Category Archives: Andrea Camilleri

I’m Getting Married in the Morning*

Pressure to MarryOne of the more famous literary opening lines (from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice) is this:
 

‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.’
 

And to say the very least, there’s been equal pressure on women to find husbands. Of course, times have changed since Austen wrote those lines. Being single for a long time, even permanently, isn’t looked down on as it once was. And many, many people live together permanently (and happily) without going through a wedding ceremony. They may be legally married under common law, but they choose not to get a marriage license. And of course, there are millions of same-sex marriages, too. So the concept of ‘spouse’ has changed.

Still, that pressure to ‘land a husband’ or wife has been woven into many cultures for an awfully long time. It’s there all through crime fiction, too. And that pressure can add an interesting layer of character development to a story, as well as an interesting statement on the social context of that story.

K.B. Owen’s Concordia Wells faces that sort of pressure in Owen’s historical mystery series. Concordia is a teacher at Hartford (Connecticut) Women’s College during the last years of the 19th Century. At that time, ladies, at least those in the ‘better classes’ only work until they marry. Their primary goal is ‘supposed to be’ to find a husband. On the one hand, Concordia likes the independence her job allows. She doesn’t feel the need to gain her identity through her marital status. On the other hand, she has found someone special. And for her, this presents an interesting dilemma. Should she marry (which means giving up her career) or should she remain single (which means going against the social pressure, and her own attachment)? I hear you, fans of Kerry Greenwood’s Dorothy ‘Dot’ Williams!

The search for a spouse is an important factor in Brian Stoddart’s A Madras Miasma, which is set in 1920, during the last decades of the British Raj. Virginia Campbell and Jane Carstairs are young English women who are spending some time in Madras. They and other young women like them are often referred to as ‘the fishing fleet’ because of their purpose for being in Madras. They’re no longer in their early twenties, and the proverbial clock is ticking. So they’re looking to meet as many well-placed, eligible, young men as possible, in hopes of finding a husband. They attend every party, sailing trip, picnic and other social event they can. One night, after one such event, Jane is murdered and her body left in Buckingham Canal. Superintendent Christian Le Fanu and his assistant, Sergeant Muhammad Habibullah, take charge of the investigation. As they trace the victim’s last days and hours, they (and readers) get a sense of ‘the marriage marketplace’ in the Madras of that time.

There’s an interesting discussion of the pressure to find a spouse in Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun. Rosamund Darnley is a very successful clothing designer whose creations are well regarded (and upmarket). She takes a holiday at the Jolly Roger Hotel on Leathercombe Bay, only to meet up unexpectedly with an old friend, Captain Kenneth Marshall. He’s there with his wife, actress Arlena Stuart, and his daughter, Linda. Rosamund is very proud of her career and her talent. And yet, as she tells Poirot,
 

‘…all the same, I’m nothing but a wretched old maid!’
 

Poirot is of the opinion that
 
‘To marry and have children, that is the common lot of women.’
 

He doesn’t disapprove of women having careers, nor does he think less of Rosamund because she is in business. In fact, he quite admires her. That doesn’t, of course, stop him considering her a suspect when Arlena Marshall is murdered.

In Rex Stout’s Champagne For One, Archie Goodwin agrees to stand in for a friend at a dinner party hosted by society leader Louise Robilotti. The dinner dance is an annual event with a not-very-well-hidden agenda. Mrs. Roilotti is a patron of Grantham House, a home for unwed mothers. The idea of the dinner dance is to introduce a few of these young women to some of the eligible bachelors in the ‘better circles,’ and perhaps make a match or two. On this night, though, no-one’s thinking much about matchmaking after one of the guests, Faith Usher, suddenly dies. At first it’s put down to suicide, since she had poison with her and had threatened to kill herself. But Goodwin isn’t sure at all that it is suicide. So, with his boss Nero Wolfe’s support, Goodwin starts to ask questions. It turns out that he was absolutely right: Faith Usher was murdered.

Of course, there are plenty of people who don’t feel an undue amount of pressure to marry. Even in books written during and about times past, there are characters like that. Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher, for instance, feels no burning desire to marry, although she does have several relationships. In fact, that’s part of what makes her daring for her time.

Fans of Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Salvo Montalbano will know that he and his lover Livia have gone back and forth about marriage more than once. They do care deeply about each other, and in The Snack Thief, readers even get a glimpse of what they might be like as parents. In that novel, Montalbano and his team investigate the murder of a retired executive, which turns out to be connected to another case, the death of a Tunisian sailor who was on board an Italian fishing boat when he was killed. In the course of the story, Montalbano and Livia have the temporary care of a young boy whose mother has disappeared. It’s interesting to see this side of both of them. And yet, they don’t really feel a lot of social pressure to get married, and a lot of the time, they feel no great compulsion to do so.

That’s also true of Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza’s Inspector Espinosa. He lives and works in Rio de Janeiro, where he’s well settled in. He’s in a relationship with Irene, a graphics designer who lives and works in São Paulo. Neither is what you’d call very young. But neither really feels the pressure to marry and ‘settle down.’ They do care about each other, but there’s no real compulsion to marry.

It’s interesting to see how that social pressure has changed and not changed over time. I think that’s true in real life, and it’s true in crime fiction, too.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s Get Me to the Church on Time.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Brian Stoddart, Jane Austen, K.B. Owen, Kerry Greenwood, Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza, Rex Stout

I Won’t Do That*

Codes and Crossing LinesOne thing that crime fiction shows us is the complexity of human nature. We see just a part of that complexity when we think about people’s personal ‘codes of conduct.’ Just about everyone seems to have a code, too, even criminals. We all have lines that we don’t cross. And it’s interesting to look at how those codes differ and how they play out in crime novels. They can add richness to a character, and a layer of interest to a story.

Several of Agatha Christie’s stories feature such codes. For example, in Murder on the Orient Express, Hercule Poirot is en route to London on the famous Orient Express. On the second night of the journey, one of his fellow passengers, American businessman Samuel Ratchett, is stabbed to death. The only possible suspects are the other passengers on the same coach, so Poirot concentrates on them. And that’s one of the interesting things about this case. The murderer doesn’t want other people on the train to be suspected and perhaps arrested. There’s another aspect of this case, too, that shows the codes of conduct people can have, even if we might not agree with it. Mentioning it would spoil the story for those who don’t know it, but it adds an interesting layer to the story, as well as an interesting topic for discussion.

In William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw, Glasgow DI Jack Laidlaw and his team are investigating the rape and murder of eighteen-year-old Jennifer Lawson. Laidlaw knows that very few people will be willing to talk to him about what they might have witnessed. So he and DC Brian Harkness take another approach. They go to visit John Rhodes, who is unofficially in charge of the part of Glasgow where the murder occurred. Rhodes didn’t get to the top by being pleasant and easygoing. He’s a hard man who has no compunctions about using violence, even murder if it comes to that. But he draws the line at involving women and children. To him, the murder of Jennifer Lawson has crossed a line that goes against his code. And on that score, he agrees to find out what he can about anyone who might have witnessed the crime.

One of the ‘regulars’ in Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Salvo Montalbano series is his old school friend Gegè Gullotta. Gullotta is a small-time drug dealer and local crime leader. He runs a notorious area outside the town of Vigàta called The Pasture. It’s a place for sex workers to meet their clients and drug deals to be made. Gullotta is a criminal who doesn’t hesitate to profit from his ‘enterprises. But he has a code. He doesn’t involve children in his deals, and he doesn’t condone violent crimes like rape and murder. In fact, he works to make sure that what happens in The Pasture doesn’t cause trouble for those who don’t want to be involved in what goes on there.

Sophie Littlefield’s Stella Hardesty runs a sewing supply store in rural Prosper, Missouri. On the surface, she seems harmless enough. But she also has a ‘side business.’ Having once been a victim of domestic abuse herself, Hardesty is determined that no other woman or child will have to endure what she endured. So, when survivors of domestic abuse ask for her help, she obliges. Her first step is to pay a very unpleasant visit to the abuser. If that isn’t enough to make him mend his ways, she visits again. And this visit is even more unpleasant. Few of her ‘parolees’ need more warning than that. What Hardesty does is criminal, according to the law. She can be quite violent. But she does have a code. Except in the few cases where she has to defend herself, she doesn’t kill. And she doesn’t target just anyone. Although it may not always seem like it, there are lines that she doesn’t cross.

There’s a different sort of code in Garry Disher’s Bitter Wash Road. Constable Paul ‘Hirsch’ Hirschhausen has just been stationed in Tiverton, in rural South Australia. He was more or less exiled from Adelaide because he got the reputation as a ‘whistleblower’ in an internal investigation. When the body of fifteen-year-old Melia Donovan is discovered by the side of Bitter Wash Road, Hirsch gets involved in the investigation. Along with finding Melia’s killer, he has to deal with the very deeply held police code that you don’t ‘do the dirty’ on a fellow officer. Police will forgive each other a lot of things, but reporting each other is the line most of them won’t cross. On the one hand, that makes sense when you need to trust other officers with your life. On the other, it means a lot of unethical and illegal activity doesn’t get reported. It’s a double-edged sword, as the saying goes, but it’s a very firm line for a lot of police. And it makes for a really interesting topic for discussion.

There are a lot of other example of characters, including criminals, who have their own personal codes. Each one’s a little different, and each one can make for interesting dilemmas and tension in stories. Those codes, and those lines that aren’t crossed, also make for layers of character depth.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jim Steinman’s I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That).

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Garry Disher, Sophie Littlefield, William McIlvanney

You’ll Find it Takes Teamwork Every Time*

TeamworkIt’s very rare that an individual solves a crime, especially a crime as complex as murder, alone. And even in crime fiction from the classic and Golden Age years, there are plenty of examples of sleuths who work with a partner (e.g. Holmes and Watson, Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, and Poirot and Hastings). But since the advent of the more modern police procedural, we’ve seen a growth in crime fiction that follows not just one or two sleuths, but a whole team of them. These novels aren’t just stories of the crimes; they are also the stories of the groups of people who solve them. So they are arguably character studies as well as crime novels.

This kind of series can be a bit challenging to write. On the one hand, the author wants a group of interesting, perhaps even eccentric characters. On the other, it’s important to keep the focus on the mystery at hand. That balance isn’t always easy, but when it does work, the result can be memorable.

Beginning in 1956, Ed McBain published a long series of novels featuring the police of the 87th Precinct. Although Steve Carella, Meyer Meyer and Bert Kling appear most frequently in this series, it’s really about many other people at the precinct, too. The various characters have their eccentricities and foibles, but they work together as a team, and each one brings something to that team. The series is a long one, and there are several story arcs throughout it that involve the personal lives of the various detectives. But that said, the focus in these novels really is the cases at hand.

Shortly after the 87th Precinct series got underway, Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö began their ten-novel Martin Beck series. Starting with Roseanna, this series follows Beck and his Stockholm homicide team as they go about their work. The novels do include story arcs that deal with the characters’ personal lives, and we get to know them as people. They have their eccentricities, as we all do, and they certainly don’t always see eye to eye. But they do work as a team, and they know they depend on each other. Fans will know that Sjöwall and Wahlöö used this series as a way to critique Swedish government and society. Even so, the novels keep their focus on the crimes that are the focus of the novels. The plots don’t tend to get lost, if I may put it that way.

The same might be said of Reginald Hill’s series featuring Superintendent Andy Dalziel and his team. Beginning with 1970’s A Clubbable Woman, this series follows Dalziel, his assistant, Peter Pascoe, and the various members of their team. On one level, many of the sub-plots and story arcs follow the characters’ personal lives. We get to know their backgrounds, and we see them as people. They’re in some ways a very disparate group, too, so it’s interesting to see how they interact. They don’t always agree; and sometimes, there’s real tension among them. And yet, they do respect each other, and each one adds to the team’s collective ability. That’s arguably why Dalziel supports them as he does. Part of what has made this series so successful is arguably the way in which the characters develop, and their personal stories. But Hill also didn’t lose sight of the mysteries at hand in these novels. The real focus is the set of cases that the team investigates.

One of the most eccentric groups of detectives is the one supervised by Fred Vargas’ Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg. His team includes Danglard, a ‘walking encyclopedia’ who drinks far more white wine than you’d think judicious; Mercadet, who deals with narcolepsy; and Betancourt, a naturalist who interacts more effectively with animals than with people. There’s also (in a few novels) Snowball the office cat. These are very disparate characters, and their personal stories are woven through the series. In several story arcs, we learn about their backgrounds and their home lives. They certainly don’t always agree on things, but they do know that they depend on each other and their boss. And Adamsberg knows he depends on his team. These particular characters may not be conventional, but they get the job done. While the stories in this series do include character development, their focus is the mysteries that the team solves.

More recently, Andrea Camilleri’s Salvo Montalbano series also shows how a disparate team of people work together to solve crimes. Montalbano may get irritated with one or another (or even a few) members of his team from time to time. And each member has weaknesses and personal foibles. But all of the team members know that they depend on each other. They’re quite a motley crew, as the saying goes. But they each bring something to the team, and everyone knows that, especially Montalbano. There are story arcs and sub-plots that explore the personal lives of some of the team members, and Camilleri fleshes out the characters. But the focus here, as it is in the other series I’ve mentioned, is the plots – the actual cases.

Thus far I’ve discussed police teams, but there are also plenty of examples of this sort of teamwork outside the police station, too. For example, Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman series features Chapman, who lives and has her bakery in a distinctive Melbourne building. But the stories are most definitely not just about her. Several other people also live and/or have businesses in the same building, and we get to know them all as the series goes on. They’re all quite different, and each has eccentricities. But they do work together and each contributes to the series. Their personal stories are woven into the series in the form of story arcs and sub-plots, but the main focus is the set of mysteries. Greenwood weaves together character development and plot development as the series goes on.

And that seems to be the key to making such ‘ensemble’ series work. Readers want to know about the characters; story arcs and sub-plots can help in this. But such novels work best when the real focus is on the plot. Which ‘ensemble casts’ do you like best? If you’re a writer, do you use teams?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen’s Teamwork.

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Filed under Andrea Camilleri, Ed McBain, Fred Vargas, Kerry Greenwood, Maj Sjöwall, Per Wahlöö, Reginald Hill

Everywhere You Look Now There’s Murder Incorporated*

Changing Bad GuysWell-written crime fiction shows us ourselves – who we are as people. We can learn a lot about what we wish for, fear, and more as we read in the genre. For instance, if you consider the ‘bad guys’ in certain crime novels, you see that they reflect sociopolitical events, societal fears and sometimes prejudices. You also see how those have changed as the world has changed.

For example, if you look at early crime fiction, or historical crime fiction that takes place during the late Victorian Era and the Edwardian Era, you see that the ‘bad guys’ were frequently members or leaders of shadowy syndicates and crime rings. The best known example that I can think of is, of course, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Professor Moriarty. Fans will know that he is a highly intelligent master-criminal who gives Sherlock Holmes quite a run for the money, as the saying goes. But he’s not the only criminal of that type. You see that influence also in Will Thomas’ Fatal Enquiry. In that novel, private enquiry agent Cyrus Barker and his assistant Thomas Llewelyn go up against Sebastian Nightwine, a dangerous opponent whom Barker exposed as a criminal years ago. When Nightwine returns to London, Barker is sure that trouble is going to follow, and he’s right. Barker ends up accused of murder and on the run, with all of his assets frozen. Then there’s another murder. He and Llewelyn will have to work hard to clear his name and take down Nightwine’s.  A few of Agatha Christie’s novels (The Big Four being one of them) also set up shadowy syndicates as ‘the enemy).

More modern novels, such as Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano stories, have a more contemporary take on the crime syndicate. Sometimes, as in Camilleri’s work and that of authors such as Michael Dibdin and Tonino Benacquista, the syndicate takes the form of what we call the Mafia (sometimes in the US, it’s called the Mob). There are also modern takes on crime syndicates from other places, too, such as the Glasgow underworld that we see in William McIlvanney’s and Malcolm Mackay’s work.

World War I and World War II had profound influences on people’s conceptions of ‘bad guys.’ Several of Agatha Christie’s stories (N or M? and Postern of Fate, for instance) set up first the Triple Alliance, then the Axis powers (specifically the Nazis) as ‘the bad guys.’

And by no means is Christie the only author who’s used Nazis, their associates, and their modern-day incarnations as antagonists. You see that in a lot of crime fiction and thrillers, actually. Just to take a few examples, there’s Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther novels, Ira Levin’s The Boys From Brazil, and Robert Gott’s The Holiday Murders.

In fact, the Nazis-as-enemies have had a profound influence even in modern crime fiction that simply touches on the World War II years. I’m thinking, for instance, of Camilla Läckberg’s The Hidden Child, Åsa Larsson’s Until Thy Wrath be Past, and Ferdinand von Schirach’s Der Fall Collini (The Collini Case). In those novels (and many more), we see how modern relationships, interactions, and even crime has its roots in the war, in Nazi occupation and in loyalties of that time.  It will be interesting to see what happens to that theme as time goes on, and there are fewer and fewer people whose parents/grandparents/great-grandparents lived through World War II.

In the post-World War II era, one of the most important geopolitical realities was the Cold War between the UK, US and their allies, and the then-Soviet Union and its allies. This arguably set up the KGB and other Soviet-bloc spy agencies as very effective ‘bad guys.’ Read the work of authors such as John le Carré, Len Deighton and Robert Ludlum, and you’ll see that in a lot of those novels, the enemy is usually the KGB or other such agency in some form or another. Sometimes it’s one person who’s a member of such a group, but that person often represents the Soviet Union and its policies. You can even see such sentiments in books that aren’t exactly what you would call spy thrillers. For example, there’s Martin Cruz Smith’s work featuring Arkady Renko. And Walter Mosley’s The Red Death has his sleuth Ezekiel ‘Easy’ Rawlins being asked to take down a suspected Communist. As I think about the Cold War era, I often wonder what impression I’d get if I could read Russian well enough to read some of the novels of those years that are written in that language.

When the Soviet Union broke up in 1993, the world changed, and so did crime fiction. There are arguably two kinds of ‘bad guys’ that have populated crime fiction since that time. One is the Eastern European crime gang that we see in novels such as Daniel Pembrey’s The Harbour Master. Another, very closely related, outgrowth is arguably the Eastern European/Russian human trafficking gang (check out Tess Gerritson’s Vanish as an example). The other sort of ‘bad guy’ is the Russian oligarch/shady businessman. With official Communism at an end, these businessmen came to the fore in terms of their power and ruthlessness. Several of Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus novels mention them (especially Exit Music). There are also some thrillers (such as Daniel Silva’s Moscow Rules) that touch on such people as ‘the bad guys.’

Another recent development in terms of ‘bad guys’ is the terrorist group, particularly the Middle Eastern terrorist group. Novels such as le Carré’s 1983 The Little Drummer Girl are earlier examples of such crime fiction, but by no means the only ones. Lindy Cameron’s Redback includes such terrorists as ‘bad guys.’ So do many other novels. In the wake of more recent terrorist events, we’ve seen a lot more such ‘bad guys,’ even in novels that aren’t billed as ‘thrillers.’

There’s also been another development in the sort of ‘bad guy’ authors choose: big corporations and their leaders.  I’m sure you’ve read as many novels as I have in which big developers are depicted as antagonists. Some novels (I’m thinking of Gail Bowen’s Kaleidoscope) present a more complex picture of development. But many depict big companies and developers quite negatively. For instance, there’s Peter Temple’s Bad Debts, several of C.J. Box’s Joe Pickett novels, and more.

Not all crime novels feature this sort of plot. Many are more personal plots, if I can put it that way. They feature crimes where one person (or a group of people) commit murder for reasons such as revenge, fear, or personal greed. That said though, if we look at crime plots over time, we really do see, I think, how they often use certain antagonists to reflect the kind of fears and prejudices that we have. I wonder which group will be next to be depicted in this way…

 
 
 

NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bruce Springsteen’s Murder Incorporated.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Arthur Conan Doyle, Åsa Larsson, C.J. Box, Camilla Läckberg, Daniel Pembrey, Daniel Silva, Ferdinand von Schirach, Gail Bowen, Ian Rankin, Ira Levin, John le Carré, Len Deighton, Lindy Cameron, Malcolm Mackay, Martin Cruz Smith, Michael Dibdin, Peter Temple, Philip Kerr, Robert Gott, Robert Ludlum, Tess Gerritsen, Tonino Benacquista, Walter Mosley, Will Thomas, William McIlvanney

I Know You Have Laid a Trap For Me*

Traps and StingsMost criminals don’t want to be caught. So when the police don’t have enough evidence to pursue a conviction, it can be difficult for them to get a confession from the guilty party. There are, after all, limits to what police are allowed to do to obtain a confession. That’s one reason for which police sometimes use ruses and other setups to get criminals to talk.

This is always a bit tricky for the author of a crime novel. As I say, there are limits to what police can actually do. And for authors who write about amateur sleuths, there are limits to what those sleuths can believably do. Still, if it’s credibly done, a ruse or ‘sting’ can build tension in a story, and serve as an interesting plot point.

Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes uses such means in several of his cases. For example, in The Adventure of the Dancing Men, Holmes and Dr. Watson investigate a series of strange, coded notes that have been left for Elsie Cubitt. Her husband Hilton is so worried about his wife’s panicked reactions to the notes that he’s asked Holmes to look into the matter. One challenge in this case is to decipher the notes. The other is to catch the person sending them. Before Holmes and Watson can do both, there’s a tragedy in which Cubitt is shot. Elsie is the prime suspect, but Holmes doesn’t believe she’s guilty. A few clues give him a very good idea of who is responsible for the notes, and he uses the very code in which those notes were written to ‘flush out’ the killer and solve the case.

Agatha Christie’s Cards on the Table features the stabbing death of the very enigmatic Mr. Shaitana. The only possible suspects in this murder are the four people, guests at a dinner party he hosted, who were playing bridge in the same room when he died. Each claims to be innocent, of course, although each had a powerful motive and the opportunity. Hercule Poirot is among four sleuths who were also at the fateful dinner party, and he works with the other sleuths to find out who was guilty. He doesn’t really have conclusive proof, even towards the end of the story, and he knows that a confession from the criminal will be the only way to prove his case. So he uses a bit of trickery to get that person to tell what happened. It raises an interesting question of what would be permitted in real life. And that’s not the only Christie novel in which ruses are used to get confessions (I know, I know, fans of 4:50 From Paddington).

The first of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s Martin Beck novels, Roseanna, proves to be a very difficult case. It starts when the body of an unknown woman is pulled from Lake Vättern. She has no documentation, and there are no records of missing persons who match her description. After a great deal of time and effort, she is identified as Roseanna McGraw, an American who was on a cruise tour of Sweden. It takes another several months and a few strokes of luck to narrow down the possibilities to one prime suspect. But even then, Beck and his team know that this killer will not simply give in and submit to an arrest. So they arrange a difficult and (for one team member in particular) dangerous setup – a trap to catch the murderer. In the end, the ruse is successful, and the murderer is caught. But it raises an interesting question about cases where police go undercover to solve cases. How much danger is reasonable? More modern police procedurals show how important protecting the safety of operatives has become, and the developments in both procedure and equipment. But there is still danger.

Margaret Maron’s One Coffee With takes place mostly on the campus of Vanderlyn College, where Riley Quinn serves as deputy department chair of the Department of Art. One morning, department secretary Sandy Kepler goes as usual to the college cafeteria to bring back coffee for the members of the department. She returns with it and places the cups in their usual spot. Then there’s a buzz of activity as students and faculty go in and out of the main office where the cups are. One by one, various people get their coffee. Shortly after he takes his cup, Quinn dies of poison. NYPD Lieutenant Sigrid Harald and her assistant Detective Tildon take the case and begin the investigation. As they trace the events leading up to Quinn’s death, they find that just about everyone had motive for killing the victim. What’s more, enough people had access both the poison and to Quinn’s coffee that it’s very difficult to pin down exactly who was responsible. And even after Harald and Tildon deduce who the killer was, they haven’t enough conclusive proof to pursue the case in court. So Harald sets a trap for the killer, using one of the other suspects as ‘bait,’ if you will.

In Andrea Camilleri’s Dance of the Seagull, Vigàta Inspector Salvo Montalbano and his team investigate the disappearance of one of their own. Giuseppe Fazio was looking into a case of smuggling when he went missing, so his colleagues decide to follow the trail that he left. They believe that if they pick up where he left off, so to speak, they’ll find him. That turns out to be the right decision, as Fazio is found, wounded but alive. Getting him safely to a nearby hospital, and keeping him protected, is only part of the challenge the team faces. The other is catching the criminals he was after, especially when they end up being responsible for a brutal murder. Montalbano decides that the best way to catch the guilty party is to set up a trap, so with the help of one of the characters, that’s what he does. And in the end, he’s able to expose the murderer quite publicly.

Ruses, traps, and ‘stings’ can be very tricky. There are limits to what’s allowed and what’s feasible. They can be dangerous, and sometimes they don’t work. But they can add some interesting tension to a story. Which ones have stayed with you?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bic Runga’s Captured.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Arthur Conan Doyle, Maj Sjöwall, Margaret Maron, Per Wahlöö