Category Archives: Åsa Larsson

Give Me the Simple Life*

As this is posted, it’s 164 years since the publication of Henry David Thoroeau’s Walden; or, Life in the Woods. As you’ll know, one of the important messages in this book is the value of simplicity. Thoreau advocated for living close to nature and rejecting consumerism and materialism. And there’s something to be said for that perspective. If you’ve ever moved house, then you know how having a lot of ‘stuff’ can make everything all the more complicated.

There are a lot of crime-fictional characters who like to live very simply. And it’s interesting to get their perspectives, especially as they contrast with what a lot of people value. It’s just as interesting to see how they’ve been viewed in different places and at different times.

In Agatha Christie’s Dumb Witness (AKA Poirot Loses a Client), for instance, we are introduced to Julia and Isabel Tripp. They live in the small town of Market Basing where they are friends with Wilhelmina ‘Minnie’ Lawson. When Miss Lawson’s wealthy employer, Miss Emily Arundell, suddenly dies, it’s put down to liver failure. But Hercule Poirot thinks differently. He had gotten a letter from Miss Lawson, asking him to investigate a ‘delicate matter’ that she didn’t detail. He and Captain Hastings didn’t follow up until Miss Arundell was already dead, but he still feels an obligation to his client. So, he begins to look into the matter to find out who would want to kill the victim. There’s no lack of suspects, as she had a large fortune and financially strapped relatives. Surprisingly, though, it’s Miss Lawson who inherits the bulk of the money. So, she also could have had a motive. Since the Tripps are friends of Miss Lawson’s, Poirot and Hastings naturally want to talk to them. They find that the Tripps are dedicated to living a very simple life, with few possessions and very much ‘back to nature’ food. After their conversation, they invite their guests for lunch:
 

‘…some shredded raw vegetables, brown bread and butter, fruit.’
 

Needless to say, Poirot quickly finds an excuse for the two men to leave. The Tripps’ lifestyle is not the reason for Miss Arundell’s murder. But it’s an interesting look at then-contemporary perspectives on the ‘back to nature’ lifestyle.

Ellery Queen’s The Origin of Evil begins as Queen is trying to get some writing done. He’s taken a house in the Hollywood Hills to do just that, and he’s hoping for some peace and quiet. Such is not to be, though. Laurel Hill finds out that he’s there and wants him to investigate the death of her father, Leander. It seems he died of a massive heart attack, which his daughter says was deliberately brought on by a series of macabre ‘gifts’ left for him. What’s more, his business partner, Roger Priam, has also been receiving bizarre ‘gifts.’ Against his better judgement, Queen finds himself intrigued, and starts to ask questions. Along the way, he meets Priam’s wife, Delia, and his stepson, Crowe ‘Mac’ McGowan. Mac is convinced that the world is on the brink of destruction from nuclear weapons, and he wants to be prepared to survive. So, he lives in a treehouse he’s built, and wears as little as possible – often nothing at all. His aim is to be able to make his way in a world where all of the things we take for granted are gone. Mac’s commitment to a ‘back to nature’ life isn’t the reason for the strange packages, nor Leander Hill’s death. But it adds leaven to the story and a layer to his character.

Tony Hillerman’s Jim Chee is a member of the Navajo Nation. He is also a member of the Navajo Tribal (now the Navajo Nation) Police. In many ways, Chee is a traditional Navajo. He’s very much attuned to nature. More to the point, he’s not particularly interested in material things like a big house or a new car. He has the things he needs, but they’re quite simple. For instance, he lives in a trailer, and he doesn’t have a large wardrobe or the latest in sound systems. His wants are few, and he’s basically content with that.

Fans of Åsa Larsson’s Rebecka Martinsson novels will know that, at the beginning of that series, she is a Stockholm lawyer. She’s not greedy, or even overly ambitious. But she wants to get ahead. Circumstances return her to her hometown of Kiruna, and she ends up staying there. As time goes on, she becomes more and more attuned to nature, and lives more and more simply. She does almost everything on her own, too, and isn’t really interested in the trappings of modern consumerism. In fact, as time goes on, her simple lifestyle brings her more contentment, in its way, than would a very high salary and a plush lifestyle.

John Burdett’s Sonchai Jitplecheep also lives a very simple life. He is a member of the Royal Thai Police, and mostly works in and near Bangkok. He is also an observant Buddhist. As such, he tries to live by the Buddhist tradition of putting aside cravings. That includes wanting things like a fine house, a good car, and so on. So, he has very little. He lives in one room and keeps only what he needs. He eats simply, too. For Sonchai, though, it’s not important to have a lot. In fact, one’s better off with less. So, he’s not, in general, discontent with his lifestyle.

Not everyone is content to live very simply. But, for those who are, it’s interesting to see how their choices and lifestyles contrast with the focus a lot of people have on consumerism. These are just a few examples. I know you’ll think of more.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Rube Bloom and Harry Ruby.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Åsa Larsson, Ellery Queen, Henry David Thoreau, John Burdett, Tony Hillerman

Sleuth Celebrity Shows ;-)

We’re all familiar with our top fictional sleuths’ skill at solving mysteries. But they have other talents, too, if you think about it. What if those other talents were celebrated? Wouldn’t it be great if the fictional sleuths we like best got their own TV shows, designed to showcase those skills? No, I mean it – it could work. If you’ll park your disbelief in front of the laptop to do some online shopping, I’ll show you what I mean with these

 

Sleuth Celebrity Shows
 

Restaurant Rescue

Struggling restaurants everywhere get a new lease on life as master gourmand Hercule Poirot (Agatha Christie) offers them his singular expertise. Join M. Poirot as he pays a visit to a different restaurant each week, and gives the owner and chef the benefit of his deep knowledge of ambiance, food, wine, and service. The end result? A restaurant and staff that provide an unforgettable dining experience. You won’t want to miss it!

[We hear from our sources that Nero Wolfe (Rex Stout) had been considered for this show, but his spokesman has said that Wolfe would not be taking the role. The spokesman neither confirmed nor denied that Wolfe said the show was ‘flummery.’]

 

Refashion Yourself

If you’ve ever felt you wanted a new look, but weren’t sure where to start, you’ll want to tune in as Paris’ own Aimée Leduc (Cara Black) transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary. Each week, she takes charge of a different lucky client’s wardrobe, and brings it alive with the best in clothes, shoes, outerwear, accessories, and more. She also offers valuable tips to viewers on how to put together simple but sophisticated looks for every occasion. Don’t miss a single episode!

 

Save My Kitchen

Straight from the heart of France’s gastronomic culture, Bruno Courrèges (Martin Walker) brings the Périgord to homes everywhere. Tune in each week as this skilled chef transforms his guests’ everyday meals into something special. With the right ingredients and simple cooking strategies, Courrèges makes even a quick lunch memorable. Each episode brings you a treasure trove of advice for your own kitchen. No more ho-hum meals!

 

Live With Less

The show for people who want to de-clutter and start living simpler, less hectic, and less expensive lives. Let natural living expert Rebecka Martinsson (Åsa Larsson) be your guide to a more sustainable, more budget-conscious, and less frantic lifestyle. Each week, Rebecka visits the home of a different family, and gives them sustainable and inexpensive solutions for clothing, cooking, cleaning, and much more. Each episode teaches easy ways to cut down the waste, tone down the non-stop stress of modern life, and make the most of what nature offers. Don’t miss a single one!

 

The Big Event

Starring one of the world’s foremost entertainment experts, Phryne Fisher (Kerry Greenwood), this show covers everything involved in planning and hosting the perfect event. Each week, Phryne coaches her guests as they put together weddings, reunions, corporate events, and other special occasions. Watch as the guests plan themes, decorations, music, food and drink, and all of the other unique touches that make an event unforgettable. Then, see the event itself, and get some great ideas for your own big day.

 

Pub Crawl

Renowned pub expert E. Morse (Colin Dexter) takes you on a tour of the UK’s best pubs and watering holes. Each week, Morse visits a different local, and shares his experiences. Learn how the UK’s pubs compare on selection, price, quality, ambiance, and much more. Enjoy Morse’s critiques, and pick your own new places to try!

 

See what I mean? These TV shows could really take off, don’t you think? And it would mean our sleuths could earn some welcome extra income. These are just a few of my own ideas. Got any of your own to share?

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Åsa Larsson, Cara Black, Colin Dexter, Kerry Greenwood, Martin Walker, Rex Stout

Down to Elvis Presley Boulevard Where All the Faithful Cried*

As this is posted, it’s 40 years since the death of Elvis Presley. Whatever you think of his music, Presley was a worldwide phenomenon, and millions of people still make the pilgrimage to his home at Graceland. Oh, and by the way, you’ll want to check out Riley Adams’ (AKA Elizabeth Spann Craig) Memphis Barbecue series, which takes place in Memphis, and which has plenty of mentions of (and even a big event at) Graceland.

Presley’s passing left his legions of fans grief-stricken. There are even those who swear that he’s still alive; that’s how much he meant to them. But it’s often that way when someone you’ve put on a pedestal dies. If it’s a famous person, there’s a wide outpouring of emotion. If it’s someone you’ve personally had as an idol (say, a colleague or friend or mentor), the grief may not be as public, but it’s no less there. Certainly, that’s true in real life, and it is in crime fiction, too.

For instance, in Agatha Christie’s The Hollow, we are introduced to Harley Street specialist Dr. John Christow. He and his wife, Gerda, are among a group of people invited to spend a weekend at the home of Sir Henry and Lady Lucy Angkatell. On the Sunday afternoon, Christow is shot by the swimming pool. Hercule Poirot, who’s in the area and has been invited for lunch, arrives just after the shooting; in fact, at first, he thinks it’s an ‘amusement’ staged for his benefit. Very soon, though, he sees that it’s all too real. Poirot works with Inspector Grange to find out who the murderer is. As he does, we see just how many people put Christow on a pedestal. And even for those who didn’t do that, we see clearly that his death has left a gaping hole, if I can put it like that.

In Karin Fossum’s When the Devil Holds the Candle, Oslo police detective Konrad Sejer and his assistant Jacob Skarre investigate when eighteen-year-old Andreas Winther disappears. When Andreas’ mother, Runi, first reports him missing, Sejer isn’t overly concerned. There are, after all, plenty of reasons why a young man might take off for a few days without telling his mother where he’s going. But when more time goes by, and he doesn’t return, Sejer begins to look more seriously into the matter. He begins with Andreas’ best friend, Sivert ‘Zipp’ Skorpe. I can say without spoiling the story that Zipp didn’t kill his friend. But he does know a lot more than he’s saying about their last day together, and about what might have happened to Andreas. And, as the story goes on, we see that, in a way, Zipp hero-worshipped his friend, and is dealing with his own kind of grief and sense of loss.

Åsa Larsson’s The Savage Altar (AKA Sun Storm) is the story of the murder of Viktor Stråndgard. His body is discovered in a Kiruna church called the Church of the Source of All Our Strength. The victim was an up-and-coming church leader who was sometimes called The Paradise Boy. He had many, many followers, so his death makes national news. In fact, that’s how Stockholm tax attorney Rebecka Martinsson hears about the murder. It’s especially shocking to her because she grew up in Kiruna, and knew the Stråndgard family. Then, she gets a call from the victim’s sister, Sanna, a former friend. Sanna says that the police suspect her of the murder, and she needs Martinsson’s help. At first, Martinsson refuses; she had her own good reasons for leaving Kiruna in the first place, and has no desire to return. But Sanna finally persuades her to go. Martinsson hasn’t been there long when Sanna is actually arrested for the murder and imprisoned. Now, if she’s to clear her former friend’s name, Martinsson will have to find out who the real killer is. As she looks into the case, we see how Viktor Stråndgard’s death has impacted the church, his followers, and plenty of other people as well.

Qiu Xiaolong’s Death of a Red Heroine is the first in his series featuring Shanghai police detective Chief Inspector Chen Cao. One morning, the body of a woman is pulled from a canal not far from Shanghai. Very soon, she is identified as Guan Hongying, a national model worker. That means this investigation is going to have to be done very delicately. The victim was somewhat of a celebrity, and her death has been reported widely, leaving many people upset. What’s more, she had high political status, and moved in circles with some important people. So, it’s going to be critical that the case be handled as carefully as possible.

A similar thing might be said of William Ryan’s The Darkening Field (AKA The Bloody Meadow), which takes place in the then-USSR in the years just before World War II. It’s the story of the murder of Maria Alexandrovna Lenskaya, a dedicated Party worker and up-and-coming actress. When she’s found dead at a filming location, it looks at first as though it might be a suicide. But there are enough questions about it that Moscow CID Captain Alexei Korolev is seconded to Odessa to find out the truth. And that’s going to be a problem. If the victim died by suicide that’ll be put down as a tragedy, but no more. If it’s a murder, though, the matter could turn very ugly for some important people. And, since the victim was a celebrity, albeit a minor one, there’ll be news reports, and word will get out. So, Korolev will have to tread very, very lightly as he investigates.

And then there’s Wendy James’ The Lost Girls. The real action in this novel begins in 1978, when fourteen-year-old Angela Buchanan goes missing and is later found dead, with a scarf round her head. At the time, the police concentrate heavily on her family, especially her aunt, uncle and cousins, with whom she’s staying during the summer. Then, a few months later, another girl, sixteen-year-old Kelly McIvor is killed. She, too, is found with a scarf. Now, the Sydney police seem to be dealing with a mass killer that the press has dubbed the Sydney Strangler. No-one is ever arrested for the crimes, though, and the cases go cold. Years later, journalist Erin Fury wants to do a documentary on the families of murder victims. She approaches Angela’s cousin Jane Tait, who gives very reluctant permission to be interviewed. She also interviews Jane’s brother, Mick, and their parents, Barbara and Doug Griffin. As the story goes on, we learn the story of that summer, and we learn what really happened to both Angela and Kelly. Admittedly, Angela is not a film or music idol. But Jane put her up on a pedestal, in a way, and her loss struck a devastating blow from which the family still hasn’t really recovered. It’s an interesting case of a person who isn’t famous, but who is still someone’s idol.

The loss of an idol can have a profound impact on a person. And that can make for an interesting crime plot or layer of character development. Which examples have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Elvis Presley Boulevard.  

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Åsa Larsson, Elzabeth Spann Craig, Karin Fossum, Qiu Xiaolong, Riley Adams, Wendy James, William Ryan

I Wish You Could See This Great Mystery*

naturalistsThere are some people who are thoroughly at home in nature and with other animals. They understand nature’s rhythms, and can tell you all sorts of the things about the flora and fauna of a given place. In fact, there’s been a proposal that that sort of knowledge is an important intelligence, just as linguistic, mathematical and visual/spatial intelligence are.

Such people can make for very interesting characters in crime fiction. For one thing, they have a perspective on the world that the rest of us don’t always have. For another, their knowledge of nature can be very useful. And such a trait can add a measure of character development.

Any fan of Arthur Upfield’s work can tell you that his sleuth, Queensland Inspector Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte, is like that. He is well able, as he puts it, to read ‘the book of the bush.’ He’s as much at home outdoors as he is in a drawing room, and very often gets information others wouldn’t because of that. In novels such as The Bone is Pointed and The Bushman Who Came Back, he uses his naturalist intelligence to find clues, track people, and so on.

And Bony isn’t the only sleuth with a lot of naturalist intelligence. For instance, in Nevada Barr’s Track of the Cat, we first meet US National Park Service Ranger Anna Pigeon. She gave up life in New York City after the tragic death of her husband, and has joined the National Park Service. In that novel, she uses her developing understanding of how nature works to track down the killer of a fellow ranger. And, as the series goes on, she uses other naturalist skills to investigate. One of Pigeon’s major interests is protecting endangered species, and preserving the balance in nature. We see that woven through several of the stories.

Alexander McCall Smith’s Tears of the Giraffe introduces readers to Andrea Curtin. An ex-pat American, she’s moved to Botswana to look for closure. Ten years earlier, she, her husband, and their son, Michael, lived in Botswana for a few years. When it was time to return to the US, Michael decided not to join his parents. He’d fallen in love with the land and wildlife of Botswana, and decided to join an eco-commune there. When he died, police said that a wild animal had likely killed him. But his body has never been found, and now his mother wants to find out the truth so she can move on. She asks Mma Precious Ramotswe to investigate, and Mma Ramotswe agrees to see what she can do. As the novel goes on, we learn how attuned to nature Michael Curtin was. He was certainly more comfortable in the natural world than he would have been, say, in a city. Finding out what became of Michael isn’t easy, but Mma Ramotswe discovers where he lived, tracks down some of the other people who lived there, and finds out the truth.

You might not expect a lawyer who lives and works in a major city to be particularly attuned to nature. But that’s exactly the case with Åsa Larsson’s Rebecka Martinsson. As this series begins, Martinsson is working for a successful Stockholm law firm. She has a promising career ahead of her, too. Then, she gets word that an old friend from her home town of Kiruna is in trouble and needs her help. Martinsson travels to Kiruna, where she works to find out the truth about a murder and clear her friend’s name. Her return to Kiruna ends up being permanent; and, as the series goes on, we see how comfortable Martinsson is in nature. She understands its rhythms well, and is often more at ease on her own outdoors than she is with other people.

Adrian Hyland’s Emily Tempest is an Aboriginal Community Police Officer (ACPO). As such, she spends her share of time in nature, and is comfortable there. Even more comfortable in nature is Tempest’s lover, JoJo Kelly, who works for the Park and Wildlife Commission. He has a home, but he spends most of his life outdoors, in different parts of the land he tries to protect. And he is very much at home among the plants and animals he finds there. He can just about always find a place to rest, something to eat, and some shelter.

So can Jay Duggan, whom we meet in Geoffrey Robert’s The Alo Release. He’s a naturalist/environmental activist who’s been working with the Los Angeles-based Millbrook Foundation. That group has been monitoring a company called Vestco, which is about to release a new seed coating. Vestco claims that the seed coating will greatly increase food production and, therefore, drastically reduce world hunger. But the Millbrook Foundation is deeply suspicious of the company and its claims. Still, they can’t seem to do anything to prevent the release. When it becomes clear that the seed coating will be made available, Duggan decides to retire and return to his native New Zealand. He invites two of his Millbrook colleagues to join him for a visit to New Zealand, and the three make the trip. What they don’t know is that they’re about to be framed for the murder of a Vestco employee. When they land in Auckland, they quickly learn that they’re now considered fugitives. So, they go on the run as they try to find out who the real killer is, and try to stop the release of the seed coating if they can. As the novel goes on, we see how well Duggan understands nature. He’s thoroughly attuned to wildlife, and more than once, that knowledge keeps him and his colleagues safe.

Naturalists have a fascinating perspective, and a deep awareness of the rhythms of life. They often see things that the rest of us might no notice. And they can make interesting fictional characters.

 

In Memoriam…

 

steve-irwin-768

This post is dedicated to the memory of Steve Irwin, who would have turned 55 as this is posted. His passion for wildlife, his effervescence, and his interest in preserving nature are sorely missed.
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Midnight Oil’s Earth and Sun and Moon.

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Filed under Adrian Hyland, Alexander McCall Smith, Arthur Upfield, Åsa Larsson, Geoffrey Robert, Nevada Barr

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