Category Archives: Carl Hiaasen

The Loner*

Not everyone is comfortable being around others. For a variety of reasons, some people are reclusive. Recluses are often regarded as eccentric, to say the least. And some recluses are. Even when they’re not, though, they’re often interesting people with their own unique way of looking at life.

And that can make them appealing characters in novels. Authors can use such characters to add leaven to a story, to create plot points, and more. So, it shouldn’t be surprising that we see reclusive characters in crime fiction. There are a number of them in the genre; one post won’t do justice to them. But here are a few examples.

In Kate Atkinson’s One Good Turn, we are introduced to Martin Canning. He is a mystery novelist who’s, in his way, much more comfortable in the imaginary world he’s created for his sleuth than in the everyday, real-life world. In that sense, he is reclusive. But he is also wise enough to know that readers want to make connections with authors. So, he allows his literary agent to persuade him to participate in a panel at the Edinburgh Arts Festival. One afternoon while he’s in Edinburgh, Canning is waiting to get tickets for a lunchtime radio comedy show. That’s when he witnesses a car accident. A blue Honda hits a silver Peugeot from behind, and the two drivers get out of their cars. During the ensuing argument, the Honda driver brandishes a bat, attacking the Peugeot driver. By instinct, Canning throws his computer case at the Honda driver, saving the other man’s life. Out of a sense of obligation, Canning accompanies the Peugeot driver, whose name is Paul Bradley, to a local hospital. That act draws the ordinarily reclusive Canning into a web of fraud and murder.

Janice MacDonald’s Another Margaret features her sleuth, Miranda ‘Randy’ Craig. As this novel begins, Craig is a sessional lecturer who’s working at Grant McEwan University in Edmonton. When her friend, Denise Wolff, asks Craig to help put together an alumni reunion event for the University of Alberta (where Craig got her M.A.), Craig agrees. Then, she learns that a new novel, Seven Bird Saga, is about to be released. The author is the extremely reclusive and enigmatic Margaret Ahlers. And that’s when Craig starts to get concerned. She did her thesis on Ahlers and knows that the author died years earlier. So, is this new book a recently-discovered manuscript (unlikely, but possible)? Or did someone else write the book? If so, who? As the story goes on, we learn more about Craig’s thesis and her search for the truth about Ahlers. As the time for the alumni even gets closer, Craig becomes more and more convinced that someone who will be attending knows more than it seems about Ahlers and the new book and could pose a real threat to her. In the end, Craig learns the truth about the new book, but not before there’s a murder.

Carl Hiaasen’s Skinny Dip introduces readers to Mick Stranahan, former investigator for Florida’s Attorney General. He’s quite reclusive now, living on a deserted island. His life of solitude is interrupted when he happens to be out in his boat, and sees a young woman in the water, struggling with exhaustion. She is Joey Perrone, whose husband, Chaz, threw her overboard during a cruise of the Everglades. What Chaz forgot, though, is that Joey is a former champion swimmer. She’s survived in the water because of her skills, but she’s near the end of her strength. Stranahan rescues her, and Joey soon recovers. When she does, she wants to find out why her husband tried to kill her. So, she and Stranahan concoct a plan to unsettle Chaz. It works, and Chaz soon comes to the attention of police detective Karl Rolvaag, who’s trying to solve Joey’s disappearance. If he’s going to avoid arrest, Chaz is going to have to stay one step ahead of his wife and of Rolvaag.

In Deborah Johnson’s The Secret of Magic, idealistic young attorney Regina Robichard is working for the NAACP in New York City. One day, the NAACP gets a letter from a reclusive author, M.P. Calhoun. The letter alleges that a black veteran named Joe Howard Wilson was murdered, and it’s clear that Calhoun wants this death investigated. Robichard’s interest is piqued, especially since Calhoun wrote one of her best-loved books from childhood. So, she makes the trip to Revere, Mississippi, where Calhoun lives, and where the murder took place. When Robichard arrives, and starts asking questions, she learns that things aren’t as they seem. To find the answers, she’s going to have to navigate the complicated social ‘rules’ of this small town, and that isn’t going to be easy. Among other things, it’s interesting to see Calhoun’s role in the novel, considering how reclusive this author is.

And then there’s Virginia Duigan’s The Precipice. Former school principal Thea Farmer has decided to retire and have a dream home built in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. She’s purposely chosen the location to be away from everything, as she doesn’t like to be around people very much. Everything changes when bad luck and poor decision-making force her to give up that dream property and settle for the house next door, a place she calls ‘the hovel.’ To make matters worse, Frank Campbell and Ellice Carrington buy the home that Farmer still thinks of as hers, and they move in. The reclusive Farmer doesn’t want anyone living that close, especially not in that home, so she’s inclined to do everything she can to avoid these new people. That proves impossible when Campbell’s niece, Kim, comes to live with him. Against all odds, Farmer forms an awkward sort of friendship with the girl and becomes concerned when she begins to think that she’s not being given an appropriate home. When the police won’t do anything about it, Farmer makes her own plans.

There may be any number of reasons for which someone might not want to be around others. And, in a story, those reasons can make for interesting character development. They can add plot points, too. Which have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Neil Young.

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Filed under Carl Hiaasen, Deborah Johnson, Janice MacDonald, Kate Atkinson, Virginia Duigan

If I Were a Rich Man*

There’s plenty of excitement in a lot of US states this week. The Mega Millions lottery is now up to over US$450 million, and likely to grow before Tuesday’s drawing. Even people who don’t usually play the lottery are risking money on tickets, and there are office pools and other group efforts. Everybody wants to win.

And that’s not surprising. Many of us imagine what it might be like to be rich. Some even dream of it. It can be fun to think about what you’d do with all of that money. We all know in our logical minds that the chances of getting really rich aren’t great. And we all know in our logical minds that being very rich doesn’t mean a person has no challenges, problems, sorrows, or even tragedies. But that doesn’t stop us dreaming of that kind of wealth, at least a little.

There are plenty of crime-fictional characters who dream of it, too. And sometimes, that can get them into a lot of trouble. And even when it doesn’t, it can certainly complicate their lives. Like a lot of real-life people, though, that doesn’t stop their dreaming.

In Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, for instance, we are introduced to Simon Doyle. When we first meet him, he’s engaged to Jacqueline ‘Jackie’ de Bellefort. Neither has money, but they are in love. Then, Simon loses his job and needs another, so that he and Jackie can marry. Fortunately, Jackie’s good friend, Linnet Ridgeway, is extremely wealthy, and in need of a land agent to manage her property. Jackie convinces Linnet to give Simon a try as land agent, and Linnet agrees. Then, the unexpected happens: Linnet falls in love with Simon. He’s attracted to her, too, and especially to the life of luxury and money that she lives. In fact, he’s always wanted the ‘rich life.’ They marry and plan a honeymoon trip to the Middle East. Jackie follows them everywhere, which greatly unsettles the couple. So, they try to evade her by taking a sudden trip up the Nile. Hercule Poirot is on the same cruise, so he is present when Jackie unexpectedly turns up on the boat. He is also present the second night of the cruise, when Linnet is shot and killed. At first, Jackie is the most logical suspect. But she has a proven alibi, so she cannot be the murderer. Simon, too, has a corroborated alibi. This means that Poirot has to look elsewhere for the killer.

Lawrence Sanders’ The Anderson Tapes is the story of John ‘Duke’ Anderson. He’s been recently released from prison, and is now on the ‘straight and narrow,’ working at a print company. One night, though, he gets the chance to visit a very posh Manhattan apartment building. When he sees the wealth and luxury there, he gets the idea of having a lot of that money for his own. So, he creates a plan to rob the entire building. He won’t be able to do the job on his own, so he makes arrangements with people he knows to get weapons, assistance, materials, and so on. The only thing is, the FBI and other authorities have been recording those people for reasons of their own. This means they have access to all of Anderson’s plans. The question becomes: will the authorities see this, and stop the heist before it happens, and people get hurt?

In Patricia Melo’s The Body Snatcher, a São Paulo salesman and former telemarketer moves to Corumbá when a tragedy ends his job. He settles in and forms a relationship with Sulamita, who is an administrative assistant to the police. One day, he happens to witness a small plane crash into a nearby river. By the time he arrives, it’s too late to save the pilot. But he sees that the pilot has left behind a backpack and a watch.  The narrator takes those things, and later discovers that the backpack is filled with cocaine. Instead of reporting it all to the police, the narrator dreams of what it would be like to have all of the money that would come from selling the cocaine. It would be just a one-time thing – just enough to set him and Sulamita up for life. His friend Moacir lives nearby, and seems to know the right people, so the two go into business. Moacir makes the connections, and the arrangements are made. But that turns out to be only the start of real trouble for both men, and for Sulamita. They get drawn into a mess involving ruthless drugs smugglers and end up in much more trouble than they imagined.

Carl Hiaasen’s Lucky You is the story of Joylayne Lucks. She’s an avid environmentalist who dreams of having a lot of money so that she can use it to protect the land. She gets her chance when she buys a winning lottery ticket. The prize is US$14 million, and she plans to use it to buy a piece of land and keep it out of developers’ hands. Then, the ticket is stolen by a Nazi group that wants to use the money to fund a militia. Features writer Tom Krone has been assigned by the Register to do a piece on Lucks and her big win. Instead, he finds himself drawn into a plot to get the ticket back.

And then there’s Vincent Naylor, whom we meet in Gene Kerrigan’s The Rage. He’s recently been released from prison, where he learned one important lesson: don’t take any more risks unless the payoff is worth it. Naylor meets up with his girlfriend, Michelle Flood, his brother, Noel, and a few other people, and they concoct a plan. They’re all dreaming of big money – money that will let them get out of their humdrum lives. So, they decide to pull of a heist. The target is an armored car company called Protectica, that transfers cash among local banks. The details are planned, and the heist goes off. Then, things take a tragic turn, and everything changes for the group.

Lots of us dream, however idly, of what it’d be like to be extremely wealthy. It does have appeal, doesn’t it? That’s why I have my lottery ticket. On Tuesday, I’m going to win that pot. And when I do, I’ll need a lot of support. I’ll certainly need legal counsel – from several different countries, too, since I plan international philanthropy as well as careful investments. Some of my plans also include academic bursaries and endowments, so I’d be glad of help from people in academia, too. I’ll need an IT person who can help set up safe communication and file transfer among the people who work for me. I’m going to also need people with NGO and other philanthropy backgrounds to help me set up the groups I want to set up. And of course, all of this has to be released to the public in the right way. So, I’ll need someone with a background in journalism, and in fashion and public image, to help me make the right impression. I know I’ll need other support, too. And, of course, if these people also had an interest in books and reading, well, that would be all to the good. Do you happen to know anyone??

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Carl Hiaasen, Gene Kerrigan, Lawrence Sanders, Patricia Melo

But the Sailors Threw Him Overboard*

Most killers don’t want to be caught. So, they do whatever they can to hide the evidence. And that means they often have to do something about the body of the person they’ve killed. After all, with today’s technology, bodies often contain evidence that points to the murderer.

One way to deal with this, if you’re a killer (fictional only, of course!) is to commit the murder on board a boat or ship, so the victim, or at least the victim’s body, can go overboard. Of course, a lot of things have to fall into place for that sort of plan to work. But when it does, the murderer has a solid chance to get away with the crime. So, it’s little wonder that we see this in a lot of crime fiction. Here are just a few examples; I know you’ll think of more than I could.

In Patricia Wentworth’s Grey Mask, we are introduced to Margot Standing, an ingenuous and immature young woman whose very wealthy father, Edward, went overboard and was lost at sea. She now stands to inherit a fortune. But then, it comes out that she may not be eligible to inherit, and that her cousin, Egbert, may be the heir. The papers that would prove Edward Standing’s intent have disappeared, so there’s no easy way to determine who will get the money. Egbert suggests that he and Margot marry, but she refuses. When he insists, she refuses again, and leaves home. Unbeknownst to her, this puts her in danger from a gang led by a man named Grey Mask. They want to get rid of her, so they can get her money. Margot happens to meet Margaret Langton, who’s already mixed up with Grey Mask and his gang (‘though not in the obvious way). Margaret takes pity on the younger woman, and takes her in. And in the end, Margaret and her fiancé, Charles Moray, find a way to thwart Grey Mask.

Carl Hiaasen’s Skinny Dip introduces readers to Charles ‘Chaz’ Perrone. He’s a marine scientist (at least nominally) who’s found a way to make water samples seem clear, even if they are tainted. His employer, Samuel Johnson ‘Red’ Hammernut, finds that very useful; he owns an agri-business that pollutes the water, and has no interest in changing what he does, or in being cited by the authorities. When Chaz begins to suspect that his wife, Joey, has found out what he’s doing, he decides to solve his problem. He takes Joey on what he tells her is an anniversary present: a cruise of the Everglades. While they’re on the water, he throws her overboard. He hasn’t counted on the fact that Joey is a former competitive swimmer, though. Instead of dying, she survives and is saved by former police offer Mick Stranahan. With Mick’s help, Joey plans to make Chaz pay for what he did by ‘haunting’ him. And, as Chaz gets more and more unsettled by the things Joey does, Hammernut gets more and more concerned about their arrangement. And Broward County police detective Karl Rolvaag gets more and more suspicious of Chaz…

Jussi Adler-Olsen introduces his protagonist, Copenhagen police detective Carl Mørck, in Mercy (AKA The Keeper of Lost Causes. In that novel, Mørck returns to duty after being wounded in a line-of-duty shooting incident. He’s always been difficult to work with, but the trauma of what he’s been through has made dealing with him impossible. So, he is transferred to the newly-created ‘Department Q,’ which is dedicated to ‘cases of special interest’ (cold cases). It’s a move to appease members of the public and the government who believe that the police aren’t doing enough to solve crimes. The first case that Mørck and his new assistant, Hafaz al-Assad take on is the five-year-old disappearance of promising politician Merete Lynnggard. At the time she went missing, everyone thought she went overboard in a terrible ferry accident. But Mørck and Assad begin to suspect otherwise. If they’re right, and she is still alive, there may be very little time left to find her. So, the two sleuths are under a great deal of pressure as they try to find out what really happened.

Mark Douglas-Home’s The Sea Detective features Edinburgh oceanographer and Ph.D. Candidate Caladh ‘Cal’ McGill. His special interest is wave patterns, and he’s working on them for his thesis. In one plot thread of this novel, he’s also got a project of his own underway. Many years earlier, McGill’s grandfather, Uilliam, was on a fishing trip when he disappeared. The official account was that he went overboard accidentally, and McGill wants to know the truth about what happened. So, he’s using his knowledge of wave patterns to try to find out where his grandfather might have washed up, if he did. The search for the truth leads McGill to some dark truths about the island community where his grandparents lived at the time of the disappearance.

And then there’s Jonothan Cullinane’s Red Herring. It’s 1951 in Auckland, and PI Johnny Molloy is hired to find a man called O’Phelan. He takes the case and begins his search. Soon enough, he discovers that his quarry died in an overboard accident. But something doesn’t seem right about the incident, and Molloy starts to suspect it was a case of murder. What he doesn’t know at first, though, is that this death is related to a web of conspiracy, political intrigue, and ‘backroom deals.’ The closer Molloy gets to the truth about O’Phelan, the more dangerous the case becomes for him.

Seas and oceans can be very convenient places, if I may put it that way, for fictional murderers to hide their crimes. So it’s little wonder we see so many overboard ‘accidents’ in crime fiction. These are only a few. Your turn.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Ryan Shupe and the Rubberband’s Walk the Walk.

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Filed under Carl Hiaasen, Jonothan Cullinane, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Mark Douglas-Home, Patricia Wentworth

All Human Life is There in a Caricature and Cartoon*

As this is posted, it’s 291 years since the publication of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. As you’ll know, that novel takes a satirical look at British society of the day. Swift used the story to skewer social classes, politicians, and more.

Swift, of course, wasn’t the only author to use satire as a tool; plenty of others have done the same. That includes crime writers. And it’s interesting to see how crime writers have used their novels to skewer institutions, people, and so on.

Agatha Christie isn’t usually known for mocking wit in her stories. But she did use satire, including poking fun at herself. In Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, for instance, one plot thread concerns detective novelist Ariadne Oliver, who is said to be Christie’s tool for self-deprecation. Mrs. Oliver is visiting the village of Broadhinny , where she is collaborating with up-and-coming playwright Robin Upward on an adaptation of one of her novels for the stage. She gets drawn into a murder investigation when Hercule Poirot takes another look at the murder of a charwoman whom everyone believes was killed by her lodger. Mrs. Oliver works with Poirot to find out who the killer is. Besides having a bit of fun at her own expense, Christie also takes a satirical look at plays, playwriting, and the process of adapting a work. The story itself isn’t comical, but it’s interesting to see how Christie fits in some sly satire.

Robert Barnard uses quite a bit of satire in Death of an Old Goat. In it, Bobby Wickham and the rest of the English faculty at Drummondale University are awaiting a visit from noted Oxford scholar Professor Belville-Smith. He’s on a lecture tour of Australia, and will be making a stop in rural Drummondale along the way. Right from the start, though, things don’t go well. For one thing, Belville-Smith is insufferable; he’s not accustomed to life in rural Australia, and wastes no time finding ways in which it falls short of his expectations. For another, Belville-Smith is also boring. Worse, he’s getting on in years, and finds it hard to keep track of his points when he lectures. The visit is going badly enough, but things get far, far worse when Belville-Smith is found murdered in his hotel room. Inspector Bert Royle investigates, but he’s not going to find it easy to do so. This is his first murder, so he’s unaccustomed to a lot of the procedures involved. What’s more, there are plenty of suspects, both in the academic community and among the ‘townies.’ Still, he persists, and in the end, finds out who the killer is. Throughout the novel, Barnard lampoons academia, rural Australians, pedants, and other ‘types.’

Ruth Dudley Edwards’ Corridors of Death is also a satire, this time of politics and politicians. In the novel, we meet Robert Amiss, who works as Private Secretary to Sir Nicholas Clark, Permanent Secretary to the Department of Conservation. One day, during a break in proceedings at a meeting of the Industry and Government Group, Clark is murdered. The police are called in, and Detective Superintendent James Milton takes charge of the investigation. He believes that Amiss might be a useful source of information, since he knew the victim quite well. For his part, Amiss finds the investigation process intriguing. So, the two begin to work together. And they soon find that there’s no lack of suspects. Clark was a malicious person who took pleasure in sabotaging the careers of other members of the department. And every one of them was on hand at the time of the murder. Still, Amiss and Milton get to the truth about the killing. In the process, there’s a very satirical look at political life a few tiers down from Downing Street, so to speak. There are plenty of inflated egos, sycophants, layers of bureaucracy, and more.

Teresa Solana’s A Not So Perfect Crime introduces Barcelona PIs Eduard and Josep “Pep” (who goes by the name Borja) Martínez. They happen to be twins, but in many ways, couldn’t be more different. One day, they get a new client: conservative Catalonia politician, Lluís Font. Once he is assured of the brothers’ discretion, he tells them that he believes his wife, Lídia, may be having an affair. Not only is this devastating news on a personal level, it could also cause great trouble for Font on a professional level, since he stands for traditional values such as home and family. The Martínez brothers take the case, and follow Lídia for a week. They don’t find any evidence of infidelity, though, and are ready to report as much to their client. But then, Lídia suddenly dies of what turns out to be poison. Now, her husband is a suspect in a murder case. He asks the Martínez brothers to continue working on his behalf, this time to clear his name. Eduard is reluctant, but Borja is eager to do the job – and get the fee. In the end, we do learn who killed the victim and why. Along the way, Solana paints a satirical portrait of life among Barcelona’s very well-to-do. There’s a good look at the social backbiting, machinations, and superficiality of that group of people.

And then there’s the work of Carl Hiaasen. Fans of his novels will know that many of them are set in different parts of Florida. Through those stories, Hiaasen uses satire to comment on the ultra-wealthy, the press, bureaucracy, the different cultures in Florida, and much more. He puts his characters into a variety of absurd situations that highlight the many foibles that he explores.

These are by no means the only crime writers who’ve used satire to make their points. And it can be a very effective tool when it’s used well. Which novels like this have stayed with you?

 
 
 

NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Comsat Angels’ Zinger.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Carl Hiaasen, Robert Barnard, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Teresa Solana

Poison is the Wind That Blows*

As this is posted, it’s 55 years since the first publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. It was a very influential indictment of the pesticide industry, and of those who accepted that industry’s claims without researching them. Carson also laid out the consequences for the environment of using pesticides and other toxins indiscriminately.

Since that time, many governments have made an effort to reduce or eliminate dangerous chemicals and other toxins that threaten the environment. And Carson is by no means the only one to have called attention to this very real risk. She wrote non-fiction, but there are also plenty of fiction writers who’ve addressed this issue.

In many ways, it’s harder for fiction writers to write about threats to the environment. Most readers don’t want ‘preaching’ in their fiction. Nor do they want to be made to feel guilty as they read. They want good stories that engage them, and well-drawn characters. That said, though, there are authors who’ve balanced telling stories with making a point about the environment.

In one of Robin Cook’s early efforts, Fever, Dr. Charles Martel is working on a very promising cancer study at the Weinberger Institute. The company authorities, though, want him to work on a new product, Canceran. Martel isn’t convinced that Canceran is effective, but the company needs government approval of the drug to put it on solid financial footing. So, Martel is pulled from his own research, and told to work on Canceran studies. He agrees, but in secret, continues his own research. Then, his daughter, Michelle, is diagnosed with acute myeloblastic leukemia. Now, Martel works desperately on his own studies, to try to find a treatment that will help Michelle. He also searches for any information he can find about this particular form of leukemia. That’s when he discovers that a powerful company has been dumping toxic chemicals into a nearby river. Martel tries to bring the company’s activities out into the open and stop them. But he’s up against wealthy and well-connected people. And he’s running out of time if he’s to save his daughter.

Fans of Donna Leon’s work will know that her sleuth, Venice police detective Guido Brunetti, often finds himself up against companies that allow toxic chemicals into public water, soil, and so on. For example, in Through a Glass, Darkly, he investigates the death of Giorgio Tassini, who was night watchman at one of Venice’s glass blowing factories. At first, the death looks like a terrible accident. But Brunetti soon suspects otherwise. It comes out that he accused his employer and other such factories of dumping toxic waste into the local water. In fact, he cited that dumping as the cause of his daughter’s array of special needs. Now, Brunetti and his team look more closely at the industry, and try to find if Tassini was telling the truth. If he was, it’s very likely that someone in the industry was responsible for his death.

Carl Hiaasen takes an interesting (and funny – it is Hiaasen) perspective on illegal and dangerous chemical dumping in Skinny Dip. In the novel, we are introduced to Charles ‘Chaz’ Perrone. He is, by background, a marine biologist, who’s hired by agribusiness owner Samuel Johnson ‘Red’ Hammernut. Perrone’s task will be to show that Hammernut’s business does not pollute the environment or change the quality of the local water. Hammernut’s not looking to be a good global citizen; he just wants the ‘rubber stamp’ he needs to continue doing business as he is, and keep government authorities and environmentalists away. And Perrone is the perfect person to do the job. He has no professional integrity, and is willing to do whatever his new boss wants, because the price is right. And he’s invented a way to make water studies look ‘clean,’ even if they aren’t. Then, Perrone’s wife, Joey, finds out what her husband’s doing. She threatens to go to the authorities, and Perrone knows he has to act fast. So, he invites her on a romantic, ‘just the two of us’ cruise of the Everglades, to celebrate their anniversary. While they’re on the cruise, Perrone pushes his wife overboard. He believes he’s killed Joey, but he’s forgotten that she’s a champion swimmer. Joey doesn’t die, but is rescued by former copper Mick Stranahan. Together they concoct a plan to rattle Perrone and make him admit that he tried to kill his wife. The more he tries to cover everything up, the more Broward County police detective Karl Rolvaag suspects that he’s guilty.

In both Black Water Rising and Pleasantville, Attica Locke tells the story of Houston-area lawyer Jay Porter. In both novels, he gets involved in murder investigations that lead to the very top of the local corporate ladders. As he does, he finds that, in both cases, the companies involved are linked to some very corrupt activity that has a real impact on the environment. It wasn’t what Porter intended to do with his life, but he finds himself tangling with some well-connected enemies in these novels.

And then there’s Geoffrey Robert’s The Alo Release. In that novel, legendary environmentalist Jay Duggan has been working with a Los Angeles-based watchdog group called the Millbrook Foundation. They’re concerned about the forthcoming release of a new, genetically-modified, seed coating. Its manufacturer, a company called Vestco, claims that it will do much to end world hunger. But Millbrook has grave doubts about the company’s claims. They’re not successful in preventing Vestco from planning the release, though, and Duggan decides to take this opportunity to retire and return to his native New Zealand. He invites two work friends, Science Director Dr. Catherine ‘Cat’ Taylor, and IT director Matthew Liddell, to join him there for a short visit before they get back to work. The three have already left Los Angeles when word comes that a Vestco employee named Henry Beck has been murdered. Duggan, Taylor and Liddell are being framed for the murder, so when they arrive in Auckland, they’re considered international fugitives. Now, they’re in a race against time (and several forces, both police and otherwise) to stop the seed coating from actually being released, clear their names, and find out the truth about Beck’s death.

Rachel Carson was well known for speaking out against the use and misuse of toxic chemicals and other pollutants. But she’s not the only one who’s done so. There are plenty of real-life and fictional characters who’ve also addressed that problem. When it’s handled so that it doesn’t come across as preaching, it can make for a compelling context for a crime novel.

 
 
 

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

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Filed under Attica Locke, Carl Hiaasen, Donna Leon, Geoffrey Robert, Rachel Carson, Robin Cook