Category Archives: Barbara Neely

A Small Offense*

Most people see a big difference between little peccadillos and larger crimes. Certainly, the law does. Some things, like speeding, are technically illegal, but a lot of people do them with no sense of remorse. There are other little ‘sins’ like that, too. It’s not a good idea to speed too much, or to bring that stapler home from the office. But those are things people do.

Those little things can get people into difficult situations, though. Just look at some examples from crime fiction, and you’ll see what I mean. There are plenty of cases where a character starts out by doing something questionable and ends up drawn into something more.

In Agatha Christie’s Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, for instance, we are introduced to Edna Sweetiman. She’s not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer, as the saying goes. And she’s gotten herself into a bit of a mess. She’s been meeting a married man – one whom her parents have strictly forbidden her to see. But their disapproval doesn’t stop her. One night, she’s waiting by a corner (their meeting-place) when she happens to see a woman go into a nearby house. That in itself doesn’t mean very much to Edna. But then, the news breaks that the owner of the house, Laura Upward, has been murdered. Now, Edna’s evidence could be essential. But she doesn’t want to admit to anyone, least of all her father, what she was doing. Still, as her mother says, she saw what she saw, and must report it. With a little help, Edna finally does just that. It turns out that this murder is related to an earlier one that Hercule Poirot is investigating. And, although Edna’s evidence isn’t the ‘smoking gun,’ it’s a clue worth having.

In Minette Walters’ The Breaker, brothers Paul and Daniel Spender are doing some exploring near Chapman’s Pool on the Dorset coast. They’ve – ahem – borrowed their father’s very expensive binoculars for the trip; after all, what harm could it do? As they’re using the binoculars to look around, they see the body of a woman. They end up breaking those costly binoculars, but at the moment, that doesn’t matter. They give the alarm, and, soon, Police Constable (PC) Nick Ingram takes over. It turns out that the dead woman is identified as Kate Sumner, whose husband, William, reported her missing. Ingram works with Detective Inspector (DI) John Galbraith, WPC (Woman Police Constable) Sandra Griffiths, and Superintendent Carpenter to find out who killed the victim and why. As it turns out, there are only three viable suspects: William Sumner; Stephen Harding, a sexually-obsessed actor with whom Kate flirted more than once; and, Harding’s room-mate, teacher Tony Bridges. It’s interesting to see how a small peccadillo like taking the binoculars gets the Spender boys tangled up in a murder case.

Ken Bruen’s Jack Taylor knows all too well how big a little incident like a speeding violation can become. In The Guards, we learn that Taylor used to be a member of the Garda Síochána. He was assigned to set up a speed trap on a particular part of the motorway. It wasn’t a difficult job, but it was cold, and Taylor had more coffee laced with brandy than he should have had. Then he caught a speeder, and everything spiraled out of control. It turned out that the car’s passenger was a Teachta Dála (TD), a member of the lower house of the Irish Parliament. The car had government plates (thus, the assumption that the driver wouldn’t get cited). Taylor was having none of it, though, and ended up punching the TD. That incident cost him his job, and now, Taylor is an unofficial PI. A simple speed trap changed everything for Taylor.

Barbara Neely’s sleuth, Blanche White, makes her debut in Blanche on the Lam. As the novel begins, she has just been sentenced to jail time for writing bad checks. Not that writing a bad check is to be condoned, but, as White reasons, it was only two checks. And she had to do something to make ends meet. She is a professional housekeeper, so she’s not wealthy to begin with. And now that she’s more or less raising her sister’s two children, money doesn’t go far. That’s the main reason, as a matter of fact, for which White desperately wants to avoid jail. How can she take care of the children from behind bars? So, she tricks the prison matron who’s guarding her, and she makes an escape. Then, she takes a temporary housekeeping job, to try to say out of sight, so to speak. And that’s how she gets drawn into a case of murder. The smallish matter of a couple of bad checks ends up pulling her into a serious case.

And then there’s Jesse Milford, whom we meet in Michael Connelly’s The Overlook. He made the trip from his native Canada to Los Angeles to try to ‘make it’ in the music world. Milford’s obsessed with superstar entertainer Madonna, and he tries to sneak onto her property to get an autograph or some other memento to send home. Trespassing isn’t to be encouraged, but what Milford thought of as a minor matter quickly escalates. While he’s on Madonna’s property, he happens to witness the murder of physicist Stanley Kent. When L.A.P.D. detective Harry Bosch learns that Milford was a witness, he decides to find out everything Milford knows. As it is, Milford’s facing charges of trespassing. So he can use all of the help Bosch can give. And Bosch needs Milford’s information. So, he persuades Milford that it’s in his interest for them to work together.

And that’s the thing about this minor ‘sins.’ Things like speeding, writing a bad check, and so on, are not good ideas. But they’re usually relatively small matters. You never know, though, where those small things might lead…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jandek’s Don’t Get Too Upset.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Barbara Neely, Ken Bruen, Michael Connelly, Minette Walters

Gonna Make a (Jailbreak)*

Prison isn’t exactly a nice place to be. So, most people don’t want to go there. And, if they’re there, they don’t want to stay there. That’s one reason there are prison guards, security procedures, and so on. Despite those measures, though, people do escape from custody. With today’s technology, it’s not easy to do. But it does happen.

And it certainly happens in crime fiction. A prison escape can add some real tension to a story. And it can add a solid plot point, too. It’s a scenario that’s got to be done well if it’s going to be credible. But when it is, prison escape can work quite effectively in a crime story.

For instance, In Agatha Christie’s Sanctuary, vicar’s wife Diana ‘Bunch’ Howard goes to the local church to see to the flowers. When she gets there, she discovers to her shock that there’s a badly wounded man huddled on the floor. She’s too late to save his life, but, before he dies, the man says, ‘Sancturay.’ At first, it looks as though the man committed suicide. But if so, why choose an out-of-the-way country church? The dead man is identified as William Sandbourne when his sister and her husband contact the police station. But something about this couple doesn’t seem quite right to Bunch, and she asks her godmother, Miss Marple, for help. It turns out that things are not at all what they seem. This death was definitely a murder, and it’s related to a jewel theft and a prison escapee named Walter St. John.

C.B. Gilford’s short story Swamp Rat begins just after nineteen-year-old Claude Wetzel escapes from prison. He knows that if he can just get through the swamp that surrounds the prison, he has a chance to make it to a road and then to freedom. It’s not going to be easy, though. The prison guards are out in full, with trained dogs. And Wetzel has no money, no extra clothes, and no form of transportation other than his own legs. He’s discovered by an old man who lives in the swamp – a man who calls himself Dad. And it looks as though Wetzel might actually make it to the road. But things quickly get more complicated, and Wetzel will have to think fast if he’s going to survive.

Jeffery Deaver’s The Sleeping Doll features interrogator Kathryn Dance of the California Bureau of Investigation. She’s assigned to interview Daniel Pell, the leader of a Manson-like cult. He’s in prison for the murders of several members of the Croyton family eight years earlier. It’s believed that Pell and his ‘family’ are also responsible for a recently-discovered murder, and Dance’s job is to try to determine whether that’s true. But Pell escapes from prison. Now, more murders begin to occur, and it looks as though Pell is carrying out a vendetta against anyone who’s ever gotten in his way – including Dance and her family.

As James Lee Burke’s A Morning For Flamingos begins, New Iberia, Louisiana police detective Dave Robicheaux and his partner, Lester Benoit, are preparing to transport two convicts to Louisiana’s Angola State Penitentiary. One is Tee Beau Latiolais; the other is Jimmie Lee Boggs. Both of these men have been convicted of murder and are being sent to Death Row to await execution. While Robicheaux and Benoit are en route to Angola with their charges, Boggs manages to escape, which also frees Latiolais. Boggs kills Benoit, and badly wounds Robicheaux, leaving him for dead. But Robicheaux survives. And, when he gets the chance to catch Jimmie Lee Boggs, he can’t resist. It will mean, though, that he has to get close to, and then bring down, New Orleans crime boss Tony Cardo. And in the end, that proves to be a very complicated task.

Barbara Neely’s Blanche on the Lam introduces us to professional housekeeper Blanche White. As the story begins, she’s been arrested for writing bad checks, and the judge has just sentenced her to jail time. As Blanche sees it, she cannot go to jail because that will leave her unable to care for her sister’s two children, who see her as more a mother than an aunt. Desperate to do something – anything – to get out of her predicament, Blanche tricks the guard who’s supposed to be watching her and makes her escape. Then, she takes a temporary housekeeping job that she believes will allow her to hide out for a bit until she can work out what to do about her money problems. Her new employers have secrets of their own, and it’s not long before Blanche is caught up in a case of murder.

And then there’s Roger Smith’s Dust Devils. Journalist Robert Dell is taking a drive one day outside of Cape Town. With him are his wife, Rosie, and their two children. Suddenly, the family is ambushed and the car plunges over an embankment. Only Dell survives, and he is injured. Soon, the police go after Dell, insisting that he killed his family members. He knows he is innocent, but that doesn’t stop him being found guilty in a frame-up. What Dell doesn’t know at first is that his estranged father, Bobby Goodbread, has found out what happened. Goodbread engineers his son’s escape, and the two leave Cape Town. The two men have very different attitudes about many things, most especially apartheid (Goodbread mourns its passing; Dell has the opposite point of view). Despite their differences, though, they start to work together. For different reasons, they’re both looking for the man who killed Dell’s family, so they towards Zululand, where their quarry lives. Along the way, they find much more danger than they’d imagined.

Escaping from custody isn’t easy. Neither is writing about it in a credible way. But, when it’s done well, a prison escape really can add to a story. These are just a few examples. Over to you.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this song is a line from AC/DC’s Jailbreak.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Barbara Neely, C.B. Gilford, James Lee Burke, Jeffery Deaver, Roger Smith

I’m a Wanted Man*

With today’s technology, it’s not easy to ‘disappear,’ especially if the police have an arrest warrant. It might be possible to hide for a short time, especially with some help. And there are, of course, stories of fugitives who’ve escaped detection for years. As a rule, though, it’s hard to run from an arrest warrant for any length of time. And it’s even harder to avoid detection forever.

There are plenty of crime-fictional fugitives, and it’s not hard to see why. That plot point can make for solid tension and suspense in a novel. There’s the unfolding of the fugitive’s past, the tension over whether the fugitive will be caught, and more.

Agatha Christie mentions fugitives of one kind or another in several of her stories. There’s one, in fact, in which the fugitive’s past plays a crucial role in a murder. I won’t say more for fear of spoilers, but it brings up an interesting point. Before the days of DNA evidence, the Internet, and other technology, it was harder to track a fugitive. So, some plots that are very successful in classic/Golden Age crime fiction wouldn’t be successful in a contemporary context.

Tony Hillerman’s The Ghostway begins as Albert Gorman, a Los Angeles Navajo, shoots a man outside a laundromat. He’s wounded himself but drives away without seeking medical help. And we soon learn why: Gorman is a fugitive who’s wanted by the FBI. Sergeant Jim Chee is assigned to work with an FBI agent named Sharkey to go in search of Gorman. They eventually trace the man to the hogan of one of his kinsmen, Ashie Begay. By the time they get to the hogan, though, there’s no sign of Gorman or Begay. Some distance away, though, Chee and Sharkey find Gorman’s body, apparently prepared in the Navajo way for burial. The FBI has found its quarry, but Chee’s now got two mysteries on his hands. Who killed Gorman, and what’s the connection between that murder and the disappearance of Ashie Begay?

Judges know that people who’ve been arrested might very well decide to flee. So, in many cases, they require a bail bond to ensure that the defendant will appear in court. That bail money is often advanced by bail bond agencies. So, the owners and employees of those agencies have a vested interest in making sure that defendants don’t become fugitives. If they do, then those companies send out agents to find and recover those people. And that’s exactly what Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum does for a living. She was originally hired by her cousin to do clerical work. But, as fans know, she’s discovered a talent for finding people who don’t want to be found. It’s sometimes dirty, very dangerous work. But Plum’s good at it, even though her family might have wished a different career for her…

In Barbara Neely’s Blanche on the Lam, we are introduced to Blanche White. She is a professional housekeeper who’s trying to build a client base. As the story opens, she’s in court facing serious trouble because of a bad check that she wrote. Jail isn’t an option for her, because she is taking care of her sister’s two children. So, she tricks the bailiff who’s supposed to be watching her and leaves the courthouse. She’s not stupid; she knows that she is now a fugitive. But she doesn’t see any option. As a way of hiding out for a short time, she takes a temporary job – and soon finds herself drawn into a family mystery and the murder of a local sheriff.

In Kazuhiro Kiuchi’s Shield of Straw, we meet Kunihide Kiyomaru. As the story begins, we learn that he was responsible for the rape and murder of a young girl. Since the crime, Kiyomaru has been a fugitive in hiding. But the victim’s wealthy grandfather, Takaoki Ninagawa, devises a way to catch the man. Ninagawa offers a one-billion-yen reward to anyone who kills Kiyomaru and can prove it. He makes the news widely available in newspapers and on social media, and soon, many thousands of people are looking for the fugitive. Kiyomaru, too, knows about this bounty. He knows very well that if he remains in hiding, he will be killed. So, he turns himself in to the police in Fukuoka. From there, he’ll need to be returned to Tokyo to face trial. For that, the Tokyo Municipal Police Department sends Kazuki Mekari and his team to go to Fukuoka, take custody of the prisoner, and return him to Tokyo. That won’t be easy, though, with so many people determined to get that one billion yen.

And then there’s Geoffrey Robert’s The Alo Release. A company called Vestco has produced a new seed covering that it claims will greatly increase food production and reduce worldwide hunger. A Los Angeles-based watchdog agency called the Millbrook Foundation has serious doubts about those claims, and about Vestco. But they haven’t been able to prevent the release. Now, with nine days to go until the seed covering is distributed, it looks as though Millbrook has lost the fight. Then, a Vestco employee is murdered. Three Millbrook employees are framed for the crime, but they’re not even aware of that at first. They’re en route to New Zealand when their names come up as suspects. When they land, they have no idea that they are now international fugitives. Now, they’ll have to try to find the real killer and prevent the release of the seed covering if they can, before they’re captured or killed.

There are any number of reasons a person might choose to become a fugitive. And those reasons can add much to a crime story. Little wonder we see these characters as much as we do in the genre, whether it’s in books, television or film.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Styx’s Renegade.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Barbara Neely, Geoffrey Robert, Janet Evanovich, Kazuhiro Kiuchi, Tony Hillerman

Gone to Carolina in My Mind*

Have you ever been to North Carolina? Perhaps you live (or have lived) there? It’s a beautiful place, with an interesting mix of cosmopolitan, (sub)urban areas, beaches, and small towns. There are plenty of very rural places, too. And North Carolina is rich with history, beginning before the state was a colony.

On the surface, it’s a lovely, peaceful state. But just look at crime fiction, and you’ll see that a lot can happen, even in a friendly, small town or lovely city. As this is posted, it’s the birthday of North Carolina’s own James Taylor. So, what better time to share some fine North Carolina-based crime fiction?

For those who enjoy cosy mysteries, there are two series by North Carolina author Elizabeth Spann Craig. One features retired teacher Myrtle Clover. She lives in the small town of Bradley, where her son, Red, is chief of police. Myrtle may be retired, but that doesn’t mean she wants to be put out to pasture, as the saying goes. Much to her son’s chagrin, Myrtle gets very interested when there’s a murder, and likes to do her own sleuthing. She’s fairly good at it, too. She knows almost everyone in town, and, since she’s a ‘harmless old lady,’ she can go places and hear things that the police might not. Spann Craig’s other series features Beatrice Coleman, a retired art expert who moves to the small town of Dappled Hills for some peace and quiet after a busy career. That’s not what she gets, though. Through her association with the Village Quilters, Beatrice gets to know a lot of people in town – and gets involved in more than one murder investigation.

North Carolina has some prestigious universities and colleges, too. And Sarah R. Shaber gives us a look at higher education in that state with her Simon Shaw series. Shaw is a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, who could have had his pick of any of the US’s top institutions. But he’s chosen to work at Kenan College, a small but selective and well-regarded school in a typical ‘college town.’ Shaw couldn’t imagine living and working anywhere but the South, and there’s plenty for him to do. As I say, there’s rich history in the state, and Shaw’s interested in a lot of it. For instance, in the first of this series, Simon Said, he’s works with an archaeologist friend to find out the truth about a long-buried set of remains that’s found on the old Bloodworth property. Part of it’s been deeded to the college, but that gift won’t go through without an investigation. So, Shaw looks into the family history to discover who the victim might have been, and who would have wanted to commit that murder.

Another look at North Carolina’s history comes from Donald Smith’s The Constable’s Tale, which takes place in 1758.  Plantation owner James Henry ‘Harry’ Woodyard is serving his term as a Royal Constable for Craven County. Usually, that’s mostly a matter of breaking up drunken quarrels, catching petty thieves, and other small crimes. Everything changes when the bodies of Edward and Anne Campbell and their son are discovered. It looks like a sort of ritual killing, and that it might have been the work of local Indians. And that’s not impossible, considering this story takes place during the Seven Years (French and Indian) War. Soon enough, an Indian named Comet Elijah is arrested for the crime. Woodyard’s known the man for a long time, and cannot imagine him committing these murders. And there are other possibilities, too. For instance, why was a brooch engraved with Masonic symbols found at the scene? Campbell wasn’t a Mason, so there has to be another explanation. Woodyard takes an interest in the case, and, despite pressure from the Craven County authorities to accept the obvious solution, he finds out the real truth. Besides the mystery at the core of the novel, readers also get an interesting look at life in North Carolina during its colonial history.

Barbara Neely offers readers another perspective on modern North Carolina. In Blanche on the Lam, we meet professional housekeeper Blanche White. Originally from New York, White moved to North Carolina, and, as the series begins, works for a housekeeping agency. Her job means that she gets a very intimate look at her clients’ lives. That’s especially true because she is black, while most of her clients are white. They tend to see her as ‘the help,’ rather than as an individual. That attitude makes her almost invisible, which is very helpful as she investigates. Two of the novels (Blanche on the Lam, and Blanche Passes Go) take place in North Carolina, so readers get a sense of the setting. Along with that and the mystery plots, this series offers a close (and not always comfortable) look at race relations and social structure.

And then there’s John Hart’s The Last Child, which is set in contemporary small-town/rural North Carolina. Thirteen-year-old Johnny Merrimon has been devastated since his twin sister, Alyssa, went missing a year ago. He hasn’t stopped looking for her, although his mother has all but given up hope. He has a map, a bicycle, and a plan, and is determined to find Alyssa, or at least, her body. One day, Johnny’s skipping school, spending time at a local river, when he witnesses a car accident on the bridge over the river. A man’s body hurtles towards him, landing nearby. The man dies but not before telling Johnny,
 

‘‘I found her…the girl that was taken.’’
 

This gives Johnny hope that Alyssa may still be alive, and he renews his search. Detective Clyde Hunt has also been looking for the girl, and is afraid of the trouble Johnny may find if he keeps looking on his own. Still, he respects the boy’s motives and effort, and he tries, in his own way, to help. Each in a different way, he and Johnny pick up the search for Alyssa, and relate it to the unknown dead man, and to another disappearance.

See what I mean? North Carolina is physically beautiful, with lots of rich history and interesting places. But safe? Well….

ps. The ‘photos were taken on Emerald Isle, in North Carolina’s Outer Banks. See? Lovely!

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from James Taylor’s Carolina in My Mind.

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Filed under Barbara Neely, Donald Smith, Elizabeth Spann Craig, John Hart, Sarah R. Shaber

You Can Run a Household*

HousekeepersWouldn’t it be wonderful to have someone to manage your household? The cleaning chores would be done, the dry cleaning would be sent out and picked up, the food would be purchased, cooked, and served, and perhaps even your household accounting would be done. That’s the life people live when they have a skilled housekeeper.

A recent comment exchange with Kathy D. and with Tim at Solitary Praxis has got me thinking about the role of housekeepers in crime fiction. And housekeepers are certainly woven through the genre. It makes sense, too, when you consider that housekeepers have been part of the social and economic structure of many societies for a long time.

In days past, of course, people of means (and even plenty of people who weren’t extremely wealthy) had household staffs (cooks, maids, drivers, nannies, and so on). The housekeeper supervised those people – not always an easy job.

We see that sort of household structure in Emily Brightwell’s historical (Victorian Era) Mrs. Jeffries series. Mrs. Jeffries serves as housekeeper to Inspector Gerald Witherspoon. In that role, she supervises his cook, maids, coachman and footman. Witherspoon also finds that Mrs. Jeffries is a very helpful ‘sounding board’ when he’s on a case. What he doesn’t know is how deliberate that is on Mrs. Jeffries’ part. She has a good relationship with her employees, who serve as her ‘eyes and ears.’ So when Witherspoon is conducting an investigation, Mrs. Jeffries gets a lot of information from her staff. After all, who pays attention to a maid? Or a coachman? Those people can hear things and see things without really being noticed.

Several of Agatha Christie’s stories feature housekeepers. And it’s interesting to see how their roles evolved over time as they’re portrayed in her work. For example, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was published in 1926. In that novel, wealthy manufacturing magnate Roger Ackroyd is stabbed one night. His stepson, Captain Ralph Paton, is the most likely suspect, but he’s gone missing, so the police can’t question him. His fiancée, Flora Ackroyd, believes he’s innocent, though, and asks Hercule Poirot (who has moved to the area) to investigate. Poirot agrees, and looks into the matter. One of the ‘people of interest’ is Ackroyd’s housekeeper, Miss Russell. She’s certainly very much in charge of the staff. But she is, if you will, a victim of the social mores of the day, and has to be very careful of what she says and does. She’s also very much aware that Ackroyd could fire her at any moment.

Things changed quickly, especially after World War II. So in 4:50 From Paddington (AKA What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!) (published in 1957), we see quite a different role for the housekeeper. In that novel, Miss Marple works with her friend, Elspeth McGillicuddy, to find out the truth about a murder Mrs. McGillicuddy witnessed. The body ends up at Rutherford Hall, the property of Luther Crackenthorpe, so Miss Marple needs an ‘in’ to get to know the Crackenthorpe family. For that, she relies on professional housekeeper Lucy Eyelesbarrow.  Lucy is very good at her job, so she’s in demand, and basically sets her own work schedule and working conditions. The Crackenthorpe family eagerly hires her, and, technically speaking, she is an employee. But there’s no question who really runs the household and is subtly in charge.

We see that also in Barbara Neely’s novels featuring professional housekeeper Blanche White. Like other skilled housekeepers, Blanche is observant and quick-thinking, and is able to multi-task. On the surface, Blanche is an employee who can be dismissed at any time. What’s more, she is black, while many of her employers are white. This in itself puts her and her employers in different social classes in many areas. And yet, fans of this series can tell you that Blanche has her own way of being much more ‘in charge’ than many of her employers may think. They depend on her in ways they’re probably not even aware of, and they go along with her wishes without noticing it.

Sometimes it can be dangerous to be a housekeeper. Just ask Vera Pugsley, whom we meet in Hannah Dennison’s Murder at Honeychurch Hall. In that novel, TV personality Katherine ‘Kat’ Stanford has decided to give up the pressures and hassles of the media, and open an antiques business with her recently-widowed mother, Iris. Everything changes, though, with one telephone call from Iris. It seems she’s suddenly moved from London to Little Dipperton, Devon, and taken the former carriage house on the grounds of Honeychurch Hall, home of the Honeychurch family. This abrupt change of plans shocks Kat, and she rushes to Devon to see what’s going on. When she gets there, she discovers that her mother has injured one of her hands in a car accident, so Kat makes plans to stay on a bit until Iris is well. It’s not long before a strange series of events starts happening. First, someone seems to be sabotaging Iris’ attempts to get settled in her new home. There’s also the matter of the disappearance of the nanny that the Honeychurch family has hired. Then, there’s a theft from Honeychurch hall – a valuable antique snuff box. Then, the Honeychurch family’s housekeeper, Vera Pugsley, is murdered. Kat gets drawn into this mystery, as well as the history of the Honeychurch family.

Of course, not all housekeepers are sleuths or victims. Some are decidedly not on the side of the angels, as the saying goes. Any fan of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca can tell you that. In that story, we follow the fortunes of Maxim de Winter’s second wife as she tries to adjust to life at Manderley, the de Winter home. One major obstacle is that the place still seems permeated by the presence of Maxim’s first wife, Rebecca. And the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, does nothing to dispel that presence. In fact, she works as hard as she can to manipulate, frighten, demean, and belittle the new Mrs. de Winter. Matters are made worse by the fact that Rebecca did not die naturally.  The psychological tension in the story increases as the second Mrs. de Winter slowly discovers the truth about her husband, Rebecca, and Mrs. Danvers.

And then there’s Eunice Parchman, whom we meet in Ruth Rendell’s A Judgement in Stone. The wealthy and well-educated Coverdale family needs a housekeeper. So Jacqueline Coverdale advertises for the position. Eunice applies, and is hired with very little ‘vetting.’ And that proves to be disastrous. It turns out that Eunice has a secret – one she is determined that no-one will discover. When a family member accidently stumbles on that secret, the result is tragedy.

See what I mean? Housekeepers are woven into crime fiction in many different ways. Thanks, Tim and Kathy D., for the inspiration. Which fictional housekeepers have stayed with you?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from John Kander and Fred Ebb’s The Grass is Always Greener.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Barbara Neely, Daphne du Maurier, Emily Brightwell, Hannah Dennison, Ruth Rendell