Category Archives: Arthur Conan Doyle

It’s Just Another Day*

Regular HabitsTo an extent, most of us are creatures of habit. We leave our keys in the same place all the time. We walk the dog or feed the cat at the same time. We usually take the same route to work. Or we order the same thing for lunch most of the time. Those routines can be comforting, and can free our minds up to deal with other things. And they help us not lose keys, handbags and so on.

We may not even be aware of our routines, but they figure in our lives. And they can be very useful for fictional criminals. Learning someone’s habits is a good way to find out when that person is vulnerable. For the detective, finding out people’s habits can also be useful. It’s a good way to learn who might have been in contact with a victim. And when a person goes missing, the first thing detectives do is find out where that person would likely be in the habit of going. Finding out people’s habits is also a way for the detective to find possible witnesses to a crime (e.g. Who’s in the habit of walking their dogs at the time the victim was seen going towards…). There are a lot of examples of the way habits are used in crime fiction, both by sleuths and by criminals. Here are just a few examples.

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist, Sherlock Holmes gets a visit from Violet Smith. She’s been hired as a live-in piano teacher at Chiltern Grange. The arrangement is that she spends the week there, and weekends with her mother in London. So, every Friday, she bicycles from Chiltern Grange to the train station. Every Monday she returns by the same route. And therein lies the problem. As Violet tells the story, she’s been followed lately by a man on a bicycle. He doesn’t allow himself to get close enough to her so she can get a good look at him. And he hasn’t approached her or spoken to her. But he knows her habits. She’s now quite concerned, and wants Holmes to investigate. This he agrees to do, and he and Dr. Watson look into the matter. It turns out that Violet Smith’s routine is key to this story.

So are the routines of Bob, the terrier who features in Agatha Christie’s Dumb Witness (AKA Poirot Loses a Client). Bob shares his home with Miss Emily Arundell, a wealthy woman with plenty of financially desperate relatives. During one holiday, they come to visit her. She’s not at all naïve enough to think they’re visiting because they love spending time with her, but she makes it clear that they’ll get everything when she dies, and that they’ll have to wait until then. Late one night, Miss Arundell has a dangerous fall down a flight of stairs. At first, it’s put down to a terrible accident caused by Bob’s habit of leaving his toy ball at the top of the stairs. Everyone thinks Miss Arundell slipped on the ball and fell. But once the initial shock wears off and she has time to think things through, Miss Arundell is no longer quite so sure that that’s what happened. Now she begins to believe that someone is trying to kill her. So she writes to Hercule Poirot. By the time he gets the letter, though, it’s too late: Miss Arundell has died of what seems to be liver failure. It turns out, though, that she’s been poisoned. Now Poirot works to find out who the killer is. And there are several possibilities. I can say without spoiling the story, though, that it’s not Bob the terrier.

In Donald Westlake’s The Hot Rock, we are introduced to John Dortmunder, who’s recently been released from prison. He learns through a friend that there’s a heist in the works that might interest him. The target this time is a valuable gem called the Balabomo Emerald, which is part of an exhibition being shown at New York’s Coliseum. And the client is Major Patrick Iko, the UN Ambassador from Talabwo. There’s a lot of money to be had if Dortmunder and his team can get the emerald, so they make their plans carefully. Part of that process is studying the habits of the staff, the guards, and the visitors. This heist isn’t going to be easy, because as you can imagine, the jewel is heavily guarded. But after a time, they learn those habits, and put together their plan. Needless to say, it doesn’t exactly go as planned…

In Kate Rhodes’ Crossbones Yard, we are introduced to psychologist Alice Quentin. DCI Don Burns asks her to help evaluate a soon-to-be-released prison inmate named Morris Cley to determine if he’ll be a danger to society. She believes that he won’t, and says as much to Burns, so Cley is released. That night, during her usual run through London, she discovers a body that’s been dumped at an old cemetery. Burns believes that this murder may be related to a series of other murders from several years ago, and that Cley is the key. But he seems to have disappeared. Now Burns asks Quentin to help profile and try to identify the killer. In the meantime, though, she starts getting disturbing notes that suggest that someone has learned about her habits (in particular, her habit of going running) and is stalking her. If that person is the killer, Quentin is in real danger. So she’ll have to try to find the killer in order to keep safe herself.

Because people do have habits and routines, it’s sometimes quite noticeable when they don’t follow them. For example, in Robert Rotenberg’s Old City Hall, we follow Gurdial Singh one morning as he’s doing his rounds delivering the Globe and Mail to his Toronto customers. One of his stops is the exclusive Market Place Tower condominiums, where he always stops at the home of famous radio personality Kevin Brace. And every morning, Brace is there, waiting for the paper, with a mug of tea and a moment or two of conversation. This morning, though, Brace isn’t at the door, as is his habit. Singh is immediately concerned, and wonders for a moment what to do. He finally drops the paper as loudly as he can at the door, so that hopefully Brace will hear him. After a while, Brace appears, and it’s soon clear that something terrible has happened. And it has. Brace’s common-law wife Katherine Thorn has been killed. Detective Ari Greene and his team investigate, and find that this case is not at all ‘open and shut.’

Most of us have our little routines and habits. They make things comfortable and predictable, and that can be a good thing. And they can turn out to be very useful in a crime novel, too.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Paul McCartney’s Another Day.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Donald Westlake, Kate Rhodes, Robert Rotenberg

Lighten Up While You Still Can*

Light MomentsWit is a funny thing (pun intended😉 ). The thing about it is that what’s funny to some people isn’t to others. And what ‘counts’ as a lighter moment to some people isn’t funny at all to others. So even among members of the same culture, there might not be agreement about whether something is funny or it isn’t.

Because of that, it can be difficult to add in just the right light touch to a crime novel. I’m not talking here of comic caper novels, where the author deliberately adds in absurdity and funny dialogue. Rather, I mean crime novels in which those funny moments add a welcome light touch. It’s not easy to do that and still maintain the tenor of a story. But it can add interest, keep readers engaged, and keep up a certain energy level in a novel. We see it all through crime fiction, too, so there won’t be space in this one post for all of the examples out there. Here are just a few.

The main plot of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton concerns a notorious blackmailer who’s gotten hold of an indiscreet letter written by one of Sherlock Holmes’ clients. She’s hired Holmes to get the letter and stop Milverton sending it to her fiancé. Holmes meets with Milverton, who refuses to part with the letter unless he gets an outrageous sum of money. So Holmes decides to take matters into his own hands and get the letter back another way. He learns the layout of Milverton’s home, and the household’s habits. Then he and Watson actually break into the house. Holmes knows he needs ‘inside information,’ so he takes on a disguise, and starts ‘walking out with’ one of Milverton’s housemaids. There’s a very funny scene where he tells Watson that he is engaged:
 

“You’ll be interested to hear that I am engaged.’
‘My dear fellow! I congrat—
‘To Milverton’s housemaid.’
‘Good heavens, Holmes!’
‘I wanted information, Watson.’…
‘But the girl, Holmes?’
He shrugged his shoulders.
‘You can’t help it, my dear Watson. You must play your cards as best you can when such a stake is on the table. However, I rejoice to say that I have a hated rival who will certainly cut me out the instant that my back is turned. What a splendid night it is!’’
 

In the end, the information Holmes gets turns out to be very useful.

In Robert Crais’ Lullaby Town, famous director Peter Alan Nelson wants to hire Los Angeles PI Elivs Cole to find his ex-wife, Karen, and son, Toby. After years of not being involved with Toby, Nelson has decided he wants to be a part of the boy’s life. Cole tries to tell him that it’s not that simple, but Nelson insists. And a fee is a fee. So Cole reluctantly starts trying to trace Karen and Toby. When he finds them, he soon learns that his troubles have really just begun. It turns out that Karen has been working for some very nasty people, and now wants to be free of them. That doesn’t sit well with her ‘business associates,’ so Cole and his partner Joe Pike find themselves in a dangerous situation. At one point, Cole and Karen are in her house. Pike has just arrived, and the first thing he does is check the house carefully to ensure the safety of its occupants. He says nothing as he does so, though, so at first, Karen thinks it’s quite odd. It’s a funny scene as she watches Pike go through his security check as Cole tries to explain his rather unusual partner. She gets used to Pike, though, and he turns out to be very useful.

The beginning of Gail Bowen’s The Gifted takes place at Hallowe’en. So political scientist/academician Joanne Kilbourn Shreve and her attorney husband Zack are planning to go to a costume party. It’s a light, funny moment as Zack makes the scene in yellow silk pyjamas and sporting an orchid. If you’re a crime fiction fan, that should be enough to tell you which character he’s portraying. And for her part, Joanne dresses in a
 

‘slick vintage suit’
 

to complete the picture. The novel itself isn’t what you’d call a light crime novel. The main plot concerns their daughter, Taylor, who is a gifted artist. In fact, although she’s only fourteen at the time of this novel, two pieces of her art have been included in an upcoming charity auction. She shares one of her pieces with her parents. But she keeps the other hidden until the auction. When it’s revealed, it turns out to have tragic consequences. That light moment at the beginning is an effective counterpoint.

Louise Penny’s series featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache takes place in the small Québec town of Three Pines. Several of the novels have quite a lot of sadness in them, and the stories really aren’t what you’d call light, fun novels. At the same time, they are not unrelentingly bleak. And one of the reasons for that is the set of relationships among the characters. For example, the local B&B/bistro is owned by Olivier Brulé and his partner Gabriel Dubeau. It’s a social hub, so everyone spends at least some time there. One of the regular denizens is poet Ruth Zardo. Ruth has a very acerbic exterior, and never wastes an opportunity to make a snide remark or toss off an insult. But Olivier and Gabri know that underneath that surface, Ruth cares about them and considers them friends. And as far as insults go, they give as good as they get. Those interactions not only lighten the tone of the novels, but they also add a layer of character development.

In Angela Savage’s The Dying Beach, Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney and her partner Rajiv Patel investigate the death of Chanida Manakit, who went by the nickname of Pla. Part of the trail leads to the offices of a development company, and Keeney and Patel want to find out more about it. But they know that they won’t learn much by just walking in and introducing themselves as detectives. So they go in the guise of a wealthy investor (played by Patel) and his secretary/assistant (played by Keeney). The funny part about this scene (at least for me; your mileage may vary, as the saying goes) is that in actuality, their relationship is nothing like that. Neither is their style of dress. It lightens up what is in some places a very sad story.

And then there’s Alan Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. In that novel, eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce discovers the body of an unknown man in the cucumber patch of the family garden. She doesn’t know who the victim is, but she does know he visited the house the night before. She also knows he had an argument with her father. The police learn that, too, and before very long, Flavia’s father is arrested. She doesn’t believe he’s a killer, so she decides to find out the truth. Flavia is a budding detective, and very knowledgeable about chemistry. But she is also an eleven-year-old child with two older sisters. She decides to get back at one of them by distilling the irritant in poison ivy, and putting it on her sister’s lipstick. That in itself is rather funny; so, in its way, is the eventual outcome.

Those lighter moments and funny scenes don’t always have to do with the actual investigation in a crime novel. And they can be tricky. But when they’re handled well, they can lighten up an otherwise very sad story.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Eagles’ Take it Easy.

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Filed under Alan Bradley, Angela Savage, Arthur Conan Doyle, Gail Bowen, Louise Penny, Robert Crais

You Only See What She Wants You to See*

Assumptions and ImpressionsWe humans are bombarded with so much stimuli that it’s nearly impossible to sort it all out. So, we make judgements and assumptions about people based on just a few salient cues. Sometimes those judgements are absolutely right, and sometimes they aren’t. Either way, we can’t really avoid making them, as very often we just don’t have the time to sift through all of the cues about a person at once. So we focus on one or two really salient cues, such as clothes. Lawyers know this, so some of them coach their clients as to the kind of clothes to wear when they appear in court. People use clothes to make impressions in other situations, too.

Crime-fictional sleuths, criminals and other characters know the impact of people’s overall impressions and assumptions and they take advantage of it. Fans of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, for instance, will know that he uses changes of clothes in several stories. As one example, in The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton, he adopts the clothing and manner of a workman. He’s trying to stop a blackmailer, and he knows that simply going to the man’s home and demanding the incriminating evidence isn’t going to work. So instead, he uses his ‘workman’s guise’ to strike up a friendship with a housemaid, and gets the information he needs.

Several characters in Agatha Christie’s novels use clothing and clothing styles to make exactly the impression they want. In The Mystery of the Blue Train, for instance, Katherine Grey learns that, after ten years of serving as a paid companion, she has inherited a large amount of money from her now-deceased employer. Although she’s a practical person, Katherine wants the chance to travel, and she wants to make the right impression. So she visits a famous dressmaker and orders a new wardrobe. She then decides to accept an invitation to visit a distant cousin who now lives in Nice. That visit ends up drawing her into a case of murder and theft, when a fellow passenger on the train she’s taking is killed. Katherine’s new look isn’t a disguise, as everyone knows her identity, and that she’s been a paid companion. But her clothes do give the ‘right’ impression for the Riviera. Of course, Christie fans will also know that in several stories, the killer uses a disguise, or at least different clothing, to ‘fade into the background’ or to avoid being ‘spotted.’ But no spoilers here!

Arthur Upfield’s Queensland Inspector Napoleon ‘Boney’ Bonaparte knows the value of making the right impression, and of having people make the assumptions about him that he wants. So he sometimes chooses clothes and bearing that will suit that purpose. For instance, in Death of a Swagman, he’s been called to the small town of Merino to investigate the murder of a stockman named George Kendell. Boney knows that he won’t easily find out what happened if he goes into the town wearing an official uniform and showing a badge. So, he dresses differently and arranges to get himself arrested for vagrancy. He’s given ten days’ jail time, and ordered to paint the fence at the police station. He dresses and acts the part, so at first, almost everyone assumes that he’s an itinerant stockman passing through town, hoping for a few days of work. And that’s just the impression he wants to make, so that he can get people to talk to him.

Priscilla Masters’ Martha Gunn is the coroner for Shrewsbury, so she and her team investigate whenever there is an unnatural death. And that’s exactly what they find in River Deep, when the body of a man is washed out of a basement after the River Severn overflows its banks. As the team check the missing persons records to try to identify the dead man, they learn of a disappearance that might be a match. At first it looks as though the identification is settled – until it turns out that these are two different men. Now Gunn and the team have a much more complicated case to solve. Part of the trail leads to an exclusive day spa, so Gunn decides to make an appointment and go there. In order not to be of any particular notice, she chooses very different clothes to what she usually wears, and a different way of doing her hair. This lets her craft the image she wants to craft, so that the staff at the spa make the assumptions about her that she wants: that she’s an upper-middle-class woman with money to spend, and certainly not a coroner…

As I mentioned earlier, lawyers know that the assumptions juries and judges make about their clients can matter very much. In higher profile cases, where the media is involved, there’s also the matter of a client’s public image, and the assumptions that that very public ‘court’ will make. So, some attorneys work with their clients and suggest certain kinds of dress. We see examples of this in many novels; I’ll just mention two. In both Helen Fitzgerald’s The Cry and Sylvie Granotier’s The Paris Lawyer, there’s a plot thread that involves a character who’s on trial. In the former, it’s Joanna Lindsay; in the latter, the defendant is Myriam Villetreix. There are many differences between the cases, but both have become very public. And in both cases, the defendant has already gotten an awful lot of negative attention in the press. It’s going to be very important for both women to make as good an impression as they can when they’re in court. So each gets advice about what to wear. And in the case of The Paris Lawyer, we learn that it’s not just clients who go through this. Myriam Villetreix’s attorney, Catherine Monsigny, wants to be taken seriously as a competent and capable attorney. So she’s quite careful about the way she dresses, too.

Of course, it’s not just clothing that causes people to make assumptions. Many, many other factors go into that split-second decision people make about what you’re like and what to assume about you. Sometimes those decisions end up being correct, and sometimes not. Either way, they’re interesting.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Cameo’s Back and Forth.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Arthur Upfield, Helen Fitzgerald, Priscilla Masters, Sylvie Granotier

Curiouser and Curiouser, Sir*

Strange Noises and Odd PapersI’ll bet you’ve had the experience. You hear a funny noise, or you see an odd piece of paper stuck in a crack in the back of a drawer. You’re curious, so you decide to open up that piece of paper, or investigate that weird noise. It’s perfectly understandable, really; humans tend to be curious.

It’s interesting to see how that sort of curiosity plays out in crime fiction, too. Readers can identify with the urge to find out what’s causing that noise, or what that paper says. What’s more, plot points like that can add interest and even suspense to a novel.

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Speckled Band, Sherlock Holmes gets a visit from Helen Stoner, who has an eerie story to tell him about the death of her sister, Julia. It seems that Julia had been hearing strange, soft whistles and other noises during the night. Other odd things were happening, too. Then, just before she suddenly died, Julia said something very cryptic to her sister. Now Helen is hearing the same weird noises. She’s worried about what might be going on, and she wants Holmes to investigate. He and Dr. Watson travel to Stoke Moran, the Stoner home, and begin the search for answers. They discover that those weird sounds are not just products of the imagination, and that their client is in real danger.

Mary Roberts Rinehart’s The Circular Staircase begins when Rachel Innes decides to rent Sunnyside, a large country house, for a summer holiday with her nephew, Halsey, and niece, Gertrude. Very soon, some strange things begin to happen. One of those things is a series of strange banging and tapping noises. Rachel is by no means a fanciful person, and decides to investigate. But she can’t find anything that really explains the sounds. Other weird things begin to happen, too, things that frighten her family maid, Liddy Allen, so that she actually ends up leaving. Then, there’s a murder. What’s worse, both Halsey and Gertrude are implicated. Rachel is determined to clear their names, so she begins to do her own investigations. And she learns that those weird sounds are important clues to what’s been going on at the house, and to the murder.

In one plot thread of Brian McGilloway’s The Nameless Dead, Garda Ben Devlin investigates a very odd occurrence. Christine Cashell has reported hearing a baby cry on her baby monitor, but says that it’s not her son. In fact, she and her partner have no children. They’d planned a family, but their son was stillborn, and they haven’t gotten rid of the baby things they’d bought. The manufacturer of the baby monitor reports that some of the monitors may pick up the sounds of other crying babies if they are very near. But there are no babies living anywhere near Christine and her partner. Devlin looks into the matter more closely, and finds that the solution ties in with another case he’s investigating. In fact, there’s an important piece of information that comes from following up on that weird sound of an infant crying.

And it’s not just a matter of following up on odd sounds. In Agatha Christie’s Third Girl, detective story writer Ariadne Oliver is visiting a block of London flats. She’s hoping to track down a young woman named Norma Restarick, who shares a flat with two other young women. During the visit, Mrs. Oliver sees a couple of furniture movers taking a desk out of the building. As they’re putting the desk into the van, a piece of paper flutters out. Mrs. Oliver tries to give it to the men, but they ignore her. That piece of paper stuck in that desk turns out to be a very important to clue to Norma’s whereabouts, and to a murder.

Ausma Zehanat Khan’s The Unquiet Dead introduces Inspector Esa Khattak and Sergeant Rachel Getty of the Community Policing Section (CPS) of Canada’s government. In that novel, they’re called in when a man named Christopher Drayton dies after a fall from Ontario’s Scarborough Bluffs. At first it doesn’t seem the kind of case, even if it is murder, that would interest the CPS. That group normally concerns itself more with hate crimes and other community-relations cases. Then readers learn the reason for the CPS’ involvement. Scraps of letters found in a drawer, and a scrap of paper found in a pocket, suggest that the victim may actually have been Dražen Krstić, a notorious war criminal who committed real atrocities during the Bosnian War. If that’s Drayton’s real identity, then this is a very delicate case. Questions will most definitely be asked about why a war criminal was allowed to live in Canada, and those questions could lead to the end of more than one career. So Khattak and Getty will have to be very careful as they investigate. It turns out that those little scraps of paper jammed into a drawer are very important.

And that’s the thing. Every once in a while, when you hear a weird noise, or you see a scrap of paper stuck somewhere, it leads to something much more than you think.

ps. Oh, the ‘photo? An odd noise in our heating/air conditioning system turned out to be coming from a scrap of paper stuck in one of the vents. You can just see it on the bottom right of the grill. The air currents made it rattle. You never know what you’ll find when you investigate those strange things.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Barenaked Ladies’ Curious.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Ausma Zehanat Khan, Brian McGilloway, Mary Roberts Rinehart

We Are the Secret Society*

Secret SocietiesSecret societies have been a part of several cultures for a long time. They take many different forms, too, from criminal societies to religious societies to more esoteric groups. Regardless of the kind of society or its purpose, its membership is usually limited, and there are rituals and secrets to which only initiated members are privy.

There are a lot of examples of such groups in crime fiction. That’s not surprising when you think about all of the possibilities for conflict, tension and worse. And, since some societies are criminal in nature, there’s that aspect as well that makes them a natural fit for the genre. Here are just a few examples to show you what I mean.

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Five Orange Pips, Sherlock Holmes gets an intriguing case from his new client John Openshaw. Openshaw’s Uncle Elias, with whom he lived, was found dead in a pool on his estate. His death seems to have been the culmination of a bizarre series of events that began when he received a letter containing five orange pips. Now the victim’s brother (and Openshaw’s father) Joseph has also received a letter containing five orange pips. He’s thoroughly frightened, but he won’t go to the police. Holmes investigates, and finds that the strange and tragic events on the Openshaw property are connected with the Ku Klux Klan, which had formed in the US after the Civil War there, and had been thought disbanded.

In Agatha Christie’s The Seven Dials Mystery, Sir Oswald Coote and his wife have rented out a manor house owned by the Marquess of Caterham so they can host a house party. Everyone duly arrives and all goes well at first. Then, some of the guests decide to play a trick on fellow guest Gerald ‘Gerry’ Wade, who has a bad habit of oversleeping. They buy eight alarm clocks, time them to go off at different intervals, and hide them in Wade’s room. To everyone’s shock, the next morning, Wade is found dead in his bed of what turns out to be poison. One of the alarm clocks is missing, too. Needless to say, the house party ends and Lord Caterham returns to the property. One day, his daughter, Lady Eileen ‘Bundle’ Brent, finds a half-finished letter that turns out to be a clue to the murder. She gets involved in the investigation, which so far, hasn’t gotten very far. In the end, she and Superintendent Battle connect Wade’s death with another death, and with a secret society.

In Tony Hillerman’s Dance Hall of the Dead, Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn of the Navajo Tribal Police gets involved in a disturbing case. A young Zuñi teen named Ernesto Cato has been murdered. And his friend, a Navajo named George Bowlegs, has gone missing. That’s where Leaphorn comes in. If George isn’t guilty of murder, he may be in grave danger. At the very least, he may have important information. So it’s imperative to find him. By the time the boy is found, though, it’s too late: he’s been killed, too. Leaphorn and fellow Navajo Tribal Police Officer Jim Chee work to find out what’s behind these murders. They’re not going to find it easy, though, because the information they need about Ernesto’s last days and weeks is related to a kiva, a religious society, he was joining. Only members are privy to the kiva’s secrets, and it will be difficult for Leaphorn and Chee to get anyone in the group to really talk to them. I can say without spoiling this story that the boys’ murders are not ritual killings. The kiva is not to blame, if you will. But it adds a layer of complexity to the case.

There’s a different sort of secret group in Kerry Greenwood’s Earthly Delights. Accountant-turned-baker Corinna Chapman gets drawn into a strange mystery when she discovers Suze MacDonald, a local junkie, outside on her ventilation grate. The girl has overdosed on heroin, and it takes an emergency crew and some Narcan to revive her. Then, Corinna learns of other cases of junkies who haven’t been so lucky. It’s soon clear that this is a pattern, and that someone may be deliberately targeting junkies. Corinna is reluctant to get involved, but she’s persuaded by her new lover, Daniel Cohen, to help. Together, they learn that the key to these deaths is a Goth club called Blood Lines. One night, they go to the club, and once there, they are invited to the club’s private room. That’s where they put together the pieces of the puzzle, and learn how the club and its secrets are connected to the deaths.

I don’t think it’d be possible to do a post about secret societies in crime fiction without mentioning the Mafia. It’s taken various forms throughout history, and has had different purposes. The one constant, though, is the emphasis on secrecy. And members know the consequences if they betray that secrecy. For instance, in Tonino Benacquista’s Badfellas, we are introduced to Fred and Maggie Blake and their two children. The Blake family are ex-pat Americans who have recently moved to a small town in Normandy. They have their share of ‘culture clash’ as they learn to fit in there, but as we soon learn, they have other, bigger problems. Fred Blake is really Giovanni Manzini, a member of the New Jersey Mafia, who joined the Federal Witness Protection Program when he testified against his former colleagues. The family was moved to Normandy for their safety. And the plan works well enough until word of their whereabouts gets back to New Jersey…

And that’s the thing about secret societies. They can be fascinating, and for members, they provide a real support network. But they have their dangers, too…

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Todd Rundgren’s Secret Society.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Kerry Greenwood, Tonino Benacquista, Tony Hillerman