Category Archives: Alison Gordon

And All My Experiences Ride With Me*

As this is posted, it would have been Laura Ingalls Wilder’s 151st birthday. Millions of people (myself included) grew up reading her stories of life on the American prairie (remember those great Garth Williams illustrations?). As you’ll know, the ‘Little House’ books are semi-autobiographical. In fact, those who are interested can visit the ‘little town on the pairie,’ De Smet, South Dakota, and the Laura Ingalls Wilder home in Mansfield, Missouri, where she lived for the last 60 years of her life. I’ve done both trips, and they’re rich experiences.

But Wilder is by no means the only author to be inspired by personal experiences. In fact, my guess is that nearly every author draws at least a little inspiration from real-life experiences. I know I do. A story may not be the direct retelling of an event, or description of a person. But things that happen to a writer do have a way of coming out in that writer’s work.

For example, Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express is the story of the killing of an American businessman named Samuel Ratchett. He’s on his way across Europe on the world-famous Orient Express train, a journey of three days. On the second night, he is stabbed in his compartment. Hercule Poirot is on the train, on his way to London, and is prevailed upon to find Ratchett’s killer. The trip, the murder investigation, and, as it turns out, the murder itself, are all complicated by a major snowstorm. The train ends up being snowbound and is stranded for quite a while until the tracks can be cleared. It’s said that Christie herself was once snowbound on a train (although not trapped with a murderer, or for as long a time as the story depicts). That experience was a part of the inspiration for this novel.

In The Lincoln Lawyer, Michael Connelly introduces Los Angeles attorney Mickey Haller. Among other things, he is half-brother to one of Connelly’s other main protagonists, Los Angeles police detective Harry Bosch. In fact, as fans of Connelly’s work can tell you, the two men work together in a few of Connelly’s novels. Haller doesn’t have a conventional office. He does most of his legal business in the back of his Lincoln. If you know anything about Los Angeles traffic, you’ll know why it makes sense for him to have an ‘office on wheels.’ Connelly has said that he was inspired for Haller’s character in part by a chance meeting at a baseball game. He happened to be sitting near a lawyer who said that he works mostly out of his car. That was enough to intrigue Connelly, and the end result was Haller. Of course, that attorney and Haller are quite different people, I’d guess. But that one interesting aspect found its way into Connelly’s work.

In the opening scene of Val McDermid’s The Vanishing Point, Stephanie Harker is escorting five-year-old Jimmy Higgins through Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. They’re just going through the security procedure when they’re separated. Jimmy’s passed through security; Stephanie’s delayed. By the time she’s through, Jimmy’s been abducted by someone in a Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) uniform. Here is how McDermid explains the inspiration for that part of the novel:
 

‘‘I was travelling with my son when he was about six,’ she says. ‘I’ve got replacement knees so I set off the detectors, and they literally put you in a box. While I was there, my boy was standing by the luggage belt waiting for our bags to come through and I thought that someone could just take him by the hand and walk away with him.’’
 

Thankfully, McDermid’s son was safe. But that experience played an important role in the novel.

Alison Gordon’s series features Kate Henry, a sportswriter for the Toronto Planet. Her particular interest and specialty is baseball, so she travels with the American League (AL) Toronto Titans when they go to their ‘away’ games, and attends all of their ‘at home’ games, too. Henry’s experiences as a sportswriter are reflective of Gordon’s own background. Gordon was a sportswriter for the Toronto Star, and the first woman to cover a Major League Baseball team (beginning with the Toronto Blue Jays). She carried those experiences into her fiction writing. While her fictional sleuth doesn’t have to contend with as many barriers as Gordon did, they still have plenty in common.

Some authors are inspired by major events, and for crime writers, that often means major crimes. That was the case with Truman Capote. In 1959, Kansas farmer Herb Clutter, his wife, Bonnie Mae, and his children, Nancy Mae and Kenyon, were murdered in their home. Richard Hickock and Perry Smith were arrested, tried, and convicted of the crime. Apparently, they’d been in prison before these murders, and a fellow inmate had told them that Clutter kept a lot of money at the farm. It wasn’t true, but they believed what the inmate said, and committed four murders because of it. Capote took those events and created a fictional account, In Cold Blood, that told the story of the killers’ backgrounds, the events leading up to the murders, and more.

And that’s the thing about authors. Even when they write fiction, their own lives and experiences impact what they write and how they write. I’m not sure it could be otherwise.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Bouncing Souls’ Night Train.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alison Gordon, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Michael Connelly, Truman Capote, Val McDermid

I Knew I Needed Representation*

When you think of famous film stars, athletes, authors, and so on, you probably don’t think of their agents. But the fact is, an agent can be a very powerful person. Many of the best-known publishers won’t even consider an author who doesn’t have an agent (trust me). And if a sports team wants a certain player, that team has to work the details out with the player’s agent. The same thing goes for a producer or director who wants a certain star in a film or stage performance.

Agents are an important part of life for certain professions, so it’s little wonder we see them in crime fiction, too. And, since there are all sorts of agents, and they play different roles, there’s a lot of flexibility when it comes to plots, character types, and so on. They can make effective sleuths, suspects, sources of information, and even murderers.

In Agatha Christie’s The Murder on the Links, Hercule Poirot gets a letter from Paul Renauld, a Canadian émigré to France. Renauld’s letter says that his life is in danger, and pleads with Poirot to go to France and help. Poirot and Captain Hastings travel to the small town of Merlinville sur Mer, where the Renaulds live, but by the time they get there, it’s too late: Renuald has been murdered. Poirot works with the police to find out who killed the victim and why. One line of questioning leads to an acrobat act that was playing in Paris. Poirot wants to find the acrobats, so he visits a theatrical agent, Joseph Aarons. Aarons quickly gives Poirot the information he needs about the act and its members, which proves very helpful. Christie fans will also know that Aarons makes appearances elsewhere in Christie’s work, including The Mystery of the Blue Train.

One of Harlan Coben’s most popular series features Myron Bolitar. He’s a former basketball star whose career ended after an injury. He wanted to stay in the world of sport, though, and became an agent (later in the series, he becomes an investigator). In the early novels, Bolitar often gets drawn into cases through his clients. For example, in Drop Shot, one of Bolitar’s clients, Duane Richwood, is competing in a tennis tournament. During the event, former tennis great Valerie Simpson is found dead. Richwood could have known her, and could have a motive for murder. What’s more, Bolitar had been getting calls from Simpson, who wanted to resurrect her career. With those personal connections to the case, Bolitar starts asking questions, and we find out who killed Simpson and why.

There’s another look at a sports agent in Alison Gordon’s The Dead Pull Hitter, the first of her Kate Henry series. Henry is a sportswriter for the Toronto Planet. Her specialty is baseball, so she follows the Toronto Titans team to all of their games. When one of their members, Pedro Jorge ‘Sultan’ Sanchez, is murdered in his home, it looks like a home invasion gone wrong. But then, another player, Steve Thorson, is murdered at the team’s clubhouse. Staff Sergeant Lloyd ‘Andy’ Munro works both cases, and he finds that Henry has useful information. For her part, Henry wants to find out who the killer is, and not just because it’ll be a big story for her. She’s gotten to know the players, and she wants to know the truth about what happened. One of the ‘people of interest’ is Sam Craven, who represented Thorson. It turns out that Thorson wanted to end their contract, and Craven had refused. In fact, they had a major argument about it. Throughout the novel, it’s interesting to see how he and what he does are portrayed.

In Kate Atkinson’s One Good Turn, we are introduced to literary agent Melanie Lenehan. Part of her job is to keep her clients’ names ‘out there,’ so she encourages them to attend literary events, signings, and so on. That’s a tall order for one of her clients, mystery novelist Martin Canning. He’s a basically shy, introverted writer who’d much prefer, in many ways, to live in the 1950s world he’s created for his sleuth. It’s a bit of a struggle for her, but Lenehan finally convinces Canning to appear at the Edinburgh Arts Festival, join a panel, and answer some reader questions. During his trip, Canning gets ready to attend a lunchtime radio comedy broadcast, for which he’s gotten complimentary tickets. He’s waiting to pick up those tickets when he witnesses a blue Honda crash into the silver Peugeot in front of it. The two drivers get out of their cars and begin to argue. When the Honda driver starts to attack Paul Bradley (who’s driving the Peugeot), Canning acts out of instinct, and throws his computer case at the Honda driver. Out of a sense of obligation, he accompanies Bradley to a local hospital, and gets drawn into a strange case of fraud and murder. Certainly not what Melanie Lenehan had in mind when she booked Canning for the event!

In one plot thread of J.K. Rowling/Robert Galbraith’s The Silkworm, private investigator Coromoran Strike gets a new client. Leonora Quine wants him to find her husband, famous – well, notorious, really – author Owen Quine, who’s gone missing. He’s always been a ‘fringe’ sort of writer; his last novel, Bombyx Mori, is considered unpublishable because of some of its unpleasant themes and scenes. The manuscript for the novel was leaked at about the same time as Quine went missing, so there’s a good possibility that his disappearance has something to do with what’s in the novel. One of the people Strike meets as he searches for his client’s husband is literary agent Elizabeth Tassel, who handles Quine’s work. She’s an unsuccessful writer who deeply resents the London literary community that wouldn’t accept her and won’t accept her client. As you can imagine, she has a rather pessimistic attitude about writing success. In the end, and with information he gets from Tassel and the other people in Quine’s life, Strike finds out who the killer is and what the motive is.

Whether their specialty is films, sport, music, books, or something else, agents are an important part of many professions. And they can have a lot of power. Little wonder they make so many appearances in the genre…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jimmy Buffett’s You’ll Never Work in Dis Bidness Again.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alison Gordon, Harlan Coben, J.K. Rowling, Kate Atkinson, Robert Galbraith

Are You Interviewing Me*

A lot of professions involve speaking to the public. And often that’s done through giving interviews. I’m sure you can think of plenty of famous people such as professional athletes, film stars, and political leaders who go in front of the cameras. It’s almost a job requirement, really.

But other people are sometimes interviewed, too. Some are fairly comfortable in front of the camera; others dread it. And, of course, some people are much more accustomed to being interviewed than others. Either way, the public interview can be an interesting plot point in a crime novel. And it can show a bit about a character, too.

If you follow sport at all, you’ll know that athletes, their managers, team owners, and so on are regularly interviewed for TV and radio, as well as other media outlets. We see a great deal of that in sport-related crime fiction, too. For example, Alison Gordon’s Kate Henry is a sportswriter who works for the Toronto Planet. She has a particular interest and expertise in baseball, and follows the Toronto Titans Major League Baseball team as they go to their ‘away’ games. She attends ‘home’ games, too, and is one of the members of the press who interview players and the management staff. There’s an interesting relationship between the press and the team. Each knows full well that they need the other. So, in general, the team and management staff try to be generous about giving interviews and information. They know that builds their public appeal. At the same time, members of the press try to be respectful. They know that they won’t get that exclusive interview/story if they’re seen as too pushy, or worse, untrustworthy. It’s a delicate balance, but when it works, it’s effective. And more than once, that relationship allows Henry to get information when she gets mixed up in murder investigations.

In John Daniell’s The Fixer, we are introduced to Mark Stevens, a former member of New Zealand’s legendary All-Blacks rugby team. He’s heading towards the end of his career, and wants to shore up his financial resources for his own post-retirement security and that of his family. So, he’s playing now for a French professional team. Then, he gets word that Rachel da Silva, who works for a Brazilian magazine, wants to interview him. She’s been sent to France to do an in-depth piece on rugby, the rugby live, and the sport’s popularity. She’s bright, attractive, and interesting, so it doesn’t take long for Stevens to be attracted to her. The feeling seems to be mutual, too, and all goes well at first. Stevens gets to promote the team and the sport to a wide audience, and da Silva gets her story and the recognition that goes with it. Then, da Silva introduces Stevens to a friend of hers named Phillip, who’s become quite wealthy through betting on rugby. Before Stevens knows it, he’s drawn into a web of supplying ‘inside information.’ He finds it hard to resist, because he wants  to ensure his and his family’s futures. It all starts to fall apart, though, when Phillip suggests that his ‘new friend’ fix matches. Now, Stevens has a choice to make. And no matter what he decides to do, it’s going to be very dangerous for him.

If you watch the news, especially crime news, you’ll know that there are sometimes interviews with convicted criminals. Sometimes they’re part of a larger story on the crime in question. At other times, the criminal wants to protest her or her innocence. And they certainly play a role in crime fiction. For instance, Angela Makholwa’s Red Ink features that sort of interview. In it, we are introduced to Johannesburg  publicity expert Lucy Khamboule. A few years earlier, she worked in journalism. At the time, she’d sent a letter to notorious convicted killer Napoleon Dingiswayo, asking for an interview. She never heard from him, and went on with her life. Then one day, she gets a telephone call from him. He wants to give her his story, and perhaps have her write a book about him. This is an opportunity Khamboule had only dreamed of; she’s always wanted to do a book, and this, she knows, will sell well. She arranges to go to the maximum-security prison where Dingiswayo is being held, and starts doing background work for the book. Soon after she begins her series of interviews, though, some violent and disturbing things begin to happen. Dingiswayo can’t be responsible, because he’s securely locked away. But if he isn’t guilty of the attacks, then who is? Before long, Khamboule begins to get too close to the story, which has its own consequences. She founds out the truth, but not without a heavy cost.

Helen Fitzgerald’s The Cry highlights another important role that public interviews play in crime fiction. In it, Joanna Lindsay and her partner, Alistair Robertson, travel to Melbourne, where Robertson grew up, with their nine-week-old baby, Noah. The flight is a nightmare, but everyone arrives. Then, on the way from the airport to their destination, disaster strikes with the loss of baby Noah. A massive search is undertaken, but no trace of the baby is found. At first, the press and public are very sympathetic to the parents. But it’s not long before whispers start that perhaps they had something to do with Noah’s disappearance. As a part of the search for answers (and to keep their own names as clear as possible), the two go in front of the TV cameras with a plea for their son’s safe return. Gradually, we learn the truth about what happened to Noah, and we see the role that interview plays in the story.

Fans of Dennis Lehane’s Gone Baby Gone will know that that novel, too, features a missing child. In this case, it’s four-year-old Amanda McCready. Dorchester, Massachusetts PIs Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro are hired to find the girl, and reluctantly accept the job. They’re not sure what they can do that the police can’t, but they agree to at least try. At one point, there’s a scene in which Amanda’s mother, Helene McCready, is giving an interview to the press. That’s not so unusual in itself; it’s the expected plea for the child. But Helene’s reaction to seeing herself on television is unsettling. As she’s watching the recorded interview during a news broadcast, she points out ‘the best part,’ and talks about who’s present at the interview. It’s difficult for both PIs to deal with her, and it adds to the suspense in the story.

There are, of course, many, many examples of interviews with fictional police officers, too. Sometimes, they provide valuable information, or prompt people to contact the police. Other times, they’re nothing but trouble. Either way, they’re an important part of the genre.

On Another Note…

Talking of interviews….I’m privileged and excited to have been invited to be a part of writer, blogger, and podcaster Claire Duffy’s series, Writers Chat Writing! It’s a long interview (sorry for going on so, Claire!) (31 minutes), but if you’re interested in what we had to say about writing and the writing process, you’re welcome to check it out right here. Claire’s a fabulous interviewer! Thank you, Claire!

 
 
 

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

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Filed under Alison Gordon, Angela Makholwa, Dennis Lehane, Helen Fitzgerald, John Daniell

People Livin’ in Competition*

A recent post from Bill Selnes, who blogs at Mysteries and More From Saskatchewan, has got me thinking about competitiveness. Bill’s post, which you really should read, discusses competitiveness in attorneys. His point, which is very well-taken, is that trial lawyers have to be competitive. Otherwise, they don’t keep the ‘fire’ they need to do all of the work that’s involved in preparing for a trial and seeing it through.

There are many, many legal mysteries that bear him out, too. In John Grisham’s A Time To Kill, William Deverell’s Trial of Passion, and Robert Rotenberg’s Old City Hall, to name just three, we see examples of attorneys who take on difficult cases – and want to win. There are far too many more examples of such novels for me to mention in this one post, so I won’t.

There’s plenty of competitiveness in other crime fiction, too, and it can add a healthy dose of character development, suspense, and plot to a novel. And, since there’s competitiveness in many different professions, the author has a lot of flexibility when it comes to integrating it into a story.

Competitiveness is certainly important in the world of athletics. That’s a major part of the plot in Megan Abbott’s You Will Know Me. Devon Knox has rare gymnastic talent, and her parents, Katie and Eric, want to nurture it. So, when gymnastics coach Teddy Balfour approaches them with a proposition, they’re happy to listen:
 

‘‘Bring her to BelStars [a program he’s started up]  and she’ll find the extent of her power.’’
 

Then, a tragic hit-and-run accident (which might not have been an accident) occurs, and changes everything. Devon is gifted, but the question becomes: how far are she and her family willing to go to get to the Olympics? After all, there are only a limited number of young people who can join the US team. So, when one person earns a place, it often means others lose.

Alison Gordon’s Kate Henry series also explores athletic competitiveness (and for the matter of that, journalistic competitiveness as well). Like her creator, Henry is a sportswriter. She works for the Toronto Planet. Henry especially follows the doings of the Toronto Titans baseball team, so she goes along with them on ‘away’ tours, attends the home games, and gets locker-room interviews with players, coaching staff and the like. When the team is in a slump, it’s devastating. When the team does well, it’s euphoric. These players work hard and train intensively to go as far as they can in the World Series competition. Gordon doesn’t lose sight of the fact that this is a mystery series, and the murder plots dominate the books. But the books also give readers a look at what it’s like to be Major League Baseball athlete. It’s not a life for those who aren’t competitive. Neither is the life of those who write and publish stories about sports.

Business can be very competitive, too. In most industries, there’s a finite pool of customers. So, companies vie to get as much of their business as possible. And sometimes, that competitiveness can be deadly. In Robin Cook’s medical thriller, Contagion, for instance, we learn about a major competition between two insurance giants: AmeriCare and National Health. That competition becomes important when a virulent strain of influenza seems to be the cause of a series of deaths at Manhattan General Hospital. Medical examiners Dr. Jack Stapleton and Dr. Laurie Montgomery try to find out what’s causing the virus. The hospital’s authorities are interested in keeping the whole matter as quiet as possible, mostly to protect the institution’s image. But Stapleton in particular wants to whatever it takes, regardless of unpleasant publicity, to prevent more deaths. When it comes out that Manhattan General is affiliated with AmeriCares, the question becomes: did someone at National Health have something to do with these deaths, with the aim of discrediting the competition?

Riley Adams’ (AKA Elizabeth Spann Craig) Hickory Smoked Homicide deals with the competitive world of the beauty pageant circuit. In it, wealthy pageant coach and judge Tristan Pembroke is murdered during a charity art auction being held at her home. The most likely suspect is local artist Sara Taylor, who had a public argument with the victim shortly before the murder. But Sara’s mother-in-law, Lulu, is sure that she’s not guilty. So, she sets out to clear Sara’s name and find out who the real killer is. There are plenty of suspects, too, as Tristan was both malicious and vindictive. And, for the contestants in the pageant, and their families, there’s an awful lot at stake. The beauty pageant life is demanding, expensive, stressful and time-consuming. You don’t stay in it long if you have no sense of competitiveness.

I’m sure I don’t have to convince you that there’s a lot of competitiveness in the academic world, too. Many academic mysteries have plots that involve competition for scholarships/bursaries, prizes, academic jobs, funding and so on. It’s a demanding life that takes a lot of time and effort. Just to give one example, Christine Poulson’s Cassandra James novels take place in the context of St. Etheldreda’s College, Cambridge, where James heads the English Literature Department. One of the sub-plots in the first of this series, Murder is Academic, concerns funding for the program. Each department’s funding is based on its performance in the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). There’s a lot of competition for finite funding, and James knows that she will have to ensure that all of the faculty’s scholarship (including her own) is as impressive as possible. That in itself is stressful. At the same time, she’s caught up in the investigation of the murder of her predecessor, Margaret Joplin. Admittedly, getting funding isn’t the reason for the murder. But it does add to the tension in the novel. And it’s a realistic look at one way in which competition works in academia.

Bill is right that being competitive is important if you’re going to win your case in a trial. It’s also an important personality trait in other fields, too. So it’s little wonder it figures so much in crime fiction. Thanks, Bill, for the inspiration. Now, folks, give yourselves a treat and go visit Bill’s blog. Thoughtful reviews and commentary await you there!

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Boston’s Peace of Mind.

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Filed under Alison Gordon, Christine Poulson, Elizabeth Spann Craig, John Grisham, Megan Abbott, Riley Adams, Robert Rotenberg, Robin Cook, William Deverell

Like a Tree, Ability Will Bloom and Grow*

I’ll bet you’ve had the experience. You enjoy skiing, and you’ve tackled some challenging runs. Then, you don’t get the chance to ski for a while. When you finally do again, it’s back to the bunny slopes, because your skills have gotten a bit rusty. Or, perhaps you’re a card player who takes a break from it for a while. Then, when you get into a poker game, you find yourself making ‘beginner mistakes.’

Whether it’s music, running, poker, or cooking, your skills get and stay sharper if you use them regularly. The same is true for writing. That’s why writers are so often urged to write every day, even if it’s just a few sentences.

If you ask Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, he’ll tell you that detection skills need to be sharpened regularly, too. In The A.B.C. Murders, he works with Chief Inspector Japp and other police detectives to solve a baffling series of murders. It’s a challenging case, and certainly puts Poirot on his mettle. But that actually suits Poirot. At the beginning of the novel, before the first murder actually occurs, he has a conversation with Captain Hastings, who’s returned from Argentina for a stay in London. Hastings makes a comment about Poirot’s being retired; here’s Poirot’s answer:
 

‘‘And I will admit it, my friend, the retirement, I care for it not at all. If the little grey cells are not exercised, they grow the rust.’’
 

Research bears him out. Studies show that the more we use our thinking skills, the longer in life we have them.

And it’s not just thinking and detecting, although there are several examples of those in crime fiction. We see plenty of other examples of characters who know the value of regular discipline to keep skills strong. That side of a character can add an interesting dimension; it’s realistic, too.

For example, fans of Helene Tursten’s Irene Huss can tell you that she is a police detective with the Violent Crimes Unit of the Göteborg Police. She is also a former Swedish national judo champion, and former European champion. Her job and family life keep her very busy, but that doesn’t mean she wants to give up martial arts. So, she goes to the dojo sometimes to work out and to keep her skills strong. Her judo sessions are also very useful for keeping her in good physical condition. And sometimes, when she’s on the job, her skill at judo turns out to be very useful.

One of Elizabeth Spann Craig’s series features Beatrice Coleman, a former Atlanta folk art curator who’s retired to the small town of Dappled Hills, North Carolina. As we learn in Quilt or Innocence, the first of this series, she originally moved to Dappled Hills to be nearer to her daughter, Piper. But she’s soon drawn into life in her new home. And that includes the Village Quilters, one of several local quilting guilds. When she first gets to know the members of the guild, Beatrice doesn’t know much about how to quilt.  It doesn’t help, either, that some of the members have been quilting for decades, and make it all look very easy (which it’s not, really). Part of the reason for this is that the guild members mees regularly, both to keep their skills sharp and to keep their social network strong. Little by little, Beatrice learns some quilting skills, and is better able to contribute to the group’s work. Among other things, this series shows how something like quilting really has to be done regularly to hone skills.

So does playing baseball. Like any athletes, baseball players have regular workout sessions, even during the off-season. Skills such as pitching, catching, running, and communicating with teammates, have to be kept sharp if a team is going to win. And that doesn’t happen if players spend too much time off the field. There’s a dose of this in Alison Gordon’s Katherine ‘Kate’ Henry series. Henry is a sportswriter for the Toronto Planet. Her specialty is baseball, as was her creator’s. So, she travels with the (American League) Toronto Titans, and, of course, attends their home games. Readers follow along as the team members sharpen their skills during spring training (in Night Game), and work out before games during the baseball season (e.g. in The Dead Pull Hitter). The series gives readers an ‘inside look’ at the way professional athletes keep their skills from getting rusty.

But it’s not just athletic or other physical skills that need to be honed. Just ask John Burdett’s Sonchai Jitpleecheep. He’s a member of the Royal Thai Police, based in Bangkok. He is also a devout Buddhist. As you’ll know, Buddhism entails the mental discipline of regular meditation and focus. And it doesn’t come easily. It requires patience, lots of repetition and training, and regular mental exercise. And all of that takes time. Still, Jitpleecheep has found that study and meditation help him keep his focus and develop his spiritual and cognitive side.

You might say a similar thing about Tony Hillerman’s Sergeant Jim Chee. As fans can tell you, he is a member of the Navajo Nation. He is also a member of the Navajo Tribal Police. Chee has kept many of the Navajo traditions, too. In fact, at the beginning of the series, he is studying to be a yata’ali, a Navajo singer/healer. To be a skilled yata’ali takes a great deal of training and time. Each ritual has its own complexities, and Chee aims to learn to do each one exactly correctly. So, he hones his skills regularly, by going through the steps of each ritual. And, at least in the first novels of the series, he doesn’t let a lot of time go by between sessions. He knows the importance of not allowing his skills to rust.

And that’s the thing about skills, whether they are mental or physical. They need to be used, on a regular basis, or they do get rusty. Little wonder we see characters keeping their skills sharp in crime fiction.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Richard Sherman and Robert Sherman’s Scales and Arpeggios.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alison Gordon, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Helene Tursten, John Burdett, Tony Hillerman