Category Archives: Angela Savage

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.


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

We Stand as One…Undivided*

pi-partnershipsWhen we think of fictional PIs, the ones who may quickly come to mind are ‘lone wolves,’ such as Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe or Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski. There are plenty of other examples, too, and it makes sense that we’d think of them. A lot of PIs have their own businesses. And some, such as Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, or Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, work with associates who aren’t business partners.

But there are benefits to having an official PI partner. For one thing, the costs and risks are shared. For another, two PIs can work on more cases than can one PI. That means more business. So plenty of PIs, both real and fictional, work with a partner rather than go it alone. It’s not always an easy relationship, of course. There are logistics, matters of finance, and decision-making that have to be worked out between people who are bound to disagree at times. But a PI partner can add a variety of strengths to a business. After all, no one person can do everything, let alone do it well.

There are plenty of PI partnerships in the genre, too. For instance, technically, Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe is Archie Goodwin’s employer. So in that sense, they are not partners. But any fan of the series can tell you that Goodwin makes plenty of the decisions, has plenty of autonomy, and actually runs the business to a much greater extent than Wolfe would probably care to admit. So, although you may disagree with me (and feel free to if you do), I think of Wolfe and Goodwin as PI partners more than employer and employee.

Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole and Joe Pike offer an interesting contrast when it comes to a PI duo. Cole is more personable and outgoing than his partner. He has his quirks (do you know another fictional PI who wears a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt and has a Disney clock in his office?). But he’s the one, in general, who interacts with clients. He can be snarky at times, but he’s the one who does the talking. Pike, on the other hand, is taciturn. He’s a former US Marine who now owns a gun shop. He is, in a way, the ultimate ‘bad boy’ who wears sunglasses all the time, always carries weapons, and so on. But at the same time, he’s got his own code. And he’s the only one who can interact with the feral cat that shares Cole’s home. In many ways, he and Cole couldn’t be more different. But they respect each other and they depend on one another’s skills.

Betty Webb’s Lena Jones and her business partner, Jimmy Sisiwan, own Desert Investigations, a Scottsdale, Arizona PI firm. Jones is a former police officer with her own history and personal scars. She’s able to use her police background and the grit that comes from her personal past as she investigates. Sisiwan is a member of the Pima Nation. He lives in a trailer on the Reservation, and prefers a simple, uncomplicated life. He’s the computer expert of this PI team (in fact, in Desert Run, Sisiwan is lured away from the PI world by Southwest Microsystems). Jones and Sisiwan have a number of differences, but their skills are complementary, and they make an effective team.

S.J. Rozan has chosen an interesting approach to writing her Lydia Chin and Bill Smith series. Each is an independent PI, but they do work together on some cases. And in many ways, they’re very different people. Chin Ling Wan-ju, who usually goes by the name of Lydia Chin, is an American-born Chinese PI. She lives and works in New York City’s Chinatown. She keeps some of the traditions of her Chinese family, but she’s also American. Her family strongly disapproves of her occupation, and her mother would like very much for her to find a Chinese man and settle down. But Chin has other plans. She’s as comfortable speaking English as she is speaking Cantonese, and her ability to negotiate both cultures is an asset. Bill Smith, twelve years older than Chin, lives alone over a bar. He’s seen plenty of life, and is much more cynical than Chin is, although he’s not hardened. Fans of this series will know that the books are written from alternating points of view, in first person. Some are written from Chin’s perspective; others are written from Smith’s. This allows readers to get to know both PIs, and lets readers in on how they perceive each other.

And then there’s Angela Savage’s Jayne Keeney and Rajiv Patel. They’re a Bangkok-based PI team, and partners in life as well. Their partnership has taken adjustment on both sides. Keeney is Australian by birth and culture, but has adapted to living in Thailand. She speaks fluent Thai, and is very much accustomed to living independently and making her own business and personal choices. Patel is originally from India, but moved to Bangkok in part to help in his uncle’s book shop (that’s how he and Keeney met).  Learning to work as a team isn’t always easy for these two PIs. They’re both bright, strong-willed people who have very different cultural backgrounds and different perspectives. But they’ve found that they have complementary skills and knowledge. And they care deeply for each other.

And that’s the thing about PI partnerships. In the most successful ones, the partners bring different strengths to the job, and learn to trust each other. They know that they do much better working together than either could do alone. They might argue from time to time; but in the end, they respect each other and work together, rather than at cross purposes. This post has only allowed space for me to mention a few PI teams. Which ones do you like best?


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bon Jovi’s Undivided.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Arthur Conan Doyle, Betty Webb, Rex Stout, Robert Crais, S.J. Rozan

And a Man is Held in a Foreign Jail*

international-arrestsWith travel as straightforward (if not always easy!) as it is in now, there’s more international travel than ever. And in crime fiction, that means it’s more likely that a suspect might easily be from another country. That can present some legal issues, which can add an interesting layer of complexity to a story. And then there are the cultural issues, too. So it’s not surprising that this sort of story has made its way into the genre.

In Angela Savage’s Behind the Night Bazaar, for instance, Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney works to find out the truth behind two murders. One is the killing of her good friend Didier ‘Didi’ de Montpasse. The other is the murder of his partner, Nou. The trail puts Keeney on an intersecting course with Australian Federal Police (AFP) agent Mark D’Angelo. He’s in Thailand as a part of an effort to put a dent in the child sex trafficking industry by going after Australian perpetrators. It’s a challenge to begin with, made all the more difficult by the cultural differences between Australia and Thailand. Admittedly, D’Angelo is not the reason for the two murders. But his reason for being in Thailand sheds an interesting light on facing the issue of crimes that are committed by citizens of another country.

We also see that in Stefan Tegenfalk’s Project Nirvana, the second of his trilogy featuring Stockholm County police detectives Walter Gröhn and Jonna de Brugge. In this novel, the German police are working on a case in which four scientists have been murdered. They suspect a Swedish man named Leo Brageler, who’s currently in Germany. However, there doesn’t seem to be a real motive for the crime. The German authorities are hoping that they can get some background on the man from Swedish authorities, and ask for help from the Swedish National Bureau of Investigation. Then Brageler goes missing, and the case gets much more complicated…

The real action in T.J. Cooke’s Kiss and Tell begins when Bella Kiss, a Hungarian national, arrives at Heathrow Airport. She’s trying to smuggle in drugs, but she’s caught and quickly arrested. She admits to having the drugs, but she won’t say who paid or coerced her into bringing them to the UK. Once in custody, she asks to speak to London attorney Jill Shadow. Shadow has never heard of Bella Kiss before, but she goes to the prison where the young woman is being held. There, Bella asks for her help and seems very much afraid for her life. But she’s uncooperative, so Shadow soon sees that she’ll have to find the answers for herself. The closer she gets to the truth, the more in danger she finds herself. And it turns out that this case goes far beyond a woman trying to earn a little extra money by smuggling drugs. There’s an interesting look in this novel at the legalities of working with clients from other countries who’ve been arrested in the UK.

In Marla Cooper’s Terror in Taffeta, San Francisco- based event planner Kelsey McKenna is in the small Mexican town of San Miguel de Allende, managing the destination wedding of Nicole Abernethy and Vince Moreno. During the festivities, Dana Poole, one of the bridesmaids, collapses and dies of what turns out to be poison. For several reasons, the police suspect the bride’s sister Zoe, and she is duly arrested and imprisoned. She claims to be innocent, and Kelsey believes her. So she starts to ask questions. One of the plot threads in this novel is the challenge of being arrested while one’s in a foreign country.

Geoffrey Robert’s The Alo Release introduces readers to the Los Angeles-based Millbrook Foundation, an environmentalist watchdog group. Along with many others, the Millbrook people are concerned about a new, genetically modified seed coating that a company called Vestco is about to release. Millbrook’s people are suspicious of Vestco’s claims and its agenda, and have worked to stop the release. They haven’t been successful. With nine days to go, the foundation’s leaders have decided to stop fighting Vestco, and turn their energies elsewhere. Legendary environmental activist Jay Duggan has taken this opportunity to retire to his native New Zealand, and has invited Science Director Dr. Catherine ‘Cat’ Taylor, and IT Director Matthew Liddell to visit him in New Zealand before they return to work. Then, Vestco employee Henry Beck is found murdered, and Duggan, Taylor and Liddell are framed for the killing. Unaware of this, they land in New Zealand, and soon find that they’re considered international fugitives. Now, they have to go up against some very powerful people, to say nothing of the police of two countries, as they work to find out who really killed Beck and what the truth is about the release of the new seed coating.

And then there’s Jean-Denis Bruet-Ferreol’s Cemetery of Swallows. That novel begins as Manuel Gemoni travels from France to the Dominican Republic. There, he kills an old man named Tobias Darbier, a Dominican citizen. He’s been badly injured, so Police Commissioner Amédée Mallock of the Paris CID has been sent to bring Gemoni back to France as soon as his condition allows. Then he’ll face justice for what he’s done. Mallock is especially interested in this case because Gemoni’s sister, Julie, works for the CID as well. When he gets to the Dominican Republic finds that the only thing Gemoni says about the killing is that he killed Darbier,

‘…because he had killed me.’

That response doesn’t help Mallock at all, so he has to start digging to find out the history of the two men. One of the plot threads running through this novel is the paperwork and bureaucracy involved in taking Gemoni into French custody without causing problems with the Dominican authorities. It makes for an interesting layer in this novel.

With more people than ever going to different countries, it makes sense that this plot point would find its way into crime fiction. And it certainly has. Which novels with this motif have stayed with you?


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Graham Parker’s Everything Goes.


Filed under Angela Savage, Geoffrey Robert, Jean-Denis Bruet-Ferreol, Marla Cooper, Stefan Tegenfalk, T.J. Cooke

Just as Long as You Stand, Stand by Me*

loyalThere are a lot of qualities we value in others. One of the most important is loyalty. Whether it’s friends or co-workers, people tend to prefer those who are loyal. In fact, for some people, loyalty is more valuable than just about any other quality.

Loyalty also impacts the relationships that we have with others, and therefore, the way we behave. Some people hide things, lie, or more out of a sense of loyalty. But even those who don’t do those things will often let their loyalties impact what they do.

Because of that, loyalty can be a very interesting thread in a crime novel. It comes up in all sorts of different ways, and there are far too many examples for me to share them all. But here are a few to give you a sense of how loyalty can work.

In Agatha Christie’s Death in the Air, Hercule Poirot is on a flight from Paris to London when one of his fellow passengers, Marie Morisot, dies of what turns out to be poison. The victim was a well-known moneylender who went by the name of Madame Giselle, so as you can imagine, there is more than one suspect. But the only people who could have committed the crime are the other passengers. So Poirot works with Chief Inspector Japp to find out which person is the killer. Part of the trail leads to Madame Giselle’s maid, Elise Grandier. When Poirot interviews her, he finds that she was intensely loyal to her employer, and for good reason. Out of that loyalty, she’s kept some information that could prove to be useful. Poirot has to find a way to get her to share that information; and at first, it’s not easy. But he finally persuades her to confide in him.

In Gordon Ferris’ The Hanging Shed, we meet former Glasgow police officer Douglas Brodie. He’s recently returned from war (the novel takes place immediately after WWII), and has settled in London. One day, he gets a call from an old friend from school, Hugh ‘Shug’ Donovan, who’s scheduled to be executed. It seems Donovan was arrested for the kidnap and murder of a young boy, Roy Hutchinson, and there is evidence against him. He claims to be innocent, though, and wants Brodie’s help in clearing his name. Brodie isn’t eager to go back to Glasgow for a number of reasons. But Donovan is an old friend and wartime buddy, so Brodie feels a sense of loyalty to him. He travels to Glasgow and starts asking questions about what happened to Roy Hutchinson, and it’s not long before some dangerous people in high places decide that he’s too curious for his own good…

Angela Savage’s Behind the Night Bazaar begins as Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney travels to Chiang Mai to visit her friend Didier ‘Didi’ de Montpasse. During her visit, Didi’s partner, Nou, is brutally murdered. Didi himself is the most convenient suspect, and the police focus on him, although he claims he’s innocent. One night, the police raid his home, killing Didi in the process. Their account is that they’d come to arrest him, and he resisted to the point where they had no choice but to kill him. But Keeney doesn’t believe that’s so. Nor does she believe her friend would have killed his partner. So, out of loyalty, she changes her plans and remains in Chiang Mai to try to clear Didi’s name, and find out who really killed Nou.

In Maureen Carter’s Working Girls, Birmingham DS Beverly ‘Bev’ Morriss investigates the murder of fifteen-year-old Michelle Lucas. It’s soon discovered that she was a commercial sex worker, so the police concentrate on that aspect of her life. In order to find out more about her, Morriss gets to know some of the other sex workers in the area. Through them, she finds out that the victim was working for a notorious pimp, Charlie Hawes. There is no concrete evidence against him, but Morriss is sure that he had something to do with the murder, even if he wasn’t directly responsible. As she tries to find the truth, Morriss finds that the group of sex workers she meets have a solid sense of loyalty to each other in their way. They help each other, and they’ve formed a social group of their own. Among other things, this novel shows how that bond can develop.

Loyalty is a proverbial double-edged sword, of course. It can be the reason that people don’t report a crime, or don’t ‘blow the whistle’ when they might otherwise do so. That can make it very difficult for someone who does speak up. For instance, in Garry Disher’s Bitter Wash Road, we are introduced to Constable Paul ‘Hirsch’ Hirschhausen. He’s just been stationed in Tiverton, in rural South Australia. He’s there mostly because he got a reputation as a ‘whistleblower’ in an internal investigation in Adelaide, and has basically been exiled from there. Hirsch’s reputation has followed him to Tiverton, and all of the other police there treat him as an outcast. They do everything they can to sabotage his work, embarrass him, and make his life harder. They see him as disloyal, and that’s an unforgivable sin to them. Still, Hirsch has a job to do, so when the body of fifteen-year-old Melia Donovan is found by the side of Bitter Wash Road, he investigates. It’s not easy, since he has no support from his colleagues. But in the end, he gets to the truth.  

There are lots of other examples, too, of novels where we see what happens to characters who are seen as disloyal. It’s an important character trait that many see as essential. And the quality of loyalty can add an interesting layer to a fictional character. Which loyal characters have you enjoyed (I agree completely, fans of Craig Johnson’s Henry Standing Bear)?


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Ben E. King, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller’s Stand by Me.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Craig Johnson, Garry Disher, Gordon Ferris, Maureen Carter

‘Cause One Can Teach the Other One*

writing-across-cultural-barriersIn a recent, very interesting post, crime writer and fellow blogger Angela Savage made some important points about writing across cultural boundaries – that is, writing about a culture of which one is not a member. In that post (which you should read), Savage addresses the question of whether it’s appropriate to do that.

It’s not really an easy question, actually. On the one hand, there’s the argument that writers should write whatever they want, using whichever characters and so on they want. To argue otherwise is to argue for censorship. And there is merit to that argument – a lot of merit.

But (and this is a very important ‘but’), with every right comes a responsibility. Think of every right you have, whether it’s voting, self-expression, or something else. You’ll see that there’s a corresponding responsibility. So what’s the responsibility in the case of writing cross-culturally? As Savage argues (and she’s right), writers are responsible for understanding that other culture, and listening to (and incorporating) the narratives of its members. That is, the writer needs to acknowledge being a non-member and, thus, being responsible for gaining an understanding of that culture before making assumptions and writing about those assumptions.

We see all sorts of examples of that understanding, too, in crime fiction. For instance, Savage’s own series takes place in Thailand, and involves many Thai characters. Savage herself is Australian, as is her sleuth, Jayne Keeney. However, she lived in Southeast Asia (including Thailand) for some time. What’s more, she actively seeks out and listens to input from Thai friends and colleagues as she writes, and integrates their linguistic and cultural narratives into her work.

And she’s by no means alone in that sense of responsibility. John Burdett’s Bangkok series features Royal Thai Police detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, who is, among other things, a devout Buddhist. Burdett is British-born, but lives in Thailand for part of each year. Before writing his series, he became thoroughly familiar with the Bangkok culture, Thai beliefs and traditions, and of course, the language. The narratives of the Thai people are woven into this series because Burdett has taken the time to understand them.

As fans can tell you, Tony Hillerman’s Joe Leaphorn/Jim Chee series takes place mostly on the Navajo Reservation in the Southwest US. Both of his protagonists are members of the Navajo Nation; in fact, both belong to the Navajo Tribal Police. And if you’ve read this series, you’ll know that many of the characters who people the Hillerman series are Navajo (some are members of other Native American Nations as well). Hillerman himself wasn’t Navajo. However, he lived for years in that part of the country. What’s more, he spent a great deal of time among the Navajo people. In fact, he was granted the status of Special Friend of the Dineh (Navajo people). And he always had a sense of responsibility about the people who inspired his novels. Several authors’ notes he wrote include caveats about the limits of his understanding. I know what you’re probably thinking, fans of Arthur Upfield’s Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte. In fact, Hillerman felt the same way and, more than once, acknowledged his debt to Upfield.

Paddy Richardson is a native of New Zealand. Her books mostly take place in that country, but she’s also experimented with characters from different cultures. In Swimming in the Dark, for instance, we are introduced to Ilse Klein and her mother Greta. They are from Leipzig, in what was once East Germany, and emigrated to New Zealand to escape the Stasi, the dreaded secret police. In one plot thread, we learn about their lives in Germany, and their adjustment to life in a completely different culture, with a different language. Later, Ilse becomes a secondary school teacher, which is how she meets fifteen-year-old Serena Freeman. At first, Serena is one of her most promising students. Then, she suddenly seems to lose interest in school, and Ilse becomes concerned. Then, she disappears, and Ilse and Greta are caught up in the mystery. Before writing this novel, Richardson spent time in Leipzig. She understands the culture, and ensured that her story was culturally accurate.

Stan Jones’ series features Alaska State Trooper Nathan Active. Active is Inupiat, as are many of the other characters in the novels. Jones isn’t, although he’s lived in Alaska most of his life. Jones’ time in Alaska allowed him to get to know many of the Native people who live in the far north, and he’s used that cultural understanding to create his characters. His author’s notes include really helpful information, and reflect his sense of responsibility to present the culture in authentic ways.

There are many other writers, too – I’m sure you could think of more than I could – who are members of one culture, but write about members of another culture. Do they have a right to do that? They do if you believe in the right to self-expression. But at the same time, there is a very strong argument that they also have a responsibility to do so in a way that reflects respect for and a thorough understanding of that other culture. It’s not an easy issue, but the underlying right-and-responsibility dynamic plays an important role.

What do you think about all of this? If you’re a writer, do you write about members of different cultures? How do you inform yourself?

Thanks, Angela, for the inspiration. Folks, do go have a look at her excellent post. And if you haven’t tried them, I recommend her Jayne Keeney novels very highly.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from No Doubt’s Different People.


Filed under Angela Savage, Arthur Upfield, John Burdett, Paddy Richardson, Stan Jones, Tony Hillerman