Category Archives: Arthur Upfield

Let’s Go Down to the Big Ranch*

RanchesIf you live in suburbia or in a city, you might not think a lot about what it takes to get your milk, cheese, and meat (for those who eat meat) to market. It’s not an easy process. Cattle and sheep ranching are expensive undertakings that require a lot of land, luck with the weather, and hard work. Even with today’s technology, ranching still means long days, especially when calves and lambs are born. It’s not a life for everyone, but it keeps the rancher close to the land.

Ranching is a central part of the economy for many cultures, and it’s certainly found its way into crime fiction. That makes sense, too. As we’ll see, there are lots of places to hide a body on a ranch, and anything can happen there.

In Ngaio Marsh’s Died in the Wool, for instance, New Zealand MP Flossie Rubrick is preparing an important speech that she’s scheduled to deliver. So she goes to an isolated sheep pen on her husband’s ranch to prepare. She doesn’t return, though, until three weeks later, when her body is found inside a bale of wool. The victim’s nephew writes to Scotland Yard’s Inspector Roderick Alleyn about the death; and, since this might be a matter of national security, Alleyn travels to New Zealand to investigate. In the end, the murder turns out to be related to an important secret that Flossie Rubrick had found out about one of her family members.

More than one of Arthur Upfield’s Napoleon ‘Boney’ Bonaparte novels are set on ranches. In The Bushman Who Came Back, for instance, Bony is sent to Mt. Eden, a ranch belonging to Mr. Wooten. Wooten’s widowed housekeeper, Mrs. Bell, is shot one morning, and her seven-year-old daughter Linda disappears. Fearing the worst about Linda, the ranch hands go on a search, and Bony starts to sift through the evidence. On the surface, it looks as though a bushman named Ol’ Fren Yorky was responsible both for the murder and for abducting Linda. No-one wants to believe this of him, since he’s well liked. But the evidence is what it is. Still, the more that Bony learns about the case, the more he comes to believe in Yorky’s innocence. But if he is innocent, then where is Linda? Now, Bony has to go in search of both Yorky and Linda to find out the truth. You’re absolutely right, fans of The Bone is Pointed.

Even Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe, who normally wouldn’t dream of leaving his brownstone home, let alone New York City, visits a ranch in Death of a Dude. Wolfe’s partner Archie Goodwin has accepted an invitation from Lily Rowan to be part of a house party at her ranch in rural Montana. Goodwin’s plan is to have a short visit with Lily and then return to New York. Everything changes, though, when Philip Brodell is shot, and Lily’s ranch manager, Roger Dunning, is accused of the crime. Lily is sure he is innocent, and wants Goodwin (and, by extension, Wolfe) to solve the murder. When Goodwin writes to Wolfe to explain why he’s changed his travel plans, Wolfe takes an interest in the case and makes the unusual decision to travel to Montana.

Steve Hockensmith has created an interesting historical (early 1890s) series whose protagonists are Gustav ‘Old Red’ Amlingmeyer and his brother Otto ‘Big Red.’ At the beginning of the series (Holmes on the Range) they are cowpokes who sign on to work at the Bar VR Ranch in Montana. They know that life as ranch hands isn’t going to be luxurious, but they’ll be able to indulge their pastime of reading Sherlock Holmes stories. Then, a ranch hand dies of a gunshot wound. Another dies after being trampled (but there was no cattle stampede that anyone can remember). Now, Old Red decides to use his ‘deducifyin’’ skills to find out the truth – just like Sherlock Holmes.

The Lone Elk Ranch is the scene for much of the action in Craig Johnson’s Dry Bones. It all starts when a large Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton nicknamed ‘Jen’ is discovered on the ranch. This is a very valuable find, both for the local museum and for science, and there are lots of people who want their hands on it. With stakes in the millions, there are plenty of suspects when the ranch’s owner, a member of the Cheyenne Nation named Danny Lone Elk, is found dead. Sheriff Walt Longmire (now Acting Deputy Attorney for Wyoming) looks into the matter to find out how and why Danny was killed.

And I couldn’t really do a post on cattle and ranching without mentioning Alexander McCall Smith’s Mma Precious Ramotswe. Fans will tell you that she got her start as Botswana’s first lady detective because her father, Obed, had a keen eye for cattle and owned a fine herd. When he passed away, the cattle went to his daughter, and it’s meant a great deal to her to have that security.

There are a lot of other novels that take place on cattle and sheep ranches. They really are effective contexts for a crime story if you think about it. Which ones have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Los Lobos’ The Big Ranch. 

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Filed under Alexander McCall Smith, Arthur Upfield, Craig Johnson, Ngaio Marsh, Rex Stout, Steve Hockensmith

In the End, Only Kindness Matters*

OnlyKindnessMattersThere’s been a lot of bad news from all over the world lately. At times like this, I think it’s helpful to remember that people are also capable of great kindness (and OK, the cute ‘roo in the ‘photo is an extra bonus😉 ). I’d bet you’ve experienced kindness in your own life, and shared it with others. It’s all over crime fiction, too.

It’s not easy to write a ‘kind’ scene in a crime novel. After all, those stories are about things that people do to one another, and crime fiction fans don’t want their books too ‘sugary.’ But there are ways to weave such scenes into a crime novel. And, when done well, they can add a welcome bit of light into an otherwise sad novel. For the writer, they can move the plot along, too, and add character development.

In Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side (AKA The Mirror Crack’d), we are introduced to Heather Badcock. She lives with her husband, Arthur, in a brand-new council housing development in St. Mary Mead. Heather’s far from perfect, but she has what’s sometimes called a big heart. So one day, when she sees an elderly lady stumble and twist her ankle, she’s only too happy to help. That lady turns out to be Miss Marple, who is quite grateful for the kindness of a stranger. That’s partly why she gets involved in the case when Heather later dies of what turns out to be poison. Miss Marple is not at all blind to Heather’s faults and weaknesses, but she also sees her good qualities. It’s an interesting case of a character whose positive qualities turn out to have a negative side, if I can put it that way.

In Arthur Upfield’s Death of a Swagman, Queensland Police Inspector Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte travels to the small town of Merino to investigate the death of itinerant stockman George Kendall. In order to get as much information as possible, he goes undercover as ‘just another swagman.’ With the help of Sergeant Marshall of the local police, he arranges to be jailed for ten days for vagrancy, loitering, lying to the police, and interfering with the police. He’s in his jail cell when he meets eight-year-old Florence Marshall (who usually goes by Rose Marie), the sergeant’s daughter.  Florence brings the ‘prisoner’ tea, and strikes up a friendship with him, and Bony is grateful for her kindness. Interestingly enough, he doesn’t condescend to her, which endears him to her. Later in the novel, Bony’s able to repay her kindness.

Ernesto Mallo’s Needle in Haystack begins as Buenos Aires police officer Venancio ‘Perro’ Lascano and his team raid a brothel. They have to be careful about, too. On the one hand, the ruling far-right junta (the novel takes place in the late 1970s) wants to put on a show of being tough on such crimes. And it’s as much as a death sentence to go against them. On the other, several important community leaders are patrons of the brothel. Still, the police carry out their duty. As Lascano is making one last pass through the establishment, he discovers a young woman hiding there. She’s not one of the brothel workers; rather, she’s using the place as a refuge. Lascano escorts her to safety, where he finds out that her name is Eva. He gives Eva temporary shelter in his home; and at first, she assumes he’s going to want something in return. But he asks neither for information nor sexual attention. In fact, as the novel goes on, he continues to treat her with kindness with no apparent ulterior motive. In the end, that kindness saves her life. This isn’t the main plot of the novel, really. But it does show how a kind gesture can add a ‘lift’ even to a noir story such as this one, where people generally can’t trust one another.

Andrea Camilleri’s The Snack Thief includes a sub-plot regarding a young boy named François. When his mother, Karima, disappears (her reasons are a part of the main plot), he’s left more or less alone in the world. Vigàta Inspector Salvo Montalbano has compassion for the boy and takes him in temporarily. That’s mostly at the behest of Montalbano’s longtime lover, Livia, who’s visiting at the time. Livia and François, especially, form a bond that benefits both of them. In the end, that kindness allows François to build a new life.

Paddy Richardson’s Hunting Blind is the story of Stephanie Anderson. When she’s fourteen, her younger sister Gemma goes missing during a school picnic/barbecue. Despite a massive search, no trace of Gemma is ever found. Seventeen years later, Stephanie is just finishing her training in psychiatry in Dunedin. She gets a new patient, Elisabeth Clark, who tells her a story that’s eerily similar to Stephanie’s own. Elisabeth’s sister Gracie also disappeared, also with no trace. Against her better judgement, Stephanie decides to lay her own ghosts to rest, and goes in search of the person who caused so much hurt to both her family and the Clarks. So she travels back to her home town of Wanaka. Along the way, she stays for a short time with Elisabeth’s father, Andy. Although she’s a stranger to Andy, really, he makes her welcome at the Guest House he owns, and treats her with kindness. So do other people she meets along the way. That kindness doesn’t catch the person responsible for the disappearances, but it shores Stephanie up during her journey. And it helps her do some healing.

And then there’s Ilsa Evans’ Nefarious Doings, which introduces Victoria newspaper columnist Nell Forrest. One night, Nell gets a visit from the police, who tell her that there’s been a fire at the home of her mother, Lillian ‘Yen.’ What’s more, a man’s body was found in the ruins of the garage, where the fire started. He is Dustin Craig, who lived next door. At first, the police think that he died in a terrible accident (although there is some question about what he was doing at the next-door house late at night). But soon, it’s proven that he was murdered. Now, Yen herself comes under suspicion, and there’s good reason for that. Nell starts to ask some questions, and discovers that several other people have strong motives for murder. In the course of her search for the truth, Nell herself gets into grave danger. Despite that, though, she finds a way to be kind to another character who’s also in danger. That kindness doesn’t exactly cement a friendship. But it does show that even when things look terrible, people can be kind.

And that’s the thing about kindness. It doesn’t have to be ‘sugary sweet’ (Nell’s isn’t, for instance). And in a crime novel, most readers wouldn’t want such saccharine anyway. But kindness can add a touch of relief to a novel. And in real life, those little kindnesses can make a difference. It doesn’t take much to reach out. And it can be an antidote to everything going on in the world…
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jewel Kilcher’s Hands.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Arthur Upfield, Ernesto Mallo, Ilsa Evans, Paddy Richardson

But Nothing on Earth Could Ever Divide Us*

Children's Friendships with AdultsThere’s an old saying that ‘it takes a village to raise a child.’ Certainly children are influenced not just by their parents and siblings, but also by a lot of other people, too. And sometimes they form friendships with people you wouldn’t expect. There’s even a certain bond that develops sometimes between children and older people.

That may be because older people have the time and patience to hear what children have to say. And for their part, children often have a different perspective on what their grandparents and other older people have to say.  Those friendships are woven into crime fiction, and they can add interesting layers of plot and character development to a story.

Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun introduces readers to sixteen-year-old Linda Marshall. She and her father, Captain Kenneth Marshall, take a holiday at the Jolly Roger Hotel, on Leathercombe Bay. With them is Marshall’s second wife, famous actress Arlena Stuart Marshall. Linda’s going through all of the awkwardness that comes with being a teenager. And things are not made any easier by the fact that her stepmother is beautiful and graceful. Linda’s very unhappy, but doesn’t really have anyone to talk to about what’s on her mind. One day, Arlena is found strangled not far from the hotel. Hercule Poirot, who’s taking a holiday at the same place, works with the police to catch the killer. As a part of the investigation, he has to find out what Linda knows and whether she might have been involved in some way. And it’s interesting to see how he reaches out to her. In her own awkward way, Linda reaches out, too, and that adds to this story. I agree with you, fans of Dead Man’s Folly.

In Arthur Upfield’s The Bushman Who Came Back, Queensland Police Inspector Napoleon ‘Boney’ Bonaparte investigates a murder that takes place at Mount Eden, a homestead belonging to Mr. Wooten. One day, Wooten’s housekeeper, Mrs. Bell, is found shot in the kitchen. What’s worse, her seven-year-old daughter Linda has gone missing. There’s evidence that a local bushman nicknamed Ol Fren Yorky was at the scene of the crime. He knew the people living at the ranch, too, and is thoroughly familiar with the area.  So it wouldn’t have been hard for him to take the child and disappear. No-one wants to believe that Yorky would have committed this crime or hurt Linda, since he’s well-liked. But it is a possibility, so he has to be found. Boney works with the local police to find out the truth behind this case; and, as he does, we learn that Linda and Yorky are friends in that way that children make friends with older people. It adds both a plot point and a layer of interest to the novel. You’re absolutely right, fans of Death of a Swagman.

Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Salvo Montalbano and his longtime lover, Livia Burlando, make friends with a young boy named François in The Snack Thief. In one plot thread of that novel, Montalbano investigates the murder of a retired business executive who was killed in the elevator of his apartment building. The key to this mystery, and to another murder that Montalbano and his team are investigating, may be Karima, a housekeeper and sometimes-prostitute who could be a connection between the two cases. By the time Montalbano discovers this link, though, Karima has disappeared, leaving behind her son François. While the police team is looking for the boy’s mother, he has to stay somewhere safe, so Montalbano and Livia (who happens to be visiting) take him in. In the process, they strike up a friendship with him, and Livia in particular begins to bond with him. François isn’t the reason for the murders, but that friendship adds character depth to Montalbano and to Livia, and an interesting plot thread.

Virginia Duigan’s The Precipice features former school principal Thea Farmer. She bought a piece of land in New South Wales’ Blue Mountains, and had a dream home built, with the idea of living out her retirement there. But bad luck and poor financial decisions have changed her plans. Now, she lives in the much smaller house next door to the home she used to own. What’s worse, the home she still considers hers has been purchased by Frank Campbell and Ellice Carrington, people she refers to as ‘invaders’ and ‘aliens.’ Thea’s just getting used to that when Frank’s twelve-year-old niece, Kim, moves in with him and Ellice. Oddly enough, considering that Thea tends to be a misanthrope, she and Kim form an odd sort of friendship. They begin to spend time together, and Kim even attends a writing class that Thea’s taking. In fact, Thea sees real promise in the girl. So when she suspects that Frank and Ellice may not be providing an appropriate home for Kim, Thea gets concerned. She has no real evidence, though, so the police aren’t likely to do anything about it. So, Thea decides to make her own plans. The relationship between Thea and Kim is a really engaging (and important) plot thread in this novel.

And then there’s Derek B. Miller’s Norwegian by Night. Sheldon Horowitz has moved from his native New York City to Norway, to be closer to his granddaughter Rhea and her Norwegian husband Lars. One day, he inadvertently witnesses the murder of a young woman who lives upstairs from Rhea and Lars. He rescues her young son, and he and the boy go on the lam. Horowitz knows that the killers could be after the boy, and wants to keep him safe. Neither speaks the other’s language, but the two form a sort of friendship as they try to elude the murderers. For the boy, Horowitz represents a kind of safety. For Horowitz, the boy adds a purpose to his life.

And that’s the thing about the friendships that can develop between children and older people. Each fulfills a need that the other has, and that bond can do much for both. And in novels, such friendships can add character development and interest.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Charles Strouse and Martin Charmin’s I Don’t Need Anything But You.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Arthur Upfield, Derek B. Miller, Virginia Duigan

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

Pile More Wood Upon the Fire*

FireplacesBeing able to make and control a fire has been an essential part of human survival. Fires have protected people from predators, cooked their food, and kept them warm for practically as long as there’ve been humans. So it makes sense that people are drawn to fireplaces and, in the outdoors, to campfires. When it’s cold outside, there’s nothing like a comfortable chair near the fireplace, with the fire lit, your beverage of choice poured, and a novel in your hand. Or a group of friends sitting near the fireplace, laughing and telling stories. Out in the open, a campfire means fresh-roasted food and coffee, warmth, and the kind of psychological intimacy that sharing that warmth brings.

It’s such an important part of life for so many people that it’s not surprising we see fireplaces and campfires so often in crime fiction. All sorts of conversations happen there, and sometimes, fireplaces provide clues, too.

Agatha Christie used fireplaces in several of her mysteries. I won’t mention particular titles or circumstances, as that would be giving away spoilers. But there are several Christie stories in which important information and clues are hidden on mantelpieces, squirreled away in and near hearths, and so on. There are a few, too (Taken at the Flood and Ordeal by Innocence come to my mind), where pokers, edges of hearths and the like turn out to be deadly.

In Håkan Nesser’s Mind’s Eye, Inspector Van Veeteren and his team investigate the murder of Eva Ringmar, who is found dead in her bathtub. Her husband, Janek Mitter, is the most likely suspect. He was on the scene at the time of the killing, but was so drunk that he remembers little about that night. He claims that he loved his wife and did not kill her; but there is circumstantial evidence against him. So he is duly arrested, tried and convicted. Since he remembers so little about the night of the murder, he’s remanded to a mental hospital instead of a regular jail, with the hope being he’ll start to recover his memory. Van Veeteren isn’t convinced that Mitter is guilty. And when Mitter himself is brutally murdered, it seems clear that he was innocent. So Van Veeteren and his team look into the matter more deeply. One ‘person of interest’ is Andreas Berger, Eva Ringmar’s first husband. Berger has since married again and has a family, and he invites Van Veeteren to dinner at his home. Afterwards, they have a drink in front of a warm, inviting fire. Against this backdrop, Van Veeteren feels guilty about asking the difficult questions he has to ask (Berger is, after all, a suspect). The contrast between the friendly, homey scene and the ugly reality of interrogation make the process difficult for him. But he asks his questions, and Berger gives him some interesting background information.

In Vicki Delany’s Winter of Secrets, Trafalgar, British Columbia Constable Moonlight ‘Molly’ Smith investigates the deaths of Jason Wyatt-Yarmouth and Ewan Williams. These two young men were part of a group of six young people who were taking a skiing holiday in Trafalgar. One snowy night, the group’s rental SUV skids on an icy patch of road and goes into the Upper Kootenay River. Forensics tests show that Jason, who was driving, died as a result of the accident and exposure in the river. But Ewan had already been dead for several hours before the accident. So Smith and her boss, Sergeant John Winters, trace his last days and hours to find out what happened to him. One possibility – and the evidence suggests this might be the case – is that Ewan was killed at the B&B where the group was staying. There’s a chance he was hit with a fireplace poker, and the evidence includes traces of what could be fireplace ash. And, since Smith has been to the B&B, she knows it has a fireplace. Armed with this knowledge, Smith urges her boss to go to the B&B with a search team. Winters agrees, based on what Smith has told him. The only problem is, the fireplace at the B&B is gas-powered. Needless to say, the team leave with proverbial egg on their faces, and Smith has a lot of explaining to do.

There’s a very tense scene in front of a fireplace in Peter May’s The Blackhouse. Edinburgh police detective Fionnlagh ‘Fin’ Macleod is seconded to the Isle of Lewis. One of the island’s residents, Angel Macritchie, has been murdered in a way that’s very similar to a murder that MacLeod is already investigating. It’s hoped that his working with the Lewis police will help to solve both cases. MacLeod grew up on Lewis, so he knows most of the people who live there, including a former friend Artair Macinnes. One night, he has dinner with Artair and his wife Marsaili. The situation is awkward, since Marsaili is MacLeod’s old love. Nonetheless, everyone behaves more or less politely. Then, Marsaili leaves to make up the spare room so that MacLeod can spend the night. The two men sit by the fire with a drink. At first it’s peaceful enough. But then, Artair, who’s had more than his share, stuns MacLeod with an attack of vitriol. At the end, he says something that shocks his guest and changes everything. The conversation is a real contrast to what’s supposed to be a friendly, warm setting.

Of course, not all ‘hearth’ scenes have to be indoors. In Adrian Hyland’s Gunshot Road, for instance, Aboriginal Community Police Officer (ACPO) Emily Tempest investigates the murder of geologist and former prospector Albert ‘Doc’ Ozolins. The official police theory is that he was murdered as the result of a drunken quarrel. But Tempest isn’t sure that’s what really happened. Her questions and insistence on investigating get her into serious trouble with her boss, Bruce Cockburn. More than that, they put her in serious danger. In fact, she is brutally attacked. Not very long afterwards, she travels with her lover, JoJo Kelly, to his bush shack. She’s still suffering from what happened to her, but feels much better when she and JoJo arrive at the shack. There, she sees that her best friend, Hazel Flinders, has come to visit and lit a bluebush campfire. The company of people close to her and the warmth of the fire do much to help Emily start the healing process. It’s a very human, intimate scene that shows, among other things, the way a fire can draw people close.

There are a lot of other ‘hearth’ scenes in mysteries (I’m thinking, for instance, of Arthur Conant Doyle’s novels, Arthur Upfield’s novels, and Louise Penny’s novels). That context can provide a very effective background for the exchange of confidences, contrast with tension, and clues, too. Which have stayed with you?

 
 
 

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

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Filed under Adrian Hyland, Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Arthur Upfield, Håkan Nesser, Louise Penny, Peter May, Vicki Delany