Category Archives: Carolyn Hart

What’s Left Behind*

When you think of inheritances, your first thought may be money. And, of course, there are many crime novels in which someone inherits money. But nearly anything can be willed to someone else. And it’s interesting to see some of those inheritances, too, and the impact they have.

For example, in Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone, Rachel Verinder inherits a valuable diamond, called the Moonstone, from her uncle, Colonel John Herncastle. The instructions are that she is to be given this stone on her eighteenth birthday. But this isn’t the generous bequest that it may seem to be. The story is that, if the stone is removed from where it belongs, it will curse anyone who comes into contact with it. And Herncastle took it from the Palace of Seringaptam in India. Sure enough, misfortune soon befalls the Verinder family. The stone is stolen on the night it’s given to Rachel. Then, the second housemaid goes missing, only to be found dead later, a victim of suicide. Sergeant Cuff investigates the theft of the stone, and over the course of two years, traces its whereabouts. Certainly it doesn’t turn out to be the inheritance that it would seem to be on the surface.

Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun begins with an interesting story of inheritance. It seems that Captain Roger Angmering was a lover of the sea, who built himself a house on a small island off Leathercombe Bay. In 1782, when Angmering had his house built, it was considered eccentric at the very least. When he died, a cousin inherited the house and island, and it certainly wasn’t considered anything valuable – one of those odd inheritances. It wasn’t until the 1920’s, when people started going to the seaside for summer visits, that the island became valuable, and the property, now a hotel, turned a profit. As the real action in Evil Under the Sun starts, Captain Kenneth Marshall, his wife, Arlena, and daughter, Linda, travel to the island for a stay at the hotel. A few days later, Arlena is murdered. Hercule Poirot is also staying at the hotel, and he works with the local police to investigate. It’s interesting how an inheritance that doesn’t seem worth much in one generation turns into something quite valuable later.

Rhys Bowen’s Molly Murphy is an immigrant from Ireland, who makes her way to New York City at the turn of the 20th Century. As we learn in The Death of Riley, Molly has left Ireland to put behind her the murder of a man who tried to rape her, and she’s decided to start over in New York. She needs to find some sort of income, so she persuades PI Paddy Riley to take her on as an apprentice. Everything changes, though, and Molly ends up inheriting her mentor’s PI agency. It takes some people time to adjust to the idea of a ‘lady detective,’ but Molly proves herself up to the task.

Cara Black’s Aimée Leduc also inherited an investigation firm, although it wasn’t specified in a will. Her father was a Paris police investigator who later opened a PI business. Meanwhile, she went to the Sorbonne to study medicine. When he was killed during a stakeout, though, she decided to take over the business in his stead. Now, she runs the agency with her friend and business partner, René Friant. Their specialty is computer security, but they also sometimes get involved in other cases, including murder.

There’s also Carolyn Hart’s Annie Laurence, who inherits a mystery bookshop, Death on Demand, from her Uncle Ambrose. She has fond memories of summers on the South Carolina island where he lived, so she’s happy to take over the bookshop and live on the island. It’s not long before she begins to get involved in the island’s life and mixed up in murder. In fact, in the first novel, Death on Demand, she learns that her uncle’s death might not have been accidental…

Perhaps the most unusual fictional inheritance is described in Vaseem Khan’s The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra. When Mumbai Inspector Ashwin Chopra’s doctor urges him to take early retirement, he agrees, much to the delight of his wife, Archana ‘Poppy.’ But, on his last day of work, he is accosted by a woman who says that her son, Santosh Achrekar, has been murdered. The official reports and evidence don’t really support that, but at the same time, it’s possible. And Chopra wants to do the right thing by the family. So, he starts asking questions. It turns out that this death is related to some dark, ugly things happening in Mumbai, and to high-level corruption and greed. In the meantime, Chopra has another important issue: an inheritance from his beloved Uncle Bansi. It seems that Uncle Bansi has willed Chopra a baby elephant and has sent him a letter about the matter. In it, he says that the elephant is ‘no ordinary elephant.’ Chopra has no idea how to take care of an elephant, nor how he’ll feed and house it in the apartment building where he and Poppy live. But he wants to respect his uncle’s memory. And he doesn’t want any harm to come to the elephant, whom he names Ganesha. It turns out that Ganesha plays his role in this novel, and he becomes a part of Chopra’s life.

But an elephant is an odd inheritance. And that’s not the only example of strange things people can inherit. Which fictional inheritances have stayed with you?

 
 
 

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

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Cara Black, Carolyn Hart, Rhys Bowen, Vaseem Khan, Wilkie Collins

We got that: [Title of Show]*

Right now, I’m working on a standalone novel (well, it’s a standalone for now, anyway). And one of the decisions I have to make about it is what the title will be. I had a working title for the book, but it wasn’t effective at all. Trust me. It had nothing to do with the plot, and wasn’t a good clue to the sort of story it is.

So, it was back to the proverbial drawing board. That’s a normal part of writing a novel. But, as I think about a title that will work (I haven’t chosen one yet), I have to come up with one that’s going to be distinctive. And that’s not as easy to do as you might think. There are millions of books in print, and more become available each year. So, there are plenty of examples of two very different books with the same title.

For instance, both Michael Robotham and L.R. Wright have written novels called The Suspect. They’re both well-regarded, but they’re very different sorts of stories. The Robotham novel introduces psychologist Joe O’Loughlin. It’s the story of the murder of one of his former clients, and links that murder to several others that occur. All of them link back to the past, and O’Loughlin gets caught up in the web, as someone is working to frame him. The Wright novel is the story of the murder of one man, Carlyle Burke.  We know from the beginning that he was killed by George Wilcox. The main focus of this novel is the slow reveal of the motive. Along with that, readers follow along as RCMP Staff Sergeant Karl Alberg puts together the pieces of the puzzle, and finds out who killed Burke and why.

In the Blood is the title of Steve Robinson’s first novel featuring genealogist Jefferson Tayte. In it, Tayte is commissioned to trace the ancestry of a client’s wife as a birthday gift. The trail leads to the Cornish coast, and draws Tayte into a deadly mystery. As you might guess, it links the past with the current residents of the area. In the Blood is also the title of a Lisa Unger novel. Lana Granger is finishing up her university degree in psychology when she is persuaded to take a job as nanny to eleven-year-old Luke Kahn. Right from the beginning, she’s made aware that Luke’s had trouble in school. He’s unusually intelligent, but he has several social and emotional problems. And she has a great deal of difficulty working with him. Lana soon has a much more serious problem, though. Her roommate disappears, and it soon seems clear that Lana knows more than she is saying about it. How is she involved, and what does it have to do with her work with Luke Kahn?

Kel Robertson’s Smoke and Mirrors features Australian Federal Police (AFP) officer Bradman ‘Brad’ Chen. He’s been taking some time off from his job, but is lured back to it when the bodies of Alec Dennet and Lorraine Starke are discovered at a Canberra writer’s retreat. Dennet was a member of the 1972-1975 Gough Whitlam government who was writing his memoirs; Starke was his editor. So, it’s quite likely that something in the memoirs led to the murders. And that’s not out of the question, since they could have been seriously problematic for several highly-placed people. Chen and his team work through this case, and find that little is as it seems. Elly Griffiths’ Smoke and Mirrors is a completely different sort of novel. The second in her historical (1950s) Stephens and Mephisto series, this one uses children’s fairy tales as a backdrop to the disappearance and murders of two local children, Annie Francis and Mark Webster, in a grim parody of the Hansel and Gretel story. It seems they’d been working with a group of young people who were doing their own theatre productions of some of the fairy tales, with their own interpretations. Magician Max Mephisto works with Detective Inspector (DI) Edgar Stephens to find out what’s really behind these deaths.

Both Carolyn Hart and Paul Thomas have written novels called Death on Demand. Hart’s novel is the first in her Death on Demand series, and introduces her protagonist, bookshop owner Annie Laurance. Both the title and the name of the series refer to the bookshop, which features crime and mystery fiction. In the story, a group of local authors come under suspicion when one of their number, Elliot Morgan, is killed. It seems he wrote a tell-all book that included some unpleasant truths (and allegations) about the other members. Even Annie is mentioned, and that’s part of the reason she becomes a suspect in the murder. Thomas’ novel features Sergeant Tito Ihaka of the Auckland Police. He’s been banished for a time because of a conflict with a powerful man he’d accused of murder. But he returns when that same man, Christopher Lilywhite, is diagnosed with terminal cancer, and decides to tell Ihaka the truth. It turns out that Lilywhite did arrange for his wife’s murder, and he’s learned that the killer is likely still out there, committing crimes. Ihaka puts the pieces together, and connects several murders together. These stories are quite different (they’re even in different sub-genres). But they have the same title.

So do both Deon Meyer’s and Robin Cook’s Fever. Meyer’s novel features Nico Storm and his father, Willem, who are among the few to survive a catastrophic virus. Willem works to form a small community of survivors; and, little by little, the community grows. And so do the challenges that the group faces. Whenever there’s a group of disparate people, especially those thrown together by circumstances, anything can happen. And it does. It all leads to murder, and, in Nico’s voice, we hear what happened. Cook’s novel features Dr. Charles Martel, who’s working on a very promising new cancer study. But his employer wants him to devote his energies to their product, Canceran. He agrees (he needs to keep his job), but continues to work on his own research when he can. Then, his daughter, Michelle, is diagnosed with a form of leukemia, and it’s soon traced to toxic waste from a powerful company. Now, Martel works even harder to see if he can find a way to help Michelle. At the same time, he goes up against the company that’s been dumping toxins, and he finds that that can be a very dangerous undertaking.

See what I mean? Sometimes, some very different books have exactly the same title. It’s a good reminder to look carefully before you ‘click here.’ Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll get back to trying to choose a title, myself.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jeff Bowen’s Filling Out the Form.

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Filed under Carolyn Hart, Deon Meyer, Elly Griffiths, Kel Robertson, L.R. Wright, Lisa Unger, Michael Robotham, Paul Thomas, Robin Cook, Steve Robinson

In The Spotlight: Carolyn Hart’s Death on Demand

Hello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. It’s July. And that means, depending on where you live, it’s time for sipping a cold drink and cooling off with a good book, or sipping a hot drink and sitting by a warm, crackling fire with a good book. Either way, sometimes a lighter mystery is the right fit for those days. Let’s take a look at a light mystery today, and turn the spotlight on Carolyn Hart’s Death on Demand, the first of her Death on Demand series.

Death on Demand is the name of a mystery bookshop on South Carolina’s Broward’s Rock Island. Annie Laurance has been its owner since she inherited the business from her Uncle Ambrose a little less than a year ago. She’s happy running the bookshop, and she has fond memories of the summers she spent on the island as a child.

One of Annie’s regular rituals is the weekly meeting of the Sunday Night Regulars, a group of writers who live on the island. They take turns giving talks about their work, and, in general, it’s an enjoyable time. Everything changes one evening when Elliot Morgan is scheduled to talk. His newest book is a tell-all, and he’s going to share what he’s found out about the other writers. Needless to say, Annie knows that’s a disaster waiting to happen, and she tries to talk Morgan out of it. He’s determined to see it through, though; and, in the end, Annie has no choice but to go on with the meeting.

The other writers arrive, and things get underway. Just as Elliot’s beginning his talk, the lights go out. Annie’s able to get t the fuse box and get the lights on again, but not before someone has killed Elliot. The police, in the form of Police Chief Frank Saulter, start to investigate. Right from the beginning, Saulter has his eye on Annie as a suspect. For one thing, a witness heard her having a quarrel with Elliot shortly before the meeting. For another, it’s her shop, and she would have been able to set everything up for the murder. And there’s more. Annie’s one of the people Elliot was planning to embarrass, as he knows a secret from her past. What’s more, Saulter thinks that Annie’s uncle was murdered, and that she is responsible.

Annie knows that she’s going to have to work quickly to clear her name if she’s going to avoid arrest. So, she starts to ask questions. And she finds that everyone who was at the gathering had a very good reason to commit murder. Then, there’s another murder. And Annie soon finds herself in plenty of danger of her own, both from the police and from the real killer.

In the meantime, Annie’s old flame Max Darling has tracked her down, and pays her a visit. He wants to convince her to come back to him, and it’s going to be a hard sell. So, in part to win her over, Max works with Annie to keep her out of prison, and to find out who really committed the murders. It turns out that the Elliott’s murder is related to the other murders, including Uncle Ambrose’s.

One of the important elements in the novel is the mystery-store theme. Annie is a fan of crime fiction, and well-read in just about all of the major classic and contemporary authors. There are lots of mentions of different authors; they serve as a nod to crime fiction fans (Annie’s cat’s named Agatha, for instance).. For instance, here’s what Annie thinks as it occurs to her that people she thought of as friends might be gossiping about her, and thinking she killed her uncle:
 

‘Annie felt as if something slimy had touched her. She had been so happy on Broward’s Rock, confident of her place in her own version of St. Mary Mead. Instead, smiling faces hid ugly suspicions. The reality was a Ruth Rendell world.’
 

And it’s certainly true that some ugliness lies beneath the surface of some of those familiar faces. Crime fiction fans who enjoy references to real-life authors will appreciate this.

Another important element in the novel is the setting. Broward’s Rock Island is a tourist mecca during the season. It’s also the permanent home for some very wealthy people (If you’re familiar with it, think Hilton Head). People on the island know each other, and many have been there for quite some time. Annie is accepted (although still considered ‘new’) because of her regular visits, and because her uncle owned the bookshop. But it is a small, rather insular community. The island itself is physically beautiful, and, of course, has lovely ocean views. It’s the sort of place where one might go to fish, lie in the sand, or golf.

The story is light, with little ‘on stage’ violence and little explicit language. But it’s not ‘frothy.’ Hart doesn’t gloss over the impact that murder has on a community, nor on the danger of asking too many questions of people who don’t want to answer them.

The solution to the mystery follows from the evidence that Annie and Max find. And readers who like scenes where the guilty party is led off in handcuffs will appreciate the fact that that happens here. It’s worth noting at this point that, although the police are not really portrayed as bumbling idiots, it’s Annie and Max who solve the case. Readers vary greatly with how credible they find amateur sleuths with no police connections. Those who like to have their disbeliefs sitting close by will notice that these amateurs do quite a lot of the investigating.

Death on Demand shows how people’s past actions can haunt them for a long time. It features a unique crime fiction bookshop and plenty of mentions of real-life crime writers and their creations. It also features two sleuths who get caught up in much more than they imagined. But what’s your view? Have you read Death on Demand? If you have, what elements do you see in it?

 
 
 

Coming Up On In The Spotlight

Monday, 16 July/Tuesday, 17 July – The Invisible Dead – Sam Wiebe

Monday, 23 July/Tuesday, 24 July – The Book of Memory – Petina Gappah

Monday, 30 July/Tuesday, 31 July – The Choirboys – Joseph Wambaugh

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Filed under Carolyn Hart, Death on Demand