Category Archives: Andrea Camilleri

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

In the End, Only Kindness Matters*

OnlyKindnessMattersThere’s been a lot of bad news from all over the world lately. At times like this, I think it’s helpful to remember that people are also capable of great kindness (and OK, the cute ‘roo in the ‘photo is an extra bonus😉 ). I’d bet you’ve experienced kindness in your own life, and shared it with others. It’s all over crime fiction, too.

It’s not easy to write a ‘kind’ scene in a crime novel. After all, those stories are about things that people do to one another, and crime fiction fans don’t want their books too ‘sugary.’ But there are ways to weave such scenes into a crime novel. And, when done well, they can add a welcome bit of light into an otherwise sad novel. For the writer, they can move the plot along, too, and add character development.

In Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side (AKA The Mirror Crack’d), we are introduced to Heather Badcock. She lives with her husband, Arthur, in a brand-new council housing development in St. Mary Mead. Heather’s far from perfect, but she has what’s sometimes called a big heart. So one day, when she sees an elderly lady stumble and twist her ankle, she’s only too happy to help. That lady turns out to be Miss Marple, who is quite grateful for the kindness of a stranger. That’s partly why she gets involved in the case when Heather later dies of what turns out to be poison. Miss Marple is not at all blind to Heather’s faults and weaknesses, but she also sees her good qualities. It’s an interesting case of a character whose positive qualities turn out to have a negative side, if I can put it that way.

In Arthur Upfield’s Death of a Swagman, Queensland Police Inspector Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte travels to the small town of Merino to investigate the death of itinerant stockman George Kendall. In order to get as much information as possible, he goes undercover as ‘just another swagman.’ With the help of Sergeant Marshall of the local police, he arranges to be jailed for ten days for vagrancy, loitering, lying to the police, and interfering with the police. He’s in his jail cell when he meets eight-year-old Florence Marshall (who usually goes by Rose Marie), the sergeant’s daughter.  Florence brings the ‘prisoner’ tea, and strikes up a friendship with him, and Bony is grateful for her kindness. Interestingly enough, he doesn’t condescend to her, which endears him to her. Later in the novel, Bony’s able to repay her kindness.

Ernesto Mallo’s Needle in Haystack begins as Buenos Aires police officer Venancio ‘Perro’ Lascano and his team raid a brothel. They have to be careful about, too. On the one hand, the ruling far-right junta (the novel takes place in the late 1970s) wants to put on a show of being tough on such crimes. And it’s as much as a death sentence to go against them. On the other, several important community leaders are patrons of the brothel. Still, the police carry out their duty. As Lascano is making one last pass through the establishment, he discovers a young woman hiding there. She’s not one of the brothel workers; rather, she’s using the place as a refuge. Lascano escorts her to safety, where he finds out that her name is Eva. He gives Eva temporary shelter in his home; and at first, she assumes he’s going to want something in return. But he asks neither for information nor sexual attention. In fact, as the novel goes on, he continues to treat her with kindness with no apparent ulterior motive. In the end, that kindness saves her life. This isn’t the main plot of the novel, really. But it does show how a kind gesture can add a ‘lift’ even to a noir story such as this one, where people generally can’t trust one another.

Andrea Camilleri’s The Snack Thief includes a sub-plot regarding a young boy named François. When his mother, Karima, disappears (her reasons are a part of the main plot), he’s left more or less alone in the world. Vigàta Inspector Salvo Montalbano has compassion for the boy and takes him in temporarily. That’s mostly at the behest of Montalbano’s longtime lover, Livia, who’s visiting at the time. Livia and François, especially, form a bond that benefits both of them. In the end, that kindness allows François to build a new life.

Paddy Richardson’s Hunting Blind is the story of Stephanie Anderson. When she’s fourteen, her younger sister Gemma goes missing during a school picnic/barbecue. Despite a massive search, no trace of Gemma is ever found. Seventeen years later, Stephanie is just finishing her training in psychiatry in Dunedin. She gets a new patient, Elisabeth Clark, who tells her a story that’s eerily similar to Stephanie’s own. Elisabeth’s sister Gracie also disappeared, also with no trace. Against her better judgement, Stephanie decides to lay her own ghosts to rest, and goes in search of the person who caused so much hurt to both her family and the Clarks. So she travels back to her home town of Wanaka. Along the way, she stays for a short time with Elisabeth’s father, Andy. Although she’s a stranger to Andy, really, he makes her welcome at the Guest House he owns, and treats her with kindness. So do other people she meets along the way. That kindness doesn’t catch the person responsible for the disappearances, but it shores Stephanie up during her journey. And it helps her do some healing.

And then there’s Ilsa Evans’ Nefarious Doings, which introduces Victoria newspaper columnist Nell Forrest. One night, Nell gets a visit from the police, who tell her that there’s been a fire at the home of her mother, Lillian ‘Yen.’ What’s more, a man’s body was found in the ruins of the garage, where the fire started. He is Dustin Craig, who lived next door. At first, the police think that he died in a terrible accident (although there is some question about what he was doing at the next-door house late at night). But soon, it’s proven that he was murdered. Now, Yen herself comes under suspicion, and there’s good reason for that. Nell starts to ask some questions, and discovers that several other people have strong motives for murder. In the course of her search for the truth, Nell herself gets into grave danger. Despite that, though, she finds a way to be kind to another character who’s also in danger. That kindness doesn’t exactly cement a friendship. But it does show that even when things look terrible, people can be kind.

And that’s the thing about kindness. It doesn’t have to be ‘sugary sweet’ (Nell’s isn’t, for instance). And in a crime novel, most readers wouldn’t want such saccharine anyway. But kindness can add a touch of relief to a novel. And in real life, those little kindnesses can make a difference. It doesn’t take much to reach out. And it can be an antidote to everything going on in the world…
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jewel Kilcher’s Hands.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Arthur Upfield, Ernesto Mallo, Ilsa Evans, Paddy Richardson

Doesn’t Seem To Be a Shadow in The City*

Summer in the CityThe weather is heating up in the Northern Hemisphere. In some places, people are already using their air conditioning, pulling out beachwear and fans, and looking through those recipes for cold drinks.

In the days before air conditioning, anyone who had the means at all would get out of the city as soon as possible. Some would spend the summer at the beach; that’s how many coastal towns got their start. Others would go to the country; in fact, there’s a long tradition of wealthy families who have both city places and country homes. Even today, it’s not uncommon for people who can afford it to beat the heat by getting out of the city.

We certainly see that in crime fiction. And it’s surprising how often that custom ends up getting a character involved in a case of murder. I’ll bet you’re already thinking of examples; here are just a few of my own.

Mary Roberts Rinehart’s The Circular Staircase begins when Rachel Innes and her maid, Liddy Allen, travel to Sunnyside, a country home that she’s rented for a summer holiday. The idea is to get away from the heat of the city for a while. Rachel’s also looking forward to spending some time with her nephew, Halsey, and niece, Gertrude, whom she’s more or less raised since their father (and her brother) died. If Rachel had only known that taking that house would get her and her family involved in a case of theft, murder and fraud, she might have made different summer plans…

In Elizabeth Daly’s Unexpected Night, rare book dealer Henry Gamadge is spending some time at the Ocean House resort at Ford’s Beach, Maine. At the time this book was written, it wasn’t uncommon for people from New York or Boston (and sometimes even cities such as Philadelphia) to spend the summer in Maine. During Gamadge’s visit, he makes friends with Colonel Harrison Barclay and his family, who are staying nearby. So he’s on the scene when the Cowdens (relatives of the Barclays) arrive for their own summer getaway. Eleanor Cowden has brought her daughter Alma, her son Amberley, and Amberley’s tutor Hugh Sanderson. Amberley has a very serious heart condition, but he’s insisted on this trip, so that he can support a cousin of his who has a theatre group in nearby Seal Cove. On the night of the Cowden’s arrival, Amberley dies, and his body is found the next morning at the foot of a cliff. Then there’s another death. And two attempts at another murder. Gamadge works with local police detective Mitchell to find out who’s behind all of these events.

In Phoebe Atwood Taylor’s The Cape Cod Mystery, we are introduced to Prudence Whitsby and her niece, Betsey. A heat wave has arrived, and they’re planning to escape it by taking a trip to their summer cottage on Cape Cod. They’ve gotten a sheaf of letters and telegrams from potential guests, but have narrowed down the list to two, and the holiday begins. One night, Prudence’s cat Ginger escapes; while chasing after the cat, Prudence discovers the body of Dale Sanborn, a famous writer who’s staying in the   cottage next door. A family friend of the Whitsbys, Bill Porter, is the most likely suspect. He was in the area at the time of the murder, he can’t account for himself, and he has a motive. But his employee and ‘man-of-all-work,’ Asey Mayo, doesn’t believe he’s guilty. Together, Asey and Prudence set out to prove that Bill Porter is innocent.

As anyone who’s ever lived there can tell you, Delhi can get extremely hot in the summer. So in Aditya Sudarshan’s A Nice Quite Holiday, Justice Harish Shinde is happy to escape the heat. He accepts an invitation from an old friend, Shikhar Pant, to take a holiday in Bhairavgarh, in the Indian state of Rajasthan. With him, the judge brings his law clerk, Anant.
 

‘In Delhi, it was that time of summer when cool days are difficult to recollect and impossible to imagine.’
 

So Anant is delighted to be included in the trip. The pair arrive, settle in, and soon meet the rest of Pant’s guests. Trouble soon starts, because two of those guests, Ronit and Khamini Mittal, run a controversial NGO. Its purpose is AIDS education and prevention in the rural areas, and there are plenty of people who oppose both the NGO and its pamphlets. One afternoon, Kailish Pant, the host’s cousin, is found murdered. He was a strong supporter of the Mittals’ work, so this presents one important avenue for investigation. But as Shinde and Anant soon learn, it’s by no means the only possibility.

Donna Leon’s sleuth, Commissario Guido Brunetti, tries to escape the Venice summer heat in A Question of Belief. He, his wife, Paola Falier, and their children Chiara and Raffi, are planning a trip to the mountains, and everyone is excited about it. The family is on the train, on the way to their destination, when Brunetti gets a call from a colleague. Araldo Fontana, a clerk at the local courthouse – the Tribunale di Venezia – has been bludgeoned in the courtyard of the apartment building where he lives. Now Brunetti has to get off the train at the next stop, return to Venice and the heat, and try to find out who committed the murder and why.

And in Andrea Camilleri’s August Heat, Inspector Salvo Montalbano doesn’t even get the opportunity to make plans to beat the Sicilian summer heat. His second-in-command, Mimì Augello, has had to change his own summer travel plans, so Montalbano has to stay in sweltering Vigàta. When he explains the situation to his longtime lover, Livia, she has the idea of renting a beach house near Montalbano. And, since Montalbano is likely to be busy with work, she’ll bring some friends to stay with her and keep her company. Montalbano’s not happy with the idea, but the plan’s put in motion. It doesn’t work out to be a good solution, though. When the son of Livia’s friend disappears, that’s bad enough. He’s found, unharmed, in a secret tunnel that runs underneath the house. But so is an old trunk that contains a corpse…

See what I mean? Sometimes it seems there’s no escaping trouble. Even when you try to escape the heat…

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Lovin’ Spoonful’s Summer in the City.

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Filed under Aditya Sudarshan, Andrea Camilleri, Donna Leon, Elizabeth Daly, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Phoebe Atwood Taylor

But Nothing on Earth Could Ever Divide Us*

Children's Friendships with AdultsThere’s an old saying that ‘it takes a village to raise a child.’ Certainly children are influenced not just by their parents and siblings, but also by a lot of other people, too. And sometimes they form friendships with people you wouldn’t expect. There’s even a certain bond that develops sometimes between children and older people.

That may be because older people have the time and patience to hear what children have to say. And for their part, children often have a different perspective on what their grandparents and other older people have to say.  Those friendships are woven into crime fiction, and they can add interesting layers of plot and character development to a story.

Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun introduces readers to sixteen-year-old Linda Marshall. She and her father, Captain Kenneth Marshall, take a holiday at the Jolly Roger Hotel, on Leathercombe Bay. With them is Marshall’s second wife, famous actress Arlena Stuart Marshall. Linda’s going through all of the awkwardness that comes with being a teenager. And things are not made any easier by the fact that her stepmother is beautiful and graceful. Linda’s very unhappy, but doesn’t really have anyone to talk to about what’s on her mind. One day, Arlena is found strangled not far from the hotel. Hercule Poirot, who’s taking a holiday at the same place, works with the police to catch the killer. As a part of the investigation, he has to find out what Linda knows and whether she might have been involved in some way. And it’s interesting to see how he reaches out to her. In her own awkward way, Linda reaches out, too, and that adds to this story. I agree with you, fans of Dead Man’s Folly.

In Arthur Upfield’s The Bushman Who Came Back, Queensland Police Inspector Napoleon ‘Boney’ Bonaparte investigates a murder that takes place at Mount Eden, a homestead belonging to Mr. Wooten. One day, Wooten’s housekeeper, Mrs. Bell, is found shot in the kitchen. What’s worse, her seven-year-old daughter Linda has gone missing. There’s evidence that a local bushman nicknamed Ol Fren Yorky was at the scene of the crime. He knew the people living at the ranch, too, and is thoroughly familiar with the area.  So it wouldn’t have been hard for him to take the child and disappear. No-one wants to believe that Yorky would have committed this crime or hurt Linda, since he’s well-liked. But it is a possibility, so he has to be found. Boney works with the local police to find out the truth behind this case; and, as he does, we learn that Linda and Yorky are friends in that way that children make friends with older people. It adds both a plot point and a layer of interest to the novel. You’re absolutely right, fans of Death of a Swagman.

Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Salvo Montalbano and his longtime lover, Livia Burlando, make friends with a young boy named François in The Snack Thief. In one plot thread of that novel, Montalbano investigates the murder of a retired business executive who was killed in the elevator of his apartment building. The key to this mystery, and to another murder that Montalbano and his team are investigating, may be Karima, a housekeeper and sometimes-prostitute who could be a connection between the two cases. By the time Montalbano discovers this link, though, Karima has disappeared, leaving behind her son François. While the police team is looking for the boy’s mother, he has to stay somewhere safe, so Montalbano and Livia (who happens to be visiting) take him in. In the process, they strike up a friendship with him, and Livia in particular begins to bond with him. François isn’t the reason for the murders, but that friendship adds character depth to Montalbano and to Livia, and an interesting plot thread.

Virginia Duigan’s The Precipice features former school principal Thea Farmer. She bought a piece of land in New South Wales’ Blue Mountains, and had a dream home built, with the idea of living out her retirement there. But bad luck and poor financial decisions have changed her plans. Now, she lives in the much smaller house next door to the home she used to own. What’s worse, the home she still considers hers has been purchased by Frank Campbell and Ellice Carrington, people she refers to as ‘invaders’ and ‘aliens.’ Thea’s just getting used to that when Frank’s twelve-year-old niece, Kim, moves in with him and Ellice. Oddly enough, considering that Thea tends to be a misanthrope, she and Kim form an odd sort of friendship. They begin to spend time together, and Kim even attends a writing class that Thea’s taking. In fact, Thea sees real promise in the girl. So when she suspects that Frank and Ellice may not be providing an appropriate home for Kim, Thea gets concerned. She has no real evidence, though, so the police aren’t likely to do anything about it. So, Thea decides to make her own plans. The relationship between Thea and Kim is a really engaging (and important) plot thread in this novel.

And then there’s Derek B. Miller’s Norwegian by Night. Sheldon Horowitz has moved from his native New York City to Norway, to be closer to his granddaughter Rhea and her Norwegian husband Lars. One day, he inadvertently witnesses the murder of a young woman who lives upstairs from Rhea and Lars. He rescues her young son, and he and the boy go on the lam. Horowitz knows that the killers could be after the boy, and wants to keep him safe. Neither speaks the other’s language, but the two form a sort of friendship as they try to elude the murderers. For the boy, Horowitz represents a kind of safety. For Horowitz, the boy adds a purpose to his life.

And that’s the thing about the friendships that can develop between children and older people. Each fulfills a need that the other has, and that bond can do much for both. And in novels, such friendships can add character development and interest.

 

 
 

*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, Arthur Upfield, Derek B. Miller, Virginia Duigan

Have Myself a Home Life*

HomeLifeAbout a week ago, we had a really interesting discussion about domestic scenes and home life in crime fiction. At the time, I asked you what your preference is regarding those scenes. Do you prefer books that have them? Books that don’t? Does it matter?

With warm thanks to those of you who voted, here’s what I found.

 

Home Life Preferences

 

One of the interesting things about these findings is that those of you who expressed a preference were more or less evenly split between those who prefer a lot of domestic scenes, and those who prefer few, if any. Four of you (22%) prefer crime novels with such plot layers; three of you (17%) prefer crime novels that have few, if any, of them.

To me, this means that there isn’t really a mandate one way or the other. That inference gets support from the major finding here. Eleven of you (61%) told me you have no preference with regards to scenes of domestic life, so long as the focus of a story is on the plot.

I admit these findings don’t really surprise me. Today’s crime fiction readers want a solid plot that makes sense and keeps them engaged. In fact, the findings are similar to what you told me not long ago about books that you don’t finish. Of the reasons you might not finish a book, about 30 of the 76 votes (some 39%) were plot problems (plodding story and too much suspension of disbelief). So it makes sense to me that, for the majority of you, a plot that’s interesting and keeps you engaged is more important than other factors.

And yet, let’s not forget that 15 of you (83%) in this poll told me that you either don’t mind domestic scenes (so long as the focus is on the plot), or outright prefer them. To me, this means that character development (of which domestic life is a part, I’d argue) is important to you.

The key to all this, as it so often is) seems to be the way the author handles it. If the author weaves those scenes in, so that the plot is still the focus, then home life can add layers of character development and even sub-plots to a story.

Everyone has a different definition of how that’s accomplished, and who (among authors) does it well. But here are a few examples you’ve mentioned: Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series; Reginald Hill’s Dalziel/Pascoe series; Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn Shreve series; and Andrea Camilleri’s Salvo Montalbano series. There are many others, too, of course.

What’s your take on this? Got any final thoughts about the topic? If you’re a writer, I’d really be interested in your thought process on how much domesticity to include.

Thanks again to all of you who participated. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go do the dishes and some laundry. Then I have a family dinner to plan…

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from John Mayer’s Home Life.

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Filed under Andrea Camilleri, Elly Griffiths, Gail Bowen, Reginald Hill