Category Archives: Angela Savage

Just a Little Smile is All it Takes*

nonverbalsWhen most people think of communication, they think of language. But there are plenty of ways in which we communicate non-verbally. Winks, smiles, and of course, that famous one/two-fingered wave, are all examples of the way people send messages without using words. And research shows that we tend to be quite attuned to those non-verbals. In fact, we pay more attention to them than we do to the words people use, or the signs they use, in signed languages.

The police and other investigators know the value of paying attention to non-verbals. That’s how they often get clues as to whether a person is lying. It’s also how they pick up on whether someone is afraid, would like to say more but doesn’t want to, and so on. It’s no wonder, then, that we see those all-important non-verbals in crime fiction.

For instance, in Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles, John Cavendish invites his old friend, Captain Arthur Hastings, for a visit to his (Cavendish’s) home, Styles Court, in the village of Styles St. Mary. Hastings accepts, happy to renew his acquaintance with Cavendish, his brother Lawrence, and their stepmother, Emily Inglethrop. All is not well with that family, though. Neither Cavendish brother can tolerate Emily’s new husband, Alfred. There are other tensions, too. Still, all goes smoothly enough until the night that Emily is poisoned. There are several suspects with different sorts of motives, but neither Cavendish wants the investigation to be made public. So, when Hastings learns that another old friend, Hercule Poirot, is living in the area, it seems like a very good solution to have him look into the crime. Poirot agrees; Emily Inglethorp was his benefactor, so he feels a sense of obligation. Hastings, of course, tells Poirot everything that he knows about the night of the victim’s death. And one thing he mentions is the ‘ghastly expression’ one the face of one of the characters. Without knowing it, that character has revealed something, and it’s interesting to see how Poirot uses that one non-verbal communication to put one of the pieces of the puzzle in place.

Very often, facial expressions and other non-verbals are important forms of communication when people don’t speak the same language. That can be risky, though, because different cultures have different ways of using non-verbals. For example, in Kate Grenville’s The Secret River, we are introduced to the Thornhill family. In 1806, bargeman William Thornhill is convicted of taking a load of wood. From his perspective, he needed to sell the wood in order to feed his family. There is a certain amount of sympathy for him, so instead of being executed, he is sentenced to transportation to New South Wales. He, his wife, Sal, and their children make the long voyage and start life again in Australia. But it’s not going to be easy. There’ve been people in Australia for many thousands of years, so one major challenge is going to be interacting with them. The Thornhills, and many of the other immigrants, speak English. The Aboriginal people have their own languages. So, verbal communication is limited at best. In fact, Thornhill sees their words as,
 

‘between them like a wall.’
 

When Thornhill does encounter Aborigines, there is an attempt to communicate non-verbally. Pointing, pictures drawn in dust, and holding things out with a hand are some of the ways both sides try to communicate. And in some ways, they’re successful. But that doesn’t prevent tragedy. There’s already been bloodshed as the two groups have clashed. Thornhill himself has no desire for butchery, unlike some of the other settlers. But, he’s expected to support his own. Besides, he’s found a piece of land he truly loves, that’s perfect for him and his family. He soon learns that he’ll have to get his hands bloody, too, if he’s going to keep that land.  

As I mentioned, most non-verbals are culturally contextual. One of those is the wai, which is a Thai greeting. Like the Japanese bow, the wai is nuanced, and, among other things, reflects the relative social status of the people involved in the interaction. It’s got several meanings, too, besides greeting. It’s used in thanks, in apology, in farewells, and in other situations, too. It is a very useful gesture, and communicates quite a lot without a lot of fanfare. To see the wai in action, may I recommend Angela Savage’s Jayne Keeney, PI, novels. Keeney is an Australian ex-pat who’s now based in Bangkok. She’s been there long enough that she’s fluent in Thai, and that includes the non-verbals that are used in that culture. In more than one situation, Keeney finds that that simple-but-nuanced gesture is very helpful in easing tensions and in getting her out of difficult situations. John Burdett’s Sonchai Jitpleecheep novels, and Timothy Hallinan’s ‘Poke’ Rafferty novels also include this simple gesture that can mean so much. A note is in order, too, about the ‘Thai smile,’ which is also woven into these authors’ books. There are dozens of situations in which a smile is used in the Thai culture, and the context often determines what the person who is smiling is communicating. The smile can mean many different things, including, ‘Hello,’ ‘Thank you,’ ‘I’m sorry,’ ‘No harm done,’ and ‘I’m embarrassed.’

As this is posted, pitchers and catchers are reporting to their training camps to get ready for this year’s Major League Baseball season. It won’t be long now, baseball fans! So, as we’re thinking about non-verbals, and what they mean, it’s also worth mentioning Alison Gordon’s series featuring sports writer Katherine ‘Kate’ Henry, who works for the Toronto Planet. She follows baseball most especially, and Gordon’s novels often feature scenes from games, where pitchers, catchers, coaches and batters often communicate without using any words at all. Henry is thoroughly familiar with what those non-verbals mean, as was her creator, and it’s interesting to see how that knowledge comes through in Henry’s writing and in the stories.

Whether we’re aware of it or not, we do communicate a great deal through facial expressions, eye contact (or lack of it) and other non-verbal means. When detectives pay attention to those messages, they can learn a lot. And it’s always interesting to see how people use non-verbals, especially when they can’t, or don’t choose to, use spoken language.

 

ps. The ‘photo is of Raymond Teller, one half of the famous illusionist duo, Penn and Teller. If you’ve seen these guys in action, you’ll know that Teller doesn’t speak during the show. Instead, he uses non-verbals to get his meaning across, and he’s quite good at it, too. If you’re reading this, Mr. Teller, Happy Birthday!

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Everybody Loves You Now.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Kate Grenville, John Burdett, Timothy Hallinan, Alison Gordon

I’m Free*

nmandelaAs this is posted, it’s 27 years since Nelson Mandela was released from prison. People around the world watched as he walked out of the prison and into a new life that led to the top of South Africa’s leadership.

It’s all got me to thinking about what it’s like for people who’ve been imprisoned, and are set free. That’s a common plot point in crime fiction, of course, and it’s interesting to see how it’s handled. Of course, a lot of fictional characters haven’t been wrongly imprisoned in the same way that Mandela was. But that plot point can add an interesting layer to a story.

Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables isn’t usually thought of as a crime novel. Still, there’s a crime in it, and Jean Valjean is imprisoned for twenty years because of it. The novel, of course, tells, among other things, the story of what happens after he leaves prison, and his reaction to being freed:
 

‘…when Jean Valjean heard in his ear the unfamiliar words, ‘You are free,’ the moment seemed improbable and extraordinary, and a ray of bright light, of the true light of the living, penetrated to him…’
 

His joy is short-lived, as you’ll no doubt know. But it’s no less there at first.
 

There’s the same sort of wonderment when Elinor Carlisle is freed in Agatha Christie’s Sad Cypress. She’s been imprisoned for the poisoning murder of Mary Gerrard, lodgekeeper’s daughter at Elinor’s family home, Hunterby. There’s good reason to suspect Elinor, too. For one thing, her fiancé, Roderick ‘Roddy’ Welman has become infatuated with Mary, to the point where their engagement has been broken off. For another, Elinor’s wealthy Aunt Laura has very much taken to Mary, and there’s a good chance that she might bequeath all of her fortune to her, and not Elinor or Roddy. Still, local GP Peter Lord wants Elinor’s name cleared, mostly because he’s fallen in love with her. He asks Hercule Poirot to look into the matter, and Poirot agrees. At the end of the trial, Elinor is freed. Here is what Poirot says about it:
 

‘‘When one has walked in the valley of the shadow of death, and come out of it into the sunshine – then, mon cher, it is a new life that begins…’’
 

And, although Christie isn’t specific, she does hint at exactly that.

Ngaio Marsh’s Tied Up in Tinsel takes an interesting perspective on release from prison. In that novel, artist Agatha Troy is commissioned to do a portrait of Hilary Bill-Tasman. The plan is for her to spend the Christmas holidays at his home, Halbards, while she does the work. Troy soon learns that Halbards is a bit unusual. All of the people who work there are people who’ve served time for murder. Bill-Tasman believes that these are not, by nature, violent people who are a threat to society. His view is that they killed once, but aren’t likely to again. He also believes in the redemptive power of honest work and a chance to start life over. For the staff members, it’s an opportunity that very few others would have been willing to give them, so they are grateful. The house runs smoothly enough until Christmas Eve. On that night, a special event is planned, in which Bill-Tasman’s Uncle Fleaton ‘Uncle Flea’ Forrester is to dress up as a Druid and distribute gifts to the local children, who’ve been invited for a party. Uncle Flea takes ill, though, and his valet/servant Aflred Moult takes his place. Right after the gifts are distributed, though, he disappears, and is later found dead. Bill-Tasman’s staff members come under quite a lot of suspicion, especially given their prison records. But Troy isn’t so sure any of them is guilty. Her husband, Inspector Roderick Alleyn, is concerned, anyway, about his wife’s staying in a house where a murderer is likely staying. So, partly for that reason, he visits Halbards and investigates the crime. Together, he and Troy discover what really happened to Moult and why.

In one plot thread of Roger Smith’s Dust Devils, former journalist Robert Dell, his wife, Rosie, and their two children are taking a drive one afternoon near Cape Town. They’re ambushed, and their car goes over an embankment. Rose and the children die in the tragedy, but Dell survives (albeit with injuries). The police accuse Dell of murdering his family members (and it’s not spoiling the story to say that he is innocent). And it’s soon clear that nothing he says is going to make any difference. He’s imprisoned, framed for murder. Unbeknownst to Dell, his father, Bobby Goodbread, has learned of his situation, and finds a way to free him from jail. The two have been estranged for years, mostly due to their differing views on race, apartheid and politics. But Dell is extremely grateful to be free, and he and his father, each for a different reason, go in search of the person who really killed Dell’s family.

And then there’s Angela Savage’s short story The Teardrop Tattoos. A woman has recently been released from prison for murder. She’s given a place to live not far from a local child care facility, and settles in with her beloved companion, a bit bull named Sully. One day, the woman gets a letter from the local council. It seems that one of the parents associated with the child care facility has complained about Sully. Since he’s a restricted breed, his owner will have no choice but to get rid of him. Sully means everything to this woman, so she plots her own kind of revenge. As the story goes along, we learn why she was in prison, and what happened. It’s not as clear-cut a case as it seems in the beginning of the story. So, the reader is left to determine whether she was unjustly imprisoned.

It’s very interesting to see how crime writers approach that topic of people who’ve been released from jail. They have all sorts of reasons for being there, and all sorts of experiences after their release. And it can make for very interesting plot points and characters.

 

This ‘photo is iconic; it shows Nelson Mandela leaving Robben Island. Thanks, NPR.

 
 
 

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

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Ngaio Marsh, Roger Smith, Victor Hugo

In Restless Dreams I Walked Alone*

benjamin-braddocksOne of the more famous film characters is Benjamin Braddock, from Mike Nichols’ 1967 film, The Graduate. He’s bright, and has a university degree, but is still, in his way, naïve. He has his own way of thinking, so in some ways he’s a non-conformist. He’s also at that young-adult stage of sexual experimentation and trying to work out what path he wants to take.

There are plenty of characters like that in crime fiction. Not all of them, of course, meet up with a ‘Mrs. Robinson,’ but they’re all finding their way, and experimenting with the larger world. Here are just a few examples to show you what I mean.

In Agatha Christie’s Appointment With Death, we meet Raymond Boynton. He, his sister Carol, and their brother Lennox, are all the stepchildren of the family matriarch Mrs. Boynton, She’s tyrannical, malicious, and manipulative. Raymond and Carol, in particular, are desperate to free themselves of her, but they’re far too afraid to try life on their own. Then, Mrs. Boynton takes her family on a trip through the Middle East, including a few days at Petra. During this trip, Raymond meets newly-fledged doctor Sarah King. He’s smitten with her, and the feeling is mutual. But of course, Raymond doesn’t want to risk upsetting his mother. Still, he wants to break free from his very sheltered existence and from his stepmother’s negative influence. Then one afternoon, Mrs. Boynton dies of what looks at first like heart failure. Colonel Carbury, who’s in charge of investigations in the area, isn’t satisfied, though. He asks Hercule Poirot to look into the matter, and Poirot agrees. As it turns out, this death was not from natural causes, and Raymond becomes a suspect.

John Dickson Carr’s Hag’s Nook introduces readers to Tad Rampole. He’s American, and a recent university graduate. He’s planned a trip abroad, and his mentor has strongly suggested that he take the opportunity to meet Dr. Gideon Fell during his travels in England. Rampole is on his way to do just that when he meets Dorothy Starberth. He’s immediately taken with her, and she seems to like him, too. When he does meet Fell, Rampole learns more about the Starberth family history. As it turns out, for several generations, the Starberths were Governors at the now-abandoned Chatterham Prison. Tthat position seems to have come with a curse, as many of the male Starberths have met with untimely ends. Still, each male Starberth has followed a particular ritual on the night of his twenty-fifth birthday. The ritual includes spending the night in the old governor’s room at the prison, unlocking the safe that’s in the room, and following the instructions written on a sheet of paper that’s kept in that safe. It’s now the turn of Dorothy Starberth’s brother, Martin, and despite the curse, he’s going to go through with the ritual. On the night of his twenty-fifth birthday, Martin is in the governor’s room at the prison when he dies of what looks like a tragic fall from the balcony. But was it an accident? Fell and Rampole work to find out the truth. Rampole is bright, educated and so on. He’s also a little naïve, and this is his first experience with murder. He offers an interesting perspective on the case, as he looks at it with young eyes, if I can put it that way.

Angela Savage’s Rajiv Patel is originally from India. But he wanted to get a chance to see the world. So, he went to Bangkok, in part to help out in his uncle’s bookshop. That’s where, in The Half Child, he meets Savage’s other protagonist, PI Jayne Keeney. Patel is fascinated, and Keeney likes him, too. Before long, they begin dating, but more than that, Patel wants to be a part of her PI business. So, when Keeney goes to Pattaya to investigate the death of Maryanne Delbeck, Patel goes, too. As the case goes on, he and Keeney do have their ups and downs, and things don’t always go smoothly. But they do care deeply for each other, and it turns out that their skills are complementary.

At the beginning of Seán Haldane’s The Devil’s Making, it’s 1868, and Chad Hobbes has just completed his degree in Jurisprudence at Oxford. Now he’s on his way to Vancouver, where he’s given a job as a constable. His duties are, for the most part, quite light: breaking up the occasional drunken quarrel, serving guard duty, and occasionally removing the local prostitutes. Everything changes one day when a group of Tsimshian Indians reports finding the body of Richard McCrory. The victim was an ex-pat American, in Canada to advance his business as an ‘alienist’ – a psychiatrist in the time before modern psychological and psychiatric work. At the time of his death, McCrory was involved with one of the Tsimshian women, Lukswaas. So, her partner, Wiladzap, is the primary suspect. He claims to be innocent, and the police need to make at least a show of investigating. So, Hobbes is tasked with asking a few perfunctory questions and ‘rubber stamping’ the theory that Wiladzap is guilty. But the more questions he asks, the less sure Hobbes is that Wiladzap is really the killer. And, as we learn, there are plenty of other possibilities. Hobbes is a bright young man. He is also sexually inexperienced, and not accustomed to interacting with people from different ethnic groups. So, this experience in Vancouver is very new to him. So are his feelings for Lukswaas. He’s attracted to her, being heterosexual. But he’s gotten conflicting messages about women, and certainly about non-whites. It’s an interesting look at a formative time in Hobbes’ life.

And then there’s Laura Joh Rowland’s Shinjū, the first of her historical novels to feature Sano Ichirō. It’s 1687 in Edo (now Tokyo), and Sano is a yoriki, a senior investigator and police officer. One day, he is asked to handle what he is told is ‘a small matter.’ The bodies of well-born Niu Yukiko, and an artist named Noriyoshi are pulled from the river. The presumption is that this is a case of two lovers whose social class separates them. Since they can’t be together, they’ve chosen to commit suicide. This isn’t uncommon in this place at this time, so Sano is expected to write and file a report very quickly and get the matter handled quietly. But soon, questions arise about that explanation. And Sano begins to believe that murder is involved. His choice to investigate gets him into enough trouble as it is. But he adds to that when the trail leads to some very high places. As he searches for the truth, Sano isn’t completely naïve. But this is his first major, important case, and he learns some (sometimes very unpleasant) lessons about what the life of the powerful is like.

And that’s the thing about characters such as Benjamin Braddock. They may be bright, educated, and interesting people. But they certainly have a lot to learn about the world…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, John Dickson Carr, Laura Joh Rowland, Seán Haldane

I Must Be On My Way*

authorsandtravelAn interesting post from Brad, who blogs at ahsweetmysteryblog, has got me thinking about fictional sleuths who travel to foreign countries. In his post (which you should read), Brad shows the link between Agatha Christie’s personal life (fans will know that she spent time in the Middle East) and the setting for some of her work (e.g. Death on the Nile).

Christie is by no means the only example, either. Plenty of crime writers who’ve been to other countries make use of that experience when they write. And that makes sense, if you think about it. We’re all influenced by our experience; that’s just as true of crime writers as it is for anyone else.

Jean-Denis Bruet-Ferreol, who writes under the pseudonym Mallock, is French, as is his creation, Amédée Mallock of the Paris CID. In Cemetery of Swallows, Mallock travels from France to the Dominican Republic. It seems a French citizen, Manuel Gemoni, went to that country specifically to kill Tobias Darbier, a Dominican citizen. When questioned by the police, Gemoni killed Darbier because,
 

‘‘…he had killed me first.’’
 

Gemoni’s sister, Julie, works for the CID, and wants to help her brother as much as she can. He’s been badly injured, so the plan is to bring him back to France and then, as soon as his condition allows, have him answer to the charges brought against him. Mallock finds, though, that this is not going to be an easy case. As though the legal complications of this case weren’t enough, there’s also the enigma surrounding what Gemoni said. He can’t be much help in the investigation, so Mallock and the team have to dig into the histories of both men to find out what’s behind this killing. While I don’t know for a fact that Bruet-Ferreol has been to the Dominican Republic, I wouldn’t be surprised.

Anna Jaquiery has lived in several places, and that has influenced her writing. In Death in a Rainy Season, for instance, her sleuth, Paris Commandant Serge Morel, has gone to Phnom Penh for a holiday. While he’s there, another French citizen, Hugo Quercy, is murdered in his hotel room. The victim was the son of the French Interior Minister, so the French police have every motivation to look into the matter and find out what happened. Morel cuts his holiday short and starts to ask questions. And as he does, he finds that there are several possibilities. Not the least of them is that Quercy was the head of a humanitarian group, and had been looking (perhaps a little too closely) into reports of land-grabbing in the area. Like her creation, Jaquiey was born in France. But she has lived in many places, including Russia (you can see a trace of that in The Lying Down Room) and Southeast Asia. So, it’s not surprising that those travels have influenced her writing.

Both Andrew Nette and his partner, Angela Savage, are Australian (currently Melbourne-based). But they’ve lived in Southeast Asia as well, including Thailand and Cambodia. That experience has found its way into their crime writing. Nette’s Ghost Money, which features Australian ex-cop Max Quinlan, takes place mostly in Bangkok and Cambodia. In that novel, Quinlan is hired to find out what happened to Charles Avery, who seems to have disappeared from his Bangkok apartment. The trail leads to Phnom Penh, and then to the northern part of Cambodia.

Savage’s series features PI Jayne Keeney. Originally from Melbourne, Keeney has settled in Bangkok, where she’s found a market for her ability to navigate two very different cultures. In Behind the Night Bazaar, The Half Child, and The Dying Beach, Keeney travels to different parts of Thailand, and the novels reflect that context. It’s interesting to see how both of these authors have written novels that reflect their experiences in other countries.

The same is true of Paddy Richardson. Like most of her protagonists, she is from New Zealand. But she’s been on several travels, including to Leipzig. That experience is reflected in Swimming in the Dark. In that novel, we meet Ilse Klein and her mother, Gerda. Both are originally from Leipzig, but left in order to escape the Stasi, the feared East German secret police. Now, Ilse is a secondary school teacher in the small South Island town of Alexandria. Everything changes when Ilse begins to get concerned about one of her students, Serena Freeman. Once one of Ilse’s most academically promising pupils, Serena has stopped coming to class regularly. When she does show up, she has no interest in the content or in participating in class. Then, Serena disappears. Now, Ilse and Gerda find themselves drawn into this mystery in ways they hadn’t imagined. In this novel, we learn the backstories of both Gerda and Ilse. That part of the story takes place in Leipzig, so readers get the chance to see what the city was like during the Cold War, and what it’s like now. It’s an interesting example of the way in which foreign travel has found its way into an author’s work.

And, as I say, that’s not really surprising. All of our experiences impact us in some way or other. So, it’s only natural that, when authors travel to another country, that might be reflected in their work. Which examples have stayed with you?

Thanks, Brad, for the inspiration. Now, may I suggest your next blog stop should be ahsweetmysteryblog? It’s a fantastic and thoughtful resource for thought-provoking posts on crime fiction.
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Hoodoo Gurus’ 10000 Miles Away.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrew Nette, Angela Savage, Anna Jaquiery, Jean-Denis Bruet-Ferreol

To a Land of Opportunity*

immigrationOne of a country’s great strengths is arguably the talent, energy and intelligence of those who immigrate. Fresh ideas and other perspectives add richness to a country. Of course, there is no need for me to detail how difficult immigration can be. And I think we’re all familiar with the all-too-true horror stories of immigrants who’ve been mistreated or worse. There are plenty of crime fiction novels that have that motif, too.

But there are also stories of immigrants who’ve made good lives in their new homes, where both they and their adopted countries have benefited. Those stories, too, are important. And in crime fiction, they allow for all sorts of character development and plot twists, too. They also reflect reality in our world, where it’s increasingly easy to move from one country to another.

Fans of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot will know that he is originally from Belgium. He came to England as a result of World War I, and quite frankly, hasn’t really looked back. There are things about life in Belgium that he no doubt misses; in general, though, he is content in his adopted home. Interestingly, apart from a few characters and remarks (I know, fans of Taken at the Flood), he’s been more or less accepted. He’s most definitely a foreigner, and treated differently sometimes for that reason. But he’s been accepted.

So has Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe, who immigrated to the United States from Montenegro when he was a young man. He’s become an American citizen, and has had a good experience in his new country. In fact, he’s grateful to the United States, and has done well.

One of the main characters in Anya Lipska’s series is Janusz Kiszka, who immigrated to London from his native Poland. Now he is a sort of ‘fixer’ in London’s Polish community. He knows how to get things done, whom to talk to, and so on. And he knows most of the other people in the community. So he proves to be very helpful to DC Natalie Kershaw. The two are very different, and certainly come from different cultural backgrounds. But they slowly learn to work together and trust each other. Kiszka is content with his Polish cultural identity. At the same time, though, he has no burning desire to return to Poland. His immigrant experience has been more or less a successful one, and he’s made a new life for himself in London.

We might say a similar thing about Gerda Klein, whom we meet in Paddy Richardson’s Swimming in the Dark. Gerda and her husband, along with their daughter Ilse, emigrated from Leipzig, in the former East Germany, when Ilse was a child. They ended up on New Zealand’s South Island, in the small town of Alexandria, and made a good life for themselves. And New Zealand has been, in the main, welcoming to them. For that, Gerda is grateful, and she’s been more than content to stay in her adopted country, even after Germany’s reunification. Ilse, though, has a different perspective. She, too, has been treated well, and has made a good life for herself (she’s a secondary school teacher). But she was a child when the family left Leipzig, and doesn’t have the troubling memories of the Stasi (the East German secret police) that her mother has. Still, she likes New Zealand, and has done a fine job teaching. Her dedication is exactly why she starts to get concerned when one of her most promising pupils, Serena Freeman, loses interest in school. When she does come to class (which isn’t often), she doesn’t participate. And she doesn’t compete much schoolwork. Ilse grows even more worried when Serena disappears. And it turns out that she and her mother will get more drawn into what happened to Serena than either imagined.

In Three Little Pigs, Apostolos Doxiadis tells the story of the Franco family, who immigrated to New York from Italy at the turn of the 20th Century. Benvenuto ‘Ben’ Franco started out making a living as a shoemaker. As time went on, he and his family saved their money, adopted many American ways (they even changed their last name to Frank), and began to fit in. Ben opened his own shoe repair shop and shoe store, and the family prospered. In many ways, this family began to live what some people have called ‘the American dream.’ Everything changed when Ben got into a bar fight one night and ended up killing Luigi Lupo, who, as it turns out, was the son of a well-known criminal and member of the Mob, Tonio Lupo. This Lupo cursed the family, saying that each of Ben Frank’s three sons will die at the age of forty-two, Luigi’s age when he was murdered. As we follow along with the family’s story, we see how the curse played out. We also see how that family became not Italian so much as Italian-Americans.

And then there’s Jen Shieff’s The Gentlemen’s Club. In that novel, which takes place in 1950’s Auckland, we are introduced to Istvan Ziegler. He left his native Hungary after World War II, wanting to make a new life for himself. After a stop in London, he learns that there’s work available on a new bridge at Auckland Harbour, and decides to go there. He has no family, and there’s nothing really keeping him in Europe, so he takes a chance. When he arrives in Auckland, he starts work on the bridge. There are moments when things are more difficult for him because he’s a foreigner. But in general, he’s treated fairly and shows by his hard work that he can do the job. And that’s what really matters. Istvan soon finds himself drawn into complex and dangerous situation when he helps a young girl, Judith Curran, recover from a (then illegal) abortion. It turns out that that act gets him involved in a case that uncovers some truly ugly things going on just under the surface of this seemingly peaceful city.

There are plenty of other stories of fictional characters who’ve immigrated successfully, and of their families (right, fans of Anthony Bidulka’s Russel Quant?). That plot point offers the author some interesting opportunities for character development as well as for a sense of place and culture. There’s only space for a few examples here (I know, fans of Angela Savage’s Jayne Keeney and Rajiv Patel!). Which ones have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Pogues’ Thousands are Sailing.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Anthony Bidulka, Anya Lipska, Apostolos Doxiadis, Jen Shieff, Paddy Richardson, Rex Stout