Category Archives: Andrea Camilleri

I Like the Way You Talk*

The way we speak says a lot about us. That’s patently obvious, but it has a lot of implications for an author. Speaking patterns and interactions with others can give the reader information about a character’s age group, social class, level of education, and more. It can also reveal some interesting information about the relationship between characters. It’s little wonder, then, that the way characters speak to each other can show-not-tell what’s going on in a story. This is a crime fiction blog, so the examples I’ve thought of are all from crime novels. But it really does apply no matter what sort of fiction one reads.

For instance, in Agatha Christie’s Lord Edgware Dies, Hercule Poirot investigates the stabbing murder of the Fourth Baron Edgware. The victim’s wife, Jane Wilkinson, is the most likely suspect for a number of reasons. But she says she was at a dinner party in another part of London on the night of the murder. And there are twelve people ready to swear that she was there. So, Poirot and Chief Inspector Japp have to look elsewhere for the killer. Poirot has more than one conversation with Jane Wilkinson. Here’s a bit of one of them:
 

‘‘M. Poirot, I want to talk to you. I must talk to you.’
‘But certainly, Madame, will you not sit down?’
‘No, no, not here. I want to talk to you privately. We’ll go right upstairs to my suite.’’
 

Just from these few lines, it’s clear that Jane Wilkinson has a high social position, and is accustomed to getting her way. While she may not look down on Poirot, she certainly doesn’t see him as a social superior. By way of contrast, here’s a tiny bit of a conversation that Poirot has with Jane’s servant, Ellis.
 

‘‘Sit here, will you not, Mademoiselle – Ellis, I think?’
‘Yes, sir, Ellis.’’
‘To begin with, Miss Ellis, you have been with Lady Edgware how long?
‘Three years, sir.’’
 

Here, it’s clear that Ellis speaks to Poirot as a social superior. Christie fans know that Poirot has a way of making members of the ‘serving class’ comfortable, and that’s what happens here. It turns out Ellis provides very helpful information.

In Walther Mosley’s A Red Death, we are introduced to Ezekiel ‘Easy’ Rawlins. In this novel, we learn that he owns three apartment buildings, including the one in which he lives. He was able to purchase them with money from an investigation he did (see Devil in a Blue Dress for the details). For several reasons, he prefers to keep his identity as the owner of the building a secret, and masquerades as the maintenance man/janitor. The one man who does know Easy’s secret is the man who manages the building, a man named Mofass. He knows which side of his bread’s buttered, so to speak, so he speaks accordingly. Here’s the way he speaks to a tenant who’s late with the rent:
 

‘‘I’ll be back on Saturday, and if you ain’t got the money, you better be gone!’’
 

A moment later, he sees Easy, with whom he made plans to have lunch:
 

‘‘Are you ready to leave, Mr. Rawlins?’’
 

On the one hand, Mofass’ speech patterns consistently reflect his background, social class, and the like. But his interactions also show his relationship to the tenants and to Rawlins. These particular interactions aren’t, admittedly, closely related to the main plot. But they show the way that dialogue and interactions show character.

Fans of Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Salvo Montalbano series will know that one of his friends is Nicolò Zito, a TV journalist who works at Vigatà’s Free Channel. The two help one another when the situation calls for it, and they have a comfortable relationship. This is clear from a conversation they have in The Shape of Water. In that novel, Montalbano is investigating the death of up-and-coming politician Silvio Luparello. Here’s just a bit of a conversation he has with Zito, during which he chides his friend for not being more hard-hitting in the station’s covering of Luparello’s death:
 

‘‘…and you guys, instead of seizing the moment for all it’s worth, you all toe the line and cast a veil of mercy over how he died.’
‘We’re not really in the habit of taking advantage of such things.’
Montalbano started laughing.
‘Would you do me a favor, Nicolò? Would you and everyone else at the Free Channel please go f*** yourselves?’
Zito started laughing in turn.’

 

It’s easy to see the two men have a comfortable relationship, and that they’ve known each other for some time.

Interactions can also be used to show age and generation differences. We see that, for instance, in James W. Fuerst’s Huge. In that novel, twelve-year-old Eugene ‘Huge’ Smalls is having trouble in school, although he’s extremely intelligent. He has difficulty with anger management, and he’s socially awkward. What he really wants is to be a detective, just like Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade. He gets his chance when his grandmother hires him to find out who defaced the sign at the elder care facility where she lives. Here’s jus a tiny bit of one of their conversations:
 
‘‘Of course…if you can’t give me your word that you’ll act like a professional and conduct yourself like a gentleman, then maybe you’re not ready yet.’’…
‘Okay, Toots, you got yourself a deal.’…
‘Promise.’
‘Christ, Lady, you win. I promise…But let’s get one thing straight: the name’s Huge.’
She started to laugh and then covered her mouth. ‘I beg your pardon, Huge. As for our arrangement, can I trust you to carry it out in the strictest confidence?’’
 

Here, we see the generational difference between Huge and his grandmother. We also see that they have a close relationship. Huge’s grandmother is one of the few people who understand his desire to be a detective.

And then there’s Harry Bingham’s Talking to the Dead, which introduces Cardiff Detective Constable (DC) Fiona Griffiths. Fiona has several personal and mental health issues she deals with, but she is, for the most part, functional. And she knows she has to function as part of a team if she’s going to do her job. Still, she can be prickly, and she affects a bad temper at times, mostly to keep people from getting too close. Here’s a bit of a conversation she has with a workmate, Detective Sergeant (DS) David Brydon. They’re talking about the eye-glazing task of compiling financial evidence against former police officer named Brian Penry, who’s suspected of illegal activity.
 

‘‘He’ll plead guilty’ [Brydon]
‘I know he’ll plead guilty.’
‘Got to be done, though.’
‘Ah, yes, forgot it was State the Obvious Day. Sorry.’’
 

This interaction shows both the camaraderie between the two, and the fact that Fiona prefers to keep people at a distance.

And that’s the thing about dialogue and interactions in stories. They can reveal an awful lot about characters, relationships, and more. Interactions can reveal clues, too, but that’s the topic for another post, I think…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Susie Q.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Harry Bingham, James W. Fuerst, Walter Mosley

Just Walk Beside Me, Hand in Hand, to my Mediterranean Land*

Whether you’re eager for a summer holiday or an escape from winter, it’s hard to deny the appeal of a Mediterranean trip. World-class food and drink, beautiful scenery, and a delightful climate make the Mediterranean region a tourist mecca.

But whatever else the Mediterranean is, it’s not peaceful and safe. Don’t believe me? Just a quick look at crime fiction should convince you. Of course, the Mediterranean is a very large and diverse part of the world, and one post couldn’t possibly do it justice. But here are a few examples to show you what I mean.

Jean-Claude Izzo’s Marseille trilogy (Total Chaos, Chourmo, and Solea) includes dark, noir portraits of the underside of life in Marseille. The novels feature Fabio Montale, who joined the police after a very rocky youth. On the one hand, these novels are not light, ‘happy’ reading. They are gritty, and things do not all end happily. That said, though, they also portray Marseille as a vibrant place with fine food and drink, excellent music and nightlife, and a diverse, fascinating culture. Both Izzo and his creation love the city, despite its flaws and dangers. It’s a very Mediterranean place, and its port figures greatly into the culture.

Teresa Solana’s novels feature Barcelona PIs (and twin brothers) Eduard and Josep ‘Pep’ (who goes by the name of Borja) Martínez. These brothers are in business together, but they couldn’t be more different. Still, they have complementary skills. Among other things, this series (thus far, three novels: A Not So Perfect Crime, A Shortcut to Paradise, and The Sound of One Hand Killing) depict contemporary life in Barcelona. There are crimes and other mysteries explored in the novels, but they also feature a great deal of wit as Solana holds up a mirror to Barcelona’s culture. That said, though, Solana also shows Barcelona’s physical beauty, climate, diversity, and delicious food and drink.

Fans of Andrea Camilleri’s Salvo Montalbano series will probably tell you a very similar thing about those novels. They take place mostly in and near the fictional town of Vigàta, on the island of Sicily. Of course, Sicily is part of Italy. But it’s got its own unique climate, culture, and dialect. The lifestyle of Sicily, including food, music, and so on, are as much influenced by the mix of cultures of the Mediterranean as they are by Rome – perhaps more. And Montalbano is a product of that lifestyle. He speaks the local dialect, he’s an expert on the food, and so on.

There’s also plenty of Mediterranean crime fiction that takes place in Greece. For instance, in Agatha Christie’s short story, Triangle at Rhodes, Hercule Poirot is taking a holiday at a luxury hotel on the Island of Rhodes. Also staying at the hotel are famous/notorious actress Valentine Chantry and her husband, Captain Tony Chantry. The other hotel guests include handsome, young Douglas Gold and his wife, Marjorie. It’s not very long before Valentine and Douglas begin a not-very-well-hidden affair that’s the talk of the hotel. Then, one afternoon, Valentine collapses and dies from a poisoned drink. The first suspect is, of course, her husband. But it doesn’t turn out to be nearly as simple as that…

There’s also plenty of contemporary crime fiction based in Mediterranean Greece. For example, Anne Zouroudi’s series features the very enigmatic Hermes Diaktoros. He’s a sort of private investigator who says that he’s been ‘sent from Athens’ to look into cases. We don’t learn an awful lot about him, but we do know that he has a knack for getting people to talk to him, and for finding out hidden secrets. In several of these novels, Diaktoros travels to parts of southern Greece, and to Greek islands in the Mediterranean. And those settings play important roles in the novels. Zouroudi doesn’t gloss over the poverty and other difficult challenges faced by some of the people who live in Greece. At the same time, she depicts some of the things that can make life there very appealing: the climate, the food, and so on.

Jeffrey Siger’s Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis novels also take place in Greece, often (not always) in southern Greece and on its islands in the Mediterranean. This is a police procedural series that ties in Greece’s ancient history with the contemporary murders that Kaldis and his team investigate. Among other things, it’s a look at the way Greece’s modern culture is impacted by its past. And the novels certainly feature the influence of the Mediterranean on that culture.

Christodoulos Moisa’s The Hour of the Grey Wolf takes place in 1973 Cyprus. Journalist Steve Carpenter, a New Zealander of Cypriot descent, has been wounded in Vietnam, and decides to go to Cyprus to recuperate. He moves to his parents’ home village, Mpalloura, and starts the work of rebuilding his life. Then one day, he discovers the body of Alexis Pitas. It’s obvious the victim’s been dead for a time, but there’s no evidence as to who killed him – certainly not as to why. Pitas was by way of being a sort of friend who provided Carpenter with fresh eggs and fruit, so Carpenter has a special interest in finding out what happened to him. That, plus the fact that he’s a journalist, gives Carpenter the motivation to look into the murder. But it’s not going to be easy. For one thing, it’s a small place where everybody knows everybody. Stirring up ‘trouble’ isn’t exactly valued. For another, this case will, in its way, lead back to Peterson’s past.

And then there’s Charlotte Jay’s Arms For Adonis, which takes place in a village near Beirut. Sarah Lane lives there with her French lover, Marcel. She’s made the decision to leave Marcel, and packs her things to go. Then, she goes into Beirut, where she visits an outdoor market. She’s exploring the stalls when a bomb goes off, changing everything. Before she really knows what’s happened, she’s rescued (or is it abducted?) and whisked off to a house she doesn’t know, away from the city. She was planning to return to her native London, but instead, finds herself caught up in a web of murder, revolution, and intrigue.

And that’s the thing about the Mediterranean region. It’s gorgeous, with a lovely climate and mouth-watering food and drink. It’s an exciting blend of cultures, and offers a unique way of living. But safe? Peaceful? Not so much. And I haven’t even come close to mentioning all of the Mediterranean’s beautiful destinations…

ps. Thanks, Max Pixel, for the lovely ‘photo!
 
 
 
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Dennis Roussos’ My Reason 

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Anne Zouroudi, Charlotte Jay, Christodoulos Moisa, Jean-Claude Izzo, Jeffrey Siger, Teresa Solana

What a Cast of Characters*

For the reader, one of the advantages of standalone novels is that each one is a different experience. And that means it’s less likely that a reader will get tired of a given author’s work. At the same time, though, standalones may not give the reader the opportunity to really get to know a group of characters, and see how they evolve. For that, a series can be very appealing.

Developing those characters – especially secondary characters – over time can be tricky. Crime fiction fans generally want their stories to focus on crime at hand. And an effective series welcomes new readers, whether they start at the first novel or not. That said, though, there are plenty of series out there that people read as much for the ‘regular’ characters as they do for the individual plots. In fact, there are too many for me to discuss in one post. But here are a few.

Rex Stout’s main sleuths are, of course, Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. Most of the attention in the novels is on them, and the way they go about solving mysteries. The mysteries at hand –  the central plots of the stories – are the focus, too. And yet, there are other regular characters we get to know over the course of the series. For instance, Wolfe employs Saul Panzer, Fred Durkin, and Orrie Cather – the ‘teers – to do freelance work for him when he needs information. There are also Fritz Brenner, Wolfe’s world-class Swiss chef, and Theodore Horstmann, his orchid expert. Lily Rowan, Goodwin’s sometimes love interest, is also a regular character. And then there are various police detectives, like Inspector Cramer and Sergeant Purly Stebbins, who also play roles in the series. For many people, these other characters, and their interactions, are as important to enjoying the stories as are the actual mysteries.

A similar thing might be said of Alexander McCall Smith’s Precious Ramotswe series. As fans can tell you, Mma Ramotswe has the only female-owned private investigation business in Botswana. Each novel features a few mysteries that she solves. But there’s also a set of other regular characters that readers have come to know well. Those characters arguably add much to the novels, and are part of the reason readers keep coming back. For example, Mma Ramotswe doesn’t investigate every mystery by herself. Her associate is Grace Makutsi, who started as the company’s secretary, and has proven herself a capable detective. On the home front, Mma Ramotswe is married to Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni. He’s the proprietor of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, and is quite handy at fixing all sorts of things. He employs two assistants, who also sometimes figure into the stories. There’s also Mma Sylvia Potokwane, Mma Ramotswe’s friend, and proprietor of the local orphanage. All of these characters develop over time, and sometimes figure into the mysteries that are featured in the novels. And for many readers, they’re an important part of enjoying the series.

The same is arguably true of Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano series. Montalbano is the lead character, and the novels are told, much of the time, from his perspective. But the series also includes a group of other regular and recurring characters who add to the novels. One of them is Montalbano’s second-in-command, Mimì Augello. There are also Giuseppe Fazio and Sergeant Agatino Catarella, among others, who are Montalbano’s police colleagues. And then there are the people in Montalbano’s personal life: his partner, Livia Burlando; his friend, Ingrid Sjostrom; his housekeeper/cook, Adelina Cirrinciò; and his friend, Nicolò Zito, for instance. All of those characters add layers to the stories, and many fans of this series read the novels as much to keep up with their doings as to read about the crime(s) at hand.

Louise Penny’s Three Pines series features Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec. Each of the novels has a focus on a particular case that Gamache and his team investigate, and those cases are central to the novels. But the novels also follow the lives of Three Pines’ residents, and readers get to know them. Gabri and Olivier, who own the local B&B; Clara and Peter Morrow, both artists; resident poet Ruth Zardo; and psychologist-turned-bookshop owner Myrna Landers are just a few. As the series has continued, there’ve been several story arcs involving those characters, as well as Gamache’s wife, Reine-Marie, and his daughter, Annie. And for many fans of this series, those characters add a great deal to its appeal.

And then there’s Kerry Greenwood’s work. One of her series ‘stars’ 1920s socialite Phryne Fisher. The other ‘stars’ modern-day accountant-turned-baker Corinna Chapman. They’re quite different, but they have some things in common (besides their Melbourne settings). One of them is that they each have a cast of regular and recurring characters. In the Phryne Fisher series, Phryne solves cases with the help of several people. One of them is her assistant, Dorothy ‘Dot’ Williams. She also gets help from her friends, Albert ‘Bert’ Johnson, and Cecil ‘Cec’ Yates. They’re taxi drivers and wharfies who also do quite a lot of ‘legwork’ for Phryne. Phryne shares her home with her adopted daughters, Jane and Ruth, and her staff, Mr. and Mrs. Butler (yes, that’s their name). And, of course, there’s Inspector John ‘Jack’ Robinson, as well as Constable Hugh Collins, who do the police investigations.

Greenwood’s other series also includes a cast of regular characters besides Corinna. There’s her assistant, Jason Wallace, and her two other employees, Gossamer Judge and Kylie Manners. And of course, her lover, Daniel Cohen. Corinna’s home and shop are located in a large, Roman-style building called Insula. The other residents of Insula are also regular characters, who add quite a lot to the series. Professor Dionysus ‘Dion’ Monk, herbalist and Wicca shop owner Miriam ‘Meroe’ Kaplan, and Andy Holliday and his daughter Cherie are just a few of the other people who live in the building. In both series, the novels feature mysteries that form the central plots. But the regular characters are arguably just as important. And many fans will tell you that they follow the series in part because of those characters.

There are many other series, too, that readers follow as much for the cast of characters as for the mysteries. That’s one thing that a well-written series can provide that a standalone can’t always pull off. What about you? Are there series you follow as much for the cast of characters as for the plots? Which ones?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Rolling Stones’ She Saw Me Coming.

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Filed under Alexander McCall Smith, Andrea Camilleri, Kerry Greenwood, Louise Penny, Rex Stout

Oh, the Joy of You Close to Me*

As this is posted, it’s 63 years since the initial release of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. As you’ll know, the film’s focus is L.B. Jefferies. When he’s laid up with a broken leg, Jefferies occupies himself watching the people in the other apartments surrounding the courtyard where he lives. He soon gets suspicious of one of them, a man named Thorwald, and the suspense builds as we learn the truth about Thorwald, and about some of the other characters.

But Jefferies is far from the only fictional character who witnesses something and then has suspicions that may or may not be true. In fact, it happens quite a lot in crime fiction. And it gives the author some interesting possibilities for plots. Is the suspicious character really a criminal? Is the witness reliable? All of these can add to a crime plot.

For instance, in Agatha Christie’s 4:50 From Paddington, we are introduced to Elspeth McGillicuddy. Just a few days before Christmas, she takes a train to visit her friend, Miss Marple. While she’s on the train, she happens to look out the window and into the windows of another train going in the same direction. As that other train passes, Mrs. McGillicuddy sees a man strangling a woman. Or does she? Elspeth McGillicuddy is not a fanciful person, or a liar. She knows what she saw. At the same time, when she alerts the authorities, no corpse is found, and no-one has filed a missing person report on a woman matching the victim’s description. Despite this, Miss Marple believes her friend, and works out where the body probably is. With the help of her friend, professional housekeeper Lucy Eyelesbarrow, Miss Marple finds out who the woman was, how she came to be on the train, and what happened to her body. She also, of course, discovers who killed the woman.

In one plot thread of Ruth Rendell’s Simisola, Kingsmarkham Police Inspector Reg Wexford and his team investigate the murder of Annette Bystock. She was found strangled in her bed, but there’s very little evidence as to who the killer might be. And there doesn’t seem to be a compelling motive (like money, fear, etc..). There is a witness, though. Elderly Percy Hammond lives next door to the victim, and spends more than his share of time looking out of his window at the goings-on around him. He doesn’t hear very well, so it’s a little difficult at first to communicate with him. In fact, he’s all but dismissed as a witness. But, as it turns out, he saw something very important. And once the police pay attention to him, they get a vital set of facts. As it turns out, this murder is connected to another case that Wexford is investigating.

Andrea Camilleri’s The Snack Thief features the murder of semi-retired executive Aurelio Lapècora. One day, he’s murdered in the elevator of his own apartment building. Commissario Salvo Montalbano and his team investigate. And of course, they look into the victim’s business matters as well as his personal life. Some interesting light is shed on both by Signora Clementina Vaile Cozzo, who has occasional insomnia, and the habit of looking out her window. She watches what goes on through the other windows on the street, one of which is the window to the dead man’s office. And what she tells Montalbano gives him some important and interesting information.

There’s a very unusual case of a witness to something suspicious in Brian McGilloway’s The Nameless Dead. Garda Ben Devlin lives and words in Lifford, close to the border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland. In one plot thread of this novel, Devlin is asked to investigate a very strange occurrence. Christine Cashell has reported hearing a baby cry on her baby monitor. However, she and her partner have no children. They’d bought the monitor because Christine was pregnant, but the baby was stillborn. So, why would there be baby cries on the monitor? One explanation is that Christine is still far too fragile after the stillbirth to be a reliable witness, so there may have been no cries. But Devlin doesn’t think that’s true. So, he agrees to look into the matter. As it turns out, Christine knows very well what she heard, and this phenomenon is connected to another case he’s investigating.

There’s also Yvonne Mulhern, whom we meet in Sinéad Crowley’s Can Anybody Help Me? She and her husband, Gerry, have recently moved from London to Dublin with their newborn daughter, Róisín, so that Gerry can take advantage of an important job opportunity. The move goes smoothly enough, but Yvonne doesn’t really know anyone in Dublin, and she’s overwhelmed by the demands of new parenthood. To make things worse, Gerry’s not home very often to do his share. Soon enough, Yvonne finds solace in Netmammy, an online support group and forum for new mums. She soon finds herself very attached to the group members, although she’s never met them. That’s why she gets concerned when one of them seems to go ‘off the grid.’ In fact, she’s worried enough to contact the police about it. But there’s not much they can do at first. Then, the body of an unknown woman is discovered in an empty apartment. Detective Sergeant (DS) Claire Boyle and her team investigate. The dead woman could be Yvonne Mulhern’s missing friend. If she is, then that has frightening implications for Netmammy. If she isn’t, then what happened to Yvonne’s friend? Among other things, this is an interesting case of an online witness, if I can put it that way.

It can be hard to avoid being curious about the other people who live and work around you. Sometimes, that curiosity can be very helpful to the police when they’re investigating. But it can also be quite risky…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Franz Waxman and Harold Rome’s Lisa. Fans of Rear Window will know why I chose this one, even if the lyrics don’t seem to quite fit.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Brian McGilloway, Ruth Rendell, Sinéad Crowley

The Little Things That Give You Away*

When you do something often enough, or for a long enough time, you learn to spot things that are a little strange, and don’t follow the pattern you’re accustomed to seeing. For instance, I’ve been in higher education for years. It’s gotten to the point where I have a fairly good (by no means perfect!) sense of when a student’s work is not original. Why? Because I’ve read enough student writing to be able to pick up on their writing patterns. If something’s a bit ‘off,’ I notice it. In a similar way, people often begin to suspect their partners may not be faithful because they notice something ‘off’ about their partners’ patterns.

Being able to notice those patterns, and deviations from them, can be very helpful if you’re a sleuth. Those little ‘off’ things can be clues, or they can point to something bigger that’s worth investigating. And even when they aren’t, or don’t, they can be interesting bits of character development in a crime novel.

Agatha Christie’s sleuths make use of those little deviations more than once. In Evil Under the Sun, for instance, Hercule Poirot is taking a holiday at the Jolly Roger Hotel, on Leathercombe Bay. He gets drawn into a murder investigation when a fellow guest, Arlena Stuart Marshall, is strangled and her body found at a cove not far from the hotel. For Poirot, any correct theory about the crime has to account for all the details surrounding it. And in this case, there are several seemingly inconsequential oddities. Why, for instance, was someone taking a bath in the middle of the morning on the day of the murder? And what does that matter, anyway? And what’s the story behind an empty bottle that nearly hit another guest on the head? And what does that have to do with the murder? It all fits in, though, and once Poirot understands how the crime really happened, he’s able to make sense of all of those odd things.

In Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley Under Ground, we meet American art enthusiast Thomas Murchison. He travels to London to see an exhibit of the work of Philip Derwatt that’s being held at the Buckmaster Gallery. Murchison is deeply knowledgeable about Derwatt’s work, and is excited to see it. And that’s exactly the problem for Tom Ripley, Highsmith’s protagonist, and his friends, Jeff Constant, Ed Banbury and Bernard Tufts. They’ve been making a tidy income by providing the gallery with ‘new’ Derwatt works (the artist died a few years earlier). Tufts forges the work, Banbury (a journalist) writes articles about Derwatt and his work, and it’s Constant’s job to photograph the paintings and advertise them. The whole scheme will fall apart if Murchison finds out that the ‘new’ Derwatt work is forged, so it’s decided that Ripley will go to London disguised as Derwatt. There, he’ll publicly identify the faked work as genuine. The disguise works well enough, but Murchison still notices small things that don’t fit the Derwatt pattern. He’s planning to go to the authorities about the matter, so Ripley invites Murchison to his home in France to discuss everything. Murchison doesn’t change his mind, though, and Ripley deals with Murchison in his own way. He solves ‘the Murchison problem,’ only to find he’s got even bigger problems now…

Peter Høeg’s Smilla Jaspersen, whom we meet in Smilla’s Sense of Snow, grew up in Greenland in her Inuit mother’s community, although she now lives in Copenhagen. So, she’s deeply knowledgeable about all sorts of patterns in snow and glaciers. That knowledge is an important part of her life. And it turns out to be very useful when one of the residents in her apartment building suddenly dies. Ten-year-old Isaiah Christiansen has fallen from the roof of the building in what the police are calling a terrible accident. Smilla finds herself drawn to the scene, and notices that little patterns in the snow don’t add up to an accidental fall. Those small oddities are enough to make her curious, so she starts to ask questions. The trail leads back to Greenland, and to a past expedition there.

Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Salvo Montalbano is an experienced police detective. He’s accustomed to patterns associated with crime. That skill turns out to be quite useful when the body of up-and-coming politician Silvio Luparello is discovered. The dead man is found in a car in a notorious part of town called The Pasture. He’s obviously had a sexual encounter, and the official explanation is that he had a heart attack as a result of it, and died. But seemingly inconsequential things don’t add up to that explanation, and Montalbano asks for a little more time to investigate. He’s grudgingly granted two days, and gets to work. It’s not long before he finds that several people could have wanted Luparello dead. Little by little, he gets to the truth about the matter, and it’s not what it seems on the surface.

And then there’s Megan Abbott’s Die a Little. In that novel, which takes place in 1950’s California, we are introduced to Pasadena teacher Lora King. When her brother, Bill, meets ‘that special someone,’ Lora wants to be happy for him. And the woman, Alice Steele, is both beautiful and smart. But there’s just something ‘off’ about her, and Lora is not impressed. Still, the romance blossoms, and Bill and Alice marry. As time goes by, Lora begins to wonder more and more about her new sister-in-law, although she tries to like her for Bill’s sake. It’s really a pattern of little things that simply don’t add up. For instance, at one point, Alice asks Lora to help her get a teaching job at the school where Lora teaches. Alice claims she has a teaching certificate, but there’s no record of it. Why not? And, if she has no background in teaching, why would she want a job as a teacher? As Lora learns more and more about Alice’s life, she finds more and more that’s ‘off.’ At the same time as she’s repulsed by what she finds, though, she’s also drawn to it. Then, there’s a murder. And Alice just might be mixed up in it. Telling herself she’s looking out for her brother, Lora begins to ask questions about the murder. And she finds that the answers are dangerous.

Those small breaks in patterns, and little ‘off’ things, might seem not to matter. And in some cases, they don’t. But sometimes, they tell a lot…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a U2 song.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Megan Abbott, Patricia Highsmith, Peter Høeg