Category Archives: Anthony Bidulka

Pass the Biscuits, Please*

Food DescriptionsAn interesting post from Moira at Clothes in Books has got me thinking about the way food descriptions and meals fit into crime fiction. By the way, if Clothes in Books isn’t on your blog roll, you’re missing out. It’s the place for great discussions on clothes, popular culture, and what it all says about us in fiction. On the one hand, the kind of food we eat, the amount, and so on says a lot about us. So food can be used as a very effective way to develop characters. And because food is so culturally contextual, a meal can also provide cultural background too.

On the other hand, too much description of anything, food or otherwise, can overburden a story and take away from the main plot. In this, as in just about anything else in a novel, it seems that there needs to be a balance.

There are plenty of meals described in Agatha Christie’s novels and short stories. I’ll just mention one example. In Cards on the Table, the very eccentric Mr. Shaitana invites eight people to a dinner party. Four are sleuths; four are people Shaitana believes have gotten away with murder. Here’s a bit of the description of the dinner:
 

‘Poirot’s prognostication was amply justified. The dinner was delicious and its serving perfection. Subdued light, polished wood, the blue gleam of Irish glass.’
 

Interestingly enough, there’s no real discussion of the actual food. In this case, the conversation is more important. During the meal, Mr. Shaitana throws out hints about getting away with murder. One of his guests takes what he says too much to heart, and during after-dinner bridge, Mr. Shaitana is stabbed. There are only four suspects: the four people playing bridge in the room in which he was killed. So the four sleuths look into their backgrounds to find out who the killer is.  Of course, Poirot being the gourmand that he is, there are also mentions of food in the stories that feature him. But they tend not to be particularly descriptive.  In Murder on the Orient Express, for instance, Poirot travels to London on the famous Orient Express train. At one point, he and M. Bouc, who is a director of the Compagnie Internationale des  Wagon Lits, are having lunch:
 

‘Poirot sat down and soon found himself in the favoured position of being at the table which was served first and with the choicest morsels. The food, too, was unusually good.
It was not till they were eating a delicate cream cheese that M. Bouc allowed his attention to wander to matters other than nourishment.’
 

Those matters soon turn deadly when fellow passenger Samuel Ratchett is stabbed.

Martin Walker’s Benoît ‘Bruno’ Courrèges series takes place in the Périgord, a region that particularly prides itself on its gastronomic culture. Bruno is the Chief of Police in the small town of St. Denis, and although he cares about his job and takes it very seriously, he certainly doesn’t forget to eat. In Bruno, Chief of Police, for instance, he works with Isabelle Perrault of the Police Nationale to solve the murder of Hamid Mustafa al-Bakr. At one point, they have a dinner picnic:
 

‘The fish were just right…She saw thin slivers of garlic that he had placed inside the belly of the trout, and he handed her half a lemon to squeeze onto the pink-white flesh, and a small side plate with potato salad studded with tiny lardons of bacon.’
 

They also have baguettes with pâté, Champagne, and some rosé. In this series, that careful attention to food really reflects the culture of the Périgord and adds to the sense of place.

Food is also an important part of life for Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Salvo Montalbano. Fans of this series will know that the novels have lots of description of delicious food. Here, for instance, is just one snippet from The Snack Thief, in which, among other things, Montalbano investigates the murder of Aurelio Lapècora, who is stabbed to death in the elevator of his apartment building. At one point, he takes a lunch break. Here’s a description of the hake he orders:
 

‘Then, eight pieces of hake arrived, enough to feed four people. They were crying out their joy – the pieces of hake, that is – at having been cooked the way God had meant them to be. One whiff was enough to convey the dish’s perfection, achieved by the right amount of breadcrumbs and the delicate balance between the anchovies and the whisked egg.’
 

Although there is quite a lot of food discussed in this series, Camilleri doesn’t go on about it for any real length of time. In this case, the food descriptions add some depth to Montalbano’s food-loving character, and they give a sense of the local culture.

It’s the same thing with Tarquin Hall’s stories featuring Delhi PI Vishwas ‘Vish’ Puri. Puri is sometimes nicknamed ‘Chubby,’ and part of the reason for that nickname is that he loves food. As he goes about his business, Hall gives readers an interesting look at the sort of food that’s popular in Delhi. Here, for instance, is a bit of a description of a meal that Puri’s wife Rumpi cooks (from The Case of the Missing Servant):
 

‘Rumpi was busy in the kitchen chopping onions and tomatoes for the bhindi. When the ingredients were ready, she added them to the already frying pods and stirred. Next, she started cooking the rotis on a round tava, expertly holding them over a naked flame so they puffed up with hot air like balloons and became nice and soft…
Presently Rumpi served him some kadi chawal, bhindi and a couple of rotis. He helped himself to the plate of sliced tomato, cucumber and red onion, over which a little chat masala had been sprinkled…’   
 

With less than a paragraph, really, Hall uses this meal to give some interesting cultural insights as well as set a homey scene. And for those who don’t know the terms, there’s a glossary in the back of the novel (at least in my edition). The real focus of these novels is the cases Puri and his team investigate; but Hall also manages to weave in some powerful food descriptions.

Anthony Bidulka’s Saskatoon PI Russell Quant is half-Ukrainian. And although he identifies himself as Canadian, rather than Ukrainian, he enjoys traditional Ukrainian cooking. In A Flight of Aquavit, for instance, his mother Kay pays him a visit. They have their ups and downs and awkward moments, but he’s well-fed:
 

‘I comforted myself with the ultimate in Ukrainian comfort food – pierogies lightly fried in butter, garlic and onion and drowned in a rich, creamy sauce of mushrooms and dill.’  
 

Bidulka doesn’t take up page after page to describe food in this series; yet, the descriptions he does provide give character depth and an interesting cultural context to the stories.

And of course, no discussion of food descriptions in crime fiction would be complete without a mention of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe. He is a dedicated devotee of fine food. He can be (and often is) brusque, even rude. But he knows the value of his chef Fritz Brenner, and he appreciates a properly done meal. There are many books, as Wolfe fans know, in which Fritz’ creations are mentioned, and others that include other delicious meals (Too Many Cooks comes immediately to my mind). And yet, despite the fact that Wolfe is a connoisseur of fine food, Stout keeps the focus in his stories on the plots and the characters.

And that’s the thing about descriptions of food and meals. They can provide a rich layer of character depth and cultural background. But they are best served in moderate portions. Thanks, Moira, for the inspiration!

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bobbie Genry’s Ode to Billie Joe.

31 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Anthony Bidulka, Martin Walker, Tarquin Hall

I’m in Hiding*

Going into HidingThere are a lot of crime novels and thrillers where one or another character goes on the run, hoping not to be caught. That plot element can be suspenseful and effective if it’s done well. But here’s the thing: it’s not so easy to go on the run and into hiding. There are all kinds of considerations and obstacles that people who don’t want to be found have to face. I’m hardly a sophisticated expert on these matters, but here are a few examples from crime fiction that show how many things need to be taken into account.
 

Money

In today’s world, there are banking machines just about everywhere. So you’d think it would be easy to access your money. But of course it’s not that simple. In Peter James’ Not Dead Yet, for instance, Superintendent Roy Grace of the Brighton and Hove police uses the realities of today’s banking to catch a killer. In one plot thread, he and his team slowly trace the murderer of an unidentified man whose torso is found in an abandoned chicken coop. They connect that murder to threats against the life of visiting superstar Gaia Lafayette. And one of the ways they track this murderer is through video taken at bank machines. That, plus banking information that they get, allows them to find out exactly who the killer is.

Given the detailed information you need to provide to open a current/checking or savings account, it would be difficult to even use a bank to manage your money – not, that is, if you plan to ‘disappear.’ Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander has the computer and other skills one needs to pull off financial wizardry, but most people don’t. So people who go on the run have to find ways to get their hands on cash, and ways to keep it safe.

 

Travel and Documentation

Another obstacle to staying out of sight, so to speak, is getting documentation. In most countries, for instance, you can’t book an airline ticket without identification. And in today’s world of enhanced security, you sometimes have to go through more than one level of identity check. Modern hotels nearly always require a credit card (and often ID too) before you can check in. So unless you know where to go, or can stay in someone’s home – someone who keeps quiet – it’s not that difficult to track your whereabouts. There are of course people who are in the business of creating false documentation. But they aren’t charities, and it can take time to do the job right. That’s not to mention that they don’t exactly trumpet their services. So there’s a certain amount of effort, and sometimes quite an expense, involved in getting identification.

Some fictional characters, such as Anthony Bidulka’s Adam Saint, work for agencies and institutions that can provide them with documentation. When we first meet him in When the Saints Go Marching In, Saint works for the Canadian Disaster Recovery Agency (CDRA). His job is to travel to wherever there is a disaster that impacts Canada, Canadians, or Canadian interests. He is often provided with money and travel documents as a part of his job. And we see the same sort of thing in thrillers that involve British Intelligence, CIA, FBI or other agencies.

The reality is though that unless you work for that sort of agency, or are supported by a witness protection program of some sort, it’s difficult to travel anywhere far, or find a place to live, without authentic documentation. Just as an example, in Katherine Howell’s Violent Exposure, Ella Marconi of the New South Wales Police works with her team to investigate the murder of greenhouse owner Suzanne Crawford. Her husband Connor is the most likely suspect, not least because he and his wife were involved in a domestic dispute the day before her murder. The police want very much to talk to Connor, but he’s disappeared. Checks of his banking records, registration and so on reveal absolutely nothing; it’s as though he never existed. But this is the 21st Century, so the police finally do come up with the information they need. And I can say without spoiling the story that they do so through electronic records searching and co-operation with authorities from another country. Even crossing borders doesn’t necessarily mean a person couldn’t ever be found.

 

Employment

Just about every legitimate employer asks for an identification number or its equivalent before hiring. Some run criminal background checks as well. Part of the reason for that is so that the employer can keep accurate payroll records. Another part is so that the employer doesn’t run afoul of government regulations. So unless you’ve got authentic identification, it’s difficult to find the kind of employment a lot of people think of when they think of a job or a career.

If you don’t want your whereabouts known, you’d need to find the sort of employment where you get paid in cash, with few questions asked. There are such employers out there, but you have to know where to go. Or, you have to have the sort of occupation that Malcolm Mackay’s Callum MacLean, whom we first meet in The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter, has. MacLean is a professional killer. He works independently, and does the jobs for which he’s hired in an efficient, ‘clean’ way. As you can imagine, he’s paid in cash, and he buys what he needs with cash.

But perhaps you’d rather not earn your living by killing people. In former times, a person might be hired on for cash. For instance, Arthur Upfield’s Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte often investigates in cases where people such as ranch hands come into town, are paid in cash, and move on when the work is done. And there are still some jobs like that. But you have to be willing to take on all sorts of different work, and you have to work among people who don’t ask a lot of questions. That’s not as easy to do as you might think.

Given the realities of today’s world, it’s awfully hard to realistically go into hiding or stay on the run for long. It can be done, and I’m sure you can think of novels where it happens. But it takes planning and effort. Plot lines featuring people who are ‘off the grid’ are most engaging when they take into account what would really need to happen in order for someone to be very difficult to find.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Pearl Jam’s In Hiding.

17 Comments

Filed under Anthony Bidulka, Arthur Upfield, Katherine Howell, Malcolm Mackay, Peter James, Stieg Larsson

Are You Strong Enough?*

Real RelationshipsHere’s the problem with Valentine’s Day, as I see it anyway. It’s an illusion. Let me explain what I mean. If you watch or listen to the advertisements, or see the greeting cards, or watch one of the dozens of romance films and TV shows out there, you can easily get the idea that relationships are happy, even blissful, and exciting, with flowers, lovely holidays and so on. But that’s the thing. They’re not.

Of course anyone who’s been in a long relationship will tell you that flowers, holidays and all that sort of thing are a part of it. They’re terrific. They really are. But real-life relationships are not easy. And they’re not always fun. People who expect otherwise can get very disillusioned when they learn that relationships need work. Sometimes that work is painful and difficult. It involves forgiveness (Ever done something stupid and had to ask your partner to forgive you? Me, too.). Sometimes it involves giving up things you want, or forgiving your partner when you really don’t want to. Nobody in the greeting card industry tells you that part of it.

Relationships can be hard work because no-one is perfect. We all carry ‘baggage,’ and we all have faults. When you expect that a relationship with an imperfect person (when you’re not perfect either!) will be smooth sailing, you’re bound to be sadly disappointed.

But here’s the thing. Good relationships – the kind you admire in couples who’ve been together for decades and decades – are worth the work. It’s not the candy, flowers, sexy lingerie and so on that make them solid. It’s the bond between the people involved. Let me offer a few examples to show you what I mean.

Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn Shreve is a political scientist and academician (now retired) who’s had her share of blows over the years. She’s come out of it all a stronger person, and in general, she doesn’t obsess about the things that have happened to her. She is married to successful attorney Zack Shreve, who has his own baggage. They’re both intelligent and strong-minded people; and although they love each other very much, they’ve had their rocky times. Bowen doesn’t gloss over the hard work involved in staying married, even when you’re in a good relationship. But at the same time, she doesn’t skip over the positive things either. Joanne and Zack enjoy each other’s company. They’re good ‘sounding boards’ for each other, and they support one another. As Joanne herself puts it,
 

‘Ours was not an easy marriage, but it was a good one.’
 

I honestly don’t know if any really good marriage is also really easy.

Anthony Bidulka’s Saskatoon PI Russell Quant knows all about the hard work involved in a long-term relationship. In some ways he’s still working that out for himself, and fans will know there are a few story arcs that involve his love life. But he has a good role model. His mentor is successful clothier Anthony Gatt, whose partner is former supermodel Jared Lowe. Those two have been together for some time, and have had their share of troubles. I won’t spoil the story arcs by detailing everything, but suffice it to say that Anthony and Jared’s lives have not been uninterrupted joyful bliss. But that’s not what keeps them together anyway. They love one another, and each has the other as a top priority, even when things go wrong between them, or when something happens to one of them. They’ve resolved to patch up whatever differences they have, and that bond is more important to them than anything else. But it hasn’t been easy. The ‘frothy’ romance films don’t tell you how difficult staying together can be…

In David Whish-Wilson’s Line of Sight, we meet Perth Superintendent Frank Swann. The main plot of this novel concerns the murder of Ruby Devine, a brothel owner and friend of Swann’s. But running in the background is Swann’s relationship with his wife Marion and his daughters. The family has been going through a very rocky time, as families sometimes do. And Whish-Wilson doesn’t make light of that. As the novel goes on, everyone has to start to put the family pieces together and learn to trust each other again. But in Zero at the Bone, the second Frank Swann novel, we see the result of that. Frank and Marion Swann are devoted to each other. It’s not the devotion of fancy flowers, fine champagne or a night in a five-star hotel. It’s that gut-level devotion where each one accepts and appreciates the other, flaws and all. And that’s because each has made the conscious choice that the marriage is more important than ‘winning.’

That’s also true of Geoffrey McGeachin’s Charlie Berlin and his wife Rebecca. When we first meet them in The Diggers Rest Hotel, which takes place in 1947, Charlie has recently returned to Australia after serving in WW II. He meets Rebecca during the course of an investigation into a series of robberies and a suspicious death, and the two fall in love. But it’s not a ‘greeting card’ sort of romance. Charlie’s dealing with the ghosts he’s brought back with him from the war, and Rebecca has her own issues. Nevertheless, they love each other and support each other. In Blackwattle Creek and St. Kilda Blues, we see that their marriage has to endure its share of ‘bumps in the road.’ McGeachin doesn’t indulge in ‘over the top’ events just to show that the marriage is tested; rather, the couple faces some of the things any couple could face. It’s not an easy ride, but Charlie and Rebecca take it together.

A lot of Golden Age mysteries involve couples who fall in love, usually as one or the other of the couple is suspected of murder. One couple in particular is Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey and his wife Harriet Vane. They first meet in Strong Poison when Harriet is charged with murdering her former lover Philip Boyes. Lord Peter attends the trial and finds himself smitten with Harriet. In fact, he determines to clear her name, and clear his own path to marrying her. But it’s not all flowers and candy. For one thing, Harriet has to deal with having been on trial for murder, and with her reluctance to trust this man she thinks she loves. And Lord Peter has things to learn too. They’re not a magical couple who all of a sudden fall in love and marry, to live happily ever after. They have to work through things, and they have their difficult times. In the end, the awareness that they’re better together than alone cements their relationship and allows them to reach out for each other.

I wish the greeting card companies and the Valentine’s Day publicity machine told people that a good relationship is not easy. It’s very hard work, and it’s not always fun. But then, if they did, they’d probably scare too many people away from getting involved with someone, and that would be a shame. Because what you get if you’re willing to do that work is a lot better than candy. Even dark chocolate almonds.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Sheryl Crow’s Strong Enough.

36 Comments

Filed under Anthony Bidulka, David Whish-Wilson, Dorothy Sayers, Gail Bowen, Geoffrey McGeachin

Who Cares What They’re Wearing on Main Street or Saville Row*

Dressmakers and TailorsAn excellent post from Moira at Clothes in Books has got me thinking about dress shops. We may not see so many of the old-fashioned dressmaker establishments any more, but there’s something about having a dress or a suit custom-fitted. Clothes that are tailored to the individual fit like nothing else, and a good tailor or dress shop professional can help you choose exactly the right clothes for your body type, physical appearance, age and lifestyle.

Because custom-fitted clothes are individually altered, tailors and dress shops can be very good contexts for getting to know fictional characters. For one thing, readers can get a sense of a character’s personality. For another, such shops can be really effective contexts for character interactions and for giving a glimpse of a particular era or segment of society. Here are just a few examples from crime fiction.

In Agatha Christie’s The Mystery of the Blue Train, we are introduced to Katherine Grey. She’s spent the last ten years as paid companion to wealthy Mrs. Harfield and has been content enough. When her employer dies, Katherine finds to her shock that she has inherited Mrs. Harfield’s entire fortune. She begins to make plans for her future, and one of her first stops is a well-regarded dressmaker’s:
 

Her first action was to visit the establishment of a famous dressmaker.
A slim, elderly Frenchwoman, rather like a dreaming duchess, received her, and Katherine spoke with a certain naiveté.
‘I want, if I may, to put myself in your hands. I have been very poor all my life and know nothing about clothes, but now I have come into some money and want to look really well dressed.’’

 

As you can imagine, the dressmaker is delighted at the prospect of matching Katherine with just the right clothes for her, and it works very well. In fact, in more than one place in the novel, remarks are made about how well-dressed she is. Katherine’s next stop is a trip to visit a distant cousin Lady Rosalie Tamplin, who lives in Nice. That’s how she comes to be on the famous Blue Train when another passenger, Ruth Van Aldin Kettering, is strangled. Since she was the last person known to speak to the victim, Katherine gets involved in the investigation, and so does Hercule Poirot, who was also a passenger on the fateful trip. I know, I know, fans of The Hollow and of Three Act Tragedy…

Anthony Bidulka’s Saskatoon PI sleuth Russell Quant certainly takes care of his appearance, but he has neither the time nor the budget to keep himself in the finest of fashion. That’s why he so relies on his ‘wonderpants,’ a pair of simple but attractive black pants that don’t wrinkle and look good for just about every occasion. But Quant’s friend and mentor Anthony Gatt has a different attitude. Gatt is a clothing expert and owner of a very upmarket chain of men’s clothing stores. At one point in Flight of Aquavit, Quant pays a visit to Gatt’s flagship store. Here’s Gatt’s reaction to what Quant’s wearing:
 

So boring I could pass out,’ Anthony said with a convincing yawn as he held forth a pair of pants he’d grabbed seemingly from thin air. How does he do that? ‘Diesel Kulter black leather straight-legs or…’ Poof! Another pair! ‘…Theory Tristan surf indigo stretch cotton jeans. I imagine you’ll prefer the jeans even though a man with such wonderfully long legs and shapely posterior should go with leather, because so few can.”
 

It’s easy to see that Gatt not only knows his business, but he’s also skilled at matching clothes to a person’s lifestyle and body shape.

A tailor shop plays a vital role in Peter James’ Not Dead Yet. In that novel, Superintendent Roy Grace of the Brighton and Hove Police is faced with a very puzzling case. The torso of an unidentified man has been found in an unused chicken coop. There are very few clues as the man’s identity, so even missing person reports aren’t very helpful. But there is one piece of evidence: a small bit of cloth. Grace’s second-in-command Glenn Branson has the idea of taking the cloth to a tailor he knows, Gresham Blake, to see if he can help identify it. His idea proves to be a good one, as Blake points the team towards the possible source of the cloth. In the end, that information helps to identify the victim.

In Riley Adams’ (AKA Elizabeth Spann Craig‘s) Hickory Smoked Homicide, Memphis restaurant owner Lulu Taylor gets involved in a murder case when her daughter-in-law Sara becomes a suspect. Socialite and beauty-contest coach Tristan Pembroke is killed during a charity event at her home. Since she and Sara had a very public argument shortly before the murder, Sara is naturally ‘of interest’ to the police. But Lulu knows her daughter-in-law is innocent. So she looks into the matter. One branch of the trail leads to Dee Dee’s Daring Dress Shoppe, where Lulu’s been buying her clothes for a long time, and where many beauty pageant contestants have also shopped. So Lulu brings her friend Cherry Hayes to the shop to look for information. The pretext is that Cherry wants a new look, and needs Dee Dee’s help to match clothes to her appearance. Meanwhile Lulu will try to find out what she wants to know. The plan works, as Cherry makes much of wanting exactly the right new look. Dee Dee of course wants the business, and doesn’t approve anyway of Cherry’s flamboyant style. So Cherry succeeds in distracting her. It’s an interesting scene for a few reasons, one of which is that it gives us a look at modern customer service in dress shops.

And then there’s Kerry Greenwood’s Earthly Delights, which introduces us to Melbourne baker Corinna Chapman. She is accustomed to wearing trousers or track pants, and she’ll tell you herself that she’s overweight and comfortable with that – no overly expensive clothes needed or really desired. But she has a particularly good experience when she gets the chance to wear a custom-made dress. She and her new partner Daniel Cohen are looking into a series of deaths and near-deaths from heroin overdose. The trail seems to lead to a Goth club called Blood Lines. But it’s not the sort of place you visit dressed in just anything. So, in order to gain admission, Corinna gets help from her friend, clothing-shop owner Pat, who’s better known by her professional name Mistress Dread. Pat/Mistress Dread designs and creates a completely new look for Corinna. The dress fits perfectly and gives Corinna a very different perspective on her physical appearance. Daniel seems to appreciate it too…

And that’s the thing about tailors and dressmakers. They can make you feel completely different about the way you look. And their shops are good places to find out information. Which examples have I forgotten?

Thanks, Moira, for the inspiration. Want to know more about clothes, dress shops and what it all says about us? You want Clothes in Books on your blog roll. It’s the source for sartorial splendour in fiction.

ps. The ‘photo is of the dress my daughter wore to her prom. We got it at an upmarket dress shop where my daughter had her first (and hopefully, not only) experience at having clothes crafted just for her. Trust me, she stunned in it.
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin’s You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile.

20 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Bidulka, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Kerry Greenwood, Peter James, Riley Adams

I’m Having My Troubles, Baby, and They’re All Too Much For Me*

Hiding AwayAs we all know, there are times in life when things get to be a bit much. It’s hard enough to handle one major stressor, let alone a group of them. It’s all enough to make even the strongest among us want to hide under a proverbial (or even real) blankie for a while. Of course our rational minds tell us that we have to get through life’s problems. At the same time, it’s a very human reaction (and many people argue, a healthy one) to back away and go and hide when life gets too hard. Eventually, most of us come out to play again once we’ve had that time.

Since crime fiction is full of, well, crime, it’s not surprising that we see a lot of characters who need to go and hide for a bit. It’s all through the genre, and it’s realistic if you think about it. Characters who don’t sometimes need to hide away may not seem as human as those who do. Here are a few examples that came to my mind.

In Agatha Christie’s Sad Cypress, Maidensford’s local GP Peter Lord presents Hercule Poirot with a difficult case. Lord is smitten with Elinor Carlisle, who’s recently inherited quite a lot of money, to say nothing of the family estate Hunterbury, from her aunt, Laura Welman. But the wealth isn’t doing her much good now, as she stands accused of murder. The allegation is that she poisoned Mary Gerrard, the lodgekeeper’s daughter, because Mary was her romantic rival. Elinor has a financial motive as well since Aunt Laura was very fond of Mary and might easily have willed everything to her. Lord wants Poirot to clear Elinor’s name, and Poirot agrees to at least look into the matter. But even though he finds out the truth about Mary Gerrard’s murder, he can’t spare Elinor the stress and difficulty of being imprisoned and on trial for murder. When the whole thing’s over, the one thing Elinor wants more than anything else is to get away – to go and hide. It’s a very natural reaction.

Alan Orloff’s Channing Hayes is a comedian and part owner of The Last Laff, a comedy club in Northern Virginia. In Killer Routine, we learn that Hayes recently survived a terrible car accident that claimed the life of his fiancée Lauren Dempsey. Hayes himself was left with permanent scarring and and a withered left hand. So not only is he dealing with the grief and guilt he feels about Lauren’s death, but he is also coping with his injuries and his altered appearance. He doesn’t drown himself in alcohol or float away on drugs, but he does need some time to ‘step back.’ So as the novel begins, Hayes spends a lot of time at home, avoiding people when he can; and he hasn’t done a standup routine since before the accident. Then everything changes. Lauren’s sister Heather (who also does comedy) goes missing just before her scheduled appearance at The Last Laff. At first it’s put down to ‘cold feet,’ and everyone thinks she’ll turn up in a few days. But when she doesn’t, Hayes starts asking questions. His search for the truth pits him against Heather’s dangerous ex-boyfriend, her difficult parents, and several other people who do not want her to be found. Bit by bit, Hayes returns to his professional life, but not before hiding under the covers for a while.

Adrian Hyland’s Emily Tempest is faced with some terrible stress in Gunshot Road. She’s a brand-new Aboriginal Community Police Officer (ACPO) who’s working under the temporary command of Bruce Cockburn. The two get off to a very rocky start when their team is sent to Green Swamp Well to investigate a murder. Former prospector Albert ‘Doc’ Ozolins has been killed, very likely as the result of a drunken quarrel. But Tempest suspects something more might be going on. So despite Cockburn’s orders to wrap the case up and move on, Tempest insists on looking into the matter more deeply. This of course gets her into serious trouble with her boss. It also runs her up against a very dangerous enemy. After one particularly awful incident, she can’t take much more, and ends up hiding away for a bit with her lover Jojo Kelly and her best friend Hazel Flinders. Tempest isn’t one to avoid life’s troubles; she’s a strong person. But even she needs to ‘duck under the covers’ sometimes.

One of Anthony Bidulka’s series features Saskatoon PI Russell Quant. Like most of us, Quant has a network of friends, including former supermodel Jared Lowe. Lowe’s partner is Quant’s mentor Anthony Gatt, and Quant depends a great deal on their friendship. In one way or another, Lowe gets involved in several of Quant’s investigations without real lasting effects. But everything changes in Stain of the Berry. As a result of the events in that story, Lowe has to re-think an awful lot. Those events also mean that Lowe needs to take some time away from his ‘regular’ life and proverbially hide under the blanket. He eventually pops his head out and begins to take part in life again, but he needs that time to hide away. So does Quant himself a little later in the series. It’s a natural response when life just gets to be too much.

We also see this in Kathryn Fox’s Dr. Anya Crichton/DS Kate Farrer series. Crichton and Farrer are good friends who co-operate on their different cases. Some of those cases are extremely stressful and even traumatic, and they take their toll. For instance, in Malicious Intent, certain evidence links the deaths of several very different kinds of women. At first those deaths seem to be either accidents or suicide, but Crichton and Farrer begin to suspect otherwise. The truth turns out to be much more complex and dangerous than it seems on the surface, and the case proves traumatic. In fact, after the events in the novel, Farrer takes a four-month leave from her job. She needs that time to hide away, so to speak, and recover before she resumes her duties in Skin and Bones.

And then there’s Ivy Pochoda’s Visitation Street. One very warm night, teenagers Valerie ‘Val’ Merino and June Giatto take a ride in a rubber raft on the bay near their homes in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn. Early the next morning, local teacher and musician Jonathan Sprouse discovers Val, wounded but alive. June has disappeared. The loss of her friend and the events that led to it are all extremely stressful and traumatic for Val. She can’t handle the way people look at her, the outpouring of concern for June, and her own sense of guilt that she has survived and June has gone missing. So she does her share of ‘hiding under the blankie.’ She confides in no-one, saying as little as she can get away with to make people leave her alone. It’s a very human reaction, especially considering that Val is still very young. By the novel’s end, she’s starting to come to grips with what happened, but she still has plenty of healing to do.

And that’s the thing about getting knocked down by life’s blows. Too much stress isn’t good for us, and neither is trauma. So it’s only natural that when those things happen, we sometimes go into hiding and curl up under the covers. So the next time you need to go hide under the covers, don’t feel bad. You have plenty of company. These are just a few examples of the way this plays out in crime fiction. Your turn.
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s You Picked a Real Bad Time.

34 Comments

Filed under Adrian Hyland, Agatha Christie, Alan Orloff, Anthony Bidulka, Ivy Pochoda, Kathryn Fox