Category Archives: Angela Savage

Hear the Salvation Army Band*

Non-ProfitsGovernments can’t do it all. Even if people were willing to be taxed enough to offset the costs of every undertaking, there are a lot of needs that governments can’t meet. So non-profit agencies and NGOs have very important places in many societies. Governments know this, and in some cases, they offer tax breaks, financial support, or other ‘goodies’ to non-profit agencies.

That support is almost never enough, though, to do the job. So these agencies also depend on generous donations and volunteerism. Sometimes they hang by a proverbial thread. But they persevere and many of them do really fine work. They’re woven through the fabric of a lot of societies, and we see them a lot in crime fiction.

For instance, in Deborah Crombie’s In A Dark House, a fire at a Southwark warehouse brings out the local fire brigade. As they’re going through the place, they find the body of an unknown woman in the ruins. It’s possible that she may have lived nearby, so the police and fire officials start locally with their questions. One of the places they visit is Helping Hands, a shelter for victims of domestic abuse and their children. They’re especially interested in the place because one of its residents reported the fire.  Funded primarily by the local council, it doesn’t have a large budget. But Kath Warren, the director, is proud of what her agency accomplishes. And the fact that one of residents may be the unknown woman is upsetting. There are other possibilities, though – three, as it turns out. So Met Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and his partner Gemma James have to work through several records of missing women and find out what happened to them before they can determine who the dead woman is and how she came to be in the warehouse.

In Peter Temple’s Bad Debts, sometime-lawyer Jack Irish gets a message from a former client, Danny McKillop. McKillop wants to see Irish as soon as possible, but Irish doesn’t take it seriously at first. He finds out too late that he should have, when he learns shortly afterwards that McKillop’s been murdered. Irish feels enough guilt about his former client, anyway. He did an unprofessional job defending McKillop in a drink driving hit-and-run case, and the case ended up with jail time. Now Irish comes to believe that McKillop’s murder may be related to the other case, the killing of local activist Anne Jeppeson. So he starts to ask questions. He soon learns that it’s very likely that McKillop was framed for the murder, and later killed to prevent any of it coming out. As Irish tries to track down possible witnesses, he finds that most people don’t want to say much to him. But he does pick up the trail, which leads to the Safe Hands Foundation, an agency dedicated to helping the homeless. The agency isn’t the reason for the murders, but his visit there gives him important information.

Sylvie Granotier’s The Paris Lawyer introduces us to Catherine Monsigny. She is a newly-minted attorney who’s trying to get some experience and make her name. As the story begins, she works for Rights For All, an agency that helps undocumented workers. Her role there is to help defend them in court hearings. Then, she gets a chance to really start her career. Myriam Villetreix has been arrested for killing her wealthy husband Gaston, and wants Monsigny, whom she met through the agency, to defend her. The case itself is high-profile, and could get Monsigny a lot of attention. So she works hard to prepare herself. As she does so, though, she finds herself haunted by a tragedy that occurred when she was a toddler, and drawn back to the place where it happened. She begins to ask questions about that, and about the case she’s preparing, and finds out that both cases are much more complex than she’d thought.

In Aditya Sudarshan’s A Nice Quiet Holiday, Judge Harish Shinde and his law clerk Anant travel from Delhi to Bhairavgarh, in the Indian state of Rajasthan. They’re hoping to enjoy a peaceful holiday at the home of Shinde’s old friend, Sikhar Pant. Pant has invited other houseguests, too, among them Ronit and Kamini Mittal. The Mittals run a rather controversial NGO which is dedicated to sexual and reproductive health education. In fact, they’ve recently gotten into trouble with a pamphlet they circulated about AIDS prevention. Some people in the rural areas they serve believe that the material is obscene. Others see it as personally offensive. The debate spills over into mealtime conversations at the Pant home. Pant’s cousin, Kailish, supports what the Mittals are doing, while other guests, especially Avinash Anand, are very much against it. When Kailish Pant is found stabbed one afternoon, Inspector Patel is assigned to the case and begins asking questions. His first theory is that someone who hated the victim’s stand on the Mittals and their NGO took that anger too far. But there are other possibilities, and the Judge and Anant begin to explore them. In the end, and after another murder, they find out who killed the victim and why.

There’s an interesting discussion of what NGOs do in Angela Savage’s The Half Child. Jim Delbeck has traveled to Bangkok to find out what happened to his daughter Maryanne. She was volunteering at the New Life Children’s Centre when she fell (or jumped, or was pushed) from the roof of the building where she lived. The police report is that she committed suicide, but Delbeck is sure his daughter did not kill herself. So he hires Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney to find out what really happened. She travels to Pattaya, where the death occurred, to investigate. Maryanne was in Pattaya with a group called Young Christian Volunteers, an Australian-based NGO. Since Maryanne had to go through the interview process with that group, and they have background information about her, Keeney makes the NGO one of her stops as she looks for answers. The information she gets doesn’t tell her how and why the victim died. But it does give her an important perspective.   

You may not think much about it unless you work for this kind of agency, or you’ve benefited from one. But NGOs and similar agencies fill important gaps in society. Wanna do some good yourself? Find an ethical non-profit agency or NGO whose goals and work you support, and help out. Donate, volunteer, spread the word. Give a little back.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Simon and Garfunkel’s A Hazy Shade of Winter.

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Filed under Aditya Sudarshan, Angela Savage, Deborah Crombie, Peter Temple, Sylvie Granotier

The Truth Has Become Merely Half-Truth*

HalfTruthsMost of us don’t like to lie, so we’re not particularly good at it. And even those who are fairly good liars generally prefer to tell the truth. There’s less cognitive stress involved. So, when people do lie, they sometimes settle on a kind of not-quite-a-lie. ‘It’s true as far as it goes’ is an expression that captures that rather neatly.

That’s why, when real-life or fictional sleuths investigate, they have to be as alert to what is not said as to what is said. So do crime fiction fans. After all, crime writers can be quite good at hiding clues in those things that aren’t said.

Agatha Christie, for instance, used that sort of strategy in several of her stories. For instance, in Five Little Pigs (AKA Murder in Retrospect), Hercule Poirot takes on a sixteen-year-old case, the poisoning murder of famous painter Amyas Crale. At the time of the murder, everyone assumed that Crale’s wife Caroline was the killer. There was certainly evidence against her, and she had motive, too; her husband had said he was going to leave her for another woman. But the Crales’ daughter Carla, who was a small child at the time, has always believed her mother to be innocent. So she hires Poirot to find out the truth. To do that, he interviews the five people who were present on the day of the murder. He also gets written accounts from each about the murder and the days leading up to it. From that, he is able to work out who really killed Amyas Crale and why. What’s very interesting about this novel is the number of things that those five people don’t say and write. In some cases, it’s deliberate. In others, it’s forgetfulness or the belief that something or other wasn’t important. But it all adds up. There’s even an Agatha Christie novel (a different one) where one particular sentence highlights some very crucial things that are not said. Readers who don’t pay attention to that are easily led up the proverbial garden path.

In Nicholas Blake’s The Beast Must Die, poet and amateur sleuth Nigel Strangeways investigates the poisoning murder of George Rattery. As the story goes on, we learn that there are several suspects. The victim was an abusive husband and father, so his widow, Violet and son Phil had motive. He was also having an affair with his business partner’s wife, so there’s motive there, too. And he was responsible for a hit-and-run incident that killed Martin ‘Martie’ Cairnes; Cairnes’ father Frank therefore has a motive as well. As it turns out, everyone has something to hide. Part of Strangeways’ task, then, is to learn what is unsaid, and there’s plenty of that. So he pays attention to things people don’t mention, things they gloss over, and so on, to get to the truth.

A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife takes a slightly different approach to the things left unsaid. In that novel, we meet successful developer Todd Gilbert and his psychologist partner Jodi Brett. They’ve been married in everything but name for twenty years when everything changes. Todd begins an affair with Natasha Kovacs, who is the daughter of his business partner. He’s strayed before, but this time, things are different: Natasha discovers that she’s pregnant. She wants to keep the baby, get married and have a family, and Todd tells her that’s what he wants, too. But as he reflects on it, he wants to keep his options open, as the saying goes. So he also tries to ‘mend fences’ with Jodi. For Jodi, it’s humiliating enough that Todd has left her. It’s even more so that he’s not being honest with her (or, for the matter of that, with himself). Matters reach a head when, on the advice of his lawyer, Todd serves Jodi with an order of eviction from their home. The order is, so the attorney says, perfectly legitimate, since the couple is not legally married. And it will protect Todd. With her options running out, Jodi becomes increasingly withdrawn and unhappy. And life’s not any better for Todd, who is finding that living with Natasha and planning their wedding is not turning out as he’d planned. Then, Todd is killed in a drive-by shooting. At first, it looks like a carjacking gone wrong, but the police soon begin to suspect otherwise. As it turns out, someone hired Todd’s murderers, and there are several people who had motive. This novel is told from both Todd and Jodi’s perspectives. And in both cases, there are half-truths that these characters tell each other and themselves that are important to understanding their relationship as well as what happens in the novel.

T.J. Cooke’s Defending Elton is the story of the murder of Sarena Gunasekera, and enigmatic young woman whose body is found at the bottom of a cliff near Beachy Head in Eastbourne. The police soon have a very likely suspect. He is Elton Spears, a mentally troubled young man who’s had brushes with the law before. There’s plenty of circumstantial evidence against him, too. But Spears’ solicitor, Jim Harwood, knows his client and has worked with him previously. Determined to prove his client innocent, Harwood gets started on the case. Throughout this novel, readers know who the killer really is. The question is more whether the killer will get away with the crime. And part of doing that will involve saying things that are true as far as they go, but don’t really tell the whole truth. It’s very delicate balance for the murderer.

Angela Savage’s The Half Child takes another sort of look at things left unsaid. In that novel, Jim Delbeck hires Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney to find out what happened to his daughter, Maryanne. Police reports say that she committed suicide by jumping off the roof of the building where she lived. But Delbeck doesn’t believe his daughter killed herself. Keeney agrees to look into the matter, and gets started on the investigation. She knows that she won’t make much progress, and she will potentially cause a lot of trouble, if she doesn’t pay due respect to the local authorities in Pattaya, where the victim died. So she visits Police Major General Wichit, who has a family connection in Pattaya. They have a very delicate, but ‘loaded’ conversation, with much more implied than said. Keeney once helped Wichit with a very difficult family situation, thereby saving him and his family from ‘losing face.’ So he owes her. On the other hand, it’s very bad form, even insulting, to outright remind him of his debt. So the two refer to it in only the vaguest terms. The reader is aware of the underlying messages, though, and it’s interesting to see how what is not said is at least as important as what is said.

Part of the reason that detectives are able to ‘read between the lines’ is that they are, by and large, able to pick up on subtle nuances of communication, both written and oral. But not everyone can do that. Mark Haddon’s Christopher Boone can’t. As we learn in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, he has autism. He’s high-functioning, but he doesn’t pick up on unspoken cues very well, and he doesn’t understand subtleties of speech. So he’s at a real disadvantage when he decides to conduct an investigation. He discovers the body of the dog that lives on his street one night, and ends up being accused of killing it. He knows he’s innocent, and wants to clear his name. He also wants to be a detective, like Sherlock Holmes. So he begins asking questions. The story is told from his perspective, so it’s really interesting to see how he interprets what is said to him versus what readers can make of it. It’s soon clear that much more is going on in this story than people actually say to Christopher, and that adds layers to the novel.

It’s often easier to tell the truth as far as it goes than it is to outright fabricate. So when people feel the need to hide something or lie, that’s what they often do. It’s no surprise, then, that those unsaid things and half-truths play such an important role in crime fiction.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Depeche Mode’s Lie to Me.

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Filed under A.S.A. Harrison, Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Mark Haddon, Nicholas Blake, T.J. Cooke

Nobody Shows You What They’re Thinking*

Different ViewsIt’s always interesting to see the world – even the same event – from different perspectives. Have you ever wondered, for instance, what the person ringing up your grocery order might be thinking? Or what the person who changes your oil and fixes your brakes might think? Or perhaps the members of the band whose concert you’re attending?

Including those different perspectives in a story can add a layer of interest. And in a crime novel, they can also add clues and other information. But even if the author doesn’t choose to do that, those different perspectives can add some texture and character development.

For example, in Agatha Christie’s Cards on the Table, Hercule Poirot works with Superintendent Battle, Colonel Race, and detective story writer Ariadne Oliver to solve the murder of the very eccentric Mr. Shaitana. In one scene in that novel, Poirot goes to a women’s clothing store to buy stockings. After ordering quite a number of pairs of expensive stockings, he completes the purchase and leaves. Now, the hitherto professional, polished young women behind the counter share their true feelings:
 

‘As Poirot departed with his purchase, the next girl at the counter said, ‘Wonder who the lucky girl is? Must be a nasty old man. Oh, well, she seems to be stringing him along good and proper. Stockings at thirty-seven and sixpence indeed!’’

Unaware of the low estimate formed by the young ladies of Messrs Harvey Robinson’s upon his character, Poirot was trotting homewards.’
 

Those who know Poirot will know that his purchase has nothing to do with his personal life. It’s related to the case. But it’s interesting to get that different perspective on what he does.

Chris Gragenstein’s John Ceepak/Danny Boyle mysteries take place mostly in and around the small town of Sea Haven, New Jersey. It’s a summer tourist destination, complete with tasteless souvenir shops, a boardwalk, and overpriced restaurants. As the series begins, Boyle is a ‘summer cop,’ hired to help deal with the influx of tourists during the season. Here’s a bit of what he thinks of them (from Tilt a Whirl):
 

‘Saturday is changeover day. People who rented last week are leaving; people renting this week will show up later, after the maid brigades have vacuumed the sandy floors and tossed out the abandoned seashell collections. This morning, I see mostly locals eating sensible stuff like eggs and toast, cereal and muffins. It’s the tourists and day-trippers who go for the specials – chocolate chip French toast, Coco-Loco Pancakes, and a little something I like to call The Heart Stopper: a waffle, with crispy bits of bacon baked right into the batter, topped with two scoops of butter and a fluffy igloo of whipped cream.’
 

Boyle is just as, well, observant about the tourists’ children, who
 

‘…fling their forks at each other, and topple sippy cups and steal their sisters’ crayons so they can color in the maze on the Kidz Menu…’
 

What’s interesting is the difference between what the tourists think of themselves and their children, and what the locals think.

John Burdett’s Sonchai Jitpleecheep series takes places mostly in Bangkok, and features Sonchai, who is a member of the Royal Thai Police, and a devout Buddhist. His mother, Nong, is a former bar girl, so Sonchai knows many of the people in that business. He uses his contacts with them when he needs information on a case, and it’s very interesting to get their perceptions about their clients. Here, for instance, is one scene from Bangkok 8. In this part of the novel, Sonchai is looking for someone who can translate a bit of Lao for him, and he knows just where to go: the entertainment district, where many of the bar girls are Laotian:
 

‘A few girls were already hanging out at the street-level bars, chatting about the night before, comparing stories of the men who paid their bar fines and took them back to their rooms, moaning about the ones who just flirted and groped, then disappeared without buying them a drink…I knew how they liked to talk about the quirks of farangs [foreigners] whose preferences can be so different from our own.’
 

Fans of Timothy Hallinan’s Philip ‘Poke’ Rafferty series will know he also depicts what the bar girls and their employers think of their clients. So does Angela Savage in her Jayne Keeney novels.

In Maureen Carter’s Working Girls, Birmingham DS Beverly ‘Bev’ Morriss and her team investigate the murder of fifteen-year-old Michelle Lucas. They discover that she was a sex worker, so Morriss gets clearance to start with the other sex workers who do their business in the area where the body was found. Morriss gets the opportunity to spend some time with some of the young women in the trade, including an evening of pizza, beer and videos at the home of Big Val, their unofficial leader. Part of the evening involves swapping stories about their customers:
 

‘There were one or two well-known men in town that Bev would never look in the face again. The girls were rolling around in hysterics on the carpet.’
 

It’s an enlightening look at the way that sex workers sometimes think about their clients.

There’s another kind of illuminating perspective offered in Gail Bowen’s A Killing Spring. Bowen’s series features Joanne Kilbourn, who is a political scientist and academician. In this novel, she gets involved in the investigation when a university colleague, Reed Gallagher, is found murdered. At the same time, in a related plot thread, she is concerned when a troubled student, Kellee Savage, seems to have disappeared. She was last seen at a bar with a group of other students. As it happened, she was recording their conversation, and the recording is discovered. On the recording, Kilbourn picks up the voice of one of her students, Jeannine. In person, Jeannine has twice said that Kilbourn is a role model. But here’s what she really seems to think:
 

‘‘If I’d known Kilbourn was such a bitch about not letting people express their own opinions, I wouldn’t have taken her…course. You know what she gave me on my last paper? Fifty-eight percent! Just because I didn’t use secondary sources! I showed that paper to my boyfriend and a lot of other people. Everybody says I should’ve got an A.’

Unexpectedly it was Jumbo Hryniuk who jumped to my defence. ‘Kilbourn’s all right,’ he said. ‘She’s kinda like my coach – tough but generally pretty fair.’’
 

It’s probably just as well that I don’t get to hear my students’ unadulterated perspectives on me…

But those different perspectives and view can be really helpful and interesting in crime fiction. They add character development, texture and sometimes, clues.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jackson Browne’s Boulevard.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Chris Grabenstein, Gail Bowen, John Burdett, Maureen Carter, Timothy Hallinan

The Bridge*

Bridges and LiaisonsIn Agatha Christie’s Hickory Dickory Death, Hercule Poirot agrees to investigate a series of odd occurrences and strange petty thefts at a hostel for students. When one of the residents, Celia Austin, admits that she was responsible for some of the thefts, it’s believed that the matter is settled. Everything changes, though, when she dies two days later, an apparent suicide. It’s soon proven to be murder, though, and Poirot works with Inspector Sharpe to find out who is guilty. At one point, Sharpe and Poirot have a conversation about the residents:
 

‘‘You met some of them the other night and I wondered if you could give me any useful dope, on the foreigners, anyway.’
‘You think I am a good judge of foreigners? But, mon cher, there were no Belgians amongst them.’
‘No Belg- Oh, I see what you mean! You mean that as you’re a Belgian, all the other nationalities are as foreign to you as they are to me. But that’s not quite true, is it? I mean you probably know more about the Continental types than I do – though not the Indians and the West Africans and that lot.’’
 

Among other things, this conversation shows the challenge police face when the cases they investigate involve people from different cultures. Even police who aren’t particularly culturally sensitive know that they’ll get more information about a case if they have a connection of some kind to the community/culture in which the crime occurred.

Another thing this exchange shows is that when that sort of cultural ‘reaching out’ is not done with some thought and insight, it simply doesn’t work very well. In this case, for instance, it doesn’t occur to Inspector Sharpe (at least at first) that you can’t group people under the ‘umbrella’ category of ‘Continental types.’ Each European culture is a little different, and has a different language and world view. So it makes little sense to expect that Poirot would be any more knowledgeable about, say, the Dutch students at the hostel than Sharpe is.

We see this kind of duality, if you will, in other crime fiction, too. On the one hand, there’s the understanding that a certain kind of ‘cultural bridge’ will help solve crimes. On the other, sometimes it’s done in a sort of ‘top down’ way, by people who don’t have a lot of understanding themselves, so that it doesn’t work the way it was intended to work.

Fans of Arthur Upfield’s Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte will know that part of the reason he is so successful as a sleuth is that he has a deep understanding of the Aboriginal communities within his jurisdiction (and sometimes, outside of it). More than that, he has a deep understanding of the ‘book of the land.’ He reads nature and natural cues very well. So in that sense, the Queensland Police’s choice to have a half White/half Aboriginal police detective gives them a real edge in solving crime. Bony can be accepted by both the White and the Aboriginal communities. But at the same time, he sometimes uses very unconventional approaches to solving crime. And from the perspectives of some of his superiors, that’s not always a good thing. So he sometimes has difficulty doing the very thing he’s been hired to do, because of the people who hired him to do it.

Eva Dolan’s DI Dushan Zigic and DS Mel Ferreira are a part of the Peterborough Hate Crimes unit. In this case, members of the top brass know that it’s the politically ‘right thing to do’ to have a multicultural staff. And they want media and public support. At the same time, someone who’s too ‘different’ may not fit in with the department or with the public perception of the way police ‘should’ be. For this reason,
 

‘The ACC needed a foreign name to head up Hate Crimes, and he wanted it attached to a third-generation body. Someone just different enough.’ 
 

Zigic fits the bill, as third-generation English. And it’s very interesting to see how he and Ferreira negotiate the difference between the reality of life for immigrants (and of solving crimes that concern them), and the bureaucratic perception of what that process should be.

In Peter May’s Entry Island, we meet Sergeant Enquêteur Sime Mackenzie of the Sûreté du Québec, who’s based in Montréal. He gets a new assignment when James Cowell is murdered on Entry Island, one of the Îles-de-la-Madeleine/Magdalen Islands. Unlike the other islands, Entry Island is composed of English speakers, with a very different culture to the surrounding French-speaking, mostly Roman Catholic culture. Mackenzie’s family is of Scottish origin, and he’s a native speaker of English (although he speaks French quite fluently). So it’s believed he’ll be helpful as a sort of ‘bridge’ to the Entry Island people. He’s pragmatic enough to understand this; it’s one of the times when his being somewhat of an outsider is helpful. When he and the other members of the team get to the island, they begin the investigation. Almost instantly, Mackenzie feels a deep connection to the island, although he’s never been there. What’s more, when he meets the victim’s widow Kirsty, he is convinced he knows her, although they have never met. The investigation starts out as a sort of ‘rubber stamp,’ since the evidence seems to point to Kirsty as the killer. But Mackenzie becomes convinced she is innocent. As he searches for the real killer, he also has to make sense of the strong conviction he has that somehow, he is connected to this island.

It’s not just police departments that depend on these cultural liaisons. Businesses often do as well. For example, in Angela Savage’s The Dying Beach, Bangkok-based PIs Jayne Keeney and Rajiv Patel are taking a few days of much-needed rest in Krabi. They’re especially impressed with their tour guide Chanida Manakit, an expert swimmer whose nickname is Pla. So they’re particularly distressed when they learn that her body has washed up in a cave. The official police report is that it was likely an accident. But both PIs know that she was far too good a swimmer for her death to have been an accident. So after some debate, they decide to stay in Krabi a bit longer to find out what happened to her. One thing they soon learn is that Miss Pla served as a kind of liaison for an environmental group. Her job was to attend meetings between a development company and local villagers, to articulate the villagers’ concerns and requests. The development company needed her help, so they could show they obey Thai law respecting new development in the area. The villagers were grateful for her presence too, because it allowed them to ‘save face’ by not appearing confrontational or ignorant. Miss Pla might have been useful, but she was also very vulnerable, since she found out some things it wasn’t safe for her to know.

There are a lot of other examples, too, of people who act as such cultural ‘bridges.’ Sometimes they work very well. Other times, they don’t work well at all. But either way, they can add interest to a story.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of an Elton John song.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Arthur Upfield, Eva Dolan, Peter May

But it Worked*

Unconventional SolutionsThere are some situations where conventional solutions won’t solve problems. In fact, they may do more harm than good. So, sometimes, the best solution is something that seems counterintuitive. It’s certainly true in real life, and we see those sorts of solutions in crime fiction, too.

In Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, for example, Hercule Poirot is on the world-famous Orient Express train, en route to London. On the second night of the journey, fellow passenger Samuel Ratchett is murdered. At the request of one of the train company’s directors, M. Bouc, Poirot investigates the murder. He finds out who killed Ratchett and why; but as fans of this novel will know, he doesn’t take a conventional approach to the case or its solution.

That’s also true of Dr. Duca Lamberti, whom we meet in Giorgio Scerbanenco’s A Private Venus. As the story begins, Lamberti has recently been released from prison after serving time for participating in euthanasia. He is hired by wealthy Milanese engineer Pietro Auseri for an unusual task. Auseri is very concerned about his son, Davide, who’s been drinking excessively, despite having gone for treatment. The young man is extremely depressed, too, and has been for quite some time. Auseri wants Lamberti to take over Davide’s care, and help him get past his drinking and depression. Lamberti isn’t quite sure how he’ll be able to help; but, not having any other prospects at the moment, he agrees. One of the first very unconventional things he does is that he doesn’t bar Davide from drinking. Instead, he insists that the young man drink only wine. It’s an odd decision, but it works. Little by little, Davide starts to trust Lamberti, and he does cut down on his drinking. Then, the reason for his depression comes out. He believes he’s responsible for the death of Alberta Radelli, who was believed to have committed suicide a year earlier. Lamberti believes that the only way to free Davide from his personal ghosts is to look into the case himself. So, he does. And in the end, he finds quite a different explanation for Alberta’s death.

In Karin Fossum’s He Who Fears the Wolf, Oslo police detective Konrad Sejer and his assistant Jacob Skaar investigate the murder of Holldis Horn. She lived alone in a remote area, so it’s not easy to get witnesses. But the evidence suggests that a troubled and mentally ill young man named Erkki Johrma (who, by the way, has gone missing) is responsible. The case isn’t as simple as that, though, and Sejer and Skaar have to penetrate several tissues of lies and misunderstandings to get to the truth. What’s very interesting is the approach Sejer takes when they find out who really killed the victim and why. It’s not a conventional choice; but, as Sejer sees it, to do things in the usual way would cause more harm than good.

In one plot thread of Adrian Hyland’s Gunshot Road, Aboriginal Community Police Officer (ACPO) Emily Tempest is faced with a difficult situation. She happens to be in the small town of Bluebush when Merv Todd, who owns the local electronics store, rushes out of his shop, complaining that someone’s stolen a valuable iPod. It doesn’t take long for Emily to discover that the thief is fifteen-year-old Danny Brambles. She’s known him and his family for a long time, and she knows that he’s not a violent or malicious person. If she takes him into custody, he faces prosecution; and a jail term will do him much more harm than good. On the other hand, she can’t simply ignore the theft. So she arranges to return the stolen iPod to the store in exchange for Danny doing some extra work for him. That solves the immediate problem, but she’s still worried about Danny, fearing that he may start to get into real trouble. She’s proven right when Danny gets arrested for murder – a murder he says he didn’t commit. Emily knows he’s right. She also has come to believe that he’s in danger. So she solves both problems in an unconventional way: she has Danny join his grandparents’ people on a trip out into the bush. It isn’t a perfect solution by any means, but Emily believes it might keep Danny safe.

There’s an interesting debate about solutions to problems in Angela Savage’s Behind the Night Bazaar. In that novel, Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney is looking into the murder of her good friend Didier ‘Didi’ de Montpasse, who was killed in a police raid. The police explanation is that he was the prime suspect in the murder of his partner Nou, and posed an imminent threat to the officers who’d come to arrest him. But Keeney suspects that’s not true, and is determined to clear Didi’s name. In the process, she meets Australian Federal Police (AFP) officer Mark D’Angelo. He’s there as part of a special task force that’s investigating the child trafficking and sex trades. He and his team have tracked down some of those involved in the trade, and are preparing to make an arrest. But Keeney knows that simply arresting those particular people won’t stop the trade. In fact, in ways, it may make matters worse. So she finds her own, unconventional, way to do something about the situation. As she does so, she also clears her friend’s name.

And then there’s Kishwar Desai’s Witness the Night, which introduces Delhi-based social worker Simran Singh. In this novel, she travels to her home town of Jullundar, in the state of Punjab, to help with an unusual case. Thirteen members of the wealthy and well-connected Atwal family have been poisoned, and some of them stabbed. What is more, the family home has been burned. The only person who knows what happened that night is fourteen-year-old Durga Atwal. The evidence isn’t clear whether she was victim or perpetrator that night; and since that time, she’s barely spoken. The idea is that if Simran can get the girl to talk about what happened, the police will know the facts of the case. Simran agrees and tries to work with Durga, but at first it’s not very successful. Little by little, though, Simran learns more about Durga and her family. It turns out there is much more here than a young girl who ‘snapped.’ The obvious solution – lock the young criminal up – isn’t going to solve anything here, and in fact, will probably make everything worse. So Simran comes up with another solution. It may not be conventional, but it works.

And that’s the thing about unconventional solutions to problems. They may seem unproductive, even wrong, on the surface. But sometimes, the conventional approach causes more harm than good. So, another way of solving things turns out to be more successful.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone’s Making Things Up Again. You’ll want to note carefully, if you don’t know this song, that it’s not in the least bit ‘family listening.’ Neither is the show from whence it comes. But if you listen (or perhaps, know it already), it fits.

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Filed under Adrian Hyland, Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Giorgio Scerbanenco, Karin Fossum