Category Archives: Agatha Christie

That is All I Have Left to Say*

Dying WordsNot every fictional victim gets the chance for last words. But it’s interesting to see how many crime novels include dying words. It’s tricky to handle dying words effectively. For one thing, a lot depends on how the fictional victim dies. In many cases, it wouldn’t be possible for a victim to say anything. And there’s the matter of melodrama. That said though, dying words can be very interesting; and sometimes, they’re important clues to the killer.

For example, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Speckled Band, Sherlock Holmes gets a visit from Helen Stoner. She feels that her life may be in danger, and she wants Holmes’ help. It seems that Helen’s sister Julia suddenly died after a strange series of eerie noises and unexplained events. On the night of Julia’s death, Helen heard her sister scream. She rushed from her bedroom into the corridor and saw her sister there. Julia was only able to say,

‘‘Oh my God! Helen! It was the band! The speckled band!’’

before she died. Helen could make little sense of the words, but now, she’s hearing the same strange noises that preceded Julia’s death. Holmes and Watson travel to Stoke Moran, the estate where Helen lives, and investigate to find out who would want both women dead and why. I know, I know, fans of The Boscombe Valley Mystery.

In Ellery Queen’s The Last Woman in His Life, Queen is invited for a getaway weekend at a guest house belonging to wealthy playboy John Levering Benedict III. Also staying (but in the main house) for the weekend are Levering’s three ex-wives, his attorney, and his attorney’s secretary. As you can guess, the atmosphere at the house is tense, so Queen spends most of his time at the guest house. One night, Queen gets a frantic call from his host, who says that he’s been murdered. He tries to say more, but because he stutters, it’s extremely difficult for him to get anything out. And at least at first, Queen can’t make sense of what he does say. In any case, he rushes over to the main house. But by then, it’s too late: Benedict has been killed by a blow to the head. The only physical clues are a wig, an evening gown and a pair of gloves. It turns out that Benedict knew all along who killed him; had Queen understood what he was saying, the case would have been solved before it began. But of course, that wouldn’t make for riveting reading…

Agatha Christie used dying words in more than one of her stories. For instance, in The Boomerang Clue (AKA Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?), Bobby Jones is golfing with his friend, Dr. Thomas. At one point, they’re looking for a ball that went over a cliff when they see a man who’s fallen off the cliff and landed below. Jones goes to stay with the man as Thomas rushes off to get help. So Jones is alone when the victim says,

‘Why didn’t they ask Evans?’

and then dies. The words seem meaningless at first, but as Jones and his friend, Lady Frances ‘Frankie’ Derwent ask some questions, it becomes clear that the man was murdered, and that he’s the key to something much bigger than they’d thought. I know, I know, fans of The Hollow.

Henning Mankell’s first Kurt Wallender novel, Faceless Killers, begins with brutal attacks on a rural farmer, Johannes Lövgren, and his wife, Maria. Johannes dies before any help can arrive, but Maria lives long enough to be transported to emergency care at the nearest hospital. She, too, later dies, but not before uttering the word,


That one word means serious trouble for Wallander and his police team. There is already simmering resentment against immigrants in the area. If it gets out (which it does) that these murders were likely committed by foreigners, there’s no telling what might happen. And when the media hears about it, the police have to deal with a real backlash – including the murder of a Somali immigrant who was living at a nearby camp. Now the police have to fend off the media, solve the murder of the immigrant quickly (so as not to appear prejudiced) and continue to work on the Lövgren case.

And then there’s Shona (now writing as S.G.) MacLean’s The Redemption of Alexander Seaton. Seaton is an undermaster at the local grammar school in 17th Century Banff, in Scotland. One morning he wakes to the news that there’s a dead body in his classroom. He finds that the dead man is apothecary’s assistant Patrick Davidson, and that Davidson has been poisoned. The most likely suspect is his romantic rival, music master Charles Thom, who is duly arrested. Thom claims that he’s innocent, and begs Seaton to help clear his name and get him out of prison. Seaton agrees and begins asking questions. He saw Davidson alive, not long before his death, and now that vision comes back to haunt him. Davidson had tried to get his attention, but Seaton didn’t respond. Now he discovers that two other people did respond: local prostitutes Mary and Janet Dawson saw Davidson and tried to help him. Neither they nor Seaton can make sense of Davidson’s dying words, at least at first. But as we find out, those words have a lot of significance.

And that’s the thing. Dying words often do have a significance, both in real life and in crime fiction. It’s just that sometimes, it’s harder to work out what the meaning is than it is other times. Which fictional dying words have stayed with you?

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Eric Clapton’s version of Muddy Waters’ Blow Wind Blow. 


Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Ellery Queen, Henning Mankell, Shona MacLean

You Got That Right*

AccuracyIn Agatha Christie’s Dumb Witness (AKA Poirot Loses a Client), Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings investigate the murder of wealthy Emily Arundell. She’s left behind several relatives who are desperate for their share of her money, and who have very good motive for getting her out of their way. It’s a complicated case, and one evening, Hastings suggests that the two of them take their minds off the investigation and go to see a play. Poirot agrees and they duly attend. However, there’s one problem: Hastings  has chosen a crook play.

‘There is one piece of advice I offer to all my readers. Never take a soldier to a military play, a sailor to a naval play, a Scotsman to a Scottish play, a detective to a thriller – and an actor to any play whatsoever!’

Poirot gets very frustrated with the plot, claiming that the whole case could have been solved before the end of the first act.

This shows, I think, how we all bring our expertise into what we do in the rest of our lives. Certainly research suggests that we tap our knowledge, background and expertise when we read. People in general are not passive when they read. They interact with what they read; and, however unconsciously, compare it to what they know from real life. This doesn’t mean that readers are never willing to set aside disbelief. But a lot of readers do get cranky if the author isn’t more or less accurate.

For example, you may or may not know that my professional background has been mostly in the world of education. So I’m particularly ‘tuned in,’ for lack of a better phrase, when I read crime novels that take place in academia. And, if I’m being honest, I’m probably less patient with such novels when the author doesn’t portray that world accurately. I bring what I know to the reading process, as we all do, so I notice it more when what I know isn’t reflected in what’s in the book. That’s why I have a particular appreciation for work like Christine Poulson’s, Gail Bowen’s and Elly Griffiths’, whose novels have an academic context. In part because of the authors’ experiences in academia, the context is authentic, and that makes those novels more believable.

It’s the same, I would imagine, for just about any profession. For instance, the law profession varies from place to place, and certainly from country to country. But there are certain things about what lawyers do and don’t do that are, I think, a little more universal. And a well-written legal novel reflects that reality. I would suspect that attorneys who read crime fiction are ‘tuned in’ to those aspects of legal novels, and probably not patient when the author isn’t authentic. Not being an attorney myself, I can’t speak from expertise. But the works of authors such as Robert Rotenberg, John Grisham, Scott Turow and (in his Mickey Haller novels) Michael Connelly strike me as being realistic.

One might say the same thing about crime novels that take place in the health care and medical community. Physicians, paramedics, nurses and other health care providers who read crime fiction probably get very impatient with crime novels that don’t depict that world accurately. And they’re probably quite pleased with the authenticity of writers such as Katherine Howell, Michael Crichton and Michael Palmer.

I could go on and on with examples, but I think the point’s made. Whatever your profession or work background is, you’re likely to bring it to your reading, and you may very well find yourself noticing it particularly when someone isn’t accurate.

What about law enforcers who also read crime fiction? Most crime writers aren’t police officers (although some of course are or have been). And yet, if you think about it, just about every crime novel involves police presence, at least just a little. And some focus quite a lot more than others do on police activity. Some of those novels give a more authentic portrait of police life than others do. So my unsophisticated guess would be that there is plenty of frustration among law enforcement people when it comes to the way what they do is portrayed.

You’ll notice that all of the authors mentioned thus far have a professional background in the area that’s the focus of their books. For instance, Howell has been a paramedic, Rotenberg is a criminal lawyer, and Bowen has been a professor. Does this mean that you need to be a member of a given profession to write about it accurately? I don’t think so.

Let’s consider some of the highly regarded crime series out there. Ed McBain is, as you’ll know doubt know, the creator of the 87th Precinct series, which many people regard as a superior series. Its focus is police detectives and their lives, and the crimes they investigate. McBain was never, at least to my knowledge, in law enforcement. And yet this series is often held up as an example of an excellent police procedural series.

Jussi Adler-Olsen has done a number of things with his career, including music, business and publishing. He’s never, to my knowledge, been a police detective. Still, his Carl Mørck novels are very highly regarded police procedurals. Not being in law enforcement myself, I can’t vouch conclusively for their authenticity. But they certainly have the hallmarks of the police procedural, including life at the precinct, policy and so on.

Sara Paretsky isn’t a private investigator. Her background was in political science and history before she turned her focus to writing. But as any fan will tell you, her V.I. Warshawski series is very well-regarded, and gives readers a great deal of information about the ins and outs of private investigation. These are just a few examples; there are dozens of others. But I think just these few serve to show that some authors have written extremely credible work about professions that aren’t in their backgrounds. The key here really seems to be doing effective research (and of course, telling a well-written story!).

What about you? When you read a novel about people who do what you do professionally, do you pay extra attention to the details? Do you get frustrated when the author isn’t accurate?


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


Filed under Agatha Christie, Ed McBain, Elly Griffiths, Gail Bowen, John Grisham, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Katherine Howell, Michael Connelly, Michael Crichton, Michael Palmer, Robert Rotenberg, Sara Paretsky, Scott Turow

Now, I’m in My Room*

BedroomsA lovely post from Marina Sofia at Finding Time to Write has got me thinking about bedrooms. Possibly more than any other room in one’s home, a bedroom is supposed to be a retreat from the world. Bedrooms also bear the marks, if you will, of their occupants more than nearly any other room. So when there’s a disappearance or murder, and police are looking for background information, bedrooms are naturally one of the first places they search.

Bedrooms are supposed to be places of safety, rest, and intimacy. But in crime fiction, at least, it doesn’t always turn out that way. Crime-fictional bedrooms can be downright dangerous.

Agatha Christie shows this in several of her stories; in fact, it’s an effort to restrain myself. Here’s just one example. In Christie’s short story The Blue Geranium, Miss Marple attends a dinner at the home of Colonel Arthur Bantry. During the meal, Bantry tells the story of George Pritchard, whose wife died of what appeared to be shock and fear. She wasn’t well to begin with, so it’s not a complete surprise. In fact, towards the end of her life, she believed that she could only be helped by psychics and seers. That’s how she met Zarida, Psychic Reader of the Future. Zarida had warned her specifically to beware of, among other things, blue geraniums, blue primroses and blue hollyhocks. Mysteriously, the flowered wallpaper in Mrs. Pritchard’s bedroom began to turn blue; the fear that caused seems to be what prompted her death. Some people say Zarida caused everything. Others blame Pritchard, saying he killed his wife. Miss Marple, though, sees things a bit differently. I know, I know, fans of Murder in Mesopotamia and of Cards on the Table.

In K.C. Constantine’s The Blank Page, Rocksburg (Pennsylvania) Police Chief Mario Balzic gets a call from Cynthia Sumner, owner of a rooming house for students who attend Conemaugh County Community College. She’s concerned because she hasn’t seen Janet Pisula, one of the residents, for a few days. Balzic agrees to look into the matter. When he does, he finds that his caller was right to be concerned. Janet’s strangled, mostly-nude body is discovered on the floor of her room. On her stomach is a blank piece of paper. Janet was a very quiet, shy student who had few friends and certainly hadn’t made enemies. She doesn’t come from money, either, so there seems no financial motive. As it turns out, a severe trauma from her past has an important role to play in what happens to Janet in this story.

Barry Maitland’s  The Marx Sisters introduces readers to his team of DCI David Brock and DS Kathy Kolla. Meredith Winterbottom and her two sisters, Eleanor Harper and Peg Blythe, live in one of London’s historic districts, Jerusalem Lane. The residents of the lane all know each other and have typically had good relationships. Then, a development company starts to buy up Jerusalem Lane, with the goal of creating a shopping and entertainment district. Meredith refuses to sell her house; in fact, she becomes the last holdout against the company. Then, she dies of what seems like suicide, and her body is found in her bed. Brock and Kolla are called in as a matter of course, but Kolla isn’t so sure this is a suicide. Brock agrees to give her the ‘green light’ and she starts asking questions. As it turns out, there are plenty of good motives for wanting Meredith Winterbottom dead.

In one plot thread of Ruth Rendell’s Simisola, Dr. Raymond Akande is quite concerned about his twenty-two-year-old daughter Melanie. She hasn’t been home for a couple of days, and that’s not like her. So he asks one of his patients, DCI Reg Wexford, to check into the matter. Wexford isn’t overly worried at first, but as time goes on and Melanie still doesn’t turn up, he begins to share his doctor’s concern. When he starts to ask questions, he learns that Melanie was last seen leaving an appointment with a job counselor, Annette Bystock, at the local Employment Bureau. So Wexford tries to speak to her. But by the time he tracks her down, it’s too late: Annette has been murdered in her bedroom. Then, a body is found in a nearby wood – a body that could be Melanie’s. It turns out not to be, though, and Wexford now has three cases to solve: two murders and a disappearance.

Elliott Roosevelt (the son of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt) wrote a series of crime novels with his mother as the sleuth. There is evidence that these novels might have been ghost-written; but whether or not they were, they present an interesting picture of life in the White House during the Roosevelt years. In Murder in the Lincoln Bedroom, President Roosevelt is holding a top-secret meeting with Prime Minister Winston Churchill and General Dwight Eisenhower. Every effort is being made to ensure that no word of this meeting gets to the press (or anyone else). Then, the body of Special Counsel to the President Paul Weyrich is found in the famous Lincoln Bedroom. Keeping that story out of the press will take even more finesse now. And when it turns out that Weyrich was part of a plot to assassinate Roosevelt, Mrs. Roosevelt knows that she will have to solve this murder in order to prevent another attempt.

And then there’s Rob Kitchin’s Stiffed. In that novel, Tadh Maguire has just started sleeping off a night of far too much to drink. He’s suddenly jolted awake by a shriek from his girlfriend Kate. Then he finds out why she’s screaming: there’s a dead man in his bed. And he knows who the dead man is. It’s Tony Marino, ‘right hand man’ to crime boss Aldo Pirelli. If Maguire calls the police, it won’t be long before Pirelli gets word of it, and of course, he’ll assume that Maguire killed his man. Not a good situation. And there’s the matter of Maguire’s likely arrest for murder. So instead of the police, Maguire calls his friend Jason Choi and asks for his help moving the body. But it’s not going to be easy. First, a couple of thugs break into Maguire’s home, obviously looking for someone or something. When one of them kills the other, this leaves Maguire and Choi with two bodies to hide. So they bring in some more friends to help. When some of those friends are abducted, things get more complicated. And when it turns out that some very dangerous people are after a lot of money that they think Maguire has, things get even worse. It’s a black comic/caper novel that all starts with an unexpected body in the bedroom.

It all just goes to show that really, no place is safe in crime fiction. Not even your own comfy bedroom. Thanks, Marina Sofia, for the inspiration. Now, please, folks, may I suggest that your next blog stop be Finding Time to Write? It’s a treasure trove of poetry, fine book reviews, and terrific ‘photos.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s All For Leyna.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Barry Maitland, Elliott Roosevelt, K.C. Constantine, Rob Kitchin, Ruth Rendell

Tawdry Secrets of a Select Few*

Closed Places and Few SuspectsWhen there’s a murder, whether it’s real or fictional, the police work as quickly as they can to narrow down the list of probable suspects. All other things equal, the fewer the number of suspects, the easier it is for them to do their work.

In fiction, one way to narrow the list of suspects is to have the murder (or murders) happen in a closed place. I’m not referring here to the ‘locked room’ sort of mystery. That’s an entirely different category of crime story. Rather, I mean a place that’s either relatively closed-in, or relatively inaccessible, so that only a limited number of people would have access and be likely suspects.

Such a mystery isn’t as easy as it might seem to pull off. The characters have to be interesting (because there aren’t many of them). And the mystery itself has to be challenging, but not strain the limits of credibility too far. Still, when it works, it can work well.

Agatha Christie used that ‘closed place’ scenario in several of her stories. For example, in Cards on the Table, the very eccentric Mr. Shaitana invites a group of people to a dinner party. Four are detectives (one is Hercule Poirot). The other four are people whom Mr. Shaitana suspects of murder. He believes that those people have gotten away with their crimes. Over dinner, he throws out hints as to what he suspects, and those hints are not lost on his guests. Later, when everyone is playing bridge, Mr. Shaitana is stabbed. There are only four possible suspects: the four possible murderers who were playing bridge in the room where Mr. Shaitana was killed. Each one has a very good motive, and each one had the opportunity. So Poirot and the other sleuths have to look into each person’s past to see which of them really was a murderer, and which one killed Shaitana. I know, I know, fans of Death in the Clouds and of Murder on the Orient Express.

Michael Innes’ Death at the President’s Lodging introduces Scotland Yard Inspector Appleby. In this novel, Josiah Umpleby, President of St. Andrews College, is shot one night in his private study. His valet George Slotwiner and one of the Fellows, Mr. Titlow, discover the body. In order to preserve the school’s reputation, the school authorities don’t want this case to get a lot of press. So Appleby is asked to investigate as quickly and quietly as he can. He soon learns that the college was locked at the time of the murder, and the president’s home locked separately.  What this means is that there are only seven possible suspects: the staff and Fellows who had access to the key to the Orchard Grounds, which adjoins the study. Appleby does discover the killer, but I think I can say without spoiling the story that limited access does not mean as much limitation of possibility as you might think. There’s a lot of manufacturing of alibis that goes on…

Christianna Brand’s Green For Danger begins as postman Joseph Higgins delivers letters to a group of people, informing them that they’ve been assigned to serve at Heron Park Hospital, which has been converted for (World War II) military use. All seven take up their duties and begin their service. One day Higgins is brought into the hospital with a broken femur. An operation is immediately planned for the next day. Higgins dies during the procedure, and at first it’s put down to tragic accident. Inspector Cockrill of the Kent Police is called in to ‘rubber stamp’ the death. But questions soon arise. For one thing, Mrs. Higgins insists that her husband was murdered, and she’s not a fanciful person. For another, one of the nurses, Sister Marion Bates, drinks too much at a party one night and blurts out that she knows who Higgins’ murderer is, and that she has proof. Later that night, she, too, is murdered, in the same operating theatre. At this point, there are only six possible suspects: the people who were involved in the original operation on Higgins (minus, of course, Sister Marion). So Cockrill has to use every trick in the proverbial book, including confining the suspects to quarters, to find out who the killer is. This one has some similarities to Ngaio Marsh’s The Nursing Home Murder in that in both cases, the murder takes place in a ‘closed’ medical environment, and there are fairly few suspects.

In Ellery Queen’s The Last Woman in His Life, Queen is invited for a getaway weekend at the guest house owned by wealthy playboy John Levering Benedict III. Queen accepts the invitation and settles in for what he hopes will be a peaceful time. Benedict has other guests, though. Staying at the house with him are his three ex-wives, his attorney, and his attorney’s secretary. Needless to say, this makes for a great deal of strain, and Queen spends as little time there as he can. Then one night, he’s in the guest house when he gets a frantic call from his host. Benedict tells Queen that he’s been murdered. He starts to tell Queen who the killer is, too, but can’t get the words out because he stammers. Queen rushes over to the main house, but by the time he gets there, it’s too late. His host has been killed by a blow from a heavy statuette. The only other clues are an evening gown, a wig, and a pair of gloves. Each item belongs to a different person, so it’ll be difficult, even with such a limited pool of suspects, for Queen to work out who the killer is.

And then there’s P.D. James’ The Skull Beneath the Skin, the second of her Cordelia Grey novels. Grey owns a not-overly-successful PI agency, so she is glad for the work when Sir George Ralston hires her. His wife, famous actress Clarissa Lisle, is to take part in a Victorian-dress play The Duchess of Malfi, to be presented at Castle Courcy, on the Isle of Courcy. The island is privately owned by wealthy Sir Ambrose Corringe. Lisle has been getting vague death threats, and Ralston wants Grey to help protect his wife and, of course, to find out who this enemy is. Grey and Lisle duly take a trip to the island, and join a group of other houseguests, including some of Lisle’s friends’ and relatives. When Lisle is killed, Grey feels a sense of responsibility, since it was her job to protect her client’s wife. So she looks into the murder. The list of suspects isn’t overly long, and the island isn’t the sort of place where just anyone can come in and out as a rule. But that doesn’t mean this case will be easy.

And that seems to be key to creating a well-crafted mystery that’s set in a more or less ‘closed’ place and has few suspects. There has to be something challenging about the mystery. And of course, the more interesting the characters (within the limits of credibility) the better. I’ve only mentioned a few such stories (I know, I know, fans of Anne Holt’s 1222 and of Minette Walters’ The Ice House). Which ones have you liked best?



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Rebecca Pidgeon’s Magazine.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Minette Walters, P.D. James, Christianna Brand, Anne Holt, Michael Innes

This is My Quest*

QuestsOne of the timeless of plot contexts in literature is the quest – the purposeful journey. That journey may be literal or figurative; the purpose of it may also be literal or figurative. Either way, quests promise rewards that, at least for the protagonist, make the journey worth the effort. And they pose great risks. That combination can make for suspense, conflict and character development, all of which are elements of a high-quality crime novel. So it really shouldn’t be surprising that there are quests all through the genre. You could even argue that investigating a crime is a quest, and you’d have a solid basis for that argument. But even leaving that aside, many crime novels involve quests.

For example, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson investigate the murders of Enoch Drebber, a recent arrival to London from the US. At one point, his secretary Joseph Stangerson is suspected. But when he, too, is killed, it’s clear that someone was actually targeting both victims. And so it proves to be. As Holmes and Watson learn, this case has its roots in the past. Both Drebber and Stangerson had something to hide – something for which the killer wanted revenge. And it all has its start in a quest for a place of safety.

Agatha Christie’s short story Manx Gold also involves a quest, this time for a treasure. Engaged couple Fenella Mylecharane and Juan Faraker learn that Fenella’s eccentric Uncle Myles has died. They travel to the Isle of Man to hear the reading of his will, only to learn that he’s arranged a competition. According to the will, there is buried treasure on the island. Each of the possible heirs to the fortune will receive the same clues to the treasure’s location. The one who finds the treasure first gets to claim it. Very soon several potential heirs are off on the quest for the treasure. Then there’s a murder. Now Fenella and Juan begin to wonder whether someone might be targeting the heirs in order to be assured of a win. Interestingly, Christie wrote this story on commission to increase tourism to the island. Visitors were given copies of the story, which was printed in instalments. Their quest was to find four identical snuffboxes, each of which contained a Manx penny. The prize for the person who could succeed on this quest was to be £100, but no-one was ever able to claim it.

Jonathan Gash’s The Judas Pair introduces readers to antiques dealer and expert Lovejoy. The last thing on his mind is to become a detective (other than hunting down antiques), but everything changes when he meets George Field. Field is looking for a particular pair of antique dueling pistols called the Judas Pair. They’re the stuff of legend among antiques dealers and collectors, and most don’t even think the pistols exist. Certainly Lovejoy doesn’t. But Fields says they do; in fact, one of them was used to shoot his brother Eric. Fields believes that if he can find the Judas Pair, he’ll find his brother’s killer. So he asks Lovejoy to track down the pistols. Lovejoy isn’t overly drawn to the case by the thought of catching a killer, but the pistols themselves are another matter altogether. So he agrees to start looking. The quest for the pistols takes Lovejoy through the antiques and collecting communities, and puts him in very grave danger.

Arnaldur Indriðason’s series features Reykjavík Inspector Erlendur and his team. Fans of this series will know that Erlendur is haunted by a tragedy that occurred when he was a boy. He and his brother Bergur were caught in a blizzard one day. Erlendur survived, but Bergur was never found. No-one has even discovered his body. On one level, Erlendur feels a powerful sense of guilt over not protecting his brother, and over surviving when his brother did not. On another level, he wants to know what happened to his brother. So, in one story arc in this series, Erlendur goes on a quest to find out anything he can about that day and about what might have happened to Bergur

There’s a different sort of quest in Karin Fossum’s Calling Out For You (AKA The Indian Bride). Gundar Jormann has lived all his life in the Norwegian village of Elvestad. He is no longer a young man, but he’s still presentable. He’s also hardworking and reliable – the steady kind. So he sees no reason why he shouldn’t be able to find a wife. His sister Marie is shocked when Gundar tells her that he is going to travel to India to find a bride. He goes to Mumbai, where he meets Poona Bai, who works in a café there. The two are soon taken with each other, and it’s not long before Poona agrees to marry him. The plan is for Gundar to return to Norway, where Poona will join him soon, after she finishes up her life in India. On the day of Poona’s arrival, Marie is involved in a terrible car crash, and Gundar cannot leave her. So he asks a friend to meet Poona at the airport. The two miss each other, though, and Poona never makes it to Gundar’s house. When her body is found in a field not far from the house, Inspector Konrad Sejer and his assistant Jacob Skarre investigate. They find that they have to penetrate a proverbial ‘wall of silence’ in order to find out the truth about that day.

And then there’s Andrew Grant’s Death in the Kingdom. British agent Daniel ‘Danny’ Swann is given a very difficult assignment. He’s told to go to Thailand and recover a lead-covered black box from the Andaman Sea. Apparently the box was on board a ship that was sunk, and is still under the water. This is going to be an especially challenging quest for Swann. The last time he was in Thailand, he was involved in another operation where he had a dangerous encounter with powerful crime boss ‘Tuk-Tuk’ Song. Although he saved Tuk-Tuk’s life that day, he ended up killing Tuk-Tuk’s son Arune, and wounding his ‘right hand man’ Choy Lee. So he will not be welcomed warmly in Thailand. He can’t avoid Tuk-Tuk, either because the man is too powerful. If Swann is going to launch the kind of operation he’ll need to recover the box, he’ll need people, material and support that only Tuk-Tuk can guarantee. So he’s going to have to make his peace with the crime boss. This quest takes on a whole new dimension when there two attempts on Swann’s life. Then two of his friends are brutally murdered. Now he’s up against an enemy he didn’t really know he had, and whom he can’t even identify.

And that’s the thing about quests. They can get very dangerous at times. But they do add suspense to stories, and they are an important part of the human experience. They’re a part of our literary heritage too.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion’s The Impossible Dream.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrew Grant, Arnaldur Indriðason, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jonathan Gash, Karin Fossum