Category Archives: Bill Crider

Nothing Could be Longer Than that Corrugated Road*

There’s plenty of crime in cities and suburbia. We see it on the news, and we read about it in crime fiction, too. Large city police forces certainly have their hands full, and I’m sure you could list dozens and dozens of big-city crime novels and series.

It’s interesting to contrast that sort of work with the work of a very rural police officer or other law enforcement officer. There’s crime in both cases – sometimes horrible crime – and, like their counterparts in cities, rural law enforcement officers have to do things like file paperwork, interview witnesses, look for evidence, and so on. But there are differences, too.

Rural law enforcement people are often spread thinner, as the saying goes. So, it helps if they’re familiar with the land. In some cases, they also have to be very much aware of weather patterns and other natural phenomena. And they tend to know the people they serve quite well, since there are usually far fewer of them. There are other differences, too. And it’s interesting to see how rural law enforcement plays out in crime fiction.

For example, Arthur Upfield’s Inspector Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte works with the Queensland Police. But, as fans can tell you, he certainly doesn’t stay in Brisbane. His territory is large, and lots of it is very rural. So, he’s learned to read ‘the Book of the Bush.’ He understands weather patterns, animal traces, and so on. And he gets to know both the Aboriginal groups he meets and the whites who live in the tiny towns and ranches in the area. He’s learned to pay attention, too, to the stories and gossip he hears. Word spreads, so he’s often able to learn about an area’s history and legends. That helps him, too.

Adrian Hyland’s Emily Tempest grew up in Moonlight Downs, a very rural Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory. She left for school and travel, but returns in Diamond Dove (AKA Moonlight Downs). And, in Gunshot Road, she begins a new job as an ACPO (Aboriginal Community Police Officer). In both novels, she shows her deep understanding of the land, the weather, and other natural phenomena. We also see how connected she is to the people she serves. She knows, or at least has heard of, practically everyone, even though people are very spread out in her territory. Most of the people in the area know her, too, and trust her, since she’s ‘one of them.’ That relationship means that she’s able to get information that people aren’t always willing to give to the police.

A similar thing might be said of Tony Hillerman’s Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn. They are members of the Navajo Nation. They are also members of the Navajo Tribal Police. Most members of the Navajo community live in a very spread-out, rural area of the Southwest US. Chee and Leaphorn cover an awful lot of territory in their investigations, and some of that land is unforgiving, so both have learned to respect it. They understand weather patterns and other phenomena, and they’re smart enough not to take risks they don’t have to take. Members of the Navajo community know each other, or at least know of each other. In fact, there are complicated links among various Navajo clans. So, there’s less anonymity, even in such a sparsely populated area, than there is in some large cities. And Chee and Leaphorn take advantage of the way word spreads. You’re quite right, fans of Stan Jones’ Nathan Active series, and of Scott Young’s Matthew ‘Matteesie’ Kitologitak novels. We see a similar situation in Alaska and in Canada’s far northern places.

And it’s not always in the far north of Canada, either. For example, Michael Redhill/Inger Ash Wolfe’s Detective Inspector (DI) Hazel Micallef series takes place in fictional Port Dundas, Ontario. Micallef and her team cover a wide area that’s mostly rural and small-town. It’s not a big department, and they don’t have access to a lot of resources. But they make do, as best they can, with what they have. One of their advantages is that people know each other. For instance, Micallef’s mother, Emily, is a former mayor of Port Dundas. So, she’s well aware of the area’s social networks. So are most of the members of Micallef’s police team. And they use those networks to get information. Things can get awkward, as they do when you work in the same town where you grew up. But Micallef and her team also use that familiarity to their advantage.

So does Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire (oh, come on – you knew I couldn’t do a piece about rural law enforcement without mentioning him). He’s the sheriff of fictional Absaroka County, Wyoming. While he’s based in the small town of Durant, he does more than his share of travel throughout the mostly rural county. As fans can tell you, Longmire has learned to be respectful of the weather conditions, natural forces and climate in the area. It can be a harsh place to live and work, especially in the winter. But Longmire knows the tricks of survival. He also knows the value of all of the networks of rural communication. Because it’s a sparsely-populated area, there’s sometimes a lot of travel between places. So, Longmire has learned to make use of those social networks. He knows that people – even people who don’t live close by – congregate at places like the Red Pony (a local bar/restaurant) and the Busy Bee Café. So, he listens to what he hears in those places. That helps him make the most efficient use of his travel efforts.

And that’s the way it is for a lot of rural law enforcement characters. It’s quite a different form of policing to what goes on in large towns, suburbs, and cities. And it’s important work, too. Anyone who says crime doesn’t happen in rural areas hasn’t read much crime fiction (right, fans of Bill Crider’s Sheriff Dan Rhodes novels?)…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Midnight Oil’s Gunbarrel Highway.

38 Comments

Filed under Adrian Hyland, Arthur Upfield, Bill Crider, Craig Johnson, Inger Ash Wolfe, Michael Redhill, Scott Young, Stan Jones, Tony Hillerman

Pomp and Circumstance*

Academic MysteriesAs I post this, the university where I teach is holding its annual Commencement exercises. It’s a very special time for the graduates and their families, and there’s always a profusion of flowers, decorations, and so on.

If you’ve participated in Commencements, then you know that those events are filled with ritual, from the things that are said, to the caps, gowns and hoods people wear, to some of the things they do. The ceremonies themselves are a very traditional aspect of academia.

It’s all got me thinking about a recent post from Moira, who blogs at Clothes in Books. By the way, if you’re not already a fan of Clothes in Books, you will be after just one visit. It’s a treasure trove of fine book reviews and discussions of fashion and popular culture in fiction, and what it all says about us.

Moira’s post described her list of the best mysteries set in schools. And she’s got a terrific set of novels, so you’ll want to check them out. There are a lot of novels and series set in the world of academia, and it’s not surprising. There’s that layer of tradition that I mentioned. But underneath it is the reality of a disparate group of people, each with a different agenda. And in the world of university, there’s also the reality of young people, many of whom are away from home for the first time. And let’s not forget the competitive nature of a lot of universities. Little wonder there’s so much rich context for a novel or a series.

There’s a lot to choose from, just within this group of crime novels. Here are a few that I’ve found really reflect the academic life at its best. And worst.

Fans of Dorothy Sayers’ work will know that Gaudy Night is set at fictional Shrewsbury College, Oxford, the alma mater of Sayers’ mystery novelist, Harriet Vane. In that novel, she returns to Shrewsbury at the request of the Dean when some disturbing and mysterious things begin to happen. As she looks into what’s going on, readers get a sense of some of the pomp and even pageantry of traditional academic life. The novel shows what it was like to be at university at that time and in that place. I couldn’t agree more, fans of Josephine Tey’s Miss Pym Disposes, and of Michael Innes’ Death at the President’s Lodging.

There’s also Edmund Crispin’s Dr. Gervase Fen, Professor of English at fictional St. Christopher’s College, Oxford. These mysteries are whodunits that often feature the sort of ‘impossible but not really impossible’ sort of mystery that classic/Golden Age crime fiction fans often associate with writers such as John Dickson Carr. In fact, Fen refers to Carr’s creation, Dr. Gideon Fell, in The Case of the Gilded Fly.

Of course, times have changed since Sayers and Crispin were writing, and so has academia. Christine Poulson’s Cassandra James novels show readers university life from a more contemporary perspective. James is Head of the English Literature Department at St. Etheldreda’s College, Cambridge. As such, she has to cope with challenges such as staffing, student issues, budgets, and ensuring that her department meets the requirements of outside examiners. She knows what goes on in her department, so she has a very useful perspective when murder occurs on and around campus. Among other things, these novels offer a look at the day-to-day life of a modern academic.

We also get that perspective in Gail Bowen’s series featuring Joanne Kilbourn Shreve. She’s a Saskatchewan political scientist and, for the first several novels, a university professor. In novels such as A Killing Spring and Burying Ariel, readers get an ‘inside view’ of what it’s like to teach at a Canadian university.

Sarah R. Shaber has written an academic mystery series featuring Pulitzer Prize winning historian Simon Shaw. Shaw teaches at Kenan College near Raleigh, North Carolina. Because of his scholarly interest, these mysteries tie in historical elements with the modern-day plots, and with the realities of academic life.

There are several other examples of US-based academic mysteries, too. For instance, there’s Amanda Cross’ Kate Fansler series, set in New York. And two of Bill Crider’s mystery series (one featuring Carl Burns and the other featuring Sally Good) are set in colleges located in Texas. Oh, and my own Joel Williams novels are also academic mysteries, set in a fictional university town in Pennsylvania.

Novels and series that are set in a university context can take advantage of a lot of aspects of that setting. Universities draw together students from many different kinds of backgrounds, who may have any number of motivations. They also draw together professors, each with a different agenda. And then there’s the pressure on both students and members of the faculty, whether it’s pressure for high marks or for promotion/tenure. There’s also the fact that academic mysteries allow the author to explore a topic (such as literature, politics, history or archaeology). After all, professors have their own areas of research interest, and that can provide an interesting set of plot layers for the author. With all of that, it’s really little wonder that academic mysteries are so popular. And I’ve only touched on the ones that take place at college and university campuses.

Want more? Check out Moira’s excellent post. Thanks for the inspiration, Moira! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to put on my cap, gown and hood…

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is, of course, the commonly-known (at least in the US) title of Pomp and Circumstance, March No. 1 in D, one of Sir Edward Elgar’s most famous compositions.

28 Comments

Filed under Amanda Cross, Bill Crider, Christine Poulson, Dorothy Sayers, Edmund Crispin, Gail Bowen, John Dickson Carr, Josephine Tey, Michael Innes, Sarah R. Shaber

Or Have You Moved Away?*

Mobile CommunitiesI live in the sort of community where people tend to come and go. Many families don’t stay for more than a few years, if even for that long. In such communities, you don’t often get to know the other people who live there very well. In fact, you may not even be aware that a couple or a family has moved in – until you see them moving out.

That kind of community can be difficult when it comes to investigating a crime. That’s partly because the residents don’t really know one another, and partly because people can be long gone before a crime is even discovered – if it is. But with today’s mobile society, such communities are becoming more and more common.

They’re certainly not new, though. For instance, in Agatha Christie’s Third Girl, we are introduced to Norma Restarick. The daughter of successful businessman Andrew Restarick, she lives in London in a flat that she shares with Claudia Reece-Holland and Frances Cary. It’s the kind of place where people stay for a short while, but then leave, either to buy homes, or for a job in another place. As one character puts it,
 

‘‘We cater very largely for people who come and go.’’
 

That’s one reason why, when Norma disappears, no-one takes much note of it. But Hercule Poirot does. Norma visited him shortly before she went missing, and told him she thought she might have committed a murder. With help from detective story writer Ariadne Oliver, Poirot finds out the truth about what happened to Norma Restarick, and the truth about her claim that she might have killed someone.

The fictional town of Sea Haven, New Jersey, is another place where people tend to come and go. Just ask Chris Grabenstein’s Danny Boyle. He and his boss, John Ceepak, are police officers for Sea Haven, and they’ve seen their share of people who come, stay for a week or two (sometimes longer), and then leave. In fact, when we first meet Boyle in Tilt a Whirl, he’s a temporary cop, hired to help deal with the summer crowds. Here’s what he says about the transient nature of Sea Haven in that novel:
 

‘Saturday is changeover day. People who rented last week are leaving; people renting this week will show up later, after the maid brigades have vacuumed the sandy floors and tossed out the abandoned seashell collections.’
 

In an environment like that, it’s often difficult to follow up on leads. And it’s part of the challenge Boyle and Ceepak face when they investigate the murder of successful businessman Reginald Hart. Was the killer a transient homeless person? Someone who was in town for a week or two and now gone? It turns out to be much more complicated than the two detectives think at first.

People also tend to move in and move out in places with second/summer/holiday homes. A lot of people who have such places don’t really get to know each other, and there’s all sorts of opportunity for crime to go on. That’s what happens in Bill Crider’s Death on the Move. Sheriff Dan Rhodes of Blacklin County, Texas is faced with a difficult case when his friend Clyde Ballinger, who owns the local funeral home, is accused of theft. Ballinger’s innocent, but the case leads Rhodes to a disturbing problem: several of the summer homes around Clearview Lake have been completely stripped of anything valuable. What’s more, one of the local residents says she’s seen a suspicious rental van driving around the area. Matters get even worse when a body is discovered in one of the homes. It’s not the owner, and there’s no identification. So at first, it’s really difficult to tell who the victim is. It’s complicated by the fact that this is the sort of place where people come and go, so that nobody really knows anybody else as well as one might think. There’s a similar sort of premise, too, in Jørn Lier Horst’s Closed for Winter.

Very often, when people move, they tend to more or less disappear, at least from the point of view of other people who live nearby. If you think about it, you’re not likely to know where the people who used to live near you have gone. The van comes, their things are packed, and they go. You might have a vague idea (‘We’re moving to ___ because I got a new job’), but you don’t necessarily keep track. We see that in Håkan Nesser’s The Unlucky Lottery.  Elderly Waldemar Leverkuhn and some friends have gone in together on a lottery ticket. When they turn out to be the winners, they decide to go out and celebrate. Later that night, Leverkuhn is killed. Intendant Münster and his team investigate, beginning with the people who live in the same building. Nobody is really close with anyone else, so no-one can really say why Leverkuhn was killed, much less by whom. The victim’s friends aren’t very helpful, either. The team also looks into Leverkuhn’s past, including talking to people the Leverkuhn family used to know years earlier. And it’s not until the team visits that place, where people know each other better, that they start to get some hints about the real truth.

There’s also often a lot of coming and going in migrant communities. People arrive, work for a while, and then either return to their own countries or find other places to settle in more permanently. People may know each other slightly, but they don’t usually keep track of one another. We see that in Eva Dolan’s Long Way Home. In that novel, DI Dushan Zigic and DS Mel Ferreira investigate when the body of an unknown man is discovered in the remains of a shed fire. After a short time, the man is identified as an Estonian named Jaan Stepulov. Now the detectives are faced with the thankless task of tracing the victim’s last days and weeks. It’s difficult partly because people in that community are not interested in talking to the police. But just as difficult is finding anyone who really knew the victim. People move in and out to the extent that nobody really knows anyone well.

And that’s the thing about certain communities. They may not be exactly transient, but they certainly don’t have a stable group of people who’ve lived there a while and know each other well. These are just a few examples of such places in crime fiction. Over to you.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Smiths’ Back to the Old House.

42 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Bill Crider, Chris Grabenstein, Eva Dolan, Håkan Nesser, Jørn Lier Horst

Oh, What a Night*

Crimefest is almost upon us, and a lot of people are very excited about it. I’m not able to attend this year but I know I’m very much looking forward to the announcements of awards, lists of nominees and of course, “on-the-scene” reports and ‘photos from folks who will be there. Galas like Crimefest can be exciting and fun, but they can also be quite dangerous. Just a quick look at crime fiction is enough to show you what I mean.

In Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side (AKA The Mirror Crack’d), for instance, everyone’s excited that famous actress Marina Gregg and her husband have purchased Gossington Hall, the former property of Colonel Arthur Bantry and his wife Dolly. The new owners plan a big gala charity event at which Gossington Hall will be opened to the public and no-one’s happier about it than Heather Badcock. She’s been a fan of Marina Gregg’s for years, and can’t wait to see her idol. On the day of the gala, Heather gets her chance to meet Marina Gregg. Not only does she get to greet the famous actress, but also, Marina gives her biggest fan her own cocktail. Heather’s beside herself with happiness until she suddenly becomes ill and then dies. It’s soon shown that the cocktail was poisoned and Miss Marple and her friend Dolly Bantry work to find out who the killer is. At first, it seems that Marina Gregg was the intended victim, and there are certainly plenty of people with a motive. But soon enough, we learn that the poisoned cocktail really was meant for Heather Badcock. Now Miss Marple has to discover who would have wanted to murder Heather. In the end, she and Dolly Bantry uncover the truth about Heather Badcock’s death.

Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night also features an important gala. Mystery novelist Harriet Vane gets an invitation to return to her alma mater Shrewsbury College, Oxford, for its annual Gaudy Dinner and celebration. At first, she’s reluctant to go because she’s not sure of what her reception will be. She’s gained a certain notoriety because of living with a man to whom she was not married and because of being arrested and tried for his murder (all of this is detailed in Strong Poison). For the sake of an old friend, though, she goes and is pleasantly surprised by the warm reception she gets. Attending the Gaudy Dinner brings Vane back into life at Shrewsbury a couple of months later when she receives a letter from the Dean of the College. It seems that someone’s been writing vicious anonymous letters, committing vandalism and otherwise causing trouble at the school, and no-one wants to call in the police and make it a public matter. So Vane agrees to return to Shrewsbury and investigate. With help from Lord Peter Wimsey, Vane discovers just how strong old grudges can be…

U.S. Senate staffer Andrea Feldman finds out how dangerous gala events can be in Margaret Truman’s Murder at the Kennedy Center. Feldman works for Senator Ken Ewald, a strong candidate for the U.S. presidency. She and other members of the Ewald team plan a glittering fund-raiser to support her boss’ bid for the presidency and all seems to be going well. Then, on the night of the big event, Andrea Feldman is shot. Attorney and Georgetown School of Law professor Mackensie “Mac” Smith discovers Feldman’s body later that night when he’s walking his dog Rufus. As it happens, Smith is a friend of the Ewald family and supports Ewald’s candidacy, so when Senator Ewald’s son Paul is accused of the shooting, the family asks Smith to represent their interests and defend Paul Ewald. Smith agrees and begins to investigate. Paul Ewald is the obvious suspect; he was having an affair with Feldman, and can’t produce a reliable alibi. But soon enough, Smith discovers that there are several other people who had good reason to want Andrea Feldman out of the way. In the end, he finds out that Andrea Feldman was killed because, as you might say, she tried to play a game she couldn’t win.

There’s another example of how risky it is to go to big events in J.L. Wilson’s Autographs, Abductions and A-List Authors. The Mystery/Romance Writers and Readers national convention is going to be held in Abilene, Texas. Beatrice R. “Bea” Emerson is excited and honoured that her novel has been nominated for a Silver Stylus Award in the Romantic Suspense category, so she is doubly eager to go to the convention. Shortly after the convention begins, Emerson attends a cocktail party where she finally gets the chance to meet famous author Jan Pritchard. Just after Emerson gets Pritchard to autograph a copy of her book, Pritchard suddenly dies. Since Emerson was the last person near Pritchard, she becomes a suspect. She has a motive, too, since Pritchard was Emerson’s chief rival for the Silver Stylus Award. Abilene detective L.J. Remarchik is assigned the case, and has the unpleasant task of investigating Emerson, although he’s become romantically interested in her. For her part, Emerson knows that she’s a suspect, and, eager to clear her name, works with Remarchik to look into Pritchard’s background and find out which of the many other people at the convention would have wanted to kill her.

In Bill Crider’s A Romantic Way to Die, Sheriff Dan Rhodes has to investigate another gala event gone terribly wrong. Novelist Vernell Lindsey and cover model Terry Don Coslin arrange a romance writer’s conference in Clearview, Texas. Everyone’s excited about a big event coming to this small town but for Rhodes, it chiefly means more work. Then, his job gets even more complicated when Henrietta Bayam, one of the attendees, is murdered. Rhodes begins his investigation and finds more than one suspect; Bayam was planning to publish a tell-all book in which she would reveal secrets that many of her fellow authors didn’t want told. Then, there’s another murder. Now, Rhodes has to tie together the two deaths and find out which of the suspects would have wanted both victims dead.

And then there’s Marina Dolç, a well-known and popular Catalán novelist whom we meet in Teresa Solana’s A Shortcut to Paradise. Dolç is staying at the Ritz Hotel in Barcelona to attend a prestigious literary awards banquet and ceremony. At the gala event, Dolç wins the coveted Golden Apple Fiction Prize, but tragically, doesn’t live long enough to really enjoy it. Shortly after returning to her hotel room, she’s brutally murdered. The most likely suspect in the murder is Dolç’s bitter rival Amadeu Cabestany, who has nothing but contempt for her work, and believes strongly that he should have won the prize. Cabestany claims he’s innocent and that he wasn’t even in the hotel at the time of the murder. But the only witness who can corroborate this is nowhere to be found. Barcelona brothers Eduard and Josep “Borja” Martínez get involved in the case when Cabestany’s agent hires them to clear her client’s name.

As delightful and exciting as gala events can be, they can also be dangerous. So if you’re going to Crimefest, have a wonderful time and I do hope you’ll post ‘photos and stories. But please do be careful. 😉



*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a Four Seasons song.

12 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Bill Crider, Dorothy Sayers, J.L. Wilson, Margaret Truman, Teresa Solana

It’s a Hard Knock Life For Us*

>What’s it like to be a writer? Have you ever thought about becoming an author? Many people see it as a glamorous life and, of course, there are some best-selling and very famous authors who seem to have “it all.” But for most authors, that’s not reality. Writing is hard work, and the realities of writing, getting published, and promoting are not nearly as exotic and thrilling as they may seem. Trust me. But don’t take my word for what to keep in mind if you want to write. Crime fiction has lots of lessons to teach writers and aspiring writers.

It’s Important to Do Your Research…

That’s one lesson we learn from Agatha Christie’s fictional author Ariadne Oliver. In Cards on the Table, she and three other sleuths (including Hercule Poirot) are invited to a strange dinner by a very eccentric host, Mr. Shaitana. Also invited are four other very interesting guests; they are all people whom Mr. Shaitana claims have gotten away with committing a murder. After dinner, while everyone is playing bridge, someone stabs Mr. Shaitana. The only possible suspects are those four successful murderers, so Oliver, Poirot, Colonel Race and Superintendent Battle work together to find out who committed the crime. At one point in the novel, Oliver gets a visit from Rhoda Dawes, the roommate of one of the suspects. Rhoda’s a fan of Mrs. Oliver’s and is excited to meet her idol, but when she arrives, Mrs. Oliver is in a state of some consternation. The reason, as Mrs. Oliver points out, is that:

“…that dreadful Finn of mine has got himself terribly tangled up. He did some awfully clever deduction with a dish of French beans and now he’s just detected deadly poison in the sage-and-onion stuffing of the Michaelmas goose, and I’ve just remembered that French beans are over by Michaelmas.

Now, Oliver has to try to revise her work so that it’s accurate, as well as help solve the mystery of Mr. Shaitana’s death. In the end, she provides some valuable assistance as Poirot finds out which of the suspects committed the murder.

…But be careful when you’re doing that research.

Harriet Vane finds that out in Dorothy Sayers’ Strong Poison. She’s a detective novelist who’s doing research on poisons including arsenic. So she’s gotten hold of some arsenic so she’ll be better-prepared to be accurate. That poison is part of what gets her in serious trouble when her former lover, Philip Boyes, dies of arsenic poisoning. Harriet’s the prime suspect and, in fact, she’s arrested and tried for the crime. The arsenic she’s been using for her research is part of the evidence against her and her prospects for an acquittal don’t look good. But Amanda Climpson, who’s on the jury, doesn’t believe that Harriet is guilty. Her reservations result in Harriet getting a new trial. That gives Miss Climpson’s friend Lord Peter Wimsey the time he needs to investigate the case and clear Harriet’s name.

In Joseph R.G. DeMarco’s Murder on Camac, that lesson comes too late for Helmut Brandt, an author who’s been doing research on the death of Pope John Paul I. He’s uncovered evidence that’s upset some very influential people within the Catholic Church. In fact, Brandt is aware of this threat, and calls private investigator Marco Fontana to ask Fontana to find out who’s trying to kill him. Before they can meet, though, Brandt is shot in what seems to be a mugging gone wrong. But Brandt’s partner Timothy Hollister thinks that Brandt was murdered, and asks Fontana to investigate. So Fontana sifts through the work that Brandt was doing to find out which of the enemies he was making killed him.

About those writing critique groups…

Critique groups and other writers’ support groups can be very helpful. Other writers can commiserate and can offer valuable input, support and ideas. But it’s a good idea to be very careful about the people in one’s group. For example, in Caroline Graham’s Written in Blood, we meet the members of the Midsomer Worthy Writers’ Circle. As the novel opens, this critique group is trying to decide whom to invite to address their group. It turns out that one of the members, Gerald Hadleigh, is acquainted with successful author Max Jannings. When the members of the Writers’ Circle find this out, they put pressure on Hadleigh to invite Jannings to speak. Hadleigh refuses at first, since he has good reason to hate Jannings, and doesn’t want the group to know about it. He finally agrees, all the while hoping that Jannings won’t accept the invitation. To Hadleigh’s dismay, though, Jannings agrees to speak to the group. On the night of his presentation, the group meets and holds a discussion about writing. Late that night, after the meeting is over and all of the group members have gone, Gerald Hadleigh is murdered. Now, Inspector Tom Barnaby and Sergeant Gavin Troy have to unravel the complicated relationships among the members of the group to find out who killed Hadleigh and why.

Going to Writing Conferences…

One of the most important ways to promote oneself and to learn about writing is to attend writing conferences. Writers learn from each other, and it’s also very enjoyable to meet other authors, booklovers and of course, agents and publishers. But it’s also wise to be very careful at those conferences. For example, in Bill Crider’s A Romantic Way to Die, romance author Vernell Lindsey and cover model Terry Don Coslin arrange a romance writers’ conference in Clearview, Texas. When the large group of aspiring and published writers arrives, things get complicated for Sheriff Dan Rhodes. Then, Henrietta Bayam, one of the authors at the convention, is murdered. As Rhodes begins to investigate the murder, he finds out that Henrietta was writing a tell-all book about some of her fellow writers. So several of the other writers at the convention come under suspicion. Then, there’s another murder. Now, Rhodes has to uncover several of the attendees’ secrets to find out who committed the murders.

Getting Inspired…

Writers get their inspiration in lots of different ways, and those who aren’t writers can sometimes misunderstand that process. That’s what happens in Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds (AKA Death in the Air). In that novel, Madame Giselle, a well-known French moneylender, dies suddenly while she’s on a flight from Paris to London. At first, her death is put down to heart failure. Soon, though, it’s discovered that she was poisoned. Hercule Poirot, who’s on the same flight, works with Inspector James “Jimmy” Japp to find out which of Madame Giselle’s fellow passengers killed her. One of the passengers, Mr. Clancy, is a detective novelist who takes what Japp thinks is a suspicious interest in the investigation. It doesn’t help Mr. Clancy that during the flight, he had an easy opportunity to kill the victim and that he’s currently writing a novel that uses the same kind of murder weapon that the police think was used in this case. Mr. Clancy claims that he’s simply working on his novel, and is taking a professional, if you will, interest in the case, but Japp is still suspicious. Then, one evening, two of the other passengers on the ill-fated flight happen to notice Mr. Clancy at the same restaurant and decide to “play detective” and follow him to see if he might be the killer. They “tail” Mr. Clancy and see that he follows a very roundabout way home, all the while muttering to himself and otherwise behaving very oddly. They’re convinced he’s the killer until later, when he explains the truth about that late-night walk: he was hashing out the plot of his story. In the end, Poirot finds out who really killed Madame Giselle and is able to help Japp put Clancy’s behavior in perspective.

As you can see, the life of a writer isn’t always as glamorous – or as safe – as it seems. But I wouldn’t have it any other way ; ). Have you read novels that share these kinds of details about the writing life? Which ones have you enjoyed? Still think the writing life might be a good one? ; )

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin’s Hard Knock Life.

19 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Bill Crider, Caroline Graham, Dorothy Sayers, Joseph R. G. DeMarco