Category Archives: Catherine O’Flynn

If I Were Huckleberry Finn, I’d Do the Things He Did*

huckleberryfinnAs this is posted, it’s 132 years since the US publication of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (the novel had been published two months earlier in the UK). As you’ll know, the novel has been the focus of a lot of controversy (‘fodder’ for a post in itself, perhaps). And it wasn’t roundly accepted. Louisa May Alcott, for instance, wanted Twain to,
 

‘stop writing for…our pure-minded lads and lasses…if he cannot think of something better to tell…’
 

Still, the novel has become a classic. Even those who don’t care for it acknowledge its influence (and Twain’s) on literature in general, and US literature in particular.

But The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn isn’t the only exploration of coming of age and self-discovery. There are lots of examples out there, including examples from crime fiction.

For instance, Agatha Christie’s Cat Among the Pigeons takes place mostly at Meadowbank, an exclusive school for girls. Late one night, Grace Springer, the school’s games mistress, is shot in the brand-new sports pavilion. The police are called in, but they don’t make much progress before there’s a kidnapping. Then, there’s another murder. One of the pupils, fifteen-year-old Julia Upjohn, finds an important clue to the murders. She’s smart enough to know that she’s now in grave danger, so she decides to do something about it. She sneaks out of the school, and goes to visit Hercule Poirot. She’s heard of him, because her mother is good friends with Maureen Summerhayes (Remember her, fans of Mrs. McGinty’s Dead?). Poirot returns to the school with Julia, and works with the police to find out what’s behind the incidents at the school. That summer term turns out to be quite a time of adventure and self-discovery for Julia.

Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time introduces readers to fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone. He has autism, but is quite high-functioning, so he attends school, works with a therapist, and mostly lives what a lot of people would call a ‘regular’ life – or close to it. Still, because of his autism, there are a lot of subtleties and nuances that Christopher isn’t aware of when he interacts with people. One day, he discovers the body of the dog that belongs to the people next door. They’re prepared to blame Christopher for the animal’s death, but he knows he didn’t harm the dog. So, he decides to be a detective, just like Sherlock Holmes, and find out the truth. He starts asking questions and following leads. As he does, he learns important truths about himself, and he has more than one adventure.

So does ten-year-old Kate Meaney, whom we meet in Catherine O’Flynn’s What Was Lost. The story begins in 1984, in a rather bleak Midlands city. Kate wants very much to be a detective; she even has her own agency, called Falcon Investigations. When the Green Oaks Shopping Center opens nearby, Kate is sure that she’ll find lots of suspicious activity there, so she spends quite a lot of time at the new mall. She has more than one adventure as she goes in search of criminals. But her grandmother, Ivy, thinks that the girl would be much better off going away to school. So, she arranges for Kate to sit the entrance exams at the exclusive Redspoon School. Kate and her friend, Adrian Palmer, go to the school, but only Adrian returns. No sign of Kate – not even a body – is found. Then, twenty years later, a mall security officer starts to see strange images on his security camera: a girl who looks a lot like Kate. By chance, he meets Lisa Palmer, who works in the mall, and is Adrian’s younger sister. Each in a different way, they go back to the past, as you might say, and we learn what happened to Kate.

Mari Strachen’s The Earth Hums in B-Flat is the story of twelve-year-old Gwenni Morgan, who lives in a small Welsh village in the 1950s. She doesn’t quite fit in where she lives, as she’s a bit of a dreamer. But she lives a fairly normal life until the day one of the locals, Ifan Evans, disappears, and is later found dead. For various reasons, Gwenni wants to find out who’s responsible. So, she starts searching for the truth. That search leads her on more than one adventure, some more dangerous than others. And in the process, she also finds out quite a bit about herself.

In William Kent Kreueger’s Ordinary Grace, thirteen-year-old Frank Drum and his younger brother, Jake, are growing up in 1961 New Bremen, Minnesota. Everything changes for Frank the day a local boy is killed in what looks like a railroad accident. Frank knows he’s not supposed to go down to the railroad tracks, but he also wants a bit of an adventure. So, he and Jake go down to the tracks, where they find a dead man. Frank can’t resist the chance to see the dead body more closely, so he goes to have a look. And he and Jake get drawn into a much greater adventure than they’d thought. Then, tragedy strikes Frank’s family, and he learns a great deal about himself, about family, and about growing up.

Honey Brown’s Through the Cracks introduces readers to fourteen-year-old Adam Vander. As the story begins, he’s finally worked up the courage to leave his abusive father, Joe. Adam’s been very much kept under lock and key for most of his life, so he has very little knowledge of the outside world. Fortunately for Adam, a young man named Billy Benson happens to visit the house just as Adam’s preparing to leave. He befriends Adam, and the two spend the next week together. Billy knows all about how to scrounge food and a place to stay, and Adam learns a great deal from him. As the two get to know each other, they learn some things that neither is entirely comfortable accepting. And they learn that they are connected to each other, and to an abduction that took place ten years earlier.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Fireside Books’ Leaders and Legacies series. These books feature Canada’s prime ministers as young sleuths, and follow their adventures and growing-up experiences.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn may not have been the first coming-of-age adventure, but it’s one of the best known. And a lot of people consider it one of the best written. And, whatever you think of it, it’s certainly been influential.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Sam Lewis, Joe Young, and Cliff Hess’ Huckleberry Finn.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Catherine O'Flynn, Honey Brown, Mari Strachan, Mark Haddon, Mark Twain, William Kent Krueger

Someday You’ll Thank Me For This Advice*

for-your-own-good‘It’s for your own good!’ ‘Someday you’ll thank me.’ I’ll bet you’ve heard this sort of thing before. Very often, the person who says something like that is well-meaning, or at the very least not deliberately malicious. And yet, what someone else thinks is for our own good isn’t always. And the way that plays out in crime fiction can be very interesting.

I got to thinking about what is(n’t) for someone’s own good when I read an excellent review of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper from Cleo at Cleopatra Loves Books. Admittedly, I’ve not (yet) read the story myself. But it’s got a plot point that includes that question of what is really best for someone. But don’t take my word for it. Please go check out Cleo’s review yourself. Her blog is an excellent resource for all sorts of terrific reviews, so you’ll want it on your blog roll if it’s not there already.

We see this plot point in crime fiction, too. For instance, in Agatha Christie’s Appointment With Death, the Boynton family travels from the US to the Middle East for a sightseeing tour. Family matriarch Mrs. Boynton is manipulative, malicious and tyrannical, but no-one in her family dares go against her will. That includes her seventeen-year-old daughter, Ginevra ‘Ginny.’ In more than one place in the novel, Ginny wants (or doesn’t want) to do something, and her mother insists she do the opposite. It’s almost always, according to Mrs. Boynton, because Ginny has no idea what’s best for her. But the reader soon sees just how unpleasant and controlling Mrs. Boynton really is, and how little of what she does is the best thing for her daughter. On the second afternoon of the family’s trip to the ancient city of Petra, Mrs. Boynton dies of what turns out to be poison. Hercule Poirot is in the area on a trip of his own, so Colonel Carbury asks him to investigate. And Ginny becomes one of the ‘people of interest’ whom he interviews.

In Elizabeth George’s A Traitor to Memory, we are introduced to the Davies family. Twenty-eight-year-old Gideon Davies is a world-class violinist, who’s been a musical prodigy for most of his life. But one frightening day, he finds himself unable to play at all. Terrified, he seeks the help of a psychologist to try to get to the root of his mental block. Through that plot thread, we learn that he’s been groomed (many would say, pushed) since he was a little boy. We also learn that, twenty years earlier, he lost his sister Sonia (she was a toddler at the time) to a tragic drowning accident (or was it?). All of these past issues play a role in Gideon’s life now. And we see how he’s been impacted by that attitude of ‘I know what’s best for you.’

In Linwood Barclay’s Bad Move, science fiction novelist Zack Walker decides that his family isn’t safe in the city. He’d rather live in the far-less-dangerous suburbs. Neither of his children wants to make the move. They’re both well-established in school, and don’t see the point of moving. And Walker’s wife, Sarah, likes their present home, too. Still, she is finally persuaded to make the move. Walker thinks he knows what’s best for his family, but it certainly doesn’t turn out that way. First, there are several problems with the house. And Walker doesn’t get much help when he goes to the development’s sales office to complain. Then, during Walker’s visit to the office, he witnesses an argument between one of the executives there, and local environmental activist, Samuel Spender. Later that day, Walker finds Spender’s body at a local creek. Before he knows it, he’s drawn into a complex case of murder and fraud. As it turns out, he didn’t know what was best after all…

Catherine O’Flynn’s What Was Lost is the story of Kate Meaney. As the story begins (in 1984), she is a ten-year-old budding detective. In fact, she’s got her own agency, Falcon Investigations. She spends a great deal of time at the newly-opened Green Oaks Shopping Center, since she is sure that a mall is a magnet for criminals and suspicious activity. Kate’s very content with her life, despite the fact that she lives in a somewhat dreary town. But her grandmother, Ivy, thinks that it would be better for the girl to go away to school. Over Kate’s objections, Ivy arranges for her granddaughter to sit the entrance exams at the exclusive Redspoon School. Ivy believes she’s doing this for Kate’s own good, but things don’t turn out as planned. Kate and her friend, Adrian Palmer, take the bus to the school for the exams, but only Adrian comes back. Despite a massive search, no sign of Kate is ever found – not even a body. Twenty years later, Kurt, a security officer at Green Oaks, starts to see unusual images on the cameras he monitors. They seem to be of a young girl who looks a lot like Kate. One night, Kurt meets Lisa (Adrian Palmer’s younger sister), who has a job at the mall. He and Lisa strike up a sort of friendship, and, each in a different way, they re-open the past. We find out what happened to Kate, and we see that ‘for your own good,’ isn’t always for the best.

We see that, too, in Wendy James’ Out of the Silence, a fictional retelling of the story of Maggie Heffernan, who was arrested in Victoria in1900 for the murder of her infant son. As James tells the story, Maggie meets Jack Hardy in 1898. She falls in love with him, and the feeling seems to be mutual. In fact, he asks her to marry him, but says their engagement must be kept secret until he can provide for a family. Maggie agrees, and Jack goes to New South Wales to look for work. When Maggie discovers that she’s pregnant, she writes to Jack a number of times, but he doesn’t respond. Knowing that she can’t go home to her family, she goes to Melbourne to look for work. She finds a job at a Guest House, where she stays until her baby, whom she names Jacky, is born. Then, she goes to Mrs. Cameron’s home for unwed mothers. There, the young women are taught all sorts of things, ‘for their own good,’ including ways to take care of their babies. Maggie’s instinct is that Mrs. Cameron and her ways are wrong for both mother and baby. So, when she discovers that Jack Hardy has moved to Melbourne, she goes in search of him. When she finds him, he rejects her, telling her that she’s crazy. In her grief, Maggie goes from lodging house to lodging house, looking for a place for her and the baby to stay. She’s turned away from six establishments before the tragedy with Jacky occurs. She’s arrested and imprisoned, where again, a lot of what happens is ‘for the good’ of the prisoners. Among other things, it’s an interesting look at what was expected at that time.

Many people really are well-meaning when they say they’re doing/saying something ‘for your own good.’ And sometimes it works out that way. But sometimes it doesn’t. And that can add real tension to a story.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from They Might Be Giants’ Save Your Life  

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Catherine O'Flynn, Elizabeth George, Linwood Barclay, Wendy James

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