Category Archives: Angela Savage

Now We Are Forced to Recognize Our Inhumanity*

My guess is, if it came down to it, we would all like to think we would be touched, as Abraham Lincoln put it, by the better angels of our nature. We’d like to think we wouldn’t yield to pure selfishness, or worse. And yet, as we know all too well, that’s not the way humans always are.

And that’s one of the interesting roles that crime fiction can play. Crime fiction shows us humans who make choices we would hope we wouldn’t make. But wouldn’t we? In some crime fiction, the reader is invited to think a little more deeply (e.g. ‘I wouldn’t do that…would I?’).  Those books can sometimes make us feel a little uncomfortable, because they show us sides of ourselves we might not want to see. At the same time, that’s part of what makes them memorable. There are certainly books that aren’t crime fiction that have the same effect. But, this is a crime-fictional blog, so….

There are several novels, for instance, in which readers are invited to ponder whether they might commit a murder under the circumstances laid out in the story. In Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, for instance, Hercule Poirot is on the famous Orient Express train, en route to London. On the second night of the three-day journey, fellow passenger Samuel Ratchett is stabbed. Poirot’s asked to find the killer, so that that person can be handed over to the authorities at the next border crossing. The only possible suspects are the other people in the same car, so Poirot has a limited pool. And, when he discovers the truth, we see that this is a murder that plenty of people might have committed in the same situation. We don’t want to think we’d kill, but there are times when we have to admit we might.

That point is also raised in John Grisham’s A Time to Kill. When ten-year-old Tonya Hailey is beaten, raped, and left for dead, her family is, understandably, devastated. Her father, Carl Lee, is especially impacted. The two men who are responsible are soon caught and jailed, but Hailey is not sure he and his family will get justice. They are black, while Tonya’s attackers are white, and this is small-town Mississippi. He is also infuriated, and wants to do what he can, however little it may be, to help his daughter. So, he gets a gun and lies in ambush as the two men accused of the attack are brought to the courthouse. There, he kills them and badly wounds a deputy sheriff who’s with them. Now he’s about to stand trial for a double murder. And, even though there’s a lot of local sympathy for him, he still needs an attorney and he has still killed two people and wounded a third. So, he asks attorney Jake Brigance to defend him, and Brigance agrees. It’s a tough case, though. We’d like to think we would let the law take its course, and I think we’d agree that vigilantism is wrong. But what if it were your daughter? I know, fans of William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw – there’s a similar sort of theme in that one, too.

It’s not just the taking of a life, either. In Angela Savage’s Behind the Night Bazaar, Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney goes to Chiang Mai to visit her friend, Didier ‘Didi’ de Montpasse. During her visit, Didi’s partner, Nou, is murdered. Before long, the police settle on Didi as the suspect, and go to his home. During their visit, he, too, is killed. The police say that he resisted arrest and was so violent as to be a danger to them, so they had no choice but to kill him. But Keeney doesn’t believe that account. So, she starts asking questions. The trail leads to the Thai sex-trafficking and child-trafficking businesses. Those businesses are a lot more complex than they seem on the surface, and that’s one of the points in this novel. On the one hand, we deplore the idea of child trafficking, and with good reason. But, for many families, the only other option they see is starvation. If it comes down to a choice between having your child earn money in the sex trade, or you and your family dying of starvation, the answer to, ‘What would you do?’ isn’t perhaps quite so easy.

There’s also Claudia Piñeiro’s Thursday Night Widows. That novel takes place mostly within an ultra-exclusive housing development called Cascade Heights Country Club, about 30 miles from Buenos Aires. Only the very wealthiest can afford to live there, and even they are carefully ‘vetted’ before being admitted. The people in the Heights, as the place is called, live in a safeguarded world, with a large wall to keep ‘others’ out, the finest houses, and so on. The novel takes place at the end of the 1990s/beginning of the 2000s, a time when Argentina’s economy begins to have serious problems. And those problems finally find their way into the Heights. Eventually, that leads to real tragedy. As we get to know the people in this development, we see the casual cruelty with which they treat anyone who’s not ‘one of us.’ And we see how hard they work to keep themselves away from ‘all of that.’ On the one hand, we might deplore that lack of compassion and unwillingness to see other people as equal humans. On the other, what if you had that much money, and that much stake in a very safe home for your children, the best education money can buy, and a comfortable life? The decision to give it up might not be so straightforward.

There are plenty of other crime fiction stories where characters do things we want to think we’d never do. But some of them invite to ask ourselves whether we really – no, really – wouldn’t do them. And those stories invite us to look at ourselves in new ways. They’re not always easy or comfortable, but they stay with us.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Summer, Highland Falls.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Claudia Piñeiro, John Grisham, William McIlvanney

Let’s Go Into Business Together*

Do you know who Paul Allen is? No? Well, perhaps you’ve heard of his business partner, Bill Gates. Yes, the Bill Gates. As this is posted, it’s 43 years since the founding of their joint venture, Microsoft. As you’ll know, Microsoft has become one of the most valuable brands in the world, and it all started with the ‘garage pairing’ of these two people.

It’s been a phenomenally successful partnership, and it’s not alone. In fact, one of Microsoft’s chief rivals, Apple, was also founded by business partners (in this case, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak), just a year later. There’s something about the synergy that happens when two people with complementary skills and a common dream get together.

Of course, business partnerships aren’t problem-free by any means. There are bound to be differences of opinion and more. And, if the company has real success, there’s the issue of all of that money. Business partnerships are really interesting dynamics, so it’s little wonder we see a lot of them in crime fiction. There’s plenty of possibility for character development, interesting plot points, and tension.

For instance, in Ellery Queen’s The Origin of Evil, Queen has decided to take a house in the Hollywood Hills, so that he can get some peace and quiet to write. It’s not to be, though. When nineteen-year-old Laurel Hill finds out he’s there, she visits him, asking for his help. Her father, Leander Hill, recently died from a massive heart attack, and she believes it was deliberate. Shortly before his death, Hill had been receiving some eerie, anonymous ‘gifts,’ that Lauren believes frightened him so badly that he died. What’s more, Hill’s business partner, Roger Priam, has also been receiving ‘packages.’ At first, Queen doesn’t want to get involved. But he is intrigued by the mystery of those parcels, so he starts to ask questions. In order to find out the truth, he has to go back to the start of the successful Hill/Priam partnership, and discover who hated both men so much as to want to kill them.

In A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife, we meet successful Chicago developer Todd Gilbert. He and his friend and business partner, Dean Kovacs, have done quite well, and Todd lives in a posh Chicago home with his common-law wife, Jodi Brett. She’s a successful psychologist, so the two have a good life, materially speaking. Everything changes when Todd begins an affair with his business partner’s daughter, Natasha. In a number of ways, that’s a very foolish decision. For one thing, it sabotages his partnership with Dean. For another, Jodi is devastated. Todd’s strayed before, but this time, it’s different. Natasha becomes pregnant and wants to get married and have a family. Todd tells her (and himself) that that’s what he wants, too, so he leaves Jodi. Then, his lawyer presents her with an order of eviction from the home she’s lived in for twenty years. Then, Todd is murdered in a drive-by shooting. At first, it looks like a carjacking gone very wrong. But the police soon begin to suspect that someone arranged for this murder. And it turns out that there are several possibilities for who that someone might be.

Andrew Nette’s Ghost Money introduces Australian former police officer-turned PI Max Quinlan. Madeleine Avery hires Quinlan to find her brother, Charles. His last known address was a Bangkok apartment, so Quinlan starts there. When he gets to the apartment, he finds no sign of Avery. But he does find the body of Avery’s business partner, Robert Lee. He also discovers proof that Avery has gone to Cambodia. With that information, Quinlan heads for Phnom Penh, where he picks up the trail again. Very slowly, he traces Avery’s last days and weeks, and finds out what drew him to Cambodia, and why this business partnership ended in murder. It turns out that Avery was mixed up with some very dangerous deals and ruthless people, and that spelled disaster for the partnership.

Angela Makholwa’s Red Ink is the story of former Johannesburg journalist Lucy Khambule. She’s now one half of The Publicists, a publicity company that she owns with her friend, Patricia Moabelo. She hasn’t been happy with the way the business is going lately, though. For one thing, she’s been bringing in more money to the company than her partner has, but the business agreement doesn’t reflect this. For another, Patricia has been less engaged with the business lately. Lucy is not sure what she’s going to do about the business and her role in it, so she’s a bit at loose ends when she gets a telephone call from a man named Napoleon Dingiswayo, who’s in a maximum-security prison for a series of horrific murders. It seems that, when she was a journalist, Lucy had written to him asking for an interview. Now, he wants to meet with her, and have her write a book about him. A chance like this doesn’t happen very often, and Lucy is intrigued. She’s wise enough to know that this could be very dangerous, but the chance is too irresistible to pass up. So, she agrees to the meeting, and starts some notes for the book. As she gets to know her interview subject, a series of frightening and violent things starts to happen. Napoleon is in a closely-guarded prison, so he can’t be responsible. But if he’s not, then who is? And what does it mean for the other murders, and for Lucy herself?

There are also, of course, several successful PI business partnerships. For instance, Cara Black’s Aimée Leduc owns Leduc Detective with her business partner, René Friant. Their specialty is computer safety and cyber security, but Leduc often finds herself drawn into cases of murder. Betty Webb’s Lena Jones and her business partner, Jimmy Sisiwan, own Desert Investigations, an Arizona-based PI firm. They know the area, they are smart and shrewd, and they are loyal to each other. But that doesn’t mean they never have their share of danger.

And no discussion of PI business partnerships would be complete without a mention of Angela Savage’s Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney and her business partner Rajiv Patel (they are also partners in their private lives). They sometimes have very different outlooks on cases, but their skills are complementary. They have their conflicts, but they respect each other, too, and it’s interesting to see how that partnership has evolved.

There are many, many other business partnerships in crime fiction. For instance, I haven’t even touched on fictional legal partners, and there are plenty of those in the genre.  It’s a fascinating dynamic and can add much to a crime novel. Which partnerships have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Irving Taylor’s Ain’t Nobody’s Business But My Own.

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Filed under A.S.A. Harrison, Andrew Nette, Angela Makholwa, Angela Savage, Betty Webb, Cara Black, Ellery Queen

Fresh Out of Jail Trying to Make a New Start*

An interesting comment exchange with Cleo, at Cleopatra Loves Books, has got me thinking about ex-convicts. People go to prison for different reasons, not all of which mean that the ex-convict is going to be a danger to society once released. But that doesn’t necessarily mean life is easy for those who are trying to start over again.

For one thing, it’s often hard for an ex-convict to get a job. Not many employers are willing to give a chance to someone who’s been in prison. There’s also the issue of settling back into ‘regular’ society. Prison is its own world, with its own culture and its own ways. A person can get used to life there, and then find it very difficult to rejoin ‘the rest of us’ when the time comes. There are other challenges, too.

That transition – from prison to life on the outside – can make for an interesting plot point or layer of character development in a crime novel. And it makes sense, too, since prison and crimes often go together. Here are just a few examples; I know you’ll think of many, many more.

In Ngaio Marsh’s Tied Up In Tinsel, sculptor and painter Agatha Troy is commissioned to do a portrait of Hilary Bill-Tasman. She’ll be working over the Christmas holiday, so Bill-Tasman invites her to do the work at his country home, Halbards. He’s planning a holiday gathering, too, so there is a lot going on at the estate. Bill-Tasman’s staff is unusual in that each one of them has spent time in prison for murder. None of these people is habitually violent or likely to offend again, so Bill-Tasman wanted to give them another chance. He’s a big believer in the redemptive power of productive and dignified employment, and he’s confident this experiment will work. On Christmas Eve, Bill-Tasman has a party for the local children, at which his uncle, Fleaton ‘Uncle Flea’ Forrester, is to dress up as a Druid and distribute gifts. But Forrester is taken ill at the last minute and isn’t able to do the job. His servant, Alfred Moult, stands in for him, and the party goes on. After the party, Moult goes missing and is later found dead. Troy’s husband, Inspector Roderick Alleyn, is persuaded to investigate. It’s assumed at first that a member of Bill-Tasman’s staff must be guilty, since each one of them has already killed, and since there was always friction between them and Moult. In the end, though, Alleyn finds it’s not quite that simple.

Giorgio Scerbanenco’s A Private Venus introduces us to Dr. Duca Lamberti. He’s recently been released from prison, where he served time for euthanasia. One evening, wealthy engineer Pietro Auseri offers Lamberti an unusual proposition. He wants to hire Lamberti to help his son, Davide, overcome a bout with severe alcoholism and depression. It seems that Davide Auseri has not been able to stop drinking, despite spending time in rehabilitation facilities. Lamberti isn’t sure what he can do, but he agrees to try. Little by little, he finds out why Davide is suffering so much. A year earlier, he happened to meet a young woman, Alberta Radelli. They started talking, decided they liked each other, and spent a pleasant day together in Florence. At the end of the day, Alberta begged her new friend to take her with him. Davide refused, and Alberta threatened suicide. He continued to refuse, and not long afterwards, Alberta’s body was discovered in a field outside of Milan. Since then, Davide has blamed himself for what he thinks is her suicide. Lamberti believes that the only way to help Davide is to find out what really happened to Alberta Radelli, and he sets out to do just that.

Angela Savage’s short story The Teardrop Tattoos begins shortly after the narrator has been released from prison, where she served time for murder. She is given a place to live not far from a child care facility, and she settles in with her constant companion, a Pit Bull named Sully. All goes well enough until the day a complaint is filed against her. One of the mothers whose children attend the child care facility lodged the complaint because Sully is a restricted breed. The local council then sends a letter to the narrator, instructing her to give Sully up. She has no choice, but that doesn’t mean she’s not going to do anything about it. As the story goes on, we learn more about why the narrator was in prison, and that adds an interesting and important layer to the story.

John Clarkson’s Among Thieves features James Beck, who owns a bar in the Red Hood section of Brooklyn. He served eight years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, and he bought the bar with money he got from a wrongful-imprisonment lawsuit. The bar’s co-owners are Emmanuel ‘Manny’ Guzman, Demarco Jones, and Ciro Baltassare, all people Beck met in and through prison. The bar is their chance to ‘go straight’ and live legal lives. Everything changes when Manny’s cousin, Olivia Sanchez, comes to him for help, claiming that she’s been harassed by a co-worker. She goes on to say that she was hounded out of her job and ‘blacklisted’ from other companies because she was going to ‘blow the whistle’ on illegal activity at the investment firm where she worked. Manny wants to handle this in his own way, but Beck persuades him to hold off – at first. Then, the group discovers that there’s a lot more going on here than it seems on the surface. And they soon find themselves drawn into a complicated case of fraud, theft and murder.

And then there’s Magdaleno ‘Mags’ Argueta, whom we meet in Christina Hoag’s Skin of Tattoos. He’s recently been released from prison, where he served time on weapons charges. He was set up by a fellow gang member, and he’s aware of that. But his feeling is that, by taking this prison time, he’s demonstrating loyalty to his gang, which he’s always thought as a family. Showing that sort of loyalty goes far among gang members. Now that he’s out of prison, Mags wants to ‘go straight,’ try to get a legitimate job, and maybe even get out of the gang-ridden area of Los Angeles where he lives. It’s going to be difficult, though. For one thing, the gang leadership doesn’t easily let members go. For another, not many employers will trust someone who’s been in prison with a job. Certainly, there aren’t many legitimate opportunities to make a decent income. And there’s Mags’ loyalty to the gang. The members are closer than brothers. Still, Mags is determined to try to live a legitimate life – until a series of events draws him closer to the gang life and forces him to make some choices that could cost him his life.

Being released from prison doesn’t really end a former convict’s challenges. It’s not easy to start over, and certainly not easy to live a ‘straight and narrow life.’ And that tension can add much to a crime novel.

Thanks, Cleo, for the inspiration. Now, folks, give yourselves a treat and go visit Cleo’s excellent blog. Fine reviews await you!

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Kinks’ Once a Thief.

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Filed under Angela Savage, Christina Hoag, Giorgio Scerbanenco, John Clarkson, Ngaio Marsh

His Family Business Thrives*

One of the staples of a lot of economies is the family-owned business. Some of them are large, many are smaller. Either way, they are part of the backbone of a lot of communities.

Family businesses can be very interesting contexts for a crime novel, too. They can be sources of conflict, they can add character development, and they can give interesting insight into a community. Here are just a few examples to show you what I mean.

Agatha Christie’s After the Funeral (AKA Funerals Are Fatal) begins directly after the funeral of wealthy family patriarch Richard Abernethie. In this case, the family built its fortune in the making of corn plasters and other, similar remedies. The business was very successful, and Abernethie has quite a lot of money to leave. His will distributes his money evenly amongst his nephew, two nieces, brother, sister-in-law, and younger sister. On the one hand, it seems on the surface like an equitable distribution. On the other, it also suggests that he didn’t have enough faith in any one member of his family to leave everything to that person. At the funeral gathering, Abernethie’s younger sister, Cora Lansquenet, blurts out that her brother was murdered. At first, everyone hushes her up, and even she tells the others to pay no attention. But privately, everyone begins to wonder if Cora was right. And, when she herself is murdered the next day, everyone is convinced that she was. Family attorney Mr. Entwhistle asks Hercule Poirot to look into the matter, and he agrees. He finds out that more than one person could have wanted to kill both people.

Ellery Queen’s The French Powder Mystery features family-owned French’s Department Store. The store does well, and store owner Cyrus French and his family are well off. Then, one tragic day, French’s wife, Winifred, is found dead in one of the store’s display windows. Inspector Richard Queen is called in to investigate, and of course, his son, Ellery, takes part. The Queens soon discover an interesting thing about family businesses: sometimes it’s hard to separate ‘family’ from business. Was Winifred killed by a family member? A business associate? It’s not an easy case to solve.

Riley Adams’ (AKA Elizabeth Spann Craig)’s Memphis Barbecue series features Lulu Taylor. She is the current owner of Aunt Pat’s Barbecue, one of Memphis’ popular eateries. It’s a family-owned business in which she takes great pride. She inherited the restaurant, and is planning that her son, Ben, will take over as owner when she is ready to step aside. As it is, he does plenty of work in the restaurant, and even Lulu’s two granddaughters help out at times. Part of what makes Aunt Pat’s special is that it isn’t an impersonal chain restaurant.

We also see several family-owned businesses in Lilian Jackson Braun’s Cat Who… series featuring James ‘Qwill’ Qwilleran. He is a journalist who’s moved to the small town of Pickax, Moose County – ‘400 miles north of nowhere.’ Most of the local businesses are owned by families, rather than by large companies. For example, the local department store is owned by the Lanspeak family, the local newspaper is owned by the Goodwinter family, and so on. Some of those families have been in the area for generations, too. It’s that sort of place. And that plays its roles in the mysteries that Qwill encounters.

Apostolos Doxiadis’ Three Little Pigs tells the story of the Franco family, who emigrate from Italy to New York at the turn of the 20th Century. Benvenuto ‘Ben’ Franco brings his wife and children to the US in hopes of a successful ‘American Dream’ sort of life. He gets a job in a shoe repair shop, works hard, and in a few years, has been able to open his own shoe repair and sales shop. The business does well, and he is hoping to pass it along to his three sons. He changes the family name to Frank, and everyone prospers at first. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last. Ben gets into a bar fight one night, and kills a man named Luigi Lupo. It turns out that his father is notorious gangster Tonio Lupo, and that Lupo has every intention of getting revenge. He visits Ben in prison and curses his family, promising that all three of his sons will die at the age of forty-two, the same age Luigi was at his death. The story goes on to follow the lives of Alessandro ‘Al,’ Niccola ‘Nick,’ and Leonardo ‘Leo’ Frank, and it’s interesting to see how the family business shapes them. Al Frank takes over the business and oversees real success for it. Nick Frank wants to be an actor, and he has a little talent. For a while, he does well enough in Hollywood, which suits him, because he doesn’t want to be in the family business. Leo takes several wrong turns and has his own issues. But after a number of years, he also chooses the family business. As the book goes on, we see what happens to each son, and how the curse plays out in their lives.

And then there’s Rajiv Patel, whom we meet in Angela Savage’s The Half-Child. Originally from India, he wanted a chance to see more of the world. His family wanted him to stay nearby, find a local woman to marry, and settle down. But that wasn’t in his plans. As a way of keeping the peace, and still doing what he wanted to do, Patel went to Bangkok’s Little India, where his uncle’s family keeps a bookshop. The agreement was that he would live with the family and help in the bookshop. And that’s where he meets PI Jayne Keeney, who loves to read. The two get to talking, find that they like each other, and begin to date. And Patel gets involved in the case Keeney’s working on, which involves the mysterious death of a young volunteer at an orphanage/children’s home. Later, they become business partners as well as partners in life.

Family businesses have been with us for a very long time. Perhaps you even have a business in your own family. They add much to the economy, and a lot to crime fiction, too.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s Levon.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Apostolos Doxiadis, Ellery Queen, Elzabeth Spann Craig, Lilian Jackson Braun, Riley Adams

She Said She’s Gonna Join the Peace Corps*

As this is posted, it’s 57 years since the establishment of the Peace Corps. As you’ll know, Peace Corps volunteers do grassroots-level work (teaching, medical assistance, agriculture, and more) in remote areas and areas of extreme poverty. You may know someone who’s been in the Peace Corps. Perhaps you were a volunteer, yourself.

The Peace Corps is by no means the only international volunteer group. Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), the International Red Cross, and lots of other groups also work all over the world. These groups do essential work to improve life, help in times of war and disaster, and more. There are several such groups in real life, and it’s no surprise to find them in crime fiction, too.

For instance, Michael Palmer’s Second Opinion introduces Dr. Thea Sperelakis. In the novel, she’s working with Médecins Sans Frontières. But she returns to her native Boston when her father, Petros Sperelakis, is gravely injured in a hit-and-run incident. He is the distinguished founder of the Sperelakis Center for Diagnostic Medicine, housed in Boston’s Beaumont Hospital, so an interest in medicine runs in the family. At first, the incident is put down to a terrible accident that someone won’t admit. But Thea’s brother, Dmitri, doesn’t think that’s true. Their father, who can communicate after a fashion, lets them know that there may be serious medical fraud going on at the Beaumont. Whoever is behind the fraud is willing to do whatever it takes to cover it up. Thea gets a job at the Beaumont, and goes undercover, in a way, to try to get to the truth about the fraud before the person who attacked her father strikes again.

Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis’ Nina Borg is a Copenhagen-based nurse who works with the International Red Cross. She’s been on the scene of more than one disaster and is passionate about helping those in desperate need. In fact, that’s been a major source of conflict between her and her family, who want her to stay out of danger, and who want more of her time. When she is in Copenhagen, she does her best to help immigrants who are in dire situations. That often gets her into a great deal of danger, but Nina can’t imagine not helping those who most need it.

In Angela Savage’s The Half Child, Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney gets a new client. Maryanne Delbeck died of a fall (or push, or jump) from the roof of the building she was living in in Pattaya. The police report indicates that it was probably a suicide, but Maryanne’s father, Jim Delbeck, doesn’t believe that. He hires Keeney to find out what really happened. Keeney discovers that the victim belonged to an Australian NGO called Young Christian Volunteers. When she died, she was volunteering at a Pattaya children’s home/orphanage called New Life Children’s Centre. With that information in hand, Keeney goes to New Life in the guise of volunteering, so that she can find out if there might be a connection between the death and the children’s home. In the novel, there’s very interesting information on how groups like Young Christian Volunteers work.

Ausma Zehanat Khan’s The Unquiet Dead is the first of her novels to feature Esa Khattak of the Community Policing Section (CPS) of the Canadian federal government. This group concerns itself with hate crimes and anti-bigotry, so it’s a surprise to Khattak when he’s called in to investigate the death of Christopher Drayton. The victim died of a fall from Scarborough (Ontario) Bluffs, and it’s hard to tell whether it was or was not murder. But even if it was, there seems on the surface to be no reason for the CPS to involve itself. Then, Khattak learns that Drayton was very likely was Dražen Krstić, a notorious war criminal known as the butcher of Srebrenica. If that’s the case, then this could present a major problem for the government. Why would a war criminal be allowed to live in Canada? One issue Khattak faces is that, as a student, he was a volunteer in Bosnia during that war. He helped in different capacities and saw his share of the horrors that went on there. He is also a Muslim. Because of all of this, he can’t be completely objective. So, he brings his assistant, Sergeant Rachel Getty, in on the case. Together, the two look into the matter. They find that there are actually several possibilities when it comes to suspects and motives…

Sometimes, governments rely on volunteers within their own borders. For instance, in Kwei Quartey’s Wife of the Gods, the body of a medical student, Gladys Mensah, is found in a wood not far from the Ghanian town of Ketanu. The victim was a volunteer for Ghana Health Services AIDS Outreach, so the Minister of Health takes a particular interest in the case. Wanting to send Ghana’s best to do the investigation, the Minister taps Accra’s CID. And the best in that department is Detective Inspector (DI) Darko Dawson. He’ll miss his wife and son while he’s away, but this trip will give him a chance to reconnect with his aunt and other relatives. So, Dawson willingly takes on the case. He’s not entirely welcome in Ketanu, since the local police chief takes his presence as meddling. But he gets to work and, in the end, finds out who killed Gladys.

International and other volunteering has a long history. And it really can make a positive difference. It’s also an interesting context for a crime novel. Which ones have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Andrew Stein’s Peace Corps.

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Filed under Agnete Friis, Angela Savage, Ausma Zehanat Khan, Kwei Quartey, Lene Kaaberbøl, Michael Palmer