Category Archives: Agatha Christie

Do You Want the Real Story*

criminal-confessionsIn many crime novels (‘though certainly not all of them), the perpetrator confesses to the crime. It’s not always a full-length story of the crime, but it’s clear that the killer admits what has happened. If you stop and think about it, though, this raises a question. Why would a killer confess? In some cases, it’s guilt. After all, most of us are not accustomed to taking a life, and the guilt can be tremendous.

But there are other reasons, too, for which a fictional killer might confess. And weaving that moment into a story can be tricky. It has to be believable (there are plenty of people who wouldn’t admit what they’d done, because the consequences of telling the truth are drastic). It also has to be done in a way that’s not melodramatic. But when it’s done right, it can be an effective way to let the reader know what really happened.

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson investigate the mysterious deaths of Enoch Drebber and Joseph Stangerson. Both victims were Americans who’d come to London; in fact, Stangerson was Drebber’s secretary. The clues to the murders are strange – the word rache written in blood, and a ring, among other things – and they baffle the police. But Holmes puts the pieces of the puzzle together. The murderer is confronted, and, instead of fighting or continuing to claim innocence, admits what has happened. The reason in this case is a fatal heart condition which will end the killer’s life in a matter of weeks. Here’s what the murderer says:
 

‘…I should like to leave some account of the business behind me. I don’t want to be remembered as a common cut-throat.’
 

As fans of this story know, this killer isn’t a common thug at all.

There are killers who confess because they’re glad of what they’ve done. For instance, the victim in Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (AKA Murder for Christmas and A Holiday for Murder) is Simeon Lee. He’s the unpleasant, tyrannical patriarch of the Lee family, and no-one enjoys his company. But, when he decides he wants the family to gather at Gorston Hall, the family home, for Christmas, no-one dares refuse the invitation. He’s both very wealthy and very vindictive. On Christmas Eve, Lee is murdered in his private room. Hercule Poirot is staying nearby, and is persuaded to work with the police to find the killer. When he does, he confronts that person with his theory of what happened. While Poirot’s view is logical and accounts for everything, he doesn’t really have the conclusive proof that courts prefer as evidence. But the killer confesses anyway, saying,
 

‘God rot his soul in Hell! I’m glad I did it!’
 

In this case, the killer may understand what the consequences for murder are. But for that person, it’s worth it. We also see a proud – if that’s the word – confession in Christie’s Lord Edgware Dies.

The main plot of Gail Bowen’s A Killing Spring concerns the killing of journalism professor Reed Gallagher. For Bowen’s sleuth, Joanne Kilbourn, Gallagher was a colleague. What’s more, she knows his widow. So, she gets drawn into the investigation of his murder. The solution to the mystery is related to another mystery concerning one of Kilbourn’s students, and it turns out to be a complicated case. In the end, Kilbourn discovers who the murderer is, and the two have an extremely tense scene in an elevator. In this case, the killer confesses in part because Kilbourn sees no choice but to keep that person talking – otherwise her own life will be in danger. So, she finds ways to manipulate the conversation so that the murderer will get caught up in it. And that’s exactly what happens. As the conversation continues, we also see that there’s a sense of wanting to justify what happened – to explain the killer’s side of the story.

There’s an interesting twist on the killer’s choice to confess in Jane Casey’s The Burning. DC Maeve Kerrigan of the Met has been working on the investigation of a killer who tries to incinerate his victims. The press has dubbed this murderer the Burning Man, and there’s a lot of pressure on the Met to catch the criminal. Then, the body of Rebecca Haworth is discovered. On the surface, it looks like the work of the Burning Man. But Kerrigan notices a few differences between this case and the other murders. It might be that the killer has changed tactics. It could also be a ‘copycat’ killer. Kerrigan very much wants to stay on the Burning Man case, but she’s assigned to focus on the Haworth case, even if this wasn’t a victim of the Burning Man, to show that the Met isn’t being lax. In the end, we learn who Haworth’s killer is. This murderer chooses to explain what happened in a letter, not to Kerrigan, nor to the police as a group, but to another character. Here’s a bit of what the letter says:
 

‘I want you to understand because I want to know you have had your eyes opened to what you really are…You thought you were the dangerous one, but you don’t know what dangerous is.’
 

It’s an interesting approach to sharing with readers what really was behind the murder.

Peter May’s The Blackhouse features an interesting final confrontation between Edinburgh police detective Fionnlagh ‘Fin’ MacLeod and a murderer. MacLeod has been seconded to the Isle of Lewis to help investigate the murder of Angel Macritchie. This killing resembles another case that Macleod is working, so it could be the same killer. For MacLeod, this is a homecoming, since he grew up on Lewis. It’s awkward, though, because there are a lot of old, unresolved issues. What’s more, it’s difficult for MacLeod to interview, and consider as suspects, people he’s known all his life. Still, he goes about his job; and, in the end, he finds the killer. When he does, it becomes clear that the murderer has nothing to lose by confessing. In fact, it’s not spoiling the story to say that the whole point of the confession is so that MacLeod will know exactly what happened and why.

There are, of course, plenty of other reasons why a murderer confesses, even knowing that it will lead to a long jail term or, possibly, execution. It might be pride, guilt, setting the record straight, or something else. And including the confession can add an interesting layer of character development and tension to a crime novel.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Lene Marlin’s Never to Know.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Gail Bowen, Jane Casey, Peter May

Ancient Minds, Ancient Lives*

relicsAs this is posted, it’s the 94th anniversary of Howard Carter’s discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb. That find taught us much about what life must have been like during Tutankhamen’s time, and that’s such an important aspect of archaeology. Whenever there’s a find, it’s not just the actual objects that matter. It’s also the windows they offer on life in a very different era. That, too, is fascinating.

We see that aspect of archaeology in quite a lot of crime fiction, and that’s not surprising. Finding out what life was like at another time is a sort of mystery in itself, so it makes sense that we’d see that theme in the genre. And that’s not to mention the monetary value of such discoveries, which can be considerable.

There are plenty of examples in crime fiction, too. For instance, fans of Agatha Christie will know that her second husband was an archaeologist, and that she accompanied him to the Middle East. The theme runs through a few of her stories, too, such as Murder in Mesopotamia. In that novel, Hercule Poirot investigates the murder of Louise Leidner, who is killed one afternoon in her room. She has accompanied her husband, noted archaeologist Eric Leidner, on a dig a few hours from Baghdad, and all the members of the excavation team come under suspicion. At one point, there’s a discussion of the value of what the team finds. It comes out that Dr. Leidner is a lot more interested in pottery and other daily-use objects than in gold. And it’s only partly because he has to pay the workers much more if they find gold. As much as anything, it’s because pottery and other such objects really show what life was like.

In Peter Robinson’s A Dedicated Man, we are introduced to archaeologist Harry Steadman. He’s a professor at Leeds University, until an inheritance frees him to do what he wants. And what he wants is to excavate Roman ruins in Yorkshire. He goes through the process of getting the necessary permissions, hoping that he will make some noteworthy finds. But instead, he is killed by blunt force trauma. DCI Alan Banks and his team investigate, and find several leads. For one thing, there are those who didn’t want the victim doing any digging. For another, there are the inevitable academic politics at Leeds. And those aren’t the only possibilities. It’s a complex case, and as Banks works through it, he learns that Steadman wasn’t in it, as they say, for the money. He was genuinely fascinated by what he might learn about life in Roman Britain.

Fans of Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway will know that she is a forensic archaeologist associated with North Norfolk University. In The Crossing Places, the first of this series, she is asked to lend her expertise when a set of remains is discovered. DCI Harry Nelson suspects that the bones may belong to Lucy Downey, who disappeared ten years earlier, and he wants confirmation of his theory. But Galloway can’t provide that. The bones turn out to be much, much older than ten years. In fact, they belong to an Iron Age child. In one plot thread of this novel, that find spurs Galloway to arrange for an excavation in the place where the bones were found. She’s hoping to learn more about the people who lived in the area at that time. Even small things such as a bead bracelet can provide fascinating information, so it’s no wonder she’s eager to dig. Those Iron Age remains don’t really solve the Lucy Downey case. But they do give a perspective on the search to find out about life in different times.

We also see that in Kate Ellis’ series featuring DS (later, DI) Wesley Peterson and his friend, Neil Watson. Watson is an archaeologist who, in The Merchant House, has discovered a four-hundred-year-old home that originally belonged to a wealthy merchant named John Banized, and his wife, Elizabeth. The dig team has only six weeks to learn what they can from the place, because the area is set to be developed as a block of new residences. In the process of their excavation, Watson’s team unearths a pair of skeletons in the basement of the house. As they wait to get forensic information, Watson searches for a diary that Banized kept. He’s learned that it was passed on from generation to generation. So, if he can find a modern-day descendent of the family, he may learn much about life during Banized’s era. That story unfolds as Peterson also investigates a modern-day mystery – the murder of a young woman.

There’s also Steve Robinson’s Jefferson Tayte mysteries. Tayte is a genealogist, so his stock in trade is tracing families’ lineage. And as he does, he often finds letters and other everyday objects that throw light on the past. That’s what happens, for instance, in In The Blood. He’s hired by wealthy businessman Walter Sloane to trace his wife’s lineage as a gift for her. The trail leads to Cornwall, and Tayte gets the ‘green light’ to go there and follow up on the leads he’s found. He finds that Sloane’s wife has modern-day distant kin in England, but they don’t seem eager at all to help him put the pieces of the puzzle together. In the meantime, we meet Amy Fallon, whose husband Gabriel was lost two years earlier in a storm. Just before he died, he told Amy that he’d found out a secret. He never got the chance to tell her what that secret was, but construction on their house has revealed it. There’s a hidden set of steps that leads down to secret basement. In the basement is a very old, carved, wooden writing box with a love letter in it. Fallon tries to find out who might have owned the box, and her trail leads her to Tayte. Each in a different way, they find out the truth about things that happened hundreds of years earlier, just from an everyday writing box.

There are even thrillers, such as Robin Cook’s Acceptable Risk, that involve excavations. In that novel, neuroscientist Edward Armstrong is hired by a breakout biotechnology company called Genetrix. The goal is for him to develop a new anti-depression medication. He meets and falls in love with a nurse, Kimberly Stewart, whose family owns a house that’s several hundred years old. In the process of renovating the house, she discovers ergot growing in the old basement. That discovery provides answers to some bizarre questions haunting her family. And it opens up real possibilities for Armstrong’s research. But it also has frightening consequences.

There’s just something about discovering very old objects. They give a window on what life was like during a particular time. And they add to our knowledge. Little wonder there’s so much interest in them.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Elton John’s You Can Make History (Young Again).

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Elly Griffiths, Kate Ellis, Peter Robinson, Robin Cook, Steve Robinson

Interview, Who’s Interviewing Who?*

eyewitness-interviewsBeing mixed up in a major crime, especially murder, can be harrowing enough. For many people, it’s only made worse when members of the press want interviews and access. Lots of people have no desire to make their lives public, so they avoid contact with the press if they can.

But there are people who actually do enjoy talking to the press. They like their time in the limelight, and seem to gravitate to wherever the cameras and microphone are. I’m sure you know the kind; you’ve seen them on news shows (e.g. ‘I still can’t believe this happened. He lived across the street for ___ years, and I never suspected a thing….’).

They’re in crime fiction, too. For instance, in Agatha Christie’s One, Two, Buckle My Shoe, Hercule Poirot and Chief Inspector Japp investigate the death of Poirot’s dentist, Henry Morley. There seems no reason for him to have committed suicide; at the same time, though, there seems no real motive for murder. Japp and Poirot talk to the people who visited on the day he was killed. One of those witnesses is Mabelle Sainsbury Seale, a rather eccentric woman who’s involved in amateur theatrics as well as missionary work. At first, she’s not overly enthusiastic about Japp interviewing her. But then she begins to enjoy it, even saying:
 

‘and if, by chance, my name should be in the papers – as a witness at the inquest, I mean – you will be sure that it is spelled right?…And of course, if they did care to mention that that I appeared in As You Like it at the Oxford Repertory Theatre…’
 

The mystery only deepens when Miss Sainsbury-Seale herself goes missing…

John Grisham’s A Time to Kill shows another reason people might be happy to talk to the press: it can be career-enhancing. In that novel, Carl Lee Hailey and his family are devastated when his ten-year-old daughter, Tonya, is brutally raped and left for dead. The police quickly catch the two men responsible: Billy Ray Cobb and James Louis ‘Pete’ Willard. Hailey is concerned that these men will get away with their crime, and that’s not out of the question. The Haileys are black; Cobb and Willard are white. And this is small-town Clanton, Mississippi. Added to that is his rage over what happened to his daughter, and his sense of helplessness. So, he arranges to get a gun, ambushes Cobb and Willard, and shoots them. There is no choice but to arrest Hailey, although there is a great deal of sympathy for him. He asks local attorney Jake Brigance to defend him, and Brigance agrees. It’s not going to be an easy case, though. For one thing, a black man has shot two white men. For another, there’s the very real issue of taking the law into one’s own hands. As you can imagine, the media soon get hold of the story, and both Brigance and his counterpart for the prosecution get plenty of requests for interviews. Interestingly, each accuses the other of using the media (and the case) to get the kind of national attention that can catapult a lawyer to the top.

Alison Gordon’s Kate Henry novels offer a very interesting perspective on interviews. Henry is a sports reporter for the Toronto Planet. So, she spends quite a lot of time with baseball players, their coaches and managers, and other sports figures. In The Dead Pull Hitter, she’s drawn into a case of two murders of members of the Toronto Titans. Not only does she feel their loss personally, but she also senses an exclusive story. So, she starts asking questions. And in the end, she and Staff Sergeant Lloyd ‘Andy’ Munro find out the truth behind the murders. One of the threads that runs through this novel is the relationship between the baseball players and the press. Here’s what Henry says about one of them:
 

‘The television guys love him, because he’s always glad to see them. It might have something to do with the money they slip him for interviews, but I think it’s also a matter of control. They only want thirty second clips and feed him soft questions.’
 

Professional athletes know that giving interviews is an important part of what they do; And the more willing they are to talk to the press, the better their public perception. But even these veterans of the interview have a harder time talking to the press when it’s about murder. And Henry has her work cut out for her, as the saying goes, to get the story.

Wendy James’ The Mistake introduces readers to Jodie Evans Garrow. She seems to have the perfect life: she’s well-off, she’s the mother of two healthy children, and she has a successful husband. Everything changes when the past catches up with her. It comes out that, years ago, Jodie gave birth to another child. She’s never told anyone about this birth, not even her husband. Soon, people start to ask questions, first privately, and then very publicly. Where is the child? If she’s alive, what’s become of her? If she’s not, did Jodie have something to do with it? The media make much of the story, and plenty of people have their say and give interviews. One of them is Jodie’s mother, who’s only too happy to heap criticism on her daughter. She writes a public letter that’s harshly judgmental of Jodie, and then goes on television, too, to be interviewed. She’s doing it as much for the money as she is for anything else. But that doesn’t make her very public rejection of her daughter any easier to take.

Paddy Richardson’s Cross Fingers features Wellington television journalist Rebecca Thorne. In one plot thread of the novel, it’s the 30th anniversary of the (South Africa) Springboks’ rugby tour of New Zealand (it’s often called The Tour). This happened in 1981, while apartheid was still very much in force in South Africa. Many people thought that the tour shouldn’t take place because of that policy, and there were plenty of protests. The police wanted to keep order. Rugby fans simply wanted to see some good rugby matches. It all ended up in some very ugly scenes, and those who were there still remember it clearly. Thorne knows it was important, but she also knows that it’s already been covered. Then she finds a story hidden in the larger story. Two dancers dressed as lambs came to some of the games, entertained the crowd, danced, and so on. Then they stopped coming. Later, it was discovered that one was killed. As Thorne looks into what happened that day, she uncovers a lot about the protests, the police and the onlookers. She conducts interviews with several people on both sides, and those interviews are woven into the narrative.

Not everyone’s reluctant to talk to the press. Sometimes people are looking for what Andy Warhol is said to have called their 15 minutes of fame. Others want money or something else. And it’s interesting to see how they behave when the cameras are on.
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Carly Simon and Don Was’ Interview.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alison Gordon, John Grisham, Paddy Richardson, Wendy James

Jackie Kept a Lookout Perched on Puff’s Gigantic Tail*

childhoodplayA big part of a healthy childhood is play. In fact, plenty of well-respected scholars agree that play is an important way for children to prepare for later life. Whether it’s hide-and-seek or fantasy play (e.g. ‘You be the dragon and I’ll try to keep you away from the castle.’) or something else, children need that opportunity to let their imaginations rule.

We see that innocence and imagination in plenty of crime fiction, and that makes sense. Many fictional characters are, or have, children, and it’s realistic that they would show that side of childhood. For the author, including that aspect of childhood offers some interesting possibilities for plot lines, character development, atmosphere, and even comic relief.

In Arthur Upfield’s Death of a Swagman, for instance, Queensland Police Inspector Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte is sent to the small town of Merino to investigate the death of itinerant stockman George Kendall. To find out as much as possible, he goes undercover as a stockman himself, even arranging (with the help of Sergeant Marshall of the local police) to have himself locked up for ten days for vagrancy. During his ‘sentence,’ he meets the sergeant’s eight-year-old daughter, Florence, who usually goes by the name of Rose Marie. She brings him afternoon tea, very much playing the adult hostess, and they form a bond. That bond becomes a part of the story. One of the interesting moments in their first conversation happens when Florence decides that the jail cell door will have to be opened if they’re to have tea. She makes Bony,
 

‘Cross your fingers properly, and promise out loud [that he won’t try to escape]. Hold them up so’s I can see.’
 

It’s a very believable portrayal of a child who lives partly in the real world and partly in a world where crossed fingers and ‘out loud’ promises are as much as contracts. You’re absolutely right, fans of The Bushman Who Came Back.

In Agatha Christie’s The Clocks, we meet ten-year-old Geraldine Brown. She’s recovering from a broken leg, so she spends plenty of time sitting, looking out of her window. Special agent Colin Lamb meets her while he’s looking into the murder of an unknown man who was killed just across the street from Geraldine’s window. When he sees her looking out, he knows that she might have seen something, so he goes up to her flat and talks to her. In a way, she’s got her own fantasy world. Here’s what she says when Lamb asks her about the people who live across the street:
 

‘Of course, I don’t know their real names, so I have to give them names of my own…There’s the Marchioness of Carrabas down there…That one with all the untidy trees. You know, like Puss in Boots…’
 

On the other hand, she is a keen observer, and her comments turn out to be very helpful.

Catherine O’Flynn’s What Was Lost introduces readers to ten-year-old Kate Meaney. More than anything else, Kate wants to be a detective. She’s even started her own agency, Falcon Investigations. Her partner is a stuffed animal, Mickey the Monkey, who travels everywhere with her. When the Green Oaks Shopping Center opens not far from her home, Kate believes that it will be a very good place to look for suspicious activity. So, she spends a lot of time there, and it’s interesting to see how her world is partly the reality of her life in the Midlands, and partly the fantasy world of her detective agency. Her grandmother, Ivy, thinks it would be better for Kate to go away to school, and get ready for the ‘real world.’ So, she arranges for the girl to sit the entrance exams at the exclusive Redspoon School. Kate goes, but doesn’t return. Despite a massive search, no trace of her is found. Twenty years later, a Green Oaks Shopping Center security guard named Kurt notices something unusual in the surveillance footage he sees. There are several somewhat blurred images of a young girl carrying a backpack with a stuffed monkey sticking out of it. One night, he meets Lisa Palmer, assistant manager of the mall’s music store. It turns out that she knew Kate. The two form an awkward sort of friendship, and each in a different way, they go back to the past as we learn what really happened to Kate.

In Aditya Sudarshan’s A Nice Quiet Holiday, Judge Harish Shinde and his law clerk, Anant, travel from Delhi to Bhairavgarh, in the Indian state of Rajasthan, for a two-week holiday. They’ll be staying with Shikhar Pant, an old friend of Shinde’s. There are other houseguests, too, including Dr. Davendra Nath and his daughter Mallika and sons Ashwin and Nikhil. Also visiting is Pant’s cousin Kailish, a well-known writer. One afternoon, Kailish is found stabbed in his cousin’s library. The police are called in, and Inspector Patel begins the investigation. There are several possible suspects, too. As Patel, the judge, and Anant work through the clues, we see how different the house and the events are for Ashwin and Nikhil. They’re just children, so as soon as they arrive, they want to explore. Their opinion of the house has more to do with its suitability for hide-and-seek than anything else, and they’re more enthusiastic about playing cricket than about catching up on the gossip with the other guests. Their perspectives form an interesting counterpoint to the adult concerns in the story.

And then there’s Harry Honeychurch, whom we first meet in Hannah Dennison’s Murder at Honeychurch Hall. Katherine ‘Kat’ Stanford has decided to give up her life as a television presenter, and go into the antiques business with her mother, Iris. She’s tired of the stress of being ‘under the microscope,’ and is looking forward to some privacy. Everything changes when her mother telephones her with startling news. She’s taken the old carriage house on the property of Honeychurch Hall, Little Dipperton, Devon. Kat’s shocked at this change of plans, and goes to Little Dipperton right away. There, she finds that her mother’s broken a hand in a car accident, so she decides to stay and help out until her mother can manage on her own. While she’s there, Kat meets the members of the Honeychurch family, including young Harry. In fact, one night, his parents ask her to look after him while they go out, and she reluctantly agrees. Harry lives in a fantasy world at least part of the time. He’s obsessed with WWI hero James ‘Biggles’ Bigglesworth, and imagines himself as Biggles quite often. He’d far rather live out his hero’s adventures than study, and it’s interesting to see how his childlike view of the world contrasts with those of the adults in his life. That comes to the fore in the next novel in the series, Deadly Desires at Honeychurch Hall.

But that’s what a healthy childhood often is: a perspective that’s quite different to that of adults. There’s a blend of fantasy and reality as children sort their worlds out, and play is often the way they do that. So, perhaps that Superman cape or imaginary horse isn’t such a bad idea…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Leonard Lipton and Peter Yarrow’s Puff, the Magic Dragon. I had the privilege of seeing them live once, and they did this song. As they did, we all sang along, of course. At the very end, they asked us to change the last verse from the past tense (…lived by the sea….) to the present tense. They wanted us to remember that Puff the Magic Dragon never really goes away…

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Filed under Aditya Sudarshan, Agatha Christie, Arthur Upfield, Catherine O'Flynn, Hannah Dennison

You’re My Best Friend*

best-friendsWhen a person goes missing or is murdered, the police often talk to that person’s best friend(s) to get information. After all, we often tell things to our best friends that we don’t tell anyone else, even our families. So, it’s almost always worth the time it takes to find out who that best friend is and talk to him or her.

In crime fiction, a victim’s best friend can provide plenty of important clues, if that’s what the author wishes to do. And, since friendships – even best friendships – can be very complicated, there are all sorts of possibilities for plot twists. So, it’s little wonder we see fictional sleuths paying all sorts of attention to best friends. There are far too many examples for me to mention here. I hope you’ll add your own, to complete this post.

Agatha Christie introduced one of her most famous sleuths, Hercule Poirot, in The Mysterious Affair at Styles. In that novel, Poirot has recently emigrated to England, and is now living in the village of Styles St. Mary, not far from his benefactor, Emily Inglethorp, who lives at Styles Court. As it happens, Captain Arthur Hastings is a friend of her stepson, John Cavendish. He’s visiting Cavendish when Emily Inglethorp is poisoned. By chance, he meets up with Poirot, whom he also knows, and persuades the detective to investigate. One of the people Poirot talks to is the victim’s best friend and companion, Evelyn ‘Evie’ Howard. And Miss Howard certainly has plenty to say against her friend’s husband, Alfred Inglethorp. It’s an interesting perspective on the victim, and it turns out to be useful in solving the case. I know, fans of Death on the Nile.

In Karin Fossum’s When the Devil Holds the Candle, Oslo police detective Konrad Sejer and his assistant, Jacob Skarre, investigate the disappearance of Andreas Winthur. It seems that he spent the day with his best friend, Sivert ‘Zipp’ Skorpe, and never came home. When his mother, Runi, gets worried about him, she goes to the police. At first, Sejer doesn’t worry too much, since Andreas is not a little child. But after some time goes by, he, too, gets concerned. That’s when he and Skarre start to look into the matter. They soon find out about Zipp, and Sejer has more than one interview with him. It’s not spoiling the story to say that Zipp didn’t kill his friend. But he knows more than he is saying, and it takes Sejer quite a while to get that information. Among other things, this novel offers an interesting perspective on young adult friendships. Fossum also explores this in other novels, such as Black Seconds and Bad Intentions.

Peter James’ Dead Simple introduces readers to Superintendent Roy Grace of the Brighton and Hove police. In the novel, groom-to-be Michael Harrison disappears a few days before his wedding. It all started innocently enough with a ‘stag night’ prank. But a terrible car accident left Harrison stranded and in real danger. His fiancée, Ashley Harper, goes to the police for help, and DI Glenn Branson agrees to investigate. He brings Grace along, and soon enough, there’s an all-out search. As a part of the investigation, the police talk to Harrison’s best friend and best-man-to-be, Mark Warren. Warren wasn’t in town at the time of Harrison’s disappearance, so he doesn’t know exactly what happened. But he does have background and other useful information, which turns out to be important to the case.

Constable Paul ‘Hirsch’ Hirschhausen is faced with a tragic case in Garry Disher’s Bitter Wash Road. He’s recently been stationed at Tiverton, in rural South Australia, and is adjusting to life there. One day, the body of fifteen-year-old Melia Donovan is discovered by the side of Bitter Wash Road. There are definite signs that the victim wasn’t killed there, so there are plenty of possibilities. This won’t be an easy case. It’s made even harder by the fact that Hirsch is a pariah among his fellow coppers, because he’s seen as a ‘whistleblower.’ So, he’s going to get no help with the Melia Donovan case. As you’d guess, Hirsch starts with the victim’s family and friends. That includes her best friend, Gemma Pitcher, who works at a local convenience shop. At first, she does her best to avoid talking to him. But eventually he catches up with her, and the information she finally provides turns out to be helpful.

The focus of Ivy Pochoda’s Visitation Street is the disappearance of June Giatto. One summer night, she and her best friend, Valerie ‘Val’ Marino decide to take a raft ride on the bay near their Brooklyn area of Red Hook. The next morning, Val is found, injured but alive. June, though, has disappeared. Despite a major search, there’s no sign of her – not even a body. The police, of course, have plenty of questions for Val, but she claims not to know what happened to her friend. In fact, she’s devastated by June’s loss, and upset by the insinuations that she might know more about it than she’s saying. As time goes by, we slowly learn what happened to June, and we get an ‘inside look’ at the friendship between the two girls.

And then there’s John Hart’s The Last Child. Thirteen-year-old Johnny Merrimon has been devastated ever since the disappearance of his twin, Alyssa, a year earlier. He’s determined to find her, or at least, find out what happened to her. And he’s got a map and a plan. One day, he’s skipping school, spending time by the local river, when he witnesses another death. The victim this time is David Wilson, a local college professor. And he just might have had some information about Alyssa. Local police detective Clyde Hunt knows the Merrimon case well; he investigated it. And it’s haunted him ever since that he wasn’t able to get answers. So, he stays in contact with the family, and tries to help Johnny in his own way. One of the people Hunt talks to is Johnny’s best friend, Jack Cross. As the story evolves, we learn more about their friendship, the role it plays in Johnny’s life, and Jack’s perspective on Johnny. And that information turns out to be important.

Best friends can be the most loyal and helpful people in one’s life. Or the most dangerous. And that’s part of what makes those characters so interesting in crime fiction. Right, fans of Megan Abbott’s The End of Everything?

 
 
 

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

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Garry Disher, Ivy Pochoda, John Hart, Karin Fossum, Megan Abbott, Peter James