Category Archives: Anthony Bidulka

To a Land of Opportunity*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 
 

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

18 Comments

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

I Think You Ought to Know That I Intend to Hold You For the Longest Time*

ProposalToday (or yesterday, depending on when you read this), a friend of mine is getting married. I couldn’t be happier for the couple, and I’m really looking forward to the wedding.

It’s got me thinking about what my husband a reliable expert tells me is not nearly as easy as it may seem: the marriage proposal. For one thing, there’s always the risk that you’ll get your heart broken if the answer is ‘no.’ For another, there’s choosing the right moment. And if you’re the one getting the proposal, do you say an immediate ‘yes,’ even if you’re not quite sure? And if the proposal is a public one, how do you deal with everyone looking on?

Even so, marriage proposals are exciting. They’re very sweet, too; have you noticed how people always seem to smile and applaud when they witness one? And some of them are breathtaking. I know someone whose husband proposed during a hot-air balloon ride. Someone else I know proposed during a trip to one of the US’ most beautiful national parks. And I read a story about a firefighter who proposed to his partner during his community-outreach trip to the classroom where she’s a teacher.

Marriage proposals work their way into crime fiction, too, as nearly everything does. Of course, a romance angle to a crime novel can make it too cloying if it’s not handled well. But when handled deftly, a marriage proposal can fall out naturally from a plot, and it can add a welcome touch of warmth and humanity.

Agatha Christie fans can tell you that she wove romance into several of her mysteries. For example, in Evil Under the Sun, Captain Kenneth Marshall, his wife, Arlena, and his daughter, Linda, visit the Jolly Roger Hotel on Leathercombe Bay. Not long after they arrive, Arlena begins to carry on a not-so-discreet affair with another (married) guest, Patrick Redfern. So when she is murdered one day, her husband is an obvious suspect. But Marshall claims that he’s innocent, and it seems that his alibi is reliable. Hercule Poirot is also staying at the hotel, and he works with the police to find out who the real killer is. As they investigate, they find that more than one guest might easily have had a motive for murder. In one of the sub-plots of this novel, a couple meet again for the first time in several years, and discover that they have feelings for each other.
 

‘‘Are you going to ask me to marry you now…or are you determined to wait six months?’…
‘How the devil did you know I’d fixed six months as the proper time?’
‘I suppose because it is the proper time. But I’d rather have something definite now, please.’’
 

And it’s not spoiling the story to say that this proposal takes place in a lovely spot on a cliff above the beach.

Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey falls in love with mystery novelist Harriet Vane almost from the moment he sees her (Strong Poison has the story). But the only problem is, she’s on trial for murder. So he can’t propose to her then. But he doesn’t give up – not even in the face of her initial reluctance to be romantically involved with him. But everything changes in Gaudy Night, when Wimsey helps her solve the mystery of some baffling and frightening events at her alma mater college of Oxford. At the end of the novel, they’re taking a walk through the campus when Wimsey asks her to marry him. And, very appropriate to the place, he does it in part in Latin:
 

‘‘Placetne, magistra?’ (Does it please you, Mistress?)
‘Placet.’’ (It pleases.)
 

There’s a lot more conveyed in that exchange than there is space for in this post, chiefly because it’s very difficult to translate nuances from one language to another, but it’s a very meaningful proposal.

In Michael Connelly’s Trunk Music Harry Bosch investigates the murder of mediocre filmmaker Tony Aliso. His death has all of the hallmarks of a Mob execution, but the LAPD seems strangely reluctant to pursue the investigation, even though it could mean bringing down a criminal group. But that doesn’t stop Bosch, who follows the trail to a seedy Las Vegas casino. During his trip, Bosch renews his acquaintance with Eleanor Wish, a former FBI agent who’s become a professional poker player. They find that they still care about each other, and Bosch doesn’t want to let his chance go by.
 

‘He almost faltered, but then the resolve came back to him.
‘There is one stop I’d still like to make before we leave. That is, if you’ve decided.’
She looked at him for a long moment and then a smile broke across her face.’
 

They wouldn’t be the first couple to get married in Las Vegas…

When Camilla Läckberg’s Erica Falck returns to her home town (in The Ice Princess), she meets up again with people she’s known for a long time. That includes local police officer Patrik Hedström, whom she was smitten with when they were in school. In the course of that novel, they begin a relationship, and soon enough, they have a daughter, Maja. It’s not easy to be the parent of a new baby, especially if you’re dealing with all of the physical changes that come with giving birth, and Ericka feels the pressure. So it’s doubly special for her when, in The Stonecutter, Patrik proposes:
 
‘Erica Sofia Magdalena Falck, would you consider doing me the honor of making an honest man out of me? Will you marry me?’
 

The whole thing has made Patrik anxious. There’s picking out the ring, suddenly wondering whether he’s made a mistake in assuming she’ll say ‘yes,’, and then that awkward silence as he waits. But as fans know, he’s not disappointed. This isn’t the most exotic proposal in the world; it takes place right at home, in their study. But it’s just right for them.

And then there’s Anthony Bidulka’s Aloha Candy Hearts, which more or less begins with a marriage proposal. In that novel, Saskatoon PI Russell Quant takes a trip to Hawai’i to spend time with his partner, Alex Canyon, who’s a private and corporate security specialist. Canyon currently works in Melbourne, so the two have settled on Hawai’i as a good ‘in between’ place. It doesn’t hurt matters in this case that Canyon has paid for the airline tickets and the hotel. One night, they’re having dinner at an upmarket restaurant called La Mer, when Canyon proposes.
 

‘Then came THE QUESTION…
I was pretty sure a few neighbouring diners were also monitoring the drama at our table. How could they resist? Two well-dressed men seated at the best table in the house, a tropical paradise as our backdrop, the sultry haziness of too much too-expensive wine that begs close acquaintance from perfect strangers, romantic island music, one of us with a ring in his hand and a hopeful look on his face, the other with a wide-open mouth and shock on his (that would be me).’
 

Seriously, that sort of proposal is hard to resist. And Quant doesn’t.

Marriage proposals can take all kinds of forms. But no matter what the proposal is like, it always speaks of hope and promise, and that can really add to a novel. If you’re reading this, all the best to both of you!

ps. The ‘photo was taken on my ‘proposal night.’ In case you were wondering, I said ‘yes.’

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s The Longest Time.  

36 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Bidulka, Camilla Läckberg, Dorothy Sayers, Michael Connelly

You Get to Meet All Sorts in This Line of Work*

PI InterviewsNot long ago, Angela Savage suggested that I do a post on crime-fictional PI interviews with their clients. It’s really a fascinating topic, if you think about it. PIs have to make a living, so they want to make a positive impression. On the other hand, the client, too, has to convince the PI to take the job. There are, after all, things that PIs are and aren’t allowed to do, and things that one or another PI will or won’t do. And, since fictional PIs are an important part of crime fiction, it really is interesting to see how they do what they do.

Savage’s own creation is Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney (a series, by the way, that I recommend highly). In The Half Child, Jim Delbeck decides that Keeney is the best choice for what he wants to accomplish. Delbeck is an Australian, whose daughter Maryanne served as a volunteer at New Life Children’s Centre in Pattaya. Tragically, she died in a fall from the roof of the building where she was living. The police report indicates that she committed suicide, but Delbeck doesn’t believe it. So he wants to find out what really happened. Keeney appeals to him as a PI because, being an ex-pat Australian, she can communicate easily with him. At the same time, she is fluent in Thai and very much accustomed to the local ways. On the one hand, she’s a bit put off by Delbeck’s apparent attitude towards the Thais. On the other, she can see that he’s a distraught parent. Maryanne Delbeck might not have been a perfect angel, but here’s a man who’s lost his child. Keeney agrees to take the case, and travels to Pattaya, where she goes undercover as a volunteer at New Life. In the end, she finds out what really happened on the day the victim died. She also finds out about some things that have been going on at New Life.

One of the iconic PIs of the Golden Age is Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. He’s the essential ‘good guy trying to negotiate a very messy world.’ In The Big Sleep, he is more or less summoned to the home of wealthy General Guy Sternwood, who has a commission for him. Sternwood has received an extortion letter that makes reference to his daughter Carmen. The blackmailer is book dealer Arthur Geiger, and Sternwood wants Marlowe to find Geiger and stop him. Marlowe is, to say the least, not impressed with Sternwood. In fact, here’s how Sternwood himself describes both Carmen and her sister Vivian:
 

‘‘Neither of them has any more moral sense than a cat. Neither have I. No Sternwood ever had.’’
 

Marlowe has a sense already of the decadence and cynicism of this family. But he agrees to take the case and tracks down Geiger. By the time he does, though, Geiger is dead – murdered in his shop. Carmen is a witness, but she’s either been drugged or had a mental breakdown, so she can’t tell Marlowe much. He gets her to safety and with that, thinks that the case is over. After all, Geiger has been stopped. But then there’s another death. And despite his desire to be well and truly rid of the Sternwoods, Marlowe finds himself involved in the investigations.

In Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs, we are introduced to Dobbs, who has just hung out her PI shingle. One of her first clients is Christopher Davenham, who wants her to investigate whether his wife is having an affair. She isn’t overly eager to do so, for as she puts it,
 

‘‘To follow a person is an invasion of the right of that person to privacy. I If I take on this case – and I do have a choice in the matter – I am taking on more than the question of who did what and when. I am taking on a responsibility for both you and your wife in a way that you may not have considered.’’
 

She takes the consequences of what she does very seriously, and at first, Davenham is put off. But he finally agrees to her terms, and she begins work on the case. And in the end, she finds that the solution is quite different to what Davenham had thought.

Anthony Bidulka’s Saskatoon PI Russell Quant has a rather awkward interview with a client in Date With a Sheesha. In that novel, Pranav Gupta wants to hire Quant to find out what happened to his son Nayan ‘Neil.’ According to Gupta, Neil was in Dubai giving a set of guest lectures, as well as researching antique carpets. He was killed in an open-air market in what police claim was an attack by thugs. Gupta doesn’t believe that, though, and wants Quant to find out the truth. What makes this interview awkward is that Gupta’s wife Unnati most emphatically does not agree. As she puts it, her husband wants revenge, not peace. It makes for a few tense moments, but Quant agrees to take the case. And in the end, he finds that Neil Gupta’s death was much more than a chance mugging gone wrong.

Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot has had his share of awkward interviews, too. For example, in Third Girl, he gets a visit from a young woman who tells him that she may have committed a murder. But after a moment or two, she blurts out that he isn’t at all what she had imagined. In fact, he’s too old. Then she leaves without even giving her name. Not surprisingly, Poirot is not too happy about that, and he tells his friend Ariadne Oliver about it when he speaks to her shortly thereafter. As it turns out, Mrs. Oliver has met the young woman, and dredges up her name: Norma Restarick. By the time Poirot finds out who Norma is, though, she has disappeared. Her father and stepmother say she’s in London, but her London roommates say that she hasn’t returned from a weekend away. Now Poirot and Mrs. Oliver face not just the question of whether there’s been a murder, but also, what happened to the possible killer. I know, I know, fans of Murder on the Orient Express.

A PI never knows what a prospective client is really going to be like. And a person in need of PI never knows exactly what that PI will be like at first. So it can make for a very interesting dynamic when they first meet. Thanks, Angela, for the inspiration.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Dire Straits’ Private Investigations.

20 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Anthony Bidulka, Jacqueline Winspear, Raymond Chandler

And His Future Was Doomed*

DoomedCharactersSome crime plots are structured so that the murder (or the first murder) is discovered right away. That’s got the advantage of inviting the reader’s interest from the very beginning of the story. Other plots, though, build up, at least a little, to the murder. In those stories, we get to know the victim before she or he is killed.

Once you’ve read enough crime fiction, you can even start to get a sense of who the victim is likely to be. That’s because authors frequently offer little hints, so that readers know a character is doomed. I’m not talking here of the stereotypical ‘person goes alone into basement’ sort of hint. Rather, the author sets the victim up, and the savvy crime reader can sometimes sense it.

Agatha Christie used those clues in several of her stories. For instance, in The Mystery of the Blue Train, we are introduced to Ruth Van Aldin Kettering. Daughter of an American millionaire, she is unhappily married to Derek Kettering. She decides to take the famous Blue Train to Nice for a holiday (or at least, that’s what she tells her father. Really, she has other plans). Against her father’s advice, Ruth takes with her a valuable ruby necklace that contains a famous stone, Heart of Fire. All of the personal drama in Ruth’s life, plus the fact that she has that priceless necklace, sets Ruth up neatly to be the doomed victim in this novel, and so she is. Hercule Poirot is aboard the same train, and helps to find out who killed the victim and why. You’re absolutely right, fans of Death on the Nile!

In Ellery Queen’s The Last Woman in His Life, John Levering Benedict III invites Queen and his father, Inspector Richard Queen, for a getaway weekend. The plan is that they’ll use Benedict’s guest house as a retreat. Also present for the weekend, and staying in the main house, are Benedict’s three ex-wives, his attorney, and his attorney’s secretary. That premise sets Benedict up to be the victim in this story, and, indeed, he is. One night, Queen gets a frantic call from Benedict, who says he’s been murdered. Queen rushes over to the main house, but doesn’t get there in time. He discovers that his host has been killed by a blow to the head from a heavy statuette. The only clues to the killer are an evening gown, a wig, and a pair of gloves, each owned by a different character. Queen works through the clues and eventually learns that the victim himself all but identified the killer – if Queen had only understood what he meant.

Donna Leon’s Through a Glass, Darkly takes place mostly in the world of the Venice glass-blowing industry. Giorgio Tassini works as night watchman in a glass-blowing factory owned by powerful Giovanni del Cal. He’s claimed for some time that the factories dispose of toxic waste illegally and dangerously. In fact, he blames his daughter’s multiple special needs on that dumping. Naturally, his accusations are not popular with del Cal or the other factory owners, but in general, he’s not taken too seriously. Then one night, he dies in what looks like a terrible accident. That’s the theory that the police are expected to endorse, too. But Commissario Guido Brunetti is not so sure that this was an accident. So he and Ispettore Lorenzo Vianello look into the matter more deeply. It’s not hard to tell, though, that Tassini is a doomed character…

Very often (‘though certainly not always!), when a fictional character goes missing, that person ends up being a victim. So, even though it’s hardly foolproof, crime fiction fans often take a disappearance as a clue that a particular character is not long for the world. And that’s exactly what happens in Anthony Bidulka’s Amuse Bouche. Saskatoon PI Russell Quant gets a new client in the form of wealthy businessman Harold Chavell, whose fiancé Tom Osborn has disappeared. Chavell believes that Osborn may be following the itinerary (a trip through France) that the two had planned for their honeymoon, so he asks Quant to follow the same itinerary to try to find Osborn. During the trip, Quant gets a note that says Osborn doesn’t want to be found. That’s enough for Chavell to call off the search. After Quant returns to Saskatoon, though, Osborn’s body is discovered in a local lake. Chavell, naturally enough, is suspected of the murder, and he asks Quant to find out the truth and clear his name.

As Keigo Higashino’s Salvation of a Saint begins, Yoshitaka Mashabi and his wife Ayane Mita are having a very tense conversation. They’ve been married for a year, and have no children. Now Mashabi wants to divorce his wife, since starting a family is a crucial part of his life’s plan. They can’t finish the conversation, though, because they’re expecting dinner guests. But it’s clear that the matter isn’t settled. Two days later, Mashabi is dead – killed by arsenous acid. His widow is, naturally, the most likely suspect. But it is soon proven that she wasn’t in Tokyo at the time of the death. And, since the poison was found in a cup of coffee, it’s unlikely that she could have put it there. And, as it turns out, there are other suspects. Detective Shunpei Kusanagi and his team have to first establish how the poison got into the coffee before they can settle on the person mostly likely to be the killer. For that, they get help from mathematician and physicist Dr. Manabu ‘Galileo’ Yukawa. Once he is able to show how the poison was administered, the police figure out who murdered Mashabi. But from the very beginning of the story (a tense conversation, an awkward dinner party, etc..) it’s not hard to guess who the victim will be.

Of course, crime writers know that readers can often spot the son-to-be victim, and some manipulate those expectations. But even so, there are stories in which one can tell fairly soon who the doomed character is. All sorts of little (and sometimes not-so-little) clues are there for the spotting.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Rolling Stones’ Blinded by Love.

25 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Bidulka, Donna Leon, Ellery Queen, Keigo Higashino

All Day Long, Wearing a Mask of False Bravado*

Hiding Behind MasksWe all wear masks, if you think about it. A person may be honest and straightforward, for instance, in business, but does anyone really need to know about the knee-knocking fear that person feels every time a major presentation comes up? When people go on first dates, they want everything to go smoothly and to make a good first impression. So, they take pains with appearance, try to keep the conversation to things they know about, and so on.

Sometimes those masks are deliberately deceptive of course. We’ve all read stories, both real and fictional, of people who pretend to be something they most definitely aren’t. More often, though, the masks we wear are meant to preserve privacy or to hide our insecurities and weaknesses. Because that’s such a human thing to do, it’s no surprise that we see it in crime fiction, too.

In Agatha Christie’s Three Act Tragedy (AKA Murder in Three Acts), for instance, Hercule Poirot is present at a cocktail party during which one of the guests, Reverend Stephen Babbington, suddenly dies of what turns out to be poison. He didn’t have any enemies, and certainly no fortune to leave, so it’s hard to establish the motive at first. Not very long afterwards, there’s another, similar poisoning, this time at another house party. Many of the same people were at both events, so it’s hard to argue that the two cases are not connected. One of the ‘people of interest’ here is Oliver Manders, a young man who’s just getting started in his career. He has all of the insecurities that a lot of young people have as they move out into the world. So he wears a mask of jaded boredom and sarcasm. It certainly doesn’t endear him to others, but Poirot sees that he’s really just an unhappy young man who’s no more pleased with his annoying mask than anyone else is.

Fans of Reginald Hill’s series featuring Superintendent Andy Dalziel and Sergeant (later Inspector) Peter Pascoe will know that Sergeant Edgar Wield wears a sort of mask, at least at first. Wield is a part of Dalziel’s team, and does his job well. But he’s gay at a time and in a place where it’s not wise to let that fact be widely known. Everything changes in Child’s Play, though. In that novel, the team is investigating the strange case of the Lomas family. Wealthy Geraldine Lomas left her considerable fortune to her long-lost son, provided he returned by 2015. When she died, a man claiming to be that son came to her funeral, so now it looks as though he is set to inherit the money. Then he’s killed, and his body found in a car at the police station. In one of the sub-plots of this novel, Wield comes out as gay. It’s awkward for him, but as it turns out, not nearly as difficult for his bosses as he thought it might be.

We see a similar kind of mask in Anthony Bidulka’s Flight of Aquavit. Successful (and married) accountant Daniel Guest has been leading a sort of double life. He’s also had several trysts with men, and in that sense, identifies as gay. But he doesn’t want to come out. That choice has gotten him into trouble, as he’s being blackmailed. Guest hires Saskatoon PI Russell Quant to find out who the blackmailer is and get that person to stop. Quant thinks it would be better for his client to come out as gay, but Guest refuses to do that. So Quant starts asking questions. The trail leads him to New York City – and to an unexpected murder.

Megan Abbott’s Die a Little introduces readers to Pasadena schoolteacher Lora King and her brother Bill, who’s a junior investigator for the district attorney’s office. It’s the 1950’s, when everyone is expected to get married, settle down and have a family. So when Bill meets former Hollywood dressmaker’s assistant Alice Steele, it seems that ‘suburban dream’ is about to come true for him. Lora tries to be happy for her brother, but right from the start, she’s not too fond of Alice. Still, Bill is in love, and the two get married. For Bill’s sake, Lora tries to get along with her new sister-in-law. And on the surface, Alice is a happy suburban wife. She becomes the ‘star’ of their circle of friends, and takes great pains to ensure that every event she hosts comes off perfectly. Behind that mask, though, Lora senses something dark. As she starts to learn more about Alice’s life, she is both repelled by it and drawn to it. Then there’s a murder, and a good possibility that Alice may be mixed up in it. Now Lora worries for her brother’s safety. Alice isn’t what she seems, but what, exactly, is she?

And then there’s Louise Penny’s Yvette Nichol. When we first meet her in Still Life, she’s just been made a member of the Sûreté du Québec, and is excited about this promotion. Even more, she’s been assigned to work with Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, who has a strong reputation. Nichol has had an unfortunate background with a dysfunctional family. That in itself puts her at a disadvantage. She also has the insecurities that any young person might when starting a career with a prestigious leader. She doesn’t want to appear weak, and wants desperately to belong. But instead of asking questions, listening to advice, and doing as she’s asked, Nichol hides her insecurity behind a mask of smugness and arrogance. Her decision not to be honest with herself and others leads to a tense story arc (which I won’t spoil by revealing).

Masks may not always be the wisest choice. But we all wear them. We all present ourselves (as best we can) in the way we want others to see us. So it’s no wonder that there are so many masks in crime fiction.

Thanks to Tim, who blogs at Beyond Eastrod, for the inspiration for this post. Now, do go visit his blog. Lots of interesting ‘food for thought’ awaits you there.
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Player’s Baby Come Back.

23 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Bidulka, Louise Penny, Megan Abbott, Reginald Hill