Category Archives: Alan Orloff

Speak Your Mind*

Political DissentEven the best-intentioned people don’t always agree on the choices their countries should make. There are a lot of issues, too, that don’t have easy solutions. That’s part of the reason for which there is political dissent. That dissent takes different forms, depending on the kind of government that’s in power, and the issue. But whatever form it takes, political dissent and debate can move a society forward when it’s productive.  That aspect of it is essential. And of course, political dissent can make for a very effective context for crime fiction; after all, there’s plenty of conflict and tension to be had in political debates and dissent.

In Ngaio Marsh’s The Nursing Home Murder, Sir Derek O’Callaghan has written an Anarchy Bill, specifically directed against leftist revolutionaries and their activities. It’s not a settled matter whether the Bill will be accepted, and it’s interesting to consider the question of whether such legislation squelches freedom of expression or keeps society safer. One day during a speech in the House, Sir Derek collapses due to a ruptured appendix and is rushed to a nearby nursing home run by his longtime physician Sir John Phillips. He survives the surgery, but dies later of what turns out to be an overdose of hyoscine. Chief Detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn and Inspector Fox investigate and soon determine that this death was not accidental. As they sift through the evidence and consider all the possibilities, they certainly can’t ignore the fact that the victim had written a controversial bill…

Agatha Christie’s short story The Kidnapped Prime Minister begins when Hercule Poirot gets a visit from the Leader of the House of Commons and a member of the War Cabinet. Prime Minister David MacAdam was on his way to Paris to make an important speech when he was apparently abducted. At this time, World War II is imminent, and there’s a real question as to what Britain’s stance out to be. You’ll know from your history that there was a debate between those who wanted to avoid war, even if it meant appeasement, and those who wanted to oppose Hitler, although it would mean war. MacAdam’s speech is crucial in this debate. He intends a ‘rally the troops’ speech in the hope of cementing support for his anti-Hitler stance. But plenty of his political opponents want to move the country in the other direction. Poirot and Captain Hastings get to work right away; in the end, they find out exactly what happened to MacAdam.

Sulari Gentill’s A Few Right Thinking Men is set against the backdrop of the Great Depression. Millions of people are out of work, and times are desperate. The question of what to do is not an easy one, and there’s a lot of debate. There’s also a lot of interest in political factions that promise solutions. Rowland ‘Rowly’ Sinclair and his brother Wilfred are members of a wealthy ‘blueblood’ New South Wales family, so they haven’t personally suffered as a result of the Depression. But they’re certainly aware of it. When their uncle is murdered, Rowly gets involved in the political dissent about what Australia’s future should be. He comes to suspect that an ultra-Right group called The New Guard might be responsible for his uncle’s death. This group, led by Colonel Eric Campbell, believes that Australia will do best with a government run by ‘right thinking men’ who maintain traditional ways of life and the current class order. Rowly infiltrates this group, hoping to find out who, exactly, committed the murder. This puts him in real danger from the Left (among which group he has friends), who will consider him a traitor if they find out he’s joined the New Guard. At the same time as he’s trying to find out who killed his uncle, Rowly also has to negotiate the various political factions who want to further their causes.

Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn Shreve is a political scientist and, before retiring, an academician. So she’s no stranger to political debate, and steps into the political fray more than once in the series. She’s frequently involved in Saskatchewan (and national) politics. In fact, in one story arc in this series, she becomes a panelist on a NationTV show called Canada Today. The show features debate on current issues, and includes commentators from across the political spectrum. It figures in a few novels in this series.

Alan Orloff’s Deadly Campaign has as its backdrop Edward Wong’s campaign for a seat in the U.S. Congress. His opponent in the upcoming election will be the incumbent, Sanford Korbell. One evening, a group of thugs disrupts a celebration event at a restaurant owned by one of Wong’s uncles, Thomas Lee. Rather than call in the police, Lee asks his friend Channing Hayes, co-owner of a nearby comedy club, to ask a few questions and find out if anyone local is responsible. When other members of Wong’s family find out about this, they warn Hayes to leave the matter alone. But Lee is determined to find out what happened, and Hayes feels he has little choice to go along. One distinct possibility is that Korbell arranged the attack at the celebration, so Hayes visits Korbell’s headquarters as a part of his search for the truth, and we learn a bit about his political positions as opposed to Wong’s. I can say without spoiling the story that the answer to what is right for Northern Virginia (which is where the novel takes place) isn’t the reason for the attack, or for the murders that take place later in the novel. But it does form an interesting thread of tension in the novel.

And then there’s Ian Rankin’s Saints of the Shadow Bible, which takes place during the debate leading up to the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence. Rebus fans will know that he’s not at all a political animal. In fact, in one funny scene, he turns off his car radio during a broadcast about the Yes/No debate, preferring to listen to a CD of the band Spooky Tooth. But the debate is woven throughout the story. In one plot thread, for instance, Justice Minister Patrick McCusky, ‘the face of the Yes movement,’ faces embarrassment as his son may have been responsible for a car crash from which he later fled. Matters get worse when the Justice Minister is found dead, apparently as the result of a housebreaking gone wrong. The ‘No’ campaign is facing its own problems. Prominent business leader and ‘No’ advocate Stefan Gilmour could very well have been involved in obstructing a murder investigation against Billy Saunders. That case is more than thirty years old, but it could still come back to haunt Gilmour. It will if internal affairs copper Malcolm Fox has his way. He wants to re-open that case, and he won’t lose any sleep if Rebus, who was a young constable at the time, gets caught in the net. The debate about independence certainly isn’t Rebus’ focus, but it forms a fascinating backdrop to the novel.

Political debate and dissent aren’t always pleasant. In fact, they can be polemical. But that clash of ideas can be the basis from which we move forward.


On Another Note…

I’d like to wish a Happy Canada Day to all Canadians. Erm – sorry if there’s extra noise from down here. We’re gearing up for a major election next year, and the rhetoric/polemic/name-calling/mudslinging debate has already started…



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


Filed under Adrian Hyland, Agatha Christie, Alan Orloff, Gail Bowen, Ngaio Marsh, Sulari Gentill

I’m Having My Troubles, Baby, and They’re All Too Much For Me*

Hiding AwayAs we all know, there are times in life when things get to be a bit much. It’s hard enough to handle one major stressor, let alone a group of them. It’s all enough to make even the strongest among us want to hide under a proverbial (or even real) blankie for a while. Of course our rational minds tell us that we have to get through life’s problems. At the same time, it’s a very human reaction (and many people argue, a healthy one) to back away and go and hide when life gets too hard. Eventually, most of us come out to play again once we’ve had that time.

Since crime fiction is full of, well, crime, it’s not surprising that we see a lot of characters who need to go and hide for a bit. It’s all through the genre, and it’s realistic if you think about it. Characters who don’t sometimes need to hide away may not seem as human as those who do. Here are a few examples that came to my mind.

In Agatha Christie’s Sad Cypress, Maidensford’s local GP Peter Lord presents Hercule Poirot with a difficult case. Lord is smitten with Elinor Carlisle, who’s recently inherited quite a lot of money, to say nothing of the family estate Hunterbury, from her aunt, Laura Welman. But the wealth isn’t doing her much good now, as she stands accused of murder. The allegation is that she poisoned Mary Gerrard, the lodgekeeper’s daughter, because Mary was her romantic rival. Elinor has a financial motive as well since Aunt Laura was very fond of Mary and might easily have willed everything to her. Lord wants Poirot to clear Elinor’s name, and Poirot agrees to at least look into the matter. But even though he finds out the truth about Mary Gerrard’s murder, he can’t spare Elinor the stress and difficulty of being imprisoned and on trial for murder. When the whole thing’s over, the one thing Elinor wants more than anything else is to get away – to go and hide. It’s a very natural reaction.

Alan Orloff’s Channing Hayes is a comedian and part owner of The Last Laff, a comedy club in Northern Virginia. In Killer Routine, we learn that Hayes recently survived a terrible car accident that claimed the life of his fiancée Lauren Dempsey. Hayes himself was left with permanent scarring and and a withered left hand. So not only is he dealing with the grief and guilt he feels about Lauren’s death, but he is also coping with his injuries and his altered appearance. He doesn’t drown himself in alcohol or float away on drugs, but he does need some time to ‘step back.’ So as the novel begins, Hayes spends a lot of time at home, avoiding people when he can; and he hasn’t done a standup routine since before the accident. Then everything changes. Lauren’s sister Heather (who also does comedy) goes missing just before her scheduled appearance at The Last Laff. At first it’s put down to ‘cold feet,’ and everyone thinks she’ll turn up in a few days. But when she doesn’t, Hayes starts asking questions. His search for the truth pits him against Heather’s dangerous ex-boyfriend, her difficult parents, and several other people who do not want her to be found. Bit by bit, Hayes returns to his professional life, but not before hiding under the covers for a while.

Adrian Hyland’s Emily Tempest is faced with some terrible stress in Gunshot Road. She’s a brand-new Aboriginal Community Police Officer (ACPO) who’s working under the temporary command of Bruce Cockburn. The two get off to a very rocky start when their team is sent to Green Swamp Well to investigate a murder. Former prospector Albert ‘Doc’ Ozolins has been killed, very likely as the result of a drunken quarrel. But Tempest suspects something more might be going on. So despite Cockburn’s orders to wrap the case up and move on, Tempest insists on looking into the matter more deeply. This of course gets her into serious trouble with her boss. It also runs her up against a very dangerous enemy. After one particularly awful incident, she can’t take much more, and ends up hiding away for a bit with her lover Jojo Kelly and her best friend Hazel Flinders. Tempest isn’t one to avoid life’s troubles; she’s a strong person. But even she needs to ‘duck under the covers’ sometimes.

One of Anthony Bidulka’s series features Saskatoon PI Russell Quant. Like most of us, Quant has a network of friends, including former supermodel Jared Lowe. Lowe’s partner is Quant’s mentor Anthony Gatt, and Quant depends a great deal on their friendship. In one way or another, Lowe gets involved in several of Quant’s investigations without real lasting effects. But everything changes in Stain of the Berry. As a result of the events in that story, Lowe has to re-think an awful lot. Those events also mean that Lowe needs to take some time away from his ‘regular’ life and proverbially hide under the blanket. He eventually pops his head out and begins to take part in life again, but he needs that time to hide away. So does Quant himself a little later in the series. It’s a natural response when life just gets to be too much.

We also see this in Kathryn Fox’s Dr. Anya Crichton/DS Kate Farrer series. Crichton and Farrer are good friends who co-operate on their different cases. Some of those cases are extremely stressful and even traumatic, and they take their toll. For instance, in Malicious Intent, certain evidence links the deaths of several very different kinds of women. At first those deaths seem to be either accidents or suicide, but Crichton and Farrer begin to suspect otherwise. The truth turns out to be much more complex and dangerous than it seems on the surface, and the case proves traumatic. In fact, after the events in the novel, Farrer takes a four-month leave from her job. She needs that time to hide away, so to speak, and recover before she resumes her duties in Skin and Bones.

And then there’s Ivy Pochoda’s Visitation Street. One very warm night, teenagers Valerie ‘Val’ Merino and June Giatto take a ride in a rubber raft on the bay near their homes in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn. Early the next morning, local teacher and musician Jonathan Sprouse discovers Val, wounded but alive. June has disappeared. The loss of her friend and the events that led to it are all extremely stressful and traumatic for Val. She can’t handle the way people look at her, the outpouring of concern for June, and her own sense of guilt that she has survived and June has gone missing. So she does her share of ‘hiding under the blankie.’ She confides in no-one, saying as little as she can get away with to make people leave her alone. It’s a very human reaction, especially considering that Val is still very young. By the novel’s end, she’s starting to come to grips with what happened, but she still has plenty of healing to do.

And that’s the thing about getting knocked down by life’s blows. Too much stress isn’t good for us, and neither is trauma. So it’s only natural that when those things happen, we sometimes go into hiding and curl up under the covers. So the next time you need to go hide under the covers, don’t feel bad. You have plenty of company. These are just a few examples of the way this plays out in crime fiction. Your turn.

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s You Picked a Real Bad Time.


Filed under Adrian Hyland, Agatha Christie, Alan Orloff, Anthony Bidulka, Ivy Pochoda, Kathryn Fox

Why Try to Hide It?*

DisguisingMurderorNotMost murderers, real or fictional, don’t want to be caught. So, they take various means to ensure that doesn’t happen. Sometimes for instance, a murderer will construct a well-crafted alibi. Other times, a murderer will frame someone else for the crime. There are many, many crime novels where that happens. I’ll bet you can think of at least as many as I ever could.

But there are cases where the murderer ‘disguises’ a death so that it looks like a natural or accidental death, or like a suicide. Just to give one example, the murderer in Angela Savage’s The Dying Beach disguises the murder of a tour guide as an accidental drowning. And it’s very hard to prove, at least at first, that it wasn’t. And the killer in Alan Orloff’s Diamonds For the Dead covers up a murder to look like an accidental fall down a flight of stairs. And then there’s the murder of a wealthy patriarch in Agatha Christie’s Dead Man’s Mirror that’s made up to look like suicide.

How often does that really happen in crime fiction? You’d think quite a lot, since for most murderers, it’s important not to be caught. I decided to take a look at that question. I chose 213 fictional murders from among my own books. Then I divided them into two groups: murders that are not diguised (i.e. It’s clear immediately that this is a murder) and murders that are disguised (i.e. The murder looks very much like a suicide, an accident or death by natural causes until the sleuth looks more deeply). Here’s what I found.


Disguised v Undisguised Murders

As you can see, the vast majority of the murders in my data set (81%) are not disguised. Admittedly, these are books I have personally read. They do not include the myriad books I’ve not read, so this is a limited data set. That said though, it seems pretty clear that a lot of fictional murderers don’t disguise their handiwork.

Still it is interesting to see just how a murder might be covered up. How do fictional killers do that? Here are the results I got when I looked more closely at those 41 ‘disguised’ murders.


Disguises Used For Murders

Most of them (63%) were made to look like accidents. And that’s logical when you think about it. It’s easier to fake an accident than to fake a suicide or a natural death (‘though of course, that does happen).

One question that occurred to me was: why not disguise a murder to look like something else? One reason for that may be that a lot of murders are not pre-planned; they are ‘heat of the moment’ killings, or at least deaths that the killer hadn’t intended to commit. In cases like that, the murderer might not think ahead to disguise the crime. I wondered whether that might be the case, so I examined those 172 undisguised fictional murders. Here’s what I found.


Planned vs Unplanned Murders

It’s clear that, at least among the fictional murders I looked at, most of them (a full 82%) were pre-planned, at least in the sense that the murderer starts out with the intention to kill the victim. I understand that there are a lot of legal shadings in any discussion of what counts as an intentional killing.

So, among these fictional murders, we can’t really argue that they’re ‘heat of the moment’ killings where the criminal didn’t think ahead to disguise the murder. So why are so many undisguised? In some cases, it’s because the killer wants the death to be obvious, as a warning to others. There are also some situations where the killer has psychological reasons for making the murder(s) obvious. And there are some as well in which the fact of an obvious murder doesn’t necessarily point to a particular person as the culprit. That’s what happens, for instance, in Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, where the victim is stabbed – a clear case of murder – but that fact doesn’t tell the police or Hercule Poirot (at least at first) who committed the crime.

So what can one conclude from all of this? One thing I’ve concluded is that, for a variety of reasons, fictional murderers very often don’t take pains to disguise what they’ve done. At least the ones I looked at here don’t. Another is that in many cases, one reason for that is that an obviously murdered victim doesn’t automatically incriminate one specific person. Another is that the killer has particular reasons for not trying to cover up a murder as something else.

What’s your view on all of this? Do you see a similar pattern in the crime fiction you read? If you’re a crime writer, does your killer disguise the murder(s)? If not, how does your killer try to avoid getting caught?

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Fleetwood Mac’s My Little Demon.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Alan Orloff, Angela Savage

I Want to be Elected*

VotingWhen many people think of elections and politics, they think of national-level elections. And that makes sense, since presidents and prime ministers have a great deal of power, and those elections get a lot of press. But it’s often the local and state/province/department – level elections that have the most impact on our day-to-day lives. For example, when you apply for a permit to build a house or develop some land, you generally don’t do so at the national level. So smaller elections can be very important.

They can stir up real passion, too, and the buildup of tension and excitement can be an interesting backdrop for a crime story. An election can also serve as an interesting sub-plot, even if it’s not the most important plot thread of a story.

In Gail Bowen’s Deadly Appearances, up-and-coming Saskatchewan politician Androu ‘Andy’ Boychuk is preparing to make a very important speech at a local picnic/barbecue. He’s widely seen as his party’s next leader, so everyone wants to hear what he has to say. As he’s beginning his speech, though, he takes a sip of water and then suddenly dies of what turns out to be poison. One of his campaign workers and speechwriters is political scientist and academician Joanne Kilbourn. She’s also a personal friend. When Boychuk dies, she decides to deal with her grief by writing a biography of him. The more she learns about Andy Boychuk’s life, the more she sees that there are sides to him that no-one knew. That search for the truth also leads Kilbourn to the truth about who killed Boychuk and why – and into real danger for herself.

We see the power of local politics too in Peter Temple’s Bad Debts. Danny McKillop spent eight years in prison for the drink driving murder of Melbourne citizens’ rights activist Anne Jeppeson. Now he’s been released, and he is desperate to contact the attorney who represented him Jack Irish. But before Irish can meet up with his former client, McKillop is murdered. Irish feels guilty already because he didn’t do a good job of defending McKillop in the first place. So he decides to look into the murder. He soon discovers that the victim was most likely framed for the killing of Anne Jeppeson. If that’s the case, then not only is the killer still free, but that person also probably murdered McKillop. As Irish and journalist Linda Hillier get closer to the truth, they discover that it’s all related to dirty politics, greed and intrigue.

Alan Orloff’s Deadly Campaign features a U.S. Congressional campaign. Edward Wong has just won the Democratic primary election, and will soon be preparing to face his Republican opponent in the larger general election. One night there’s a celebration event at the Northern Virginia restaurant owned by Wong’s uncle Thomas Lee. During the evening, a group of thugs bursts in and breaks up the party, using baseball bats to cause damage to the restaurant. Wong’s family does not want the police involved, but his uncle sees things differently. Lee asks his friend Channing Hayes, who co-owns a nearby comedy club, to ask around and see if he can find out who’s responsible for the attack, before anyone gets hurt or worse. Hayes reluctantly agrees. It’s not long though before the Wong family finds out that Lee and Hayes have been looking into what happened. The family leaders make it very clear to both that their involvement is not necessary; the matter is settled and there is no need to ask any more questions. They also make some not-very-veiled threats about the consequences if either man continues to investigate. Lee though is determined to find out the truth and Hayes feels no choice but to continue. Besides, he’s not exactly enamoured of the Wong family. And what the two find is that the attack is related to politics, greed and power-grabbing. And so are some murders that also occur in the novel…

We see an example of more local politics in Shelly Reuben’s The Boys of Sabbath Street. Artemus Ackerman is mayor of the small city of Calendar. A former magician, he wants to convert an old local theatre building into a museum of magic. To do that, he’ll need funding and the support of city leaders. He thinks he may be getting everything arranged when there’s a fire on the same street as the building. Then there’s another. And another. It’s soon obvious that there’s an arsonist at work. If the arsonist isn’t caught, there won’t be public support for this new museum. What’s more, people will likely lose their confidence in their mayor. Ackerman’s smart enough to know this, so he asks his publicist/assistant Maggie Wakeling to find out what she can. She works with Fire Marshal George Copeland to get to the bottom of this nightmare before anyone is killed.

In Elizabeth Spann Craig’s Pretty is as Pretty Dies, retired schoolteacher Myrtle Clover discovers the body of malicious real estate developer Parke Stoddard in a local church. Myrtle’s son Red, who’s the local police chief, doesn’t want his mother involved. In fact, he’d much rather her do things other retired people do – play Bingo, go to church meetings, and so on. But Myrtle is by no means ready to be ‘put out to pasture.’ To show that she’s not going to be pushed aside, she decides to investigate. The victim made more than her share of enemies in her relatively short time in the small town of Bradley, North Carolina, so there are plenty of suspects. One of them is City Councilman Benton Chambers, whom the victim was blackmailing. As Myrtle discovers, Chambers is not the ‘family man’ and ‘man of the people’ that he would have his constituents believe he is. So one very good possible motive for murder here is political.

One of the funniest commentaries on local politics (at least I find it funny) is in Craig Johnson’s The Cold Dish, the first in his series featuring Absaroka County, Wyoming Sheriff Walt Longmire. In this novel, Longmire and his team investigate the murders of two young men who are connected with a vicious gang-rape two years earlier. Longmire isn’t what you’d call a political animal, although he does know the value of showing up at community events and so on. He’d rather just do his job. Still, he understands that he has his job because of people’s votes. At one point in the murder investigation, one of the crime scene investigators says this to Longmire:

‘You blow one homicide, it looks like a mistake. You blow two, it starts looking like negligence. Or worse yet, stupidity.’


Here’s how Longmire answers.

‘I thought I’d use that on the bumper stickers in the next election, VOTE LONGMIRE, HE’S STUPID.’


I wonder if that slogan would be successful… ;-)

It’s not just national-level politics that can get downright dirty. Local and state/provincial/department politics can be dangerous too.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Alice Cooper’s Elected.


Filed under Alan Orloff, Craig Johnson, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Gail Bowen, Peter Temple, Shelly Reuben

I Must Be Strong and Carry On*

Funeral CustomsPeople who die usually leave behind friends, colleagues and loved ones who need to go through the process of grieving. And for a lot of people, that process involves a funeral or memorial service. Many people find that a ritual service helps them accept the death and begin the difficult process of letting go. And each culture has its own way of letting go of those who’ve died. Since death is so much a part of crime fiction, it’s no surprise at all that we see many examples of funerals, memorial services and so on in the genre. There’s only space in this one post for a few examples, but I’m sure you can think of more than I could, anyway.

Agatha Christie’s After the Funeral (AKA Funerals Are Fatal) starts with the funeral of patriarch Richard Abernethie. As is the custom at that time and in that place, the family members gather at the Abernethie home Enderby after the service. Among the mourners is the family lawyer Mr. Entwhistle, who’s been through this before with other clients. He knows the ritual very well and at the expected time, he informs the family of the terms of Abernethie’s will. At this gathering, Abernethie’s younger sister Cora Lansquenet says that he was murdered. At first, everyone hushes her up and even she tells the group to pay no attention to her. But secretly everyone wonders whether she was right. When she herself is murdered the next day, it seems clear that she was. Mr. Entwhistle asks Hercule Poirot to look into the matter, and Poirot agrees. In the end he finds out the truth about both Abernethie’s death and that of his sister. It’s interesting to see how people’s beliefs about what is ‘the proper thing to do’ at funerals comes into play at the beginning of the novel even though Christie doesn’t depict the service itself.

In Arthur Upfield’s Death of a Swagman, Queensland Police Inspector Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte visits the small town of Merino to investigate the murder of stockman George Kendall, whose body was found in an isolated hut. He’s just arrived when one of the town’s most respected citizens Ted Bennett dies of a heart attack. Bony’s in the process of looking into the Kendall case when there’s another grisly discovery. Transient worker John Way’s body is found in the same hut, and it seems he committed suicide. Bony doesn’t think that’s true though, and certain aspects of the two deaths seem to connect them. It turns out that Bony’s right, and in the end he finds out what really happened to both men, and how it’s connected to the death of Ted Bennett. On the day of Bennett’s funeral, a storm threatens, and it’s interesting to see how everyone rushes to make sure all of the decencies are observed before the storm hits.

Burial customs play an important role in Tony Hillerman’s The Ghostway. In that novel, Navajo Tribal Police Sergeant Jim Chee investigates the disappearance of sixteen-year-old Margaret Billy Sosi, who went missing from the school she attends. Chee believes that this case is related to another case he’s investigating, the disappearance and later murder of Albert Gorman. Gorman was a Los Angeles Navajo who’d moved to the Reservation. Chee is right that there’s a connection, and the trail leads him to Los Angeles, where he finds out important things about Gorman’s history. He also finds out the truth about why Gorman’s been killed. At one point in the novel Chee goes to the home of one of Gorman’s kinsmen where he believes Gorman may have been hiding out. That’s when he discovers that Gorman’s dead. The body is prepared in the traditional Navajo way, but there are just a few things about that preparation that aren’t consistent with tradition. That’s what begins to put Chee on the right path. This novel also discusses Navajo beliefs about the dead and about rituals used by those who come in contact with the dead.

One of the story arcs in Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn series concerns the death of Kilbourn’s first husband Ian. He was a rising politician who was murdered one night when he stopped to help a young couple whose car wasn’t working. When he refused to take them to a party, the young man, Kevin Tarpley, murdered him. Tarpley was convicted and imprisoned for the crime. In A Colder Kind of Death, Tarpley is shot while he’s exercising in the prison yard. Then his wife Maureen, who was with him on the night of Ian Kilbourn’s murder, is also killed. Now suspicion falls on Kilbourn. It’s soon shown that she had nothing to do with the killings, but she still wants to deal with the grief that that this experience brings up. Part of the way she does that is by looking at old footage of her husband’s funeral. That process helps both her and her son Angus, who is also dealing with his father’s murder. It’s not vital to the case, but it’s interesting to see how each of them reacts to the footage, and what each remembers about the funeral.

Alan Orloff’s Diamonds For the Dead is the story of the death of Abe Handleman, who had a fatal fall down a flight of stairs. His son Josh returns to the family home in Northern Virginia to arrange his father’s funeral. That’s when he discovers that his father had a cache of very valuable diamonds – and they’re missing. What’s more, his father’s best friend Lev Yurishenko tells Josh that his father didn’t die accidentally, but was murdered. At first Josh doesn’t want to believe it, but the missing diamonds seem to support that theory. So he begins to ask some questions. He finds out that there was more to his father than he knew. He also finds out the truth about his father’s death. As a part of this novel, we see the traditional Jewish custom of burial as soon as possible after the death. We also see the custom of sitting shiva – a week-long period of mourning that’s observed in traditional Jewish homes.

Police sometimes attend funerals and memorial services of murder victims, particularly if they believe they can get some insight into who the killer might be. That’s what happens for instance in Jane Casey’s The Burning. DC Maeve Kerrigan and her colleagues at the Met are investigating a series of killings committed by a murderer who tries to destroy his victims’ bodies by fire. When the body of Rebecca Haworth is discovered, it looks at first as though she may be the so-called Burning Man’s latest victim. But little pieces of evidence suggest otherwise. Partly to follow up on that possibility, Kerrigan is asked to focus on the Haworth case. She attends Haworth’s funeral and in one moving scene, she gets the chance to speak to the victim’s parents. She knows it’s the worst possible time to ask them any questions, but she also wants to solve the case as quickly as possible. In the end, something she sees at the funeral gathering helps Kerrigan to put some of the pieces together.

Funeral and memorial rites often help people let go and we see that in Timothy Hallinan’s A Nail Through the Heart. American ex-pat Philip ‘Poke’ Rafferty is a Bangkok-based travel writer who has a reputation for being able to find people and solve problems. So Australian Clarissa Ulrich seeks him out when she goes in search of her Uncle Claus. The two were close when she was growing up, but she hasn’t heard from him and she’s worried for him. Rafferty agrees to ask questions and is soon drawn into an ugly case of murder, awful hidden secrets and more. One murder in particular hits Rafferty very hard. His wife Rose, who’s a former bar girl, and his foster daughter Miaow, who’s a former street child, both understand that this is tearing Rafferty apart, and will only get worse. They are also products of the Thai culture, and have a set of culturally-based beliefs about death and about letting go. With their help, Rafferty goes through a particular ritual, and it’s clear that it has a cleansing effect on him.

We see a similar effect in Angela Savage’s Behind the Night Bazaar. PI Jayne Keeney is an ex-pat Australian who lives and works in Bangkok. She goes north to Chiang Mai to visit her friend Didier ‘Didi’ de Montpasse. During her visit, Didi’s partner Nou is murdered. The official police theory is that Didi is responsible and one night he is killed in what police say was an incident of violently resisting arrest. Keeney doesn’t believe that though. She thinks the police are covering up the real reason for both killings and she begins to ask questions. Her search leads her to the Thai sex trade, human trafficking and corruption. In the end she finds out the truth about these deaths and she’s able to officially have her friend’s name cleared. At the very end of the book, she finds her own way to ritually let go of Didi in a poignant memorial scene.

Funerals and memorial services are woven into crime fiction partly because in real life, they often help people start the healing process. Of course they can also be useful for detectives. And that’s not to mention the many times that funerals are used to cover up illegal activities (there’s an interesting case of that in Geoffrey McGeachin’s Blackwattle Creek). They are deeply rooted in our various cultures. I’ve only had space for a few instances from the genre. Your turn.



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Eric Clapton and Will Jennings’ Tears in Heaven.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Alan Orloff, Angela Savage, Arthur Upfield, Gail Bowen, Geoffrey McGeachin, Jane Casey, Timothy Hallinan, Tony Hillerman