Category Archives: Åsa Larsson

Be One of Us*

cultsAs this is posted, it’s 38 years since the tragic deaths of over 900 members of Jim Jones’ People’s Temple group. Most people agree that that was a dangerous cult, but the line between spiritual group and cult is sometimes quite blurred. Whatever you call those non-conformist spiritual groups, they do attract plenty of people. And there are reasons for that. Some people are searching for a place to be accepted and to belong. Others want to make sense out of life, when it doesn’t always make sense at all. Others have other reasons for joining such a group.

And there’s no shortage of such groups in crime fiction. They can add a real layer of atmosphere, suspense and interest, too. There’s often a charismatic leader, a group of disparate people, plenty of secretiveness, and so on. All of those can combine to make for an effective context for a crime story.

For example, in G.K. Chesterton’s The Eye of Apollo, private investigator Hercule Flambeau gets a new resident in his building. The man calls himself Kalon, and claims he is the new Priest of Apollo. He’s quite charismatic in his way, and gets a following. One tragic day, Pauline Stacey, an heiress who lives two floors down from Kalon, dies from a tragic fall down an elevator shaft. Father Brown happens to be visiting Flambeau at the time, so he gets involved in investigating the death. And it turns out that this death was no accident, but a carefully planned murder.

Agatha Christie’s short story The Flock of Geryon also takes up the topic of cults and cult leaders. In that story, an acquaintance of Hercule Poirot’s, Miss Carnaby, is concerned about a friend of hers, Emmeline Clegg. It seems that Emmeline has gotten involved in new religious group, The Flock of the Shepherd, led by the charismatic and shadowy Dr. Anderson. Miss Carnaby is worried that her friend might be at risk, and Poirot agrees to help her look into the matter. He, Miss Carnaby, and Chief Inspector Japp and his team make a plan for investigating the group. They find that there’s much more at stake than spiritual well-being.

The focus of Ngaio Marsh’s Death in Ecstasy is a religious group called the House of the Sacred Flame. One night, Nigel Bathgate visits the group’s worship place on impulse, and witnesses one of their ceremonies. During the ritual, one of the group members, Cara Quayne, suddenly dies of what turns out to be poison. Bathgate calls in his friend, Chief Detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn, and the official investigation begins. In finding out who killed the victim and why, Alleyn and Bathgate look into the inner workings of the group, its leadership, and the interactions of its members. I agree, fans of Spinsters in Jeopardy.

John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee goes undercover in a cult group in The Green Ripper. In that novel, McGee’s girlfriend, Gretel Howard, dies of what looks like a fatal illness. But it turns out that she was murdered, and her death carefully planned. As he searches for answers, McGee finds a connection to a Northern California cult called the Church of the Apocrypha. Under the leadership of the charismatic Brother Persivel, the group is committed to the destruction of everything in society, so that everything can then be re-built. McGee joins the group to find out more information, and he discovers what the group’s plans are, and how they are linked to Gretel’s death.

Betty Webb’s Desert Wives takes readers into a sect/cult called Purity, which has a compound straddling the Arizona/Utah border. PI Lena Jones has been hired to help rescue thirteen-year-old Rebecca Corbett from the cult, and that particular goal is accomplished. But then, she discovers that on the same night, the cult’s leader, Solomon Royal, was shot. And there’s evidence against Rebecca’s mother, Esther (who, incidentally, hired Jones in the first place). If she’s going to clear her client’s name, Jones will have to find out who killed the victim. For that, she goes undercover in the group, and finds that there is much more going on than just attention to the spiritual. Some of the things she discovers are frightening and very dangerous.

And then there’s Åsa Larson’s The Savage Altar (AKA Sun Storm). The novel begins with the murder of Viktor Stråndgard, whose body is found in a Kiruna church called The Church of the Source of All Our Strength. He was one of the leaders of the church, and had developed quite a cult-like following. The police, in the form of Anna-Maria Mella and Sven-Eric Stålnacke, investigate the killing. It’s not long before they learn that the victim’s sister, Sanna, is a very likely suspect. She found the body (which could very easily be because she’s the reason it’s there). And there are any number of possible motives. Sanna claims she is innocent, and asks for help from her former friend, Rebecka Martinsson. Rebecka’s reluctant, as she had her own reasons for moving from Kiruna to Stockholm. But she agrees, mostly for the sake of Sanna’s two children. She finds that the solution to this mystery is connected with her own past.

There are plenty of other crime novels that explore life in groups that we might call cults (right, fans of Emma Cline’s The Girls?). They are fascinating, if frightening, and they can form interesting contexts for murder mysteries. Which ones have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Who’s Welcome.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Åsa Larsson, Betty Webb, Emma Cline, G.K. Chesterton, John D. MacDonald, Ngaio Marsh

The Man Said, Why Do You Think You’re Here?*

counselingPolice work and other criminal investigation can take a real toll on a person. After all, these people see the worst that humans can do to each other, and that can leave scars. Even the most sane, balanced person can get pushed to the breaking point under those circumstances.

That’s why many police departments have psychologists, either on their staff or as professional associates. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the detectives will actually use those services unless required. There’s still, to some extent, a stigma attached to getting mental health care. But more and more, people are seeing the wisdom of getting such support when it’s necessary. And that aspect of police work – the aftermath of a case – can make a fictional character more human and believable.

For example, in Michael Connelly’s The Last Coyote, LAPD detective Harry Bosch is at the end of his proverbial rope. After an incident in which he attacks a superior officer, he’s sent for mandatory psychological counseling, and relieved of his duties until he completes it. Bosch begins his sessions with Dr. Carmen Hinojos, who tries to help him face some of his personal issues. One of them is the fact that his mother was murdered when he was eleven. She was a prostitute, and not a ‘high profile’ one, either. So not much was done to investigate. Feeling at loose ends because of his enforced break from work, Bosch begins to look into his mother’s death again. That case, plus his work with Hinojos, helps Bosch do some of the work he needs to do to start functioning again.

In Ian Rankin’s Resurrection Men, we meet career analyst Andrea Thomson. On the one hand, she’s not a doctor, a psychiatrist, or a psychological therapist. She’s hired by the police (as a freelancer) to work with the detectives on job-related issues. On the other hand, job counseling and mental health counseling aren’t that far apart, so some of the same issues come up. That’s how she meets Inspector John Rebus, who’s just gotten into deep trouble for throwing a mug of cold tea at a supervisor during a meeting. In Rebus’ case, he’s been sent back to Tulliallan Police College for career counseling and a refresher course on working with others. Needless to say, Rebus isn’t happy being pulled from his regular work. Nor is he deeply interested in reflecting on his career. He’s happiest out on the streets, dong his job. He and a group of other detectives who’ve been sent for the same refresher course are given a ‘cold case’ to work, as a way of building their teamwork skills. But that doesn’t stop him working with Sergeant Siobhan Clarke on a case they were already investigating. Throughout the novel, it’s interesting to see how the police view counseling, Thomson, and the process of reflecting on their work.

Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy (AKA The Keeper of Lost Causes) introduces readers to Copenhagen detective Carl Mørck. As the novel opens, he’s just returned to active duty after a line-of-fire incident in which one of his colleagues was killed, and another left with permanent paralysis. Mørck was badly injured, too, and not just physically. He’s never been overly friendly or extroverted, but since his return, he’s been even worse. In fact, no-one wants to work with him. So he’s ‘promoted’ to head a new department called ‘Department Q,’ which will have responsibility for cases of special interest – cold cases. In this way, the Copenhagen police can respond to media and public criticism over unsolved cases, and at the same time get Mørck out of the way. The first case that Mørck and his assistant, Hafez al-Assad re-open is the five-year-old disappearance of promising politician Merete Lynggaard. At the time she went missing, everyone thought she’d had a tragic fall from a ferry. But Mørck and Assad begin to suspect she may still be alive; if so, she may be in grave danger. In the meantime, Mørck’s boss wants him to get some psychological help. The department has recently hired a crisis counselor, Mona Ibsen, and Mørck is strongly encouraged to work with her. He has no desire to face any personal issues, but he is smitten by the new counselor. And it’s both funny and awkward to see how he starts to do the work he needs to do, even if it is for very much the wrong reasons. Fans of this series will know how both his mental health work and his interactions with Mona Ibsen evolve as the series does.

In David Mark’s Sorrow Bound, Hull D.S. Aector McAvoy and his team are up against a dangerous new crime boss. At the same time, they’re dealing with what looks like a series of revenge killings that are related to past police investigations. And all of this takes place during a heat wave that makes everyone miserable. Things aren’t made easier for McAvoy by the fact that he’s been required to attend six sessions of counseling to help him deal with some of the trauma he’s been through recently. Here’s what he says to Sabine Kean, his counselor:
 

‘‘Look, the people at occupational health have insisted I come for six sessions with a police-approved counselor. I’m doing that. I’m here. I’ll answer your questions, and I’m at great pains not to be rude to you, but it’s hot and I’m tired and I have work to do, and yes, there are lots of places I would rather be. I’m sure you would, too.’’
 

As the novel goes on, we see how McAvoy’s sessions progress and where they lead him, mentally speaking.

Of course, it’s not only the police who occasionally need mental health support, whether they admit it, or want it, or not. Fans of Åsa Larsson’s Rebecka Martinsson series will know that Martinsson, who is a lawyer, needs and gets quite a lot of psychological counseling after experiencing severe trauma in The Savage Altar (AKA Sun Storm) and The Blood Spilt.

It makes sense to weave this element in to crime novels, since crime is traumatic. So long as it’s not melodramatic, that sort of plot thread can help make characters seem more believable.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Amy Winehouse’s Rehab. 

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Filed under Åsa Larsson, David Mark, Ian Rankin, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Michael Connelly

We Come From the Land of the Ice and Snow*

Arctic ClimatesOne of the things about living in an extreme climate is that priorities can be quite different to what they are where it’s more temperate. The people who live in such climates have adapted to them, because they know that nature can be very unforgiving.

Some of the harshest living conditions in the world can be found in and near the Arctic Circle. For one thing, it’s dark or twilight-ish for half the year, and there’s no real sundown for the other half. For another, there are the temperatures and weather conditions. And yet, people live there and have created societies there. And there’s crime there, too – at least fictional crime.

Arctic-Circle crime fiction arguably has an added layer of suspense because of the element of the climate. And that can create tension and even conflict in a plot. Space doesn’t permit me to mention all of the great crime fiction that features that part of the world, but here are a few examples to encourage you to reach for that parka and light the fire.

We get a look at life on Ellesmere Island and the vicinity in M.J. McGrath’s Edie Kiglatuk novels. Kiglatuk is a half-Inuit hunting guide – one of the best there is. She’s learned how to survive under all sorts of conditions, and she knows how to make the most of whatever’s available. In these novels, we learn not just what it’s like to be a hunting guide, but also what life is like in the communities of Ellesmere Island. The diet of the people who live there is quite different to what it is in more temperate places, and people rely on small planes and radio to get supplies and information in and out of the area. There’s a distinct culture there, and a real difference between the people who live in that area, and those who come from more southern parts of Canada.

Scott Young wrote two mysteries, Murder in a Cold Climate and The Shaman’s Knife, featuring Inspector Matthew ‘Matteesie’ Kitologitak of the RCMP. In Murder in a Cold Climate, he investigates the shooting death of Native activist Morton Cavendish at the tiny airport in Inuvik. In The Shaman’s Knife, he investigates two murders that occur in Sanirarsipaaq, a tiny Inupiaq settlement on Victoria Island. In both novels, we see how the climate impacts people’s lives. For one thing, there’s a lot of use of small planes, sleds and snowmobiles, since the roads aren’t reliable. For another, there’s a certain sort of hospitality that’s extended. People don’t have much of a chance at survival if they’re outdoors for too long, so it’s the custom to look out for others, if I can put it that way. There are other subtle and not-so-subtle ways, too, in which Young conveys the realities of life in Canada’s Northwest Territories.

Life’s just as tough across the border in Alaska, and Stan Jones’ Nathan Active series makes shows readers what it’s like there. Active is an Inuit who was raised by adoptive parents in Anchorage. Now an Alaska State Trooper, he’s been reassigned to Chukchi, where his birth mother happens to live. So, beginning with White Sky, Black Ice, Active learns more about his own people, and his identity as an Inuit. The people of Chukchi are faced with the same harsh climate as are the people of the Northwest Territories. So in these novels, too, we see plenty of use of small planes and snowmobiles instead of cars. Just as interesting, people rely on radio to get messages to one another. Even personal messages are sent via Chukchi’s public radio station, nicknamed Kay-Chuck. And that makes sense, in a place where telephone signals aren’t reliable, if they’re even available. Jones also depicts some of the non-climate challenges that the people of Chukchi face. (Un)employment, alcohol and drug abuse, and culture loss are some of the issues that are addressed in these novels. Despite them, though, we see how well-adapted the Inupiaq are to their environment. For another look at life in Alaska, there’s also the work of Dana Stabenow. She’s written two series about that part of the world One features PI Kate Shugak; the other features Alaska State Trooper Liam Campbell.

In Åsa Larsson’s The Savage Altar (AKA Sun Storm), we are introduced to Stockholm attorney Rebecka Martinsson. In the course of events in this novel, she returns to her hometown of Kiruna to help an old friend, and ends up getting involved in a dangerous murder investigation. This series follows Martinsson, as well as police inspectors Anna-Maria Mella and Sven-Erik Stålnacke. Kiruna is a small place with its own distinct culture. The people who live there have adapted themselves to the harsh climate, and adjusted to life in a place where it’s dark or twilight for half the year.

One of the more interesting looks at that harsh, Arctic climate comes from Antti Tuomainen’s The Healer. This story takes place mostly in a dystopian-future Helsinki. Climate change has wreaked havoc on the planet, and left millions of people homeless refugees. So the city has become overcrowded and the police are badly understaffed. As a result, Helsinki is descending into anarchy. Those who can do so are leaving for the north of Finland, where a decent life is still thought possible. In that situation, people aren’t really as concerned about the harsh climate, because of the way the planet has changed, and because it’s at least better than the city. Against this backdrop moves Tapani Lehtinen, a writer whose journalist wife Johanna has gone missing. She was working on a major story about a man who calls himself The Healer. He’s taken responsibility for several murders of CEOs and their families – people he blames for the current conditions on Earth. Lehtenin believes that if he can follow the leads his wife was following, he’ll find her. As he searches, he runs into much more and bigger danger than he’d thought.

And I don’t think I could do a post about Arctic climates without mentioning Arnaldur Indriðason’s series featuring Reykjavík Inspector Erlendur. As it happens, Reykjavík is the northernmost capital of a sovereign state. So, as you can imagine, Erlendur and his team have to contend more than once with the elements. In fact, fans of this series can tell you that one of the story arcs in this series is Erlendur’s ongoing search for his brother Bergur, who was lost in a blizzard when the brothers were boys. Blizzards in that part of the world are savage, so it’s not surprising that no trace of Bergur was found. It’s haunted Erelendur ever since.

And that’s the thing about Arctic climates. They can be extremely harsh and unforgiving. And yet, people make lives there, and create rich social structures. Which Arctic-set novels and series have you enjoyed?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song.

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Filed under Antti Tuomainen, Arnaldur Indriðason, Åsa Larsson, Dana Stabenow, M.J. McGrath, Scott Young, Stan Jones

I’m Kinda Awkward and Afraid*

Reactions to Mental IllnessIn Agatha Christie’s Sad Cypress, Elinor Carlisle is arrested for the murder of Mary Gerrard. She’s got motives both personal and financial, and there’s enough circumstantial evidence against her that she is a very likely suspect. Local GP Peter Lord has fallen in love with Mary, and wants her name cleared. So he asks Hercule Poirot to do just that. Poirot agrees to look into the case (‘though not to fabricate evidence), and begins investigating. In the meantime, Elinor remains in prison, and has to endure a trial. Needless to say, by the end of the book, she’s mentally and emotionally devastated. So Lord arranges for her to go for a rest cure. Christie doesn’t outright say it, but you can certainly imagine Lord’s referring her to some sort of mental institution. Christie doesn’t tell us, but one could wonder what happens to Elinor when she leaves that place? How will she be received? The hint is that Lord intends to be there for her. But it does raise the question of how others will receive her.

We continue to learn more and more about the human mind and how it works. But there’s still a great deal of misunderstanding and, sometimes, downright fear about those who’ve been in mental health care. Certainly it makes for a lot of awkwardness, especially when one’s going back to work after a time way, or otherwise trying to reconnect with people. It’s true in real life, and we often see it reflected in crime fiction, too.

In Karin Fossum’s Bad Intentions, we are introduced to Jon Moreno. He’s recently been released from a mental institution where he was dealing with severe anxiety issues. He’s still fragile, and not everyone’s comfortable interacting with him. Thinking that he could use a little cheering up, Jon’s friends Axel Frimann and Philip Reilly take him to spend the weekend at a cabin by Dead Water Lake. Late one night, the three young men decide to go out on the lake. While they’re there, a tragedy occurs, and only two come back. Oslo Inspector Konrad Sejer and his assistant Jacob Skarre investigate what happened. They try to get the two survivors to tell what they know, but that proves to be much more difficult than they thought it would be. Then, another body is discovered, this time in Glitter Lake. Now, the police have to cases on their hands, which may or may not be related. Among other things, this novel touches on what it’s like when someone returns to a group of old friends after having been in a mental health facility.

At the beginning of Åsa Larsson’s The Black Path, Stockholm attorney Rebecka Martinsson is under psychiatric care, mostly due to events detailed in Sun Storm and The Blood Spilt. She’s released from the hospital and returns to her home town of Kiruna, where she’s decided to stay for a while and start to rebuild her life. The main plot of The Black Path concerns the murder of Inna Watrang, Director of Communications for Kellis Mining. The key to the murder may be some of the legalities behind the company’s activities, so Martinsson gets involved in the case. As she does, we see at some points that it’s very awkward for her and for others to talk about her experiences in the hospital and accept her as ‘ready to re-join the world.’ There’s some of that awkwardness in The Blood Spilt, too, actually.

Certainly New South Wales DS Kate Farrer feels it in Kathryn Fox’s Skin and Bones. She’s just returning to work after three months’ medical leave of absence that became necessary after she went through a traumatic experience (you can read about it in Malicious Intent). During her leave, Farrer got psychological treatment, and was on the way to healing. She would have liked to take more time away, but staffing shortages have made it necessary for her to return, so she’s still a bit fragile. She’s dropped right back in it, so to speak, when the charred body of a woman is discovered in the remains of a house fire that seems to have been caused by arson. Also discovered is a bag full of baby clothes. What’s more, it’s soon revealed that the victim had recently given birth. But no child’s body is discovered, and no-one reports having found an abandoned infant. It’s a difficult and painful case, and there was awkwardness already as Farrer returned to work. But she does her best to focus and work with her new partner, Oliver Parke, to find the truth behind the fire, the death, and the baby.

And then there’s Matthew Wyman, whom we meet in Michael Hogan’s Burial of the Dead. A highly intelligent and talented artist, he’s always been somewhat mentally fragile. But matters come to a head when he gets mixed up in the death of seventy-year-old Emma Kost O’Neal. It comes out that he discovered the body. Moreover, he was involved with the victim’s great-niece, Emmanuelle ‘Manny’ Whitman, who stands to inherit a good deal of money. So there are pieces of evidence to link him with the case. And it’s not long before the police fix on him as a suspect. But it’s equally possible that he’s being framed. He’s a good target because of his mental health history. In fact, in the course of the novel, he has complete breakdown and ends up in a mental institution. As the police try to get to the truth about the case, it’s interesting to see how different people react to Wyman’s situation. His family doesn’t want to discuss it, or accept the fact that he needs mental health care. Other characters in the novels react in other ways, some awkward, and some less so. That plot thread adds a layer of complexity to the novel.

Mental health care still remains one of the more complex issues we face. And, for a lot of people, it’s too awkward to discuss. It makes some people downright uncomfortable. But it’s a fact of life, and it’s interesting to see how it’s woven into crime fiction.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Alice Cooper’s How You Gonna See Me Now?

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Åsa Larsson, Karin Fossum, Kathryn Fox, Michael Hogan

Everywhere You Look Now There’s Murder Incorporated*

Changing Bad GuysWell-written crime fiction shows us ourselves – who we are as people. We can learn a lot about what we wish for, fear, and more as we read in the genre. For instance, if you consider the ‘bad guys’ in certain crime novels, you see that they reflect sociopolitical events, societal fears and sometimes prejudices. You also see how those have changed as the world has changed.

For example, if you look at early crime fiction, or historical crime fiction that takes place during the late Victorian Era and the Edwardian Era, you see that the ‘bad guys’ were frequently members or leaders of shadowy syndicates and crime rings. The best known example that I can think of is, of course, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Professor Moriarty. Fans will know that he is a highly intelligent master-criminal who gives Sherlock Holmes quite a run for the money, as the saying goes. But he’s not the only criminal of that type. You see that influence also in Will Thomas’ Fatal Enquiry. In that novel, private enquiry agent Cyrus Barker and his assistant Thomas Llewelyn go up against Sebastian Nightwine, a dangerous opponent whom Barker exposed as a criminal years ago. When Nightwine returns to London, Barker is sure that trouble is going to follow, and he’s right. Barker ends up accused of murder and on the run, with all of his assets frozen. Then there’s another murder. He and Llewelyn will have to work hard to clear his name and take down Nightwine’s.  A few of Agatha Christie’s novels (The Big Four being one of them) also set up shadowy syndicates as ‘the enemy).

More modern novels, such as Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano stories, have a more contemporary take on the crime syndicate. Sometimes, as in Camilleri’s work and that of authors such as Michael Dibdin and Tonino Benacquista, the syndicate takes the form of what we call the Mafia (sometimes in the US, it’s called the Mob). There are also modern takes on crime syndicates from other places, too, such as the Glasgow underworld that we see in William McIlvanney’s and Malcolm Mackay’s work.

World War I and World War II had profound influences on people’s conceptions of ‘bad guys.’ Several of Agatha Christie’s stories (N or M? and Postern of Fate, for instance) set up first the Triple Alliance, then the Axis powers (specifically the Nazis) as ‘the bad guys.’

And by no means is Christie the only author who’s used Nazis, their associates, and their modern-day incarnations as antagonists. You see that in a lot of crime fiction and thrillers, actually. Just to take a few examples, there’s Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther novels, Ira Levin’s The Boys From Brazil, and Robert Gott’s The Holiday Murders.

In fact, the Nazis-as-enemies have had a profound influence even in modern crime fiction that simply touches on the World War II years. I’m thinking, for instance, of Camilla Läckberg’s The Hidden Child, Åsa Larsson’s Until Thy Wrath be Past, and Ferdinand von Schirach’s Der Fall Collini (The Collini Case). In those novels (and many more), we see how modern relationships, interactions, and even crime has its roots in the war, in Nazi occupation and in loyalties of that time.  It will be interesting to see what happens to that theme as time goes on, and there are fewer and fewer people whose parents/grandparents/great-grandparents lived through World War II.

In the post-World War II era, one of the most important geopolitical realities was the Cold War between the UK, US and their allies, and the then-Soviet Union and its allies. This arguably set up the KGB and other Soviet-bloc spy agencies as very effective ‘bad guys.’ Read the work of authors such as John le Carré, Len Deighton and Robert Ludlum, and you’ll see that in a lot of those novels, the enemy is usually the KGB or other such agency in some form or another. Sometimes it’s one person who’s a member of such a group, but that person often represents the Soviet Union and its policies. You can even see such sentiments in books that aren’t exactly what you would call spy thrillers. For example, there’s Martin Cruz Smith’s work featuring Arkady Renko. And Walter Mosley’s The Red Death has his sleuth Ezekiel ‘Easy’ Rawlins being asked to take down a suspected Communist. As I think about the Cold War era, I often wonder what impression I’d get if I could read Russian well enough to read some of the novels of those years that are written in that language.

When the Soviet Union broke up in 1993, the world changed, and so did crime fiction. There are arguably two kinds of ‘bad guys’ that have populated crime fiction since that time. One is the Eastern European crime gang that we see in novels such as Daniel Pembrey’s The Harbour Master. Another, very closely related, outgrowth is arguably the Eastern European/Russian human trafficking gang (check out Tess Gerritson’s Vanish as an example). The other sort of ‘bad guy’ is the Russian oligarch/shady businessman. With official Communism at an end, these businessmen came to the fore in terms of their power and ruthlessness. Several of Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus novels mention them (especially Exit Music). There are also some thrillers (such as Daniel Silva’s Moscow Rules) that touch on such people as ‘the bad guys.’

Another recent development in terms of ‘bad guys’ is the terrorist group, particularly the Middle Eastern terrorist group. Novels such as le Carré’s 1983 The Little Drummer Girl are earlier examples of such crime fiction, but by no means the only ones. Lindy Cameron’s Redback includes such terrorists as ‘bad guys.’ So do many other novels. In the wake of more recent terrorist events, we’ve seen a lot more such ‘bad guys,’ even in novels that aren’t billed as ‘thrillers.’

There’s also been another development in the sort of ‘bad guy’ authors choose: big corporations and their leaders.  I’m sure you’ve read as many novels as I have in which big developers are depicted as antagonists. Some novels (I’m thinking of Gail Bowen’s Kaleidoscope) present a more complex picture of development. But many depict big companies and developers quite negatively. For instance, there’s Peter Temple’s Bad Debts, several of C.J. Box’s Joe Pickett novels, and more.

Not all crime novels feature this sort of plot. Many are more personal plots, if I can put it that way. They feature crimes where one person (or a group of people) commit murder for reasons such as revenge, fear, or personal greed. That said though, if we look at crime plots over time, we really do see, I think, how they often use certain antagonists to reflect the kind of fears and prejudices that we have. I wonder which group will be next to be depicted in this way…

 
 
 

NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bruce Springsteen’s Murder Incorporated.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Arthur Conan Doyle, Åsa Larsson, C.J. Box, Camilla Läckberg, Daniel Pembrey, Daniel Silva, Ferdinand von Schirach, Gail Bowen, Ian Rankin, Ira Levin, John le Carré, Len Deighton, Lindy Cameron, Malcolm Mackay, Martin Cruz Smith, Michael Dibdin, Peter Temple, Philip Kerr, Robert Gott, Robert Ludlum, Tess Gerritsen, Tonino Benacquista, Walter Mosley, Will Thomas, William McIlvanney