Category Archives: Adrian McKinty

Though Alan, He Was Protestant, and Sean was Catholic Born*

The Reformation of the 16th and early 17th Century had a profound and lasting impact on Christianity, especially (but not exclusively) in Europe. Whether you have religious beliefs or not, and no matter what those beliefs are, it’s hard to deny the influence of the Reformation on politics, culture, economics and much more.

It’s not surprising that such a significant change would also find its way into crime fiction. The Reformation affected (still does) everyday life in so many ways that it seems natural that we would see it in the genre.

C.J. Sansom’s Mathew Shardlake, for instance, is a London attorney who lives and works in Tudor London, during the reign of King Henry VIII. The Church of England has been established as the official religion of the kingdom, and the king is determined to remove ‘popery’ – allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, that’s one of the main themes of Dissolution, the first in this series. In it, Shardlake is commissioned to travel to a monastery in Swansea to investigate the murder of a man named Robin Singleton. He’d been sent to oversee the dissolution of that monastery, and the delivery of its property and money to the king. The first and most likely explanation is that someone at the monastery killed Singleton to prevent his completing his mission. But, as Shardlake finds out, there are certainly other possibilities. As the series goes on, we see just how important and controversial a topic religion and the Church of England are in Henry VIII’s England.

We see that also in Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, which also takes place during Henry VIII’s reign. This is the fictional retelling of the story of Thomas Cromwell, one of the king’s most trusted advisors. Mostly through his eyes, we see how the king consolidated power and declared England free of allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church. Cromwell acquired a great deal of power and authority, but it was a very dangerous time. If you know your history, you know that not even the king’s ‘inner circle’ was safe. Among other things, this novel takes an interesting look at the controversy surrounding religion, and the impact the Reformation was having on society. It’s not, strictly speaking, a crime novel. Even so, several crimes are committed in the course of the story.

Shona MacLean (now writing as S.G. MacLean) also provides an interesting perspective on the Reformation in her Alexander Seaton novels. Beginning with The Redemption of Alexander Seaton, the series tells the story of Seaton, who is a teacher in 17th Century Banff, Scotland. It’s a fiercely Protestant place, and there’s quite a lot of concern, even fear, of Roman Catholic plots to take over the country. All of this figures into The Redemption of Alexander Seaton, in which the local apothecary’s assistant, Patrick Davidson, is poisoned. The music master, Charles Thom, is accused of the murder and even imprisoned. He says that he is innocent, and he asks his friend Seaton to clear his name. As Seaton starts to ask questions, he learns that Davidson might have been supplying maps to Scotland’s enemy, Spain. And Spain’s king would like nothing more than to bring Scotland back to the Catholic Church. If Davidson did provide aid to Spain, and anyone found out about it, that would be more than sufficient motive for killing him. Seaton finds that there are other possibilities, too. This isn’t an easy mystery to solve, and Seaton runs into danger as he investigates.

Marian Babson’s Untimely Guest, published in 1976, is the story of a large Irish family led by a tyrannical matriarch known as Mam. The real action in the story begins when the oldest daughter, Bridget ‘Bridie,’ returns from the convent where she’s been for ten years. She tells the family she had to leave because the convent was closing, and Mam’s prepared to accept that story. But there’s more to the story than that. Meanwhile, Bridie’s brothers, Kevin and Patrick, have both married Protestant women (Eleanor and Carmel, respectively). The fact that they’re not Catholic makes them, in a very real sense, outsiders. And it certainly doesn’t do much to ease tension. Against this backdrop, another sister, DeeDee, also returns to the ‘family fold’ to introduce her new fiancé, James. That fact adds even more tension, since she divorced her first husband, Terence. He doesn’t accept the fact of their divorce, and still considers them married. So does Mam. One evening, DeeDee is killed by a fall (or push?) down a staircase. As it happens, several members of the family were on hand at the time, so there is more than one suspect and motive. As we slowly learn the truth, it’s interesting to see how the fact of the Catholic/Protestant divide plays out at the so-called micro level.

The Reformation is also one of the factors that has impacted relations between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland. The Troubles of the last few decades of the 20th Century had several underlying causes, political, economic, religious, and more. But one critical factor was the schism between Protestants and Roman Catholics. Even today, there are echoes of the tragedy of the Troubles. And we see that in several crime fiction novels and series. Brian McGilloway, Stuart Neville, Adrian McKinty, and Claire McGowan are just a few of the authors who have placed their novels in Northern Ireland or at the border. In those novels, we see the powerful loyalties people have to one or another group, and we see how the Reformation has impacted lives, even centuries later.

When you think of the Reformation, you might not automatically think of its impact today. But it still has one. And it’s not a surprise to see that such a major event also impacts crime fiction. These are a few examples. I know you’ll think of more.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Tommy Sands’ There Were Roses.

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Filed under Adrian McKinty, Brian McGilloway, C.J. Sansom, Claire McGowan, Hilary Mantel, Marian Babson, S.G. MacLean, Shona MacLean, Stuart Neville

He Talked of Life*

Crime writers use all sorts of strategies for giving background information and clues. One of them is to use a character who tells a story. I’m not talking here of legends and myths; rather, I mean personal stories, or at least, stories of actual events. Those characters can sometimes be easily dismissed (e.g. ‘Oh, that guy? He’s always rambling about something.’). But, as any crime fiction fan knows, any story can be important…

Agatha Christie used this strategy in several of her stories. For instance, in A Caribbean Mystery, Miss Marple is staying at the Golden Palm Hotel on the Caribbean Island of St. Honoré. Courtesy of her nephew, she’s taking some time to rest and heal from a bout of illness. One day, she happens to get into a conversation with another guest, Major Palgrave. In the course of the conversation, he starts to tell her a story about a man who got away with murder more than once, and even offers to show her a picture. Then, unexpectedly, he changes the subject. There are several people around, so it’s hard to tell whose presence caused the abrupt shift. The next day, a maid finds Major Palgrave dead in his room. Then, there’s another murder. And an attempted murder. It turns out that the rather rambling story Major Palgrave was telling plays a major role in working out who the killer is and what the motive is. I see you, fans of Taken at the Flood.

In one plot thread of Tony Hillerman’s Hunting Badger, we learn of an old Ute Nation story about a man named Ironhand. According to the stories, he was almost magically able to steal Navajo sheep and escape again without being caught. On the surface of it, that seems a bit like a set of rambling myths. But, in fact, there’s truth to the story. And, when Sergeant Jim Chee of the Navajo Tribal Police hears this story from an old Ute woman, he pays attention to it. It turns out that Ironhand’s exploits are very helpful in solving the mystery of a casino robbery and an unsolved murder.

In Paddy Richardson’s Hunting Blind, we are introduced to Stephanie Anderson, who is just beginning her career as a psychiatrist. One day, she gets a new client, Elisabeth Clark. At first, Elisabeth is not open at all to the therapy process, and it’s very difficult for Stephanie to interact with her. Finally, though, Elisabeth begins to trust Stephanie. Little by little, she tells her a haunting story. Several years earlier, Elisabeth’s younger sister, Gracie, was abducted, and never found. Not even a body was recovered. Needless to say, the tragedy devastated the family and wreaked havoc on Elizabeth’s mental health. That story resonates deeply with Stephanie, who lost her own younger sister, Gemma, seventeen years earlier. In fact, the circumstances of Gemma’s disappearance are eerily similar to the story Elisabeth tells. Against her better judgement, Stephanie decides to lay her own personal ghosts to rest and find the person responsible for these abductions. So, she travels from Dunedin, where she lives and works, to her home town of Wanaka. In doing so, she finds the answers she’s been seeking.

Adrian Hyland’s Gunshot Road is the story of the murder of Albert ‘Doc’ Ozolins, a former geologist who’s been studying the area around Green Swamp Well, Northern Territory. He’s been working on some research that he thinks is significant, but even his brother hasn’t paid a lot of attention to what he says. Then, Doc is murdered. At first, it looks as though it’s the tragic end to a drunken quarrel at a nearby pub. But Aboriginal Community Police Officer (ACPO) Emily Tempest sees some evidence that suggests otherwise. As she investigates this death, she finds that the things Doc had to say are key to understanding why and by whom he was killed.

Janice MacDonald’s Another Margaret features her sleuth, sessional lecturer Miranda ‘Randy’ Craig. Years earlier, she did her master’s degree thesis on an enigmatic novelist named Margaret Ahlers. That’s how she knows that Ahlers is gone. But then, a friend tells her that a new Ahlers novel, called Seven Bird Saga, is about to be published. And Craig has the strong feeling that this isn’t a case of a manuscript stuck behind a filing cabinet or left in an attic. So, who has written the book? The closer Randy gets to the truth about that question, the more danger there is for her. Then, disaster strikes, and there’s a murder at what’s supposed to be a celebratory Homecoming weekend. Folded within this novel is the story of how Randy came to study Margaret Ahlers’ work, what happened when she did, and her search for the reclusive author. As it turns out, a key to both the current-day mystery and the original one is found in the Ahlers stories themselves.

And then there’s Apostolos Doxiadis’ Three Little Pigs. An unnamed art restorer is visiting a monastery in Switzerland, with an eye to repairing some of the frescoes in the chapel. There, he meets an old man who promises to tell him a story – ‘a good one’ – if he records it. This the art restorer agrees to do. He buys some cassettes (this part of the novel takes places in the 1970s), and the old man begins the story. It concerns the Franco family, who emigrated from Italy to the United States early in the 20th Century. The family prospered until patriarch Benvenuto ‘Ben’ killed another man in a bar fight. The dead man turned out to be the son of a notorious gangster, who then cursed the three Franco sons. The old man goes on to tell what happened to the sons, and how the curse impacted the Francos’ lives. On the surface, it sounds like an old man’s ramblings.  But it turns out to be a very important story.

There are a number of ways in which an author can use those seemingly meaningless, even rambling stories. When they’re done well, they can add interest to a novel. They can also serve as clues and can provide important information.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jerry Jeff Walker’s Mr. Bojangles.

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Filed under Adrian McKinty, Agatha Christie, Apostolos Doxiadis, Janice MacDonald, Paddy Richardson, Tony Hillerman

It’s a Brave New World*

In the last decades, police forces, universities, businesses, and many other organizations, have become increasingly diverse. That process hasn’t been easy, and, of course, it’s still ongoing. But many, many groups of all sorts are more open than they were.

The process of diversification starts with one person (e.g. the first non-white person, the first woman, the first gay person). And that person (or those people) face real challenges. For one thing, if you’re the first/only non-white/woman/etc…, were you hired because of your ability, or because of your background? For another, plenty of people may resent your presence. That, too, can be difficult, to say the very least.

The challenge of being the first/only in a group is formidable in real life. In fiction, it can add an interesting layer of character development, as well as tension. It can even form a part of the plot line.

For example, in Adrian Hyland’s Gunshot Road, Aboriginal Community Police Officer (ACPO) Emily Tempest becomes part of a police investigation team that’s looking into the murder of geologist Albert ‘Doc’ Ozolins. The police theory is that he was murdered after a drunken quarrel with John ‘Wireless’ Petherbridge, and that Wireless is the killer. But Tempest isn’t sure that’s true. So, she starts to ask questions. Her temporary boss, Bruce Cockburn, wants her to ‘toe the line,’ but that’s not her style, so she perseveres. And, in the end, she finds out the truth. Woven through this novel is the fact that Tempest is both female and half-Aborigine, while her new colleagues are neither. It’s hard for everyone to get used to the new order of things, and it doesn’t make the investigation any easier for anyone.

Adrian McKinty’s The Cold, Cold Ground introduces his protagonist, Sean Duffy. The novel takes place in 1981, in the midst of The Troubles. Duffy is a member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), posted to Carrickfergus. His job is complicated by the fact that he is a Catholic in that almost completely Protestant police force. On the one hand, it’s in the RUC’s (and the government’s) interest to have a Catholic on the force. On the other, it’s very difficult for Duffy. Many Protestants (including some of his colleagues) won’t trust him because he’s Catholic. That makes it very hard to do his job. He’s not particularly welcome in a lot of Catholic areas, either, since he’s a member of the RUC, and, therefore, a traitor. Add to that the fact that the locals are not big fans of any member of the police force, and you have an extremely challenging situation for Duffy. In the midst of all this, though, he’s still expected to do his job.

Karin Slaughter’s Cop Town takes place in 1974 Atlanta. Maggie Lawson and Kate Murphy are police officers in what is a very male-dominated force. That in itself makes things difficult for them. When a fellow officer, Don Wesley, is killed, it looks at first as though the killer is someone the police have nicknamed The Shooter, who’s already killed other police officers. Lawson and Murphy are as eager to catch this killer as anyone else is, and they soon find out some things that don’t quite match the police reports. And, gradually, they learn of some secrets that some people have been keeping. Things become quite dangerous for them, and it’s clear that they’re going to have to catch this killer quickly if they’re going to stay alive. Lawson and Murphy are not the first female members of the Atlanta Police, but they endure their share of sexism. And, interestingly, some of the bullying comes from more veteran female police officers – some of whom were the first on the force. It’s interesting to see how that impacts the way they treat Lawson and Murphy.

Lynda La Plante also addresses some of these issues in her Jane Tennison thrillers. These stories, which begin in 1973, are, if you will, prequels to her Tennison series. In them, Tennison is brand-new on the police force, and facing the challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated work environment. She has to prove herself to be, as the saying goes, twice as good to get half as far. It’s not easy, and it all takes a toll on Tennison. There are other stories, too, that explore what it’s like to be the first/only woman on a police team (right, fans of Robert Gott’s The Holiday Murders and The Port Fairy Murders?)

And then there’s Ausma Zehanat Khan’s The Unquiet Dead. This novel introduces Inspector Esa Khattak of the Community Policing Section (CPS) of the Canadian federal government. This group is concerned with anti-bigotry and community relations issues. So, its focus is on hate crimes, among other things. Khattak was tapped to head this group in part because of his detective skills, and in part because he is Muslim. There’s been a lot of anti-Muslim sentiment, and the Canadian government is still smarting from the public relations disaster of the Maher Arar case. Choosing a Muslim is an important part of the government’s determination to demonstrate a renewed commitment to diversity. Khattak isn’t stupid; he knows that this is one of the reasons he was chosen. And it becomes all the more important when the body of Christopher Drayton is found at the bottom of the Scarborough (Ontario) Bluffs. At first, it’s unclear why the CPS should be involved in this case. But then, it comes out that Drayton may actually have been Dražen Krstić, a notorious war criminal known as the butcher of Srebrenica. If that’s true, then this could spell real trouble for the government. Why was a war criminal allowed to live in Canada? And why was he never prosecuted? Khattak can’t be completely objective about this case, since he spent time in Bosnia during the war, and since he’s Muslim. So, he gets his assistant, Sergeant Rachel Getty, involved in the investigation. He tells her as little as possible, because he wants her to be objective. As the two of them work the case, they find several possible accounts of what happened to Drayton/Krstić. And they find that several dark secrets have been kept buried.

It’s not always easy being the first/only member of a group who’s of a different religion, or is non-white, or is female, or is…  But it’s an important part of making groups like the police more diverse. And it can add a layer of conflict and character development to a story.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Steve Miller’s Brave New World.

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Filed under Adrian Hyland, Adrian McKinty, Ausma Zehanat Khan, Karin Slaughter, Lynda La Plante, Robert Gott

And Share a Little of That Human Touch*

An interesting post from Moira at Clothes in Books has got me thinking about the way authors can hold up a mirror to society. In some ways, those ‘mirrors’ can get people thinking deeply about that society, especially if the issue the book addresses is brought down to the human level.

When we see the way one or another aspect of society impacts a person or a family, we can get a real sense of the effect of that aspect. And, when a story is also entertaining (i.e. it draws the reader in), it’s often got more impact than it otherwise might. After all, most people don’t want to be ‘preached at’ when they read. They want stories that invite them to be engaged.

Agatha Christie often showed the human side of her society, if I may put it that way. Just as one example, during and after World War II, there were shortages of many different items, so an awful lot was rationed. It was difficult to get things such as coffee, meat, bread, and clothing. We see how that fact of life played out in Taken at the Flood. Lynn Marchmont has just returned to her home in the village of Warmsley Vale after service in the war. She hasn’t made permanent future plans yet, although it’s understood that she will marry a cousin, Rowley Cloade, a local farmer. Life’s not been easy for Lynn’s mother, Adela. She wasn’t wealthy to begin with, and now that everything’s rationed, it’s harder than ever to get things. Even simplr home repairs are beyond her reach. But the Marchmonts had always counted on Adela’s brother, wealthy family patriarch Gordon Cloade. In fact, he’d told all the members of his family that he would provide for them financially. Then, he unexpectedly married a widow, Rosaleen Underhay. He was tragically killed in a bomb blast without leaving a will. So now, Rosaleen stands to inherit everything, leaving the Cloades with nothing. Hercule Poirot gets involved with the Cloades when he takes an interest in the death of a stranger who visits Warmsley Vale, claiming that Rosaleen’s first husband is actually alive. If that’s true, then she can’t inherit. This death, of course, plays an important role in what happens to the Cloades. Woven through the story is a picture of what it’s like to live with rationing and other wartime privation.

The worldwide Great Depression of the 1930s had a lasting impact on just about every level of society, even those who didn’t live in poverty. There was financial panic, and many people scrambled to get food. We see what that daily life was like in Rebecca Cantrell’s A Trace of Smoke, which takes place in 1931 Berlin. Hannah Vogel is a crime reporter for the Berliner Tageblatt. Life is difficult for her, as it is for many people. It’s hard to earn enough money to buy food, let alone a decent place to live. She’s been able to eke out a living, but she doesn’t have much. Then, she learns by accident that her brother, Ernst, has died, and his body found in the water of the Spree. Hannah wants to know how and why Ernst died, but she has to move very quietly. With the Nazis coming to power, she doesn’t want to attract any attention to herself. But she starts to look into the matter. Bit by bit, she finds out the truth, and it does get her into real danger. Throughout the novel, we see the impact of the Depression. People sell anything they have, for whatever they can get, so that they can eat. For many women, that includes selling themselves. Everyone’s insecure, too, about meeting their basic needs. It’s a climate of deep anxiety, and it plays its part in the story.

From 1948 to 1991, apartheid was a fact of life in South Africa. And it had an impact on every part of a person’s life, both professional and personal. This set of laws, designed to separate different racial groups, determined where one lived, whom one could marry, what sort of job one could have, and where one’s children would be educated. Any social contact between races, other than very limited business contacts, was forbidden, and the consequences very harsh. We see how these laws played out in Malla Nunn’s Detective Sergeant (DS) Emmanuel Cooper series, which begins with A Beautiful Place to Die. As Cooper investigates cases, he has to cope with the daily realities imposed by apartheid. It governs whom he speaks to and where, which homes he can visit, and who’s ‘in charge.’ And in many ways, it limits him, although he starts out with the supreme advantage of being classified as ‘white.’ This way of exploring apartheid – taking it to the human, everyday-life level – is arguably more effective at depicting the policy than ‘preaching’ would be.

Adrian McKinty’s Sean Duffy series takes place in the early 1980s, at the height of the Troubles. Duffy is a detective sergeant (DS) in the Royal Ulster Constabulary. He is also a Catholic in an overwhelmingly Protestant outfit. Through his eyes, we see the impact of the Troubles brought to a human level. There are certain places one doesn’t go if one’s Catholic, or Protestant. Daily life for a copper involves checking for bombs before starting the car – every time (with the two sides constantly battling, neither side likes the police very much). Different areas are walled-off with makeshift (and sometimes not so makeshift) barriers. The ongoing conflict even affects (sometimes determines) where a person shops, whom a person marries, and who gets included in one’s circle of friends. Duffy has to negotiate all of this as he tries to do his job.

There are still lasting effects of the Troubles, as we see in Brian McGilloway’s Garda Ben Devlin series. Devlin lives and works in Lifford, close to the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. There’s a fragile peace there, and people do try to work together. But that doesn’t mean everything is happy and everyone gets along. The memories of the Troubles are recent enough that there’s still bitterness, and families still live with the ache of lost loved ones. This series depicts, in a human way, what it’s like to live in a place that, until very recently, was a war zone.

There are plenty of other novels that show, in a very human way, the impacts of major events, major policies, and so on. And that approach is often a lot more effective than taking a ‘big picture’ look. Readers are arguably more likely to engage themselves when they read about characters who are like them – human.

Thanks, Moira, for the inspiration. Now, folks, do go visit Clothes in Books. It’s a treasure trove of reviews and discussion of fictional clothes, popular culture, and what it all says about us.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bruce Springsteen’s Human Touch.

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Filed under Adrian McKinty, Agatha Christie, Brian McGilloway, Malla Nunn, Rebecca Cantrell

Livin’ On The Edge*

Anyone who’s ever lived in wildfire/bush fire country can tell you that, when even a small fire starts, things can turn very, very bad, very, very quickly. So, there’s often a lot of tension as everyone looks at things such as prevailing winds, terrain, availability of firefighting staff, and size of the blaze. Wise people take precautions, in case they need to evacuate. After all, there may only be 10-30 minutes to evacuate once the order is given. That’s not the time to discuss who will take what, or where to go. By the way, if you want to read a realistic account of what this situation is like, read Adrian Hyland’s Kinglake-350. G’wan, read it. Admittedly, it’s not crime fiction, but it’s such a good fit here that I decided to mention it, anyway.

That tension, as people wait to see what will happen, is almost palpable. In real life, it can be a big challenge. In fiction, it can add an engaging layer of suspense. And crime writers have used it in several different ways.

For instance, Agatha Christie’s Taken at the Flood begins in Hercule Poirot’s club. Everyone’s taking shelter there against World War II air raids, and it’s not in the least clear how things will pan out. So, there’s a lot of tension. In part to break that tension, Poirot listens to a story told by fellow member Major Porter. It seems he knew a Robert Underhay who died in Africa. Underhay’s widow, Rosaleen, later married Gordon Cloade. But Porter’s story suggests that Underhay might still be alive. This possibility becomes crucial later, when Cloade is killed in a bombing. He dies without having made a will, which in most cases would mean Rosaleen inherits all of his considerable wealth. But if her first husband is alive, that would mean she couldn’t inherit. And that’s exactly what Cloade’s family wants, for various reasons. So, Poirot’s interest is piqued when he learns that a stranger named Enoch Arden has been killed in Warmsley Vale, where most of the Cloads lived. Arden hinted that he knew Underhay was still alive, and that could certainly have something to do with his murder. Poirot travels to the village and slowly learns the truth about Arden, the Cloades, and Rosaleen.

Dorothy L. Sayers’ The Nine Tailors takes place mostly in the East Anglia village of Fenchurch Saint Paul. When a car accident strands Lord Peter Wimsey and his assistant/valet, Mervyn Bunter, the village’s vicar, Reverend Theodore Venables, rescues the men and lodges them in the rectory until the car is fixed. That’s how Wimsey ends up getting involved in a case involving an unknown ‘extra’ corpse in a grave, some missing emeralds, a long-ago robbery, and change-ringing. In one plot thread of this novel, heavy rains bring on a flood. Venables wants to do what he can to save the villagers, and there are some very tense moments as everyone watches and waits to see how high the waters will rise, and how severe the damage will be.

Rebecca Cantrell’s A Trace of Smoke introduces Berlin crime reporter Hannah Vogel. It’s 1931, and the Great Depression has meant that everyone is desperate for money. Hannah herself has very little, although she has enough to eat and keep her home. What’s more, there’s a great deal of tension as everyone waits to see whether and to what extent the Nazis will get power. They’re already a force to be reckoned with, and people know that it’s best not to get in their proverbial sights. Against this very suspenseful background Vogel learns that her brother, Ernst, has been found dead. She wants to know why, and, if he was murdered, who killed him. So, she starts to ask questions. She’ll have to work very quietly, so as not to call too much attention to herself. But she’s determined to find answers. The background tension to this novel adds a real layer of atmosphere, as people watch and wait and wonder what will happen to the country.

Adrian McKinty’s The Cold, Cold Ground is the first of his series to feature Sean Duffy. He’s that rare thing, a Catholic member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). The novel takes place in 1981, in the midst of the Troubles, when everyone’s nerves are frayed from the constant conflict. People do try to go about their lives, but they watch and wait to see what ‘the other side’ will do, and where the next attacks might be. There aren’t many really trustworthy people, and for Duffy, it’s especially difficult. For one thing, almost all of his colleagues are Protestant, reason enough for suspicion on both sides. For another, the public is suspicious, too. He’s a police officer, which is a problem in itself. Then, he’s a Catholic in the RUC; hence, he’s a traitor to a lot of Catholics. And Protestant civilians won’t trust him, either. All of that undercurrent of tension, as people wait to see what will happen, adds to the story as Duffy works to solve two murders that seem to be related.

And then there’s Peter Temple’s Truth.  That novel takes place during a siege of brush fires that are threatening the state of Victoria. It’s an extremely tense time, and it’s not at all clear how much damage there will be, which way the fires will go, and so on. Everyone is very much on edge as people watch and wait. Against this backdrop, Inspector Stephen Villani and his team work to solve the murder of an unknown woman whose body was found in a very posh apartment.  Meanwhile, they’re also investigating the killings of three drug dealers whose bodies were found in another part of the Melbourne area. The brush fires are not the central focus of the novel. But the suspense they cause adds much to the novel.

Watching and waiting, and not knowing how things will pan out, can be extremely hard to deal with in real life. In a novel, though, that suspense can add much to a plot if it’s not done in a melodramatic way. Which examples have stayed with you?

ps. The ‘photo is of a wildfire evacuation map. Red means a mandatory evacuation. Purple is voluntary/evacuation warning. Everyone who’s anywhere near a wildfire pays close attention to those maps, and the tension often builds as people watch and wait to see what will happen on their streets.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of an Aerosmith song.

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Filed under Adrian Hyland, Adrian McKinty, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Peter Temple, Rebecca Cantrell