Category Archives: Dick Francis

The Pinkertons Pulled Out My Bags*

detective-agenciesPlenty of PIs, both real and fictional, work alone or with just one partner. There are some advantages to that, too, if you think about it. One of the biggest advantages is the flexibility (since the PI can choose which cases to take, what hours to work, and so on). And the lone PI doesn’t have to share the profits with anyone. So, it’s easy to see why a detective might want to go it alone.

It’s not all roses, though, as the saying goes. A lone PI can’t cover as many cases as an agency can. And an agency, complete with a staff, often has more resources, both financial and in terms of people. There’s also the possibility that a client might prefer to work with an agency, rather than just one PI, or a PI partnership. So, quite a number of PIs belong to an agency, at least at first.

One of the most famous of all detective agencies is Pinkerton’s (The Pinkerton National Detective Agency), originally founded in the US by Scottish immigrant Allan Pinkerton. It’s still in operation, although it’s now a subsidiary of another firm. Pinkerton’s plays an important role in K.B. Owen’s historical (end of the 19th Century) Concordia Wells series. Concordia is a teacher at Hartford Women’s College. She’s also an amateur detective. One of her friends (and a former mentor) is Penelope Hamilton, who is a Pinkerton’s agent. In fact, in Unseemly Haste, Concordia gets involved in one of Penelope’s cases as she travels across the country to visit her aunt. Agencies such as Pinkerton’s were very popular in the days before the FBI and other federal agencies changed the landscape of nationwide criminal investigation.

In Dashiell Hammett’s short story Fly Paper, Major Waldo Hambleton hires the Continental Detective Agency to find his daughter, Sue, who has cut off all contact with her family. She’s reportedly been mixed up with some very shady people, so Hambleton wants to be sure that she’s all right. Then, he gets a letter from Sue, asking for money. He has the agency send a representative to the address she gave – an address that belongs to Joseph ‘Holy Joe’ Wales, whom Sue has been seeing. She’s also been involved with a thug named ‘Babe’ McCloor. When the detective finally finds Sue’s own place, it’s too late: she’s dead of arsenic poisoning. Now this missing person case has become a case of murder – or perhaps suicide…

Fans of Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone will know that she trained as a private investigator. At first, she worked as a police officer, but two years was enough to show her that police life wasn’t for her. Then, she worked for a detective agency for a short time, while she learned the ropes. After that, as happens with many PIs, she decided to hang out her own shingle. For Kinsey, the independence and flexibility of having her own agency is worth much more than the security that belonging to a larger agency might provide.

In Dick Francis’ Odds Against, we are introduced to Sid Halley. He’s a former jockey whose career was ended when his left hand was severely damaged in a racing accident. Not sure where to go or what to do after that, he got a job at Hunt Radnor Associates, a large detective agency. He worked there for two years until he was shot by a suspect in an investigation. His father-in-law (later ex father-in-law) Charles Roland can see that Halley is floundering, and offers him a way out. He wants Halley to investigate Howard Kraye, a shady businessman who Roland suspects is trying to take over his Seabury Racecourse. Halley agrees, and embarks on a new career as a racetrack investigator.

Tarquin Hall’s Vishwas ‘Vish’ Puri is the owner of a well-respected Delhi agency, Most Private Investigators, Ltd. Although he’s the head of the agency, he depends crucially on the members of his team. Each of them has special skills and backgrounds that help the agency. There’s Tube Light, his head investigator, who has a special knack with computers. Facecream is a valuable member of the team who can blend in anywhere she goes. She often does undercover work. And there’s Flush, so called because his was the first house in his village to have indoor plumbing. And of course, Puri couldn’t get very far without Handbrake, his driver. Handbrake knows how to blend in with other drivers, street vendors and so on, which helps him get information.

While we often think of PI characters as ‘lone wolves’ – and many are – there are plenty who don’t work alone. Some work with just one partner (like Betty Webb’s Lena Jones). Others are slowly building (like Alexander McCall Smith’s Mma Precious Ramotswe). But there are lots who work for a bigger agency. It’s not a bad choice, especially if you’re new to the field and don’t have your own reputation yet. Or if you haven’t (yet) got the funds to set up for yourself. Which fictional larger agencies have stayed with you?


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Elton John’s Ballad of a Well-Known Gun.


Filed under Alexander McCall Smith, Betty Webb, Dashiell Hammett, Dick Francis, K.B. Owen, Sue Grafton, Tarquin Hall

I Can Show You the World*

Rose ReadsResearch shows fairly conclusively (at least to me) that early exposure to a lot of reading supports children’s literacy development. But the research doesn’t always convey the way love of reading and appreciation of the magic of a book can be passed along. It can though, and it is.

If you remember being read to as a child, you know what I mean. If you’ve experienced what it’s like to read to children or grandchildren, you know what I mean. Passing the magic along is a very special experience. And it gets even better when your child/grand-child reads to you. Trust me. There’s nothing like it.

If you look at the world of crime fiction, you can see clearly how one generation’s love of books and writing can be passed on. For instance, fans of Dick Francis’ work will tell you that he created some memorable mystery standalones and series. The ones I like best are the Sid Halley novels, but that’s just my opinion. Fans will also tell you that his son Felix also became a writer. He co-authored some work with his father, and has continued the tradition of sport/racecourse mysteries under his own name.

Patti Abbott is a highly skilled writer. Her short story collection Monkey Justice is well-written, compelling and with a nice touch of noir. And her novel Home Invasion takes a fascinating look at a family over the course of fifty years. It’s told in a series of stories, all related by the overall family history. She is also the author of a number of fine short stories that have been published in lots of different contexts. Abbott is also the mother of Megan Abbott. Yes, the Megan Abbott, author of Die a Little, Bury Me Deep, The End of Everything and, well, you get the idea. Certainly the love of reading and writing and the magic of a good story have been passed along in that family.

There’s also James Lee Burke, author of the highly-regarded Dave Robicheaux series. Fans will know that Robicheaux is a cop with the New Iberia, Louisiana Police. Burke has also written the Billy Bob Holland series. Holland is a former Texas Ranger who has become an attorney. There’s also Burke’s Hackberry ‘Hack’ Holland series about a Korean War veteran who’s also been in politics and is now a Texas sheriff. He’s written other novels and short story collections as well. Besides all of this, Burke is the father of crime writer Alafair Burke. Her series include the well-regarded Ellie Hatcher novels (there’s a new one coming out in late June/early July!) and the Samantha Kincaid series. Fans will know that Kincaid is a deputy District Attorney, while Hatcher is an NYPD cop. These two authors have different styles, but it’s clear that the love of books, reading and writing has been passed along.

Jonathan and Faye Kellerman are both highly regarded authors. Readers of their series will know that Jonathan Kellerman is the author of, among other things, the Alex Delaware/Milo Sturgis series. Faye Kellerman is the author of the Peter Decker/Rina Lazarus series, along with other work she’s done. They’ve also passed along the love of reading, writing and books. They are the parents of thriller author and playwright Jesse Kellerman, whose work includes Potboiler, Trouble, and The Executor.

And you don’t have to confine yourself to crime fiction to see how the magic can be given to the next generation. Laura Ingalls Wilder is famous as the author of the Little House series. Those novels ‘hooked’ generations of young people on books. Wilder was also the mother of Rose Wilder Lane, who became a journalist, novelist and travel writer in her own right. She also wrote biographies and other books as well. Even in a place and time when it wasn’t as easy to get books as it is now, the love of reading and writing was passed along in the Wilder family too.

‘That’s all very well,’ you may be thinking, ‘but I’m not a famous writer.’ Doesn’t matter. You can still pass the Lelah Readsmagic along. On this World Book Day, let’s remember that one of the finest gifts you can give the next generation is literacy and love of reading. Read with your children and grand-children and you’re leaving a priceless legacy. It doesn’t take an awful lot of time, and passing on the love of reading is free, healthy, and enriching for everyone. Talk about making memories! Don’t have children or grand-children? Don’t have nieces or nephews? Doesn’t matter. Lots of local schools, libraries and other groups would love to have your help in bringing reading to children who might not otherwise be exposed to it. Find out what’s happening in your area to bring the magic of books to children and be a part of it. You never know which young person might end up writing about the next school for wizards…

On top of everything else, writers everywhere will appreciate your assistance in creating the next generation of book junkies. 😉




*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Tim Rice and Alan Menken’s Whole New World.


Filed under Alafair Burke, Dick Francis, Faye Kellerman, Felix Francis, James Lee Burke, Jesse Kellerman, Jonathan Kellerman, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Megan Abbott, Patti Abbott, Rose Wilder Lane

You Gotta do it Till You’re Through it So You Better Get to it*

BacktoWorkIf you’ve ever been ill or away and then had to get back into your routine, you know how hard that can be. At the same time as it’s good to get back to work, it’s also difficult to get back into your daily life. And for detectives it’s even more of a challenge. Many of them deal with things that are awful to face even on the best of days, let alone when they’re getting back to work after some time away. But that resilience – that ability to get back into the routine after getting knocked down, so to speak – is a really useful trait if you’re a detective. The challenge of getting back to work can also add a layer of interest to a story.

Peter Temple introduces us to part-time lawyer/part-time investigator Jack Irish in Bad Debts. Irish is getting back to work after his wife Isabel was shot by one of his clients. His first response to losing his wife was to hide at the bottom of the bottle so to speak. But as Bad Debts begins, he’s stopped that instinctive response to life and now does occasional legal work as well as a sort of side business in finding people who would rather not be found, mostly to  get them to pay debts they owe. Life is slowly returning to stability for Irish until he gets a ‘phone message from a former client Danny McKillop. McKillop was imprisoned on charges that he killed Anne Jeppeson in a drink-driving hit-and-run incident. Now he’s been released and is desperate to talk to Irish. Irish doesn’t respond right away and by the time he follows up to see what McKillop wants, it’s too late; McKillop himself has been killed. Irish feels a sense of obligation to McKillop’s family. He was the attorney who defended McKillop in the original case and did an unprofessional job of it because of his drinking. So he decides to find out the truth behind both deaths. In this novel we see how at the same time as Irish is glad to have a purpose, he also finds it difficult sometimes to be back on the job.

That’s also true of Dick Francis’ Sid Halley, a former jockey whose left hand was permanently injured in a racing accident. After he recovers enough physically to work again, he spends two years working at a detective agency. But he really comes back to work in Odds Against. In that novel, Halley’s ex-father-in-law Charles Roland hires him to uncover a plot to take over the Seabury Racecourse, which Roland owns. Halley finds it difficult to get back to life around racecourses. He’s insecure, especially because of his injury, and he’s been away from the scene for a few years. But he finds the resilience he needs to search out the truth about the racecourse plot. He also discovers a new career for himself as a racetrack investigator.

Gail Bowen introduces us to her sleuth, political science expert and academic Joanne Kilbourn, in Deadly Appearances. Kilbourn and her family are coping with the loss of her husband Ian, who was murdered when he stopped to help a young couple who were having car trouble. Since that time the family has stuck together but of course, it hasn’t been easy. When Kilbourn’s friend Androu ‘Andy’ Boychuk is poisoned during an important political speech he’s making, Kilbourn decides to face her grief by writing a biography of him.  As she finds out more about Boychuk’s past, she also gets to the truth about who killed Boychuk and why. And that gets Kilbourn into a great deal of danger. So as the next novel Murder at the Mendel begins, Kilbourn is getting back to work, this time in a guest teaching position in Saskatoon. There, she finds that an old friend Sally Love is having a show of her controversial art at the Mendell Gallery. Kilbourn wants to renew their friendship but it turns out to be difficult. Then, local gallery owner Clea Poole is murdered, and Sally is a likely suspect. Kilbourn is still dealing with her own setbacks, but she finds the resilience she needs to help Sally – and to deal with the truth about the history of their friendship.

In Martin Edwards’ The Coffin Trail, we meet DCI Hannah Scarlett who has to get back to work after a case she was investigating falls apart. She’s been made the scapegoat for everything that went wrong with the case and after a brief break, is re-assigned to avoid a public-relations disaster. Although it’s ‘sold’ as a ‘fresh challenge,’ Scarlett knows that being assigned to head the Cumbria Constabulary’s Cold Case Review Team is s demotion. Still she takes up her new job and gets back to work. Scarlett and her new team are soon involved in the investigation of the deaths of Gabrielle Anders, a somewhat enigmatic beauty who’d recently moved to the Lake District, and Barrie Gilpin, the autistic young man who was said to have killed Anders. With help from Oxford historian Daniel Kind, who’s recently moved back to the Lake District himself, Scarlett and her team find out the truth about the Anders and Gilpin deaths. Then later, in The Arsenic Labyrinth, Scarlett has to get back to work again after a serious personal loss that she suffers in the previous novel The Cipher Garden. Scarlett finds it difficult at times to get ‘back in the game’ as the saying goes, but also finds the resilience she needs.

So does Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Carl Mørck, whom we first meet in Mercy (AKA The Keeper of Lost Causes). As that novel begins, Mørck is recovering from a scene-of-crime incident in which he was gravely wounded, one of his colleagues was murdered and another was left with paralysis. At first, Mørck has little interest in getting back to work. He’s hardly maudlin about it but he is still suffering from the trauma of what happened. In fact, he is so difficult to work with that he’s ‘promoted’ to the newly-created Department Q, which is charged with investigating cases ‘of special interest.’ Despite Mørck’s lack of interest in doing much of any work, he’s soon drawn to the case of the disappearance of Merete Lynggaard, a promising politician who disappeared five years earlier. Everyone’s always thought she drowned in a tragic ferry accident. But there are hints that she may actually still be alive. So Mørck and his assistant Hafez al-Assad work together to find out what really happened to Lynggaard and where she is now, if she is indeed still alive.

And then there’s Stockholm attorney Rebecka Martinsson, whom we first meet in Åsa Larsson’s Sun Storm (AKA The Savage Altar). Martinsson returns to her home town of Kiruna when a former friend is accused of murder and asks for her help. Finding out who the real murderer is takes a serious toll on Martinsson but she gets back to work after a fashion in The Blood Spilt. In that novel, Martinsson works with police detectives Anna-Maria Mella and Sven-Erik Stålnacke to find out who murdered local priest Mildred Nilsson. The events at the end of that novel set Martinsson back even further so to speak, so she takes some time away. Then, at the beginning of The Black Path, Martinsson returns to work again and gets involved in the investigation of the murder of Inna Watrang, Head of Information at Kellis Mining. Although returning to work is difficult for her, Martinsson is pleased to slowly feel her life become a little more stable.

It’s never easy to get started working again after a time away. That’s especially true if the time away was spent coping with illness or trauma. But most detectives do get back to work again, and that balance between wanting to be back in a routine and needing to deal with whatever takes one away from the routine can add real interest to a story.



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Elvis Costello’s Welcome to the Working Week.


Filed under Åsa Larsson, Dick Francis, Gail Bowen, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Martin Edwards, Peter Temple

I’m Not the Same As I Used to Be*

An interesting comment exchange has got me thinking about the way our reading tastes and the novels and series that appeal to us change over the years. In part of course our tastes change as we mature and develop. Our tastes also change as we read more and expose ourselves to different sub-genres and authors. Want to see how you’ve changed as a reader? Pick up a book you first read at least ten years ago. Do you still feel the same way about it? Are there any authors whose work you used to love but have now drifted away from reading? I’m not talking here about authors who’ve changed their style; we’ve all had the experience of reading a novel by an author who’s long since ceased to innovate or who’s changed her or his style. I’m really talking about an author whose work you feel differently about because you’ve changed. There may even be authors whose work you used to dislike but have come to really like.

Some people for instance started out by reading spy thrillers, and there’ve been a lot to love over the decades. For instance, Frederick Forsyth’s The Odessa File is the story of crime reporter Peter Miller, who happens to follow an ambulance to the scene of the death of Holocaust survivor Solomon Tauber, who’s committed suicide. Through Tauber’s diary entries and some of his own investigation Miller learns of an ultra-secret worldwide organization to re-establish the Nazis as a world power.

There’s also the work of John le Carré, like The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. In that novel, jaded and wearied British spy Alec Leamas is the leader of British Intelligence in East Berlin. When several of his agents are killed on his watch, it’s obvious that Leamas isn’t doing his job very well any more. Then, his best agent Karl Riemeck is murdered. Leamas is called back to London where he’s persuaded to take on just one more assignment: the murder of Hans Dieter Mundt, who organised the killings of Leamas’ agents.

Spy thrillers like these and the work or authors such as Robert Ludlum are past-paced and “high-octane” so it’s no wonder that they’ve sparked many people’s interest in crime fiction. Were spy thrillers your first introduction to crime fiction? Do you still love them as much as you did? Did you move on to more modern thriller authors such as Daniel Silva? Do you branch out into psychological thrillers such as those by Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine?

Other people (and I am one of them) started out with classic or Golden Age crime fiction. For instance, one of the first crime fiction novels I read was Agatha Christie’s Mrs. McGinty’s Dead. That’s the story of the murder of a seemingly inoffensive charwoman, allegedly by her lodger James Bentley. Superintendent Spence begins to believe that perhaps Bentley isn’t guilty, and asks Hercule Poirot to investigate. Poirot travels to the village of Broadhinny to look into the matter and finds that several of the villagers are keeping secrets and that Mrs. McGinty had found out more than it was safe for her to know about one of them.

If you started out with the classics, perhaps you began with Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels or stories. The Adventure of the Red-Headed League, for instance is the story of pawnbroker Jabez Wilson, who gets hired for a job that seems too good to be true: he’ll be paid to copy the Encyclopaedia Britannica. When his “dream job” disappears, Wilson visits Holmes to ask his help in unravelling the mystery.

If you started with the classics or Golden Age novels, do you still love them as much as you did? Do you still read Rex Stout, Margery Allingham, Patricia Wentworth or Ellery Queen as much as ever? Do you also read more modern authors such as Colin Dexter, Peter Lovesey or P.D. James who keep some of the classic traditions?

Lots of people began their mystery reading with books in the British or U.S. tradition, whatever the sub-genre, and have discovered translated crime fiction. For example, when Maj Sjöwall and  Per Wahlöö’s Martin Beck series was first translated in the mid-1960’s, many English-speaking crime fiction fans who’d been reading authors like Patricia Highsmith, Dick Francis or Ed McBain had a whole new series of novels to enjoy. The first in the Martin Beck series, Roseanna, is the story of the discovery of the body of an unknown woman who was murdered during a holiday cruise. She turns out to be twenty-seven-year-old Roseanna McGraw, an American who was on a tour of Sweden when she was murdered. Martin Beck and his team may not have had today’s technology, but they doggedly pursue the case and in the end, they find out who the murderer is.

There have been many other translated authors since then of course, from all over the world. Have you moved from work only in your own language to translated work? Have your feelings about “homegrown” crime fiction changed as you’ve read novels originally written in other languages?

There are also readers who began by reading cosy mysteries. If you started out with cosies, perhaps you began with LIlian Jackson Braun’s Cat Who… series featuring newspaper columnist James “Qwill” Qwilleran. Much of that series takes place in Moose County, “400 miles north of nowhere” and follows the lives of Qwill, his two seal-point Siamese cats and the various “regulars” who live in the small town of Pickax. This was a very popular and enduring series actually; it lasted from 1966 until Braun’s death in 2011 (OK, there was an 18-year break between 1968 and 1986, but still!).

If your first mystery novels were cosies you might have begun with something like Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swensen mysteries. Swensen is a former aspiring teacher of literature who returns to her Lake Eden, Minnesota home town after the death of her father and opens a bake shop The Cookie Jar. Fans of this series have followed the lives of Swensen, her love interests Mike and Norman, and the other residents of Lake Eden for thirteen years as I write this. These mysteries have the small-town setting, the amateur sleuth, the theme and the recipes that have become features of several cosy series over the years, so it’s easy to see why cosy fans would have started here.

If you’ve stayed with cosies, are you a fan of other cosy series such as M.C. Beaton’s Hamisch Macbeth series or Elizabeth Spann Craig’s Memphis Barbecue series? Perhaps you’ve branched out to “cosies with an edge” such as Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman series. Or maybe you’ve moved on to something completely different.

Sometimes it’s really interesting to look back at the way your crime fiction tastes have changed. If you’re a writer, it’s also interesting to think about theyou’re your changing tastes in crime fiction affect your writing. So thanks, Kathy D., for the food for thought. 🙂


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Elton John’s My Elusive Drug.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Barbara Vine, Colin Dexter, Daniel Silva, Dick Francis, Ed McBain, Ellery Queen, Frederick Forsyth, Joanne Fluke, John le Carré, Lilian Jackson Braun, M.C. Beaton, Maj Sjöwall, Margery Allingham, P.D. James, Patricia Highsmith, Patricia Wentworth, Per Wahlöö, Peter Lovesey, Rex Stout, Ruth Rendell

Fully Accessible

One of the welcome developments in our society has been our increasing open-ness to meeting the needs of those with physical disabilities. Laws and policy now mandate accessibility to public buildings for those with disabilities and forbid discrimination against them. If you look at modern technology, there are all sorts of adaptations now available for people who need them. For example, there are cars with special kinds of controls and TTY technology has made telephoning possible for those with deafness. Little wonder that as our society continues to become more inclusive, so would crime fiction. It is, after all, a mirror of society. There are of course challenges to writing this kind of character. People with physical challenges are no different in most ways to anyone else, so if too much attention is paid to a character’s use of, say, a wheelchair or a prosthetic device, it can come off as self-conscious and pull the reader out of a story. On the other hand, if a character, say, has only one arm and no mention is made of it, that can feel unrealistic. It can also be a challenge to write the personality of a person with a disability. Again, people who have physical challenges have strengths, weaknesses and so on just like the rest of us. So concentrating overly on the use of a guide dog or the need for a wheelchair makes the character too one-dimensional. That said though, people with physical disabilities are affected by them. Not including that aspect of a character’s life in her or his personality isn’t realistic. And realistic characters are, after all, one of the keys to high-quality crime fiction. It’s tricky to write such a character but when it’s done well, it adds to the diversity of the genre and that is a good thing, at least in my opinion.

One of the “breakthrough” fictional sleuths with a disability was Dennis Lynds’ Dan Fortune, whose stories Lynds wrote as Michael Collins. Fortune started out as a New York “street kid,” but lost his arm in an accident when he was looting a ship that had docked in New York’s harbour. After that he decided to “go straight,” served in the Merchant Marines for a while and then became a private detective. Fortune himself has gotten accustomed to not having an arm and he doesn’t wallow in self-pity. But at the same time, he doesn’t deny his situation either. For example, in the 1972 short story Who?, Fortune gets a visit from Mrs. Patrick Conners, whose son Boyd had just died unexpectedly of what looks like a heart attack. Boyd Conners was in good health and he was a teenager, so his mother thinks that something more is going on. Here’s Fortune’s reaction:


“That was when my missing arm began to tingle. It does that when I sense something wrong.”


Fortune’s client makes no mention of his disability at all and neither does anyone else. As Fortune starts asking questions, he retraces Boyd Conners’ movements in the last hours of his life and that’s how he discovers that Boyd was killed by accident. He was unintentionally murdered with a weapon meant for someone else.

Dick Francis’ former jockey Sid Halley suffered a severe injury to his left hand during a riding accident and in Odds Against, he loses his left hand entirely. In that novel, Halley’s former father-in-law Charles Roland is concerned because he believes that Howard Kraye, a shady businessman, is trying to take over his racetrack. Halley, whose accident has ended his racing career, is now working for private detective agency Hunt, Radnor and Associates. Halley agrees to look into the matter and gradually uncovers what Kayes’ plans are and how he plans to put them into action. In the novels that follow this one, we see the very slow gradual process of Halley coming to terms with the fact that he now has a prosthetic left hand. He’s much less comfortable and accepting of it than Dan Fortune is of his disability. But in Halley’s character we see the anxiety, the insecurity and the fear that you could well imagine a talented athlete would have on being faced with the end of a career and having to deal with a physical disability. Halley’s is a believable and honest reaction to his life situation.

Jeffery Deaver’s Lincoln Rhymes had a successful career as the head of the NYPD’s elite Criminal Investigation and Resource Division. Then, in a scene-of-crime accident, a beam fell on him and crushed his spine so that he’s been left a quadriplegic with the use of only one finger. Rhymes has had to go through more than just physical therapy to return to any kind of life. He’s bitter about what happened and he actually discourages people – especially people he knew before the accident – from visiting him. And yet, he is a gifted forensic specialist. So when we meet him for the first time in The Bone Collector, he’s drawn into the case of a mysterious taxi-driving killer. And in The Broken Window he’s persuaded by his cousin to look into a rape and murder of which his cousin’s husband is accused. In many of the stories featuring him, we see the discomfort felt by many who aren’t accustomed to those with physical disabilities. There’s awkwardness, there are long pauses, there’s refusal to make eye contact and so on. On the one hand, the awkwardness gets (and this is only my opinion, so feel free to differ with me if you do) a bit laboured. On the other, that process – the bitterness, the awkwardness, the slow acceptance – is normal. It’s real and authentic.

In Anne Holt’s 1222, former police detective Hanne Wilhelmsen is among 269 passengers riding on a train from Oslo to Bergen one cold February day. When the train is involved in an accident, only the conductor is killed. So Wilhelmsen and the rest of the passengers are taken to a local hotel while plans are made to get them where they need to go. Wilhelmsen has retired because of an on-the-job shooting incident that left her permanently confined to a wheelchair. But she is persuaded to come out of retirement, if you want to call it that, when one by one, the passengers begin to die. She has no interest in getting involved in the case, but instead of leaving her alone, which is what she wanted, people keep interacting with her to be sure she’s all right and to discuss the deaths:


“I was beginning to wonder if I had “police officer” stamped all over me. The only thing that distinguishes me from everybody else is the fact that I’m in a wheelchair. And that I might be slightly more dismissive than most people. Both these elements tend to lead to the same result: people keep away from me….people kept coming up to me, asking questions, poking about. It was as if my stationary sojourn in a room where everyone else was simply coming and going made me so different that I had been accorded the status of an oracle…”


Against her will, Wilhelmsen looks into the case and discovers the truth about the deaths.

In Gail Bowen’s The Last Good Day, Bowen’s sleuth Joanne Kilbourn accepts an invitation from her friend Kevin Hynde to spend some time at his summer cottage on Lawyers’ Bay, an hour from Kilbourn’s home in Regina. The cottages at Lawyers’ Bay are owned by a major firm Falconer Shreve, and it’s an exclusive community, so getting an invitation to visit isn’t an everyday occurrence. Kilbourn, her son Angus and his girlfriend, and her daughter Taylor travel to Lawyers’ Bay and for a short time, they enjoy their visit. Then one night, Chris Altieri, one of the firm’s partners, has more than he should have to drink and bares his soul to Kilbourn. The next day he’s found dead when his MGB is discovered in the bay. Because Kilbourn was the last to have a long conversation with the victim, she gets drawn into the investigation and in any case, she wonders whether Altieri’s death was really a suicide. So she starts to ask questions. That’s how she meets Zack Shreve, the senior partner of Falconer Shreve. Shreve’s a paraplegic who’s been in a wheelchair since childhood. He’s a gifted attorney with a stellar reputation and although he’s got a somewhat high-handed manner at times, he is also compassionate and loving. Little wonder Kilbourn falls in love with him. The two begin a relationship and we can see how as their relationship develops, Shreve’s disability factors into who he is as a person but does not define him.

And that seems to be the key to creating a well-drawn character with a disability. When that disability is part of the richness and multiple dimensions of a character without defining that person, it can make for an interesting perspective and a well-drawn character.


Filed under Anne Holt, Dennis Lynds, Dick Francis, Gail Bowen, Jeffery Deaver, Michael Collins