Category Archives: Carl Hiaasen

Things Ain’t What They Used to Be*

Climate Change and EnvironmentThe Paris climate change accord is being praised all over the world as at the very least an important step in the right direction, as the saying goes. I don’t know what the long-term impact of the agreement will be, but many people who know a lot more than I do are hopeful that it will lead to real, positive change. I hope so.

What’s interesting is that people have been trying to call attention to climate change and other environmental issues for years. Certainly writers have. Books such as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring have been highlighting environmental issues for decades. Fiction, including crime fiction, has also dealt with those topics.

It’s a bit tricky to write a crime novel that addresses an environmental issue such as climate change. Readers want to enjoy a good story when they read crime novels. While they may agree with the author’s agenda, most don’t want to be preached to as they read. Of course, what counts as ‘preaching’ differs among readers; in general, though, they want stories where the focus is on the plot and characters, rather than the environmental issue.

For example, in Deon Meyer’s Blood Safari, Emma le Roux hires professional bodyguard Martin Lemmer to accompany her on a trip from Cape Town to the Lowveld. She wants to find out the truth about her brother Jacobus, who everyone thought died twenty years earlier in a skirmish with poachers. At the time, he worked with the Nature and Environmental Conservation Unit of the South African military, and was on duty at the Kruger National Park when he went missing. Now, Emma has become convinced that her brother is alive, and wants to find him if she can. As she and Lemmer trace his movements, they encounter several groups that want to preserve South Africa’s unique species of animals and plant life. They also learn how dedicated Jacobus was to this cause. It’s not spoiling the story to say that the commitment to species preservation plays an important role in the novel. But the focus is on the characters, the plot, and the buildup of suspense.

Ruth Rendell’s Road Rage features a planned road that will pass through Framingham Great Woods, near the town of Kingsmarkham. Many people are opposed to the road; there’s even a citizens’ group that’s actively working to block construction. One of the members of that group is Dora Wexford, wife of Rendell’s sleuth, Inspector Reg Wexford. She and the other members of the group want to preserve the forest and its species. The real tension in the story comes when groups of activists come to town, ostensibly to support the locals in their opposition to the road. Then, one of those activist groups take hostages, including Dora. Now the focus of the novel becomes the efforts to rescue the hostages. Then there’s a murder, and Wexford and his team have to deal with that investigation as well as the hostage situation.

Several of Carl Hiaasen’s novels feature the challenge of preserving Florida’s Everglades and other natural resources. For example, in Lucky You, we are introduced to JoLayne Lucks. When she wins a lottery worth US$14 million, she sees a chance to fulfill her dream of buying a piece of land and setting it aside as a natural preserve. Then, a group of neo-Nazis steals the winning ticket, and decides to use the money to fund a militia. Journalist Tom Krone has been assigned to do a feature on JoLayne, and ends up getting drawn into the search for the stolen ticket and the effort to get it back. While Hiassen certainly brings up the topic of wetlands preservation here, it’s really the eccentric characters and the comic/caper sort of crime plot that gets the proverbial top billing.

There are, of course, novels in which climate change is specifically addressed. One of them is Antti Toumainen’s The Healer. In that novel, Helsinki writer Tapani Lehtinen has become worried about his wife, Johanna. She’s a journalist who’s been following up on a story, but hasn’t made contact in over twenty-four hours. That’s so unlike her that her husband is convinced something is wrong. He decides that if he follows the story she was working on, he’ll find out what happened to her. That story concerns The Healer, a man who claims responsibility for the murders of several CEOs and others he believes are responsible for the ongoing destruction of the planet. And destruction there is. In this story, climate change has been partly responsible for millions of refugees, food shortages, and other dire problems. Little by little, Lehtinen gets closer to the truth about who The Healer is, and about what happened to Johanna. As he does so, he finds himself in more and more danger.

Mark Douglas-Home also takes up the topic of climate change in The Sea Detective. Caladh ‘Cal’ McGill is an Edinburgh oceanographer and Ph.D. candidate. He is also a dedicated believer in climate change and in human responsibility for addressing the problem. In fact, at the beginning of the novel, he gets in trouble with the law for his unorthodox approach to calling attention to climate change. So the local police aren’t particularly inclined to be cooperative when McGill presents them with another kind of problem. He’s been approached by Basanti, a young woman originally from India, who’s lost her best friend Preeti. Both were brought to Scotland as part of the commercial sex trade, and as soon as she could, Basanti got free of the people who were keeping her. Her search for Preeti leads Basanti to McGill, whose oceanographic knowledge proves vital to finding out what really happened.

Climate change and other environmental issues are important challenges that we need to face and address. The key for authors is to do so in ways that bring up these issues, but still tell an absorbing story. Which ones have stayed with you?

 

 

 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Marvin Gaye’s Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology).

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Filed under Antti Tuomainen, Carl Hiaasen, Deon Meyer, Mark Douglas-Home, Ruth Rendell

I’m Back to Livin’ Floridays*

FloridaAh, Florida – the ‘Sunshine State.’ Home of beautiful beaches, fresh citrus, delicious food, great nightlife, and Disney World. Florida attracts millions of tourists from all over the world, and with good reason. You’d think it would be an idyllic spot, wouldn’t you? You’d be wrong.

There’s certainly real-life crime in Florida, and there’s plenty of fictional crime, too. From Pensacola to Key West, there are all sorts of fictional dirty doings in this southeasternmost state of the US.

One of the best-known series set in Florida is, of course, John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series. Fans of this series will know that McGee lives on a boat he’s named The Busted Flush. He won the boat in a card game (hence the name), and is content to live there. The boat is moored at Lauderdale, on Florida’s Atlantic coast, but McGee does travel at times. He refers to himself as a ‘salvage consultant,’ by which he means that he helps his clients recover property that’s been taken from them. His fee is steep: half of the value of the property. But his clients know that they have few other options, and would rather have half than nothing. In The Lonely Silver Rain, for instance, McGee is hired to find a wealthy friend’s yacht. He tracks it down, but when he goes aboard, he makes the gruesome discovery of several bodies. That discovery puts him right in the middle of South Florida’s ‘cocaine wars’ (the book was written in 1985). And it serves as a reminder of Florida’s history as a hub for drug smuggling and trafficking.

Slightly further south, Miami is the home of Paul Levine’s Steve Solomon/Victoria Lord series. Victoria Lord is a former prosecuting attorney from a privileged background. She prefers to do things ‘by the book.’ In Solomon vs Lord, the first of this series, Lord is fired from the job she’s had at the Florida state’s attorney’s office. She switches sides, as the saying goes, when defending counsel Steve Solomon hires her. In many ways, he’s her opposite. Where Lord prefers to play by the rules, Solomon’s view is, ‘when the law doesn’t work, work the law.’ Her law degree is from Yale; his is (barely) from the Key West School of Law. In this first novel, the two clash when they defend Katrinia Barksdale against the charge of murder. She’s been accused of killing her wealthy husband Charles, so there’s all sorts of money, sex and other juicy gossip to keep the local media in a frenzy.

Dave Barry’s Big Trouble also takes place in Miami. That novel features Arthur Herk, vice-president for a very corrupt local corporation, his wife, Anna, and daughter Jenny. When the boy next door, Matt Arnold, sneaks into the Herk home one night, his only goal is to use a squirt gun and best Jenny in an ongoing game of ‘killer.’ But Anna and Jenny think at first that he’s a real burglar and try to attack him. As if that’s not enough, Arthur tries to get involved, and ends up narrowly avoiding being killed by two hit men who’ve also snuck onto the property. Before they know it, the Herks, the Arnolds, the police, and a vagabond who lives in a tree on the Herk property are all caught in the crossfire, as the saying goes, and intertwined with an illegal arms trafficking scheme.

As you can see, South Florida isn’t exactly a safe place. What about Central Florida and the Everglades? Not so fast. Carl Hiaasen’s work shows just how unsafe it can be there. In Lucky You, for instance, features writer Tom Krone is assigned to do a story on JoLayne Lucks, who’s just won $US114 million. She wants to use the money to buy and preserve a piece of land in Florida. But everything changes when a group of neo-Nazis steals the ticket, with the idea of using the money to fund a militia. Before Krone knows it, he’s drawn into a complicated plan to get the ticket back. But neither he nor JoLayne has counted on the group of ruthless land developers who will do anything to keep the land free for development. Hiaasen’s done other novels, too, that feature the Florida landscape, and the ongoing debate over ecology and land preservation vs economic considerations and the tourist trade.

Howard Rigsby’s short story Dead Man’s Story shows that it’s no safer to live in the Florida Panhandle than it is anywhere else. Joe Root is a Florida game warden who knows,
 

‘..every swampy piece and piney stretch and bayou from Port St. Joe to Pensacola.’
 

One night, he comes upon a group of game poachers and confronts them. They try to first bribe him, then threaten him. He responds to neither approach and refuses to back down. The poachers think they’ve solved their problem when they kill Root. But they haven’t reckoned with Joe Root. He has his own way of bringing these killers to justice.

I don’t think a discussion of Florida crime fiction would be complete without a mention of Elmore Leonard. Many of his stories, including Maximum Bob, take place in Florida. In that novel, Florida Department of Corrections Officer Kathy Diaz Baker is starting her own life again after ending a disastrous marriage. She no sooner gets settled than she begins to get some very unwelcome attention from Judge Robert ‘Maximum Bob’ Gates. Gates isn’t a particularly nice person, especially if you ask the many people he put behind bars (he got his nickname because of his fondness for issuing the longest sentences the law allows). Baker is not fond of Gates, but she can’t ignore it when she learns that one of her parolees may be trying to kill the judge. But it turns out the judge has plans of his own. He’s sick of his New-Age wife, Leanne, and plans to get rid of her by frightening her to death with a dead alligator. Of course, this being an Elmore Leonard novel, things don’t go the way any one of these characters plan…

As I say, Florida is a beautiful place with a lot to offer. Those beaches, that food and drink, that climate, well, it’s all enough to entice anyone. But do be careful…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jimmy Buffett’s Floridays.

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Filed under Carl Hiaasen, Dave Barry, Elmore Leonard, Howard Rigsby, John D. MacDonald, Paul Levine, Uncategorized

I Knew Right Away, From the Very First Day*

Powerful BeginningsPublishers, editors, and agents all stress the importance of the beginning of a story. There are good reasons for that, not the least of which is that readers usually decide very quickly whether they’re going to invest themselves in a book or not. Some readers decide within ten pages; others take a little more time. Either way, it’s very important to get the reader’s attention right away, and invite the reader to come along for the ride.

There isn’t only one way to do that, and different approaches attract different readers. But there are some crime novels that really do have powerful beginnings. I’m not necessarily referring to the first sentence in the story; rather, I mean the first major scene or revelation. Here are some novels with beginnings that I’ve found particularly powerful. Your list will be different, but I hope this will suffice to show you what I mean.

Agatha Christie’s A Murder is Announced begins as various residents of the village of Chipping Cleghorn open their copies of the Gazette. In it, they find the following advertisement:

 

‘A murder is announced and will take place on Friday, October 5th, at Little Paddocks at 6:30 pm. Friends please accept this, the only intimation.’

 

It’s an irresistible invitation for the guests. It’s also irresistible for readers. It’s difficult not to wonder whether this is a game, whether there will be a murder, and if so, who the victim will be. When there is, indeed, a killing, Inspector Craddock investigates. With help from Miss Marple, he learns that someone’s done a very effective job of mental manipulation to accomplish the murder.

Ruth Rendell’s A Judgement in Stone has a very famous and powerful first line:

 

‘Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write.’ 

 

As I say, a powerful beginning is more than just a strong first sentence. But this line sets the tone for the whole book. In it, we learn that the wealthy and educated Coverdales hire Eunice Parchman to serve as their housekeeper. They don’t know, though, that she is keeping a secret – one she is desperate not to reveal. When a member of the family accidentally discovers that secret, this seals everyone’s fate. Rendell uses that strong first sentence and builds the tension as we learn the background to this tragedy.

The first scene in L.R. Wright’s The Suspect is also quite powerful – at least to me. Eighty-year-old George Wilcox is standing next to the body of eighty-five-year-old Carlyle Burke, whom he has just killed. Right away, the reader knows who the victim is, and who the killer is. That’s powerful enough that it invites the reader to come along and find out the motive and the story behind the murder. When RCMP Staff Sergeant Karl Alberg gets word of the case, he begins the investigation. Wilcox is one of his first interviewees, since he called the police. But Alberg doesn’t suspect Wilcox at first. Even after he begins to believe Wilcox may be guilty, he doesn’t know what the motive would be. What’s more, it’s hard for him to get any direct evidence to support his case. Among other things, this is an interesting matching of wits between Wilcox and Alberg.

The first scene in Carl Hiaasen’s Skinny Dip takes place on a cruise of the Florida Everglades. Charles ‘Chaz’ Perrone has taken his wife Joey on a trip to celebrate their anniversary, so he tells her. But here’s what happens:

 

‘At the stroke of eleven on a cool April night, a woman named Joey Perrone went overboard from a luxury deck of the cruise liner M.V. Sun Duchess. Joey was too dumb-founded to panic.
I married an asshole, she thought, knifing headfirst into the waves…

Joey remained conscious and alert. Of course she did. She had been co-captain of her college swim team, a biographical nugget that her husband obviously had forgotten.’

 

Right away the reader is invited to wonder why Joey was pushed overboard, and what’s going to happen to her. It turns out that her husband’s been involved in (quite literally) some dirty business. He’s a marine biologist who’s found a way to fake water sample tests so that they come out ‘clean.’ His employer, Samuel ‘Red’ Hammernut has found that skill very useful for keeping eco-minded lawmakers and citizens from disturbing his agribusiness. Joey is rescued by former police officer Mick Stranahan, and together, they come up with a plan to make Chaz pay for what he’s done…

In the first scene of John Burdett’s Bangkok 8, Sonchai Jitpleecheep and his police partner Pinchai are following a grey Mercedes-Benz. They briefly lose their quarry, but by the time they find it again, the driver, William Bradley, is dead of bites from snakes that were trapped in his car with him. Here’s how Burdett puts it:

 

‘The African American Marine in the grey Mercedes will soon die of bites from Naja siamensis, but we don’t know that yet, Pichai and I (the future is impenetrable, says the Buddha).’

 

That opening scene is compelling, and it invites the reader to find out who would want to kill Bradley, why that method was chosen, and what the motive is.

And then there’s Scott Turow’s Innocent. That novel begins as Kindle County judge Rožat ‘Rusty’ Sabich is sitting on the bed where his wife, Barbara, lies dead. As his son Nat, says, that’s not really where the story begins. But it’s the powerful first scene in this novel, and is made all the more powerful because he’s been in that room with her body for almost twenty-four hours. As the novel unfolds, we learn about their history, we learn how she died, and we follow along as Rusty is tried for murdering her. In this novel, things aren’t always what they seem, but from the first bit, we’re presented with a compelling scenario.

There are many different ways for the author to get the reader’s attention and invite the reader to engage in the story. In whatever way the author chooses, the beginning of a novel is really important, as that’s where the reader makes the choice to finish the story or not.  Which beginnings have you found most powerful?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Smokey Robinson’s You’re the One For Me.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Carl Hiaasen, John Burdett, L.R. Wright, Ruth Rendell, Scott Turow

Hanging Tough, Staying Hungry*

EntrepreneursIt takes a lot of courage and bold planning to start up one’s own business. The odds are against success, and even if a person does launch a successful company, there’s a heavy cost in terms of time and personal life. But people open their own businesses all the time, trusting that they’ll do well and their companies will flourish.

Crime fiction is full of PIs who’ve take the risk to set up shop for themselves. Mentioning them on this post would be too easy. But there are plenty of other entrepreneurs in genre. Sometimes they do well, and sometimes…not well at all. Either way, people who start their own businesses can make for very interesting characters.

For example, in Agatha Christie’s After the Funeral (AKA Funerals are Fatal) we meet Susan Banks. She has dreams of opening up her own beauty salon, and the business acumen and bold planning that are needed to start one’s own company. But she and her husband Greg don’t have the money to stake such a venture. We learn as the story goes on that she approached her wealthy uncle Richard Abernethie, but he refused to help. When Abernethie dies, apparently of natural causes, his family gathers for the funeral. At the gathering, his youngest sister Cora Lansquenet blurts out that he was murdered. At first no-one takes her seriously. But when she herself is killed the next day, everyone begins to believe that she might have been right. The family attorney Mr. Entwhistle asks Hercule Poirot to investigate, and he agrees. Susan immediately becomes ‘a person of interest’ because of her determination to have her own business – and because she has now inherited the money she needs to open her salon. It doesn’t help her case that she can’t really prove her whereabouts on either occasion. But as Poirot and Mr. Entwhistle find out, there are several suspects in this case…

Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn Shreve discovers the same entrepreneurial spirit in her daughter Mieka. Like many parents, Joanne wants to see her daughter go to university and get a good education. And at first, that’s what Mieka does. But by the end of the first year, she’s made other plans. She decides to open her own catering business. In one story arc in this series, we see how Mieka has to convince her mother that the business can be successful. She does what new business owners have to do: study the market, look for an opening, decide on one’s talents and interests, and put together a business plan. It takes some time for Joanne to get used to the idea, but Mieka makes a go of it. Later, she uses the same initiative to develop a playground, UpSlideDown. Mieka has faults, as we all do, but she doesn’t lack in courage or bold planning.

There are several ‘regulars’ in Lilian Jackson Braun’s series featuring features journalist James ‘Qwill’ Qwilleran. Throughout most of the series, he lives and works in a small town, where readers get to know many of the other people who live there. One of those people is Lori Bamba. She starts out as Qwill’s part-time secretary, who also happens to be quite gifted with cats. So he depends a lot on her as he gets used to having his own two Siamese. As the series goes on, Lori and her husband Nick get involved in several new business ventures. One, for instance, is the Domino Inn, which we learn about in The Cat Who Came to Breakfast. It’s located on Breakfast Island/AKA Pear Island, Grand Island, and Providence Island, a holiday/fishing community with a certain tourist appeal. Lori and Nick are concerned about some strange incidents that look like sabotage, so Qwill arranges a stay at the Domino to look into the matter. What he finds goes much deeper and is much more dangerous that someone playing nasty pranks. The Bambas don’t always succeed in their ventures, but they have energy and resilience – and creative ideas.

In Timothy Hallinan’s Philip ‘Poke’ Rafferty series, we meet another entrepreneur, Rose. Originally from a small village in the country, she ended up in Bangkok, where she became a bar girl. She’s no longer in that business any more, and has started up a new apartment-cleaning company of her own. There’s plenty of competition, and Rose isn’t exactly wealthy. But she has a lot of courage. And what’s interesting about her company is that all of her employees are former bar girls who’ve had enough of that life and want to get out of it.

Walter Mosley’s Fear of the Dark is in great part the story of Paris Minton. A year before the events in the story, he opened the Florence Avenue Used Bookshop, hoping to run a peaceful business. He’s not at all what you’d call bold or a person of initiative. But he does love books, and just wanted a place where he could make a living and indulge his passtion. And for a year, he’s done all right for himself. Then his cousin Ulysses S. Grant IV ‘Useless’ pays him a visit. At first, Minton doesn’t even want to let his cousin in; Useless has been nothing but trouble, sometimes very bad trouble, all his life. But eventually Minton yields. Useless asks him for a place to stay, but Minton refuses. At first, Minton doesn’t think much of it – until Useless disappears and Minton’s aunt asks him to track Useless down. For that, Minton turns to his friend Fearless Jones, who’s the kind of person you want on your side in a fight. Jones and Minton go looking for Useless, and find instead a complicated blackmail scheme and some very dangerous people who are also looking for Useless…

And then there’s Carl Hiaasen’s Nature Girl. In one plot thread of that novel, we meet Sammy Tigertail, who was born Chad McQueen. He is half White/half Seminole, and not sure where he fits in with either community. He sets up his own new business offering airboat rides through the Florida Everglades. When his first client dies of a heart attack during the trip, Sammy decides that this business is not going to be successful, especially if enough tourists hear that his client died. So he heads deep into the wilderness and ends up in Dismal Key. That happens to be the place where Honey Santana is leading Boyd Shreave on a kayak trip that could turn out to be disastrous for him. She’s getting back at Boyd for verbal abuse during a telemarketing call he made. There are other characters in pursuit of both of them, so Sammy hardly gets the peace and quiet he feels he needs after his venture failed. This is a Hiaasen novel, so as you can imagine, all of the characters’ lives intersect in some unusual ways.

Not all business ventures are quite that adventurous. But all new businesses need courage, a lot of time, a lot of faith, and some luck. Money doesn’t hurt, either. Which fictional ones have stayed with you?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Carl Hiaasen, Gail Bowen, Lilian Jackson Braun, Timothy Hallinan, Walter Mosley

I May Be Crazy*

Self DoubtMost of us would like to think we can trust our own thinking. No-one’s perfect of course, but we like to think we can make sense of what we see and hear and so on. So it’s frightening to think that we can’t believe what we think is true – that we can’t trust our own mental processes. That feeling of ‘I’m not crazy – am I?’ is woven into a lot of crime fiction, and can make for a suspenseful plot thread or character layer.

Agatha Christie uses it in some of her work. For instance, in Sleeping Murder, Giles and Gwenda Reed are newlyweds looking for their first home. Gwenda is particularly drawn to a house in Dilmouth, and she and Giles make the purchase arrangement. Soon though, Gwenda begins to have some strange experiences. She has an odd sense of déjà vu about the place, although she doesn’t really remember being there before. To make matters worse, she sees images of a dead woman lying in the hall. Worried that she might be having some sort of mental breakdown, Gwenda takes some time away and visits her cousin Raymond West and his wife. Christie fans will know that West’s Aunt Jane (Marple) takes a great interest in human nature, and is sympathetic towards Gwenda. One night, they go to the theatre, where Gwenda has a bizarre reaction to one scene. Miss Marple is soon convinced that something really is going on in the house at Dilmouth, and that Gwenda isn’t crazy. So she begins to investigate. In the end, she finds that the house holds an important secret from the past. Christie fans will also know that Miss Marple is sure that her friend Elspeth McGillicuddy isn’t crazy when she thinks she sees a murder being committed in4:50 From Paddington (AKA What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!). And there’s a Christie story in which a character is manipulated by a killer into taking responsibility for murder. No spoilers – those who’ve read it will know which story I mean…

In Cornell Woolrich’s Night Has a Thousand Eyes, New York Homicide Bureau Detective Tom Shawn is taking a late-night walk when he meets a young woman who’s about to jump off a bridge. He convinces her to not to follow through, and takes her to an all-night diner where she tells him her story. She is Jean Reid, only child of wealthy Harlan Reid. Until recently, she’s had a good life. But everything changed when her father took a business trip to San Francisco. When a housemaid warned of a fatal plane crash, Jane almost sent a telegram to her father to take another flight back. At the last minute, she didn’t do so; yet, her father did receive a telegram and changed his plans. When he returned safely, the two of them decided to find out how the housemaid knew about the crash. The trail leads to a man named Jeremiah Tompkins, who sees himself as cursed with being able to predict the future. Harlan Reid began to visit Tompkins and made use of what he learned to make an even bigger success of himself in business. Then, Tompkins predicted the other man’s death. Now convinced he will die on a certain night at midnight, Reid has lost hope and become a shadow of his former self. With this background, Shawn decides to help Jean, and gets involved in the business. He finds that this case has a lot to do with people’s states of mind and with not trusting one’s own thinking.

So does Ellery Queen’s Ten Days Wonder. Howard Van Horn has been having a series of troubling blackouts lately. One day he wakes up from one of them to discover he’s got blood on himself and his clothes. Convinced that he’s done something horrible, he visits his former college friend Ellery Queen and asks his advice. Queen agrees to look into the case. The trail leads to the small town of Wrightsville, where Van Horn’s father Dietrich lives with his second wife Sally. During the visit, Howard has another blackout; this time, Sally is found murdered. Howard doesn’t remember the murder, but finds it hard not to believe the evidence against him. Queen, however, is less sure. Throughout the novel, we see the growing fear as Howard increasingly doubts his own sanity.

Gail Bowen’s Deadly Appearances introduces readers to academician and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn. When her good friend Androu ‘Andy’ Boychuk dies of what turns out to be poison, Kilbourn is devastated. As a way of dealing with her grief, she decides to write a biography of Boychuk. As she gets material for the book, Kilbourn also gets closer to the truth about the murder. In the meantime, she begins to suffer from an odd illness. At first, it doesn’t seem like much. Then, the symptoms get strange and more severe. For a time, Kilbourn isn’t sure exactly what to believe about it, and there’s a real sense of her anxiety as she tries to puzzle out whether she’s imagining things or is really ill (and if so, what the problem is). It’s an interesting look at what it’s like to be sure that something is wrong and at the same time, wonder if it’s ‘all in the head.’

In Catherine O’Flynn’s What Was Lost, we meet Kurt, a security guard at Green Oaks Shopping Center. Part of his job involves monitoring the mall’s security cameras. During one session, he sees a young girl with a backpack. The mall’s closed, so he gets concerned that she may be lost or abandoned. The image isn’t clear, but he looks into the matter. That’s when things get strange. He can’t find the girl, although he sees her during more than one of his shifts. One night, he happens to meet with Lisa Palmer, who works at Your Music, one of the stores in the mall. They strike up an awkward friendship and Kurt tells her what he’s seen. Each in a different way, they try to find out what it all means. To do so, they have to look twenty years into the past, and to the disappearance of ten-year-old Kate Meaney.

And then there’s Carl Hiaasen’s Skinny Dip. Charles ‘Chaz’ Perrone is a marine biologist (at least in name), who’s been hired by agribusiness tycoon Samuel Johnson ‘Red’ Hammernut. Perrone’s developed a way to make water tests come out with ‘clean’ results; and that’s just what Hammernut needs to ensure that the mandatory water samples taken near his company’s Everglades property won’t get him into trouble. When Perrone’s wife Joey begins to suspect what’s going on, he decides to solve the problem by pushing her overboard during a cruise. What he doesn’t know is that she survives and is rescued by former cop Mick Stranahan. Determined to find out why her husband wanted her dead, Joey works out a plan of revenge. First, she begins to play ‘mind games’ with him. For instance, she turns on the sprinkler system in the house when he’s not home. Then, Stranahan pretends to be a blackmailer who saw what Perrone did. Together, they make a nervous wreck of Perrone. He becomes increasingly unstable, which doesn’t exactly endear him either to Hammernut or to Broward County, Florida police detective Karl Rolvaag, who’s always suspected him…

There are other stories, too, in which one of the plot threads revolves around questioning one’s own thinking. It can be very scary, so it’s little wonder that it’s an effective suspense-building tool. These are a few examples. Your turn.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s You May be Right.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Carl Hiaasen, Catherine O'Flynn, Cornell Woolrich, Ellery Queen, Gail Bowen