Category Archives: D.S. Nelson

I Never Tire of Legends Grown*

As this is posted, it’s the 120th anniversary of the publication of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Of course, stories of vampires have been told since long before Stoker came along. And since that time, the vampire has become enshrined in popular culture.

What is it about folktales like the vampire that capture people’s imagination? I’m not a cultural anthropologist, so I can’t give a sophisticated, informed answer. But part of the explanation may lie in human curiosity. We like to understand our world, and certain folk tales may explain certain phenomena. Then, too, the scarier stories have been used as ways to discipline children and teach them the mores of their society (e.g. ‘You’d better come inside when I tell you or La Llorona will get you! [This refers to a South American/Mexican legend about a ghost who goes searching for her children. You can read a version of it here]).

Whatever the reason, those folk legends are woven into the history of many cultures. And we see them in crime fiction, too, and not just in speculative or fantasy stories. People’s belief in such folktales finds its way into more conventional stories, too.

For instance, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson investigate the death of Sir Charles Baskerville, whose body was found in a park on the family property, Baskerville Hall. The legend in the area is that there is a phantom hound that haunts the Baskerville family, and has for many generations. It’s that hound that has caused Sir Charles’ death. But Holmes doesn’t believe in phantoms or other folktales. He is convinced only by logic and science. He’s unable to leave London at the moment, so he sends Watson to Baskerville Hall to start looking into the matter. Later, he joins his friend there. They find that there is a very prosaic explanation for Sir Charles’ death, and that it has nothing to do with legends or curses.

Some folktales are told about real people. For example, in Tony Hillerman’s Hunting Badger, there’s a robbery of a Ute casino, and the thieves get away with a large haul. Officer Teddy Bai is suspected of being an ‘inside operator,’ working with the gang. But Navajo Tribal Police Officer Bernadette ‘Bernie’ Manuelito doesn’t think so. She asks Sergeant Jim Chee to help find out the truth. And that truth turns out to be connected to a Ute legend about a man named Ironhand. It seems that Ironhand was able to almost magically steal Navajo sheep and escape without ever being caught. Stories were told among the Ute about him and his descendants, and those stories turn out to be quite useful to Chee and (now-retired) Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn as they look into the case.

Andrew Nette’s Ghost Money features Australian ex-cop Max Quinlan, who’s turned private investigator. Madeleine Avery hires Quinlan to find her brother, Charles, who’s gone missing from his home in Bangkok. Quinlan travels to Bangkok, and visits Avery’s apartment. There, he finds the body of Avery’s business partner, Robert Lee. There’s no sign of Avery, but Quinlan finds evidence that his quarry has gone on to Cambodia. With help from journalist’s assistant Heng Sarin, Quinlan traces Avery to the north of Cambodia. There, he learns of a legend about spirits who haunt that part of the country, and who capture humans. That folk tale helps Quinlan and Sarin find out the truth about what happened to Avery, and where he is now.

I’m sure you’ve heard legends of mermaids. One of Hans Christian Andersen’s most famous stories is about one. And there are all sorts of other mermaid stories told by sailors and other people who’ve been out on the sea. Mermaids even swim their way into Sharon Bolton’s A Dark and Twisted Tide. In that novel, Detective Constable (DC) Lacey Flint is working with the Marine Unit, where she’s looking forward to less-stressful police work, such as checking for boat licenses and warning people about unsafe conditions on the Thames, and so on. Everything changes, though, when she discovers the body of an unknown woman in the river. The victim is probably Middle Eastern or South Asian, but she has no ID, and it’s going to be very hard to trace her identity, let alone find out who killed her or why. Once the woman’s death is classified as a homicide, Flint works with Detective Inspector (DI) Dana Tulloch and her team at the Met to find out the truth about this murder. Mermaids aren’t responsible for murdering the victim. But the legend of people who are half-fish, half-human play a role in the novel.

And then there’s D.S. Nelson’s Model For Murder. Nelson’s sleuth is retired milliner Blake Heatherington, who lives in the village of Tuesbury. One of the sources of pride in town is a small model village that depicts the various businesses and buildings. One day, newsagent Harold Slater is murdered, and his body found in a local wood. Then it’s discovered that there’s a cross painted on the model newsagent, and the figure representing Slater is missing. And that’s just the first murder that’s marked in the model. There are signs that these murders might be connected with the Vodou beliefs of many people in Jamaica and Haiti. As it turns out, the murders are not caused by religion or even spirituality. They have a more prosaic motive. But there are some interesting discussions in the novel about the differences between traditional Vodou and many of the folk tales associated with it. For example, there’s a mention of Juju dolls, which have become the stuff of folklore. And there’s even a word or two about zombies. Nelson doesn’t go into any description, but I don’t have to tell you how folktales of ‘undead’ corpses have become a part of our culture.

Even people who absolutely don’t believe in the truth of any folktale sometimes enjoy going to see a ‘zombie film,’ or reading a story that involves werewolves or vampires. We humans do seem to enjoy those stories, even though we know a lot of them aren’t true. Little wonder they find their way into crime fiction.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Big Country’s Hold the Heart.

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Filed under Andrew Nette, Arthur Conan Doyle, D.S. Nelson, Sharon Bolton, Tony Hillerman

Bus Driver…Ambulance Man…Ticket Inspector*

occupationIt’s easy enough to imagine scenarios where fictional police detectives and PIs get involved in investigating crimes. So, a series that features a police officer or a PI makes sense and can be quite credible. It’s harder when the protagonist of a crime fiction series is an amateur detective.

Some professions do lend themselves to the role a bit more than others. For instance, there are lots of fictional academics who are amateur detectives. And it’s not hard to imagine scenarios where the sleuth is an academic (ahem – at least I hope it’s not…). The same might be said of fictional members of the clergy or their spouses/partners. Those people hear and see quite a bit, so it makes sense that they’d be involved in fictional investigations. There are also lots of fictional psychologists, medical professionals, attorneys and journalists who are also amateur sleuths. Again, it’s fairly credible that such people would be in a position to encounter and investigate a crime.

But there are some fictional amateur sleuths out there who have more unusual occupations. In those cases, the author has the challenge of creating a believable context for the sleuth. It’s not always easy to do, but some authors have achieved it.

One such sleuth is Rita Mae Brown’s Mary Minor ‘Harry’ Harristeen. When this series begins, Harry is the postmistress for the tiny town of Crozet, Virginia. She also runs a small farm. Later in the series, she steps aside as postmistress, and takes up cultivating a vineyard. This scenario – with Harry as postmistress, and also sleuth – works (at least for me) because it makes sense that, in a small town, people would gather at the post office, pick up their mail, and talk. This puts Harry in a very good position to know a lot about what’s going on. We also learn that her family has been in the area for generations. So, she’s ‘plugged in.’ There are some aspects of the series that aren’t as credible. But a postmistress as sleuth makes sense.

You wouldn’t expect a ticket-taker to be in a position to do sleuthing – at least not credibly – but that’s what happens in Denise Mina’s Garnethill, the first in her Garnethill trilogy. Maureen ‘Marui’ O’Donnell works in a low-paid job as a ticket-taker. She’s emotionally fragile (in fact, she spent some time in a mental health hospital). Still, she’s trying to get her life together. She even has a relationship with Douglas Brodie. He happens to be married, but she’s working on figuring out what she’s going to do. One morning, after a night of drinking, Mauri wakes to find Brodie’s body in her living room. As you can imagine, the police are not satisfied that she isn’t responsible. So, Mauri decides to clear her own name. And that’s the approach Mina takes to making Mauri a believable sleuth, although she’s neither a copper nor a PI.

Eleanor Kuhns’ historical (end of the 18th Century) series features Will Rees. He’s an itinerant weaver, who also has a small piece of property. On the surface of it, weaving isn’t the sort of occupation that would likely put someone in contact with murder. But in A Simple Murder, the first of this series, Kuhns sets up a credible context. In that novel, we learn that Rees is despondent over his first wife’s death. He puts his son, David, in the care of his sister, and goes off, working as a weaver where and when he can. Then, he finds out that David has been sent to a Shaker sect establishment, where he’s being mistreated. Rees rushes to do what he can for his son, only to be on the scene when there’s a murder. And, since the Shakers are a small and tightly-knit community, Rees can’t help but be drawn into the mystery as he tries to re-establish contact with his son. Slowly, as the series goes on, word gets around that Will Rees can find answers. So, he begins to build a reputation.

Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman is a Melbourne accountant-turned-baker, who lives and works in a large, Roman-style building called Insula. When the series begins (with Earthly Delights), Chapman has no desire to be a sleuth or to solve mysteries. But she gets drawn into investigating a series of heroin overdoses that might not be as accidental as they seem. It all starts when one overdose happens right outside Chapmen’s own bakery. Then, someone starts targeting the people who live in Insula. Chapman wants to find out who that person is, and her new lover, Daniel Cohen (he volunteers for a mobile soup kitchen), wants to find out what’s behind the overdoses. So, they agree to help one another.

There’s also D.S. Nelson’s Blake Heathington. He’s a retired milliner, who’s moved to the village of Tuesbury. You might not think that a milliner would likely come across a lot of bodies. But Heatherinton has a keen eye for his clients, and a good sense of what makes them ‘tick.’ So, in Hats Off to Murder, he becomes more than curious when two of his clients die. There’s no obvious evidence that they were murdered, but some things just don’t add up. Then, a new client, Delilah Delibes, asks for his help tracking down her mother, Flora, who’s gone missing. Heatherington is not a professional sleuth, and doesn’t pretend to have investigative skills. But he is compassionate. And he’s curious. So, he works with Delilah to find out what happened to her mother. And, in the process, he finds out how and why his clients died.

And then there’s Steve Robinson’s Jefferson Tayte, who is a genealogist. His specialty is tracing people’s ancestry, not finding killers. But sometimes, secrets from the past have a way of haunting modern families. So Tayte runs into more than one murder as he searches for his clients’ roots.

For authors who create amateur sleuths, it can be a challenge to create a credible context for those sleuths to ask questions and investigate. When it’s done well, though, it can work. And there really are some interesting occupations out there in crime-fiction land.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Clash’s Career Opportunities.

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Filed under D.S. Nelson, Denise Mina, Eleanor Kuhns, Kerry Greenwood, Rita Mae Brown, Steve Robinson

Do You Really Think I Care What You Eat or What You Wear*

small-and-diverse-communitiesOne of the most important sociological changes we’ve seen in modern times has arguably been the transformation of smaller-town/suburban demographics. If you read the work of Agatha Christie or other classic/Golden Age crime writers, you see that small towns and villages are often composed of people who have very similar cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Christie mentions some diversity (there are Belgians and a German in The Mysterious Affair at Styles, as well as the English people who live in the small village of Styles St. Mary). There are a few other examples as well. But, by and large, we don’t see major cultural and ethnic diversity in the small towns and villages that figure so much in crime fiction of the times.

We do now. Wars, easier travel, easier communication, and other factors have meant that now, suburban towns and small towns have gotten very diverse. People in big cities (or even medium-sized cities) have been aware of this trend for a long time. But it’s a fact of life now in smaller places, too. And crime fiction reflects that. In the best depictions of more modern small-town diversity, it’s discussed in a very matter-of-fact way. People from other cultures settle in, make lives for themselves, and not a great deal of fuss is made about it. At the same time, though, there is the extra layer of cultural differences and the need to adjust (on both sides). That can add to character development, and certainly makes for a more realistic depiction of today’s small towns and villages.

We see this more modern sort of town in Ruth Rendell’s Simisola. Dr. Raymond Akande is from Nigeria; his wife is from Sierra Leone. They’ve settled in the English town of Kingsmarham with their twenty-two-year-old daughter, Melanie. As far as Inspector Reg Wexford is concerned, the Akandes are simply another family living in the town, and Raymond Akande happens to be his doctor. At least that’s what Wexford thinks on the surface. He starts to question those assumptions about himself when Melanie Akande goes missing. Her father is worried when she doesn’t come home (it’s not like her) and asks for Wexford’s help. That request ends up drawing Wexford into a case of multiple murders. It also forces him to confront his own assumptions. It’s an interesting case of a changing small town, and what that means for the people who live there.

Fans of Martin Walker’s Benoît ‘Bruno’ Courrèges series will know that he is chief of police in the small town of St. Denis, in France’s Périgord region. People have lived there for hundreds of years, and created a solid community. In recent decades, that community has changed and begun to include people from many different places. For instance, the owner of the Café des Sports is Karim al-Bakr, whose family immigrated from Algeria. He and his wife, Rashida, are woven into the fabric of the community, as is his father, Mohammad (Momu). As far as Bruno is concerned, they’re at least as much a part of St. Denis as he himself is. For the most part, their presence is taken for granted and they’re treated just like anyone else. This isn’t to say that there’s no tension ever. But they aren’t regarded as oddities or outcasts.

Neither are the members of the Basque community in Craig Johnson’s Sheriff Walt Longmire series. We learn a bit about that community in Death Without Company. In that novel, Longmire and his team investigate the murder of Mari Baroja, a resident of the Durant Home for Assisted Living. She’s been poisoned; and on the surface, there doesn’t seem to be much motive. As it turns out, this crime has roots that go back fifty years. As Longmire looks into the case, readers meet the Sheriff’s Department’s newest hire, Santiago Saizarbitoria, who also has a Basque background. And it’s interesting to see how, in both his case and that of the Barojas family, there’s not much fuss made about the fact that they’re Basque. They’re simply farmers who live in rural Wyoming. Yes, they have a unique culture, and some references are made to it. But this community is woven into the fabric of Absaroka County, where Longmire lives and works.

Paddy Richardson’s Swimming in the Dark introduces readers to Gerda Klein and her daughter, Ilse. They immigrated to New Zealand from the former East Germany during the Cold War, and settled in the small South Island town of Alexandria. Now Ilse teachers secondary school, and has become an accepted part of the community, as has her mother. One of Ilse’s most promising students is fifteen-year-old Serena Freeman. That’s why she’s so concerned when Serena starts skipping class. And when she is there, she no longer shows much interest in learning anything. Ilse contacts the school’s counseling team, and a visit is paid to the Freeman family. That’s less than successful, though. And then, Serena disappears. Ilse and her mother find themselves drawn into Serena’s life in ways they hadn’t imagined. It’s obvious throughout the novel that the Kleins are accepted in the community, just as everyone else is. And Gerda is extremely grateful to the people in her new home for making her welcome and considering her ‘one of them.’ Ilse doesn’t feel the same way (she misses her old home in Leipzig), but that’s not to say she dislikes New Zealand or its people. She knows that she’s been most fortunate in being accepted with no real fuss.

Several of D.S. Nelson’s Blake Heatherington stories take place in the fictional village of Tuesbury. Heatherington is a retired milliner who now does occasional work on special order. He also seems to get drawn into murders and their investigation. In Model For Murder, we are introduced to one of the shop owners in town, Elroy Tuvey. He’s originally from Jamaica, and has found success as an antiques dealer in Tuesbury. On the one hand, he’s had to deal with prejudice. On the other, he is very matter-of-fact in his business dealings, and Heatherington doesn’t really see him as ‘other.’ There’s a little awkwardness at times, as there often is when culture meets culture. But in the main, Elroy Tuvey is much a part of life in the village as anyone else is.

And that’s the thing about many modern small towns and villages. They’re more diverse than ever, and cultures mix there in a way they didn’t in the past. And it’s interesting the way crime fiction depicts that change.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Who’s Join Together.

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Filed under Craig Johnson, D.S. Nelson, Martin Walker, Paddy Richardson, Ruth Rendell

The People Next Door

june-prompt-bean-plantCrime writer and fellow blogger D.S. Nelson has offered another terrific story prompt. This is the story that came from it. Thanks, as always, D.S., for the inspiration! Hey, folks, do visit her terrific site, and try her Blake Heatherington mysteries. You won’t regret it!

 
 

The People Next Door

 

‘They’re not the hardiest plant in this climate,’ warned the ‘Garden Expert’ – his name tag said ‘Mike.’
‘I know,’ Alicia said. ‘I’ve been doing some reading. But they’re really beautiful, and I’ve got the perfect sunny spot in my garden.’
Mike nodded and said, ‘That’s what you need for these. Lots of sun.’ He helped Alicia choose a few seedlings, and gave her a pamphlet with care instructions. Later that day, she planted the seedlings in the sunniest corner of her garden and followed the watering instructions. It wasn’t long before they started growing, and Alicia knew that she’d see those beautiful flowers soon.

She was in her garden one afternoon when she noticed that a U-Haul truck had pulled up to the small house next door. In front of the truck was a beat-up Chevy. Three young men got out of the car, and one yelled at the U-Haul driver, who slowly edged the truck into position for unloading. For the next three hours, the group shouted, swore, banged, and shoved as they emptied the van. Moving day can be like that, Alicia thought as she closed the windows to lower the din.

But the noise from next door didn’t stop with moving day. Two nights later, whoever had moved in had a loud party, complete with music blasting, cars speeding in and out, and incessant shouting from inside the house. Alicia couldn’t drop off to sleep until four, when the last guest finally left. As she went out to get the paper a few hours later, she saw a pile of cigarette butts in her yard and empty beer bottles in the adjoining yard. She sighed, went inside, and got a plastic bag to pick up the butts. If this was what life was going to be like from now on, she wasn’t looking forward to it. Hopefully it was just a case of rude party guests.

It wasn’t. One evening, a week after the party, Alicia was watching TV when a car minus the muffler and plus the stereo at full blast pulled into the driveway next door. She couldn’t resist looking out the window to see what was going on. The driver got out of the car, leaving the stereo on, and yelled. Then the front door opened and a young man came out of the house. He wore baggy shorts, a dirty T-shirt, and a baseball cap and carried what looked like a fast food bag. ‘I’m coming,’ he called as he walked towards the car. The two got in and roared off.  They were pulling away when Alicia saw a hand stick out the passenger window and let go of a McDonald’s bag – right on her lawn. The two men laughed loudly as the car sped up. That was it, she thought. Time for a friendly conversation.

The next day, Alicia went next door and rang the bell. No answer. She rang again. Finally, she heard muffled, thumping footsteps. When the door creaked open, she said, ‘Hello, I’m Alicia. I live next door.’ Then she tried on her best ‘I come in peace’ smile.
The young man stood there a moment, letting the smoke from his cigarette curl around his hand. ‘So?’ he drawled.
‘I thought, well, since I live next door and you’re new here, that I’d introduce myself.’
‘Who is it, Jamie?’ called a voice from inside. A woman.
He turned his head and yelled, ‘None of your business. Just shut up, will ya?’
Then he looked at Alicia again. Up and down. ‘What do you want?’

She took a breath and then said, in as pleasant a voice as she could, ‘Look, I know you just moved in, and it’s always a pain to get settled. But could you please not drop cigarette butts and paper bags in my yard?’
‘Whatever,’ he said, shrugging. ‘It’s not a major crime. Besides, I can’t help it. My friends come over. They do things.’
‘Yes, I’ve heard them. In fact,’ she took another breath, ‘I was going to ask you about that. Sometimes your friends are really loud. It’s very hard on the rest of us who live here.’
‘Hey, it’s a free country. It’s none of your damned business who comes over.’  He scowled and shut the door. As Alicia turned to leave, she heard the woman’s voice again.
‘Who was that?’
‘Just some bitch from next door.’

The noise kept getting worse. So did the complaints from other people on the block. The police were even called in a couple of times, but nothing really changed. Alicia’s bean plants grew beautifully, though. She tended them carefully, and it wasn’t long until they were almost fully grown.

Then one morning, Alicia went out to her garden, only to find that some of the plants had been destroyed. They’d been smashed down by feet taking a short cut from next door to a parked car, no doubt. There was nothing else to do. She gathered up as many beans as she could find, took them inside and rinsed them. Then, she put them in a plastic container and went next door.

She had to ring a few times, but Jamie – that was his name, Jamie – answered at last. When he saw that it was Alicia, his eyes narrowed a little.
‘What?’ he asked.
She smiled and held up the container. ‘Just a little something from my garden. They’re fresh castor beans. You can put them in tacos, salads, whatever.’
Jamie took the beans from Alicia’s outstretched hand. He looked at her again. ‘Thanks,’ he muttered.
‘Enjoy,’ Alicia said with another smile as she left.

That night, Alicia heard the wail of an ambulance siren as it pulled into the driveway next door. She watched out the window as the paramedics bundled Jamie into it. It wasn’t her fault, she thought, if that idiot was too stupid to know that castor beans are highly poisonous. At least there would be peace on her street now.

 

ps. The prompt isn’t a ‘photo of castor beans. It just inspired the story. Here’s what castor bean plants actually look like.

 

Castor_HP_9-20_070-391x286

 

 

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Filed under D.S. Nelson

My Old Car Broke Down*

Car Accidents and BreakdownsI recently read an excellent review of Robert Barnard’s The Case of the Missing Brontë from Rich at Past Offences. Before I go on, let me encourage you strongly to visit Rich’s fine blog. There you’ll find all sorts of terrific reviews, crime-fictional news, and much more. You don’t want to miss it.

In the Barnard novel, Scotland Yard detective Perry Trethowan and his wife Jan run into car trouble, and are forced to stay the night in a small Yorkshire town. Their car is repaired, and they’re soon ready to return to London. But that bit of car trouble gets Trethowan drawn into a mystery that involves a possibly priceless manuscript, and a group of less-than-honest people who’d do just about anything to get it. The story is a clear example of the way that car trouble can end up getting people involved in any number of situations.

Of course, car trouble, and even car crashes, are at the very least annoying, and at the worst, devastating. But those situations can be really useful tools for the crime writer. They can serve as catalysts, they can involve the sleuth in a case, and they can lead in any number of directions, something of them truly creepy.

In Agatha Christie’s short story, The Harlequin Tea Set, Mr. Satterthwaite is on his way to visit some old friends in the village of Doverton Kingsbourne. Unfortunately, his car breaks down and he has to stop to get it repaired. In part to pass the time, and in part to make the best of a bad situation, Satterthwaite decides to walk to the Harlequin Café and look around while he waits for the car to be fixed. When he gets to the café and shop, he sees an old acquaintance, Mr. Harley Quin. He tells Quin about his car trouble and about the family he’s going to visit. It turns out that Quin has some things to tell him, too. That information proves quite useful when Satterthwaite gets involved in a family mystery surrounding his friends.

As Dorothy Sayers’ The Nine Tailors begins, Lord Peter Wimsey and his valet/assistant Mervyn Bunter are on a car trip, heading towards the town of Walbeach. Unfortunately, they have a car accident not far from the East Anglia village of Fenchurch St. Paul. The two men start walking towards the village when they encounter its vicar, Theodore Venables. He takes Wimsey and Bunter in, inviting them to stay at the rectory until their car is repaired. As a way of thanking his host, Wimsey agrees to take part in the church’s annual New Year’s Eve change-ringing, as one of the bell ringers is ill. All goes well at first. But that car accident ends up drawing Wimsey and Bunter into a case of theft, complete with an unexpected corpse.

In Kate Atkinson’s One Good Turn, a car accident turns out to be a catalyst for a number of events, including murder. One afternoon, crime writer Martin Canning is waiting with a group of other people to pick up tickets to a lunchtime radio show. As everyone watches, a blue Honda crashes into a silver Peugeot that stopped too quickly. The two drivers get out and begin arguing. Matters escalate until the Honda driver starts attacking Paul Bradley, the Peugeot driver. Acting on instinct, Canning throws his computer case at the Honda driver, saving Bradley’s life. This draws him into a case of fraud, theft and murder. And as the novel goes on, we see how that one car accident involves a whole group of people, including Atkinson’s sleuth, Jackson Brodie.

Stephen King’s Misery also shows what a car accident can lead to in the end. I know, I know; it’s not, strictly speaking, a crime novel. But it is a good example of the car accident motif. Novelist Paul Sheldon is driving through a heavy snowstorm when he has a car accident. He is rescued by Annie Wilkes, who happens to be a fiercely dedicated fan of Sheldon’s work. You’d think that would be a good thing for Sheldon, and at first it is. His life is saved, and he can rest up and get back to work on his next book. But this is Stephen King, after all. Annie gets deeply involved in the plot of her hero’s forthcoming novel, which is still in manuscript form. When she gets upset about some of the events the story, she chooses her own way of dealing with the matter…

Car trouble also plays a role in Gail Bowen’s Deadly Appearances, the first of her series featuring academician and political scientist Joanne Kilbourne Shreve. Early in the novel, we learn that Joanne’s husband, up-and-coming politician Ian Kilbourne, was murdered one night. He was on his way home from a funeral when he stopped to help a young couple, Kevin Tarpley and Maureen Gault, whose car had broken down. They asked him for a ride to a party, but he refused. That’s when Kevin killed him. In A Colder Kind of Death, we learn more about that night, and we find out what happened to both young people. It makes for a compelling story arc.

And then there’s D.S. Nelson’s Model For Murder. Former milliner Blake Heatherington has retired to the village of Tuesbury, where he still sometimes makes hats by special order. In this novel, he gets drawn into a series of murders, beginning with the village newsagent, Harold Salter. That case is being investigated when the local greengrocer, Mr. Davies, disappears. His prized car is found in a lay-by on London Road, the keys still in it. But there’s no sign of Davies. Not long afterwards, his body is discovered in a nearby call-box. As it turns out, his car had broken down and his telephone was out of battery power. So Davies did what a lot of people would do: he went to a call box. That’s how he became vulnerable to a killer.

There are lots of other novels and short stories in which people become victims when their cars won’t start. There are also plenty of stories in which people witness crimes while they’re by the side of the road, or get drawn into investigations when they’re stranded by a broken-down car. Those situations can make for a very effective context for a crime novel, and they can add a layer of tension.

Thanks, Rich, for the inspiration!
 

ps. In case you were wondering, no, that’s not my car.
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Lee Dorsey’s My Old Car.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, D.S. Nelson, Dorothy Sayers, Gail Bowen, Robert Barnard, Stephen King