care of a problem they have: a small-time dealer/criminal named Lewis Winter who’s getting too ambitious. Among other things, the novel details MacLean’s preparations, and we see that he asks only questions that are absolutely necessary to ask. And he only deals with people who do the same. It’s better for everyone if people know as little as possible about what anyone else is doing.

There are some cultures and groups where people know better than to ask too much. Those groups can be difficult to penetrate if you’re a sleuth, but the tension of trying to do so can add a layer of real interest to a story. Which ones have stayed with you?
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a Lynyrd Skynyrd song.

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Filed under Aaron Elkins, Agatha Christie, Donna Leon, Eva Dolan, Malcolm Mackay