Category Archives: Andrea Camilleri

But I’ve Got the Fastest Set of Wheels in Town*

As this is posted, it would have been Ferruccio Lamborghini’s 101st birthday. As you’ll know, the Lamborghini name is associated with world-class racing cars, among other sorts of vehicles. To own a ‘Lambo’ is certainly a status symbol in a lot of places.

Of course, not everyone is passionate about racing cars. But Formula One, NASCAR, and other auto racing have plenty of devoted fans. And there is something about the feeling of driving a car that’s build for speed.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that driving and racing pop up in crime fiction. There are plenty of opportunities for disparate people to interact, there’s the racecourse setting, and there’s lots of money involved. And even off the course and out of the circuit, racecars and their drivers can add to a story.

In Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, for instance, we are introduced to Anthony Marston. He’s one of ten people who’ve been invited for a stay on Indian Island, off the Devon coast. Each guest has accepted the invitation for different reasons, and the visit begins as they all arrive on the island. Their host hasn’t made an appearance, but dinner is served, and everyone settles in. Then, everyone’s shocked when each person is accused of causing the death of at least one other person. In Marston’s case, it’s the deaths of two children in a hit-and-run incident. It comes out that Marston is very proud of his racing-class car, and enjoys driving it – fast. Not long after the accusations, Marston dies of what turns out to be poison. Later that first night, another person dies. Then another. Soon it’s clear that someone has targeted all of the guests. The survivors will have to find and stop the killer if they intend to stay alive.

Fans of Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano novels will know that one of the ‘regulars’ in the series is his friend, Ingrid Sjostrom. She’s a Swedish-born racecar driver whom we meet in the first novel, The Shape of Water. Ingrid is a free spirit, who does things very much her own way. In this first outing for Montalbano, Ingrid’s connected with the case of the death of Silvio Luperello, an up-and-coming politician. In fact, she provides some very helpful assistance as Montalbano and his team investigate. Over time, she and Montalbano develop an interesting sort of friendship. It’s not a love affair – not really. But it’s a complex relationship, and it adds layers of interest to the series.

There are even a few series featuring the racing circuit and racecar drivers. For example, Tammy Kaehler’s series features Kate Reilly, who drives in the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) that includes races and series of races in different parts of the US. When the first Kate Reilly novel, Dead Man’s Switch, begins, Reilly is a hanger-on at the ALMS, hoping for a permanent spot on the tour and her own crew. She’s willing to take a temporary, or even one-time-only lane, as that’s one of the few ways a driver can break into the circuit. She arrives at the track one day, and discovers the body of another driver, Wade Becker. Since she found his body, Reilly is one of the ‘people of interest’ in the case. She’s also ‘of interest’ because with Becker dead, she now has a chance to race with Becker’s team. Partly to clear her name, Reilly starts asking questions. And in the end, she learns that Becker’s death had little to do with his driving ability.

Those familiar with Janet Evanovich may know that she’s also written another series, featuring Alexandra ‘Barney’ Barnaby. Barney’s a mechanic who grew up, so to speak, in her father’s garage. She’s also a former stock car racer who’s
 

‘…lost more races than I won.’
 

So, she’s not on the circuit anymore. In the first novel, Metro Girl, she travels from her native Baltimore to Miami when she gets an unsettling call from her brother, ‘Wild Bill,’ also a racecar driver. Bill tells her that he has to leave Miami for a while, and not to worry. The call ends too abruptly, and Barney’s worried, so she decides to see for herself if her brother is all right. There, she discovers Bill is missing, and his apartment’s been ransacked. He’s left Miami on a boat belonging to another NASCAR driver named Sam Hooker, so Hooker is as interested in finding out what happened to ‘Wild Bill’ as anyone else is. Together, he and Barney begin to put the pieces together. They find that there’s much more going on here than a reckless young man taking off in someone else’s boat. There is real danger – and murder – ahead of them.

Simon Wood has written two novels (thus far) featuring Formula racecar driver Aidy Westlake, who drives on the British circuit. In the first story, Did Not Finish, championship driver Alex Fanning is killed not long after he was threatened by his rival, Derek Deacon. There seems to be more to it than jealousy, though. There are several attempts to quash the investigation, including destroying the recording of the race in which Fanning died. It looks as though the whole thing will be covered up, and Westlake wants to know why. It turns out that this is a case of far-reaching fraud and conspiracy.

See what I mean? It can be exhilarating to drive a racing-quality car. And, for those who enjoy the competition, racing offers an excitement all its own. But it’s certainly not always safe. And I’m not just talking about the speed of the car…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Beach Boys’ Little Deuce Coupe 

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Janet Evanovich, Simon Wood, Tammy Kaehler

Good Times Are Coming Now*

optimistic-endingsThe thing about a crime fiction novel is that usually, it includes at least one murder. And in real life, a murder wreaks havoc on the lives of those involved. Loved ones grieve, and nothing’s ever really the same afterwards. So, if a crime novel is to be realistic, there can’t be a perfectly happy ending. And crime fiction fans like their novels to have some realism, for the most part.

Is it possible, then, for a crime novel to have a happy ending? Can things work out well for the characters, without the novel calling for too much disbelief? It isn’t easy to do, and not all crime fiction fans want things to end well. But there are authors who manage to make things all right again, so to speak, without too much that’s not credible.

Agatha Christie used an interesting strategy to accomplish this (and she’s not the only one). If the victim is unpleasant or dangerous enough, readers aren’t too distressed at that person’s death. There are plenty of examples of this; here’s just one. In Appointment With Death, the Boynton family travels to the Middle East for a sightseeing trip. As we soon learn, family matriarch Mrs. Boynton is tyrannical and malicious. She has her family members so cowed that none of them dares go against her wishes. During the family’s travels, they visit the famous ancient city of Petra. On the second afternoon of their stay, Mrs. Boynton is killed by what turns out to be poison. Hercule Poirot is also in the Middle East, and he is persuaded to look into the death. Readers find out who the killer was, which has its own satisfaction. And I can say without spoiling the story that things do work out well for the rest of the characters. In that sense, the story really does have a happy ending.

Some authors make the criminal nasty enough that readers are pleased when she or he is caught, and there’s a real satisfaction that comes from that. It doesn’t take away the sadness from the fact that at least one person has been killed. But there’s a sense that things will be all right again. That’s what happens in Andrea Camilleri’s Dance of the Seagull. In that novel, Vigàta Inspector Salvo Montalbano and his team face a desperate situation when one of their colleagues, Giuseppe Fazio, goes missing during his investigation of smuggling activity. Montalbano believes that the best chance for finding Fazio will come from following the same leads Fazio followed, so the team picks up the threads of that investigation. It’s not spoiling the story to say that Fazio is found, wounded, but alive, and is spirited away to recuperate under an assumed name. During Fazio’s hospital stay, Montalbano and his team continue following leads. Then, their principal witness is murdered. And the people behind the killing are highly-placed and ruthless. In the end, though, Montalbano tracks down the killer. And there’s a real satisfaction as that person is brought to justice.

Giorgio Scerbanenco’s A Private Venus might, on the surface, seem as though it ought to have a very sad ending. A disgraced doctor, Duca Lamberti, has recently been released from prison, where he served time for euthanasia. He’s hired by a wealthy engineer, Pietro Auseri, who wants Lamberti’s help with a family problem. Auseri’s son, Davide, has been drinking heavily, despite treatment. He’s also been depressed and withdrawn. He won’t say why, either. Auseri wants Lamberti to work as a sort of private rehabilitation expert. Lamberti isn’t sure exactly how he’ll help, but he agrees. As he gets to know Davide, he learns the young man’s story. Davide blames himself for the death a year earlier of Alberta Radelli, whose body was found in a field outside Milan. Apparently, they’d met by accident, enjoyed each other’s company, and spent the day in Florence. When she begged him to take her with him, and not to Milan (where they met) he refused. On the surface, it seems as though Alberta committed suicide, as she threatened. But Lamberti doesn’t think that’s so. He believes that the only way to free Davide from his demons is to find out what really happened to Alberta, so he begins to ask questions, and insists that Davide take part, too. And in the end, they find out the truth. This is, in many ways, a noir novel. There’s some real ugliness behind this death and another that’s connected. But things do turn out. And, without spoiling the story, I can say that Davide is freed of his guilt.

As Honey Brown’s Through the Cracks begins, fourteen-year-old Adam Vander has finally summoned up the courage to flee his abusive father, Joe. The problem for Adam is that he has been kept locked away, more or less, for most of his life, and doesn’t have much in the way of real-world coping skills. Fortunately, for Adam, he meets Billy Benson, a young man who visits the house just as he, Adam, is leaving. The two leave the house and spend the next week together. Billy provides much in the way of ‘street sense,’ which means that Adam gets enough food, shelter, and safety. But that doesn’t mean all is safe. In fact, Billy and Adam get into some real danger. As the week goes on, we learn more about these two characters, and they learn about each other. It turns out that they are connected in ways that neither one is entirely comfortable with, but that are lasting. And both are connected with the disappearance ten years earlier of Nathan Fisher, who went missing during a trip to Market Day with his parents. This story includes some truly unhappy events. But the threads of the story come together in ways that make for a happy ending. It’s realistic, but we can see that things will be all right.

And then there’s Jill Edmondson’s Blood and Groom. In that novel, Christine Arvisais hires Toronto PI Sasha Jackson to find out who killed her ex-fiancé, Gordon Hanes. The two had broken off their engagement; then, Hanes was shot on what was to have been their wedding day. Now, she wants to clear her own name, because many people insist that she is guilty. Arvisais is, to say the least, not a pleasant person. But she is a client, and a fee is a fee. So, Jackson takes the case. She slowly discovers that this murder is quite likely related to other, similar murders. And, in the end, she finds out who’s behind the killings. In some ways, this isn’t a happy story. And at one point, Jackson gets into real danger. But in the end, she catches the person responsible, and some other plot threads in the story are ‘straightened out,’ too.

You’ll notice here that I haven’t mentioned what most people think of as ‘cosy mysteries.’ Lots of readers expect that things will work out in that sort of book. But it’s possible to have an optimistic ending, even in a book that’s not a cosy. What do you think? Do you like positive, or at least optimistic, endings?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Charles Strouse and Martin Charmin’s I Don’t Need Anything But You.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Giorgio Scerbanenco, Honey Brown, Jill Edmondson

I Want to Find Out, I Want to Find Out Now*

wanting-to-learn-moreAn interesting post from Tim at Beyond 221B Baker Street has got me thinking about context. Every book is written within a sociocultural and historical context, and that is often reflected in the book. As I’ve been reflecting on that, it’s got me thinking about the way people’s curiosity can be aroused when they read. To put it another way, sometimes, we read books (or, at least, I do) that make us curious about the context, and wanting to read more.

Everyone gets curious about different things, of course, but I suspect I’m not the only one who’s read a book and then wanted to know more about something. It might be details about an incident, an era, or something else. Whatever it is, the author’s presented it in a way that makes you want to know more. As I say, everyone’s different, but here are a few things I’ve wanted to know more about because of the crime fiction I’ve read.

As Agatha Christie fans know, her second husband was an archaeologist, and she accompanied him to the Middle East. Several of her stories are set there, including Appointment With Death. That story’s focus is the Boynton family, a group of Americans who are on an extended trip through the Middle East. One of their stops is a trip to the famous red city of Petra. On the second afternoon of their visit, Mrs. Boynton dies of what looks like a heart attack. Colonel Carbury isn’t satisfied, though. He asks Hercule Poirot, who’s in the area, to investigate, and Poirot agrees. Even ardent Christie fans admit that this isn’t her best. But it does have an interesting setting – Petra – and I got curious about that. So, I did a little reading on the place. Am I an expert? Not even close. Not at all. But I did learn some interesting things, and it’s because the book piqued my curiosity.

After I read Kel Robertson’s Smoke and Mirrors, I got interested in Australia’s 1972-75 Gough Whitlam government. Here’s why. In the novel, Australian Federal Police (AFP) officer Bradman ‘Brad’ Chen and his team investigate two murders. One victim is Alec Dennet, who was a member of the Whitlam government, and is now writing his memoirs. The other is Dennet’s editor, Lorraine Starke. The two were killed at Uriarra, a Canberra-area writers’ retreat. One very good possibility is that Dennet was killed because of what might be written in his upcoming book. There are plenty of people in some high places who wouldn’t want what he had to say to come out. So, Chen and his team pursue that lead. Robertson gives some interesting information about the Whitlam government – enough to leave me wanting to know more. So, I looked up a few things. I couldn’t quote you anything like chapter and verse on the ins and outs of that government, nor all of the details of the events that brought it down. But I found the reading I did do fascinating.

Simon Beckett’s Whispers of the Dead takes place mostly at Tennessee’s Anthropological Research Laboratory, also known as The Body Farm. Anthropologist David Hunter wants some time away from London to recover from the events of Written in Bone. So, he decides to go to Tennessee to do some research and catch up with his former mentor, Tom Liebermann. When the lab receives word of a decomposed body found at a cabin not far from the lab, Hunter is persuaded to get involved in the investigation. And that leads to a complex and difficult case. After I read this novel, I got interested in The Body Farm and what it does. It’s actually a fascinating place where a great deal of forensic and other scientific research is conducted. So, I did a bit of reading. It certainly got the crime writer in me very interested.

As fans of Andrea Camilleri’s Salvo Montalbano series can tell you, many of his books have been translated into English by Stephen Sartarelli. His translations go beyond simply expressing Camilleri’s stories in another language (as though that weren’t enough). He also adds notes and commentaries to the novels, to give readers background information on everything from history, to the origins of certain sayings, and much more. Several times, I’ve found myself reading a little more about one or another topic Sartarelli’s mentioned. I always find them interesting, and they add context to the series.

Brian Stoddart’s Superintendent Christian ‘Chris’ Le Fanu series takes place in the early 1920s, during the last years of the British Raj, in Madras (today’s Chennai). Le Fanu is assisted by the very capable Sergeant Muhammad ‘Habi’ Habibullah. I knew a little about those years before I started reading this series. But some of the information Stoddart provides made me curious to learn more. So, I did a bit of reading on the topic, and I’m glad I did. I learned things that I wouldn’t otherwise have known, and (I hope) I have a better perspective on that period of time.

Those are just a few books and series that have gotten me curious to learn more. The things that pique your interest are bound to be different. Which novels and series have inspired you to find out more?

Thanks, Tim, for the inspiration. Folks, do check out Tim’s blog. It’s a fascinating place for rich discussion about crime fiction and other literature.
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Grateful Dead’s Caution (Do Not Step On Tracks).

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Brian Stoddart, Kel Robertson, Simon Beckett

They Sent Us Home to Watch the Show*

tv-newsAs this is posted, today would have been Walter Cronkite’s 100th birthday. For many people, Cronkite was the trusted news source for decades. Of course, news gathering and reporting has changed dramatically since 1981, when Cronkite yielded his news anchor seat to Dan Rather. It’d be interesting to know what Cronkite would think about today’s news formats and newscasters. There are dozens of television and other journalists in crime fiction, and I thought it might be interesting to look at a few of them.

Fans of Andrea Camilleri’s Salvo Montalbano can tell you that one of his good friends is Nicolò Zito, who works for Vigatà’s Free Channel. Zito’s especially interested in stories that expose corruption among the wealthy and privileged, or in high government places. So, he’s usually happy to work with Montalbano to get to the truth about a case. On the one hand, Zito has his own political views and agenda. But even so, he does try to get the story right, as the saying goes. His employer often goes after stories that the government-run news networks don’t.

In Frankie Y. Bailey’s The Red Queen Dies, we meet Albany, New York, police detective Hannah McCabe. She and her police partner, Mike Baxter, are faced with the deaths of two young women who were killed by injections of phenol. Then, there’s a third murder that might (or might not) be connected. Some of the help that McCabe gets comes from her father, Angus, who is a retired journalist. He goes after stories in what you might call the old-fashioned way. That said, though, he is adept at using modern technology. He has a lot of integrity, too, so his input is very useful on several levels as McCabe and Baxter put the pieces of the puzzle together.

There’ve been, as I say, a lot of changes in news reporting since Cronkite’s days. With the advent of television came the advent of a focus on the visual. And that means a focus on appearance. We see that in several stories that concern television journalists.

One of them is Catherine O’Flynn’s The News Where You Are, which concerns TV presenter Frank Allcroft. He’s happily married, and has a strong bond with his eight-year-old daughter, Mo. But he’s reached a crossroads in his life. At the same time as Allcroft is trying to figure out which direction he’ll take, he’s also deeply affected by the death of his predecessor, friend and mentor, Phil Smedway. It seems that Smedway was out jogging one morning when he was killed in a hit-and-run incident. Allcroft is drawn to the scene of Smedway’s death, and notices some things about it. For one thing, the road there is straight and wide. Even a drunk driver would likely have been able to swerve in time to avoid hitting Smedway. For another, the weather was dry and clear. Now, Allcroft wants to know what really happened to his friend. Among other things, this book shows what it’s like for news presenters who spend a lot of time in front of unforgiving cameras.

We also see a bit of that in Paddy Richardson’s Traces of Red. Rebecca Thorne is a Wellington television journalist who’s made a name for herself co-hosting Saturday Night. But there are young, talented journalists coming up behind her, and she’s aware of that. One of them is Janet Beardsley, whose show, Courageous Leaps, has been getting a lot of attention. She’s the new darling of the network, and Thorne is savvy enough to know the implications for her own career. If she can just get the right story, she’ll be set. And she thinks she finds that story in the case of Connor Bligh. He’s been in Rimutaka State Prison for several years for the murders of his sister, Angela Dickson, her husband, Rowan, and their son, Sam. Only their daughter, Katy, survived, because she wasn’t home at the time of the attacks. There are little hints that Bligh might be innocent. If he is, this the sort of story that will cement Thorne’s position at the top. So, she goes after it. Among many other things, this novel shows the sorts of challenges television journalists face. Is the story the truth? What drama can we add to get people watching (without detracting from the truth)? How does it (do we) look? What are the ratings? Incidentally, Cross Fingers, the second Rebecca Thorne novel, also addresses some of the issues of modern news presenting.

And of course, I couldn’t do a post on news journalists without mentioning Liza Marklund’s Annika Bengtzon. Admittedly, she’s not a TV news anchor. But she faces some of the same pressures. Getting the story right, getting people to talk to her, and getting there ahead of the competition are all critical to success in her field.

With today’s instant access to news, and the visual nature of news presenting, there’s a real focus on ‘instant’ and on appearance. Many people claim that makes the news more accessible to more people, and that’s a good thing. Others say it’s made news presentation much more shallow. Wherever you stand on that issue, it’s hard to deny Cronkite’s influence on television news and on journalism in general.

 

On Another Note…

 

Speaking of news…….

The winners of the Blackjack Blog Scavenger Hunt are….

Prashant, who blogs at Chess, Comics, Crosswords, Books, Music, Cinema

D.S. Nelson, who blogs at Every Day’s a Mystery

FictionFan, who blogs at FictionFan’s Book Reviews

Congratulations to the winners!!!!!

If you’ll kindly email me your details, (margotkinberg(at)gmail(dot)com ), I’ll get your prize sent right to you!

Thanks for playing!

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from John Fogerty’s I Saw it On TV.

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Filed under Andrea Camilleri, Catherine O'Flynn, Frankie Y. Bailey, Liza Marklund, Paddy Richardson

Poetry, You’re Hiding Behind the Words You Speak*

Clues in PoetryThere are all kinds ways in which crime writers can leave clues, whether it’s clues about character or clues to a mystery. Interestingly enough, one of those ways is through poems. Poetry can be a cryptic way to leave a message, a warning, or a clue. So it gives the reader the chance to ‘match wits’ with the author.

Poetry gives characters the chance to ‘match wits,’ too. For example, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Musgrave Ritual, Sherlock Holmes tells Watson about one of his early cases. In that adventure, Holmes gets an invitation from an old university friend, Sir Reginald Musgrave. It seems that Musgrave’s butler, Richard Brunton, and a maid, Rachel Howell, have disappeared. The only clue to what’s happened is that, shortly before the two went missing, Musgrave caught Brunton going through some of the family papers. The paper that seemed to be of most interest to Brunton was an old poem, used in a Musgrave family ritual. Once Holmes works out what the poem means, he sees that it’s an important clue. And that leads him to the truth about Brunton and Howell.

John Dickson Carr’s first Gideon Fell novel, Hag’s Nook, also includes a cryptic poem. In that novel, Tad Rampole has taken the advice of his mentor, and come from America to pay a visit to Fell. Along the way, he meets Dorothy Starberth, who lives not far from Fell. He’s smitten with her right away, and the feeling seems mutual. Later, Fell tells Rampole the interesting history of the Starberth family. At one time, the Starberth men were Governors of nearby Chatterham Prison. Even though it’s been allowed to fall into ruins, the family still has a connection. Each Starberth male spends the night of his twenty-fifth birthday in the old Governor’s Room at the prison. While there, he opens the safe, reads the paper that’s there, and follows the instructions on it. Now it’s the turn of Dorothy’s brother, Martin. But there are good reasons for him to worry. Some strange and tragic accidents have befallen the Starberths, and some say there’s a curse on the family. Still, Martin goes ahead with the ritual. Sure enough, on the night of his birthday, he dies from what looks like an accidental fall from the balcony of the Governor’s Room. But it’s soon clear that he was murdered. The only problem is, no-one was seen entering or leaving the property. And there’s no evidence that anyone but Martin was in the room. Rampole is, quite naturally, interested in finding out the truth, and he works with Fell to get to the truth. As it turns out, a cryptic poem gives Fell the clue he needs to get to the truth about who killed Martin Starberth and why..

Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None has a poem at its core. Ten people get invitations to spend time on Indian Island. Each gets a different sort of invitation, and each has different reasons, but they all accept. When the group arrives, they settle in and wait for their host, who, strangely enough, never appears. Still, dinner is served, and everyone makes the best of the situation. After dinner, each person is accused of having caused the death of at least one other person. Then, one of the guests suddenly dies of what turns out to be poison. Late that night, there’s another death. It’s soon clear that someone is trying to kill all of the guests, one by one. The other guests now have to find out who the killer is, and survive if they can. As it turns out, the killer uses an old nursery poem to link the deaths and warn about the ones to come.

Camilla Grebe and Åsa Träff’s Some Kind of Peace introduces Stockholm psychologist Siri Bergman. She’s a skilled professional, but she deeply grieves the loss of her beloved husband, Stefan, and she’s had a hard time coping. One day, she gets a letter that makes it clear that someone is watching her. It’s not long, too, before she learns that that person has access to her client records. As if that’s not enough, whoever is stalking Bergman seems bent on sabotaging both her professional life and her personal life. Matters come to a head when the body of a client, Sara Matteus, is found in the water on Bergman’s property. There’s a suicide note that blames the suicide on Bergman. When it becomes clear that this wasn’t a suicide, Bergman even becomes a suspect for a time. So she has to clear her name, and find out who really killed Sara Matteus. All along, Bergman’s struggling to understand and accept Stefan’s death. An important clue to it comes from Erik Blomberg’s Var inte rädd för mörkret (Do Not Fear the Darkness), a poem that Stefan left for her. When Bergman comes to understand that message, she also gets a better understanding of her husband’s death.

There’s also Andrea Camilleri’s Treasure Hunt. Vigàta Inspector Salvo Montalbano makes the news when he gets involved in a bizarre case that involves him climbing up a building. Shortly after that, he gets a cryptic note and a very bad poem. The note and poem are an invitation to play a game of Treasure Hunt. This isn’t a case of some odd, but harmless, fan, though. Instead, Montalbano is drawn into a strange killer’s dangerous game.

There are plenty of other novels, too, where the clues come in the form of a cryptic poem. Even for people who aren’t much for poetry, those sorts of clues can invite the reader to engage in the story. They can also add an interesting layer of character depth. Which crime-fictional poems have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Danity Kane’s Poetry.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Arthur Conan Doyle, Åsa Träff, Camilla Grebe, John Dickson Carr