Category Archives: Cara Black

But His Blood Runs Through My Instrument and His Song is in My Soul*

Crime-fictional sleuths get into the business for any number of reasons. And one of those reasons is that their father or mother was a detective. You might say these sleuths are legacies to their parents.

Sometimes that’s a good thing. It can give a detective an ‘in’ (e.g. ‘Oh, yeah, of course. Knew your dad.’). Sometimes it can be a burden, especially when the sleuth makes a mistake, or if the parent is or was under a cloud of suspicion. Either way, that connection to the past can add an interesting layer of character development. It can add tension to a plot, too.

In Agatha Christie’s The Clocks, we are introduced to Special Agent Colin Lamb. As the story begins, he’s searching for clues to the death of a colleague. Apparently, the dead man had uncovered evidence of a spy ring but was killed before he could name names. The clues that Lamb does have lead him to Wilbraham Crescent, a development in the town of Crowdean. Lamb’s trying to find the address he wants when a young woman runs out of one of the houses screaming. Lamb settles her as best he can, and then goes into the house. There, he finds the body of an unidentified man. He alerts the police, and inspector Richard Hardcastle takes the case. It’s an intriguing mystery, and Lamb thinks it might interest his father’s friend, Hercule Poirot. Poirot is, indeed interested – more than he admits at first – and he and Lamb work with Hardcastle to find out who the victim was and who killed him. It’s clear that Poirot has an affection for Lamb’s father, and it’s interesting to see that aspect of Lamb’s past as the story goes on.

In James Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential, we are introduced to Edmund ‘Ed’ Exley. He’s become a member of the LAPD mostly because of the influence of his father, the beloved and revered Preston Exley. It’s Exley Senior’s dream that his son will rise to the very top of the LAPD, and he does everything he can, including pushing and prodding his son, to make that happen. It’s a real challenge for Exley Junior, as everyone in the police department knows his father. Still, he aims to please, and does work to ‘get to ahead.’ On Christmas Day, 1951, seven civilians are brutally attacked by members of the police department. A groundswell of public outrage forces an internal investigation, and that has consequences. Two years later, there’s another tragedy, this time a late-night shooting at the Nite Owl diner.  As it turns out, these two incidents are related, and Ed Exley’s drawn into both. As the story goes on, we see how Exley is impacted by having a father who’s well-known in the business.

Above Suspicion is the first of Lynda La Plante’s novels to feature Anna Travis. In the novel, she’s just been promoted to the rank of Detective Sergeant and has applied to join the Murder Squad at Queen’s Park, London. Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) James Langton is looking for the right new person on the Murder Squad, and Travis’ résumé is impressive. It doesn’t hurt matters that Langton knew Travis’ father, Jack, who had a very good reputation on the police force. Travis misses her father, so she appreciates that Langton mentions him when they first meet. There’s not much time for sentimentality, though, because the Murder Squad has a difficult case on their hands. The body of seventeen-year-old Melissa Stephens has been discovered. In many ways, her murder resembles that of six other ‘cold case’ murders the team has. So, it could be the same killer. But there are some important differences. For one thing, the other victims were middle-aged, but Melissa was in her teens. For another, the other victims were sex workers, and Melissa wasn’t. Still, Langton believes they’re dealing with the same person. The team settles on a suspect, Alan Daniels. But that’s going to be a big problem. Daniels is a beloved television star who’s poised for real success in films. What’s more, he’s very wealthy and ‘connected,’ so the team will have to have convincing evidence if they’re to pursue the case. And there’s a possibility that they’re wrong, and the killer is someone else. Throughout the novel, we see the impact on Travis of being the daughter of a well-known and well-regarded police detective.

Cara Black’s Aimée Leduc inherited her Paris detective agency from her father. She grew up around his business, and, tragically, witnessed his murder. Since then, she and her business partner, René Friant, have run Leduc Detective together. In the first novel in this series, Murder in the Marais, Leduc and Friant get a case because of a connection to Leduc’s father. Soli Hecht visits the agency, saying that he needs Leduc’s help. At first, she refuses, but then he says,
 

‘‘I knew your father. An honorable man. He told me to come to you if I needed help.’’
 

That gives Leduc pause, and she hears Hecht out. It seems he wants her to decrypt a particular computer code and give the information she gets to a woman named Lili Stein. Leduc agrees, but by the time she finishes, Lili Stein has been murdered. Now, she gets drawn into a case of murder that is connected to another, long-ago murder.

There’s an interesting twist on this dynamic in Martin Edwards’ Lake District Series.  That series features Hannah Scarlett, who leads the Cumbria Constabulary’s Cold Case Review Team. Earlier in her career, she was mentored by Ben Kind, and they worked together on more than one case. His son, Daniel, has become an Oxford historian who’s taken a cottage in the Lake District. He knows Scarlett, because of the connection with his father, and she’s able to shed some light on his father’s professional career. Each in a slightly different way, Scarlett and Kind work together as she investigates cases.

Being a sort of legacy can be a challenge in real life. In fiction, though, it can add an interesting layer to a character. It can also add a solid plot point or point of suspense.

 
 
 

*NOTE:  The title of this post is a line from Dan Fogelberg’s Leader of the Band.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Cara Black, James Ellroy, Lynda La Plante, Martin Edwards

Let’s Go Into Business Together*

Do you know who Paul Allen is? No? Well, perhaps you’ve heard of his business partner, Bill Gates. Yes, the Bill Gates. As this is posted, it’s 43 years since the founding of their joint venture, Microsoft. As you’ll know, Microsoft has become one of the most valuable brands in the world, and it all started with the ‘garage pairing’ of these two people.

It’s been a phenomenally successful partnership, and it’s not alone. In fact, one of Microsoft’s chief rivals, Apple, was also founded by business partners (in this case, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak), just a year later. There’s something about the synergy that happens when two people with complementary skills and a common dream get together.

Of course, business partnerships aren’t problem-free by any means. There are bound to be differences of opinion and more. And, if the company has real success, there’s the issue of all of that money. Business partnerships are really interesting dynamics, so it’s little wonder we see a lot of them in crime fiction. There’s plenty of possibility for character development, interesting plot points, and tension.

For instance, in Ellery Queen’s The Origin of Evil, Queen has decided to take a house in the Hollywood Hills, so that he can get some peace and quiet to write. It’s not to be, though. When nineteen-year-old Laurel Hill finds out he’s there, she visits him, asking for his help. Her father, Leander Hill, recently died from a massive heart attack, and she believes it was deliberate. Shortly before his death, Hill had been receiving some eerie, anonymous ‘gifts,’ that Lauren believes frightened him so badly that he died. What’s more, Hill’s business partner, Roger Priam, has also been receiving ‘packages.’ At first, Queen doesn’t want to get involved. But he is intrigued by the mystery of those parcels, so he starts to ask questions. In order to find out the truth, he has to go back to the start of the successful Hill/Priam partnership, and discover who hated both men so much as to want to kill them.

In A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife, we meet successful Chicago developer Todd Gilbert. He and his friend and business partner, Dean Kovacs, have done quite well, and Todd lives in a posh Chicago home with his common-law wife, Jodi Brett. She’s a successful psychologist, so the two have a good life, materially speaking. Everything changes when Todd begins an affair with his business partner’s daughter, Natasha. In a number of ways, that’s a very foolish decision. For one thing, it sabotages his partnership with Dean. For another, Jodi is devastated. Todd’s strayed before, but this time, it’s different. Natasha becomes pregnant and wants to get married and have a family. Todd tells her (and himself) that that’s what he wants, too, so he leaves Jodi. Then, his lawyer presents her with an order of eviction from the home she’s lived in for twenty years. Then, Todd is murdered in a drive-by shooting. At first, it looks like a carjacking gone very wrong. But the police soon begin to suspect that someone arranged for this murder. And it turns out that there are several possibilities for who that someone might be.

Andrew Nette’s Ghost Money introduces Australian former police officer-turned PI Max Quinlan. Madeleine Avery hires Quinlan to find her brother, Charles. His last known address was a Bangkok apartment, so Quinlan starts there. When he gets to the apartment, he finds no sign of Avery. But he does find the body of Avery’s business partner, Robert Lee. He also discovers proof that Avery has gone to Cambodia. With that information, Quinlan heads for Phnom Penh, where he picks up the trail again. Very slowly, he traces Avery’s last days and weeks, and finds out what drew him to Cambodia, and why this business partnership ended in murder. It turns out that Avery was mixed up with some very dangerous deals and ruthless people, and that spelled disaster for the partnership.

Angela Makholwa’s Red Ink is the story of former Johannesburg journalist Lucy Khambule. She’s now one half of The Publicists, a publicity company that she owns with her friend, Patricia Moabelo. She hasn’t been happy with the way the business is going lately, though. For one thing, she’s been bringing in more money to the company than her partner has, but the business agreement doesn’t reflect this. For another, Patricia has been less engaged with the business lately. Lucy is not sure what she’s going to do about the business and her role in it, so she’s a bit at loose ends when she gets a telephone call from a man named Napoleon Dingiswayo, who’s in a maximum-security prison for a series of horrific murders. It seems that, when she was a journalist, Lucy had written to him asking for an interview. Now, he wants to meet with her, and have her write a book about him. A chance like this doesn’t happen very often, and Lucy is intrigued. She’s wise enough to know that this could be very dangerous, but the chance is too irresistible to pass up. So, she agrees to the meeting, and starts some notes for the book. As she gets to know her interview subject, a series of frightening and violent things starts to happen. Napoleon is in a closely-guarded prison, so he can’t be responsible. But if he’s not, then who is? And what does it mean for the other murders, and for Lucy herself?

There are also, of course, several successful PI business partnerships. For instance, Cara Black’s Aimée Leduc owns Leduc Detective with her business partner, René Friant. Their specialty is computer safety and cyber security, but Leduc often finds herself drawn into cases of murder. Betty Webb’s Lena Jones and her business partner, Jimmy Sisiwan, own Desert Investigations, an Arizona-based PI firm. They know the area, they are smart and shrewd, and they are loyal to each other. But that doesn’t mean they never have their share of danger.

And no discussion of PI business partnerships would be complete without a mention of Angela Savage’s Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney and her business partner Rajiv Patel (they are also partners in their private lives). They sometimes have very different outlooks on cases, but their skills are complementary. They have their conflicts, but they respect each other, too, and it’s interesting to see how that partnership has evolved.

There are many, many other business partnerships in crime fiction. For instance, I haven’t even touched on fictional legal partners, and there are plenty of those in the genre.  It’s a fascinating dynamic and can add much to a crime novel. Which partnerships have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Irving Taylor’s Ain’t Nobody’s Business But My Own.

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Filed under A.S.A. Harrison, Andrew Nette, Angela Makholwa, Angela Savage, Betty Webb, Cara Black, Ellery Queen

Your Name’s Not Down, You’re Not Coming In*

You probably see them without even thinking about it. They’re there when you go to clubs, certain places such as museums, tourist attractions, and sometimes government buildings. Yes, I’m talking about security people.

They really do play an important role in our lives, if you think about it. It can be annoying to have your handback searched or have to empty your pockets when you go to a major sporting event. But at the same time, many people argue that security procedures keep everyone safer. If you go to a nightclub, it’s good to know you can shout for security if there’s a problem.

Security people play a part in crime fiction, too. And that makes sense. Their role is to prevent trouble if they can and stop it if it starts. So, they develop the ability to ‘read’ people and watch for early ‘warning signs.’ Those ‘warning signs’ and that trouble are often the focus of crime novels, so it’s a fairly logical match. There are lots of examples in the genre; there’s only room in this one post for a few of them.

One of Stuart Kaminsky’s most popular series features Toby Peters. Fans can tell you that Peters started out as a security guard for Warner Brothers Studio (the series takes place in the 1940s). He was fired from the position and has since become a private investigator. Still, the various big studios see him as a ‘known quantity,’ and so do the Hollywood stars with whom Peters interacts as the series goes on. So, they often turn to him when there’s trouble. And Peters knows the town and the studios, so he’s got the background he needs to do the job.

There’s an interesting instance of private security in Robert Colby’s novella No Experience Necessary. Glenn Hadlock has recently been released from prison and is looking for a new start. It’s not easy, though, as plenty of places won’t hire an ex-convict. So, he pays attention when he sees an advertisement for a bodyguard/escort. It seems that wealthy Victor Scofield is looking for personal security for his wife, Eileen. He himself is disabled and can’t leave his home. But he doesn’t want to restrict his wife. So, he’s hit on the idea of hiring someone to provide security and be a chauffeur/escort. Hadlock gets the job, and all starts out well enough. The work isn’t difficult, Eileen Scofield is pleasant company, and the pay and benefits are good. But Hadlock learns soon enough that there’s more going on here than it seems, and he’s in much more danger than he imagined.

In Tony Hillerman’s Hunting Badger, we are introduced to Deputy Sheriff Teddy Bai. He works part time as a security officer in a casino on the Ute Reservation. One night, the casino is robbed by a group of far-right militia members who want to use the takings to buy weapons. If you know anything about casinos, then you know that security is a big priority. It’s nearly impossible to take anything, let alone a large haul of money, without ‘inside help.’ And the police think that Bai has provided that help. He says that he’s innocent, though, and his friend, Navajo Tribal Police Officer Bernadette ‘Bernie’ Manuelito, believes him. So, in one plot thread of this novel, she asks Sergeant Jim Chee to help her find out what really happened at the casino. It turns out that this case has its roots in the past and is connected to an old Ute legend.

Eoin Colfer’s Daniel McEvoy is an Irish ex-pat and former member of the military. Now, he works as a bouncer at Slotz, a rundown, dirty bar/casino in fictional Cloisters, New Jersey. It’s not the sort of place you go for an elegant dinner and some time at the baccarat table. In his line of work, McEvoy runs into all sorts of low-life, sometimes very dangerous people.

In Zoë Sharp’s Killer Instinct, we are introduced to Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Fox. She’s a former member of Her Majesty’s Special Forces, who now lives near Lancaster. One night, her friend Clare persuades her to go to the New Adelphi Club, where there’s to be a karaoke competition. Clare wants to take part but wants some moral support. So, the two women go to the club. When another contestant tries to attack Clare, Fox steps in and the other contestant ends up getting ejected from the club. The owner, Marc Quinn, finds out what Fox has done, and decides to hire her as part of the security team. That doesn’t go down well at first with some of the other security folk, since Fox is a woman. But she proves herself to be more than a match when it comes to preventing trouble in the first place and stopping it when it starts. As she starts to work at the club, Fox soon discovers some ugly things that the club is hiding. She starts asking questions and finds that some people are determined to do whatever it takes to keep her from finding out the truth.

Of course, not all security is physical security. With today’s Internet and other electronic technology, cyber security becomes ever more important. That’s where Cara Black’s Aimée Leduc comes in. She and her business partner, René Friant, own Leduc Detective, a private investigation firm. Leduc’s specialty is computer security, which proves useful in Murder in the Marais. In that novel, an encrypted code that Leduc is hired to decrypt turns out to be connected to two murders.

Security experts can be very useful at the front door, so to speak. And they can make interesting characters, too. Which have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Klaxon’s The Bouncer.

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Filed under Cara Black, Eoin Colfer, Robert Colby, Stuart Kaminsky, Tony Hillerman, Zoë Sharp

Sleuth Celebrity Shows ;-)

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

 

Sleuth Celebrity Shows
 

Restaurant Rescue

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

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

 

Refashion Yourself

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

 

Save My Kitchen

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

 

Live With Less

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

 

The Big Event

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

 

Pub Crawl

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

 

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

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

Tried to Warn You*

It’s hard for people to pay attention to everything. It’s even harder when the message is something one doesn’t want to hear. But those messages can matter greatly. And in crime fiction, those warnings can serve as very important clues. They can also provide interesting character development.

Agatha Christie uses that strategy in several of her stories. For instance, in Lord Edgware Dies, famous actress Jane Wilkinson asks Hercule Poirot to convince her husband, Lord Edgware, to give her a divorce, so that she can marry the Duke of Merton. Poirot reluctantly agrees, and he and Captain Hastings pay a visit to Edgware. Surprisingly, their host tells them that he has already withdrawn his objection. At first it seems that the matter is settled. But later that night, Edgware is stabbed. The most likely suspect is his wife, but she says that she was at a dinner party in another part of London at the time, and twelve people are ready swear that she was there. So, Poirot and Chief Inspector Japp have to look elsewhere for the killer. As it turns out, one of the other characters gives Poirot a warning that turns out to be an important clue to the killer.

James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity features insurance sales representative Walter Huff. He happens to be in Hollywoodland one day when he finds himself near the home of one of his policyholders, H.S. Nirdlinger. He decides to stop in, and see if he can get a policy renewal. Nirdlinger’s not home, but his wife, Phyllis, is. She and Huff have a conversation, and Huff is soon very much attracted to her.  She does nothing to discourage him, and before long, they’re having an affair. Phyllis tells Huff that she wants to kill her husband; she wants to take out an accident policy first, so that she can inherit. Huff is so besotted with her by this time that he falls in with her plan, and even writes the policy she needs. The murder goes off as planned, but now Huff sees that he will have to do everything he can to protect Phyllis, so that he can also protect himself. Then, he meets her stepdaughter, Lola, and they form a friendship. Lola tries to warn Huff what her stepmother is like, and he gradually learns more and more about Phyllis from her. But by then, Huff’s in too deep, and things soon spin out of control…

Along similar lines, in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, Los Angeles PI Philip Marlowe gets a new client in General Guy Sternwood. It seems that a book dealer named Arthur Geiger sent an extortion letter in which he referenced Sternwood’s daughter, Carmen. Now, Sternwood wants Marlowe to find Geiger and stop him. Marlowe agrees, but by the time he tracks the man down, Geiger’s been murdered. And Carmen is a witness, although she’s either too dazed or drugged to be able to say what happened. At first, it would seem that that solves the Sternwoods’ problem. But not long afterwards, their chauffer is found dead. Now, Marlowe finds himself drawn into the family’s web again. Interestingly enough, Sternwood himself gives Marlowe a cryptic warning about himself and his daughters:
 

‘‘Neither of them has any more moral sense than a cat. Neither have I. No Sternwood ever had.’’
 

That doesn’t give Marlowe all the answers. But it is an important clue to the sort of people he’s dealing with in this case. And that plays its role in the story.

Cara Black’s Murder in the Marais introduces readers to Paris PI Aimée Leduc. In it, Leduc and her business partner, René Friant, are drawn into a murder investigation. It starts when a man named Soli Hecht hires them on behalf of a local synagogue, Temple Emanuel. He wants them to decrypt a code he gives her, and take her results by hand to a congregant named Lili Stein. By the time Leduc gets there, though, Lili Stein has been murdered. Leduc takes an interest in the case, and Inspector Mobier, who’s an old friend of her father’s, concedes that she might have useful information. So, the two agree to work together. This isn’t going to be an easy case, though, and it’s soon clear that it may be related to the past, during and immediately after the Nazis’ World War II occupation of France. One character warns/advises Leduc,
 

‘‘…no-one wants the past dug up.’’
 

And it’s true that there plenty of people in this novel who don’t want Leduc to go digging around in the past. She doesn’t give up, though, and ends up finding out the truth. It’s at a cost, though…

Sometimes, the sleuth tries to do the warning or send the message. That’s what happens, for instance, in Alexander McCall Smith’s The Full Cupboard of Life. In one plot thread, we meet Mma Holonga, who owns a successful chain of hair salons. As a wealthy and good-looking woman, she’s attracted her share of attention, and is ready to choose a husband. She’s narrowed her list to four candidates, and wants Mma Precious Ramotswe to ‘vet’ them, so that she can choose the best. It’s an unusual sort of request, but Mma Ramotswe accedes. One of these candidates is Mopedi Bobologo, a well-regarded teacher who also runs House of Hope, a home for troubled girls. On the surface, he seems very pleasant and steady, if perhaps a bit dull. But Mma Ramotswe learns that he is, in fact, very ambitious, and is likely trying to marry Mma Holonga for her money. Mma Ramotswe tells her client this, in attempt to warn her about the man. But when she does, Mma Holonga has a surprising reaction.

Warnings like that can be used in several different ways, of course, depending on the author’s purpose and the characters. However the author decides to use those warning messages, it’s probably wise for the reader to pay attention. Unless, of course, it’s a ‘red herring…’

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Steely Dan’s My Old School.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alexander McCall Smith, Cara Black, James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler