Category Archives: Åsa Träff

My Analyst Told Me*

As this is posted, it would have been Sigmund Freud’s 161st birthday. There’ve been a lot of criticisms of Freud’s work through the decades as we’ve gotten to understand the human mind a little better. But it’s hard to deny his influence on the field of psychology. And many people agree that he was actually the founder of psychoanalysis.

The whole point of psychoanalysis is to bring to the surface unconscious fears and anxieties, repressed memories, and the like, so as to address mental health issues. There’s a lot to this approach to psychotherapy – far more than there is space in this one post. Besides, I’m not a psychologist. But one of the key facets of it – and something very relevant for crime fiction – is the intimate relationship between client and therapist.

That relationship is fascinating, actually. In the best of situations, it’s intimate without being a friendship or a romance. It’s professional without being cold, too. People tell things to their therapists that not even their partners may know. Yet, a healthy therapist/client relationship doesn’t entail the emotional responsibility, if I can put it that way, that other intimate relationships entail. And we certainly see a lot of therapist/client relationships in crime fiction.

In Agatha Christie’s Appointment With Death, we are introduced to Dr. Theodore Gerard, a noted psychologist. During a trip to the Middle East, he meets the Boyntons, an American family on a sightseeing tour. He’s fascinated by them on a professional level, and that’s not surprising. Family matriarch Mrs. Boynton is tyrannical, manipulative and malicious. Her impact on her family members is so negative as to be pathological, and just about everyone shows some symptoms of the trauma. The one who seems to be suffering the most is Mrs. Boynton’s youngest child, seventeen-year-old Ginevra ‘Jinny.’ As Gerard gets to know her, he sees (and so do readers) that she has delusions, and shows other signs of mental illness. On the second day of the visit to Petra, Mrs. Boynton is murdered. Hercule Poirot is in the area, and is asked to investigate. As he does, he relies on Gerard’s professional opinions of the various family members. And, in the end, he finds out who the killer is. It’s not spoiling the story to say that there’s an epilogue, that takes place five years after the murder. And it’s very interesting to see how the client/therapist relationship has developed between Gerard and Jinny Boynton.

The ‘Nicci French’ writing duo has created a series featuring London psychologist Frieda Klein. In Blue Monday, the first in that series, Klein is working with a new client, Alan Dekker. He has many anxieties and other issues, and Klein tries to help him work through them. Then, he begins to tell her about dreams he has in which he and his wife have a son who looks just like him. In real life, they have no children, and Klein tries to work with Dekker to address that and some other issues he’s facing. Then, four-year-old Matthew Faraday goes missing. The media makes much of this, and there are all sorts of efforts, both formal and informal, to find the boy. When Klein hears about this case, she begins to worry, first subconsciously, and then consciously, that there might be a relationship between the boy’s disappearance and the work she’s been doing with Dekker. Klein takes her commitment to Dekker’s privacy very seriously, but she’s concerned about Matthew Faraday, too. So, she approaches DCI Malcolm Karlsson, who’s in charge of the Faraday case. Each in a different way, the two begin to look into what happened, and they learn that this incident is related to a past disappearance. Among other things, the story shows just how intimate and complex the client/therapist relationship is.

Camilla Grebe and Åsa Träff’s Some Kind of Peace features Stockholm psychologist Siri Bergman. She has her own personal issues, but she’s been successful professionally. And she’s developed effective professional relationships with her clients. Those relationships are intimate and personal, though, as all therapaeutic relationships are. So, Bergman is truly dismayed when she learns that someone has gotten access to her case notes. Then, the body of one of her clients, Sara Matteus, is found floating in water near Bergman’s home. There’s a suicide note that specifically mentions Bergman, too. But it’s soon clear that the victim was murdered. At first, Bergman is a ‘person of interest.’ But it’s shown that she is innocent. It’s also clear, though, that someone is out to ruin her, and might not be satisfied with just that. Now, Bergman is going to have to work quickly, and co-operate with the police, if she’s to stay alive.

There’s also Paddy Richardson’s Hunting Blind, the story of Dunedin psychiatrist Stephanie Anderson. She’s just getting started in her profession when she meets a new client, Elisabeth Clark. Her first meetings with Elisabeth show just how difficult it can be to establish any kind of rapport with a client, so as to build trust. After a time, though, Elisabeth does begin to trust her new therapist a little, and shares a terrible story from her past. Years earlier, her younger sister, Gracie, was abducted. No trace of her was ever found, and the incident devastated Elisabeth. This story is hauntingly familiar to Stephanie, whose family faced similar devastation when Stephanie’s younger sister, Gemma, was abducted. Against her better judgement, Stephanie decides to lay her own ghosts to rest, and try to find out who caused such pain to both families. So, she travels from Dunedin to her home town at Wanaka, and works to find out the truth about the two missing girls. Among other things, this novel shows the intimacy that there can be in a therapaeutic relationship.

Fans of Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware novels, and of Michael Robotham’s Joe O’Loughlin novels can say similar things about those series. They show the complexities and intimacy that develop when two people work together to help one of them heal. It’s little wonder this complicated relationship figures in so many crime novels.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Annie Ross’ Twisted.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Åsa Träff, Camilla Grebe, Jonathan Kellerman, Michael Robotham, Nicci French, Paddy Richardson

Heavenly Shades of Night Are Falling*

fear-of-the-darkWe all have our fears, and sometimes even phobias. One of the more common fears people have is fear of the dark. For those people, the scene in the ‘photo you see isn’t peaceful or romantic. It’s frightening. If you think about it, fear of the dark is understandable. Things and places look different in the dark, even if they’re familiar. Shadows can take on different dimensions and look a lot more threatening. And if you consider our origins as a species, there are certainly predators that came (and still come) out at night. So a heightened feeling of danger at night probably made sense. And plenty of people still prefer daylight.

That instinctive reaction to the dark plays a role in crime fiction, and that shouldn’t be surprising. Among other things, weaving fear of the dark into a story allows the author to create a tense atmosphere, and tap readers’ instincts. What’s more, adding in a fear of the dark can make for an interesting layer of character development.

Agatha Christie made use of that instinctive fear of the dark in And Then There Were None. In that novel, a group of people is invited for a trip to Indian Island, off the Devon coast. For different reasons, each accepts the invitation. When they arrive, they’re surprised to learn that their host isn’t there. But they settle in as best they can. After dinner on that first night, each is accused of having been responsible for at least one other death. Just about everyone protests innocence; but later that evening, one of the guests suddenly dies of what turns out to be poison. The next morning, another is found dead. It’s soon clear that there’s a murderer on the island, and that the survivors are going to have to find out who it is if they’re to stay alive. At one point, a storm cuts off power, and everyone is affected. Even the more stalwart among the guests feel the need to keep the candles lit, and that feeling adds a real layer of tension to the story.

We see a similar situation in Louise Penny’s The Cruelest Month. In that novel, a well-known Hungarian psychic, Madame Blavatsky, is staying in the small Québec town of Three Pines. During her stay, she’s persuaded to hold a séance. The first attempt isn’t a success, so another is scheduled during the Easter break. It’s to be held at the old Hadley house, which fans of this series will remember. The atmosphere of the house is eerie enough (if you follow the series, you’ll know what I mean). And when everyone arrives, it’s only lit by candles:
 

‘The darkness seemed darker, and the flickering flames threw grotesque shadows against the rich wallpaper.’
 

The setting is creepy enough, but everything turns much worse when Madeleine Favreau suddenly dies of what turns out to be an overdose of a diet drug. The darkness, and our sense that it’s dangerous, is used effectively here.

Sometimes, fear of the dark can be a helpful clue to a person’s character. In one plot thread of Arnaldur Indriðason’s Hypothermia, for instance, Reykjavík police inspector Erlendur gets interested in the death of a woman named Maria. The first theory of the crime is that she hung herself out of despondence at the death of her mother, Leonóra, with whom she was extremely close. But Erlendur learns something very interesting: Maria was afraid of the dark, so she didn’t go out at night. Why, then, would she have left the house during the night to hang herself? It doesn’t quite add up for Erlendur and he pursues the case more deeply.

Camilla Grebe and Åsa Träff’s Some Kind of Peace introduces readers to Stockholm psychologist Siri Bergman. She’s been devastated by the death of her beloved husband, Stefan, and the trauma has had some powerful impacts on her. She is afraid of the dark, so she always keeps her home well-lit, even when she’s sleeping. Still, she functions well enough professionally, and has a stable list of clients. Then one day, she gets a letter that makes it clear she’s being stalked. What’s worse, someone manages to get her case notes, so all of her confidential sessions are now accessible to her stalker. It’s not long before she is sure that someone is watching her; now, the very lights that make her feel safe at night may actually be making her more vulnerable. Matters get far worse when the body of a client, Sara Matteus, is found in the water on Bergman’s property. And there’s a suicide note that links the death to Bergman. At first, she is a suspect. But soon enough, it’s clear she’s being framed. So, she has to work to find out who the killer is and why she’s being set up.

R.J. Harlick’s sleuth is Meg Harris, who inherited a property called Three Deer Point, in Outaouais, in Western Québec. Meg’s recently left an abusive relationship, so when the series starts (with Death’s Golden Whisper), she’s still dealing with that trauma. And her ex-husband, Gareth, is not as eager to let go of their relationship as Meg is. It all makes for a great deal of stress, which isn’t made any easier when Meg gets caught up in a land rights dispute and a case of multiple murder. One of the lasting effects of being with an abusive partner is that Meg is afraid of the dark. It doesn’t completely debilitate her, but it’s definitely there.

And that’s the thing about fear of the dark. It may not be completely debilitating, but for a lot of people, it’s real. And for some people, it’s incapacitating.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Buck Ram, Morty Nevins, Al Nevins, and Artie Dunn’s Twilight Time.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arnaldur Indriðason, Åsa Träff, Camilla Grebe, Louise Penny, R.J. Harlick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 
 

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

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

My Dear, We All Must Stay Alive*

Maslow's HierarchyNo one psychological theory explains why people do what they do. People are too complex for one theory to account for everything, and all sorts of factors impact what we do. That said, though, there are some really interesting ways of looking at the choices humans make, and putting them into perspective.

One of those theories is Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Maslow’s theory was that some of our needs are more important than others, and that we will meet those basic, lower-level needs before trying to meet higher-level needs. In the world of education, for instance, it implies that students aren’t going to be able to concentrate on learning if they haven’t eaten or if they’re being abused. Students from stable, loving homes, where they don’t have to worry about physical safety or being unloved, will be better able to concentrate on higher-level needs like cognitive development.

We see this hierarchy all through crime fiction, too. And although it certainly doesn’t explain everything characters do, I think it adds an interesting perspective. And it can help readers understand why a character might behave in a certain way.

The most basic needs we have, according to Maslow, are our ‘survival’ needs, like food, water, and shelter. They have to be met first, if a person is to meet other needs. In Angela Savage’s Behind the Night Bazaar, for instance, Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney works to clear the name of her friend Didier ‘Didi’ de Montpasse. When his partner, Nou, is killed, the police settle on Didi as the murderer. Later, he himself is killed in what police say was the tragic consequence of resisting arrest and threatening the officers who’d come to arrest him. Keeney doesn’t believe that explanation and goes in search of the truth. The truth about the murders has to do with the business of child trafficking and the sex trade, and Savage makes it clear that there are no easy answers to this problem. For many desperately poor rural families, this trade represents food in their stomachs and a place to live. Simply telling them how wrong it is to send their children to be trafficked isn’t going to feed them.

We also see this in one plot thread of Mark Douglas-Home’s The Sea Detective. Two young girls, Preeti and Basanti, join India’s sex trade in exchange for money given to their families. The idea is that they’ll work in the trade for a few years, sending money back to their families, and then return to their villages. For those families, this represents a way to put food on the table, take care of sick children and so on. For the young girls, it’s even a sort of source of pride, since they are helping to feed their families. But things go horribly wrong when they are taken to Scotland and sold to some very dangerous people. When Basanti manages to escape the people holding her, she goes in search of Preeti, only to discover that her friend has disappeared and may be dead. So she asks for help from oceanographer Caladh ‘Cal’ McGill, who just may have the skills needed to find Preeti.

Timothy Hallinan addresses similar issues in his Philip ‘Poke’ Rafferty novels. Rafferty is an ex-pat American who now lives in Bangkok with his wife, Rose and their adopted daughter, Miaow. Rose is a former bar girl who’s set up her own apartment-cleaning company; Miaow is a former street child. Both know all too well about being desperate for food and shelter. In fact, in The Queen of Patpong, we learn something about Rose’s personal history. At one point, there’s an interaction between her teacher, Teacher Suttikul, and her father. The teacher is trying to convince Rose’s father to let her stay in school, rather than leave school and get work:
 

‘‘You know, you have a very smart daughter.’
‘So what?’ her father says… ‘She’s a girl.’
‘There are lots of good jobs for girls these days. She’ll earn plenty of money if she stays in school.’
‘What good does that do anybody? If she makes any money, it’ll go to her husband’s parents, not us.’
… ‘She’ll always take care of you. And I know she can get a good job. Someday she – ’
‘Someday,’ her father says heavily, as though the words are in a foreign language. ‘Someday. My children need food now. The roof needs to be fixed before the next rain comes. We need money now.’’ 

 

That drive to meet the most important, basic needs leads those who have nothing to make choices that those of us with plenty can’t always understand.

Maslow believed that once those very basic needs are met, we move on to meeting our needs for safety and security. And we certainly see that in crime fiction! I’m sure I don’t have to list the many novels in which characters won’t talk to the police, for fear of what will happen if they do. And then there are characters who know about terrible crimes, even murder, but turn a blind eye. It’s not that they like the idea of murder, but they fear for their own safety and that of their families.

We see that need for safety come out in other ways, too. For example, Jassy Mackenzie’s Random Violence takes place in Johannesburg, where many people are concerned for their own physical safety. In that atmosphere, Superintendent David Patel of the Johannesburg Police investigates the murder of Annette Botha, whose death looks like a carjacking gone horribly wrong. But soon, little bits of evidence suggest that her murder might have been deliberate. Then, private investigator Dean Grobbelar is murdered. Then there’s a third murder. Now Patel has the task of linking these crimes to see who is responsible. In the meantime, PI Jade de Jong, the daughter of Patel’s former mentor, has returned to Johannesburg after a ten-year absence. Patel is glad for her help as the investigation gets both wider and deeper, but she has an agenda of her own. Throughout this novel, there’s a pervasive sense of fear, as ordinary people take extraordinary security measures:
 

‘Jade turned on all the lights and checked the cottage thoroughly. The front door was secure. The alarm was armed. The battery box that fed the electric fence was beeping quietly, its green light flashing.’
 

People hire personal bodyguards, live in tightly gated communities, and so on. There’s a real sense that everyone’s safety is at risk.

There’s also Camilla Grebe and Åsa Träff’s Some Kind of Peace, which introduces Stockholm psychologist Siri Bergman. She’s dealing with the loss of her beloved husband Stefan, so although she’s functioning, she’s not exactly functional. Still, she’s making some progress. Then, she gets a letter that makes it clear that she’s being stalked. As if that’s not enough, someone seems to have gotten access to her private client information. Then, the body of one of those clients, Sara Matteus, is found in the water in Bergman’s property. There’s a suicide note that blames Bergman for the victim’s decision to kill herself. When the death is proved to be a murder, Berman is suspected, briefly, until it’s proven she is innocent. But having her name cleared isn’t enough to keep her safe. Bergman will have to find out who’s responsible for targeting her if she’s to stay alive. And it’s interesting to see how her focus changes from the higher-level need to succeed professionally and help her clients to the basic need to stay safe as the story goes on.

If Maslow was right (and I’ve not read any credible evidence that he wasn’t), then our needs are hierarchical. We have to satisfy our basic needs before we move on to higher-level needs like the need to be loved and to belong. And those needs drive quite a bit of what we do.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Claude Michel Schönberg and Herbert Kretzmer’s Lovely Ladies.

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Filed under Angela Savage, Åsa Träff, Camilla Grebe, Jassy Mackenzie, Mark Douglas-Home, Timothy Hallinan

And What Could Ever Lead You Back Here Where We Need You*

Alumnae

Lots of people feel a sort of bond with their school, whether it’s secondary school or university. And that’s logical too, since so many important life experiences happen during those years. Alumni groups rely on that bond for donations, and it makes for good ‘networking’ too for recent graduates. It can be just the thing that tips the proverbial scales for a job applicant if the prospective employer finds out that they share an alma mater.

That bond is often the reason alumni return to their schools for visits. It can also be what draws a fictional sleuth into a mystery. And school/university connections and ‘networks’ can play an important role in those stories. Here are just a few examples to show you what I mean.

Edmund Crispin’s Gervase Fen series takes place for the most part at Oxford, and several plots involve alumni returning to the university. In The Case of the Gilded Fly for instance, journalist Nigel Blake returns to Oxford when the Oxford repertory theatre schedules a run of Robert Warner’s new play Metromania. Blake is a bit of a hanger-on among the cast and crew because he admires one of the actors Helen Haskell. He’s also interested in renewing his acquaintance with his former mentor Gervase Fen. In fact, he’s visiting Fen’s rooms one night when they hear a gunshot. It turns out that actor Yseute Haskell, Helen Haskell’s half-sister, has been murdered. Fen is a friend of Chief Constable Sir Richard Freeman, so he gets involved in the investigation as Sir Richard looks into the case. And when Blake finds out that Helen has become a suspect, he gets involved too.

Crispin fans will also know that The Moving Toyshop concerns an almunus returning to Oxford. This time it’s poet Richard Cadogan. He returns to Oxford for a rest, but finds his trip anything but peaceful. Late one night, he’s taking a walk when he sees a toyshop. The door’s unlocked and mostly out of curiousity, he goes in, only to find the body of an old woman. Before he can do anything about it, Cadogan is hit on the head and knocked unconscious. The next morning, he tries to tell the police what happened, but they don’t believe him. They say there’s never been a toyshop in that place. But Cadogan’s university friend Gervase Fen believes him. Fen works with Cadogan to try to find out what really happened, but his work’s made more difficult when Cadogan gets himself in trouble for an entirely different reason…

In Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night, mystery novelist Harriet Vane gets an invitation to visit her alma mater at Oxford for its annual Gaudy Dinner and festivities. She’s not inclined to attend, mostly because she has no idea of the reception she’d receive after being accused of murder (see Strong Poison for the details of that). But when a former classmate particularly asks that she go, Vane changes her mind. The bond she feels with her classmates and the faculty convinces her to travel to Oxford, and she gets a very warm reception there. But things soon start to turn ominous. First, Vane gets an anonymous note accusing her of murder. Then, she gets a letter from the dean of her college, saying that there’ve been other incidents too, including vandalism. The dean wants Vane to come back to Oxford and investigate. This Vane agrees to do, under the guise of doing research for a novel. It turns out that what’s happening at Oxford is more dangerous than just a nasty note, and has everything to do with a past incident.

Val McDermid’s Report For Murder also concerns returning alumni. Derbyshire House Girls’ School is desperately in need of funds. So teacher Paddy Callaghan uses the ‘old girls’ network’ to contact Perspectives and persuade them to do a piece on the school and its fundraising efforts. Callaghan’s friend Lindsay Gordon will do the piece, and although a school like this is against Gordon’s principles, the money from the commission is not. So she travels to the school. There she meets TV personality Cordelia Brown, who’s also there to do publicity for the school. One of the big fundraising events will be a Gala and concert featuring famous cellist and alumna Lorna Smith-Couper. But everything goes wrong when Smith-Couper is murdered. School authorities know that the media will descend on the school after the killing and there’ll be all sorts of terrible publicity. So Gordon and Brown agree to do what they can to keep the story as quiet as possible. If they’re going to do that though, they’ll need to find out who the killer is…

Amateur detective Charles Lenox returns to his alma mater Oxford in Charles Finch’s historical mystery The September Society. It’s 1866 in London, and Lady Annabelle Payson is concerned because her son George has disappeared from his rooms at Lincoln College. Lady Annabelle wants Lenox to visit Oxford and see if he can trace George’s whereabouts. Lenox agrees, thinking that this is going to be a straightforward case. But the weird clues left behind suggest that there’s more to the disappearance than a young man who wanted to take off for a few days. One of the clues is a card with a cryptic reference to a secret group called The September Society, and Lenox follows up on that. Then there’s a murder. Now it’s clear that this will be a very complex and possibly very dangerous case.

Very often that university/school bond allows alumni to stay in touch and help one another. This is what happens in Camilla Grebe and Åsa Träff’s Some Kind of Peace. Stockholm psychologist Siri Bergman is slowly (and not yet really successfully) coming to terms with the death of her beloved husband Stefan. One day she gets an anonymous letter making it clear that she’s being stalked. The stalker even seems to have access to her case files. Then she’s set up for a drink-driving incident. Other things too occur that seem designed to sabotage her professional reputation. Then the body of a client Sara Matteus is found in the water on Bergman’s property. It’s set up to look like a suicide; there’s even a note blaming Bergman. But the police soon establish that the victim was murdered. Bergman own name is cleared soon enough, but it’s now obvious that someone is out to ruin her life – or even end it. To try to find out who that person might be, Bergman and police officer Markus Stenberg visit a former classmate from Stockholm University Vijay Kumar. Bergman, Kumar, and Bergman’s best friend Aina Davidson were in graduate school together and still have a bond. Bergman is hoping that Kumar, who’s become an expert in profiling, will be able to give them some insight into the kind of person who may be stalking her. The information Kumar offers doesn’t solve the case. But it does provide a very useful perspective, and we can see how the ‘university bond’ works.

The school/university years can have a powerful impact. So it’s no surprise that one’s alma mater can draw one back. Where have you seen this plot point?

 

ps. Oh, the ‘photo? Yes, I’m a proud alumna.
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from John Sebastian’s Welcome Back.

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Filed under Åsa Träff, Camilla Grebe, Charles Finch, Dorothy Sayers, Edmund Crispin, Val McDermid