Category Archives: Caroline Graham

What Took You So Long?*

If you watch enough crime-fictional television and films, you might get the impression that crimes can be solved, and investigations finished, in a very short time. And, of course, there are some cases where that happens. Much of the time, though, investigations take more time – sometimes a great deal more time – in real life than they do on television and in films.

So, what takes the police so long to solve a murder? Most police detectives are dedicated to their work, and they want crimes solved. So, in the vast majority of cases, it’s not because the police either don’t care or are incompetent. And detectives know that the first 24-48 hours after a crime like murder is reported are critical, so there’s a lot of pressure to get answers quickly. There are any number of reasons that pressure doesn’t always yield an answer, and crime fiction covers many of them. Space only permits a few here, but you’ll get the idea.

Sometimes, there are questions the police don’t think to ask, and directions they don’t think to take. For instance, in Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy (AKA The Keeper of Lost Causes), Copenhagen homicide detective Carl Mørck and his assistant, Hafez al-Assad, re-investigate the five-year-old disappearance of promising politician Merete Lynggaard. At the time, the theory was that she had gone overboard in a tragic ferry accident. There was no reason to believe otherwise, and no evidence from the ferry that anything else happened. So, the police didn’t carefully follow up. But now, there are little pieces of evidence to suggest that she may still be alive. If that’s the case, then there may not be much time left to find her. In one scene in the novel, Mørck gets very angry at the detective who first investigated, and it’s understandable why he does. But at the same time, the police have limited resources. They can’t look into every single possibility and use all personnel to do so. That scene reflects the delicate balance between following up on leads with due diligence, and acknowledging the reality of limited time and staff.

There’s a similar sort of dilemma in Caroline Graham’s A Ghost in the Machine. When financial advisor Dennis Brinkley is killed in his home, it looks very much like a tragic accident. The victim’s body was found by one of the medieval war machines he collected, and it seems that the machine malfunctioned. But Brinkley’s friend, Benny Frayle, doesn’t think so. She goes to visit Inspector Tom Barnaby to ask him to look into the matter again. He duly goes through the reports from the investigating officers, and does a bit of follow-up, but everything shows that they were careful and painstaking, and did their jobs effectively. So, he sees no reason to invest resources to go over the case again. Then, there’s another death. This time, the victim is a self-styled medium who actually described things about the murder scene that she couldn’t have known beforehand. Now, Barnaby sees that there’s more to Brinkman’s death than it seems, and he does re-open that case. It turns out that these two murders are just as closely linked as they seem.

When the police investigate a murder, they often have to rely on experts such as medical examiners and forensics teams. Those people (unlike what’s on the television), almost always have plenty of cases on their hands. So, there is sometimes a delay in getting results. Fans of Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti series, for instance, know that Brunetti relies on the expertise of medical examiner Dr. Ettore Rizzardi. And his trust is not misplaced. But Rizzardi’s a busy person. He doesn’t just deal with Brunetti’s cases. There are plenty of deaths that aren’t necessarily murders, but that Rizzardi needs to look into as part of his work. And it’s interesting to see how the two men have to find a balance between Bunetti’s desire for quick answers, and the realities of Rizzardi’s work.

There’s also the fact that smaller and less affluent police departments may not have access to a state-of-the-art forensics laboratory. That means samples need to be sent out, tested, and so on. And that process can take weeks or more. There’s an interesting look at how that can work in P.D. James’ Death of an Expert Witness. That novel’s focus is Hoggett’s Laboratory, in East Anglia. The lab provides forensics and other specialty testing in cases of un-natural death. So, when there is a murder, both the police and defending counsel rely on the lab. It’s a busy, high-stress work environment. For one thing, there are a lot of cases, and results are expected quickly. For another, evidence has to be handled in very specific ways. Tests can take days or longer, depending on how busy the lab is and what the tests are. Commander Adam Dalgleish and Detective Inspector (DI) John Massingham explore the inner workings of the lab when Dr. Edwin Lorrimer, one of the senior staff, is murdered. Admittedly, this novel was first published in 1977. Testing, technology, and much more have changed dramatically since then. But there’s still forensic testing, it still takes time, and it’s still conducted at busy labs that can’t devote themselves to one case at a time.

There are also plenty of cases where there’s not much evidence. So, it’s hard to find clear clues that point to the killer. That’s what happens in Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders. A series of murders keeps Hercule Poirot, Chief Inspector Japp, and several local police departments busy for an entire summer. They don’t catch the killer after the first murder, or the second, or the third. And it’s not because there’s not a team trying to solve the case. But, the killer is very careful. There aren’t fingerprints, and the only clue left at each scene is an ABC railway guide – the kind you can buy in hundreds of places. So, there’s no way to trace them. The other clue – cryptic warnings sent to Poirot – isn’t helpful at first, either. The paper isn’t remarkable, there aren’t unique stamps, and the writer typed the notes, so there’s no handwriting clue. It’s a difficult case, and even though Poirot solves it, it’s not hard to see why it takes so long.

And that’s the thing. Police cases can take a lot longer than people want them to take. The police don’t generally like that any more than other people do. Admittedly, it’s not easy to acknowledge those very realistic delays in a crime novel, and still keep it interesting. But it’s a fact of police life.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Phil Collins’ I Missed Again.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Caroline Graham, Donna Leon, Jussi Adler-Olsen, P.D. James

I Don’t Want the Job*

A popular image of the fictional police detective is of a dedicated professional who’s determined to solve the case and find the ‘bad guy.’ And a lot of fictional police officers are just that way. That perseverance and curiosity carry them through some very difficult cases.

But that’s not so for all fictional coppers. There are cases where the police detective is reluctant, or even unwilling, to investigate. A police detective might have any number of reasons for not wanting to look into a case, and we see several of them in crime fiction.

For example, in Isaac Asimov’s The Caves of Steel, we are introduced to New York police detective Elijah ‘Lije’ Baley. The futuristic world in which he lives is more or less divided between two groups of people. Spacers are the descendants of people who explored space and returned. Earthmen are the descendants of people who never left Earth. The two groups have very different outlooks on life, and different world views. There’s a great deal of conflict between Earthmen and Spacers, to the point where they live in different self-contained places. When a prominent Spacer scientist is shot, Baley is called into the office of his superior, Police Commissioner Julius Enderby. He’s asked to take on the investigation, as a way of demonstrating that Earthmen weren’t responsible for this murder. Baley isn’t interested at first. He’s even less interested when he hears he is to be paired with R. Daneel Olivaw, who is a positronic robot. If there’s anything Earthmen hate and fear more than Spacers, it’s robots. So, this is very difficult for Baley. But he isn’t given much choice. What’s more, he knows that the ‘perks’ he has come largely from his position as a homicide investigator. Losing that job would cause serious problems in his personal life. So, he reluctantly agrees to look into the matter, and begins to work with Olivaw. And they find out that this case is more complex than they thought.

Police officers are human, just as the rest of us are. Their jobs are stressful, and they want the occasional weekend or holiday away from work. The news that there’s a new case isn’t always welcome when one’s about to enjoy some time off, but that’s what happens to Inspector Richard Jury in Martha Grimes’ The Anodyne Necklace. Jury is packing to spend some time visiting his friend, Melrose Plant, at Long Piddlington. He gets a call from Detective Chief Superintendent (DCS) Racer that changes everything.  A human finger has been found in the village of Littlebourne, and there’s no-one else available to investigate. Jury’s none to happy about it, but he doesn’t have much choice. So, he goes to Littlebourne, and begins to look into the matter. It turns out that the finger belonged to Cora Binns, a secretary who worked for a temporary placement agency. She was in Littlebourne for a job interview, but never made it to that interview. Plant joins his friend, and the two work to find out what happened to Cora, and who would want to kill her.

Police departments have finite resources, and finite numbers of people. So, those who are in supervisory positions have to make choices about what the police investigate, and what they don’t investigate. And they’re not likely to want to look into a matter if it isn’t a genuine case for the police. That’s what happens with Inspector Tom Barnaby in Caroline Graham’s A Ghost in the Machine. Financial advisor Dennis Brinkman has died in what looks like a terrible accident. He collected ancient and medieval machines, and it sees as though a malfunction in one of them killed him. But Brinkman’s friend, Benny Frayle, doesn’t think so. She is convinced he was murdered and goes to the police to insist that they investigate. Barnaby hears her out, and in fact, looks over the file on the case. But he can’t see any way in which the original investigating police officer was negligent. So, he decides not to pursue the case. Then, there’s another murder which is connected to Brinkman’s death. Now, Barnaby has little choice but to re-open the initial investigation. And he’s a good cop, so he does want to find the guilty person. And, in the end, he and Sergeant Gavin Troy do just that.

There are cases where police don’t want to investigate a case because doing so could get them into danger. There’s a thread of that in Ernesto Mallo’s Needle in a Haystack. Vanancio ‘Perro’ Lescano is a police detective in late-1970s Buenos Aires. It’s a very dangerous time, with the military government firmly in place, and any kind of (even perceived) dissent viciously punished. Everyone knows to keep quiet, don’t call attention to yourself, and so on. One morning, Lescano is alerted when a body is discovered near a river bank. Not far away are two other bodies, obviously of victims of an army ‘hit.’ Lescano knows to give those two deaths only a very cursory treatment, and not question them. But the third death looks just a little different. He doesn’t look for opportunities to run afoul of the higher authorities, but Lescano does try to be a good cop. He reluctantly starts to ask a few questions and finds out that this death isn’t what it seems like on the surface. The body belongs to a pawn shop owner/moneylender named Elías Biterman, and there are plenty of police who won’t bother to investigate the death of ‘just another Jew.’ But Lescano chooses not to give up. There are, of course, plenty of other novels where the police don’t want to investigate because the victim is, ‘Just another….’

There are, of course, a few police detectives who are lazy who see no point in exerting themselves if it’s not absolutely necessary. Why waste energy? Such a police officer is Inspector Alvarez, who ‘stars’ in Roderic Jeffries’ series. He lives and works on Majorca, and quite frankly, would rather relax, eat fine food, and have a nice drink than investigate. He gets drawn into cases when he sees no other option. When he does start asking questions, Alvarez finds the answers. But he’s not particularly eager to be the higher-ups’’ lackey, so to speak.

There are several reasons for which a police officer – even a good one – might not want to take a case. I’ve only touched on a few. Your turn.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Hawk Nelson’s The Job.

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Filed under Caroline Graham, Ernesto Mallo, Isaac Asimov, Martha Grimes, Roderic Jeffries

‘To See Oursels as Ithers See Us’

Robert Burns’ To a Louse (on Seeing One on a Lady’s Bonnet, at Church) includes one of his most famous lines:
 

‘O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!

 

Burns has a point. There’s often a difference between the way we see ourselves, and the way others see us. Sometimes, that difference isn’t such a big problem (do people really have to see every single flaw we magnify when we think of ourselves?). But sometimes, the difference is quite striking. And that can make for all sorts of conflict. So, it’s little wonder this plot point/character trait comes up in crime fiction.

For example, in Agatha Christie’s Appointment With Death, we are introduced to Mrs. Boynton. She is tyrannical and malicious – even cruel. In fact, her family members are so cowed that no-one dares to defy her. During a trip to the Middle East, she and her family meet Sarah King, who’s recently qualified as a doctor. Sarah soon finds herself interested in Mrs. Boynton’s stepson, Raymond, and the feeling is mutual. She also finds that she likes Raymond’s sister, Carol. But Mrs. Boynton’s mental sadism stands squarely in the way of either a budding romance or a friendship. At one point, Sarah is so frustrated with Mrs. Boynton that she speaks her mind:

 

‘‘You like to make yourself out a kind of ogre, but really, you know, you’re just pathetic and rather ludicrous.’’

 

Confronted with this outside view of herself, Mrs. Boynton is infuriated. Her reaction has real consequences, too. A few days later, she and her family take a trip to Petra. Sarah had already planned to do, so she continues follow the fate of the family. On the second day at Petra, Mrs. Boynton dies of what turns out to be poison. Hercule Poirot is in the area, and Colonel Carbury asks him to investigate. Poirot finds that this death has a lot to do with Mrs. Boynton’s personality.

In Talmage Powell’s short story, To Avoid a Scandal, we are introduced to a banker, Horace Croyden. He prides himself on a quiet, well-ordered life that is completely free of scandal. In fact, the very idea of a scandal horrifies him, and he’s very careful about the people he hires on that score. His passion is working ciphers, and he’s devoted to it. In short, his life is safe, respectable, and exactly the way he wants it. Then, he meets his boss’ cousin, Althea. They begin to date, and eventually marry. And that’s when the trouble begins. Althea is much more vivacious than her husband thought. Worse, she replaces some of the furniture with bright, modern furniture that’s not at all to his taste. The tipping point comes when she burns some of his beloved ciphers, because she thought they were trash. Croyden takes his own kind of action. The story is told from his point of view, which justifies everything he does, from the very beginning. And it’s very interesting to see how different his view of himself and his actions is from the view that others have.

Robert Barnard’s Death of an Old Goat begins as Professor Bobby Wickham and the rest of the English faculty at the University of Drummondale, in rural Australia, prepare for a distinguished guest. Oxford Professor Belville-Smith is doing a tour of the country, and one of his stops will be Drummondale. Everyone’s hoping the visit will go well, but from the beginning, it doesn’t. Professor Belville-Smith is condescending at best, and contemptuous at worst. He has an exalted sense of his own importance and assumes that everyone thinks he is as scintillating as he thinks he is. He’s not. He’s rude, and his lectures are both dry and incoherent. At one point, he even mixes up two lectures, beginning with one and ending with the other. No-one has a good impression of him, and some go even further than that. Two days into the visit, he is murdered. Inspector Bert Royle, who’s never investigated a murder before, has to solve the case, and he has plenty of suspects. Among other things, it’s interesting to see the difference between Belville-Smith’s view of himself and that of his hosts.

In Caroline Graham’s A Ghost in the Machine, financial planner Dennis Brinkman dies in what looks like a horrible accident. His friend, Benny Frayle, is convinced he was murdered, though, and wants the police to investigate. At first, Inspector Tom Barnaby is disinclined to open the matter again. The police who came to the scene did their jobs competently, and he sees no reason to go back over the same ground. But then, a self-styled medium named Ava Garrett gives a séance in which she recounts details of Brinkman’s death, an event she didn’t witness. These details indicate that he was murdered. Not long afterwards, she is poisoned. Now it’s clear that there’s more going on here than an accident, and Barnaby and his team look into both deaths. They find some interesting differences between what others thought of Ava, and what she thought of herself. She’d bought into the public perception of what a medium ‘should be,’ but the truth was different.

In Herman Koch’s The Dinner, we are introduced to Paul Lohman, his wife, Claire, his brother, Serge, and Serge’s wife, Babette. They meet for dinner one night at one of Amsterdam’s exclusive restaurants – the kind where you have to call months ahead for a table. Each part of the novel takes place during a different part of the meal (starters, main course, etc.). As the story goes on, we learn something about these people. On the surface, they seem to be successful people with good families. But underneath, things are darker. Paul and Claire’s fifteen-year-old son, Michel, and Serge and Babette’s fifteen-year-old son, Rick, are guilty of committing a horrible crime. The real reason for this dinner is for the two couples to work out what they will do. The story is told from Paul Lohman’s point of view; and, through his eyes, we learn the backstories of these people. As he tells the story, Paul shows his own view of himself, but he also includes things that other people say. And it’s interesting to see the difference between the way he sees himself and the way others do.

See what I mean? Burns certainly had a point. Happy Burns Night!

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Caroline Graham, Herman Koch, Robert Barnard, Robert Burns, Talmage Powell

For a Séance in the Dark*

seancesA recent post from Moira at Clothes in Books (also on the Guardian Website Book Pages) had to do with fictional séances. It’s an interesting topic, actually. If you believe that we can communicate with the dead, then you may be interested in séances anyway. If you don’t believe we can contact those who’ve died, it’s still fascinating to consider the impact that that belief has had on people. Thousands are spent each year on mediums, séances and so on. And there are people who absolutely swear by them.

Whatever you think about séances, they’re certainly woven into crime fiction. Fans of Arthur Conan Doyle, for instance, will know that he was fascinated by spiritualism, and attended a séance. He wrote on the topic, and joined more than one spiritualist group. It’s ironic, considering that his most famous protagonist, Sherlock Holmes, depends on science and pure reason for his deductions.

Agatha Christie used séances in more than one of her stories. Perhaps the most chilling one is her short story, The Last Séance. It’s not really a crime story, but it does have a séance as the central focus. Raoul Daubreuil pays a visit to his fiancée, Simone, who is a very successful medium. But she’s exhausted by the work, and wants to end it. She’s made one last appointment, though, with Madame Exe, who is desperate to stay in contact with her dead daughter, Amelie. Simone wants to cancel the appointment, but Raoul insists that she keep her commitment. She finally allows herself to be persuaded, with tragic consequences. You’re absolutely right, fans of Dumb Witness and The Blue Geranium.

A séance is used in a very interesting way in Dorothy Sayers’ Strong Poison. Lord Peter Wimsey has fallen in love with mystery novelist Harriet Vane, and is determined to marry her. But she’s standing trial for the murder of her former lover, Philip Boyes. Wimsey decides to clear her name, so that he can pursue a romance with her. He only has thirty days, so he’ll have to work quickly. He’s helped along the way by his friend, Miss Katherine Climpson, who runs what you might call a secretarial agency. At one point, she wants to get a certain piece of information, and comes up with the ingenious device of using a séance for that purpose. I don’t want to say more, for fear of spoilers, but it’s a very clever use of that tool.

In Caroline Graham’s A Ghost in the Machine, we are introduced to self-styled medium Ava Garrett. She’s become popular and well-regarded, and has quite a following. One of her devotees is Benny Frayle, who’s dealing with a recent loss. Her good friend, financial planner Dennis Brinkley, died of what looks like a tragic accident with one of the ancient weapons he collects. But Benny isn’t sure that it was an accident. In fact, she’s tried to get the police interested, but DCI Tom Barnaby hasn’t found any fault with the original police investigation. So, he’s reluctant to commit any further resources to looking into the matter. One day, Benny attends a séance led by Ava Garrett. To her shock, Ava describes the murder scene, although she never saw it. And she makes it clear that Benny was right. So, Benny redoubles her efforts to get the police involved. Then, there’s another murder. Finally convinced, Barnaby and his team link the two murders.

Louise Penny’s The Cruelest Month also features a séance. In that novel, a noted Hungarian psychic, Madame Blavatsky, pays a visit to the small Québec town of Three Pines, and is persuaded to hold a séance there. The first attempt doesn’t go very well, but another is scheduled. This one is to take place at the old Hadley place during the Easter break. During that second séance, Madeleine Favreau suddenly dies. At first, it’s thought that she was, quite literally, frightened to death. But then it’s determined that she died of an overdose of a diet drug. Now, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec investigates. He and his team find that there’s more to this case than it seems on the surface.

In Christine Poulson’s Murder is Academic, we meet Cassandra James, of the English Literature Department, St. Etheldreda’s College, Cambridge. She takes the position of Interim Head of the Department when her boss, Margaret Joplin, is found dead. The main plot of the novel concerns Cassandra’s search for the truth about Margaret’s death. But throughout the novel, we also get to know the other people in the department. One of them is Cassandra’s colleague Merfyn. He’s fascinated by spiritualism and séances, and actually believes he’s been channeling Arthur Conan Doyle. Cassandra is not convinced, but Merfyn persuades her to attend a séance. She isn’t quite sure what to expect, but brings her partner, Stephen, along. It turns out that there’s a big surprise in store for her at that event.

Whether or not you believe that we can communicate with those who’ve died, there are many, many people who do. Grief and the desire to know what it’s like ‘on the other side’ can often lead people to spiritualism and séances. That appeal can be used very effectively in a crime novel, too, for misdirection, atmosphere, character development or even clue placement in whodunits. There are other ways séances can be used, too.

Thanks for making me think of all of this, Moira. Now, folks, give yourselves a treat and go visit Moira’s excellent blog, Clothes in Books. It’s the source for fictional fashion and culture, and what it all says about us.

 

 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Beatles’ Cry Baby Cry.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Caroline Graham, Christine Poulson, Dorothy Sayers, Louise Penny

Some of Us Believe in Spiritualism*

SpiritualismFor a very long time, people have been fascinated by what I’ll call spiritualism (mostly for convenience’s sake). Strictly speaking, spiritualism is usually used to refer to the belief in communicating with the dead. And that possibility has certainly intrigued humans. But it’s taken on a wider meaning, too, and now often includes interest in psychics, prescience and so on.  And it’s interesting to see how that way of thinking about spiritualism has been woven into crime fiction.

You’ll notice as I go on today that I won’t be mentioning paranormal stories or fantasy stories. Those certainly have their places for readers who enjoy them. But fascination with spiritualism is also there in other crime fiction as well.

Several of Agatha Christie’s stories include spiritualism, and it’s interesting to speculate on what she might have thought of it. An interesting conversation with Moira at the excellent Clothes in Books got me thinking about Christie’s views, so thanks for that inspiration, Moira.

In Dumb Witness, for instance, Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings visit the village of Market Basing. They’re there at the request of Miss Emily Arundell, who wrote to Poirot, asking him to advise her on a ‘delicate matter.’ By the time they get to Market Basing, though, it’s too late: Miss Arundell has died. At first, her death is put down to liver failure. But it’s proven in the end that she was poisoned. And there are several suspects, too, as she had a large fortune to leave, and several greedy/desperate relatives. One of the characters in this novel is Miss Arundell’s companion Wilhelmina ‘Minnie’ Lawson. Miss Lawson is a dedicated believer in spiritualism, and often attends séances and other such events. Her good friends, Julia and Isabel Tripp, are just as fascinated by mysticism, and often share those experiences with Miss Lawson. Miss Lawson’s interest in spiritualism is not the reason for Emily Arundell’s death. But it does add an interesting layer, both to her character and to the story. And it shows how strong a belief people can have in spiritualism. For those who do believe, it’s as real as anything else is.

Caroline Graham’s A Ghost in the Machine introduces readers to Ava Garrett. A self-styled medium, she’s developed quite a following. One of those believers is Benny Frayle, who’s recently lost her good friend, financial planner Dennis Brinkley. The official report is that his death was a tragic accident when one of the antique war machines he collects malfunctioned. But Benny’s not so sure of that. The police, in the form of DCI Tom Barnaby, believe they’ve done all they can do, and that there’s no need for further investigation. And, to be fair, the police have done a thorough job. But Benny still thinks it was murder. So she attends one of Ava Garrett’s séances. During the event, Ava describes the murder scene vividly, although she’s not seen it. And she makes it clear that Benny was right. That’s enough for Benny, but the police still don’t really look into the death…until Ava herself is poisoned. One the one hand, I can say without spoiling the story that Barnaby and his team don’t learn the truth through a medium or psychic. But there is an interesting twist in the story that adds a layer to it.

In Louise Penny’s A Fatal Grace (AKA Dead Cold), the small Québec town of Three Pines gets some new residents: CC de Poitiers and her family. CC is a popular lifestyle/self-help celebrity whose book, Be Calm, has sold very well. Not everyone in town is happy about the newcomers, though. For one thing, CC is egotistical, rude, manipulative, and malicious. She manages to alienate everyone in town, including Beatrice Mayer, known locally as Mother Bea. Mother Bea has a yoga and meditation center, also called Be Calm, and is, as she puts it,
 

‘…familiar with all spiritual paths…’
 

She sees beneath the ‘spiritual wellness’ touted in CC’s hype, and is not happy at what she finds. When CC dies of electrocution, there’s no question that it’s murder. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec investigates with his team. They find that more than one person had a strong motive for murder. Admittedly, spiritualism doesn’t solve the mystery here. And it’s not the reason for the murder. But it’s an interesting look at the way spiritualism – or what’s hyped as spiritualism – impacts people.

We see that in Tarquin Hall’s The Man Who Died Laughing, too. Dr. Suresh Jha has made a career out of unmasking spiritual charlatans. He is the founder of the Delhi Institute for Research and Education (DIRE); and, as such, does everything he can to stop those who prey on others’ fascination with spiritualism. One morning, he’s attending a meeting of the Rajpath Laughing Club when, according to witnesses, the goddess Kali appears and stabs Jha. Believers say that she is punishing him for being an infidel. But Delhi PI Vishwas ‘Vish’ Puri thinks this death has a more prosaic explanation. Jha was a onetime client, so Puri takes a special interest in this case, and decides to investigate it. One part of the trail leads to Maharaj Swami, a well-known spiritualist and advisor. He’s set up his own ashram, which has become quite popular, and seems to have quite a hold on his followers. Spiritualism doesn’t really solve this mystery. But it’s interesting to see how many people want to believe in the things Swami says and does.

There are other sorts of spiritualism in its very broadest sense in crime fiction, too. For example, both David Rosenberg’s The Junction Chronicles and Spencer Cope’s Collecting the Dead feature characters who are synthaesthetes. Their protagonists can sense things accurately that most of us can’t. Rosenberg’s Decker Roberts is able to tell whether someone is lying or not. And Cope’s Steps Craig can sense people’s essence – he calls it their ‘shine’ – on things they’ve touched. I confess I’ve not read the Cope (yet). But it’s a good example of the sort of almost paranormal ability that some characters seem to possess. Many people believe that there are real-life instances of such things, too.

Whether or not things such as psychic ability or spiritualism actually exist, people are fascinated by them. And that in itself is really interesting. Little wonder Arthur Conan Doyle was so intrigued by spiritualism.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Donovan’s Children of the World.

  

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Caroline Graham, David Rosenberg, Louise Penny, Spencer Cope, Tarquin Hall