Category Archives: Adrian Hyland

Pile More Wood Upon the Fire*

FireplacesBeing able to make and control a fire has been an essential part of human survival. Fires have protected people from predators, cooked their food, and kept them warm for practically as long as there’ve been humans. So it makes sense that people are drawn to fireplaces and, in the outdoors, to campfires. When it’s cold outside, there’s nothing like a comfortable chair near the fireplace, with the fire lit, your beverage of choice poured, and a novel in your hand. Or a group of friends sitting near the fireplace, laughing and telling stories. Out in the open, a campfire means fresh-roasted food and coffee, warmth, and the kind of psychological intimacy that sharing that warmth brings.

It’s such an important part of life for so many people that it’s not surprising we see fireplaces and campfires so often in crime fiction. All sorts of conversations happen there, and sometimes, fireplaces provide clues, too.

Agatha Christie used fireplaces in several of her mysteries. I won’t mention particular titles or circumstances, as that would be giving away spoilers. But there are several Christie stories in which important information and clues are hidden on mantelpieces, squirreled away in and near hearths, and so on. There are a few, too (Taken at the Flood and Ordeal by Innocence come to my mind), where pokers, edges of hearths and the like turn out to be deadly.

In Håkan Nesser’s Mind’s Eye, Inspector Van Veeteren and his team investigate the murder of Eva Ringmar, who is found dead in her bathtub. Her husband, Janek Mitter, is the most likely suspect. He was on the scene at the time of the killing, but was so drunk that he remembers little about that night. He claims that he loved his wife and did not kill her; but there is circumstantial evidence against him. So he is duly arrested, tried and convicted. Since he remembers so little about the night of the murder, he’s remanded to a mental hospital instead of a regular jail, with the hope being he’ll start to recover his memory. Van Veeteren isn’t convinced that Mitter is guilty. And when Mitter himself is brutally murdered, it seems clear that he was innocent. So Van Veeteren and his team look into the matter more deeply. One ‘person of interest’ is Andreas Berger, Eva Ringmar’s first husband. Berger has since married again and has a family, and he invites Van Veeteren to dinner at his home. Afterwards, they have a drink in front of a warm, inviting fire. Against this backdrop, Van Veeteren feels guilty about asking the difficult questions he has to ask (Berger is, after all, a suspect). The contrast between the friendly, homey scene and the ugly reality of interrogation make the process difficult for him. But he asks his questions, and Berger gives him some interesting background information.

In Vicki Delany’s Winter of Secrets, Trafalgar, British Columbia Constable Moonlight ‘Molly’ Smith investigates the deaths of Jason Wyatt-Yarmouth and Ewan Williams. These two young men were part of a group of six young people who were taking a skiing holiday in Trafalgar. One snowy night, the group’s rental SUV skids on an icy patch of road and goes into the Upper Kootenay River. Forensics tests show that Jason, who was driving, died as a result of the accident and exposure in the river. But Ewan had already been dead for several hours before the accident. So Smith and her boss, Sergeant John Winters, trace his last days and hours to find out what happened to him. One possibility – and the evidence suggests this might be the case – is that Ewan was killed at the B&B where the group was staying. There’s a chance he was hit with a fireplace poker, and the evidence includes traces of what could be fireplace ash. And, since Smith has been to the B&B, she knows it has a fireplace. Armed with this knowledge, Smith urges her boss to go to the B&B with a search team. Winters agrees, based on what Smith has told him. The only problem is, the fireplace at the B&B is gas-powered. Needless to say, the team leave with proverbial egg on their faces, and Smith has a lot of explaining to do.

There’s a very tense scene in front of a fireplace in Peter May’s The Blackhouse. Edinburgh police detective Fionnlagh ‘Fin’ Macleod is seconded to the Isle of Lewis. One of the island’s residents, Angel Macritchie, has been murdered in a way that’s very similar to a murder that MacLeod is already investigating. It’s hoped that his working with the Lewis police will help to solve both cases. MacLeod grew up on Lewis, so he knows most of the people who live there, including a former friend Artair Macinnes. One night, he has dinner with Artair and his wife Marsaili. The situation is awkward, since Marsaili is MacLeod’s old love. Nonetheless, everyone behaves more or less politely. Then, Marsaili leaves to make up the spare room so that MacLeod can spend the night. The two men sit by the fire with a drink. At first it’s peaceful enough. But then, Artair, who’s had more than his share, stuns MacLeod with an attack of vitriol. At the end, he says something that shocks his guest and changes everything. The conversation is a real contrast to what’s supposed to be a friendly, warm setting.

Of course, not all ‘hearth’ scenes have to be indoors. In Adrian Hyland’s Gunshot Road, for instance, Aboriginal Community Police Officer (ACPO) Emily Tempest investigates the murder of geologist and former prospector Albert ‘Doc’ Ozolins. The official police theory is that he was murdered as the result of a drunken quarrel. But Tempest isn’t sure that’s what really happened. Her questions and insistence on investigating get her into serious trouble with her boss, Bruce Cockburn. More than that, they put her in serious danger. In fact, she is brutally attacked. Not very long afterwards, she travels with her lover, JoJo Kelly, to his bush shack. She’s still suffering from what happened to her, but feels much better when she and JoJo arrive at the shack. There, she sees that her best friend, Hazel Flinders, has come to visit and lit a bluebush campfire. The company of people close to her and the warmth of the fire do much to help Emily start the healing process. It’s a very human, intimate scene that shows, among other things, the way a fire can draw people close.

There are a lot of other ‘hearth’ scenes in mysteries (I’m thinking, for instance, of Arthur Conant Doyle’s novels, Arthur Upfield’s novels, and Louise Penny’s novels). That context can provide a very effective background for the exchange of confidences, contrast with tension, and clues, too. Which have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s She’s Right on Time.

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Filed under Adrian Hyland, Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Arthur Upfield, Håkan Nesser, Louise Penny, Peter May, Vicki Delany

But it Worked*

Unconventional SolutionsThere are some situations where conventional solutions won’t solve problems. In fact, they may do more harm than good. So, sometimes, the best solution is something that seems counterintuitive. It’s certainly true in real life, and we see those sorts of solutions in crime fiction, too.

In Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, for example, Hercule Poirot is on the world-famous Orient Express train, en route to London. On the second night of the journey, fellow passenger Samuel Ratchett is murdered. At the request of one of the train company’s directors, M. Bouc, Poirot investigates the murder. He finds out who killed Ratchett and why; but as fans of this novel will know, he doesn’t take a conventional approach to the case or its solution.

That’s also true of Dr. Duca Lamberti, whom we meet in Giorgio Scerbanenco’s A Private Venus. As the story begins, Lamberti has recently been released from prison after serving time for participating in euthanasia. He is hired by wealthy Milanese engineer Pietro Auseri for an unusual task. Auseri is very concerned about his son, Davide, who’s been drinking excessively, despite having gone for treatment. The young man is extremely depressed, too, and has been for quite some time. Auseri wants Lamberti to take over Davide’s care, and help him get past his drinking and depression. Lamberti isn’t quite sure how he’ll be able to help; but, not having any other prospects at the moment, he agrees. One of the first very unconventional things he does is that he doesn’t bar Davide from drinking. Instead, he insists that the young man drink only wine. It’s an odd decision, but it works. Little by little, Davide starts to trust Lamberti, and he does cut down on his drinking. Then, the reason for his depression comes out. He believes he’s responsible for the death of Alberta Radelli, who was believed to have committed suicide a year earlier. Lamberti believes that the only way to free Davide from his personal ghosts is to look into the case himself. So, he does. And in the end, he finds quite a different explanation for Alberta’s death.

In Karin Fossum’s He Who Fears the Wolf, Oslo police detective Konrad Sejer and his assistant Jacob Skaar investigate the murder of Holldis Horn. She lived alone in a remote area, so it’s not easy to get witnesses. But the evidence suggests that a troubled and mentally ill young man named Erkki Johrma (who, by the way, has gone missing) is responsible. The case isn’t as simple as that, though, and Sejer and Skaar have to penetrate several tissues of lies and misunderstandings to get to the truth. What’s very interesting is the approach Sejer takes when they find out who really killed the victim and why. It’s not a conventional choice; but, as Sejer sees it, to do things in the usual way would cause more harm than good.

In one plot thread of Adrian Hyland’s Gunshot Road, Aboriginal Community Police Officer (ACPO) Emily Tempest is faced with a difficult situation. She happens to be in the small town of Bluebush when Merv Todd, who owns the local electronics store, rushes out of his shop, complaining that someone’s stolen a valuable iPod. It doesn’t take long for Emily to discover that the thief is fifteen-year-old Danny Brambles. She’s known him and his family for a long time, and she knows that he’s not a violent or malicious person. If she takes him into custody, he faces prosecution; and a jail term will do him much more harm than good. On the other hand, she can’t simply ignore the theft. So she arranges to return the stolen iPod to the store in exchange for Danny doing some extra work for him. That solves the immediate problem, but she’s still worried about Danny, fearing that he may start to get into real trouble. She’s proven right when Danny gets arrested for murder – a murder he says he didn’t commit. Emily knows he’s right. She also has come to believe that he’s in danger. So she solves both problems in an unconventional way: she has Danny join his grandparents’ people on a trip out into the bush. It isn’t a perfect solution by any means, but Emily believes it might keep Danny safe.

There’s an interesting debate about solutions to problems in Angela Savage’s Behind the Night Bazaar. In that novel, Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney is looking into the murder of her good friend Didier ‘Didi’ de Montpasse, who was killed in a police raid. The police explanation is that he was the prime suspect in the murder of his partner Nou, and posed an imminent threat to the officers who’d come to arrest him. But Keeney suspects that’s not true, and is determined to clear Didi’s name. In the process, she meets Australian Federal Police (AFP) officer Mark D’Angelo. He’s there as part of a special task force that’s investigating the child trafficking and sex trades. He and his team have tracked down some of those involved in the trade, and are preparing to make an arrest. But Keeney knows that simply arresting those particular people won’t stop the trade. In fact, in ways, it may make matters worse. So she finds her own, unconventional, way to do something about the situation. As she does so, she also clears her friend’s name.

And then there’s Kishwar Desai’s Witness the Night, which introduces Delhi-based social worker Simran Singh. In this novel, she travels to her home town of Jullundar, in the state of Punjab, to help with an unusual case. Thirteen members of the wealthy and well-connected Atwal family have been poisoned, and some of them stabbed. What is more, the family home has been burned. The only person who knows what happened that night is fourteen-year-old Durga Atwal. The evidence isn’t clear whether she was victim or perpetrator that night; and since that time, she’s barely spoken. The idea is that if Simran can get the girl to talk about what happened, the police will know the facts of the case. Simran agrees and tries to work with Durga, but at first it’s not very successful. Little by little, though, Simran learns more about Durga and her family. It turns out there is much more here than a young girl who ‘snapped.’ The obvious solution – lock the young criminal up – isn’t going to solve anything here, and in fact, will probably make everything worse. So Simran comes up with another solution. It may not be conventional, but it works.

And that’s the thing about unconventional solutions to problems. They may seem unproductive, even wrong, on the surface. But sometimes, the conventional approach causes more harm than good. So, another way of solving things turns out to be more successful.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone’s Making Things Up Again. You’ll want to note carefully, if you don’t know this song, that it’s not in the least bit ‘family listening.’ Neither is the show from whence it comes. But if you listen (or perhaps, know it already), it fits.

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Filed under Adrian Hyland, Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Giorgio Scerbanenco, Karin Fossum

Don’t Believe Everything You Hear*

StereotypesIt’s only the beginning of September, but, at least in the US, there are already intense conversations going on about, ‘what to be for Hallowe’en.’ Even if you live in a country that doesn’t observe Hallowe’en, or you don’t observe it yourself, you may have been to a fancy dress/costume party.

If you look at costumes, you see something interesting: many of them make use of the ‘shorthand’ that stereotypes offer. A pointy hat and a dark cape, and you’re a witch. A scarf around the head, a lot of jewelry, and a deck of cards, and you’re a gypsy. You get the idea.

Those stereotyped symbols may be all right for a party. But in reality, we know that people are much more and go much deeper than stereotypes. And some of those stereotypes can be damaging. That’s why one of the many things I love about crime fiction is that it goes beyond those ‘surface’ assumptions, and explores the lives of real people. Those people may happen to be members of a heavily stereotyped group, but they are still people. And this invites readers to re-think stereotypes they may have, even if they’re not conscious of them.

For example, all kinds of stories have been told about witches for many centuries. You don’t need to look really hard to find such legends; they’re a part of a lot of cultures in one way or another. I’ll be you’ve read at least some of those stories yourself. But those who really practice Wicca aren’t very much like the stereotypes at all. For example, Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman lives and has her bakery in a large Melbourne building that houses several residents and businesses. One of them, The Sibyl’s Cave, is owned by Miriam Kaplan, who goes by her Wiccan name of Meroe. Meroe is hardly a stereotypical witch. She’s knowledgeable about herbals, and there are other ways in which she’s almost mystical. But a witch such as you see in Victor Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz (I know there were other directors, too, including George Cukor)? No. And she’s nothing like the evil witches you read about in fairy tales, either. As time goes on in this series, we learn a little about Meroe’s Wiccan traditions and beliefs, and Trick or Treat, offers insights into some Wiccan observances and ceremonies.

Another group about which there’ve been a lot of legends, stories and stereotypes is the Roma people. Often called ‘gypsies,’ they’ve often been vilified in legend. There’s even been some crime fiction that hasn’t exactly been kind to them. But if you read, for instance, Stef Penney’s The Invisible Ones, or Susan Kelly’s The Lone Traveller, you get a different portrait of the Roma people. They’re certainly not all portrayed as nice, loving, good people. But books such as these and Donna Leon’s The Girl of His Dreams portray these characters as human people. And once you get to know a group of people as humans, it’s harder to ‘buy into’ the stereotypes about them.

There’ve been many stereotypes, misconceptions and worse about Native Americans and other Indigenous people. And if you read novels such as Kate Grenville’s The Secret River, you can see how the first encounters between Indigenous people and new arrivals resulted in a lot of misunderstanding, which led to conflict, which led to terrible tragedy. Those stories persisted for many generations and gave rise to a lot of ‘taming of the West’ myths in the US, and other myths in other countries. The fact is, though, that the myths about Indigenous people don’t have much to do with reality. And crime fiction shows us that. Work by Tony Hillerman, Adrian Hyland, Scott Young and other authors show us the real lives of Indigenous people, behind the masks they frequently wear when Whites or others are around. They are, first and foremost, just people. And they are a far more diverse group than the stereotypes would suggest. In fact, that’s one issue that Hillerman brings up more than once in his novels. In the US, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is supposed to be the government’s connection to the Native American Nations. But as Hillerman portrays it, many Native American people have nothing but contempt for it. To many of them, it’s staffed by people who have no conception at all about the real lives of the Indigenous people of the US, and of what their cultures and priorities are. To the BIA (according to a lot of Native Americans), there’s not much difference among Nations. The truth is, though, that they are very diverse.

And then there are the persistent myths about bikers and biking. You know the stories: they’re drug-crazed, they’re dangerous, they’re…  Of course, it’s quite true that some biker groups do live up (down?) to the stereotypes about them. But the world of biking is a lot more complex than you’d think just by reading the stories. And Geoffrey McGeachin shows us that, at least a little, in a few of his stories. In Fat, Fifty and F***ed, banker Martin Carter meets up with a new-age biker gang that runs a very clean, well-kept motel and retirement home. Not at all a vicious gang. And in The Diggers Rest Hotel, Melbourne copper Charlie Berlin has his own share of encounters with a bike gang. He finds out there’s a lot more to those people than just roaring around on bikes, striking terror in people and causing trouble wherever they go.

There are a lot of other stereotyped characters I could mention, but space won’t allow it. Besides, I’m sure that you can suggest more than I ever could, anyway. At least we have some well-written crime fiction to clear up those misconceptions…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Blank Uhuru’s Solidarity.

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Filed under Adrian Hyland, Donna Leon, Geoffrey McGeachin, Kate Grenville, Kerry Greenwood, Scott Young, Steff Penney, Susan Kelly, Tony Hillerman

She Talks to Angels*

Communicating With the DeadIf you’ve seen M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense, then you’ll know that its main focus is a young boy who can hear and see those who’ve died. For a very long time, people have wanted to believe that they could communicate with loved ones who’ve passed away. That’s been the driving force behind countless séances.

Each culture is different with respect to whether we communicate with those who’ve died. In some cultures, there’s a vital important link between the dead and the living. In others, there is no such link, and the idea that the dead might communicate is not taken seriously.

Whatever one’s cultural or personal beliefs, the idea of communicating with lost friends and loved ones has had a powerful influence on people. And, given that a lot of crime fiction is about murder, it shouldn’t be surprising that this idea is woven into the genre, too.

Fans of Arthur Conan Doyle will know that he had a great interest in spiritualism. It’s ironic, considering that his most famous creation, Sherlock Holmes, is a man of science and logic. Holmes is not one for séances and other spiritualist traditions. But his creator certainly was.

Agatha Christie touches on this theme in a few of her stories. In The Last Séance, for instance, Raoul Daubreuil pays a visit to his fiancée Simone, who is a very successful medium. She is worn out from the work, though, and wants nothing more than to be done with it forever. But she has made one last commitment – a sitting for Madame Exe, who is desperate to stay in contact with her dead daughter Amelie. At first, Simone doesn’t want to do this last séance. She is exhausted; more than that, she is afraid. She fears the consequences of working with Madame Exe any longer. But Raoul insists that she keep her commitment, and Simone finally allows herself to be persuaded. Madame Exe duly arrives, and in the end, we see the tragic consequences. Christie fans will know that she also mentions spiritualism in Dumb Witness (AKA Poirot Loses a Client), Murder in Mesopotamia and the short story Blue Geranium, among others.

In one plot thread of Donna Leon’s The Girl of His Dreams, Commissario Guido Brunetti and his team investigate the death of twelve-year-old Ariana Rocich. She was a Roma girl who, according to the first reports, fell into a canal from a building where she was trying to rob an apartment. Brunetti isn’t so sure that she died accidentally, and starts asking questions. Brunetti doesn’t believe in spiritualism. But he can’t deny that Ariana haunts him:
 

‘…and the girl’s face…would return to him at odd times and more than once in his dreams.’
 

That’s part of what spurs him on to find out the truth about her death.

Åsa Larsson’s Until Thy Wrath be Past is in part the story of the death of seventeen-year-old Wilma Persson. One winter day, she and her boyfriend, eighteen-year-old Simon Kyrö, go diving into Lake Vittangijärvi, hoping to explore the ruins of a WWII plane that went down there. The two are deliberately trapped and killed. A few months later, Wilma’s body re-surfaces, and Inspector Anna-Maria Mella and her team investigate. In the meantime, attorney Rebecka Martinsson has been having strange dreams in which a young girl appears, trying to communicate with her. Martinsson doesn’t believe in ghosts, or in the dead communicating with the living, but she knows what she’s experienced. And it’s interesting to see how her experiences are woven into the story.

In Cath Staincliffe’s Split Second, Jason Barnes is riding a bus one day when three young people begin harassing another passenger, Luke Murray. Jason intervenes, and for a time, the bullying abates. But then, Luke gets off the bus. So do the three bullies, and so does Jason. The harassment starts up again, and this time it escalates. The fight continues all the way into Jason’s yard, where he is fatally stabbed, and Luke badly wounded. Both boys’ parents are understandably devastated by what’s happened. There is, of course, a police investigation into the incident, and Jason’s parents Andrew and Val do the best they can to help. Part of the plot involves the slow discovery of what really went on and what led up to it. Another part has to do with the impact that Jason’s death has on his family. In the end, though, Andrew and Val are able to begin healing; and, without spoiling the story, I can say that there’s one great scene in which Andrew does have a sense of really connecting with Jason.

There are many cultures in which it is believed that those who’ve died really do communicate with the living. It’s not done in the Western sense of using the planchette or having a séance. In fact, there isn’t really a strong dividing line between the living and the dead in some cultures. We see that, for instance, in Nicole Watson’s The Boundary, some of Arthur Upfield’s Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte novels, and Adrian Hyland’s Emily Tempest novels. All of these touch on Australian Aboriginal people’s connections with their dead.

We also see that link in Colin Cotterill’s Dr. Siri Paiboun series, which takes place in 1970s Laos. Dr. Siri may be a medical professional, but that doesn’t mean he ignores the unexplainable. In fact, he actually does see the spirits of people who’ve died. Again, it’s not in the traditional Western sense, but it’s quite real for him. There are other novels and series, too, that touch on this sense that those who have died communicate with the living (I know, I know, fans of Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire stories). When it’s done effectively, it can add a fascinating layer to a story. It can also add some depth to characters.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by The Black Crowes.

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Filed under Adrian Hyland, Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Arthur Upfield, Åsa Larsson, Cath Staincliffe, Colin Cotterill, Craig Johnson, Donna Leon, Nicole Watson

This is the End*

Books with Great EndingsNot long ago, Moira at Clothes in Books did a terrific post on crime books that she felt had the best endings. And that got me to thinking about which crime novel endings I’ve liked best. It’s actually not easy to write a good ending to a book. On the one hand, most readers want an ending that falls out logically from the story. ‘Out of the blue’ endings, or endings that are too far-fetched, are annoying. And readers want a sense that the important plot points (in the case of crime fiction, that’s usually the solution to the mystery) have been resolved.

On the other hand, an ending that is too ‘pat,’ where everything is tied up in a neat little ‘package,’ is annoying as well, and isn’t realistic. Life is usually messier than that. And an ending that’s too anticlimactic leaves the reader wondering, ‘Is this all there is?’

Nonetheless, there are some crime novels that have very powerful, memorable endings. They stay with the reader, and they encourage the reader to think about the book long after it’s finished. Of course, your idea of what sort of ending falls into that category is going to differ from mine. But, keeping in mind that this is just my opinion, here, in roughly chronological order of publication, are…

 

Margot’s Choices For Crime Novels With the Best Endings

 

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd – Agatha Christie

In this story, Hercule Poirot is asked to solve the murder of retired magnate Roger Ackroyd, who’s been found stabbed in his study. In some ways, the novel is reflective of the Golden Age style. There’s a wealthy dead man, several likely suspects in the household, the ne’er-do-well most likely suspect whom the police have targeted, the young lovers, and so on. It’s clear that Christie had mastered the art of the Golden Age whodunit. But then she turned it on its head and broke the rules with this novel. It’s got one of the most famous dénouements in crime-fictional history.

 

Presumed Innocent – Scott Turow

This novel introduces Rožat ‘Rusty’ Sabich, who at this point is a Kindle County prosecuting attorney. When one of his colleagues, Carolyn Polhemus, is murdered, Sabich is assigned to the case. His boss has made it clear that that case must be handled both delicately and openly, with no hint of cover-up. Sabich gets started on the investigation, but there’s something he hasn’t told his boss: up until a few months before her death, he was involved with the victim. When that fact comes out, Sabich is removed from the case and replaced by a rival. That’s only the beginning of his trouble, though. Soon, evidence is found that suggests Sabich is the killer. In fact, the evidence is so compelling that he is arrested for the crime. Now on the other side of the table, so to speak, Sabich asks his friend and colleague Alejandro ‘Sandy’ Stern to defend him, and Stern agrees. This ending is particularly powerful for me because not only does Turow provide a strong ending to the court case, but also, the truth about Carolyn Polhemus’ death is, in my opinion, brilliantly done.

 

Gone, Baby, Gone – Dennis Lehane

If you’ve read this novel, then you’ll probably already guess why I chose it. For those not familiar with the story, the real action in it begins when Dorchester, Massachusetts PIs Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro get a visit from Lionel McCready and his wife Beatrice. They want Kenzie and Gennaro to investigate the heartbreaking disappearance of their four-year-old niece Amanda. Both PIs are familiar with the case, as the media has made much of it. After all, it’s a missing child. And that publicity is part of why Kenzie and Gennaro are reluctant to take the case at first. They don’t see what they can do that dozens of police and all sorts of media outlets can’t do. But Beatrice McCready is insistent and determined, so the PIs agree to at least speak to Amanda’s mother Helene. Before they know it, they’re drawn into a gut-wrenching case of a missing child, and are faced with several difficult choices as they investigate. The ending to this story is, for me, one of the more powerful endings in crime fiction. It raises some important and fascinating topics for debate and discussion, and is surprising without being so completely impossible that it’s not credible. I can’t say more without spoiling it, but if you’ve read it…you know what I mean.

 

What Was Lost – Catherine O’Flynn

This novel begins in 1984, when ten-year-old Kate Meaney is a fledgling detective. In fact, she’s even started her own detective agency, Falcon Investigations. She doesn’t have much of a life otherwise; she lives in a rather grim English Midlands town with an ageing High Street and more struggling families than people of means. But she is content planning and operating her new company. She spends a lot of time at the newly-constructed Green Oaks Shopping Center, where she is sure she’ll find plenty of crime to investigate. Everything changes when her grandmother Ivy decides that Kate should go away to school. Kate refuses, but Ivy is convinced she’ll have a better chance for a ‘real’ life if she goes. Finally, Kate’s friend, twenty-two-year-old Adrian Palmer, agrees to go with her to the exclusive Redspoon School to sit the entrance exams. Only Adrian returns, and then the alarm is given, there’s a massive search. But no trace of Kate is found – not even a body. Everyone thinks Adrian is responsible, although he flatly denies it. In fact, he is harassed so badly that he leaves town, vowing not to return. Twenty years later, his sister Lisa is Assistant Manager at Your Music, one of the stores at Green Oaks. One night, she meets Kurt, one of the mall security guards. Kurt’s been seeing some strange things on his CCTV cameras lately: a young girl who looks a lot like Kate. Each in a different way, Kurt and Lisa go back to the past, if you will, and we learn what really happened to Kate Meaney. The answer to that question, and the way it has impacted everyone, makes the ending to this book one of the more emotionally powerful endings I’ve read.

 

Confessions – Kanae Minato

This novel, which shows the ugly side of middle school, begins as Yūko Moriguchi addresses her class. It’s her last day at the school, and she has a powerful message for her students. Her four-year-old daughter Manami died not long ago, and she is convinced that it wasn’t the accident the police thought it was. In fact, she knows Manami was murdered, and she knows by whom: two of her students. What’s more, she knows exactly which students are responsible, and she makes that clear in her speech. Then, she duly resigns. She’s not convinced that the justice system will mete out an appropriate punishment, because the killers are juveniles. So she’s made her own plans. Still, a new teacher is assigned to the class, and life seems to go on. But it’s soon clear that things are not at all ‘normal.’ Before long, life begins to spin out of control for three students in particular. As matters get worse, we see exactly what Yūko Moriguchi planned to do, and we learn the truth about Manami’s death. The tension that’s built in this novel comes to a head at the end, and as the final pieces fall into place, Minato provides a powerful dénouement that raises questions and invites debate.

 

Traces of Red – Paddy Richardson

Connor Bligh has been incarcerated for several years in Rimutaka Prison for the murders of his sister Angela Dickson, her husband Rowan, and their son Sam. Only their daughter Katy survived, and that was because she wasn’t home at the time of the tragedy. Now there are new little pieces of evidence that suggest that Bligh may not be guilty. When Wellington TV journalist Rebecca Thorne hears of this, she thinks that the Bligh story may be just the story she needs to ensure her place at the top of New Zealand television journalism. So she decides to investigate the case more deeply. In the process, she finds herself more deeply and dangerously drawn in, and closer to the case, than she ought to be. The end of this novel is particularly memorable to me because it shows not just the truth about who killed the Dickson family, but also what the consequences are of the choices that journalists make. And Richardson does so in a way that is unexpected, but still credible. It’s a very powerful ending, for my money.

 

Other Books With Great Endings

Exit Music – Ian Rankin – A terrific end-of-book scene regarding a story arc.

The Half Child – Angela Savage – OK, not as much related to the mystery at hand, but one of the most lovely scenes between two characters that I’ve read. It’s just…great.

Lord Edgware Dies – Agatha Christie – One of the most telling, and unsettling, final lines from a killer:  Do you think they will put me in Madame Tussaud’s? Love it!

What about you? Which crime books have the best endings you’ve ever read?  Now, do please visit Moira’s excellent blog, and check out her fine choices.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Doors’ The End.

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Filed under Adrian Hyland, Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Catherine O'Flynn, Dennis Lehane, Kanae Minato, Paddy Richardson, Scott Turow