Category Archives: Carl Hiaasen

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

As a Restaurant Inspector It’s a Long Lonesome Road*

There’s an interesting (if small) plot thread in Martin Walker’s Bruno, Chief of Police. The small French town of St. Denis prides itself on its good food; it is, after all, in the food-famous Périgord. And, for as long as anyone can remember, there’s been a weekly market where the local residents get their fresh bread, cheese, and other items. These people know how to prepare, cook, sell, and store food. So, no-one is exactly pleased that EU inspectors have taken an interest in the market, and plan to apply EU rules to the food that’s bought and sold there. Local Chief of Police Benoît ‘Bruno’ Courrèges is sworn to uphold the law; and in most cases, he believes in being law-abiding. At the same time, he’s a gastronome himself, and understands exactly how the citizens he serves feel about the EU health inspectors. So, he looks the other way when a few of the citizens find their own approach to preventing what they see as EU ‘meddling.’

In the main, though, most people agree that public health is a serious and important matter, and that there needs to be a way to ensure that any threats to public health are eliminated. Such inspections are thankless jobs, though. No company wants its operations interrupted, and making sure that everything is up to code can be expensive. And companies, hospitals, and the like don’t want to fail inspections. So, there’s a lot of pressure on anyone in that business.

The San Francisco Department of Health figures into Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson’s The Nightmare Factor. In that novel, we are introduced to Dr. Calvin Doohan, a transplant from Scotland. He’s working on some research for the World Health Organization (WHO) when the city is hit with a number of cases of virulent, flu-like illness. Each case seems to end in death, and doctors are hard-pressed to isolate the cause. Doohan volunteers his services to San Francisco’s Board of Health, and soon finds himself working with Dr. Suzanne Synge, from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). It’s soon established that the illness can be traced to people who attended a convention at the Hotel Cordoba, so several interested parties (the CDC, the Board of Health, etc..) concentrate their efforts there. Inspections of the food and its handling start, and Doohan soon begins to suspect that this outbreak was deliberate. As he gets closer to the truth behind it, he finds more and more danger for himself.

The CDC also features in Robin Cook’s Outbreak. Dr. Marissa Blumenthal of the CDC is sent to Los Angeles when several patients of the Richter Clinic die. The clinic’s owner, Dr. Rudolph Richter, also succumbs. Blumenthal and the team she works with manage to contain the outbreak, and it seems that the public health isn’t at risk. Then, there’s an outbreak in St. Louis. And another in Phoenix. It now seems clear to Blumenthal that this virus is being spread deliberately. But she doesn’t have much evidence to support herself. Still, she perseveres, and soon finds she’s up against some very dangerous and powerful people who are not afraid to kill.

Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman has to be concerned about her local Health Department’s expectations, because she owns a bakery. By and large, she doesn’t have a bad relationship with the inspection team, although they don’t see eye to eye on Chapman’s approach to vermin control. Along with her ‘house cat’ Horatio, Chapman is owned by Heckle and Jekyll, the feline Rodent Control Officers who roam the bakery at night, making sure that Chapman’s baking supplies are vermin-free. It isn’t exactly what the Health Department pamphlets advise, but it works well, and Chapman’s bakery is successful. Then, in Trick or Treat, there’s an ergot infestation at another, nearby, bakery. The Health Department has to close that bakery until the ergot is removed, and all the other local bakeries, including Chapman’s, also become suspect. It’s hard for Chapman not to be able to go about her baking business. But she understands why the bakery has to close temporarily, and she certainly doesn’t want anyone sickened on her account. It’s among other things an interesting look at how health inspectors work when something goes wrong in a restaurant or other food-selling establishment.

Sometimes, health, food, and other inspectors are fictional targets. For instance, in Donna Leon’s Beastly Things, the body of an unknown man is found in one of Venice’s canals. There’s no identification, and no truly distinctive marks on the body, so at first, it’s hard to determine who the victim was. But Commissario Guido Brunetti and his team eventually identify the man as Andrea Nava. He was a veterinarian who worked part-time at a local slaughterhouse. His job there was to inspect the animals brought in by local farmers, to verify the health of their animals. As Brunetti and his team look into the murder, readers learn about the way slaughterhouse inspections are supposed to work, and how they work in this case.

A few of Carl Hiaasen’s novels include characters who are health inspectors, or have related roles. One of them is Razor Girl, which features Andrew Yancey, whom fans will remember from Bad Monkey. In this novel, he’s no longer a police detective. He’s been demoted to Inspector for the Health Department. He gets involved in a complex (this is Hiaasen….) case when he discovers hair from a beard in the food at Clippy’s Restaurant. The hair turns out to belong to Buck Nance, a reality show star who presumably went into hiding after a disastrous live show. One of Yancey’s leads is con artist Merry Mansfield, who ended up trying to scam Lane Coolman, who was supposed to meet Nance in Key West (Florida). Coolman’s now worried about Nance’s whereabouts, and Yancey sees a way to get his badge back if he finds out the truth. He and Mansfield work together, but Yancey’s got to go up against serious odds, including a restaurant infestation of Gambian pouched rats (yes, those are real, and they can grow to be about .9 m (about 3 ft.) long).

Public health is a very real and important concern. So, it’s little wonder that health inspectors of different sorts can shut down restaurants and all sorts of other businesses. Their job might not always make them a lot of fans, but we do need them.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Three Penny Piece’s Saddam Henderson’s Old Time Country Kitchen.

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Filed under Carl Hiaasen, Donna Leon, Frank Robinson, Kerry Greenwood, Martin Walker, Robin Cook, Thomas N. Scortia

Make Me Beautiful*

Cosmetic surgery has advanced a great deal over the years, as has its relative, reconstructive surgery. There are new techniques and materials, and new options. It’s no longer the exclusive property of the very rich and Hollywood stars, either.

I got to thinking about the whole topic when I read an interesting post by Moira at Clothes in Books. By the way, if you’re not already following that excellent blog, I recommend it highly. It’s a treasure trove of fine book reviews and discussions of clothes and culture in fiction, and what it all says about us.

Moira was discussing Ngaio Marsh’s Death and the Dancing Footmen, but that’s not the only example of a crime novel where cosmetic surgery plays a role. It’s not hard to see why, either. There are all sorts of possibilities for the author. And, whatever you feel about cosmetic surgery, it’s increasingly popular.

In P.D. James’ The Private Patient, we are introduced to journalist Rhoda Gradwyn. She checks into Cheverell Manor, an exclusive private clinic for patients undergoing cosmetic surgery. Her plan is to have a facial scar removed, but that’s not what happens. During her stay at the clinic, Gradwyn is strangled. Met Commander Adam Dalgliesh and his team investigate, and there are several possibilities. Certainly, the victim’s surgeon had opportunities to kill her. But, so did several nurses, attendants, and even visitors, among others. Dalgliesh and his team have to go back into Gradwyn’s past to see who would want to murder her.

In M.C. Beaton’s Death of a Hussy, Lochdubh PC Hamish Macbeth investigates the murder of Maggie Baird. Although she hasn’t been a commercial sex worker, she’s certainly traded sex for expensive things, posh places to live, and so on. Now, although she’s still attractive, she’s middle-aged, and, at least in her view, has lost her looks. So, she goes away for several months and undergoes cosmetic surgery. When she returns, with her looks restored, she invites four former lovers to visit, and announces that she’s going to get married. Instead, she dies, ostensibly of a heart attack suffered during a car fire. Macbeth soon learns that there are several people who could have wanted the victim dead. For one thing, her four suiters have all come down in the world, as the saying goes. Any one of them could have killed her for her money. Then there’s her niece, who’s just been cut out of her will. There are other possibilities, too. The story certainly shows the wisdom of the saying, ‘Looks aren’t everything.’

One plot thread of Donna Leon’s About Face concerns a businessman, Maurizio Cataldo. Conte Orazio Falier is considering doing business with Cataldo, but he wants to be sure of the man before he actually signs anything. So, he asks his son-in-law, Commissario Guido Brunetti, to ‘vet’ Cataldo, and see if there’s anything Falier should know. Brunetti agrees to do so. In the process of getting to know Cataldo’s life better, Brunetti also gets to know his wife, Franca Marinello. One of the things we learn about her is that she’s had cosmetic surgery. That surgery isn’t the reason for Falier’s caution. But it plays a role in the novel, and in some of the tragic events that happen.

Carl Hiaasen’s Skin Tight features former police officer Mick Stranahan (yes, fans, he later appears in Skinny Dip).  He learns that an unknown man has been asking where lives. He isn’t sure who the man might be, but it doesn’t take long for them to meet up. In fact, the man breaks into Stranahan’s home. In the course of defending himself, Stranahan kills the home invader, goring him with the stuffed head of a marlin (it is Hiassen…). Then he dumps the body, which is later discovered by a couple of tourists. In the meantime, Stranahan decides to find out who’s trying to kill him. His attacker had no ID and there was no way to connect him with any particular one of Stranahan’s enemies, so it won’t be an easy task. It’s made even harder by the fact that Stranahan’s got plenty of enemies. There’s the sleazy injury lawyer, the annoying TV journalist, the hit man, and an inept plastic surgeon named Rudy Graveline. They’re all good candidates, and Stranahan will have to work through all of them to find out who the killer is.

Leigh Redhead’s Peepshow is the first of her novels to feature Melbourne PI Simone Kirsch. She’s got a background as a stripper, and has now gotten her PI license. When the body of Francesco ‘Frank’ Parisi is discovered in a local bay, Simone’s best friend, Chloe, becomes a suspect. Parisi was the owner of a table-dancing strip club called the Red Room, where Chloe works. She was among several people who had a very good reason to kill the victim, and she’s worried about what to do. Matters get worse when Parisi’s underworld brother, Sal, gets involved. He wants Simone to find out who killed his brother, and he takes Chloe as ‘insurance.’ Since the only way to free Chloe is to find the killer, Simone gets started right away. She goes undercover as a new table dancer at the Red Room, and begins to get to know the people in the dead man’s life. And it’s not long before she discovers that some very dangerous people had very good murder motives. While cosmetic surgery isn’t the reason for the murder in this case, it does have a part in the story. And on a side note, it’s interesting to see how the table dancers use wigs, makeup, and costuming to play their roles.

And then there’s Sophie Littlefield’s A Bad Day For Mercy, which features her sleuth, Stella Hardesty. By day, she owns Hardesty Sewing Machine Repair & Sales. But she has a ‘side business,’ too. She pays ‘friendly visits’ to those who’ve committed domestic abuse, and she has very effective ways of reminding them of how to behave, let’s just say. In this novel, Hardesty learns that her step-nephew, Chip, is in serious trouble because of gambling debts. In fact, his life’s been threatened. So, she drives from her home in small-town Missouri to Wisconsin to visit him. When she gets there, she finds Chip and his girlfriend, Natalya, trying to get rid of a dead man’s body. The man turns out to be Natalya’s abusive husband, and it looks very much as though Chip might be responsible. He and Natalya claim that they’re innocent, though, and found the body on their porch. So, if they aren’t the killers, Hardesty is going to have to find out who is. One very good possibility is a medical student named Doug, who has a sideline performing illegal (and not particularly professional) Botox injections. As it turns out, he had dealings with the victim, and a good reason to want him dead. But he’s not the only likely candidate.

Whatever your opinion of cosmetic surgery, there’s no doubt it’s popular. And it really does have a place in crime fiction, Thanks, Moira, for the inspiration.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Engine Room’s A Perfect Lie.

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Filed under Carl Hiaasen, Donna Leon, Leigh Redhead, M.C. Beaton, Ngaio Marsh, P.D. James, Sophie Littlefield