Category Archives: Deborah Crombie

Hear the Salvation Army Band*

Non-ProfitsGovernments can’t do it all. Even if people were willing to be taxed enough to offset the costs of every undertaking, there are a lot of needs that governments can’t meet. So non-profit agencies and NGOs have very important places in many societies. Governments know this, and in some cases, they offer tax breaks, financial support, or other ‘goodies’ to non-profit agencies.

That support is almost never enough, though, to do the job. So these agencies also depend on generous donations and volunteerism. Sometimes they hang by a proverbial thread. But they persevere and many of them do really fine work. They’re woven through the fabric of a lot of societies, and we see them a lot in crime fiction.

For instance, in Deborah Crombie’s In A Dark House, a fire at a Southwark warehouse brings out the local fire brigade. As they’re going through the place, they find the body of an unknown woman in the ruins. It’s possible that she may have lived nearby, so the police and fire officials start locally with their questions. One of the places they visit is Helping Hands, a shelter for victims of domestic abuse and their children. They’re especially interested in the place because one of its residents reported the fire.  Funded primarily by the local council, it doesn’t have a large budget. But Kath Warren, the director, is proud of what her agency accomplishes. And the fact that one of residents may be the unknown woman is upsetting. There are other possibilities, though – three, as it turns out. So Met Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and his partner Gemma James have to work through several records of missing women and find out what happened to them before they can determine who the dead woman is and how she came to be in the warehouse.

In Peter Temple’s Bad Debts, sometime-lawyer Jack Irish gets a message from a former client, Danny McKillop. McKillop wants to see Irish as soon as possible, but Irish doesn’t take it seriously at first. He finds out too late that he should have, when he learns shortly afterwards that McKillop’s been murdered. Irish feels enough guilt about his former client, anyway. He did an unprofessional job defending McKillop in a drink driving hit-and-run case, and the case ended up with jail time. Now Irish comes to believe that McKillop’s murder may be related to the other case, the killing of local activist Anne Jeppeson. So he starts to ask questions. He soon learns that it’s very likely that McKillop was framed for the murder, and later killed to prevent any of it coming out. As Irish tries to track down possible witnesses, he finds that most people don’t want to say much to him. But he does pick up the trail, which leads to the Safe Hands Foundation, an agency dedicated to helping the homeless. The agency isn’t the reason for the murders, but his visit there gives him important information.

Sylvie Granotier’s The Paris Lawyer introduces us to Catherine Monsigny. She is a newly-minted attorney who’s trying to get some experience and make her name. As the story begins, she works for Rights For All, an agency that helps undocumented workers. Her role there is to help defend them in court hearings. Then, she gets a chance to really start her career. Myriam Villetreix has been arrested for killing her wealthy husband Gaston, and wants Monsigny, whom she met through the agency, to defend her. The case itself is high-profile, and could get Monsigny a lot of attention. So she works hard to prepare herself. As she does so, though, she finds herself haunted by a tragedy that occurred when she was a toddler, and drawn back to the place where it happened. She begins to ask questions about that, and about the case she’s preparing, and finds out that both cases are much more complex than she’d thought.

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. They’re hoping to enjoy a peaceful holiday at the home of Shinde’s old friend, Sikhar Pant. Pant has invited other houseguests, too, among them Ronit and Kamini Mittal. The Mittals run a rather controversial NGO which is dedicated to sexual and reproductive health education. In fact, they’ve recently gotten into trouble with a pamphlet they circulated about AIDS prevention. Some people in the rural areas they serve believe that the material is obscene. Others see it as personally offensive. The debate spills over into mealtime conversations at the Pant home. Pant’s cousin, Kailish, supports what the Mittals are doing, while other guests, especially Avinash Anand, are very much against it. When Kailish Pant is found stabbed one afternoon, Inspector Patel is assigned to the case and begins asking questions. His first theory is that someone who hated the victim’s stand on the Mittals and their NGO took that anger too far. But there are other possibilities, and the Judge and Anant begin to explore them. In the end, and after another murder, they find out who killed the victim and why.

There’s an interesting discussion of what NGOs do in Angela Savage’s The Half Child. Jim Delbeck has traveled to Bangkok to find out what happened to his daughter Maryanne. She was volunteering at the New Life Children’s Centre when she fell (or jumped, or was pushed) from the roof of the building where she lived. The police report is that she committed suicide, but Delbeck is sure his daughter did not kill herself. So he hires Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney to find out what really happened. She travels to Pattaya, where the death occurred, to investigate. Maryanne was in Pattaya with a group called Young Christian Volunteers, an Australian-based NGO. Since Maryanne had to go through the interview process with that group, and they have background information about her, Keeney makes the NGO one of her stops as she looks for answers. The information she gets doesn’t tell her how and why the victim died. But it does give her an important perspective.   

You may not think much about it unless you work for this kind of agency, or you’ve benefited from one. But NGOs and similar agencies fill important gaps in society. Wanna do some good yourself? Find an ethical non-profit agency or NGO whose goals and work you support, and help out. Donate, volunteer, spread the word. Give a little back.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Simon and Garfunkel’s A Hazy Shade of Winter.

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Filed under Aditya Sudarshan, Angela Savage, Deborah Crombie, Peter Temple, Sylvie Granotier

Struggling to Do Everything Right*

Police RelationshipsYou’d think that no-one would understand what a police officer’s life is like quite like another officer. And police teams spend a lot of time together, especially when they’re working a case. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that coppers have their share of relationships with other officers.

There are a lot of challenges to that kind of relationship. For one thing, there are often strict rules (and for very good reasons) about romantic relationships in the precinct. And, even when the two people involved are of the same rank, so that neither supervises the other, there’s always plenty of gossip. That can become at the very least annoying, and at worst, intolerable. So it’s usually easier on police officers to keep their love lives separate from work.

Still, every once in a while, police detectives do have relationships – sometimes even enduring marriages – with other police officers. It happens in real life, and it happens in crime fiction, too, with varying degrees of success. When it’s handled well, so that the relationship doesn’t overtake a story’s plot, a relationship between police officers can add to a series. Even if it ends, it can add a story arc and character depth.

Tony Hillerman’s Jim Chee ultimately finds happiness with a fellow police officer. He is a member of the Navajo Nation and a member of the Navajo Tribal Police. Fans of this series will know that he a few relationships as the series goes on. But they aren’t successful. Then, in The Fallen Man, he meets Officer Bernadette ‘Bernie’ Manuelito. In that novel, she’s a rookie trainee, and he’s her supervisor. So they keep their relationship professional. Over time, though, and after he’s no longer in a position of authority over her, Chee becomes interested in Manuelito, and the feeling is mutual. Hillerman handles this relationship as a story arc rather than placing a major focus on it, and in the end (after the end of Skeleton Man) they marry. I don’t know how the stories would have progressed if Hillerman had lived, but I’d like to think these two have a stable marriage.

Deborah Crombie’s Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James are also police detectives who are married to each other. When they first start working together in A Share in Death, Kincaid has just been promoted to the rank of Detective Superintendent at the Met. James is his sergeant. Over time, they begin a relationship that finally ends in their getting married. As the series goes on, James gets promoted and professionally, moves out on her own as the saying goes. So she and Kincaid don’t always work on the same cases together. But they do help one another. Fans of this series will know that this relationship has its up and down times. But it’s one of the more enduring crime-fictional romantic partnerships.

Jane Casey’s sleuth is Met DC Maeve Kerrigan. Her partner, also a police officer, is DC Rob Langton. When they first begin their relationship, they’re in the same unit. But as time goes on and they see that this is going to be a long-term relationship, it’s clear they can’t both stay in the same unit. So Langton transfers to a crack robbery team called The Flying Squad. This doesn’t mean that their relationship is all smooth sailing after that, though. They have to get used to living together as a couple, and to managing to stay together despite the long and strange hours. They have personal issues, too, as we all do. But they do care about each other very much.

All this isn’t to say, though, that a police/police romance always works out. Just ask Ian Rankin’s John Rebus. For a short time (in Knots and Crosses), Rebus has a relationship with a colleague, Gill Templer. But…Rebus being who he is, and Templer being who she is, it’s not, in the end, successful. As Rebus puts it in Hide and Seek,
 

‘Another notch in his bow of failed relationships.’
 

It’s awkward, too, since they see each other from time and time, and Templer ends up getting promoted more than once. Still, even after they’re finished as a couple, they can work together if they have to do that.

In Martin Walker’s Bruno, Chief of Police, we are introduced to Benoît ‘Bruno’ Courrèges, chief of police in the small French town of St. Denis. The usually quiet town is shocked when Hamid Mustafa al-Bakr is found brutally murdered. He was a transplanted North African who had supported the French during the Algerian War, and in fact, got a medal for that effort. There is evidence that the far-right Front National (FN) is responsible for the killing. If so, this may be a very complicated crime with national implications. So the Police Nationale (PN) are called in, in the form of Isabelle Perrault. At first, her relationship with Bruno is completely professional. But they’re both soon aware that there’s a mutual attraction, and they begin a romance. It’s difficult, though, because they want different things professionally. Their parting is really more sad than acrimonious, and much more based on logistics and goals than it is on any lack of caring.

Not so with Peter May’s Sergeant Enquêteur Sime Mackenzie of the Sûreté du Québec and his ex-wife Marie-Ange, who feature in Entry Island. Mackenzie is called in to assist when James Cowell is murdered on Entry Island, one of the Îles-de-la-Madeleine/Magdalen Islands. Ordinarily, he wouldn’t have been seconded away from Montréal. But Entry Island is one of the few places in the province where most of the residents are native speakers of English, and it’s thought Mackenzie will be helpful in working with the locals to find out what happened. To his chagrin, Marie-Ange (who works with forensics) is also sent on the case, and the two have more than one unpleasant moment. We learn that their marriage suffered from a lot of strain for more than one reason. Neither is perfect, and it’s interesting to see how they interact.

A relationship between two police detectives faces its share of challenges. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t. When it’s handled deftly, though, that sort of relationship can add a level of interest to a story or series.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bruce Springsteen’s Brilliant Disguise.

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Filed under Deborah Crombie, Ian Rankin, Jane Casey, Martin Walker, Peter May, Tony Hillerman

If You Know Your History*

HistoriansAn interesting comment exchange with Prashant at Chess, Comics, Crosswords, Books, Music, Cinema has got me thinking about historians. When you consider it, understanding our history is absolutely essential to understanding who we are now, and why we are the way we are. So the work historians do is important, even if we aren’t always conscious of it.

Historians, both professional and amateur, play roles in crime fiction, too. Well, academics in general figure into the genre quite a lot, but there’s only so much room in one post. Still, even if we only focus on one discipline – history – we see a lot of examples.

Lilian Jackson Braun’s James ‘Qwill’ Qwilleran is a newspaper columnist who lives and works in Pickax, Moose County, ‘400 miles north of nowhere.’ The area has a long and rich history that includes mining, railroads and more. And that history is often related to the present-day crimes that Qwill investigates. He himself may not be thoroughly informed on the area’s history, but he has a rich resource in Homer Tibbitt. Tibbitt is a nonagenarian expert on local history, and spends a great deal of time at the public library reading up on his topic. His expertise is very helpful too. For instance, in The Cat Who Blew the Whistle, Tibbitt is writing a paper on Moose County mining. It turns out that he’s very familiar with one of the original mining families in the area, the Trevelyans. And that history is of particular interest to Qwill, who’s investigating the disappearance of a modern-day member of the family – along with a million dollars – and that case’s connection to a murder. Tibbitt’s background knowledge proves to be extremely useful in solving the puzzle.

In Deborah Crombie’s A Finer End, Met Superintendent Duncan Kincaid gets a strange request from his cousin Jack Montfort, who lives in Glastonbury. Montfort’s aware of the legends about Glastonbury, its Druid past and the myth that King Arthur and Queen Guinevere are buried there. But he’s never really taken a serious interest in those matters. Still, he does find history fascinating. That’s how he comes across a thousand-year-old chronicle that tells of an ancient terrible crime. He’s troubled enough on several levels to ask his cousin’s help, and Kincaid agrees. After all, a nice, peaceful getaway from London is a welcome change. But for Kincaid and his partner Gemma James, it turns out to be anything but peaceful. When a local tiler Garnet Todd is murdered, the solution seems somehow to be connected to her interest in the pagan history of the area and to Goddess worship. So James turns for guidance to historian Erika Rosenthal, who’s made a career of studying that aspect of Glastonbury’s past. Rosenthal’s insights don’t solve the murder, but they do provide very helpful information.

There are, of course, plenty of fictional sleuths who are historians. For example, one of the protagonists in Martin Edwards’ Lake District series is Oxford historian Daniel Kind. His work earned him celebrity status, but he got burned out, as the saying goes, on TV and personal appearances. So he’s taken a home in the Lake District, where he’s trying to focus on his work. That’s how he meets up again with DCI Hannah Scarlett, who heads the Cumbria Constabulary’s Cold Case Review Team, and who was also his father Ben’s police protégée. Scarlett and her team investigate cases that have their roots in the past – sometimes in the distant past. So she finds Kind’s expertise and historical perspective very useful.

One of Fred Vargas’ series features three historians: Marc Vandoosier, Lucien Devernois and Matthias Delamarre. They live together with Vandoosier’s uncle, a disgraced former police officer. They first get drawn into crime in The Three Evangelists when Sophia Siméonidis, the opera singer who lives next door, notices the sudden appearance of a beech tree in her yard. She asks the Vandoosiers, Devernois and Delamarre to help her make sense of why a tree would suddenly appear. Then, she disappears and is later found dead, and the Three Evangelists set out to find out the truth about her murder.

There’s also Sarah R. Shaber’s Professor Simon Shaw. He is a Pulitzer Prize winning historian whose specialty is the history of the American South. Although he could have his pick of academic positions, Shaw has chosen North Carolina’s small, but competitive and reputable, Kenan College. As the series begins (with Simon Said), he’s recovering from a divorce, and hoping to pick up a quiet, academic life again. Instead, he gets drawn into the 1926 murder of Anne Bloodworth. Throughout the series, he uses his knowledge of history and his research-oriented approach to investigation to help solve mysteries. And it sometimes gets him into danger.

Of course, that’s nothing compared to what awaits historian Augustin Renaud in Louise Penny’s Bury Your Dead. In one plot thread of that novel, Renaud has been researching the history of Samuel de Champlain. When he is murdered at Québec City’s Literary and Historical Society, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache (who’s there for a respite and to enjoy the Winter Carnival) gets involved in the investigation. It turns out that Renaud’s murder is directly related to his determined search for Champlain’s remains.

You’ll notice that I’ve not mentioned the many fictional sleuths whose professions are history-related (e.g. anthropology and archaeology) – too easy. And that’s to say nothing of the many crime writers who are historians. They’re all examples of the way history finds its way into crime fiction. I know I’ve only mentioned a sampling here. Over to you.

Thanks, Prashant, for the inspiration. Folks, you won’t want to miss Prashant’s excellent blog. Fine reviews of film, books, and much more await you.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bob Marley’s Buffalo Soldier.

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Filed under Deborah Crombie, Fred Vargas, Lilian Jackson Braun, Louise Penny, Martin Edwards, Sarah R. Shaber

Gimme Shelter*

SheltersIt’s arguably not as easy to go ‘off the grid’ as it once was, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post. But if you know where to go and what to do, and you have the money and motivation, you can do it. Sometimes, though, it’s not as easy as just disappearing, even if you want (or need) to do that. For example, those dealing with domestic abuse (usually, but not always, women and children) may simply not have access to money, a car and so on. So they need to rely on shelters or on groups of ‘safe houses.’ Sometimes they’re helped by individuals too.

Shelters and other similar places have been around more or less since the 1970s; before then, someone who had to escape had very, very few choices. Even today it can be awfully difficult, but there are shelters and other places that can help to protect survivors of abuse. They’re certainly out there in real life, and they are in crime fiction too.

Deborah Crombie’s In a Dark House features Helping Hands, a Southwark women’s shelter. One night, there’s a fire in a warehouse next door to Helping Hands, and one of its residents reports the incident. The body of an unidentified woman is found among the ashes, and Superintendent Duncan Kincaid begins the investigation. At the same time, Kincaid’s partner, DI Gemma James, gets a call from the Reverend Winnie Montfort. One of Montfort’s congregants is missing, and she may be the unidentified woman. There are other possibilities though. One of them is Laura Novak, who works at Guy’s Hospital, and who is also on the Board of Directors at Helping Hands. Without giving away spoilers, I can say that the shelter and the people who live and work there do figure into this mystery.

Denise Mina’s Garnethill trilogy features Maureen ‘Mauri’ O’Donnell. In the second novel Exile, she has a job at Place of Safety, a women’s shelter. There, she meets Ann Harris, who is one of the shelter’s residents. Then, Ann disappears. On the one hand, the residents are under no obligation to tell the staff where they go and what they do. On the other, it’s always a cause for concern when residents go missing, because it could easily mean they’ve returned to an abusive situation. So Mauri does worry about Ann’s well-being. Still, there’s nothing to indicate a problem until two weeks later, when Ann’s body is found in the Thames. Mauri immediately suspects that Ann’s husband Jimmy killed her. But Jimmy’s cousin Louise, who runs the shelter, thinks he’s innocent. So she and Mauri start to ask questions about what really happened.

When we first meet Zoë Sharp’s Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Fox in Killer Instinct, she’s left the armed forces for reasons she would rather not discuss. But she’s found a way to fit back into civilian life:
 

‘I’ve been holding self-defence at the Shelseley Lodge Women’s Refuge for the last couple of years.’
 

On the whole, she finds the work satisfying, and the shelter provides her a place to teach her classes in exchange for not charging its residents any tuition. One night, she goes with a friend to a karaoke night event at the newly remodeled Adelphi Club. During the evening, she gets into a fight with another patron Susie Hollins. When Susie is later found murdered, the police are naturally very interested in Charlie. If she’s going to clear her name, she’s going to have to find out who the killer is, and all of the possibilities are dangerous…

In Sara Paretsky’s Tunnel Vision, her PI sleuth V.I. Warshawski is the lone holdout against the powerful Culpepper brothers, who own the Chicago building where she has her office, and who want to sell it. To add to that stress, one night, she finds a homeless woman and her children living in the building’s basement. She’s trying to find a solution for this family when her most important client asks her to help him find a community service placement for his son, who’s been arrested for computer hacking.  Warshawski finds a place for the boy at Home Free, a homeless advocacy group. Then, Deirdre Messenger, who sits on Home Free’s Board of Directors, is murdered and her body left in Warshawski’s office. Warshawski knew the victim, since both were volunteers at Arcadia House, a women’s refuge. So even if the body hadn’t been found in her office, she’d have taken an interest. She starts asking questions and ends up uncovering some very dirty domestic abuse secrets in some very high places.

Of course, there are plenty of individuals who help those who need to escape, even if they’re not affiliated with a particular group. In Betty Webb’s Desert Wives, for instance, private investigator Lena Jones works with her PI partner Jimmy Sisiwan to rescue thirteen-year-old Rebecca Corbett from Purity, a polygamous sect. Rebecca’s father Abel has rejoined the sect after some time away, and has agreed that Rebecca will marry the group’s leader Solomon Royal. Rebecca’s mother Esther, who’s divorced from Abel, wants Rebecca to be returned to her. So Jones and Sisiwan track Rebecca down and rescue her. In the process, Jones sees that Royal has been shot and is badly wounded. Still, she thinks that since neither she nor Rebecca had anything to do with the incident, they’ll be fine. But shortly after Rebecca and Esther are re-united, Jones learns that Royal has died. Now Esther is a suspect in his murder and will very likely be extradited from Arizona to Utah to face trial. So Jones infiltrates Purity to find out who really killed the victim. As she gets to know the area, she discovers that what’s going on at Purity is much more than just teenage girls being forced to marry (as if that weren’t bad enough!). But she also learns of a few individuals who have helped some of the women and children escape. And that makes a big difference.

Domestic abuse shelters and refuges are important ‘safety nets’ for those trapped in abusive situations. So it’s little wonder they show up in crime fiction, too. And in real life, they can use all the help they can get. Just as an example, if you’re looking for a new home for books you no longer want to keep, why not consider such a shelter? A good book can provide a badly needed balm when someone’s in such a situation. Your time, your donations and your advocacy when funding’s being debated are also good ways to help.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a Rolling Stones song.

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Filed under Betty Webb, Deborah Crombie, Denise Mina, Sara Paretsky, Zoë Sharp

Please Tell Me When I Can Have My Privacy*

Lack of PrivacyI’d guess we all like to have at least some degree of privacy. There are just certain things that most people would agree are nobody else’s business (‘though I’ll note that what counts as ‘nobody’s business’ varies by culture). But murder changes all conceptions of privacy. Murder victims arguably have no privacy at all. The police go through their most personal papers, emails, ‘photos and other possessions. And often, people involved with the victim lose their privacy too as the police uncover leads. It’s part of what can make investigations really challenging. People may not tell all that they know simply to protect their own or the victim’s privacy. There are examples of this invasion of privacy (or is it, really?) all through crime fiction. I’ll just mention a few to show you what I mean.

In Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders, Hercule Poirot gets a cryptic warning note that there will be a crime in Andover. Sure enough, Alice Ascher, who keeps a small tobacconist’s shop, is found dead one evening in her shop. Next to her body is an ABC railway guide. Her estranged husband is an obvious suspect, but it’s soon clear that someone else probably committed the murder. Then Poirot gets another warning note about a murder to take place in Bexhill. When twenty-three-year-old Betty Barnard is killed there, and an ABC railway guide found near her body, it’s clear that this is more than one isolated incident. And so it proves to be. It turns out that there are two more deaths before Poirot catches the culprit. At one point, he and Hastings are going through Alice Ascher’s possessions to see if there’s any clue there as to her killer. As they go through her clothes, her underthings, and so on, it’s easy to imagine how mortified she’d probably have been if she were still alive.

In Colin Dexter’s The Remorseful Day, Inspector Morse and Sergeant Lewis are assigned to investigate the two-year-old murder of a nurse Yvonne Harrison. When she was first murdered, the police couldn’t get a clear lead on any one suspect, so the case wasn’t solved. But an anonymous tip suggests that the killer was Harry Repp, who’s recently been released from prison where he served time for burglary. Morse seems uncharacteristically apathetic about the case, so Lewis does a lot of the ‘spadework.’ It’s uncomfortable for everyone, because the victim had a very complicate private life that her family isn’t exactly eager to make public. And neither is anyone else with whom the victim was involved. And as the network of relationships among the family members is explored, we see how dysfunctional this family is. And that too is a difficult violation of privacy for everyone.

In Deborah Crombie’s In a Dark House, Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and his lover and former partner Sergeant Gemma James investigate when the body of an unknown woman is found in the ruins of a warehouse fire. One of their first steps is to see if the woman matches the description of anyone who has disappeared. They narrow that list down to four possibilities, one of whom is Elaine Holland, whose roommate has reported her missing. At one point, James visits the home that Holland shared with her roommate and asks to look through her things. After she gets permission, James begins her search. As she looks through the missing woman’s most personal things, including her underthings, she learns some surprising things. Although the search doesn’t solve the mystery of who the woman in the warehouse was, it does give James an interesting lead. But that doesn’t exactly make it comfortable.

It’s even harder for Melbourne cop Charlie Berlin in Geoffrey McGeachin’s The Diggers Rest Hotel, which takes place in 1947. Berlin’s been seconded to Wodonga to help the local police catch a motorcycle gang that’s been committing a series of robberies. While Berlin is in Wodonga, the body of sixteen-year-old Jenny Lee is discovered in an alley. At first, it seems that the motorcycle gang must be responsible for this murder. But Berlin establishes that that’s not the case, so he has to look elsewhere for the killer. Now he has to look into the victim’s private life to find out who would have wanted to murder her. And that’s extremely difficult, especially for her parents, who are Chinese immigrants to Australia. They’re a traditional couple who don’t want to believe their daughter was anything but a well-behaved, hard-working ‘good girl.’ What’s more, they’re a private family and don’t want to say much to outsiders. But Berlin eventually finds out what he needs to know about the victim, and in the end, discovers how she died and why.

Gail Bowen’s Deadly Appearances begins with the sudden death of up-and-coming Sasksatchewan politician Androu ‘Andy’ Boychuk. He’s poisoned one afternoon during a speech at a community picnic. The police investigate officially, but Boychuk’s friend, political ally and occasional speechwriter Joanne Kilbourn takes an interest too. Grief-stricken over Boychuk’s death, she decides to write a biography of him, hoping that the task will help her deal with the loss. In the process, she learns a great deal about Boychuk’s personal life, including some things from his childhood. Some of what she learns is extremely private – certainly not the sort of things you’d necessarily want to share even with close friends. In the end, Kilbourn finds the truth about the murder, and it’s interesting to see how the various people she talks to react when she asks for personal information about them and about Boychuk.

Qiu Xiaolong’s Enigma of China is the story of the death of Zhou Keng, Head of Shanghai’s Housing Development Committee. When he is found hanged in his hotel room, the official explanation is that he committed suicide because of an investigation into his illegal and unethical activities. Chief Inspector Chen Cao is assigned to the case, and the understanding is that he’ll ‘rubber stamp’ that explanation. But Chen isn’t entirely satisfied with it. As he begins to ask questions, he learns that Zhou had a private life that may have a bearing on the case. His relationship with his secretary Fang Fang may have been more than professional, so Chen wants to talk to her. But Fang has gone into hiding. It’s just as well, too, since she may be in danger too. Chen tracks her down and as he interviews her, we see that it’s quite difficult for her to discuss that very private matter. Even her parents don’t really know the truth. And Chen isn’t exactly happy to probe into her intimate life. But if he’s going to find out the truth, and keep Fang safe, that’s what he has to do.

There are a lot of other examples of the way that murder victims lose their privacy. That may help find their killers, but it can be hard on their friends and loved ones, and hard on the detective too. These are just a few examples. Your turn.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Kinks’ Party Line.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Colin Dexter, Deborah Crombie, Gail Bowen, Geoffrey McGeachin, Qiu Xiaolong