Category Archives: Catherine O’Flynn

You Studyin’ Hard and Hopin’ to Pass*

Most students, whether they’re in secondary school or in college/university (and beyond), go through the challenge of taking final exams or other high-stakes exams. It can be a nerve-wracking experience, especially if you tend to ‘freeze up’ at exam time. And then there’s that tension as you wait for results. Whether it’s high school/private school entrance exams, graduate school and law school entrance exams, or something else, getting through those tests can take a toll.

But it’s something a lot of people go through, so it resonates with many of us. With that connection, and with all of the tension that surrounds exam time, it’s little wonder that high-stakes tests and exams play a role in crime fiction. There are plenty of examples in the genre; here are just a few.

In Agatha Christie’s Hallowe’en Party, we are introduced to the Reynolds family. One afternoon, thirteen-year-old Joyce Reynolds is present at the preparations for a Hallowe’en party to be held that evening. There, she boasts that she has seen a murder. No-one believes her, but she insists that it’s the truth. Later that evening, she is drowned in an apple-bobbing bucket. Detective story novelist Ariadne Oliver is at both the preparations for the party and the party itself. She asks Hercule Poirot to investigate, and he agrees. As part of his investigation, he talks to the members of her family, including her sixteen-year-old sister, Ann. At the time of the murder, Ann is preparing for her A-Level exams, and is thoroughly immersed in her studies:
 

‘They went upstairs to where Ann, looking rather more than her sixteen years, was bending over a table with various study books spread round her.’
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Despite her focus on her work, Ann was at the party, and is able to confirm what Poirot’s already heard. And she adds some interesting information about her sister’s character to what Poirot knows.

Because there’s so much at stake, important examinations are treated very seriously, and those responsible for creating and administering them are supposed to work under strict regulation. That topic comes up in Colin Dexter’s The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn. In it, we are introduced to Quinn, who is the only Deaf member of Oxford’s Foreign Examinations Syndicate. This group is responsible for all exams given in other countries that follow the British education system. Quinn was by no means a universal choice to join the group, so there’s already tension. Then one day, he is poisoned. Inspector Morse and Sergeant Lewis investigate the crime, and, of course, take an interest in the other members of the Syndicate. And they find that Quinn knew some things about members of that group that weren’t safe for him to know.

In Catherine O’Flynn’s What Was Lost, ten-year-old Kate Meaney has the dream of becoming a detective. In fact, she has her own agency, Falcon Investigations. She spends a great deal of time at the newly-built Green Oaks Shopping Center, where she suspects there will be a lot of crime. She’s quite content with her life, but her grandmother, Ivy, wants more for the girl. So, she arranges for Kate to sit the entrance exams at the exclusive Redspoon School. Kate refuses at first, but is finally persuaded by her friend, Adrian Palmer. He even promises to go with her to the school, for moral support. When Kate doesn’t return from Redspoon after the exams, there’s a massive search for her. But she is never found. Some twenty years later, Adrian Palmer’s sister, Lisa, is now working at the mall. One night, she happens to meet Kurt, who is a security guard there. They form an awkward sort of friendship, and, each in a different way, return to the past. As they do, we find out what happened to Kate.

The real action in Christine Poulson’s Murder is Academic begins when Cassandra James, who works in the English Literature Department of St. Etheldreda’s College, Cambridge, pays a visit to Department Head Margaret Joplin. She’s there to pick up a group of student exam papers. When she arrives, though, she finds that Joplin is dead, and the papers are scattered everywhere, and in various stages of ruin. The shock of Joplin’s death is hard enough, especially when it turns out that she was murdered. But there’s also the problem of the papers. There’s going to be a real problem if the papers can’t be located and rendered readable, and James doesn’t want to face that. She’s going to have to, though, because with Joplin’s death, she is named Department Head. As the murder investigation continues, the exam papers become one of several challenges that James is going to have to face. And it’s interesting to see, from the faculty perspective, how exam papers are supposed to be handled, marked, and so on.

And then there’s Natsuo Kirino’s Real World, which takes place in contemporary Tokyo. In it, Toshiko Yamanaka is preparing to go to a ‘cram school’ session to help her prepared for college entrance exams. They are extremely rigorous, and even a lot of extra tutoring and assistance don’t mean a student will do well. It’s a cause of a lot of stress. As she’s getting ready to leave, Toshiko hears a loud noise from the house next door. She wonders if all’s well, but on the way to cram school, she sees Ryo, the boy who lives there. He seems fine, so she doesn’t think much more about it. Later, she hears that Ryo’s mother has been murdered. The police stop by to talk to her, and it’s soon clear that they have Ryo on their suspects list. She decides to cover for Ryo and lies to the police about having seen him. Soon, Toshiko and her friends are drawn into this murder case, and things spin quickly out of control for all of them.

There are other novels, too, that touch on high-stakes exams such as entrance exams and other major tests. They do cause stress, and they have a lot of impact on people’s lives. So, it shouldn’t be surprising they come up in crime fiction.

I can’t resist closing this post with a bit from Kathryn Fox’s Malicious Intent. Everyone who has ever taught will likely appreciate it. In this scene, freelance forensic pathologist Anya Crichton is giving a university lecture on forensics:
 

‘Put the word ‘forensic’ in a lecture’s title and it pretty much guaranteed a full house. Anya introduced the day’s topic and a croaky voice from the back row interrupted.
‘Excuse me, but will this be in the exams?’
The most predictable question had taken all but thirty seconds to be asked.’

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Chuck Berry’s School Days.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Catherine O'Flynn, Colin Dexter, Kathryn Fox, Natsuo Kirino

Stars on TV Screens*

You see them on TV all the time. You may even feel that you know them, they’re that familiar. Yes, I’m talking about TV presenters. They may host a quiz or celebrity show, or they may host some other sort of show. Either way, they’re a part of our lives.

They may seem to live charmed lives, but TV presenters are humans, as we all are. And they work in what can be very highly-charged, tense atmosphere. So, it’s not surprising that they also show up in crime fiction. After all, where would we be without those shows and their hosts?

In Julian Symons’ A Three-Pipe Problem, we are introduced to television star Sheridan ‘Sher’ Haynes. He is the lead in a popular Sherlock Holmes series, with Basil Wainwright as his Watson. Although Haynes is a popular television personality, the show has been slipping in ratings. What’s more, Haynes has his share of problems with the show. He is a dedicated fan of the Holmes stories, and isn’t happy at all with the changes that the show’s creators have made to the stories and some of the major characters. Then, Haynes gets an idea to save the series and show that his more purist view of the show will prevail. There’s been a series of bizarre murders, called the ‘Karate Killings.’  The police haven’t made much progress, but Haynes thinks that if he uses Holmes’ method, he can find out who the killer is. It’s a strange idea, and plenty of people in Haynes’ life are not happy about it. But he persists and starts to ask questions. He gets into his share of trouble, but in the end, he finds out the truth.

In Catherine O’Flynn’s The News Where You Are, we meet TV presenter Frank Allcroft. As the novel begins, he’s at rather a crossroads in his life. He’s doing well at his show, he’s happy with his wife, and a proud father. But he doesn’t feel settled. He’s also dealing with the death of his predecessor, friend, and colleague, Phil Smedway. It seems that Smedway was jogging one morning when he was killed in a hit-and-run incident. In his restlessness, Allcroft is drawn to the scene of Smedway’s death. He notices some things that make him wonder. For one thing, the road is straight and clear. For another, the weather on the day of Smedway’s death was dry. There’s no reason a driver wouldn’t have been able to swerve to avoid hitting Smedway. Now, Allcroft begins to wonder what really happened. Among other things, the novel gives real insight into what it’s like to be a TV presenter.

Christopher Fowler’s Ten Second Staircase features London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit (PCU). Arthur Bryant and John May and the rest of the PCU investigate a bizarre set of murders. It seems that someone is targeting minor celebrities and seems to be doing it to become a star himself. One of those the killer targets is Danny Martell, the host of a popular ITV teen lifestyle show. He’s in the gym one day, trying to work off some stress and lose a bit of weight when he’s mysteriously electrocuted. It’s a strange set of crimes, and the PCU team has its hands full as it tries to make sense of the only clear clue: an eyewitness who says the killer was wearing a cape and a tricorner hat.

Lynda Wilcox’s Strictly Murder is the first of her novels to feature Verity Long. She is research assistant to famous crime novelist Kathleen ‘KD’ Davenport. Mostly, her job is to research old crime cases that Davenport can use as the basis for her work. Long gets involved in her own murder case when she decides to look for a new home. A house agent is showing her a place when she discovers the body of celebrity TV presenter Jaynee ‘JayJay’ Johnson. Since Long found the body, she’s of interest to the police, and she gets involved in finding out who killed the victim. And it turns out that there are several suspects. The behind-the-scenes atmosphere wasn’t at all pleasant, since Johnson wasn’t exactly beloved among her colleagues.

And then there’s Hannah Dennison’s Katherine ‘Kat’ Stanford. She was a successful TV presenter who hosted a show called Fakes & Treasures. But she got ‘burned out’ from the stress of being in the media limelight. Her plan had been to open an antiques business with her mother, but everything changes in Murder at Honeychurch Hall. In that novel, Stanford discovers that her mother has abruptly moved to the Devon village of Little Dipperton. Shocked at her mother’s choice, Stanford rushes there, only to find that her mother’s been injured in a minor car accident. She stays on to help while her mother heals up and gets drawn into a murder mystery.

Television presenters may seem to lead magical lives, but things don’t always go very smoothly. Those conflicts and stresses can make things difficult for the presenter, but they can add much to a crime novel. These are just a few examples. I know you’ll think of more.

 
 
 

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

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Filed under Catherine O'Flynn, Christopher Fowler, Hannah Dennison, Julian Symons, Lynda Wilcox

Let’s Go to the Movies*

Going to the cinema has been a deeply ingrained part of many cultures for a very long time. I’ll bet you have memories of going to the cinema as a child. Or of going there on a date – and not actually watching much of the film. Perhaps you still go. There’s no doubt that the advent of the internet, streaming films, and other technology has changed people’s cinema habits dramatically. But the cinema’s still a part of our lives.

It’s little wonder, then, that it’s also woven into crime fiction. For instance, there are dozens of crime novels where a suspect claims to have been at the cinema. And, there are sometimes important scenes – even murders – that take place there.

For example, in Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders, Hercule Poirot works with Chief Inspector Japp and local police detectives to solve a series of murders that seem to be connected. Each killing is preceded by a cryptic warning to Poirot. And an ABC railway guide is found next to each body. Still, there’s not much else linking the killings, and even Poirot isn’t making a lot of headway. Then, Poirot gets a warning that there will be a murder in Doncaster. The police do their best to prepare, but there’s a major horse race on the same day, so it’s going to be very hard to keep track of what happens. And, in fact, the murderer takes advantage of the situation and kills another victim. The murder takes place at the Regal Cinema, Doncaster, during a showing of Not a Sparrow. It’s a very effective setup for the killing, too. The room is dark, everyone’s watching the film, and no-one’s watching who comes in our out. Everyone’s so intent on leaving at the end of the film that nobody sees the stabbing take place. In the end, Poirot works out who the killer is, and what the motive is. And it’s interesting to see how the murderer has managed to get away with it.

In Colin Dexter’s The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn, Inspector Morse and Sergeant Lewis work to find out who poisoned Nicholas Quinn, the newest member of the Oxford Foreign Exams Syndicate. This group oversees exams given in other (non-UK) countries that follow the British system of education. It’s a tight-knit group, and as Quinn became involved with the members, he found out some things that it wasn’t safe for him to know. This means that all of the members are suspects, and Morse and Lewis look into their alibis, their relationships with Quinn, and the like. Interestingly enough, an afternoon spent at a pornography cinema turns out to figure importantly into people’s alibis.

There’s also a look at pornographic cinema in Leigh Redhead’s Peepshow, which introduces her sleuth, Simone Kirsch. Kirsch is a newly-licensed Melbourne PI and occasional stripper, who works at a cinema called the Shaft. One day, her best friend, Chloe Wozniak, who also works at the Shaft, asks for her help. Wozniak also works at a table dance place called the Red Room. She had a major argument with the owner, Francisco ‘Frank’ Parisi, and the next morning, he was found dead. Now she’s a prime suspect. Kirsch hasn’t investigated a murder case before, but she agrees to see what she can do. And it’s not long before she’s given extra ‘motivation.’ The victim’s brother, Sal Parisi, decides to take matters into his own hands, and abducts Wozniak. Then, he tells Kirsch that Wozniak won’t be released until the real killer is found.

Cinemas were once large, sometimes ornate buildings of their own. Then, during the ‘mall culture’ of the 1970s and 1980s, many of them moved to (or opened in) malls. They became part of the ‘mall experience’ for people. We see a bit of that in Catherine O’Flynn’s What Was Lost. In that novel, which begins in 1984, we are introduced to ten-year-old Kate Meaney. She wants very much to be a detective. In fact, she’s already opened her own agency, Falcon Investigations. She spends a great deal of time at the newly-opened Green Oaks Shopping Center, where she is sure that she’ll find plenty of suspicious activity to investigate. And right across the parking lot from the mall is a cinema (that’s actually been the setup for a lot of malls). Kate’s grandmother, Ivy, thinks she’d be better off going away to school, so she arranges for Kate to sit the entrance exams for the exclusive Redspoon school. When Kate doesn’t come back from her exams, there’s a massive search for her, but she’s never found – not even a body. Years later, a mall security guard named Kurt begins to see some strange things on his camera: a young girl who looks a lot like Kate. One night, he meets Lisa Palmer, who works at a mall shop called Your Music. The two form an awkward sort of friendship, and, each in a different way, go back to the past, as we find out what really happened to Kate. And, although the cinema isn’t the reason for Kate’s disappearance, it’s a part of the mall culture that O’Flynn explores in the novel.

And then there’s Heda Margolius Kovály’s Innocence: Or, Murder on Steep Street. The novel takes place in 1950’s Prague, where the state controls everything, and no-one can really trust anyone. After all, anyone might by a spy, or report an activity to the police. So, people generally keep their secrets to themselves. Against this backdrop, we meet a group of people who work at the Horizon Cinema. The political and social systems are set up so that these people, who are supposed to support each other, actually end up being forced to mistrust each other and even betray each other. When eight-year-old Josef Vrba is murdered in the cinema’s projection booth, it seems clear that the killer is the projectionist. But then, the investigating officer is killed. The ensuing investigation brings to light a great deal of what these employees have been hiding.

See what I mean? Cinemas have played all sorts of roles in our culture and in crime fiction. They’re even, sometimes, murder scenes. Which ones have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Charles Strouse and Martin Charmin.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Catherine O'Flynn, Colin Dexter, Heda Margolius Kovály, Leigh Redhead

Franchise Joints on Hamburger Row*

If you look at the ‘photo, you’ll probably be able to tell that it was taken in a hotel room (I’m at a conference as this is posted). But do you know which hotel? That’s a sort of trick question, really, because a lot of hotels aren’t really distinctive any more. They may have different logos, or other sorts of branding, but the major hotel chains are really quite similar in a lot of ways.

And it’s not just hotels. Many restaurants, shops, and other facilities, especially if they are part of a large chain, are almost generic in nature. That’s arguably a trend, since the larger chains have become more prevalent, whether it’s bookshops or places to have pancakes.

As with most social trends, you see that development in crime fiction, too. For example, much of Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun takes places at the Jolly Roger Hotel, on Leathercombe Bay. This hotel has a long history, and by the time Hercule Poirot visits it, it’s got a fine reputation. It’s a unique sort of place with its own atmosphere. And in this novel, it becomes a crime scene when one of the guests, famous actress Arlena Stuart Marshall, is murdered nearby. At first, her husband, Captain Kenneth Marshall, is the most likely suspect. And it’s not surprising, considering the victim’s not-too-well-hidden affair with another guest. But Marshall is soon proven innocent, so Poirot and the police have to look elsewhere for the culprit. It might be interesting to consider the sort of story this would be if it took place in one of today’s more generic hotels.

Ellery Queen’s the French Powder Mystery takes place at French’s Department Store. The novel was published in 1930, before department stores were taken over by large chains. This particular store is owned by Cyrus French, who’s made it a real success. Then one day, the body of French’s wife, Winnifred, is discovered in one of the store’s window displays. Inspector Richard Queen investigates, and, of course, his son, Ellery, has quite a hand in the search for the truth. As the Queens, Sergeant Velie, and the rest of the team look into the case, we get a look at what department stores were like when they were owned by individuals. French’s is distinctive, and it’s interesting to see how that individuality comes through.

The change from the individual/unique to the more generic/mass-produced is one of the themes of Catherine O’Flynn’s What Was Lost. The story beings in 1984, when Kate Meaney is ten years old. She’s growing up in a rather dreary Midlands town, but she’s content. In fact, she’s a budding detective with her own private agency, Falcon Investigations. A new mall, Green Oaks Shopping Center, has opened, and Kate is sure that it will be a hotbed of criminal activity. So, she spends quite a lot of time there. Her grandmother, Ivy, thinks the girl would be better off going away to school, so she arranges for Kate to sit the entrance exams at the exclusive Redspoon School. Kate reluctantly agrees to go, and her friend Adrian Palmer goes along for moral support. Tragically, only Adrian returns. Despite a thorough search, no trace of Kate is found – not even a body. Twenty years later, a Green Oaks security guard named Kurt starts seeing strange images on his camera: a young girl who looks a lot like Kate. One night, he happens to meet Lisa Palmer (Adrian’s younger sister) who works at the mall. She knew Kate, and she and Kurt form a sort of awkward friendship. Each in a different way, they go back to the past, and we learn what really happened to Kate. As the novel goes on, we see the change from the individual ‘High Street’ shops to more modern large chains.

In Apostolos Doxiodis’ Three Little Pigs, we hear the story of Benvenuto ‘Ben’ Franco. In the early years of the 20th Century, he moves with his family from Italy to New York City. He gets work as a shoemaker, and is soon successful enough to have his own shoe repair/shoemaking business. Unfortunately, he gets in a bar fight with Luigi Lupo, and ends up killing the other man. He’s arrested and jailed, but that’s not the end of his trouble. It turns out that the victim is the son of notorious Mafia gangster Tonio Lupo. When Lupo learns who was responsible for his son’s death, he visits Franco in prison and curses his family. Lupo says that each of Franco’s three sons will die at the age of forty-two, the same age as Luigi was at his death. As the novel goes on, we learn how this curse plays out with Franch’s sons, Alessandro ‘Al,’ Niccola ‘Nick’ and Leonardo ‘Leo.’ While the major focus of the novel isn’t on Franco’s shoe business, we see that there’s a real difference between it and today’s mass-produced shoes.

And then there’s Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman. She is a former accountant-turned-baker, who lives and works in Melbourne. She takes pride in her bakery, Earthly Delights, where she bakes all of the bread herself, and her assistant, Jason, does the muffins himself. In Trick or Treat, a large chain, Best Fresh, opens a franchise very close to where Chapman has her bakery. Chpman’s concerned, even though Jason assures her that the competitor’s food isn’t as fresh or as tasty. Then, a young man jumps to his death from a nearby roof. Before long, his death is attributed to hallucinations brought on by ergot poisoning. All of the local bakeries, including Chapman’s, are suspect, and it’s very hard for her not to be able to do what she does – provide bread and rolls to her community. She wants to clear her bakery’s name, so she starts ask questions. And it’s interesting to see the difference between the way Chapman and her staff look at what they sell, and the way the local franchise does.

On the one hand, large chains and franchises are efficient, and can often provide goods and services at a lower cost. But there’s also something to be said for the uniqueness of independent companies. And it’s interesting to see how both are portrayed in the genre.

 
 
 

*NOTE:  The title of this post is a line from Brownsville Station’s The Martian Boogie.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Apostolos Doxiadis, Catherine O'Flynn, Ellery Queen, Kerry Greenwood

Teach Them Well and Let Them Lead the Way*

respecting-childrenAs this is posted, it’s ‘Dr. Seuss Day,’ National Read Across America Day in the US. This annual event not only celebrates Dr. Seuss’ birthday and legacy, but also celebrates the joy of reading together. And that’s as it should be. Dr. Seuss’s work has had a major impact on children’s literature, on reading in general, and on literacy development. Chances are that you’ve had at least some of his work read to you, and/or you’ve read it to your (grand)children.

One of the things that makes Dr. Seuss’ body of work distinctive is the respect it shows for young readers. If you read it closely, it is often whimsical, but doesn’t condescend to children. Rather, Dr. Seuss appreciated young people’s imaginations, and part of the appeal of his work is that it celebrates that creativity.

There’s a lot we can learn from children, too. We certainly see that in life, and we see it in crime fiction. Skilled sleuths know that treating children with respect, and reaching them at their levels, often gets more answers than does either ignoring them or completely dismissing what they have to say.

Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes knows the value of treating young people with respect, and of listening to them. Fans of these stories will know that, more than once, Holmes gets valuable assistance from a group of young boys called the Baker Street Irregulars. Led by a boy named Wiggins, they serve as Holmes’ ‘eyes and ears.’ They’re mostly street children, and no-one pays very much attention to them. But Holmes does. He knows that they see things, and hear things, that others don’t. Their information is quite useful to Holmes, and he doesn’t make the mistake of being dismissive of it.

Most people probably wouldn’t think of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot as particularly fond of children. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t listen to them. In fact, when he does interact with children, Poirot is respectful; he knows that he’ll get more from listening to children than he will from ignoring them. In Dead Man’s Folly, for instance, a conversation with twelve-year-old Marylin Tucker gives Poirot some valuable information about why and by whom her older sister, Marlene, was killed. And in Hallowe’en Party, Poirot investigates the murders of thirteen-year-old Joyce Reynolds and her younger brother, Leopold. He finds that conversations with another young person turn out to be extremely useful in learning who killed these young people and why. And in both of these cases, Poirot listens, treats the children with respect, and speaks to them in ways they can understand.

Much the same could be said of Arthur Upfield’s Queensland Police Inspector Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte. In more than one of his cases, he interacts with children, and he’s found that listening to them, respecting them, and seeing the world the way they do is very helpful. For example, in Death of a Swagman, Bony is in the small town of Merino, looking into the death of itinerant stockman George Kendall. In order to find out everything he can, Bony goes undercover as a stockman, even arranging with Sergeant Marshall of the local police to be locked up for ten days on ‘vagrancy’ charges. During his ‘sentence,’ Bony meets Marshall’s daughter, Florence, who prefers the name Rose Marie. She’s not the reason for Kendall’s murder, but Bony finds that she has useful information. He treats her with respect, and the two form a bond that adds much to the story.

Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware is a psychologist whose specialty is working with children. So, he’s learned the value of listening carefully to what they say, and of interacting with them both respectfully and at a level they can understand. And in more than one case (I’m thinking, for instance, of When the Bough Breaks), he finds out very useful information.

In Catherine O’Flynn’s What Was Lost, we meet ten-year-old Kate Meaney. She’s a fledgling detective who’s even opened her own agency, Falcon Investigations. And she’s sure she can spot suspicious activity and solve/prevent crime. At the beginning of the story, she lives with her father, Frank, with whom she has a close relationship. He treats her with respect, and appreciates both her imagination and her creative, distinctive way of thinking. And, in his way, Frank encourages his daughter to follow her own path. But then, tragically he dies. Kate’s grandmother, Ivy, loves her very much, but thinks she’d be better off going away to school. So, she arranges for Kate to sit the entrance exams at Redspoon, an exclusive school. Kate reluctantly goes to the school for the exams, but never returns. Despite an exhaustive search, no trace of her is found. Then, twenty years later, Kurt, a security guard at the mall Kate used to haunt, starts seeing strange images on his cameras. The images look a lot like Kate, and that’s unsettling. One night, Kurt meets Lisa, an assistant manager at the mall. Lisa used to know Kate, and eventually Kurt tells her what he’s seen. Slowly, the two go back to the past, you might say, and we learn what really happened to Kate and why.

Alan Bradley’s sleuth, Flavia de Luce, is eleven years old at the beginning of the series featuring her. She lives with her father and sisters in an old place called Buckshaw. One of the major influences in Flavia’s life is her father’s factotum, Arthur Dogger. Flavia knows that she can trust Dogger, who treats her with respect and listens to her. He takes her questions – and there are many – seriously, too. And, even though he has an adult’s maturity and experience, he’s not dismissive of Flavia’s ideas, even when they’re quite speculative.

And then there’s Jen Shieff’s The Gentlemen’s Club. It’s 1950s Auckland, and Rita Saunders has established herself both as a hairstylist, and as the owner of a gentlemen’s club, a not-well-disguised brothel. Things are going smoothly for her, but that changes when a ship from England docks. One of the passengers, Fenella Grayson, is escorting three orphaned girls who are to be placed at Brodie House, an orphanage that’s directed by a man named Lindsay Pitcaithly. It’s hoped that good adoptive homes will soon be found for them. Little by little, though, Rita begins to suspect that Brodie House is not all it seems, and that Pitcaithly may be involved in some sinister business. With the help of a recent immigrant, Istvan Ziegler, and another newcomer to Auckland, Judith Curran, Rita gets to the truth about Brodie House. And that involves talking to the three orphaned girls. This takes time and effort, and it requires listening to them, respecting what they say, and reaching them at their level.

And that’s something that Dr. Seuss was quite skilled at doing. He’s no longer with us, but his stories are. And for many millions of readers, that’s a very good thing.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Michael Masser and Linda Greed’s The Greatest Love of All.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alan Bradley, Arthur Conan Doyle, Arthur Upfield, Catherine O'Flynn, Jen Shieff, Jonathan Kellerman