Category Archives: Agnete Friis

She Said She’s Gonna Join the Peace Corps*

As this is posted, it’s 57 years since the establishment of the Peace Corps. As you’ll know, Peace Corps volunteers do grassroots-level work (teaching, medical assistance, agriculture, and more) in remote areas and areas of extreme poverty. You may know someone who’s been in the Peace Corps. Perhaps you were a volunteer, yourself.

The Peace Corps is by no means the only international volunteer group. Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), the International Red Cross, and lots of other groups also work all over the world. These groups do essential work to improve life, help in times of war and disaster, and more. There are several such groups in real life, and it’s no surprise to find them in crime fiction, too.

For instance, Michael Palmer’s Second Opinion introduces Dr. Thea Sperelakis. In the novel, she’s working with Médecins Sans Frontières. But she returns to her native Boston when her father, Petros Sperelakis, is gravely injured in a hit-and-run incident. He is the distinguished founder of the Sperelakis Center for Diagnostic Medicine, housed in Boston’s Beaumont Hospital, so an interest in medicine runs in the family. At first, the incident is put down to a terrible accident that someone won’t admit. But Thea’s brother, Dmitri, doesn’t think that’s true. Their father, who can communicate after a fashion, lets them know that there may be serious medical fraud going on at the Beaumont. Whoever is behind the fraud is willing to do whatever it takes to cover it up. Thea gets a job at the Beaumont, and goes undercover, in a way, to try to get to the truth about the fraud before the person who attacked her father strikes again.

Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis’ Nina Borg is a Copenhagen-based nurse who works with the International Red Cross. She’s been on the scene of more than one disaster and is passionate about helping those in desperate need. In fact, that’s been a major source of conflict between her and her family, who want her to stay out of danger, and who want more of her time. When she is in Copenhagen, she does her best to help immigrants who are in dire situations. That often gets her into a great deal of danger, but Nina can’t imagine not helping those who most need it.

In Angela Savage’s The Half Child, Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney gets a new client. Maryanne Delbeck died of a fall (or push, or jump) from the roof of the building she was living in in Pattaya. The police report indicates that it was probably a suicide, but Maryanne’s father, Jim Delbeck, doesn’t believe that. He hires Keeney to find out what really happened. Keeney discovers that the victim belonged to an Australian NGO called Young Christian Volunteers. When she died, she was volunteering at a Pattaya children’s home/orphanage called New Life Children’s Centre. With that information in hand, Keeney goes to New Life in the guise of volunteering, so that she can find out if there might be a connection between the death and the children’s home. In the novel, there’s very interesting information on how groups like Young Christian Volunteers work.

Ausma Zehanat Khan’s The Unquiet Dead is the first of her novels to feature Esa Khattak of the Community Policing Section (CPS) of the Canadian federal government. This group concerns itself with hate crimes and anti-bigotry, so it’s a surprise to Khattak when he’s called in to investigate the death of Christopher Drayton. The victim died of a fall from Scarborough (Ontario) Bluffs, and it’s hard to tell whether it was or was not murder. But even if it was, there seems on the surface to be no reason for the CPS to involve itself. Then, Khattak learns that Drayton was very likely was Dražen Krstić, a notorious war criminal known as the butcher of Srebrenica. If that’s the case, then this could present a major problem for the government. Why would a war criminal be allowed to live in Canada? One issue Khattak faces is that, as a student, he was a volunteer in Bosnia during that war. He helped in different capacities and saw his share of the horrors that went on there. He is also a Muslim. Because of all of this, he can’t be completely objective. So, he brings his assistant, Sergeant Rachel Getty, in on the case. Together, the two look into the matter. They find that there are actually several possibilities when it comes to suspects and motives…

Sometimes, governments rely on volunteers within their own borders. For instance, in Kwei Quartey’s Wife of the Gods, the body of a medical student, Gladys Mensah, is found in a wood not far from the Ghanian town of Ketanu. The victim was a volunteer for Ghana Health Services AIDS Outreach, so the Minister of Health takes a particular interest in the case. Wanting to send Ghana’s best to do the investigation, the Minister taps Accra’s CID. And the best in that department is Detective Inspector (DI) Darko Dawson. He’ll miss his wife and son while he’s away, but this trip will give him a chance to reconnect with his aunt and other relatives. So, Dawson willingly takes on the case. He’s not entirely welcome in Ketanu, since the local police chief takes his presence as meddling. But he gets to work and, in the end, finds out who killed Gladys.

International and other volunteering has a long history. And it really can make a positive difference. It’s also an interesting context for a crime novel. Which ones have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Andrew Stein’s Peace Corps.

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Filed under Agnete Friis, Angela Savage, Ausma Zehanat Khan, Kwei Quartey, Lene Kaaberbøl, Michael Palmer

Copenhagen, I’ve Never Felt Your Grip so Tight*

denmarkOn the surface of it, Copenhagen is a peaceful, lovely place. When you think of Copenhagen, you may think of Hans Christian Andersen, or perhaps the beautiful Tivoli Gardens.  If you think of Denmark, you may think of the striking seacoast, or the quiet farmland. Your first thought probably isn’t of murder and mayhem. But trust me, there is plenty of crime-fictional havoc wreaked in Denmark. Don’t believe me? Just consider these examples from the genre.

Copenhagen is the setting for part of Peter Høeg’s Smilla’s Sense of Snow. That’s the story of Smilla Jaspersen, a half-Inuit Greenlander who now lives in Copenhagen. Smilla’s not a particularly social person, but she’s developed a sort of friendship with a ten-year-old boy, Isaiah Christiansen, who lives in the same building. He, too, is a Greenlander, so they share that bond. One day, Isaiah dies from a tragic fall from the room of his (and Smilla’s) apartment building. Smilla finds herself drawn to the scene, and notices the patterns in the snow. They suggest to her that Isaiah’s fall wasn’t so accidental, so she starts to ask questions. Those questions lead Smilla into grave danger – and into something much bigger than one small boy’s fall from a roof.

In Leif Davidson’s The Serbian Dane, we are introduced to Vuk, a Bosnian Serb who was raised in Denmark. He is hired to kill Sara Santanda, an Iranian author who’s been living in hiding in London. She’s under a death threat, and Vuk is tapped to carry that threat out when Santanda decides to travel to Copenhagen. Her plan is to give an exclusive interview to Lise Carlsen of the newspaper Politiken. The Danish government is well aware of her plan, and assigns Per Toflund, a security expert with the Danish national police, the responsibility for her safety. He and Vuk are formidable opponents, and as the story goes on, we see the tension build as we learn what measures each side is taking. We also learn the backstories of the main characters, and what’s led to the roles each plays.

Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Department Q series also takes place in Copenhagen. It features homicide detective Carl Mørck. When the series begins, he’s recovering from a line-of-duty incident in which he was gravely injured and a colleague killed. Another colleague was left with paralysis. As it is, Mørck’s not exactly an extrovert or an optimist. But after the incident, he got so difficult to work with that people no longer wanted to be teamed up with him. So, he was tapped to lead the new ‘Department Q,’ which was set up to investigate ‘cases of special interest’ – cold cases. Not only did that decision solve the problem of what to do with Mørck, but also, it gave the police some leverage with the government and the media. The top brass can now say they take all crimes seriously, and are conscientious about investigating. As the series continues, Mørck acquires first one assistant, Hafez al-Assad, and then another, Rose Knudsen. Both have interesting backgrounds and unique skills that they bring to the department. And all three are, in their way eccentric. Together, they form an interesting investigative team.

In Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis’ The Boy in the Suitcase, we are introduced to Red Cross nurse Nina Borg. When an old friend asks her to go to Copenhagen’s main train station and pick up a suitcase, Nina is willing to oblige. She discovers, to her shock, that the suitcase contains a little boy. He is drugged and frightened, but alive. When she tries to contact her friend, it seems that friend has disappeared. Now, Nina is drawn into a case that involves a missing boy, a shadowy figure nicknamed The Dane, and murder. As the series continues, Nina continues her work on behalf of others, especially immigrants to Denmark, who sometimes come with not much more than the clothes they’re wearing. As she tries to help those most in need, Nina has a tendency to put herself in too much danger. It’s alienated her family and is a serious, ongoing threat to her health. As the series goes on, she tries to put herself together, and it’s interesting to see how she goes about it.

And, just in case you were thinking that the rest of Denmark must be safer than Copenhagen, think again. Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen has written a few award-winning series and standalones. One of them features Tora Skammelsen, a writer who has moved to her aunt’s North Sea cottage to find some peace and quiet, sort her life out, and of course, write. In North Sea Cottage, she uncovers a skeleton in an old stable on the property. And she finds figurative skeletons in her family’s history. In The Woman Behind the Curtain, Tora finds out more than she intended about the people who live near her parents. And then there’s Football Widow, in which Tora and local police officer Thomas Bilgren look into the world of football and footballers’ families. There’s a fourth Tora Skammelsen story in the making, and I’m excited for it (I’m almost finished reading it, Dorte!).

And I haven’t even mentioned television series such as The Bridge and Dicte. You see? Don’t let appearances deceive you. Denmark is beautiful and peaceful on the surface. Underneath? Perhaps not so much.

ps Thanks, visitdenmark.com for the lovely ‘photo!

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Tina Dickow’s Copenhagen.

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Filed under Agnete Friis, Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Leif Davidsen, Lene Kaaberbøl, Peter Høeg

Friday Night Arrives Without a Suitcase*

LuggageAny sort of travel involves luggage. Whether it’s a small ‘weekend’ size bag, or the largest suitcase an airline allows, luggage reflects a lot about the person who owns it. For instance, some people pack very neatly…and some don’t. And people tend to pack things in a certain way, even given today’s tight restrictions on what passengers may bring aboard a flight.

And then there’s the matter of how much you pack. Some people pack very heavily, and bring everything that they might need. It means they have to check luggage and get it wherever they’re going, but it also means they’re prepared for a lot of eventualities. Others pack very light. That’s the way I am. I only bring exactly what I need, and I don’t check my luggage through – ever. That’s got its advantages and disadvantages, and it does raise some eyebrows. If you’ll indulge me, here’s one example. I recently returned from a (roughly) week-long trip to New Zealand. When I returned, I went through Customs and Immigration at Los Angeles.  After having my passport stamped, etc., I started to leave the secured area, since all I had brought was one small pilot-sized suitcase and my handbag. One of the security people came over to me and we had this conversation:
 

Security Officer: ‘Can I help you?’
Me: ‘Oh, no, thanks. I’m all done the process – just leaving.’
Security Officer: ‘But you have to get your checked luggage from the carousel, and that has to go through security, too.’
Me: ‘Thanks – I don’t have any checked luggage.’
Security Officer Looking at my suitcase and handbag: ‘Are you sure? Because if you do, you’re going to have to get it and send it through security.’
Me: ‘No, this is all I have.’

 

The security officer was doing her job, and doing it courteously, but she must have wondered at a person who spends a week in another country and has so little luggage.

There are good reasons to be very careful about luggage. Don’t believe me? All you have to do is read some crime fiction. There are a lot of examples of luggage that turns out to contain all sorts of things.

For instance, in Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, Hercule Poirot is on board the famous Orient Express on a three-day trip through Europe. On the second night, Samuel Ratchett, one of the other passengers, is stabbed. At the request of Poirot’s friend M. Bouc, who is a director of the company that owns the train, he agrees to investigate. The idea is for him to find out who the killer is before the train reaches the next border, so that he can hand the murderer over to the police. At one point, it’s deemed appropriate to do a search of the passenger’s luggage, and it’s quite surprising what turns up in two particular suitcases…

In John Alexander Graham’s Something in the Air, Professor Jake Landau is on a plane from Boston to New York with his friend and attorney Martin Ross. They’ve been working through the details of Landau’s divorce from his wife, and both are tired just from that process. All of that’s forgotten when a bomb goes off in the plane. Six passengers are killed, including Ross. Landau survives, and decides to try to find out who killed his friend. The only problem is, he’s stymied right from the beginning by airline policy and FBI security regulations. But Landau persists, and finds out that the bombing is related to a powerful and far-reaching drugs ring. And how did the bomb get on the airplane? In a suitcase that’s later stolen by the bomber just before he is killed, too. As an aside, this novel was published in 1970, long before today’s luggage screening protocols. Crime writers who write contemporary crime novels would find it difficult to re-create that sort of scenario.

Megan Abbott’s historical novel Bury Me Deep is the story of Marion Seeley, whose doctor husband Everett has to leave the country when his cocaine habit costs him his medical license. He sees that his wife is set up in an apartment in Phoenix, with a clerical job at the prestigious Werden Clinic. At first, all goes well enough. Marion settles in and forms friendships with a Werden nurse, Louise Mercer, and Louise’s roommate Ginny Hoyt. Before she knows it, Marion is drawn into their world of parties, drugs, and dubious ‘friends.’ As she slips closer and closer to the edge, Marion gets more deeply involved in that world. It all leads to tragedy for those involved. Interestingly enough, this novel is loosely based on the 1933 case of Winnie Ruth Judd, who was accused of killing two of her friends. The bodies were later discovered in trunks that Judd took with her to Los Angeles after the murders…

In Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis’ The Boy in the Suitcase, we are introduced to Copenhagen Red Cross nurse Nina Borg. One day she gets a call from her friend Karin Kongsted. She wants Nina to go to the train station and pick up a suitcase that’s waiting in one of the lockers. She seems upset about the suitcase, but won’t tell Nina what’s wrong, nor why she needs the suitcase. Nina agrees to get the luggage and goes to the train station. To her shock, she finds that the suitcase contains a three-year-old boy. He’s drugged and dazed, but he is alive. Immediately she tries to reach Karin, but she can’t make contact. In the meantime, Sigita Ramoškienė, a young Lithuanian mother, faces every parent’s worst nightmare when her three-year-old son Mikas goes missing. The police aren’t very helpful; in fact, they suspect her of having something to do with Mikas’ disappearance. So she determines to find out on her own what happened to him. The trail leads her to Copenhagen, and it’s not long before we learn that the three-year-old boy that Nina Borg found is, in fact, Mikas. Now, each in her own way, Sigita and Nina work to find out who abducted Mikas and why. In the end, and after a brutal murder, they discover the truth.

And then there’s Elly Griffiths’ The Zig Zag Girl. It’s 1950, and magician Max Mephisto is on the circuit with other magicians, fortune-tellers, and other carnival people. He’s called in to help when the body of a young woman is found at Brighton’s Left Luggage Department. The body has been cut up in what DI Edgar Stephens thinks is a macabre re-enactment of one of Mehpisto’s illusions. So he’s hoping Mephisto will have some insight into who might be responsible for the murder.

Of course, luggage doesn’t always contain such horrible things as bodies and bombs. For instance, in Anthony Bidulka’s Aloha Candy Hearts, Saskatoon PI Russell Quant is visiting his partner Alex Canyon in Hawai’i. He’s at the airport, preparing for the return to Canada, when he meets an enigmatic stranger who turns out to be archivist Walter Angel. Angel slips a cryptic message, a lot like a treasure map, into Quant’s hand luggage before Quant boards his flight. Shortly afterwards, Angel is murdered. Quant follows up on the clue he was given, and connects the killing to some dark secrets right in his own Saskatchewan.

You see what I mean about luggage? You’ll want to be very careful about yours, and don’t leave it unattended…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Beatles’ Lady Madonna.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Agnete Friis, Anthony Bidulka, Elly Griffiths, John Alexander Graham, Lene Kaaberbøl, Megan Abbott

It’s No Good, There’s No Way Out*

CorneredIn Agatha Christie’s The Hollow, Hercule Poirot investigates the shooting death of Harley Street specialist Dr. John Christow, who was spending the weekend at the country home of Sir Henry and Lady Lucy Angkatell when he was killed. The case seems very clear-cut at first. As Christie fans will know, though, things aren’t exactly as they appear to be. At one point, Poirot is discussing the actions of one particular character. Here’s what he says:
 

‘Have you not seen a dog caught in a trap-it sets its teeth into anyone who touches it.’
 

He has a point. When people (and other animals) feel cornered, they often strike out. That instinct for self-preservation is very strong. Certainly the character to whom Poirot is referring does that; other crime-fictional characters do, too.

For instance, in Tony Hillerman’s The Ghostway, Jim Chee of the Navajo Tribal Police is assigned to find sixteen-year-old Margaret Billie Sosi, who has gone missing from the school she attends. Her disappearance turns out to be connected to the murder of a distant kinsman Albert Gorman. A Los Angeles Navajo, Gorman had moved to the Reservation not very long before he was killed. Chee tracks Sosi to Los Angeles, but she disappears again. When Chee learns what, exactly, links the missing teenager to the murder, he finds out the truth about both. As he does, we see the effect that feeling cornered has on Sosi. I can say without spoiling the novel that she’s not a ‘demon seed’ ‘baddie.’ But like anyone else, she has an instinct to stay alive.

That same instinct is woven into Walter Mosley’s A Red Death. In that story, Ezekiel ‘Easy’ Rawlins gets a threatening letter from IRS agent Reginald Lawrence. The letter claims that Rawlins owes thousands of dollars to the agency; if he doesn’t pay, he’ll be imprisoned. Rawlins knows that he can’t pay the debt, and prepares to go to jail. Then, a solution comes in the form of FBI agent Darrell Craxton. Craxton wants Rawlins to help bring down suspected communist Chaim Wentzler. In return, Craxton will make those tax problems go away. Seeing no other choice, Rawlins reluctantly agrees. As he gets to know Wentzler, he forms a friendship with the man and becomes less and less inclined to be a part of Craxton’s plans. Then, one of the other residents in Rawlins’ apartment building apparently commits suicide. And there are two other deaths, both clearly murders. Rawlins is innocent, but he was present at both crime scenes, so the LAPD have him in their sights. At the same time, he’s doing his best to resolve his dilemma about Chaim Wentzler. Feeling very much cornered, Rawlins does what he feels he has to do to deal with both issues.

In one plot thread of Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis’ Death of a Nightingale, Natasha Doroshenko flees the Ukraine with her daughter Katerina after the murder of Natasha’s husband Pavel. He was a controversial journalist whose stories had angered the wrong people. At first, Natasha thinks she and her daughter have found safety in Denmark. She even falls in love again with Michael Vestergaard. Then, everything changes. Natasha is imprisoned for attempting to murder her fiancé. During her time in police custody, she overhears a conversation that convinces her she hasn’t escaped danger from the Ukraine. She manages to elude the police and heads for Coal House Camp, a Red Cross facility where Katerina has been staying. Natasha’s goal is to retrieve her daughter and flee again. As she tries to do so, we see the effect of feeling cornered on the choices she makes and the things she does.

There are also examples of what people do when they feel cornered in Geoffrey McGeachin’s The Digger’s Rest Hotel. It’s 1947, and Melbourne cop Charlie Berlin has recently returned from harrowing service in World War II. He’s seconded to the town of Wodonga, where the local police are dealing with a series of robberies committed by a motorcycle gang. The most recent one has ended in serious injury, so there’s a lot of pressure to solve these crimes as quickly as possible. In the process of working this case, Berlin gets involved in another: the body of fifteen-year-old Jenny Lee has been found in an alley. At first, Berlin thinks that her death is connected with the robberies. But he learns that the motorcycle gang was not involved. Now he has to find out the truth about both cases. And I can say without spoiling the story that that sense of feeling cornered, with no way out, plays an important role.

It does in Honey Brown’s Through the Cracks, too. Fourteen-year-old Adam Vander has finally managed to escape his abusive father, Joe. But Adam’s been so kept away from the world that he’s completely unprepared for life ‘on the outside.’ This makes him extremely vulnerable. He finds a protector in Billy Benson, a young man who visits the house just as Adam’s preparing to make his escape. Billy takes Adam under his wing, as the saying goes, and helps him with basics like a place to stay, clothes and food. During the week they spend together, the two become friends. They also get mixed up in some very real danger that threatens both of them. As the story goes on, Adam and Billy have to face some very unsettling truths about themselves and their pasts. And throughout the novel, the suspense is built as both of them react to both the danger and those truths. In more than one place, that sense of being cornered plays an important role in what they do.

When people believe they’re trapped, the instinct to stay alive sometimes takes over, as it does when any animal senses that it’s cornered. And the impact of that feeling can make for a solid layer of tension in a novel. Which ones have stayed with you?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jeff Lynne’s No Way Out.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Agnete Friis, Geoffrey McGeachin, Honey Brown, Lene Kaaberbøl, Tony Hillerman, Walter Mosley

Got a New Wife, Got a New Life*

NewLifeThis is the time of year when a lot of people try to make changes in their lives. You know – ‘This is the year I’ll lose weight/quit smoking/find a partner/get rid of my partner/learn a language/get that great job, etc. .’ Sometimes people do get the chance to start all over, and it’s always interesting to see whether they really can make different lives.

Starting over is a very useful context for crime fiction.There’s always the possibility of the past coming back to haunt. There’s the challenge of trying to live a new life. And there’s all sorts of possibility for conflict as the character tries for a new beginning. It’s a flexible plot point too; the author can make it hopeful or bleak, light or dark and twisted. Perhaps that’s part of why we see so much of this plot point in crime fiction.

Agatha Christie uses the ‘fresh start’ plot point in several of her stories. It’s hard to discuss some of them without giving away spoilers, but here’s one example. In The Murder on the Links, Hercule Poirot gets a letter from Paul Renauld, a Canadian émigré to France. In the letter, Renauld says that his life is in danger, and begs Poirot to come to his aid. Poirot and Hastings travel to Merlinville-sur-Mer, where Renauld and his wife and son live. But by the time they get there, it’s too late: Renauld has been found murdered on the golf course that adjoins their property. Poirot works with the French authorities (and sometimes at cross-purposes with them!) to find out who the killer was. He discovers that Renauld wasn’t born in Canada. He moved there to start over completely. Later, he and his wife returned to France. Someone has found out about Renauld’s former life and that knowledge played a pivotal role in his murder.

Martin Edwards’ Lake District series features DCI Hannah Scarlett of the Cumbria Constabulary. She leads the Cold Case Review Team, and as we first learn in The Coffin Trail, she got that position after she became a ‘sacrificial lamb’ in another case. There were several mistakes made in an earlier investigation and since Scarlett was involved, it was decided to make as much of the problem as possible go away by moving her. The job is seen as a demotion – a dead-end position – but Scarlett determines to make the best of it. And as the series goes on, we see how she tries to do as much as she can with her new start. Oxford historian Daniel Kind, the other protagonist of this series, has also started over. A well-known ‘celebrity historian,’ he got tired of television and the limelight. So he’s bought a place in the Lakes, hoping to focus on his research and his writing. Kind’s expertise in history proves extremely helpful to Scarlett as she discovers local-history links to the ‘cold case’ murders she and her team solve.

Phillip ‘Poke’ Rafferty is an ex-pat American writer who ‘stars’ in one of Timothy Hallinan’s series. Rafferty is a ‘rough travel’ writer with a home base in Bangkok. He’s also quite good at finding people who don’t want to be found. So he’s a good choice when someone goes missing in Bangkok. Rafferty’s wife is Rose, a former bar girl who has made a new life for herself as the owner of an apartment cleaning company. All of her employees are also former bar girls. Rafferty loves his wife very much, and is happy to accept her exactly as she is. But Rose knows very well that it’s hard to leave the ‘bar girl’ life behind. After all, as she points out in A Nail Through the Heart, what happens when she and Rafferty happen to be out together and encounter one of Rose’s former clients? Still, the two of them work hard to put together a good life for themselves and for Miaow, a former street child Rafferty is in the process of adopting.

Eric Burdett’s Bangkok 8 introduces readers to Sonchai Jitplecheep, a member of the Royal Thai Police. For Sonchai, his career as a police officer is an important way of starting over. He and his best friend Pichai Apiradee were involved in a murder. According to the Buddhist tradition, this has badly damaged their karma, even though the victim was a drug dealer. The way to repair the damage, so they’ve been instructed, is to become police officers and try to work for the good of the community. In Bangkok 8, Pichai is tragically killed during the investigation of the murder of US Marine Walter Bradley. The strong desire to avenge his friend’s death is part of what drives Sonchai to go after Bradley’s (and Pichai’s) killer. He is also motivated by his commitment to using his new life to do good.

In Wendy James’ The Mistake, we meet Jodie Evans. Brought up on the proverbial ‘wrong side of the tracks,’ she seems in a way destined to live the same lower-class, economically disadvantaged life that her mother has had. But Jodie is both intelligent and driven. She is determined to have a new life for herself. Her ambition and brains are enough to get her a scholarship to the ‘right’ sort of school and eventually into the company of Angus Garrow. Angus is from a ‘blueblood’ family, so as you might expect, his mother is not happy about his relationship with Jodie. But the two marry and over the years, Jodie becomes a part of the upper-class circles within which Angus has always moved. All seems well until Jodie’s past comes back to haunt her. One day her daughter Hannah is rushed to the same Sydney hospital where Jodie gave birth years earlier to a daughter Elsa Mary. No-one knows about that child – not even Angus. But a nurse at the hospital remembers Jodie and asks about the baby. Jodie says that she gave Elsa Mary up for adoption; but when the nurse checks into the matter, she finds that there are no records of the adoption. So she begins to ask questions. Those questions soon become public property and before long, Jodie is the focus of a scandal. What happened to the baby? If she’s alive, where is she? If not, did Jodie have something to do with it? As Jodie, Angus and their children face the accusations, it’s clear that sometimes, no matter how much you try to make another start, it’s not as easy as it seems…

That’s certainly what Natasha Doroshenko finds in Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis’ Death of a Nightingale. She has fled her home in the Ukraine to escape the thugs who killed her journalist husband Pavel and threatened her life and that of her daughter Katerina. At first, it seems that Denmark, where they’ve ended up, will be a safe haven for them. In fact, Natasha even falls in love again and becomes engaged to Michael Vestergaard. But everything changes when Natasha is imprisoned for the attempted murder of her fiancé. One day she happens to overhear a conversation that convinces her that her past in the Ukraine has caught up with her. She manages to escape police custody and goes to Coal House Camp, a Red Cross facility where Katerina has been staying. Her plan is to get Katerina and go away somewhere where they can start over again. But the trip to Coal House Camp is only the beginning of real danger for her, her daughter, and Red Cross nurse Nina Borg.

People often do want to make a fresh start and do things differently this time. And sometimes it’s very successful. But it doesn’t always work out that way. These are only a few examples (I know, I know, fans of Mickey Spillane’s The Big Kill). Over to you.
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Scenes From an Italian Restaurant. I know I’ve used that song before. You’re welcome. 😉

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Agnete Friis, John Burdett, Lene Lene Kaaberbøl, Martin Edwards, Mickey Spillane, Timothy Hallinan, Wendy James