Category Archives: Catherine O’Flynn

Jackie Kept a Lookout Perched on Puff’s Gigantic Tail*

childhoodplayA big part of a healthy childhood is play. In fact, plenty of well-respected scholars agree that play is an important way for children to prepare for later life. Whether it’s hide-and-seek or fantasy play (e.g. ‘You be the dragon and I’ll try to keep you away from the castle.’) or something else, children need that opportunity to let their imaginations rule.

We see that innocence and imagination in plenty of crime fiction, and that makes sense. Many fictional characters are, or have, children, and it’s realistic that they would show that side of childhood. For the author, including that aspect of childhood offers some interesting possibilities for plot lines, character development, atmosphere, and even comic relief.

In Arthur Upfield’s Death of a Swagman, for instance, Queensland Police Inspector Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte is sent to the small town of Merino to investigate the death of itinerant stockman George Kendall. To find out as much as possible, he goes undercover as a stockman himself, even arranging (with the help of Sergeant Marshall of the local police) to have himself locked up for ten days for vagrancy. During his ‘sentence,’ he meets the sergeant’s eight-year-old daughter, Florence, who usually goes by the name of Rose Marie. She brings him afternoon tea, very much playing the adult hostess, and they form a bond. That bond becomes a part of the story. One of the interesting moments in their first conversation happens when Florence decides that the jail cell door will have to be opened if they’re to have tea. She makes Bony,
 

‘Cross your fingers properly, and promise out loud [that he won’t try to escape]. Hold them up so’s I can see.’
 

It’s a very believable portrayal of a child who lives partly in the real world and partly in a world where crossed fingers and ‘out loud’ promises are as much as contracts. You’re absolutely right, fans of The Bushman Who Came Back.

In Agatha Christie’s The Clocks, we meet ten-year-old Geraldine Brown. She’s recovering from a broken leg, so she spends plenty of time sitting, looking out of her window. Special agent Colin Lamb meets her while he’s looking into the murder of an unknown man who was killed just across the street from Geraldine’s window. When he sees her looking out, he knows that she might have seen something, so he goes up to her flat and talks to her. In a way, she’s got her own fantasy world. Here’s what she says when Lamb asks her about the people who live across the street:
 

‘Of course, I don’t know their real names, so I have to give them names of my own…There’s the Marchioness of Carrabas down there…That one with all the untidy trees. You know, like Puss in Boots…’
 

On the other hand, she is a keen observer, and her comments turn out to be very helpful.

Catherine O’Flynn’s What Was Lost introduces readers to ten-year-old Kate Meaney. More than anything else, Kate wants to be a detective. She’s even started her own agency, Falcon Investigations. Her partner is a stuffed animal, Mickey the Monkey, who travels everywhere with her. When the Green Oaks Shopping Center opens not far from her home, Kate believes that it will be a very good place to look for suspicious activity. So, she spends a lot of time there, and it’s interesting to see how her world is partly the reality of her life in the Midlands, and partly the fantasy world of her detective agency. Her grandmother, Ivy, thinks it would be better for Kate to go away to school, and get ready for the ‘real world.’ So, she arranges for the girl to sit the entrance exams at the exclusive Redspoon School. Kate goes, but doesn’t return. Despite a massive search, no trace of her is found. Twenty years later, a Green Oaks Shopping Center security guard named Kurt notices something unusual in the surveillance footage he sees. There are several somewhat blurred images of a young girl carrying a backpack with a stuffed monkey sticking out of it. One night, he meets Lisa Palmer, assistant manager of the mall’s music store. It turns out that she knew Kate. The two form an awkward sort of friendship, and each in a different way, they go back to the past as we learn what really happened to Kate.

In Aditya Sudarshan’s A Nice Quiet Holiday, Judge Harish Shinde and his law clerk, Anant, travel from Delhi to Bhairavgarh, in the Indian state of Rajasthan, for a two-week holiday. They’ll be staying with Shikhar Pant, an old friend of Shinde’s. There are other houseguests, too, including Dr. Davendra Nath and his daughter Mallika and sons Ashwin and Nikhil. Also visiting is Pant’s cousin Kailish, a well-known writer. One afternoon, Kailish is found stabbed in his cousin’s library. The police are called in, and Inspector Patel begins the investigation. There are several possible suspects, too. As Patel, the judge, and Anant work through the clues, we see how different the house and the events are for Ashwin and Nikhil. They’re just children, so as soon as they arrive, they want to explore. Their opinion of the house has more to do with its suitability for hide-and-seek than anything else, and they’re more enthusiastic about playing cricket than about catching up on the gossip with the other guests. Their perspectives form an interesting counterpoint to the adult concerns in the story.

And then there’s Harry Honeychurch, whom we first meet in Hannah Dennison’s Murder at Honeychurch Hall. Katherine ‘Kat’ Stanford has decided to give up her life as a television presenter, and go into the antiques business with her mother, Iris. She’s tired of the stress of being ‘under the microscope,’ and is looking forward to some privacy. Everything changes when her mother telephones her with startling news. She’s taken the old carriage house on the property of Honeychurch Hall, Little Dipperton, Devon. Kat’s shocked at this change of plans, and goes to Little Dipperton right away. There, she finds that her mother’s broken a hand in a car accident, so she decides to stay and help out until her mother can manage on her own. While she’s there, Kat meets the members of the Honeychurch family, including young Harry. In fact, one night, his parents ask her to look after him while they go out, and she reluctantly agrees. Harry lives in a fantasy world at least part of the time. He’s obsessed with WWI hero James ‘Biggles’ Bigglesworth, and imagines himself as Biggles quite often. He’d far rather live out his hero’s adventures than study, and it’s interesting to see how his childlike view of the world contrasts with those of the adults in his life. That comes to the fore in the next novel in the series, Deadly Desires at Honeychurch Hall.

But that’s what a healthy childhood often is: a perspective that’s quite different to that of adults. There’s a blend of fantasy and reality as children sort their worlds out, and play is often the way they do that. So, perhaps that Superman cape or imaginary horse isn’t such a bad idea…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Leonard Lipton and Peter Yarrow’s Puff, the Magic Dragon. I had the privilege of seeing them live once, and they did this song. As they did, we all sang along, of course. At the very end, they asked us to change the last verse from the past tense (…lived by the sea….) to the present tense. They wanted us to remember that Puff the Magic Dragon never really goes away…

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Filed under Aditya Sudarshan, Agatha Christie, Arthur Upfield, Catherine O'Flynn, Hannah Dennison

They Sent Us Home to Watch the Show*

tv-newsAs this is posted, today would have been Walter Cronkite’s 100th birthday. For many people, Cronkite was the trusted news source for decades. Of course, news gathering and reporting has changed dramatically since 1981, when Cronkite yielded his news anchor seat to Dan Rather. It’d be interesting to know what Cronkite would think about today’s news formats and newscasters. There are dozens of television and other journalists in crime fiction, and I thought it might be interesting to look at a few of them.

Fans of Andrea Camilleri’s Salvo Montalbano can tell you that one of his good friends is Nicolò Zito, who works for Vigatà’s Free Channel. Zito’s especially interested in stories that expose corruption among the wealthy and privileged, or in high government places. So, he’s usually happy to work with Montalbano to get to the truth about a case. On the one hand, Zito has his own political views and agenda. But even so, he does try to get the story right, as the saying goes. His employer often goes after stories that the government-run news networks don’t.

In Frankie Y. Bailey’s The Red Queen Dies, we meet Albany, New York, police detective Hannah McCabe. She and her police partner, Mike Baxter, are faced with the deaths of two young women who were killed by injections of phenol. Then, there’s a third murder that might (or might not) be connected. Some of the help that McCabe gets comes from her father, Angus, who is a retired journalist. He goes after stories in what you might call the old-fashioned way. That said, though, he is adept at using modern technology. He has a lot of integrity, too, so his input is very useful on several levels as McCabe and Baxter put the pieces of the puzzle together.

There’ve been, as I say, a lot of changes in news reporting since Cronkite’s days. With the advent of television came the advent of a focus on the visual. And that means a focus on appearance. We see that in several stories that concern television journalists.

One of them is Catherine O’Flynn’s The News Where You Are, which concerns TV presenter Frank Allcroft. He’s happily married, and has a strong bond with his eight-year-old daughter, Mo. But he’s reached a crossroads in his life. At the same time as Allcroft is trying to figure out which direction he’ll take, he’s also deeply affected by the death of his predecessor, friend and mentor, Phil Smedway. It seems that Smedway was out jogging one morning when he was killed in a hit-and-run incident. Allcroft is drawn to the scene of Smedway’s death, and notices some things about it. For one thing, the road there is straight and wide. Even a drunk driver would likely have been able to swerve in time to avoid hitting Smedway. For another, the weather was dry and clear. Now, Allcroft wants to know what really happened to his friend. Among other things, this book shows what it’s like for news presenters who spend a lot of time in front of unforgiving cameras.

We also see a bit of that in Paddy Richardson’s Traces of Red. Rebecca Thorne is a Wellington television journalist who’s made a name for herself co-hosting Saturday Night. But there are young, talented journalists coming up behind her, and she’s aware of that. One of them is Janet Beardsley, whose show, Courageous Leaps, has been getting a lot of attention. She’s the new darling of the network, and Thorne is savvy enough to know the implications for her own career. If she can just get the right story, she’ll be set. And she thinks she finds that story in the case of Connor Bligh. He’s been in Rimutaka State Prison for several years for the murders of his sister, Angela Dickson, her husband, Rowan, and their son, Sam. Only their daughter, Katy, survived, because she wasn’t home at the time of the attacks. There are little hints that Bligh might be innocent. If he is, this the sort of story that will cement Thorne’s position at the top. So, she goes after it. Among many other things, this novel shows the sorts of challenges television journalists face. Is the story the truth? What drama can we add to get people watching (without detracting from the truth)? How does it (do we) look? What are the ratings? Incidentally, Cross Fingers, the second Rebecca Thorne novel, also addresses some of the issues of modern news presenting.

And of course, I couldn’t do a post on news journalists without mentioning Liza Marklund’s Annika Bengtzon. Admittedly, she’s not a TV news anchor. But she faces some of the same pressures. Getting the story right, getting people to talk to her, and getting there ahead of the competition are all critical to success in her field.

With today’s instant access to news, and the visual nature of news presenting, there’s a real focus on ‘instant’ and on appearance. Many people claim that makes the news more accessible to more people, and that’s a good thing. Others say it’s made news presentation much more shallow. Wherever you stand on that issue, it’s hard to deny Cronkite’s influence on television news and on journalism in general.

 

On Another Note…

 

Speaking of news…….

The winners of the Blackjack Blog Scavenger Hunt are….

Prashant, who blogs at Chess, Comics, Crosswords, Books, Music, Cinema

D.S. Nelson, who blogs at Every Day’s a Mystery

FictionFan, who blogs at FictionFan’s Book Reviews

Congratulations to the winners!!!!!

If you’ll kindly email me your details, (margotkinberg(at)gmail(dot)com ), I’ll get your prize sent right to you!

Thanks for playing!

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from John Fogerty’s I Saw it On TV.

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Filed under Andrea Camilleri, Catherine O'Flynn, Frankie Y. Bailey, Liza Marklund, Paddy Richardson

They’re Tearing it Down Now, But it’s Just as Well*

changesChange is often difficult, even if the change is a good one. It upsets the status quo and it means that we have to get used to something new. And that can be very hard. Yet, as we all know, change is inevitable. It’s how we grow as a society and individually. So it’s really not a question of whether there’ll be change, but how we respond to it.

That feeling of tension as things change can add a great deal to a crime novel (or any novel, really). For one thing, showing the way people respond to change can add a layer of character development. And change in general can add an interesting layer of tension and even conflict to a story.

For example, one of the plot threads in Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side (AKA The Mirror Crack’d) has to do with the coming of council housing to the village of St. Mary Mead. It’s something quite new for the people who live there, and not everyone is happy about it. Many people liked the village just as it was. But Miss Marple knows that change is inevitable, so fighting it probably won’t do much good. In fact, she’s curious about what the new housing is like. So one day, she takes a walk in the new part of town. Unfortunately, she twists her ankle and ends up with a mild, but painful, injury. She’s rescued by Heather Badcock, who lives in one of the new houses. As they talk, she learns that Heather is a major fan of famous actress Marina Gregg, and is excited that her idol has bought a house in the area. On the day the re-done house is opened to the public, Heather finally gets the chance to meet Marina Gregg. Shortly afterwards, she dies of what turns out to be a poisoned cocktail. Since the cocktail was originally meant for the actress, the first theory is that she was the intended victim. But soon, Miss Marple sees that Heather was meant to be the victim all along. It’s not spoiling the story to say that Heather isn’t killed because she lives in a council house. But it does make for an interesting thread of tension in the story.

So does the coming of the mall and the mall culture in Catherine O’Flynn’s What Was Lost. Before the advent of the mall, people did their shopping in downtown areas. When malls arrived, this made major changes in people’s shopping habits, their social lives, and the structure of many, many towns. This major change is the backdrop for this novel, in which we meet ten-year-old Kate Meaney. The story begins in 1984, when the Green Oaks Shopping Center opens in Kate’s small Midlands town. Kate’s a budding detective with her own business, Falcon Investigations. She thinks that there’s sure to be crime to investigate at the mall, so she spends a great deal of time there. Then one day she goes missing. Despite a massive search, she’s never found. Twenty years later, a mall security guard named Kurt starts to see a strange image on his security camera – a girl who looks a lot like Kate. By chance, he meets Lisa Palmer, Assistant Manager at the mall’s music store, and the two form an awkward sort of friendship. Each in their own way, they go back to the past, and we learn what happened to Kate. Throughout the novel, we see the impact of the change from the ‘High Street’ concept of shopping to the ‘mall’ concept. A lot of people like it; many people hate and fear it. But everyone’s impacted by it.

Peter Lovesey’s The Last Detective: Introducing Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond introduces to Superintendent Peter Diamond of the Avon and Somerset Police. He’s old-fashioned in a lot of ways, and one of them is his view of what detection really is. When the body of former television star Geraldine ‘Gerry’ Jackman is discovered in Chew Valley Lake, Diamond and his assistant, John Wigfull, investigate. Diamond is firmly convinced that cases are best solved through ‘legwork,’ talking to witnesses, and getting evidence. He has little patience for computer reports and other technology, as he feels that nothing beats old-fashioned sleuthing. One of the sub-plots in this novel is the tension between Diamond and those who feel that computers are a critical part of modern police work. Among other things, this novel shows the inexorable advance of computer technology and modern forensics techniques. It makes Diamond uneasy, but that change has transformed the way the police find answers.

A great deal of Steph Avery’s Our Trespasses take place in 1966 South East London. It’s a time of great social upheaval, including changes in the roles of women, experimentation with drugs and sex, and of course, all sorts of new forms of music. Caught up in this time of change are teenage sisters Bridget ‘Bridie’ and Madeline ‘Midge’ Dolan. They’ve been raised as ‘good girls’ from the working class; Bridie in particular is devoted to her Roman Catholic beliefs, and has an old-fashioned approach to life. But the two girls are fascinated by the music and the fashions of the times. So they wangle their mother’s permission to go dancing one Friday night at the Palais Royale. That evening ends in tragedy, and has a permanent impact on everyone involved. Throughout the novel, we see how unsettling some of the social changes are. While some people are excited about the new fashions, lifestyles, and social roles, there are others who want to keep the status quo.

There’s an interesting look at major social change in Brian Stoddart’s Superintendent Christian ‘Chris’ Le Fanu series. He’s a police detective in Madras (today’s Chennai) in the early 1920’s, the last years of the British Raj. There are many people who are pushing for Indian Home Rule, with all of the political and social changes that would bring. But there are plenty of people who like the status quo. Sometimes, it’s because they benefit from it. Other times it’s because they’re comfortable with it. Either way, that tension adds a great deal to the series. Le Fanu himself accepts that Home Rule will come at some point soon, and he’s ready to adjust to it. On the other hand, Arthur Jepson, Madras Commissioner of Police, is against Home Rule, and sees nothing but anarchy coming from it. It makes for an interesting difference (among many) between the men.

And then there’s Gail Bowen’s 12 Rose Street. Political scientist and former academic Joanne Kilbourn Shreve gets involved in a major controversy over the Racette-Hunter Centre. Located in Regina’s impoverished North-Central district, Racette-Hunter is intended to benefit the community, but there are plenty of people who don’t want that change. Joanne’s husband, Zack Shreve, is running for mayor of Regina, and he’s the one who spearheaded Racette-Hunter. So both Joanne and Zack are affected when it seems that someone is trying to sabotage both his campaign and the project.

And that’s the thing about change. It makes a lot of people uneasy. But change is inevitable, and a lot of changes can be good. That tension can make for a very interesting thread in a mystery plot.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s This is the Time.   

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Brian Stoddart, Catherine O'Flynn, Gail Bowen, Peter Lovesey, Steph Avery

Cornershop*

Small ShopsIn these days of online shopping and large mega-retailers, it’s really easy to lose sight of the fact that there are still plenty of small businesses and ‘mom and pop shops’ out there. In fact, lots of people prefer them, as they offer personal service in ways that the larger retailers can’t, even if they don’t always have as much selection. And in many areas, they’re the best option (e.g. rural areas where it’s a long way between towns, or heavily populated urban areas, where space is too expensive for large stores).

Small shops can make very effective contexts for a murder mystery, too. Proprietors, customers, and visitors all meet up with each other in a way that can add a layer of interest, and even tension, to a novel. And sometimes they’re gathering places for local residents, so they also offer opportunities for character development and even conflict.

At one time, small ‘mom and pop shops’ were the rule, not the exception. We see that a lot in Agatha Christie’s work. To take just one (of many!) examples, a grocery features in Sad Cypress. In that novel, local GP Dr. Peter Lord asks Hercule Poirot to clear Elinor Carlisle of suspicion of murder. She’s been arrested in connection with the poisoning death of Mary Gerrard, and there is no lack of motive. She had the opportunity, too, as she prepared the sandwiches in which it’s believed the poison was placed. In fact, at her trial, the proprietor of the local grocery testifies that she bought fish paste from him, and commented at the time about the likelihood of its being tainted. Poirot looks into the matter, and discovers that more than one person had a very good motive for murder.  Yes, indeed, fans of The ABC Murders.

As larger retailers, shopping malls and the like became popular, small shops sometimes suffered quite a lot. We see this, for instance, in Catherine O’Flynn’s What Was Lost.  At the beginning of that novel (that part takes place in 1984), we are introduced to ten-year-old budding detective Kate Meaney. In fact, she has her own agency, Falcon Investigations. She spends quite a lot of time at the newly-opened Green Oaks Shopping Center, thinking that she’s sure to find plenty of suspicious activity there. She’s content with her life, but her grandmother, Ivy, believes she’d be better off going away to school. So she arranges for Kate to sit the entrance exams at the exclusive Redspoon School. Kate’s friend Adrian Palmer agrees to go along with her for moral support, and both board the bus to the school. When only Adrian returns, a massive search for Kate is launched. But no trace of her is found. Twenty years later, Adrian’s younger sister Lisa, who works at Green Oaks, happens to meet Kurt, a security guard there. They form an awkward sort of friendship, and, each in a different way, return to the past, as the saying goes, and we learn the truth about Kate. The opening of the mall has a serious impact on many of the local businesses, including the newsagent shop owned by Adrian’s father. And one plot thread of the story shows the stark contrast between the local shops (Kate knows and likes just about all of their owners) and the mall shops.

There are still, of course, lots of small ‘mom and pop shops.’ And people continue to open and run them. They’re still there in crime fiction, too. For instance, Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series takes place in rural Absaroka County, Wyoming, where most of the towns are small, and so are the businesses. In Death Without Company, the main plot revolves around the death of Mari Baroja, who lived in the Durant Home for Assisted Living. When it turns out that she was poisoned, Longmire looks into the case. And he discovers that it has connections that go more than fifty years into the past. In one (admittedly small) plot thread, we meet the victim’s granddaughter, Lana. She’s just opened her own bakery, and is trying to make a go of it. She describes herself as
 

‘…the best kept secret in Durant.’
 

It’s not an easy life, running one’s own small shop, and Lana doesn’t have a lot of financial ‘padding.’ But she’s a hard worker and a determined one.

Any fan of Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman series can tell you about the small ‘mom and pop shops’ that occupy part of the Melbourne building where Chapman lives and has her own bakery. Since Chapman narrates the stories, readers get a good look at what it’s like to own and run one’s own small shop. Besides the bakery, there’s (among others) a family restaurant, a chocolatier, and a Wiccan store in the building, each of which is a small enterprise. The shop owners (Chapman among them) take great pride in what they do, and in creating and/or selling the very best products that they can. Among other things, this series shows how much knowledge individual proprietors need to have to open, manage, and succeed with a small shop.

And then there’s Garry Disher’s Bitter Wash Road. Constable Paul ‘Hirsch’ Hirschhause has just been transferred to Tiverton, a small, rural South Australian town. He’s gotten a reputation as a ‘whistleblower,’ and the incident that led to that has basically exiled him from his former station in Adelaide. He hasn’t been in Tiverton long when the body of fifteen-year-old Melia Donovan is discovered by the side of a road. Hirsch investigates, beginning with Melia’s family and friends. Melia’s best friend, Gemma Pitcher, works at the general store, so Hirsch goes there to speak to her:
 

‘The interior was a dim cave. The ceiling, pressed tin, was stalactited with hooks from the days when a shopkeeper would hang it with buckets, watering cans, coils of rope, and paired boots. Refrigerator cases lined a side wall, shallow crates of withered the back, and in the vast middle ground were aisles of rickety shelving, stacked with anything from tin peaches to tampons. The sole cash register was next to the entrance, next to ranks of daily newspapers and weekly and monthly magazines and a little bookcase thumbtacked with a sign, LIBRARY.’
 

As it turns out, Gemma knows some helpful information about what happened to Melia. When Hirsch finally gets the chance to speak to her, he gets some valuable clues.

There are, of course, many more examples of ‘mom and pop shops’ in crime fiction. For instance, Elizabeth Spann Craig’s Southern Quilting series features the Patchwork Cottage, a small quilting supply store. And some of D.S. Nelson’s Blake Heatherington stories take place in the village of Tuesbury, home to several small shops. There are lots more, too. Which ones have stayed with you?

 
 
 

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

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Catherine O'Flynn, Craig Johnson, D.S. Nelson, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Garry Disher, Kerry Greenwood

What Are We Going to Do About the Other Generation?*

Sandwich GenerationAs people live longer, we’re seeing more and more of what’s sometimes called ‘the sandwich generation.’ By that I mean adults who are taking care of their elderly parents, but at the same time helping to launch their young adult children into their own lives. Sometimes those young people are still living at home.

It can all get very complicated, especially if the young people run into job, drugs, or relationship problems, or have unexpected children of their own. It’s even more complicated if the elderly parent involved has dementia or other health problems. Put all of that together and you have the potential for a great deal of stress. It’s a fact of life for many people, and we certainly see it in crime fiction.

One of the more famous such characters is Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander. As if his job wasn’t stressful enough, Wallander also deals with his elderly father, who has dementia. Their relationship is complicated already, and is made all the more so by the older man’s illness. It doesn’t help matters that Wallander’s sister doesn’t live close by, so she can’t step in and help. At the same time, Wallander is also concerned about his daughter Linda. She’s grown and out of the house as the series begins, but he worries about her, and thinks that at times, she’s not making wise decisions. Their relationship, too, is complicated, and they’ve had their share of estrangement. But he does care about her and tries to be a part of her life.

Elizabeth Spann Craig’s Myrtle Clover is a retired teacher who’s now in her eighties. Although she’s in relatively good health, and certainly of sound mind, that doesn’t mean her son Red doesn’t worry about her. He’s the police chief of Bradley, North Carolina, so he’s all too aware of how much risk there is, especially for an elderly woman. But Myrtle is not the type to be ‘put out to pasture,’ and she’s intrigued by solving crimes. So she’s a constant source of concern to her son. At the same time, Red and his wife Elaine are raising their young son, Jack. He’s a healthy boy, but very active, and of course, his parents want to keep him safe. The Clovers certainly don’t have a restful life, but being in the ‘sandwich generation’ means that life’s never boring for them.

In Catherine O’Flynn’s The News Where You Are, we are introduced to TV presenter Frank Allcroft. He’s happily married, and the proud father of eight-year-old Mo. But he’s gotten to a sort of crossroads in his life. For one thing, he can’t let go of the death of his predecessor, Phil Smedway, who was killed in an apparent hit-and-run incident. Allcroft finds himself drawn to the place where Smedway died, and can’t help asking questions about what really happened. At the same time, he’s concerned about his mother, who has recently moved to an elder care home. She’s having trouble adjusting to live in that new environment, and that adds stress to their already complicated relationship. Still, he cares about her, and wants to make sure that she’s as comfortable and well cared-for as possible.

Tarquin Hall’s Vishwas ‘Vish’ Puri is a successful Delhi PI. Much of his business is concerned with ‘vetting’ potential spouses for each other’s families. But sometimes, he gets involved in much more serious cases. In his private life, Puri is a proud father (his children are grown and on their own) and a dutiful son to his beloved Mummy-ji. Although the family is a healthy, loving family, that doesn’t mean that Puri never feels the pressure of being between two generations. For one thing, his daughter’s just recently had a baby boy of her own, so there are all kinds of family events connected with that. And new parents often need grandparent-ly help. And then there’s Mummy-ji. She’s energetic and active, and gets involved in more than one investigation of her own. Puri loves his mother, but she certainly causes him concern (not that that stops her).

Michael Redhill (who writes as Inger Ash Wolfe) has created an interesting ‘sandwich generation’ character in the form of DI Hazel Micallef. She and her team work out of Port Dundas, Onatrio. Hazel is in early sixties, and thinking about the transition between a full-time life of work, and retirement. She is also very much caught between two generations. For one thing, there’s her octogenarian mother Emily, who is Port Dundas’ former mayor. Emily is very much her own person, and absolutely not one to sit around and knit. But at the same time, she is in her eighties, and her health and stamina aren’t what they were. So Hazel is concerned about her. It doesn’t help matters that she and Emily don’t always agree, and both are very strong-minded. On the other end, so to speak, is Hazel’s younger daughter Martha. Here’s how Hazel describes her in The Taken:
 

‘Jobless, loveless, dogged by depression and unable to make a constructive choice…’
 

Hazel loves her children, but it’s not always easy to be Martha’s mother. It’s not always easy to be Emily’s daughter, either.

And then there’s Wendy James’ The Lost Girls. Documentary maker Erin Fury has decided to do a film detailing the impact of murder on families. As a part of that, she wants to look into the 1978 murder of fourteen-year-old Angela Buchanan. So she asks Angela’s now-middle-aged cousin, Jane Tait, and Jane’s brother Mick, as well as their parents, for interviews. No-one in the family really wants the murder raked up again. But Jane’s daughter Tess wants to know the truth. So the interviews go forward. As we learn about the murder (which was never solved), we also learn more about the family. Jane is very much a ‘sandwich generation’ parent. She is the mother of a university student, and that has its own challenges. But she is also the daughter of Doug and Barbara Griffin, and that adds more challenges. Doug has dementia, and rarely speaks. In fact, he’s just been moved to a care home. Barbara is in reasonable health, but she needs support as she gets accustomed to life without the husband she’s known. Against this backdrop, we learn what really happened when Angela died, and who really killed her.

More and more, as life spans increase, adults find themselves very much between two generations. It’s not an easy position to be in, but it is real life. And it can add important character development and plot layers to a novel.

 

 
 

*NOTE:  The title of this post is a line from Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s The Other Generation.

 

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Filed under Catherine O'Flynn, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Henning Mankell, Inger Ash Wolfe, Michael Redhill, Tarquin Hall, Wendy James