Category Archives: Agatha Christie

They’re Tearing it Down Now, But it’s Just as Well*

changesChange is often difficult, even if the change is a good one. It upsets the status quo and it means that we have to get used to something new. And that can be very hard. Yet, as we all know, change is inevitable. It’s how we grow as a society and individually. So it’s really not a question of whether there’ll be change, but how we respond to it.

That feeling of tension as things change can add a great deal to a crime novel (or any novel, really). For one thing, showing the way people respond to change can add a layer of character development. And change in general can add an interesting layer of tension and even conflict to a story.

For example, one of the plot threads in Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side (AKA The Mirror Crack’d) has to do with the coming of council housing to the village of St. Mary Mead. It’s something quite new for the people who live there, and not everyone is happy about it. Many people liked the village just as it was. But Miss Marple knows that change is inevitable, so fighting it probably won’t do much good. In fact, she’s curious about what the new housing is like. So one day, she takes a walk in the new part of town. Unfortunately, she twists her ankle and ends up with a mild, but painful, injury. She’s rescued by Heather Badcock, who lives in one of the new houses. As they talk, she learns that Heather is a major fan of famous actress Marina Gregg, and is excited that her idol has bought a house in the area. On the day the re-done house is opened to the public, Heather finally gets the chance to meet Marina Gregg. Shortly afterwards, she dies of what turns out to be a poisoned cocktail. Since the cocktail was originally meant for the actress, the first theory is that she was the intended victim. But soon, Miss Marple sees that Heather was meant to be the victim all along. It’s not spoiling the story to say that Heather isn’t killed because she lives in a council house. But it does make for an interesting thread of tension in the story.

So does the coming of the mall and the mall culture in Catherine O’Flynn’s What Was Lost. Before the advent of the mall, people did their shopping in downtown areas. When malls arrived, this made major changes in people’s shopping habits, their social lives, and the structure of many, many towns. This major change is the backdrop for this novel, in which we meet ten-year-old Kate Meaney. The story begins in 1984, when the Green Oaks Shopping Center opens in Kate’s small Midlands town. Kate’s a budding detective with her own business, Falcon Investigations. She thinks that there’s sure to be crime to investigate at the mall, so she spends a great deal of time there. Then one day she goes missing. Despite a massive search, she’s never found. Twenty years later, a mall security guard named Kurt starts to see a strange image on his security camera – a girl who looks a lot like Kate. By chance, he meets Lisa Palmer, Assistant Manager at the mall’s music store, and the two form an awkward sort of friendship. Each in their own way, they go back to the past, and we learn what happened to Kate. Throughout the novel, we see the impact of the change from the ‘High Street’ concept of shopping to the ‘mall’ concept. A lot of people like it; many people hate and fear it. But everyone’s impacted by it.

Peter Lovesey’s The Last Detective: Introducing Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond introduces to Superintendent Peter Diamond of the Avon and Somerset Police. He’s old-fashioned in a lot of ways, and one of them is his view of what detection really is. When the body of former television star Geraldine ‘Gerry’ Jackman is discovered in Chew Valley Lake, Diamond and his assistant, John Wigfull, investigate. Diamond is firmly convinced that cases are best solved through ‘legwork,’ talking to witnesses, and getting evidence. He has little patience for computer reports and other technology, as he feels that nothing beats old-fashioned sleuthing. One of the sub-plots in this novel is the tension between Diamond and those who feel that computers are a critical part of modern police work. Among other things, this novel shows the inexorable advance of computer technology and modern forensics techniques. It makes Diamond uneasy, but that change has transformed the way the police find answers.

A great deal of Steph Avery’s Our Trespasses take place in 1966 South East London. It’s a time of great social upheaval, including changes in the roles of women, experimentation with drugs and sex, and of course, all sorts of new forms of music. Caught up in this time of change are teenage sisters Bridget ‘Bridie’ and Madeline ‘Midge’ Dolan. They’ve been raised as ‘good girls’ from the working class; Bridie in particular is devoted to her Roman Catholic beliefs, and has an old-fashioned approach to life. But the two girls are fascinated by the music and the fashions of the times. So they wangle their mother’s permission to go dancing one Friday night at the Palais Royale. That evening ends in tragedy, and has a permanent impact on everyone involved. Throughout the novel, we see how unsettling some of the social changes are. While some people are excited about the new fashions, lifestyles, and social roles, there are others who want to keep the status quo.

There’s an interesting look at major social change in Brian Stoddart’s Superintendent Christian ‘Chris’ Le Fanu series. He’s a police detective in Madras (today’s Chennai) in the early 1920’s, the last years of the British Raj. There are many people who are pushing for Indian Home Rule, with all of the political and social changes that would bring. But there are plenty of people who like the status quo. Sometimes, it’s because they benefit from it. Other times it’s because they’re comfortable with it. Either way, that tension adds a great deal to the series. Le Fanu himself accepts that Home Rule will come at some point soon, and he’s ready to adjust to it. On the other hand, Arthur Jepson, Madras Commissioner of Police, is against Home Rule, and sees nothing but anarchy coming from it. It makes for an interesting difference (among many) between the men.

And then there’s Gail Bowen’s 12 Rose Street. Political scientist and former academic Joanne Kilbourn Shreve gets involved in a major controversy over the Racette-Hunter Centre. Located in Regina’s impoverished North-Central district, Racette-Hunter is intended to benefit the community, but there are plenty of people who don’t want that change. Joanne’s husband, Zack Shreve, is running for mayor of Regina, and he’s the one who spearheaded Racette-Hunter. So both Joanne and Zack are affected when it seems that someone is trying to sabotage both his campaign and the project.

And that’s the thing about change. It makes a lot of people uneasy. But change is inevitable, and a lot of changes can be good. That tension can make for a very interesting thread in a mystery plot.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s This is the Time.   

23 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Catherine O'Flynn, Peter Lovesey, Gail Bowen, Brian Stoddart, Steph Avery

Heavenly Shades of Night Are Falling*

fear-of-the-darkWe all have our fears, and sometimes even phobias. One of the more common fears people have is fear of the dark. For those people, the scene in the ‘photo you see isn’t peaceful or romantic. It’s frightening. If you think about it, fear of the dark is understandable. Things and places look different in the dark, even if they’re familiar. Shadows can take on different dimensions and look a lot more threatening. And if you consider our origins as a species, there are certainly predators that came (and still come) out at night. So a heightened feeling of danger at night probably made sense. And plenty of people still prefer daylight.

That instinctive reaction to the dark plays a role in crime fiction, and that shouldn’t be surprising. Among other things, weaving fear of the dark into a story allows the author to create a tense atmosphere, and tap readers’ instincts. What’s more, adding in a fear of the dark can make for an interesting layer of character development.

Agatha Christie made use of that instinctive fear of the dark in And Then There Were None. In that novel, a group of people is invited for a trip to Indian Island, off the Devon coast. For different reasons, each accepts the invitation. When they arrive, they’re surprised to learn that their host isn’t there. But they settle in as best they can. After dinner on that first night, each is accused of having been responsible for at least one other death. Just about everyone protests innocence; but later that evening, one of the guests suddenly dies of what turns out to be poison. The next morning, another is found dead. It’s soon clear that there’s a murderer on the island, and that the survivors are going to have to find out who it is if they’re to stay alive. At one point, a storm cuts off power, and everyone is affected. Even the more stalwart among the guests feel the need to keep the candles lit, and that feeling adds a real layer of tension to the story.

We see a similar situation in Louise Penny’s The Cruelest Month. In that novel, a well-known Hungarian psychic, Madame Blavatsky, is staying in the small Québec town of Three Pines. During her stay, she’s persuaded to hold a séance. The first attempt isn’t a success, so another is scheduled during the Easter break. It’s to be held at the old Hadley house, which fans of this series will remember. The atmosphere of the house is eerie enough (if you follow the series, you’ll know what I mean). And when everyone arrives, it’s only lit by candles:
 

‘The darkness seemed darker, and the flickering flames threw grotesque shadows against the rich wallpaper.’
 

The setting is creepy enough, but everything turns much worse when Madeleine Favreau suddenly dies of what turns out to be an overdose of a diet drug. The darkness, and our sense that it’s dangerous, is used effectively here.

Sometimes, fear of the dark can be a helpful clue to a person’s character. In one plot thread of Arnaldur Indriðason’s Hypothermia, for instance, Reykjavík police inspector Erlendur gets interested in the death of a woman named Maria. The first theory of the crime is that she hung herself out of despondence at the death of her mother, Leonóra, with whom she was extremely close. But Erlendur learns something very interesting: Maria was afraid of the dark, so she didn’t go out at night. Why, then, would she have left the house during the night to hang herself? It doesn’t quite add up for Erlendur and he pursues the case more deeply.

Camilla Grebe and Åsa Träff’s Some Kind of Peace introduces readers to Stockholm psychologist Siri Bergman. She’s been devastated by the death of her beloved husband, Stefan, and the trauma has had some powerful impacts on her. She is afraid of the dark, so she always keeps her home well-lit, even when she’s sleeping. Still, she functions well enough professionally, and has a stable list of clients. Then one day, she gets a letter that makes it clear she’s being stalked. What’s worse, someone manages to get her case notes, so all of her confidential sessions are now accessible to her stalker. It’s not long before she is sure that someone is watching her; now, the very lights that make her feel safe at night may actually be making her more vulnerable. Matters get far worse when the body of a client, Sara Matteus, is found in the water on Bergman’s property. And there’s a suicide note that links the death to Bergman. At first, she is a suspect. But soon enough, it’s clear she’s being framed. So, she has to work to find out who the killer is and why she’s being set up.

R.J. Harlick’s sleuth is Meg Harris, who inherited a property called Three Deer Point, in Outaouais, in Western Québec. Meg’s recently left an abusive relationship, so when the series starts (with Death’s Golden Whisper), she’s still dealing with that trauma. And her ex-husband, Gareth, is not as eager to let go of their relationship as Meg is. It all makes for a great deal of stress, which isn’t made any easier when Meg gets caught up in a land rights dispute and a case of multiple murder. One of the lasting effects of being with an abusive partner is that Meg is afraid of the dark. It doesn’t completely debilitate her, but it’s definitely there.

And that’s the thing about fear of the dark. It may not be completely debilitating, but for a lot of people, it’s real. And for some people, it’s incapacitating.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Buck Ram, Morty Nevins, Al Nevins, and Artie Dunn’s Twilight Time.

23 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Louise Penny, Arnaldur Indriðason, Camilla Grebe, Åsa Träff, R.J. Harlick

Let’s Try Again*

trying-an-author-againI’m sure you’ve this sort of experience. You excitedly begin to read a novel by one of your very top-of-the-list authors, and you’re expecting to be drawn into the story. Unfortunately, just the opposite happens, and that book you’ve been eagerly looking forward to ends up in the DNF pile. Or, perhaps you finish the book, but only out of a sense of duty or loyalty to the author.

The fact is, no author is perfect all of the time, not even the best. And there’s the issue of personal taste. You may enjoy, say, a trilogy by an author, but be really disappointed in a standalone that the author has written. That’s especially the case if an author tries something new.

That disappointment can happen to anyone. The question becomes: what do you do when the author’s next book is released? Are you ready to forgive, or do you give up on that author’s work? Perhaps it depends on the situation.

Agatha Christie, for instance, wrote different kinds of books. Her Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple series are, with few exceptions, whodunits in the traditional style (with some whydunit in there, too). But she also wrote adventure/thrillers, too, such as The Man in the Brown Suit, They Came to Baghdad, and Passenger to Frankfurt. Plenty of people aren’t as impressed with her international-intrigue stories as they are with her whodunits. But she must have been forgiven, since And Then There Were None, which was by no means her first novel, is her best-selling effort. For those of you who’ve read Christie’s work, I’d be interested in whether you read more of it after being disappointed (if you were).

Many people were badly upset at the outcome of one of the plot threads of Elizabeth George’s With No One as Witness. In that novel, there’s a series of deaths of young boys. The police haven’t been able to make much headway on the case. Then there’s another death. This time there’s a difference: the other victims have been non-white, but this victim was white. Now the police are under a great deal of pressure to show that they’re not biased in their investigations. There’s a terrible tragedy in the novel that put a lot of readers off the series, at least for a time.

The same sort of thing happened with Jo Nesbø’s The Redbreast. Oslo police detective Harry Hole and his partner Ellen Gjelten have learned that a new kind of rifle is being smuggled into Norway. It’s the sort of weapon that’s most likely being used by terrorists, so it’s imperative to find out who has the guns and why. So one plot thread of the novel involves the search for the people who have this new gun, and the attempts to link the trafficking with a neo-Nazi group. But there’s a tragic event that also occurs in the novel, and plenty of people weren’t happy with that at all. Some readers decided, because of that occurrence, not to read any more about Harry Hole.

And it’s not just tragic events, either. Sometimes people part company with an author if something too improbable happens in a novel. For example, in Louise Penny’s The Nature of the Beast, a young boy discovers a very large disused gun hidden in the woods near the small Québec town of Three Pines. At first, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache isn’t ready to believe the boy, but the story turns out to be true. Then, in one plot line of the novel, the boy who discovered the gun is killed. An excellent point about this plot was raised by Bill Selnes, who blogs at Mysteries and More From Saskatchewan. How would the residents of a small town like Three Pines not know anything about a large gun having been built and hidden in a forest not very far from town? Even if not everyone knew the story behind the gun, there’d certainly be word of it passed around in one form or another. Does that sort of credibility stretch put you off reading the author again? Or are you willing to try that person’s next novel?

And then there are series such as Camilla Läckberg’s Erica Falck/Patrik Hedström novels, that many people argue change over time. The Ice Princess, which is the first novel in the series, has as its focus the murder of Alexandra “Alex” Wijkner, a former friend of Erica’s. The emphasis is on the investigation and on the history that led to the murder. As the series has evolved, there’s arguably been a shift in focus away from the actual crimes, and more towards the home life of Falck and Hedström. That sort of change can put off readers who prefer not to have a lot of emphasis on sleuths’ home lives and domestic situations.

There are many other things, too, that can get a reader quite upset about a book. If it’s an author whose work you love, you may come back again for another try. Or you may decide to give up. What do you usually do? Have your say and vote in the poll below. I’ll give it a few days, and we’ll talk about it in a week or so.
 

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Isham Jones and Charles Newman. There are several recordings of it, including the one I like by the Drifters.

26 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Camilla Läckberg, Elizabeth George, Jo Nesbø, Louise Penny

Try to Find Equilibrium*

equilibrium-and-disequilibriumIf theorists such as Jean Piaget are right, it’s human nature to want equilibrium. We want things to be in balance and to make sense. We want some sort of order. If you think about it, that drive for equilibrium arguably fuels many of our actions. We’re curious (which throws us into disequilibrium because we don’t know something). So, we seek to learn, or to find out about something. Or, perhaps we move to a new home. That throws us into disequilibrium until we unpack, put our things where we want them, and find out where the local library and the grocery stores are. Then, as we settle in, we impose new order on our lives and are back into equilibrium. And the list of examples could go on.

For any story, the drive for equilibrium can be an effective way to construct the action. The protagonist starts out in equilibrium, a conflict happens (which throws the story into disequilibrium), and the protagonist seeks to restore order. Or, perhaps, the story starts out in disequilibrium, and the protagonist sets out to restore equilibrium. There are other possibilities, too. And we see this very obviously in crime fiction. After all, in crime fiction, there’s usually a murder or other crime (disorder), and an investigation (the attempt to explain it and restore order). But even if you put that overarching conflict aside, there are a lot of other ways in which we see the drive to restore equilibrium.

For instance, in Agatha Chrirstie’s Sad Cypress, we are introduced to Mary Gerrard. She’s the daughter of the lodgekeeper at Hunterby, the home of wealthy Laura Welman. As it happens, Mrs. Welman has taken a particular interest in Mary, and has educated her ‘above her station.’ This decision has upset what you might call the social equilibrium of the village where they live. For one thing. Mary no longer feels sure of where, exactly, she belongs, if I can put it that way. For another, it’s upset those who feel that Mary is now ‘above herself.’ In fact, one day, Mrs. Welman’s niece Elinor Carlisle gets an anonymous letter that hints that Mary is actively manipulating the situation to ensure that she, not Elinor, inherits when the older woman dies. Elinor and her fiancé, Roderick ‘Roddy’ decide to go to Hunterby and see for themselves what’s going on. This further upsets the equilibrium when Roddy finds himself smitten with Mary. With her engagement broken and her comfortable assurance of money in question, Elinor has more than one motive for wanting Mary out of the way. So when Mary is poisoned, she’s the most likely suspect, and she’s duly arrested and charged. Local GP Peter Lord wants Mary’s name cleared, and he asks Hercule Poirot to investigate. In this novel, it’s not just the whodunit and whydunit that reflect that drive for equilibrium. I know, I know, fans of Ordeal by Innocence. Yes, indeed, fans of Taken at the Flood.

In Deon Meyer’s Blood Safari, we are introduced to Emma la Roux. She’s watching television one day when she sees a news story on television about a man named Cobie de Villiers, who’s wanted in conjunction with the murder of a traditional healer and three other men. The man the newscasters call de Villiers looks eerily like Emma’s brother Jacobus, who disappeared twenty years earlier. At the time, everyone said he was killed in a skirmish with poachers. Now, though, it seems he may still be alive, and that throws Emma’s world into disequilibrium. She wants to make sense of it all, so she hires professional bodyguard Marin Lemmer to accompany her from Cape Town to the Lowveld. As they search for answers, they find that this case goes deeper than just a man who may have stayed under the proverbial radar. It involves murder, fraud, and corruption in very high places.

Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn Shreve is a political scientist/academician. She is also the mother of four children, and of course, cares about them deeply. So she’s quite concerned when, in The Wandering Soul Murders, her son Peter’s old girlfriend, Christy Sinclair, comes back into his life. For several reasons, she’d thought Peter was well rid of Christy, and life had gotten back into equilibrium. But one day Christy re-appears. She invites herself along on a family trip to celebrate the engagement of Joanne’s daughter, Mieka, and even says that she and Peter are getting back together. Needless to say, this is discomfiting for Joanne. Then Christy dies in what looks like a successful suicide, but turns out to be murder. And Joanne discovers that this murder is related to another case that’s been proverbially dropped into her lap.

Equilibrium is particularly important for those who have autism and other spectrum disorders. We see that in Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. This story is told from the point of view of fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone, who has autism, although he functions on a high level. One day, he comes upon the dog that belongs to the people next door. The animal’s been killed, and its owners think he might be responsible. Christopher knows he’s not, though, and sets out to prove it, just like Sherlock Holmes. Along the way, he makes a personal discovery that throws his carefully-ordered life into complete disequilibrium. And one important plot thread in this novel is how he reacts to that change, and what happens as a result.

Wendy James’ The Mistake introduces readers to Jodie Evans Garrow. Although she’s from the ‘wrong side of the tracks,’ Jodie has made a very good life for herself. She’s smart and attractive, and is married to a successful attorney whose name is being suggested as the next mayor of their small New South Wales city. She’s got two healthy children, and life is content – even idyllic. Then, Jodie’s daughter Hannah is involved in accident that sends her to the same Sydney hospital where, years ago, Jodie gave birth to another baby girl. She’s never told anyone, even her husband, about that other baby. But a nurse at the hospital remembers Jodie and asks about the child. When Jodie says she gave her up for adoption, the over-curious nurse looks into it, but can find no records of a formal adoption. Now, questions start to come up. What happened to the baby? If she’s alive, where is she? If not, did Jodie have something to do with her death? Jodie’s well-ordered life falls into disarray as an investigation begins to loom. In this novel, there is certainly the plot thread of the mystery surrounding the baby. But there’s also the plot thread of what happens to the Garrows when they are thrown into disequilibrium, and have to find some sort of order in it all.

Human nature seems to be like that. We like equilibrium and balance. We want things to make sense. So when they don’t, this drives us to want to put things right. And that drive can add a lot to a crime novel.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bush’s The Sound of Winter.

30 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Deon Meyer, Gail Bowen, Mark Haddon, Wendy James

You Don’t Like My Point of View*

groupthinkAs I post this, it’s the 63rd anniversary of the publication of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. It wasn’t a best-seller when it first came out, but since then, it’s established itself as a classic piece of literature.

Lord of the Flies isn’t, strictly speaking, a crime novel (although crimes are committed in the story). But it touches on some themes and considerations that we see a lot in crime fiction. One of those is groupthink. Groupthink happens when people go along with a group in order to achieve consensus, even if they disagree privately with the group’s decision. Sometimes, consensus has some purpose. It’s hard to get things done otherwise. But groupthink can also stifle creativity; worse, it can stile the individual sense of responsibility. And that can have tragic consequences.

Agatha Christie touches on groupthink in a few of her stories. For instance, in Mrs.McGinty’s Dead, Superintendent Albert ‘Bert’ Spence pays a visit to Hercule Poirot. He’s concerned because James Bentley is about to be executed for the murder of his landlady, Mrs. McGinty. Although Spence collected the evidence that eventually convicted Bentley, he’s not sure the man is guilty. So he asks Poirot to look into the matter, and Poirot agrees. To find out the truth, Poirot travels to the small town of Broadhinny where the murder occurred, and begins to get to know the residents. As it turns out, Mrs. McGinty was the kind of person who found out people’s secrets. And one secret wasn’t safe for her to know. What’s interesting about this village is that everyone agrees it’s a ‘nice village,’ with ‘very nice people.’ So the murderer had to have been James Bentley, at least according to this groupthink.

In Isaac Asimov’s The Caves of Steel, we are introduced to Elijah ‘Lije’ Baley, a homicide detective in a futuristic New York City. In this world, humankind has been more or less divided into two large groups. One group, Spacers, are descended from those who explored space and returned to Earth. The other, Earthmen, are descended from those who never left the planet. The groups fear and dislike each other to the point that they live in separate places, with the border between them carefully protected. Then, Baley’s boss, Julius Enderby, informs him that a well-known Spacer scientist has been murdered. Spacers suspect an Earthman, so to ensure transparency of the investigation, Enderby wants Baley to investigate. And he wants him to work with a Spacer partner, R. Daneel Olivaw. Working with a Spacer will be difficult enough, but when Baley discovers that Olivaw is a positronic robot, he feels the task may be nearly impossible. If there’s one thing Earthmen hate and fear more than scientists, it’s robots. Throughout the novel, we see all sorts of examples of groupthink about robots, the threat they may pose, and misconceptions about them. We also see groupthink about the Spacers.

Groupthink can definitely play a role in what happens during jury deliberations. If you think about it, that makes a lot of sense. Jurors want to return a verdict, especially if they’re sequestered, and especially if it looks to be a long case. And when the stakes are high, there’s a lot of motive for swaying a jury in one direction or another. That form of groupthink plays a role in John Grisham’s Runaway Jury. In that novel, a very high-profile lawsuit is brought against the tobacco industry. Specifically, Celeste Wood is bringing a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against Pynex (formerly called Union Tobacco), in the wake of her husband’s death from lung cancer. With so much money at stake, it’s not surprising that it soon seems someone is trying to sway the jury and use groupthink to get a verdict. Even after they’re sequestered, the jury still seems to be behaving strangely. Bit by bit, we learn what’s really going on, and who’s behind this attempt to get the jury to return the ‘right’ verdict. There are plenty of other legal mysteries, too, that involve juries and groupthink.

We see groupthink in several of Qiu Xiaolong’s novels featuring Shanghai police detective Chen Cao. In the Shanghai of the late 1990s, it’s considered very important to maintain social harmony. So independent investigations, ‘watchdog’ groups and so on are highly discouraged (or worse). That reality plays out in several of the stories, including Enigma of China. In one plot thread of that novel, a watchdog group has been using the Internet to expose corruption at high levels. One of this group’s targets is Zhou Keng, Head of Shanghai’s Housing Development Committee. The government, of course, is aware of this investigation, and Zhou is arrested. He’s moved to a Shanghai hotel to await trial. One morning, his body is found in his hotel room. The government authorities want Chief Inspector Chen to ‘rubber stamp’ the theory of suicide for a few reasons. But Chen isn’t sure that’s what really happened. As he works to solve the case, he comes into contact with the group that posted the accusations against Zhao. And he finds an odd paradox. At the same time as the government is cracking down on the group (in order to encourage groupthink), they need the information the group gets to stop trouble and to keep social order and harmony. It’s an interesting look at the way groupthink can work at the macro level.

Garry Disher’s Bitter Wash Road shows how groupthink can work among the police. In that novel, Constable Paul ‘Hirsch’ Hirschhausen has just been transferred from Adeliade to Tiverton, in rural South Australia. He’s basically a pariah among the Adelaide police because he has a reputation as a ‘whistleblower.’ And he soon finds that his reputation has preceded him. Right from the beginning, his boss, Sergeant Kropp, and the other local police, make life as difficult as possible for Hirsch, sabotaging and humiliating him at every opportunity. But Hirsch still has a job to do. And when the body of fifteen-year-old Melia Donovan is discovered by the side of Bitter Wash Road, he investigates. One theory is that she was hitchhiking and was accidentally hit by a passing car. But there are other possibilities, and Hirsch explores them. Despite the groupthink of his peers, he finds out the truth about what really happened to the victim, and we see how groupthink impacts everyone as he does. It’s an interesting plot point in the story.

On the surface, groupthink can seem an efficient way to get a group to reach consensus. But that’s not always a good thing, and groupthink can have terrifying consequences. Right, fans of Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Blind Melon’s No Rain.

21 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, John Grisham, Isaac Asimov, Shirley Jackson, Qui Xiaolong, Garry Disher, William Golding