Category Archives: Catherine O’Flynn

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.   


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


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.


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.



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

It’s Only Surreal*

SurrealMost crime fiction fans want their stories to ‘feel’ real – as though the characters in them might exist, and the events happen. It takes a deft hand to introduce elements of the surreal – or at least dreamlike unreality – into a crime novel and make it work.

And yet, there are ways in which it can be done. For example, I’ll bet you’ve read crime novels where a character is drugged (either for medical reasons or for another reason) and that drug affects her or his perceptions. There are other ways, too, in which an author can introduce that sort of unreality. And it certainly can add some interest to a story when it’s done well.

For instance, in Agatha Christie’s After the Funeral, patriarch Richard Abernethie dies suddenly, and his family members gather for his funeral. When the family members get together to hear the will, Abernethie’s younger sister, Cora Lansquenet, blurts out that her brother was murdered. At first, everyone hushes her up; she herself urges the rest to pay no attention to her. But privately, everyone does start to wonder. And when Cora herself is murdered the next day, everyone becomes certain she was right. The family solicitor, Mr. Entwhistle, visits Hercule Poirot, and asks him to look into the matter. Poirot agrees, and begins to investigate. Slowly, little pieces of the puzzle start to fall together, and one night, Poirot has a very strange dream about it. The dream itself is quite surreal, as many dreams are. But it gives him the answer to the puzzle. I see you, fans of Murder in Mesopotamia.

Fred Vargas’ novels featuring Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg often have elements of surrealism in them. For example, The Chalk Circle Man begins with a very odd phenomenon: someone’s been drawing circles made of blue chalk on the pavement in different parts of Paris. Various weird objects are found in them, and there seems no explanation at all. And then comes the day when one of those ‘objects’ is a body…  In The Ghost Riders of Ordebec, Adamsberg is persuaded to travel from Paris to the small town of Ordebec at the request of Valentine Vendermot. Her daughter Lina has had a vision in which she’s seen the legendary Ghost Riders. As the story goes, they appear in the company of those who are going to die a violent death. And Lina has seen them in the company of locals she knows. She’s very disturbed by the vision, and that’s why her mother wants Adamsberg’s help. He goes to Ordebec to look into the story of the Ghost Riders, only to get caught up an odd murder investigation when one of the people Lina saw is killed. And then there’s the matter of Snowball the office cat, who is, of all things, an expert tracker… Fans of this series will tell you that all kinds of surreal things happen in it.

In Sylvie Granotier’s The Paris Lawyer, we are introduced to newly-fledged lawyer Catherine Monsigny. She gets her chance for a real push to her career when Myriam Villetreix asks specifically for her. Villetreix has been arrested and charged in the murder of her wealthy husband, Gaston, and wants Monsigny (whom she met when she first came from Ghana to France) to defend her. A win in this case will open many proverbial doors, so Monsigny gets right to work to do the best job she possibly can. As it turns out, the town where the murder took place is not far from where a tragedy occurred in Monsigny’s own life. When she was a very small child, her mother was murdered, with Monsigny as the only witness. She remembers very little from that day, and what there is, is hazy at best. But as she spends time in that place, some of the pieces begin to fit together. And as the story goes on, she begins to have dreamlike, disjointed memories of the day of the murder. They are surreal, but gradually, they give her information about what really happened to her mother.

Fans of Craig Johnson’s Sheriff Walt Longmire series will know that he has more than one encounter with the Old Cheyenne. Some people call them ghosts; some call them visions. Still others simply think that they’re a case of Longmire’s mind ‘playing tricks,’ as the saying goes. Whatever they are, they seem to be there when Longmire especially needs their help. For instance, in The Cold Dish, they appear as Longmire is caught on a mountain in a life-threatening snowstorm. They don’t magically transport him to safety, but their presence keeps him going. Longmire is a pragmatic person, and not given to believing in ghosts. But he has come to accept the Old Cheyenne, however surreal they may seem.

In Adrian Hyland’s Gunshot Road, Aboriginal Community Police Officer (ACPO) Emily Tempest and her team investigate when Albert ‘Doc’ Ozolins is murdered in Green Swamp Well. At first, the death is put down to the tragic consequences of a drunken quarrel. But Tempest begins to have her doubts. So she looks into the case more thoroughly. The closer she gets to the truth, the more risk there is for her, as some very dangerous people are threatened by what she discovers. It turns out that Doc’s death had nothing to do with a drunken quarrel. At one point, Tempest has what can only be described as a surreal encounter with Andulka Jangala, about whom many stories have been told, some stranger than others. Even Tempest admits that some of the stories must be myths, rather than truth.

‘…but what the hell: our mob have lost so many myths along the way, I couldn’t see any harm in inventing a few new ones.’

He is (or was) a real person, but he’s disappeared. Tempest isn’t even sure he’s still alive, but one of her friends, Meg Branbles, says that he is. And then Tempest finds out for herself.

And then there’s Catherine O’Flynn’s What Was Lost. That novel begins in 1984, when Kate Meaney is ten years old. She dreams of being a detective, and has even launched her own agency, Falcon Investigations. She spends a lot of time at the newly-opened Green Oaks Shopping Center, looking for suspicious activity. One day, she disappears during a trip to sit entrance exams at the exclusive Redsppon School. A thorough search is undertaken, but no sign of her is found – not even a body. Twenty years later, a mall security guard named Kurt notices that the security cameras have recorded something very strange: the dreamlike image of a young girl who looks a lot like Kate did. He tries to find the child, but can’t locate her. Still, the image keeps showing up on his camera. One night, he meets Lisa Palmer, assistant manager at the mall’s music store. She remembers Kate; and, when Kurt tells her what he’s seen, the two begin an awkward sort of friendship. Each in a different way, the two go back to the past, and we learn what really happened to Kate.

Those dreamlike, surreal moments aren’t the sorts of things you’d expect to happen in real life. But when they’re well-written, those moments can add an interesting flair to a crime novel.



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Innocence Mission’s Surreal.



Filed under Adrian Hyland, Agatha Christie, Catherine O'Flynn, Craig Johnson, Fred Vargas, Sylvie Granotier

I Conjure Up My Muse*

MuseAsk any writer about the writing process, and you’ll probably hear that it’s a lot easier to write when one’s inspired – when the muse is helping out. It’s awfully difficult to do it without the muse. For some people (writers included), the muse takes a human form. Spending time with that person, getting that person’s ideas, and learning from that person spark the imagination and push one to do better. If you have your own muse, you know what I mean.

There are muses in crime fiction, too. By that I don’t mean, for instance, spouses whom fictional sleuths talk to about their cases. Those are important characters (and really, worthy of a post in and of themselves). I mean muses in the more traditional sense of the word.

For example, in Agatha Christie’s short story Within a Wall, we are introduced to well-known artist Alan Everard. He first gained notice as a painter whose work showed both real skill and depth, but has since become a
‘….fashionable painter of portraits.’


One evening, he hosts a tea at which one of his guests discovers a painting of Jane Haworth, godmother to his daughter Winnie. As it turns out, Jane is also Everard’s inspiration – his muse. Although she’s eager to please and to praise his work, Everard can always tell by her reaction whether something he’s done is truly excellent or not. She irritates him no end, but pushes him to achieve. Everard is also married; his wife Isobel is ‘well born’ and wealthy, and wants her husband to have financial success. And therein lies the dilemma. As the story goes on, we see Everard pulled between the muse who drives him to do his most outstanding work, and his wife, who wants him to do society portraits and other work that will earn him a lot of money. Admittedly, this story isn’t a traditional crime story in the sense that a lot of Christie’s other work is. Still, it depicts very clearly the relationship between muse and creator. I know, I know, fans of Five Little Pigs.

Elizabeth George’s A Traitor to Memory features gifted violinist Gideon Davies, who’s become a world class talent. In one plot thread of this novel, when he finds himself unable to play, he’s upset enough about it to go for psychological counseling. He hopes that by doing so, he can get to the root of his musical ‘block.’ In the course of his counseling sessions, Davies discusses the people who are important to him in his life; one of them is his mentor and muse, Raphael Robson. Robson has been his violin coach for years, and as Davies discusses him with the counselor, we learn the slowly-unfolding story of his family. That includes the twenty-year-old tragic death of his sister Sonia. It turns out that that event is related to his current struggle. It’s also related to another plot thread of this novel, in which Davies’ mother Eugenie is killed by what looks like a hit-and-run accident. Inspector Thomas ‘Tommy’ Lynley and his team investigate whether it really was an accident, what’s behind it, and how it is connected to Gideon Davies’ predicament.

Catherine O’Flynn’s What Was Lost introduces readers to a different sort of muse, ten-year-old Kate Meaney. As the story opens in 1984, Kate is a budding detective who’s just opened her own agency, Falcon Investigations. She spends a good deal of her time at the newly-opened Green Oaks Shopping Center, where she suspects there’ll be a lot of crime for her to solve. Kate is content enough with her life, but her grandmother Ivy, with whom she lives, believes that 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 is finally persuaded to go when her friend Adrian Palmer agrees to go with her for moral support. On the day of the exam, Kate and Adrian travel to the school, but only Adrian returns. A massive search turns up nothing – not even a body. A lot of people are convinced that Adrian is responsible – so many, in fact, that he leaves town, swearing not to return. Twenty years later, his younger sister Lisa is working at the mall. One night, she happens to meet Kurt, a security guard there. They form an awkward sort of friendship, and, each in a different way, go back to the past to find out what really happened to Kate. As we learn, Kate’s disappearance has left a gaping hole in several people’s lives. She served as an inspiration and a muse for more than one of the characters, in ways they weren’t even aware of until she disappeared.

Sulari Gentill’s historical series features Rowland ‘Rowly’ Sinclair, an artist from a well-to-do New South Wales family. He’s talented and motivated; but, like all artists, he benefits from inspiration. And he gets his share of it from his good friend Edna Higgins. She a sculptor in her own right, as well as a model and sometimes-actress. She is also Rowly’s muse. Not only is she his love interest, but she is also intelligent, well-read, and not afraid to speak her mind. She helps to spark his talent, and she’s an interesting character in her own right.

The focus of Gail Bowen’s series is Joanne Kilbourn Shreve, political scientist and now-retired academic. She and her lawyer husband Zack are parents to Taylor, who is a gifted artist. In The Gifted, Taylor, who is fourteen at the time, is invited to submit two of her pieces for inclusion in a charity art auction in aid of the Racette-Hunter Centre. Taylor has shown her parents one of the pieces that she is submitting. The other one, though, is to be kept secret until the auction. That piece, BlueBoy21, is a portrait of Taylor’s muse, Julian Zentner. He is also her first love interest, so naturally, her parents have been concerned about the amount of time she spends with him. But this painting will have consequences that go far beyond a first love. One of the elements that runs through this novel is the way Taylor is inspired by her relationship with Julian.

Muses serve as inspiration for all sorts of creativity. But they can also be very interesting, sometimes even complicated, in their own rights. Which ones have stayed with you?


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s The Muse.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Catherine O'Flynn, Elizabeth George, Gail Bowen, Sulari Gentill