Category Archives: Arthur Conan Doyle

Poetry, You’re Hiding Behind the Words You Speak*

Clues in PoetryThere are all kinds ways in which crime writers can leave clues, whether it’s clues about character or clues to a mystery. Interestingly enough, one of those ways is through poems. Poetry can be a cryptic way to leave a message, a warning, or a clue. So it gives the reader the chance to ‘match wits’ with the author.

Poetry gives characters the chance to ‘match wits,’ too. For example, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Musgrave Ritual, Sherlock Holmes tells Watson about one of his early cases. In that adventure, Holmes gets an invitation from an old university friend, Sir Reginald Musgrave. It seems that Musgrave’s butler, Richard Brunton, and a maid, Rachel Howell, have disappeared. The only clue to what’s happened is that, shortly before the two went missing, Musgrave caught Brunton going through some of the family papers. The paper that seemed to be of most interest to Brunton was an old poem, used in a Musgrave family ritual. Once Holmes works out what the poem means, he sees that it’s an important clue. And that leads him to the truth about Brunton and Howell.

John Dickson Carr’s first Gideon Fell novel, Hag’s Nook, also includes a cryptic poem. In that novel, Tad Rampole has taken the advice of his mentor, and come from America to pay a visit to Fell. Along the way, he meets Dorothy Starberth, who lives not far from Fell. He’s smitten with her right away, and the feeling seems mutual. Later, Fell tells Rampole the interesting history of the Starberth family. At one time, the Starberth men were Governors of nearby Chatterham Prison. Even though it’s been allowed to fall into ruins, the family still has a connection. Each Starberth male spends the night of his twenty-fifth birthday in the old Governor’s Room at the prison. While there, he opens the safe, reads the paper that’s there, and follows the instructions on it. Now it’s the turn of Dorothy’s brother, Martin. But there are good reasons for him to worry. Some strange and tragic accidents have befallen the Starberths, and some say there’s a curse on the family. Still, Martin goes ahead with the ritual. Sure enough, on the night of his birthday, he dies from what looks like an accidental fall from the balcony of the Governor’s Room. But it’s soon clear that he was murdered. The only problem is, no-one was seen entering or leaving the property. And there’s no evidence that anyone but Martin was in the room. Rampole is, quite naturally, interested in finding out the truth, and he works with Fell to get to the truth. As it turns out, a cryptic poem gives Fell the clue he needs to get to the truth about who killed Martin Starberth and why..

Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None has a poem at its core. Ten people get invitations to spend time on Indian Island. Each gets a different sort of invitation, and each has different reasons, but they all accept. When the group arrives, they settle in and wait for their host, who, strangely enough, never appears. Still, dinner is served, and everyone makes the best of the situation. After dinner, each person is accused of having caused the death of at least one other person. Then, one of the guests suddenly dies of what turns out to be poison. Late that night, there’s another death. It’s soon clear that someone is trying to kill all of the guests, one by one. The other guests now have to find out who the killer is, and survive if they can. As it turns out, the killer uses an old nursery poem to link the deaths and warn about the ones to come.

Camilla Grebe and Åsa Träff’s Some Kind of Peace introduces Stockholm psychologist Siri Bergman. She’s a skilled professional, but she deeply grieves the loss of her beloved husband, Stefan, and she’s had a hard time coping. One day, she gets a letter that makes it clear that someone is watching her. It’s not long, too, before she learns that that person has access to her client records. As if that’s not enough, whoever is stalking Bergman seems bent on sabotaging both her professional life and her personal life. Matters come to a head when the body of a client, Sara Matteus, is found in the water on Bergman’s property. There’s a suicide note that blames the suicide on Bergman. When it becomes clear that this wasn’t a suicide, Bergman even becomes a suspect for a time. So she has to clear her name, and find out who really killed Sara Matteus. All along, Bergman’s struggling to understand and accept Stefan’s death. An important clue to it comes from Erik Blomberg’s Var inte rädd för mörkret (Do Not Fear the Darkness), a poem that Stefan left for her. When Bergman comes to understand that message, she also gets a better understanding of her husband’s death.

There’s also Andrea Camilleri’s Treasure Hunt. Vigàta Inspector Salvo Montalbano makes the news when he gets involved in a bizarre case that involves him climbing up a building. Shortly after that, he gets a cryptic note and a very bad poem. The note and poem are an invitation to play a game of Treasure Hunt. This isn’t a case of some odd, but harmless, fan, though. Instead, Montalbano is drawn into a strange killer’s dangerous game.

There are plenty of other novels, too, where the clues come in the form of a cryptic poem. Even for people who aren’t much for poetry, those sorts of clues can invite the reader to engage in the story. They can also add an interesting layer of character depth. Which crime-fictional poems have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Danity Kane’s Poetry.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Arthur Conan Doyle, Åsa Träff, Camilla Grebe, John Dickson Carr

Don’t You Forget About Me*

GoodbyeThere’s a bond that often develops between people when they share an experience, especially an intense experience. That bond can make it difficult to say ‘good bye’ when it’s time. I’m not referring here to romantic breakups; that’s worth a blog post on its own. There are other kinds of partings, though, that can be quite emotionally charged.

Certainly there are such ‘good byes’ in crime fiction. They can run the risk of getting maudlin; but, when they’re done well, partings can add depths to characters. They can also add a point of tension to a story.

For instance, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Scandal in Bohemia, the King of Bohemia hires Sherlock Holmes to take on a difficult case. He is planning to marry, and wants to make sure that the wedding takes place with no problems. The problem is that he was previously involved in a love affair with famous actress Irene Adler, and there’s a compromising photograph of the two of them. The king wants Holmes to get that photograph to ensure that there won’t be a scandal. Holmes agrees and begins to trace Irene Adler. It turns out, though, that she is more than a match for him, and the case doesn’t end the way he planned. She says ‘good bye’ to Holmes in a most unexpected way, and in the end, Holmes knows he’s been bested.

Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds introduces readers to London hairdresser’s assistant Jane Grey. When she wins a sweepstakes, she decides to use her prize money for a trip to Le Pinet. On the way back, she takes a flight from Paris to London. That’s how she gets involved in the murder of a fellow passenger, Marie Morisot, also known as Madame Giselle. Hercule Poirot is on the same flight, and works with Chief Inspector Japp to find out who killed the victim, how, and why. It’s a difficult investigation, and for Jane, it’s an intense experience. She shares part of it with Poirot, so that when the story ends, they’ve developed a sort of bond. Their ‘good bye’ on the final page reflects that, too.

Fans of Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus will know that over the course of the series, Rebus works closely with Sergeant Siobhan Clarke. They become friends as well as colleagues, and they work several extremely difficult cases together. So, in Exit Music, as Rebus’ retirement comes ever closer, both have to prepare for a difficult ‘good bye.’ Neither is given to gushing, but parting will be hard for them. We see both the strength of their bond, and the restraint they both show, at Rebus’ retirement party. Clarke’s gift to him – an iPod loaded with the ‘oldie’ groups he loves – says more than a long speech would. And they have a nearly silent, but none the less affecting for that, ‘good bye’ a bit later. It’s an example of the way in which understatement can make an intense scene all the more powerful.

In Donna Leon’s About Face, Commissario Guido Brunetti and his team investigate the murder of Stefano Ranzano, who owned a trucking company. One of Brunetti’s colleagues suspects that the death may be related to the illegal transportation of toxic materials. So, as well as looking into Ranzano’s personal relationships and connections, the team also investigates those allegations. They find out that more than one person could have wanted the victim dead. As it turns out, the key to this case lies with a woman named Franca Marinello, whom Brunetti met at the home of his parents-in-law. She and Brunetti bond, if you will, over the classics of Greek and Roman writing. It’s not spoiling the story to say that he and Franca do not have an affair; they don’t even ‘officially’ flirt. But he has a soft spot for her, and they interact quite a lot over the course of the investigation. At the end, they have a final conversation in a coffee shop. It turns out to be quite intense, although neither gushes. As they do, we get answers to some of the questions raised in the story.

And then there’s Apostolos Doxiadis’ Three Little Pigs. That novel begins in 1974, when an unnamed art restorer visits a monastery in the Swiss Alps. He’s there to look at some of the monastery’s frescoes, with an eye towards restoring them if he can. There’s also a care home for the aged on the premises; so, in the course of his work, the art restorer meets one of its residents. The old man has a story to tell, and wants his new acquaintance to record it. The art restorer acquiesces, and the anziano begins his tale. It’s the story of Benvenuto ‘Ben’ Franco and his family who immigrated to New York City from Italy at the turn of the 20th Century. The old man details Franco’s life, a tragic bar fight in which he killed a man, and the consequences of that murder. Then, the old man goes on to share the stories of Franco’s three sons, Alessandro ‘Al’, Niccola ‘Nick’, and Leonardo ‘Leo.’ Their lives turn out to be profoundly impacted by what their father did, and the art restorer hears the whole saga. It’s a very intense experience, as the old man is passionate about making sure the story is told. For the art restorer, it’s a very personal window into other people’s lives. At the end, they share what seems to be a straightforward ‘good night.’ But there’s more to come, as the old man has one further long communication with his interviewer. Certainly that experience, and their parting, impacts the art restorer.

When people do share intense experiences, they often feel a connection that’s quite different to acquaintanceship, or even friendship. So when they say, ‘good bye,’ it can be a very meaningful moment. Those moments certainly happen in real life. And when they’re done well, they can add to a crime novel, too.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Simple Minds’ Don’t You (Forget About Me).

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Apostolos Doxiadis, Arthur Conan Doyle, Donna Leon, Ian Rankin

They’re Only Made of Clay*

PotteryFor thousands of years, people have merged beauty and practicality in many ways (blankets, clothing, furnishings, etc.). And in doing so, they’ve left behind real windows into their lives. We see this in a lot of ways; I’d never be able to do justice to it in a book, let alone a blog post. But we can get a hint just by looking at pottery.

If you have handmade pottery, then you know it really can be seen as a form of art. If you’ve made it, you may feel even more strongly about that. But pottery also serves lots of practical uses. Potters and pottery certainly turn up in crime fiction, and that makes sense. There are all sorts of possibilities for including interesting information, linking past and present in a mystery, and even creating conflict.

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Illustrious Client, pottery is used as a way for Dr. Watson to help Sherlock Holmes prevent a disaster. Sir James Damery is worried about his daughter, Violet, who’s fallen in love with Baron Adelbert Gruner. Both Holmes and Damery are certain that this marriage will end in disaster, since the baron is a philanderer who sees women merely as conquests. The problem is that the Baron has a way of getting a hold over people, so that they do anything he wants. That includes thuggery against anyone who tries to get in his way. Holmes learns from one of Gruner’s former mistresses that he has a book in which he’s chronicled his amorous adventures, and it’s hoped that, if Violet sees that book and learns the truth, she’ll break off the engagement. But getting the book proves to be harder than it seems. The Baron has one weakness, though: he is a renowned expert on and collector of Chinese pottery. So Holmes has Watson study up on Chinese pottery and go to Gruner’s home in the guise of someone wishing to sell a Ming piece. Watson’s visit has some unintended consequences, but it certainly plays a role in helping Holmes’ client.

Agatha Christie’s The Hollow (AKA Murder After Hours) introduces London potter and sculptor Henrietta Savernake. One weekend, she’s invited to the home of a cousin, Lady Lucy Angkatell. Among the other guests is Henrietta’s lover, John Christow, and his wife, Gerda. Also present are some of Lucy’s other relatives: Midge Hardcastle, Edward Angkatell (who is in love with Henrietta), and David Angkatell. As you can imagine, the weekend does not bode well. On the Sunday afternoon, Hercule Poirot, who has taken a nearby cottage, is invited to lunch. When he arrives, he sees what he thinks is a macabre sort of joke, set up for his ‘benefit.’ John Christow has been shot and is lying by the pool. His killer is standing nearby, holding the weapon. Within seconds, it’s clear to Poirot that this isn’t a tableau: it’s a real murder scene. But does it tell the truth? Poirot works with Inspector Grange to find out who really killed Christow and why. And it’s interesting to see how pottery plays a role in solving the crime. You’re quite right, fans of Murder in Mesopotamia and of The ABC Murders.

In Mary Kelly’s The Spoilt Kill, PI Hedley Nicholson is hired by Luke Shentall, of the Shentall Pottery Factory in Stoke-on-Trent. Someone’s been stealing pottery designs from the factory and selling them to foreign competitors. One of the main suspects is the firm’s top designer, Corinna Wakefield. On the one hand, she’s a likely possibility; she’s quite talented, and has access to everything she’d need to be ‘the mole.’ And, since she’s an ‘outsider,’ no-one knows much about her. On the other hand, there are other possibilities. And the very fact that she’s an ‘outsider’ could prejudice people against her. Then one day, Corinna is on the spot when a body is discovered in a kiln. She says she’s innocent, and Nicholson wants to believe her, especially since he’s fallen for her. But is she? And are the two crimes connected?

Margaret Maron’s Uncommon Clay introduces readers to the Nordan family, a dynasty with a long history of pottery-making. Now the family’s being torn apart by a messy, ugly divorce. James Nordan and Sandra Hitchcock, both highly skilled potters, are separating after twenty-five years. Judge Deborah Knott is in the Asheboro (North Carolina) area to visit the potters’ festival there, and see if she can find a piece that she wants. While she’s there, she’s also on temporary assignment; her role is to oversee the distribution of the Nordan/Hitchcock property and ensure that it’s as equitable as possible. Everything changes, though, when Nordan’s body is found in a kiln. Sandra is the natural most likely suspect, but this case turns out to be more complex than that.

And then there’s Stephen E. Stanley’s Pottery and Poets, which features his sleuth, Luke Littlefield. He is an academic who also writes crime fiction (hmm…). His specialty is cultural anthropology, so, in one plot thread of this novel, he is consulted when a major find is reported in the Cape Cod area. Littlefield is from Maine, so besides his academic credentials, he knows New England and a lot of its history. He is sent a collection of pottery and other relics, and uses it to establish that the dig may be a long-buried 17th Century village. Apparently, a fire swept through the village. It wasn’t a brush fire or a lightning strike, so one mystery concerns how the fire started. The other concerns the unexplained death of the village’s cleric, Reverend Josiah Babbage. It was believed he committed suicide, but did he? In this plot thread, it’s really interesting to see how Littlefield’s knowledge of pottery helps him to draw some conclusions about the village and its people.

And I don’t think I could do a post on pottery without mentioning Sulari Gentill’s Edna Higgins. She is a sculptor, potter, and sometime-model who is very much a free spirit. But she is quite loyal to her friends, among whom is Gentill’s protagonist, Rowland ‘Rowly’ Sinclair. In fact, she’s his muse. During the time when this series takes place (the 1930s), it’s a bit unusual for a woman to chart her own artistic and personal course, but that’s exactly what Edna Higgins does.

Pottery really is fascinating, and so are the people who create it. They have a unique perspective on the world, and the things they make reflect that world. Little wonder we see that perspective in crime fiction.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from George and Ira Gershwin’s Love is Here to Stay.  

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Margaret Maron, Mary Kelly, Stephen E. Stanley, Sulari Gentill

Some of Us Believe in Spiritualism*

SpiritualismFor a very long time, people have been fascinated by what I’ll call spiritualism (mostly for convenience’s sake). Strictly speaking, spiritualism is usually used to refer to the belief in communicating with the dead. And that possibility has certainly intrigued humans. But it’s taken on a wider meaning, too, and now often includes interest in psychics, prescience and so on.  And it’s interesting to see how that way of thinking about spiritualism has been woven into crime fiction.

You’ll notice as I go on today that I won’t be mentioning paranormal stories or fantasy stories. Those certainly have their places for readers who enjoy them. But fascination with spiritualism is also there in other crime fiction as well.

Several of Agatha Christie’s stories include spiritualism, and it’s interesting to speculate on what she might have thought of it. An interesting conversation with Moira at the excellent Clothes in Books got me thinking about Christie’s views, so thanks for that inspiration, Moira.

In Dumb Witness, for instance, Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings visit the village of Market Basing. They’re there at the request of Miss Emily Arundell, who wrote to Poirot, asking him to advise her on a ‘delicate matter.’ By the time they get to Market Basing, though, it’s too late: Miss Arundell has died. At first, her death is put down to liver failure. But it’s proven in the end that she was poisoned. And there are several suspects, too, as she had a large fortune to leave, and several greedy/desperate relatives. One of the characters in this novel is Miss Arundell’s companion Wilhelmina ‘Minnie’ Lawson. Miss Lawson is a dedicated believer in spiritualism, and often attends séances and other such events. Her good friends, Julia and Isabel Tripp, are just as fascinated by mysticism, and often share those experiences with Miss Lawson. Miss Lawson’s interest in spiritualism is not the reason for Emily Arundell’s death. But it does add an interesting layer, both to her character and to the story. And it shows how strong a belief people can have in spiritualism. For those who do believe, it’s as real as anything else is.

Caroline Graham’s A Ghost in the Machine introduces readers to Ava Garrett. A self-styled medium, she’s developed quite a following. One of those believers is Benny Frayle, who’s recently lost her good friend, financial planner Dennis Brinkley. The official report is that his death was a tragic accident when one of the antique war machines he collects malfunctioned. But Benny’s not so sure of that. The police, in the form of DCI Tom Barnaby, believe they’ve done all they can do, and that there’s no need for further investigation. And, to be fair, the police have done a thorough job. But Benny still thinks it was murder. So she attends one of Ava Garrett’s séances. During the event, Ava describes the murder scene vividly, although she’s not seen it. And she makes it clear that Benny was right. That’s enough for Benny, but the police still don’t really look into the death…until Ava herself is poisoned. One the one hand, I can say without spoiling the story that Barnaby and his team don’t learn the truth through a medium or psychic. But there is an interesting twist in the story that adds a layer to it.

In Louise Penny’s A Fatal Grace (AKA Dead Cold), the small Québec town of Three Pines gets some new residents: CC de Poitiers and her family. CC is a popular lifestyle/self-help celebrity whose book, Be Calm, has sold very well. Not everyone in town is happy about the newcomers, though. For one thing, CC is egotistical, rude, manipulative, and malicious. She manages to alienate everyone in town, including Beatrice Mayer, known locally as Mother Bea. Mother Bea has a yoga and meditation center, also called Be Calm, and is, as she puts it,
 

‘…familiar with all spiritual paths…’
 

She sees beneath the ‘spiritual wellness’ touted in CC’s hype, and is not happy at what she finds. When CC dies of electrocution, there’s no question that it’s murder. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec investigates with his team. They find that more than one person had a strong motive for murder. Admittedly, spiritualism doesn’t solve the mystery here. And it’s not the reason for the murder. But it’s an interesting look at the way spiritualism – or what’s hyped as spiritualism – impacts people.

We see that in Tarquin Hall’s The Man Who Died Laughing, too. Dr. Suresh Jha has made a career out of unmasking spiritual charlatans. He is the founder of the Delhi Institute for Research and Education (DIRE); and, as such, does everything he can to stop those who prey on others’ fascination with spiritualism. One morning, he’s attending a meeting of the Rajpath Laughing Club when, according to witnesses, the goddess Kali appears and stabs Jha. Believers say that she is punishing him for being an infidel. But Delhi PI Vishwas ‘Vish’ Puri thinks this death has a more prosaic explanation. Jha was a onetime client, so Puri takes a special interest in this case, and decides to investigate it. One part of the trail leads to Maharaj Swami, a well-known spiritualist and advisor. He’s set up his own ashram, which has become quite popular, and seems to have quite a hold on his followers. Spiritualism doesn’t really solve this mystery. But it’s interesting to see how many people want to believe in the things Swami says and does.

There are other sorts of spiritualism in its very broadest sense in crime fiction, too. For example, both David Rosenberg’s The Junction Chronicles and Spencer Cope’s Collecting the Dead feature characters who are synthaesthetes. Their protagonists can sense things accurately that most of us can’t. Rosenberg’s Decker Roberts is able to tell whether someone is lying or not. And Cope’s Steps Craig can sense people’s essence – he calls it their ‘shine’ – on things they’ve touched. I confess I’ve not read the Cope (yet). But it’s a good example of the sort of almost paranormal ability that some characters seem to possess. Many people believe that there are real-life instances of such things, too.

Whether or not things such as psychic ability or spiritualism actually exist, people are fascinated by them. And that in itself is really interesting. Little wonder Arthur Conan Doyle was so intrigued by spiritualism.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Donovan’s Children of the World.

  

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Caroline Graham, David Rosenberg, Louise Penny, Spencer Cope, Tarquin Hall

Secret Messages*

Codes and CiphersToday would have been the 104th birthday of British mathematician and computer pioneer Alan Turing. As you’ll know, among many other accomplishments, he played a crucial role in intercepting and deciphering Nazi coded messages. It’s estimated that he and the other members of the Bletchley Park team shortened World War II by several years.

To celebrate his birthday, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at a few of the ciphers and codes we’ve seen in crime fiction. You’ll notice that I don’t make reference to the many espionage thrillers in which codes are used: too easy. But even if you take that sort of book out of the equation, there’s plenty of coding used in the genre.

For instance, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Dancing Men, Sherlock Holmes gets a visit from Hilton Cubitt. He’s concerned about his American-born wife, Elsie. They’ve been happy together as a couple, but everything changed when she received a letter containing what looked like a child’s drawing of ‘stick people.’ She won’t explain what’s upset her so much, but she does say that it has to do with her past in Chicago. Other, equally cryptic, messages arrive, including some that are chalked onto one of the windowsills at the couple’s Norfolk home. Then one tragic night, Cubitt is shot and his wife badly injured. Holmes slowly decrypts the coded messages, and uses the code as a ‘bait’ to catch the killer.

In Dorothy Sayers’ The Nine Tailors, Lord Peter Wimsey and his valet/assistant Mervyn Bunter are stranded by a car accident in the small East Anglia village of Fenchurch St. Paul. While they wait for their car to be repaired, they stay with the local vicar, Theodore Venables. Their visit occurs during New Year’s Eve, the night of the traditional change-ringing at Venables’ church. One of the ringers has been taken ill, so Wimsey takes his place. The next day, word comes that Lady Thorpe, wife of the local squire, has died. Wimsey and Bunter stay on for her funeral, then go on their way when their car is fixed. A few months later, Wimsey gets a letter from Venables. It seems that Sir Henry has died, and there’s a mystery surrounding his death. When the gravediggers prepared the place next to that of Lady Thorpe, they found another corpse already there. Venables wants Wimsey to return to Fenchurch St. Paul to find out the truth about that ‘extra’ body. Wimsey agrees, and he and Bunter make the trip. He finds that the extra corpse is related to a robbery, some stolen jewels, and a mysterious cipher that’s found in the church’s bell tower.

Agatha Christie made use of ciphers and codes in more than one of her stories. In The Clocks, for example, British operative Colin Lamb is in the village of Crowdean, following up on a lead. A fellow operative named Hanbury has been killed, and Lamb wants to find out why and by whom. He knew that Hanbury was investigating an espionage ring, and he has only one clue to that ring: a cipher written on a piece of paper found in Hanbury’s pocket. Lamb happens to be on a street called Wilbraham Crescent when he gets drawn into a case of murder. A young woman named Sheila Webb has discovered the body of an unknown man in the sitting room of a house she was visiting. She gives the alarm and Lamb tries to help. The case is, on its surface, strange, so Lamb takes it to his father’s old friend Hercule Poirot. In the end, Poirot connects the dead man’s murder to two other deaths; in an odd way, it also connects with the case Lamb is working.

Horace Croyden, whom we meet in Talmage Powell’s short story To Avoid a Scandal, is an avid amateur cryptographer. His hobby of choice is working ciphers and he’s proud of his skill. As the story begins, Croyden’s life is going exactly the way he wants. He has a safe, very respectable job at a bank, and a well-ordered, quiet home life. Everything changes when he meets his boss’ cousin Althea. They begin to date and eventually marry, and that’s when the trouble begins. Althea turns out to be much more vivacious than her husband had thought (or hoped). What’s more, she begins to remodel their home with bright shades and modern furniture and décor – all of which Horace dislikes intensely. Then comes the proverbial straw: Althea discovers her husband’s beloved ciphers and burns them. She says she thought they were just useless scraps of paper. But to Horace, they were much more. It’s past the point of tolerance for him, and he takes drastic action because of it…

Of course, not all codes and ciphers have to be written on paper, or even electronic. In Martin EdwardsThe Cipher Garden, for instance, Oxford historian Daniel Kind discovers an unusual sort of cipher. He’s taken a cottage in the Lake District, and is setting it up the way he wants. He notices that the cottage’s garden is an unusual shape and, gradually, comes to see that it’s actually a cipher. As he’s slowly working out what it means, DCI Hannah Scarlett of the Cumbria Constabulary has a strange case of her own. Ten years earlier, landscaper Warren Howe was found murdered by his own scythe. At the time, his widow, Tina, was suspected of the crime. But the police couldn’t find enough evidence to pursue the case. Now, anonymous tips suggest that she really was guilty. So Scarlett and her Cold Case Review Team look into the matter again. As it turns out, that case is connected to Kind’s own mystery, and not just by the fact that Warren Howe worked for the company that created that garden.

Ciphers and codes have been embedded in crime fiction (and espionage fiction) for a very long time. And as Alan Turing’s work shows, they’ve been critical to real-life history, too. Which ‘coded’ stories have you enjoyed?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of song by the Electric Light Orchestra (ELO).

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Dorothy Sayers, Martin Edwards, Talmage Powell