Category Archives: Carole Sutton

And I Go Where the Ocean is Deep*

BoatsFor a lot of people there’s something exciting about boats and being on boats. It may be the lure of adventure or it may be the connection with the sea. And of course, there’s the reality that for plenty of people, boats represent their livelihood. Whatever the reason is, we seem to have a fascination with boats and ships. And if you think about it, boats and ships, with their dangers, legends and so on make very effective contexts for crime fiction novels. If you add to that the fact of disparate people being brought together, as can happen on a boat, it’s easy to see how boats and ships could figure into crime fiction. Of course, one post isn’t nearly enough space for me to mention all of the novels where boats and ships figure into the plot, but here are a few to show you what I mean.

In Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, newlyweds Linnet and Simon Doyle are on their honeymoon trip – a cruise of the Nile. On the second night of the journey Linnet is shot. The first suspect is Linnet’s former best friend Jacqueline ‘Jackie’ de Bellefort, whose fiancé Simon was before he met Linnet. But it’s soon proven that Jackie could not have committed the crime. Hercule Poirot and Colonel Race are on the same cruise and work together to find out who the murderer is. In this novel, it isn’t the actual boating or the ship itself that figures into the crime. Rather, Christie looks at the interactions of the different personalities who are on the same ship at the same time.

So does Ngaio Marsh in A Clutch of Constables. Painter and sculptor Agatha Troy decides to take a cruise on the Zodiac, but she soon finds that this isn’t going to be the relaxing and enjoyable trip she’d planned. First, one of the passengers is left behind and is later found murdered. Then another passenger is drowned. In the meantime and possibly related to the murders, Troy finds that an international art forger known only as the Jampot may very well be among those aboard the ship. As Troy gets more deeply involved in the mystery, she writes letters to her husband Inspector Roderick Alleyn and in them she tells him what’s happened. In an interesting plot strategy, Alleyn uses those letters to share the crimes and their solutions to a group of students in a class he’s teaching.

John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee lives aboard a boat called The Busted Flush. As we learn in The Deep Blue Goodbye, he won the boat in a poker game (hence its name). McGee calls himself a ‘salvage consultant.’ What that really means is that he helps people recover what’s been stolen from them. For instance, in The Deep Blue Goodbye he agrees to track down something that was stolen from his client Catherine Kerr by the father of her son Davie. The big challenge at first is that Kerr’s not even sure what was stolen. McGee finds out what was taken and is able to track down both the stolen property and the thief. McGee takes in payment half of whatever is recovered for his clients and they are usually more than grateful to pay his fee. What’s interesting is that McGee could probably afford to live in a house if he wanted, but he doesn’t. He prefers his boat and his life on the sea. In several places in that novel (and in the other novels in the series too), we see McGee working on his boat. He paints, cleans, makes repairs and so on. That side of him adds depth to the character.

Carole Sutton comes from a family of boat builders, so it’s only natural that her love of boats should come through in her novels. In Ferryman, we meet Steve Pengelly, who moves to Guernsey to start over, as the saying goes. There, he meets Angela DuPont, who connects him with the seller of a beautiful thirty-eight-foot sailboat that Pengelly happily buys. His new life falls apart when Angela disappears and he is arrested and tried for her murder. There’s forensic evidence against him too and he is in fact convicted and imprisoned. Then, two years later, Angela’s body washes ashore. What’s shocking is that it’s proven that she died only a short time before her body was discovered. This means that Pengelly wasn’t guilty of the crime. Now DI Alan Grimstone has to go back to the beginning to find out the truth of the matter.

In Sutton’s And the Devil Laughed, DS Hannah Ford returns to work after taking some leave for post-traumatic stress. She’s assigned to go to Draper’s Wharf on Australia’s Parramata River to investigate possible drugs activity in the area. Posing as a journalist she settles in and begins to get a sense of the place. She soon discovers that there’s been a recent tragedy in town. Local barmaid Victoria Brown was raped and murdered. Her killer hasn’t been caught, so Ford begins to ask questions about the case even though she hasn’t been officially asked to do so. Part of the reason for her interest in the case comes from her desire to prove herself fit for work. Another part comes from the fact that she was distantly related to the victim. As Ford investigates this case as well as the drugs smuggling, we get a real feel for the local boating and boat-building culture.

Boats have long been used for smuggling of course, and we get a real sense of that in Jeffrey Stone’s Play Him Again, which takes place in 1920’s Los Angeles during the years of Prohibition in the U.S.  In that novel we meet Matt ‘Hud’ Hudson, who makes his money smuggling alcohol on his boat The River Belle. His dream is to become a film-maker in the newly-developing Hollywood scene and at the moment, he’s using his smuggling income until he can. When his friend Danny is murdered, Hud decides to find out who the murderer is. He soon finds out though that he’s up against several forces. First, there are rival smuggling groups and a large criminal gang that’s moving into the area. There’s also the fact that the smuggling Hud’s doing is illegal, so the police aren’t going to be co-operative. But Hud keeps looking for answers and he discovers how Danny’s murder is related to the ‘rum-running’ and to the developing film industry. There are plenty of scenes aboard The River Belle in this novel, so we get a chance to see what a boat that’s been refitted for smuggling is like.

Of course more than just about anything else, boats are used for fishing and that’s the focus of Domingo Villar’s Death on a Galician Shore. Vigo police inspector Leo Caldas and his team are called in when the body of local fisherman Justo Castelo is discovered. At first it looks as though he committed suicide. But little clues suggest that he might have been murdered, so Caldas and his assistant Rafael Estevez look into the case further. As they find out about Castelo’s background, they discover that Castelo’s murder may be related to a 1996 tragedy in which Castelo and two other fishermen José Arias and Marcos Valverde nearly drowned while they were aboard a fishing vessel. Their captain Antonio Sousa did drown and none of the survivors has been the same since then. Caldas and Estevez have to learn exactly what happened that night to get to the truth about Castelo’s death. This novel shows readers what the fisherman’s life is like, from early-morning fish markets to sudden and terrible storms to building and maintaining fishing boats.

We also see the fishing life depicted in Sandy Curtis’ Deadly Tide. Alan ‘Tug’ Bretton is the captain of Sea Mistress, a trawler based in Brisbane. He’s accused of murdering Ewan McKay, the deckhand from another boat. Bretton claims that he’s innocent, but all of the evidence is against him. There’s also a possibility that Bretton and Sea Mistress may be connected to the drugs trade. Bretton’s daughter Samantha ‘Sam’ believes her father is innocent and she wants to find out who killed McKay. Besides, if the family-owned trawler doesn’t go out to sea, the ship may be lost to creditors. So Bretton reluctantly turns the skipper position over to his daughter. Sam begins both to start the fishing season and to try to find out who killed Ewan McKay. What she doesn’t know is that Chayse Jarrett, the deckhand she’s just hired, is an undercover cop who’s been assigned to the McKay murder too. As the two of them, first separately and later together, investigate the murder, we also see what it’s like to live on and operate a fishing trawler.

Whether they’re used for work, sport, relaxation or smuggling, boats and boating have been an essential part of our lives for millennia. Their fascination still lures a lot of people. Do you see the appeal? I know I’ve probably not mentioned the boat-related crime novels you like best because there’s not enough space to mention them all. So now it’s your turn. Which gaps have I left?



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s The Downeaster ‘Alexa.’


Filed under Agatha Christie, Carole Sutton, Domingo Villar, Jeffrey Stone, John D. MacDonald, Ngaio Marsh, Sandy Curtis

Well, I Was Born in the Sight of Water and It’s There That I Feel My Best*

The sea seems to have a real hold on many people’s imaginations. Millions of people swim, fish, sail, go kayaking and so on. The sea’s both fascinating and of course dangerous, and we’re still learning about it. And it’s meant a livelihood for humans for millennia. Perhaps that’s part of why so many people are drawn to it. If you enjoy going out on the water, you know what I mean. It’s interesting too, to see how much that love of the water figures in crime fiction. And no, I’m not really talking just of novels where characters are found washed up on shore (although that’s a common enough plot point). Rather, I’m talking of novels where we can see how much living near water and being on it can mean to people.

For example, in Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun, Hercule Poirot is taking a holiday at the Jolly Roger Hotel on Leathercombe Bay off the Devon coast. Two of his fellow guests are Patrick and Christine Redfern, who’ve only been married a short while. Christine isn’t much for the sea, but Patrick loves it. He’s been sailing around the area for quite a long time and it’s interesting to see that side of his personality. Another guest Emily Brewster also enjoys the sea; she goes out for a daily row. And then there’s successful businessman Horace Blatt, who frequently goes for day-long sails. In fact, other than Christine Redfern, the only one who isn’t much of a one for the water is Hercule Poirot. As Christie fans will know, Hercule Poirot gets seasick easily and does not like the water. But when fellow guest Arlena Stuart Marshall is strangled on a beach not far from the hotel, Poirot has to put aside his natural dislike of the sea. The most likely suspect in this murder is Captain Kenneth Marshall, the victim’s husband. He was aware that she was having an affair with another guest and he thought that at her death, he might inherit her money. But he can also prove an alibi, so Poirot and the police have to look elsewhere for the murderer. At one point, Poirot, fellow guest Stephen Lane and Chief Constable Weston explore a cave near where Arlena Marshall’s body was found. They discover a clue there that provides another motive for her murder as well as a hint of some illegal activity that’s been taking place at the hotel. Poirot isn’t at all happy about having to take a boat ride to the beach and cave, but it’s all in the interest of justice and in the end, he discovers who killed Arlena Marshall and why.

The Dorset coast is the setting for Minette Walters’ The Breaker, in which local constable Nick Ingram is called in when the body of thirty-one-year-old Kate Sumner is discovered one day by two boys who are exploring near Chapman’s Pool. Shortly afterwards her nearly three-year-old daughter Heather is found wandering around the nearby village of Poole. Ingram works with DI John Galbraith, WPC Sandra Griffiths and Superintendent Carpenter to find out who killed Kate Sumner and why. The mystery is interesting in itself, and as the sleuths pursue the case, they find out that they have to peel away what seemed to be the perfectly normal life of the victim to find out why anyone would feel the need to kill her. That involves looking into her work life, her marriage and so on. But what is also engaging about this novel is the seaside setting. Several of the witnesses, for instance, are in the area on boating or fishing holidays, and as Ingram pursues the case locally, we also get a sense of the local boating and fishing life.

Carole Sutton’s family was in the boat-building business for quite a long time, so boats and the sea are an integral part of her background. Little wonder that the sea is also woven into her work. For instance in And the Devil Laughed, DS Hannah Ford is ready to return to duty after having taken some post-traumatic stress leave. She has the need to prove that she’s up to the task, so when she is posted to Draper’s Wharf on Australia’s Parramata River, she takes the assignment. Her task there is an undercover investigation of possible drugs activity in the area. Posing as a journalist, she settles into an inn called The Harbor Lights. She begins her work in Draper’s Wharf just after popular local barmaid Victoria Brown has been found raped and murdered. Ford is distantly related to the victim, so it’s not just her determination to prove her readiness to work that drives her to try to find out who killed Brown. And then there’s another death. As Ford deals with the trauma that caused her to take leave in the first place, she also juggles the two cases she’s working. Throughout this novel there’s a strong sense of the sea and fishing. As Hannah gets to know the locals, she also gets to know the lifestyles of people who depend on the sea for their living, and it forms a fascinating backdrop to the story.

That’s also the case with Elly Griffiths’ The House at Sea’s End. That novel takes place at Broughton Sea’s End, a small fishing town which is being destroyed little by little through erosion. When a team of archaeologists begins to undertake a study of the area, they make a grisly discovery: six skeletons dating from a very long time ago. University of North Norfalk’s Head of Forensic Archaeology Ruth Galloway is called in to see what she can find out about the victims. She’s got a busy enough life as the single mother of a newborn daughter, but Galloway is passionate about her work. So she begins to investigate. She discovers that these skeletons do not belong to locals; they are the skeletons of World War II-era Germans. She also discovers that these people were murdered. Now Galloway works with DCI Harry Nelson to find out who the victims were and why they were killed. Then, journalist and historian Dieter Eckhart, who has been looking into the story himself, is killed. Now it’s clear that someone still alive does not want anyone to know the true story behind the deaths. Woven through this novel is the portrait of a rather bleak village that’s dependent on the sea and, ironically, is being slowly destroyed by it. Griffiths gives the reader a strong sense of the seaside setting.

We get that same sense in Johan Theorin’s The Darkest Room, which takes place on the Swedish island of Öland. Joakim and Katrine Westin take a house on the island to get away from the stress of big city life. That’s what they tell themselves and everyone else, and they throw themselves into renovating the house. Then, tragedy strikes the family. Police officer Tilda Davidsson investigates this tragedy as well as the activity of a group of drug users who’ve been breaking into local houses. As Davidsson looks into these cases, she depends a lot on her grand-uncle Gerlof Davidsson, who’s lived on the island all his life and knows everyone and everything about the island’s history. Here is what Gerlof Davidsson says about his older brother Ragnar and life on the island:


“Ragnar taught me a great deal about the weather and the winds and fishing and sailing when I was a kid…all the important stuff.”


The island’s history has a lot to do with the tragedy in the Westin family, so Gerlof Davidsson is central to finding out the truth. Along with that aspect of the novel, we also get strong sense of what it’s like for those who spend a lot of their lives on the water and depending on the water.

Lots of other authors, too, such as Camilla Läckberg, integrate that deep connection so many people have with the sea. For those people, it’s almost as though the sea were in their blood. Which novels have you enjoyed that explore that theme?


ps.  The ‘photo is of the lovely Auckland marina. It’s called “The City of Sails” for a reason…



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Little River Band’s Cool Change.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Camilla Läckberg, Carole Sutton, Elly Griffiths, Johan Theorin, Minette Walters

Introducing: Carole Sutton

Hello, All,

Welcome to another edition of Introducing…  Today, I’d like you to “meet” Carole Sutton. Originally from Devon, Sutton and her family lived for many years in Cornwall, where much of their spare time was spent building and sailing boats. The family migrated to Perth, Australia in 1981, where they owned a family business. When she retired, Sutton decided to turn full-time to writing. Since that time she’s had three crime fiction novels published: Ferryman, And the Devil Laughed and Blood Opal. Unlike many authors, Sutton’s chosen thus far to write standalones, so the novels aren’t really connected. But they all reflect Sutton’s knowledge of and love of sailing and the sea.

For example, Ferryman is the story of Steve Pengally, who moves to the Isle of Guernsey to start life over. He buys a beautiful thirty-foot sailboat and settles in to enjoy his new life. He begins a romantic involvement with Angela DuPont, the woman who’d told him about the boat. Then, Pengally discovers that DuPont has been using him until she finds a better “catch.” He breaks up with her, and then she disappears. DI Alec Grimstone is sure that Pengally killed DuPont, and there’s evidence to support that theory, even though Pengally claims he’s innocent. Pengally is arrested and sent to prison. Two years later, the body of Angela DuPont washes ashore at Cornwall’s Fal Estuary. When forensic evidence shows that she died only a few weeks before the body was found, it becomes clear that Pengally didn’t kill her, so he is released from prison. He simply wants to forget the whole thing, but then, he gets a visit from Veryan Pascoe, who tells him her sister went missing in the same way that Angela DuPont did. Pascoe is convinced that the same person was responsible for both disappearances and wants Pengally’s help. At first he refuses but he’s slowly persuaded to take an interest in the case. Meanwhile, Grimstone has to re-open the DuPont case and in parallel fashion, he and Pengally get to the truth about what happened.

And The Devil Laughed features undercover cop Hannah Ford, who’s recovering from her husband’s death and an experience as a rape survivor. She’s sent to investigate the drug trade in the town of Draper’s Wharf on the banks of Australia’s Parramatta River. When she arrives, Ford finds that the drug trade is now “old news.” A local barmaid who happens to be a distant relation of Ford’s has been brutally raped and murdered and her body dumped into a grave intended for someone else. Ford needs to keep her “cover” as a magazine writer, but she can’t resist looking into this case.

In Blood Opal, Patricia “Pug” Germaine comes home one day to find her husband Dom in the arms of his lover. Both have been brutally murdered and the house ransacked. With nothing much left but her sailboat and dog, Pug decides to start over. But that’s much easier said than done. It turns out that whoever was after Dom is after something Pug may have and is not afraid to kill to get it.


Want to know more about Carole Sutton? Here’s how:


Carole Sutton’s Website

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And the Devil Laughed

Blood Opal


Filed under Carole Sutton

>What Did You Expect?

>Most of us rely quite a lot on our assumptions and expectations. We almost have to, if you think about it. We’re bombarded with so many stimuli that if we had to stop and think about each one, we might be frozen into immobility. So we need our expectations. And very often they’re helpful. For example, if you see a sky like the one in the ‘photo, you can make assumptions about the time of day and the weather. That helps you decide what to wear and orients you as to time. Without those assumptions, you’d be reduced to guesswork. It can be very comfortable and safe, too, to have assumptions, since they make our worlds more secure; that’s one reason we depend on them. Our assumptions are important, but they can also make us vulnerable. If we never question our assumptions, we may trust too easily. And when our assumptions are violated, we’re disoriented. We may even feel betrayed or worse. Even when an assumption isn’t fundamental, violating it can still cause confusion and anxiety. Perhaps that’s one reason that so much crime fiction involves violating expectations and assumptions; that rude shock adds interest, tension and suspense to a story.

For instance, in Agatha Christie’s Appointment With Death, Hercule Poirot investigates the murder of Mrs. Boynton, a wealthy American widow who’s tyrannized the members of her family all of their lives. She is a malicious mental sadist who assumes that everyone in the family will be completely under her control. Her expectation leaves her vulnerable, though, as we find out when the family takes a trip through the Middle East. Because Mrs. Boynton expects to dominate everyone, she isn’t aware of how much danger she is in. Then, one afternoon during an excursion to the ancient city of Petra, Mrs. Boynton suddenly dies. At first, her death appears to be caused by heart failure. But Colonel Carbury, who’s in charge of the investigation, isn’t sure. So he asks Poirot to help with the case. Poirot finds that the danger to Mrs. Boynton came from a source she would never have expected.

There’s another case of assumptions making one vulnerable in Minette Walters’ The Breaker. When the body of thirty-one-year-old Kate Sumner is found on a beach near Chapman’s Pool, DC Nick Ingram works with the Devon and Hampshire constabularies to find out how and why she was killed. As the investigators slowly learn about Kate’s life, they find that she had a very dangerous assumption that she was in control of all of her relationships. In fact, Kate’s relationships and the way she dealt with them are a key factor in this story. That expectation that she would be “in charge” made her vulnerable to a killer who was much more dangerous than it appeared on the surface.

One of the reasons that well-written financial, medical and legal thrillers can be so engaging is that they examine what happens when we can’t trust those people that many of us have been brought up to assume we can trust. When we put our health in the hands of a doctor, or our legal matters in the hands of an attorney, or our financial matters in the hands of a consultant, we hope – even expect – not to be exploited. We almost have to assume that the doctor will help heal us, the attorney will represent our interests and the financial advisor will not steal our money. There are far too many of these kinds of novels for me to list them all. A quick review of books by the likes of Michael Palmer, Philip Margolin or Emma Lathen is enough to remind you of the sense of betrayal that happens when people find they cannot trust those whom they’ve expected to be trustworthy. That shock and sense of dissonance often adds a great deal to the tension in this kind of thriller.

Of course, it’s not just victims whose expectations and assumptions can be violated. That happens to sleuths, too, and it’s one reason for which wise sleuths don’t have too many assumptions about who committed a crime. Sleuths who have too many preconceived notions and expectations are likely to miss important clues that don’t fit their assumptions.

For instance, in Dorothy Sayers’ Strong Poison, mystery novelist Harriet Vane is on trial for the poisoning murder of her former lover, Philip Boyes. Almost everyone believes that Harriet is guilty, because the only thing that Boyes consumed on the night of his death that no-one else had was a cup of coffee that Harriet gave him. So it is assumed that Boyes could not have been poisoned in any other way. Lord Peter Wimsey, who attends the trial, becomes smitten with Harriet and determines to clear her name. He and several of his friends work together to find out what really happened when Boyes died. What they find is that the assumption that Boyes could only have been poisoned by the coffee almost cost Harriet Vane her life. In the end, Wimsey is able to show that that assumption was wrong.

In Michael Connelly’s The Concrete Blonde, Harry Bosch is the subject of a civil trial for the shooting of Norman Church. Bosch believed that Church was a serial killer known as “The Dollmaker.” Church’s family brings a wrongful death suit against Bosch, claiming that Church was not the murderer. Bosch, though, is convinced that he was right. Then, another killing occurs that bears all of the hallmarks of “The Dollmaker.” Since Church is dead, he can’t have committed this most recent killing, so Bosch has to re-think his assumptions. He has to do the same thing in Echo Park, when a convicted serial killer named Raynard Waits offers to trade information about earlier killings in exchange for avoiding the death penalty in two new murders. One of those older cases is a case Bosch worked on – the murder of Marie Gesto, who walked out of a Hollywood supermarket one day and never made it home. Bosch couldn’t make an arrest in the Gesto case because he missed an important piece of evidence. He had different assumptions and expectations about that case that led him to another suspect, but he never had the hard evidence he needed to make an arrest. When Bosch finds out about Waits, he has to completely change his view of the Gesto case.

Carole Sutton’s The Ferryman also shows what happens when sleuths rely too much on assumptions and expectations. In that novel, Steve Pengelly moves to the Isle of Guernsey, where he hopes to start a new life. With help from a new acquaintance, Angela Dupont, he buys a beautiful thirty-food sailboat and is soon established in his new place. He begins an affair with Angela, but that affair ends with a violent quarrel when Steve finds out that Angela has been using him until she can find a wealthier, better-situated “catch.” Shortly after their breakup, Angela mysteriously disappears. DI Alec Grmstone bases his investigation on the expectation that people are usually murdered by someone they know, even love. So he focuses on Steve, and the evidence he collects looks suspicious. For instance, there were traces of blood found on Steve’s beloved boat. On the weight of his assumptions, Grimstone prosecutes the case and Steve Pengelly is tried, convicted and jailed. Two years later, he’s still in jail when the body of Angela Dupont washes up at Cornwall’s Fal Estuary. Everyone’s assumptions are turned upside down when it turns out that she has only been dead for a short time. She was killed while Pengelly was in prison, so he could not be guilty. Now, Grimstone has to start all over again on the case.

Of course, sleuths can also use assumptions to their benefit. For example, Dorothy Gilman’s Mrs. Pollifax doesn’t seem to be the type of person you’d fear as an international spy. And in several novels, she uses that to her advantage. She appears to be a nice, non-threatening elderly lady. And yet, she’s quite quick-witted and well able to use the assumptions people make about her and the expectations they have for her against them. The same is true of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. People assume that because she’s elderly and a woman, that she’s not to be taken seriously. And Miss Marple cultivates that “soft” non-threatening exterior when it suits her. But criminals make those assumptions to their detriment…

Assumptions and expectations can add some predictability and order to our worlds. But they can also blind us, so that we can be dismayed or worse it they are violated. What do you think? Which novels have you enjoyed where assumptions prove to be someone’s undoing?


Filed under Agatha Christie, Carole Sutton, Dorothy Gilman, Dorothy Sayers, Emma Lathen, Michael Connelly, Michael Palmer, Minette Walters, Philip Margolin

>I’m Sailing Away*

>In crime fiction, the right setting can add quite a bit to a story. Each different kind of setting can add a unique kind of suspense, too. For instance, the too-peaceful neighborhood setting can add to the suspense because the reader knows that there’s more going on in the neighborhood than appears on the surface. One setting that can really lend itself well to a good crime story is the sea. For one thing, most murderers don’t want to be caught, and the sea is a very convenient place to dispose of a body. Also, all sorts of disparate people travel by sea, so such a trip is a convenient “cover” for a murderer who doesn’t want there to be an obvious link with the victim. And then there’s the level of tension and suspense that comes with the weather and the very fact of being at sea, with all of its risks.

Agatha Christie used ship and “sea” settings for a few of her novels. One of them is The Man in the Brown Suit. In that novel, Anne Beddingfield has recently been left an orphan when her father died. She accepts the kind offer of her father’s solicitor to stay with him and his family, but she soon realizes that she wants adventure. Anne gets more than she bargained for one day when she witnesses a tube accident in which a man falls to his death on the tracks. A paper falls out of his pocket, and Anne retrieves it. At first, the paper doesn’t make sense to Anne, but she soon learns that it refers to the sailing date of the Kilmorden Castle, which is bound for Cape Town. On impulse, Anne books passage on the ship. On board, Anne gets into several adventures. Late one night, a wounded man stumbles into her cabin, having just been stabbed. She tries to help him as best she can, but as soon as the wound is dressed, he leaves. Then, a roll of film is dropped into the cabin of one of Anne’s shipboard friends, Suzanne Blair. When the two women open the can, they find it full of uncut diamonds. Then, Anne herself is attacked. When the ship finally docks in Cape Town, Anne and Suzanne work together with the somewhat mysterious Harry Rayburn to find out what the connection is between the diamonds, the dead man, and the strange events on the ship.
In Death on the Nile (which, by the way, shares a character with The Man in the Brown Suit – Colonel Race), Hercule Poirot investigates a series of deaths. Beautiful and wealthy Linnet Ridgway Doyle and her husband, Simon, are on a honeymoon cruise up the Nile. Hercule Poirot, who’s on the same cruise, becomes concerned when he finds that Jacqueline de Bellefort, Linnet’s former best friend, is also on the cruise. Simon Doyle is Jacqueline’s former fiancé, who was swept off his feet, so to speak, when he met Linnet. Now, Jacqueline’s following them everywhere, doing her best to un-nerve the couple. Matters come to a head one night when Jacqueline has too much to drink and ends up shooting Simon in the leg. In the commotion that follows, no-one realizes that there’s been another murder, too – Linnet Doyle’s been shot. Jackueline is the most likely suspect, but she’s got a cast-iron alibi, so Poirot and Colonel Race have to look elsewhere. At first, the shooting looks like a crime of passion, or perhaps one of panic, since her valuable pearls were stolen. But Poirot and Race find that really, Linnet Doyle’s death was carefully planned.
For a murderer, one of the most convenient things about the sea is that it’s easy to hide a body there while the murderer escapes. And, since people do drown in the sea, it can be a murder weapon. Also when a body washes up on shore, it can be very difficult to connect the killer with the body. And the sea has a way of tampering with forensic evidence, so it can also be difficult to establish time of death and other facts that could point to the killer.
All of these factors help, at first, to “hide” the killer of thirty-one-year-old Kate Sumner in Minette Walters’ The Breaker. When Kate’s nude body washes up on the Dorset shore, she’s not identified at first. Then, her almost-three-year-old daughter, Hannah, is found wandering the streets of the nearby town. Eventually, Kate and Hannah are identified, and forensic evidence shows that Kate drowned. First, though, she’d been drugged, raped and choked. As we learn more about Kate’s life, we find only three suspects: her husband, William, actor Steven Harding, and Tony Bridges, a local teacher. Constable Nick Ingram and local stableyard owner Maggie Jenner work together to find out who killed Kate and why. What they find is that Kate wasn’t what she seemed; neither were the three men whose were deeply involved in her life. The solution of this case is as much psychological as it is anything else.
In Martin Cruz Smith’s Polar Star, former Soviet special investigator Arkady Renko has been removed from his position in Moscow and exiled to the fishing ship The Polar Star. He’s just as well pleased to be free of the burden of his former job, as he’s sick to death of the corruption and the abuse of power that are inherent in so many police investigations. Then one day, he’s drawn back into investigating when the body of Zina Patiashvili appears in a fishing net, along with the day’s catch of fish. Zina Patiashvili was a galley worker, and at the outset, there seems no reason for murdering her. But, as Renko himself puts it:
“Let’s say that Zina Patiashvilli did not stab, beat and throw herself overboard.”
As Renko very reluctantly looks into the case, he finds that Zina wasn’t just a galley worker. She was a smuggler and blackmailer with a notorious reputation. The closer that Renko gets to the truth about who killed Zina Patiashvili and why, the more in danger he is himself. In the end, though, Renko is able to uncover the dark secrets on this boat, and find out who the murderer is.
Carole Sutton’s Ferryman is also a story of murder at sea, so to speak. In that novel, Steve Pengelly has decided to move to the Isle of Guernsey to start what he thinks will be a new life. He buys a beautiful thirty-foot sailboat, and prepares to enjoy life on Guernsey. Then, he gets involved with Angela DuPont, the woman who told him about the boat in the first place. At first, all’s well. Then, Steve finds out that Angela has been using him until she finds a wealthier, more promising “catch.” When Steve discovers this, he breaks up with Angela, and she mysteriously disappears. DI Alec Grimstone thinks Steve Pengelly has murdered Angela DuPont, and there’s evidence to support him. Blood and other forensic evidence is found on Steve’s boat, and there is the fact that he’d had a breakup with Angela right before her disappearance. Pengelly is duly convicted and sentenced to prison. He’s been in prison for two years when Angela’s body washes ashore at Cornwall’s Fal Estuary. What’s strange about this is that forensic evidence shows that Angela has only been dead for a short time. This means that Steve Pengelly couldn’t have murdered her, so DI Grimstone has to admit he’s been wrong. Pengelly is released from prison and wants nothing more to do with the case, but he’s not to get his wish. Veryan Pascoe is trying to find out what happened to her sister, who’s also gone missing. She persuades a very reluctant Pengelly to help her, since she thinks the same person also killed Angela DuPont. Meanwhile, Grimstone also re-opens the case, and in parallel fashion, he, Pengelly and Pascoe get to the truth of the matter.
There are, of course, lots of other crime fiction stories in which bodies wash up on shore or are thrown overboard. The “sea” setting can add suspense, mystery, and sometimes, danger to the story, so it’s no wonder that it’s such an effective context for a crime novel. Which are your favorite “seaworthy” crime novels?
*NOTE: The title of this post is the first line from Styx’s Come Sail Away.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Carole Sutton, Martin Cruz Smith, Minette Walters