Category Archives: Ann Cleeves

Yes, I Know I’m Just an Outcast*

As this is posted, it’s the 167th anniversary of the publication of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic The Scarlet Letter. As you’ll know, it’s the story of Hester Prynne, who has a child out of wedlock and is therefore, punished for adultery. There are many themes in the novel – it’s a complex story, really – and I won’t pretend to touch on them all here. But one of them that’s quite relevant to crime fiction is the trope of the outcast.

Different cultures have different reasons for rejecting people and considering them outcasts. But no matter what the reason, being outcast is traumatic. Humans by nature are social. We have a deep-seated need to be accepted. So, it’s especially distressing not to have a group to accept us. That tension can add much to a story, and can add a fascinating layer of character development.

In Agatha Christie’s Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, for instance, Hercule Poirot travels to the village of Broadhinny to investigate the murder of a charwoman. Everyone thinks the killer is her lodger, James Bentley. In fact, there’s enough evidence against him that he’s been convicted and is set to be executed. But Superintendent Spence doesn’t think he’s guilty. And if he is innocent, Poirot doesn’t want to see him hanged, either. But Poirot soon runs into a problem as he investigates. Bentley has never really been accepted in the village. He doesn’t have much in the way of social skills, and he isn’t the ‘dashingly handsome type.’ So, he’s become a sort of outcast, although people don’t go out of their way to hurt him. Still, he’s an easy mark when the time comes to arrest someone for Mrs. McGinty’s murder. And most people aren’t really interested in standing up for him. But Poirot perseveres, and we learn, in the end, who really killed the victim and why.

In Ellery Queen’s Calamity Town, we are introduced to Jim Haight. He was engaged to Nora Wright, whose parents, John F. and Hermione ‘Hermy’ Wright, are the undisputed social leaders of the small town of Wrightsville. Three years ago, though, Haight unexpectedly jilted his bride-to-be, and left town. That’s how matters stand at the beginning of the novel, when Ellery Queen temporarily moves into the Wrights’ guest house so that he can do some writing. Not long after Queen’s arrival, Haight returns to town. He’s not welcome after having treated Nora as he did. But he and Nora rekindle their romance, and even get married. Then, some evidence comes up that suggests that Haight married Nora only for her money, and is planning to kill her. On New Year’s Eve, there is, in fact, a murder. Haight’s sister, Rosemary, drinks a cocktail that was intended for Nora, and dies of poison. Haight is arrested right away, and because he’s already an outcast, gets no support. In fact, the residents have an almost-vigilante attitude towards him. But Queen isn’t convinced of his guilt. So, he and Nora’s sister, Pat, look into the matter more deeply and discover who the real killer is.

Ann Cleeves’ Raven Black takes place mostly in the small Shetland town of Ravenswick. Everyone in town knows everyone else, and just about everyone stays away from Magnus Tait. He’s an eccentric loner, so he’s not much of a ‘mixer’ to begin with. It doesn’t help his case that there are whispers that link him to the disappearance several years earlier of a young girl. For the most part, he’s not overtly bullied, but he’s certainly not welcome in people’s homes, either. One New Year’s Eve, local teenagers Sally Henry and Catherine Ross stop by Tait’s home to wish him a good year. It’s partly a ‘dare you to knock on the door’ moment, and partly a matter of feeling bad for someone left alone on the holiday. Just a few days later, Catherine is found murdered, not far from Tait’s home. Immediately it’s assumed that he is the killer, and people are only too happy to lead Inspector Jimmy Perez in that direction. But Tait claims that he is innocent. Besides, Perez is a good cop who doesn’t want to assume guilt without the evidence to support that assumption. So, he digs deeper, and finds that more than one person might have had a motive for murder.

Nicolas Freeling’s Double Barrel sees his Amsterdam Police sleuth, Piet Van der Valk, sent from Amsterdam to the small Dutch town of Zwinderen. A number of anonymous, ‘poison pen’ letters have been sent to the residents, and everyone’s shaken up. In fact, one recipient committed suicide; another had a mental breakdown. Matters are not helped by the fact that Zwinderen is a small community, where everyone knows everyone, and where people feel a great need to fit in and be accepted. The local police haven’t made much headway in finding the author of the letters, so Van der Valk and his wife, Arlette, go to Zwinderen. It’s not long before Van der Valk discovers that a lot of people think that a certain M. Besançon is the guilty party. He’s somewhat of an outcast, and no-one in the town really likes him much. He lives alone in a house with a walled garden for privacy (something that makes the townspeople quite suspicious). And, he’s not ‘one of them;’ he’s a French Jew who survived the Holocaust and immigrated to the Netherlands.  Van der Valk is soon able to show that M. Besançon didn’t write the letters. But it’s interesting to see how quick the residents of Zwinderen are to blame him.

And then there’s Jodie Evans Garrow, whom we meet in Wendy James’ The Mistake. She has, by most people’s estimation, a perfect life. She’s educated, attractive, and married to a successful attorney. She’s the mother of two healthy children, and seems to have everything going for her. Although she grew up on the proverbial wrong side of the tracks, Jodie now lives among well-off, well-connected people who’ve accepted her as one of them, for the most part. Then, disaster strikes. It comes out that, long ago, Jodie gave birth to another child – a child she never told anyone about before. Not even her husband knew. Jodie claims that she gave the baby up for adoption, but there are no formal records to support that. So, very soon, questions start to arise. What happened to the baby? If she’s alive, where is she? If she’s dead, did Jodie have something to do with it? It’s not long before Jodie’s social group rejects her, and she becomes a pariah. As we slowly learn what happened to the baby, we also see how difficult it is for Jodie to be shunned or worse by the very people who once accepted her.

And that’s the thing about outcasts. They often have little in the way of a support system, and that can make life miserable. That tension may add to a novel, but in real life, it’s awful.

 
 
 

NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz’ God Help the Outcasts.

25 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Ann Cleeves, Ellery Queen, Nicolas Freeling, Wendy James

The Other Side of You*

multipleseriesMany crime fiction authors write more than one series. There are a lot of reasons for doing that, too. For instance, the author may want to ‘start fresh’ if a series has gone on for a while. Or, the author may want to experiment and try something new. Sometimes, if an author’s first series has done well, a publisher may request that the author start another series. Whatever the reason, the choice to have more than one series raises a question: how to generate interest in what may be a lesser-known series.

In some cases, both (or, at times, all three) of an author’s series are well-known. For instance, one of Elly Griffith’s series features Ruth Galloway, a forensic archaeologist who teaches at North Norfolk University. Her expertise is frequently tapped by the police, mostly in the form of Harry Nelson. Griffiths fans will know that she also has another series, the Max Mephisto novels. These novels are set in the 1950’s, and feature Mephisto, who is a magician by profession. Both series are highly regarded. In this case, you might argue that Griffiths’ success with the Ruth Galloway series meant that there was an audience likely to be interested in the Max Mephisto series.

Robert B. Parker first gained a reputation with his Spenser novels, which he wrote between the mid-1970s and 2013. In fact, he may be best known for those novels. But he also wrote other series. Beginning in the late 1990s, he wrote a series featuring Police Chief Jesse Stone, and another featuring PI Sunny Randall. He even took the risk of having Stone and Randall join forces, both personally and professionally. Those series may be less well-known than the Spenser novels, but they are well-regarded.

Beginning in 1970, Reginald Hill became best-known for his series featuring Superintendent Andy Dalziel and Sergeant (later DI) Peter Pascoe. As fans can tell you, the series ran for decades, and was successfully adapted for television. Starting in 1993, Hill created another protagonist, small-time PI Joe Sixsmith. He’s quite a different character to Dalziel (and to Pascoe). He’s an unassuming former lathe operator who also sings in a choir. Among other differences, this series isn’t as gritty as the Dalziel/Pascoe series can be. It’s also likely not as well known. But it’s certainly got fans.

That’s also the case for Kerry Greenwood. Her Phryne Fisher series takes place in Melbourne in the late 1920s, and features socialite Phryne Fisher, who becomes a ‘lady detective.’ Phryne is wealthy, elegant, and has access to the highest social circles. She’s quite independent and free-thinking, too. Greenwood’s other series, which began in 2004, is a contemporary series, also based in Melbourne, that features accountant-turned baker Corinna Chapman. Like Phryne, Corinna is independent and intelligent. But this is a very different series. Chapman is very much ‘the rest of us’ in appearance and income. Like most people, she has bills to pay, and doesn’t live in a sumptuous mansion. Both series feature regular casts of characters, and tend to be less violent and gritty than dark, noir novels are.

If you’ve read any of James Lee Burke’s work, my guess is that you probably read from his Dave Robicheaux series. That series features New Iberia, Louisiana police detective Robicheaux, and is one of the best-regarded series in American crime fiction. It’s a long-running series, and has gotten all sorts of acclaim. But it’s not Burke’s only series. He’s also written a series that feature the different members of the Holland family. This series is written as a set of standalone books that feature the different members of the Holland family. For instance, there’s Texas sheriff Hackberry Holland and his cousin Billy Bob Holland (who is a former Texas Ranger and now an attorney). Their grandfather was another lawman, also named Hackberry Holland. There’s also Weldon Avery Holland. He is another of the original Hackberry Holland’s grandsons. Several of the Holland family novels are historical, and are almost as much saga as they are crime novels. In fact, some question whether some of them are crime novels. In that sense, they’re quite different to the Robicheaux stories.

Fans of Ann Cleeves’ work can tell you that she’s done the Jimmy Perez Shetland novels, as well as the Vera Stanhope novels. These series are set in different parts of the UK, and feature different protagonists with different backstories. Both are very well regarded, and both have been adapted for television. But, before either of those series was published, Cleeves wrote another series featuring Inspector Ramsay of the Northumberland Police. She also wrote a series, beginning in the late 1980s, featuring retired Home Office investigator George Palmer-Jones and his wife, Molly.

And then there’s Vicki Delany, who writes the Moonlight ‘Molly’ Smith series, a contemporary police procedural series set mostly in British Columbia. She’s also written historical crime fiction featuring saloon and dance hall owner Fiona MacGillivray. That series takes place at the end of the 19th Century, in Dawson, Yukon Territory. Delany has also just started a new series. This one takes place in Rudolph, NY, and is a lighter series featuring shop owner Merry Wilkinson.

There are, of course, other authors, such as Elizabeth Spann Craig, who write multiple series. Sometimes, those series are equally well-known. Other times, one series is much better known than the other.

Now, here’s the question. If you’ve really enjoyed an author’s work in one series, does that prompt you to go back and look for another series by that author? Does it depend on whether the two series are concurrent? Or on whether they’re similar (e.g. both cosy series)? I’d really like your opinion on this. Please vote, if you wish, in the poll below. I’ll let it run for a week, and then we’ll talk about it again.
 

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a title of the song by the Mighty Lemon Drops.

40 Comments

Filed under Ann Cleeves, Elizabeth Spann Craig, James Lee Burke, Kerry Greenwood, Reginald Hill, Robert B. Parker, Vicki Delany

That’s When the Fog Rolls In*

FoggyHave you ever seen a thick fog roll in? Or waked to find that the fog had already settled in? There’s just something about fog that can make anything seem a little eerier. Things don’t show up clearly, so it’s easy to imagine things that aren’t there, or misunderstand things that you do see.

Fog can be dangerous, too. People get lost, drivers can get into accidents, and so on. With all of that eeriness and danger, it’s little wonder there’s so much fog in crime fiction. Space permits only a few examples here, but I know you’ll think of a lot more of them than I could, anyway.

One of the classic examples of crime-fictional fog adding to the atmosphere is in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. The story has always gone that the Baskerville family is haunted by a curse brought on them by long-ago ancestor Hugo Baskerville. The story is that he sold his soul to the Powers of Evil in exchange for a young woman with whom he was badly smitten. Ever since then, the curse has taken the form of a phantom hound that haunts the family. The most recent victim is Sir Charles Baskerville, and now, the new heir, Sir Henry Baskerville, may be at risk. At least that’s what family friend Dr. Mortimer tells Sherlock Holmes. Holmes is busy with another case, and sends Watson to the family home, Baskerville Hall, in Dartmoor. Later, Holmes joins him. Here’s a bit of one of their experiences out on the moor:
 

‘So as the fog-bank flowed onward, we fell back before it until we were half a mile from the house, and still that dense, white sea, with the moon silvering its upper edge, swept slowly and inexorably on.’
 

The fog certainly makes it hard for Holmes and Watson to really see well. But in the end, they discover the truth about the Baskerville curse and the death of Sir Charles.

Dartmoor fog also plays its role in Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn. Mary Yellan keeps a deathbed promise to her mother and goes to stay with her Uncle Joss and Aunt Patience at their property, Jamaica Inn. From the first, it’s an eerie and unpleasant place, and Mary soon finds that it hides some awful secrets, including murder. Without spoiling the story, I can say that at one point, Mary finds herself in grave danger, and a thick fog just makes things worse.
 

‘And then, in front…barring…progress, rolled a great bank of fog out of the night, a white wall that stifled every scent and sound.’
 

If you’ve ever been out in that sort of fog, you know that it can make moving around nearly impossible.

London fogs are, of course, legendary. And Marie Belloc Lowndes used the fog to great atmospheric advantage in The Lodger. In that novel, we meet Ellen and Robert Bunting, who have recently retired from domestic service. They’ve opened their home to lodgers as a way to add to their income, but haven’t had much luck. Then one day, a man calling himself Mr. Sleuth comes to the house asking about a room. He’s willing to pay well, and he seems to be a man of quiet habits, so the Buntings take him in quickly. He’s eccentric, but all goes well enough at first. Besides, everyone’s attention is caught up with a series of awful murders committed by a man who calls himself The Avenger. Then, first subconsciously, then with more awareness, Ellen Bunting begins to wonder if there is something truly wrong about her new lodger. He goes out in all kinds of weather, including the worst fogs, and behaves strangely in other ways, too. Gradually, she begins to suspect that he may be The Avenger that everyone is seeking. There are mentions of fog in several places in this story. It makes it hard for witnesses to see the killer as he leaves crime scenes. It makes it difficult, too, for anyone to pursue him. And in a literary sense, it adds a great deal to the atmosphere of the story.

Ann Cleeves’ Jimmy Perez stories take place in Shetland, where fog can make travel to, from or among the islands impossible. That’s what happens, for instance, in White Nights. In that novel, Perez and his new girlfriend Fran Hunter are attending an art exhibition at which some of her work is being displayed. Unexpectedly, one of the other attendees breaks into tears and claims he doesn’t know who he is. Perez does his best to help the man, but the next day, he’s found dead in a beachside storage shed, apparently a suicide. But Perez begins to suspect that this man was murdered. Then, there’s another murder, and Perez has to re-think everything. And he has to do his share of it alone, too. The fog is so thick that at first, the Inverness police can’t send anyone to support him. In the end, though, Perez finds out the truth about the deaths and about the secrets that several people are keeping.

And then there’s John Meany’s In The Fog. An elderly couple, Frank and Dora Parker, are fishing one morning near their Oregon home. Then a thick fog rolls in, obscuring almost everything. Through it, Frank sees what looks like a young woman coming out of the fog with a knife.  She starts to clean it, and Frank thinks she looks as though she needs help. But she doesn’t answer when he calls to her. Next, he sees a young man come out of the nearby woods dragging a body. Soon, Frank is convinced he’s seeing the immediate aftermath of a murder. But the trouble is, Dora hasn’t seen anything. All she sees is fog and shoreline. It doesn’t help matters that Frank has dementia. It hasn’t completely incapacitated him, but how much can one rely on what he says he sees? If Frank is going to prove he’s not crazy, he’s going to have to find out the truth about what he thinks he saw.

But that’s the thing about fog. It can make you think you’re seeing things that you’re not. Or are you? Little wonder it rolls in on all sorts of crime novels.
 

ps. The two ‘photos you see were taken on the same day, of exactly the same scenery. See what a difference fog makes??
 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Train’s When the Fog Rolls In.

44 Comments

Filed under Ann Cleeves, Arthur Conan Doyle, Daphne du Maurier, John Meany, Marie Belloc Lowndes

We Drank a Toast to Innocence, We Drank a Toast to Now*

ReunionsA really well-written post from Marina Sofia, who blogs at Finding Time to Write, has got me thinking about meeting up again with people from the past. In these days of easy access to social media, it’s not very difficult to track down someone you were friends with years ago, or your first love, or someone else who used to mean a lot to you. But even so, sometimes years go by without having any contact with those people.

What happens when, after many years, you meet up again with someone from the past? Sometimes it’s a wonderful experience. It can be awkward, though. It’s easy to be nostalgic about the past instead of realistic. And people do change over time, not always for the better. So sometimes these sorts of reunions don’t turn out well. But they’re always interesting, and they can add a layer of character development to a story.

There are a few such reunions in Agatha Christie’s work. One of them is between Rosamund Darnley and Captain Kenneth Marshall, whom we meet in Evil Under the Sun. Rosamund is a successful clothing designer who’s built a reputation for herself. She’s taking a holiday at the Jolly Roger Hotel, on Leathercombe Bay, when she gets a ‘blast from the past.’ Kenneth, his wife Arlena, and his daughter Linda unexpectedly come to the same hotel. Rosamund and Kenneth grew up together, but hadn’t seen each other for more than fifteen years. They’re very happy to meet again, and they enjoy each other’s company. Then, Kenneth’s wife Arlena, who’s a famous actress, is murdered. Hercule Poirot is staying at the same hotel, and he works with the local police to find the killer. Both Kenneth and Rosamund come under their share of suspicion, too. His marriage was not particularly happy; in fact, his wife was having a not-well-hidden affair. And Rosamund might have had her own reasons for wanting Arlena dead. You’re absolutely right, fans of Five Little Pigs and of The Hollow!

Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn has a reunion in Murder at the Mendel. She and Sally Love were close friends when they were young. But then, Sally’s father died and the family moved away. Sally became an artist, and Joanne went on to a career in academia and political science. Then, word comes that Sally will be having a show of her work at the Mendel Gallery. Joanne wants to see the exhibit and, if possible, renew the friendship. The two women start talking again. But Sally isn’t the person Joanne wants to remember, and it’s not an easy reunion. Then, gallery owner Clea Poole is murdered and Sally becomes the chief suspect. The case turns out to be very painful, and has closer personal connections to Joanne’s past than she’d thought.

Ann Cleeves’ Raven Black is the first of her series featuring DI Jimmy Perez. Perez grew up in Fair Isle, Shetland, and was sent to school on Lerwick. It was a lonely time for him, mostly due to homesickness. And matters got worse when two bullies began to make his life miserable. At the time, fellow student Duncan Hunter befriended Perez and made boarding school a much better experience. But Perez and Hunter haven’t seen each other in years. Then, Hunter becomes a suspect in the murder of seventeen-year-old Catherine Ross. And Perez has to come to terms with the fact that Hunter has turned out to be an unpleasant person. That fact, plus the fact that Perez is investigating this crime, makes that reunion extremely awkward for both men.

Wendy James’ The Mistake includes a fascinating reunion. Jodie Evans Garrow grew up in a poor and dysfunctional family. But there was one bright spot in her life: her friend Bridget ‘Bridie’ Sullivan. While they were friends, the two were inseparable. Years have gone by since then; Jodie has married a successful attorney and is now mother to two healthy children. Everything seems to be going just about perfectly, until the day her daughter Hannah is involved in an accident. She’s rushed to the same Sydney hospital where years earlier, Jodie gave birth to another child. No-one, not even her husband, knows about the baby. But a nurse at the hospital remembers Jodie and asks about the child. Jodie says she gave her up for adoption, but there are no formal records. So questions begin to arise. Where is the child? If she is dead, did Jodie have something to do with it? It turns out to be a nightmare for the Garrow family. Then one day, Jodie meets Bridie again at a book club meeting. The two renew their friendship, and it turns out to be a good experience for both.

There’s a different sort of reunion in Roger Smith’s Dust Devils. Cape Town journalist Robert Dell and his wife and children are on a car trip one day when they are ambushed. The car goes over into a gorge, and Dell’s family is killed. Dell survives, though, and manages to make it back to Cape Town. He soon finds himself in terrible trouble, though, when he is arrested for the murders of his family members. It’s a trumped-up charge, and it’s clear Dell’s being framed. But he gets no cooperation from the police, and is soon jailed. His father, Bobby Goodbread, finds out about what’s happened and engineers his son’s escape. The reunion between father and son isn’t exactly friendly, as the two had been estranged for some time. Goodbread was pro-apartheid, while Dell was very much against it. That’s had all sorts of consequences for both, and makes meeting up again a difficult experience. But each man has reasons of his own to go after the person who really did ambush the Dell family. So they join forces. As the story goes on, they at least understand each other a little better, even though neither comes close to changing the other’s mind.

And then there’s Peter May’s The Blackhouse, the first of his Fiionnlagh ‘Fin’ MacLeod novels. MacLeod is an Edinburgh police detective who’s been seconded to the Isle of Lewis. The murder of Lewis resident Angel Macritchie closely resembles a murder that MacLeod’s investigating already, so it’s hoped that if he works with the Lewis police, they’ll find out who the killer is. For MacLeod, this is a homecoming, since he grew up on the island, But it’s not one he relishes. There’ve been some very painful moments in his past. What’s more, he’s gone on to a different sort of life, while many of the people he knew as a child have stayed on the island. Some people have changed considerably; others haven’t. And to complicate matters, MacLeod still sees things with a young person’s perspective, which isn’t always accurate. It all makes for some real awkwardness as he gets back in contact with people he knew years ago.

And that’s the thing about renewing ties with someone you knew many years ago. People change, they get older, and their perspectives evolve. What’s more, when you have this sort of reunion, it can be difficult to accept the difference between the nostalgic view you may have had of someone, and the reality. But still, those bonds can be strong, and renewing them can add much to our lives.

Thank you, Marina Sofia, for the inspiration. Now, folks, may I suggest you make Finding Time to Write your next blog stop? Excellent poetry and flash fiction, lovely ‘photos, and terrific book reviews await you.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Dan Fogelberg’s Same Old Lang Syne.

42 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Ann Cleeves, Gail Bowen, Peter May, Roger Smith, Wendy James

And He Wasn’t Into Selling Door to Door*

Door to DoorDespite the prevalence of online shopping and cars, some companies still have a door-to-door sales program. And of course, religious groups do that, too. So do fund-raising groups. If you think about it, knocking at a stranger’s door has real risk attached to it. Still, people do it anyway, and all sorts of things can happen.

They certainly happen in crime fiction. Oh, and before I go on, you’ll notice that this post won’t refer to the door-to-door efforts the police make when they investigate a crime. That’s another post in and of itself.

In Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders, we are introduced to Mr. Alexander Bonaparte Cust, a World War I veteran and door-to-door stocking salesman. He’s a bit odd, even eccentric. But he’s soft-spoken and certainly not the violent type. He doesn’t cause trouble for his landlady, and doesn’t call much attention to himself. His perspective is one of those shared in this novel, in which Hercule Poirot solves a seemingly unrelated set of murders. The only things that really link them are a set of cryptic warnings Poirot receives before each one, and the fact that an ABC railway guide is found near each body.

In Rex Stout’s novella Kill Now, Pay Later, Nero Wolfe gets involved the case of Peter ‘Pete’ Vassos, a door-to-door shoeshiner. Wolfe has a soft spot for Vassos, in part because he does a good job. Archie Goodwin likes him for the same reason. There’s also the fact that Vassos is the only one who really pays attention to Wolfe’s commentary on the classics. So Wolfe’s included to be helpful when Vassos comes to him with a problem. It seems he went into the room of another regular customer, Dennis Ashby, but found the room empty. He left the room and went outside, only to find Ashby’s body on the pavement. Unfortunately for Vassos, he was seen going into the room by receptionist Frances Cox. Now Vassos is a very likely murder suspect. Wolfe and Archie Goodwin look into the matter and find that more than one other person could have wanted Ashby dead.

In David Liss’ The Ethical Assassin, we meet seventeen-year-old Lem Atlick. He’s trying to save up money to go to Columbia University; and, since his parents won’t pay, he’s taking whatever employment he can. That employment turns out to be door-to-door encyclopaedia sales, and to Lem’s surprise, he’s good at it. One hot day, he’s doing the rounds of a Florida trailer park when he comes to the home of a woman named Karen and her husband, nicknamed Bastard. While he’s talking to them, a man named Melford Kean comes into the trailer and shoots both of Lem’s customers. He hadn’t expected there to be a witness but he takes care of the problem neatly. Lem is faced with two choices: either he can keep quiet about what happened, or Kean will go to the police, and he’ll end up taking the fall for the killings. Lem chooses the former and ends up getting drawn into Kean’s strange world. Is he an activist? A vigilante? Something more sinister?

Several religious groups send representatives from door to door, and we see that in crime fiction, too. In Anna Jaquiery’s The Lying Down Room, which takes place partly in Paris, we learn that four women, Isabelle Dufour, Elisabeth Guillou, Marie Latour and Irina Volkoff, have al lodged complaints at their local police stations. Each has said that two religious evangelists have come to their doors, bothering them. Of course, religious evangelists come to a lot of people’s doors, but these particular two have unsettled the women. It’s not taken overly seriously until Isabelle Dufour is found murdered. Commandant Serge Morel and his team do consider the victim’s family members as they look for the killer. But they’re also interested in the evangelists. After all, they might be witnesses, if nothing else. Then, Elisabeth Guillou is found dead, killed in the same way as Dufour. Now the search for the evangelists becomes more intense, as Morel believes strongly that they are the key to the case. But they seem to have disappeared. So Morel and the team have to find them. And that will involve tracing a history that goes back a few decades.

In Ann Cleeves’ Raven Black, Catherine Ross and Sally Henry, knock at a stranger’s door (well, a near-stranger) for quite a different reason. One New Year’s Eve, they’re coming back from a party when they happen to pass Hillhead, a house that’s owned by Magnus Tait. He has the reputation of being ‘soft in the head,’ and neither girl has ever actually interacted with him. Sally, though, has heard of him and been warned away. Catherine dares her to knock on the door, though, just to wish a lonely man a happy new year. Against her will, Sally agrees and the two girls go to the door and knock. A surprised Tait invites them in and they all toast the new year. When Catherine is found dead not many days later, Tait becomes the most likely suspect. But DI Jimmy Perez isn’t convinced that Tait’s guilty. So he investigates more deeply, and finds that more than one person might have wanted to kill Catherine.

You see? Going door to door can certainly have its risks, for both the person who knocks and the one who opens the door. Oh, wait – excuse me a moment. I think someone’s knocking…

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s 4 + 20.

28 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Ann Cleeves, Anna Jaquiery, David Liss, Rex Stout