Category Archives: Donna Leon

As a Restaurant Inspector It’s a Long Lonesome Road*

There’s an interesting (if small) plot thread in Martin Walker’s Bruno, Chief of Police. The small French town of St. Denis prides itself on its good food; it is, after all, in the food-famous Périgord. And, for as long as anyone can remember, there’s been a weekly market where the local residents get their fresh bread, cheese, and other items. These people know how to prepare, cook, sell, and store food. So, no-one is exactly pleased that EU inspectors have taken an interest in the market, and plan to apply EU rules to the food that’s bought and sold there. Local Chief of Police Benoît ‘Bruno’ Courrèges is sworn to uphold the law; and in most cases, he believes in being law-abiding. At the same time, he’s a gastronome himself, and understands exactly how the citizens he serves feel about the EU health inspectors. So, he looks the other way when a few of the citizens find their own approach to preventing what they see as EU ‘meddling.’

In the main, though, most people agree that public health is a serious and important matter, and that there needs to be a way to ensure that any threats to public health are eliminated. Such inspections are thankless jobs, though. No company wants its operations interrupted, and making sure that everything is up to code can be expensive. And companies, hospitals, and the like don’t want to fail inspections. So, there’s a lot of pressure on anyone in that business.

The San Francisco Department of Health figures into Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson’s The Nightmare Factor. In that novel, we are introduced to Dr. Calvin Doohan, a transplant from Scotland. He’s working on some research for the World Health Organization (WHO) when the city is hit with a number of cases of virulent, flu-like illness. Each case seems to end in death, and doctors are hard-pressed to isolate the cause. Doohan volunteers his services to San Francisco’s Board of Health, and soon finds himself working with Dr. Suzanne Synge, from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). It’s soon established that the illness can be traced to people who attended a convention at the Hotel Cordoba, so several interested parties (the CDC, the Board of Health, etc..) concentrate their efforts there. Inspections of the food and its handling start, and Doohan soon begins to suspect that this outbreak was deliberate. As he gets closer to the truth behind it, he finds more and more danger for himself.

The CDC also features in Robin Cook’s Outbreak. Dr. Marissa Blumenthal of the CDC is sent to Los Angeles when several patients of the Richter Clinic die. The clinic’s owner, Dr. Rudolph Richter, also succumbs. Blumenthal and the team she works with manage to contain the outbreak, and it seems that the public health isn’t at risk. Then, there’s an outbreak in St. Louis. And another in Phoenix. It now seems clear to Blumenthal that this virus is being spread deliberately. But she doesn’t have much evidence to support herself. Still, she perseveres, and soon finds she’s up against some very dangerous and powerful people who are not afraid to kill.

Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman has to be concerned about her local Health Department’s expectations, because she owns a bakery. By and large, she doesn’t have a bad relationship with the inspection team, although they don’t see eye to eye on Chapman’s approach to vermin control. Along with her ‘house cat’ Horatio, Chapman is owned by Heckle and Jekyll, the feline Rodent Control Officers who roam the bakery at night, making sure that Chapman’s baking supplies are vermin-free. It isn’t exactly what the Health Department pamphlets advise, but it works well, and Chapman’s bakery is successful. Then, in Trick or Treat, there’s an ergot infestation at another, nearby, bakery. The Health Department has to close that bakery until the ergot is removed, and all the other local bakeries, including Chapman’s, also become suspect. It’s hard for Chapman not to be able to go about her baking business. But she understands why the bakery has to close temporarily, and she certainly doesn’t want anyone sickened on her account. It’s among other things an interesting look at how health inspectors work when something goes wrong in a restaurant or other food-selling establishment.

Sometimes, health, food, and other inspectors are fictional targets. For instance, in Donna Leon’s Beastly Things, the body of an unknown man is found in one of Venice’s canals. There’s no identification, and no truly distinctive marks on the body, so at first, it’s hard to determine who the victim was. But Commissario Guido Brunetti and his team eventually identify the man as Andrea Nava. He was a veterinarian who worked part-time at a local slaughterhouse. His job there was to inspect the animals brought in by local farmers, to verify the health of their animals. As Brunetti and his team look into the murder, readers learn about the way slaughterhouse inspections are supposed to work, and how they work in this case.

A few of Carl Hiaasen’s novels include characters who are health inspectors, or have related roles. One of them is Razor Girl, which features Andrew Yancey, whom fans will remember from Bad Monkey. In this novel, he’s no longer a police detective. He’s been demoted to Inspector for the Health Department. He gets involved in a complex (this is Hiaasen….) case when he discovers hair from a beard in the food at Clippy’s Restaurant. The hair turns out to belong to Buck Nance, a reality show star who presumably went into hiding after a disastrous live show. One of Yancey’s leads is con artist Merry Mansfield, who ended up trying to scam Lane Coolman, who was supposed to meet Nance in Key West (Florida). Coolman’s now worried about Nance’s whereabouts, and Yancey sees a way to get his badge back if he finds out the truth. He and Mansfield work together, but Yancey’s got to go up against serious odds, including a restaurant infestation of Gambian pouched rats (yes, those are real, and they can grow to be about .9 m (about 3 ft.) long).

Public health is a very real and important concern. So, it’s little wonder that health inspectors of different sorts can shut down restaurants and all sorts of other businesses. Their job might not always make them a lot of fans, but we do need them.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Three Penny Piece’s Saddam Henderson’s Old Time Country Kitchen.

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Filed under Carl Hiaasen, Donna Leon, Frank Robinson, Kerry Greenwood, Martin Walker, Robin Cook, Thomas N. Scortia

The Shocking Truth About Sleuths! ;-)

We’ve all seen them. Maybe you even glance at the stories as a guilty pleasure. Yes, I’m talking about tabloids. They may not get the story right, but they can be fun. That is, until they twist the truth about you. It’s all got me wondering what it would be like if a tabloid started getting interested in our best-known fictional sleuths. Hmmmm….

If you’ll send your disbelief out for a film and some popcorn, here’s …

 

The Shocking Truth About Sleuths!

 

Who do you call when you need to solve a mystery? We depend on our sleuths to solve crimes, but what do we really know about them?  We at The Weekly Messenger have the shocking story in this exclusive article.

 

‘For all we know, he could be running a brothel or something.’

 

On the outside, the New York City brownstone occupied by Nero Wolfe seems like a quiet, pleasant building. But inside, it’s a completely different story. Wolfe has spent years living in the building, rarely appearing in public. ‘Who knows what goes on in there?’ said the owner of the building next door. ‘It’s always seemed quiet, but that guy is a little weird. For all we know, he could be running a brothel or something.’ Wolfe himself has dismissed that allegation as ‘flummery,’ but did not invite our reporter into the house. Wolfe’s business partner, Archie Goodwin, says everything’s strictly legal. He claims that Wolfe runs his detective agency from his home. But Goodwin has had more than one brush with the law. And we’ve learned that Goodwin handles a great deal of money, and has been seen letting people into the house at all hours. When we asked the police whether the brownstone might actually be a brothel, Inspector Cramer refused to discuss the situation. And that leads to an interesting question: why aren’t the police investigating this?

 

‘A moustache like that couldn’t be real!’

 

Whitehaven Mansions, London, is home to one of the world’s most famous detectives, Hercule Poirot. He’s been solving crimes for years, but we’ve found some shocking evidence that there may be no such person. We spoke to the doorman at Whitehaven Mansions, who had this to say. ‘I’ve always wondered about M. Poirot. A moustache like that couldn’t be real. Why’s he wear a fake moustache? It’s not for me to say, but you can’t help but wonder.’ Other residents of the building have mentioned Poirot’s habit of going outdoors carefully muffled up, no matter what the weather. M. Poirot claims to be from Belgium, but our sources haven’t been able to find out much information about his career there. The Belgian authorities say that a great deal of that sort of information was lost in the war. So who is the person who lives at Whitehaven Mansions and calls himself Hercule Poirot? We contacted Poirot’s valet, Georges, but he has not responded to telephone calls or emails.

 

‘Who knows what she could be capable of doing?’

 

One of the most respected police detectives in Venice is Commissario Guido Brunetti. He’s been responsible for bringing a number of criminals to justice, and has a reputation for being incorruptible. But a closer look at his life and career calls that shiny exterior into question. Brunetti’s wife, Paola Falier, is the daughter of some very powerful people, Count Orazio Falier and his wife, Donatella. Through her, Brunetti has access to the highest levels of society. And that almost always means the chance to line one’s pockets. What’s more, Paola Falier has her own history. She’s on record as having committed vandalism at a local travel agency (for which she didn’t serve a long prison sentence, as she should have). And in one case Brunetti investigated, she was heard to say that she would give the murderer a medal. She’s known as a political leftist with a very strong sense of independence. We talked to her colleagues, who admitted she has strong opinions. As one put it, ‘She isn’t one to do as she’s told without what she sees as a good reason. Who knows what she could be capable of doing?’ With such a strong connection to such a questionable person, it’s debatable whether Brunetti can really be as law-abiding as he seems to be. In fact, The Weekly Messenger is pursuing this case further. We’ll be reporting on Brunetti’s relationship with his questura colleague, Elettra Zorzi, soon.

 

‘Those boys are always getting into mischief! And she knows it!’

 

Almost everyone in Botswana’s capital, Gabarone, has heard of Mma Precious Ramotswe, the famous detective. She has a solid reputation for getting cases solved, and for restoring order and peace. But The Weekly Messenger has uncovered some disturbing things about Mma Ramotswe. She has a close association with Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors. And that company employs two assistant mechanics who’ve caused plenty of trouble for their boss and for the area. According to Mma Ramotswe’s associate, Mma Grace Makutsi, the two assistants do not typically work with Mma Ramotswe. But interviews with some of the people who have nearby businesses suggest a troubling possibility: that Mma Ramotswe actually encourages these young men in their destructive pranks. One nearby resident said this: ‘It is true. Mma Ramotswe is married to Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, who runs that garage. She knows those assistants very well and sees them every day. Those boys are always getting into mischief! And she knows it!’ If it’s true that Mma Ramotswe is corrupting minors in this way, she could be in serious violation of the law.

 

‘Holmes has to be running that gang.’

 

Our last stop was at crime solving’s most famous address, 221B Baker Street, in London.  Sherlock Holmes has quite a reputation for being eccentric. But The Weekly Messenger has uncovered evidence that Holmes’ lifestyle may be a lot more than just eccentric. Sources say that Holmes is a regular drug user, of both morphine and cocaine. As if that’s not troubling enough, there are reports that he runs a street gang who traffic those drugs. The owner of the house next door, who asked not to be identified, said, ‘I see these boys going in and out of there. His landlady calls them the Baker Street Irregulars. They’re irregular all right! The big one goes up to see Holmes, then he tells the others what they’re supposed to do. Holmes has to be running that gang.’  If that proves to be true, then Holmes could be responsible for distributing drugs all over the city. This is an ongoing investigation, and we’ll have more for you as it develops.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alexander McCall Smith, Arthur Conan Doyle, Donna Leon, Rex Stout

We Took Paper, Ink and Type*

In Agatha Christie’s Postern of Fate, Tuppence Beresford makes an interesting comment about reading:
 

‘‘We could all read. Me and Martin next door and Jennifer down the road and Cyril and Winifred. All of us. I don’t mean we could all spell very well but we could read anything we wanted to.’’
 

I’d imagine that’s probably true for a lot of people. There is still, unfortunately, plenty of illiteracy in the world. But, according to one study I read, just over 84% of the world’s population has at least some functional literacy.

If you’re literate, and you weren’t born into great wealth and privilege, you arguably owe at least some of that to Johannes Gutenberg. As you’ll know, he’s credited with inventing the movable-type printing press. That invention had far-reaching effects. For one thing, it made books and, therefore, written ideas, accessible to people who weren’t necessarily very wealthy. For another, it arguably contributed to the rise of the middle class. And that’s to say nothing of the printing press’ impact on the sharing of information, the development of newspapers, and so on.

And certainly, the ideas in books play an important role in crime fiction. In Postern of Fate, for instance, an important clue to a long-ago murder is found in a novel. When Tommy and Tuppence Beresford move into a new home, they find quite a collection of books. Tuppence is going through them when she notices that one of the books has been marked in an unusual way, with some words underlined. The book belonged to a boy named Alexander Parkinson, who later died. The clue,
 

‘Mary Jordan did not die naturally’
 

refers to the death of a woman during the World War I era. As the Beresfords start to look into the case, they learn that it still resonates decades later.

Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce may be a pre-teenager, but she’s already developed into a knowledgeable chemist. She’s an avid reader, too, who often finds useful information in the books she chooses. For instance, in A Red Herring Without Mustard, Flavia meets a Gypsy fortune-teller at a church fête. The experience goes very badly, and Flavia feels responsible. So, she invites the Gypsy to stay on the property of Buckshaw, where she lives with her father and two older sisters. When the Gypsy is later murdered, Flavia takes a personal interest in the case. She finds out that more than one person might have been responsible. Interestingly, it’s actually a book of history that gives Flavia a major clue to the killer.

Donna Leon’s About Face introduces readers to Franca Marinello. One night, she and her husband, Maruizio Cataldo, are invited to dinner at the home of Conte Orazio Falier and his wife, Donatella. Falier is contemplating doing business with Cataldo, and he wants to get to know the man. Also invited that evening are Falier’s daughter, Paola, and her husband, Commissario Guido Brunetti. During the meal, Brunetti finds that he and Franca Marinello have a common interest in Cicero. That interest forms a thread through the novel, and actually plays a role when Brunetti and his team investigate the murder of Stefano Ranzato, who owned a trucking company. The key to this murder, and to another murder that occurs in the novel, is Franca Marinello. And Brunetti gets some real insight from his knowledge of Cicero.

As the librarian for the Tumdrum and District Mobile Library, Ian Sansom’s Israel Armstrong loves books, and once dreamed of being a librarian at a major university, or even with the British Library. As we learn in The Case of the Missing Books, though, that’s not how things have turned out. Instead, Armstrong is hired to drive the mobile library bus, so that patrons in remote areas can access books. It’s not at all the sort of job he’d had in mind, but he’s left without much choice. So, he resolves to get started. When he tries to get the mobile library bus ready, though, he discovers that all fifteen thousand of the library’s books are missing. When Armstrong reports this to Linda Wei, who actually hired him, and who is the Deputy Head of Entertainment, Leisure and Community Services, she tells him that it’s his responsibility to find the books. After all, she points out, he is the librarian. So, Armstrong has to turn sleuth and find the books. Among other things, this series shows how important access to books is to a lot of people.

And then there’s Alexander McCall Smith’s Precious Ramotswe. As fans will know, Mma Ramotswe has a much-beloved copy of Clovis Anderson’s Principles of Detection. She consults it frequently, and depends on the book for all sorts of advice. For instance, in The Good Husband of Zebra Drive, Mma Ramotswe’s second cousin, Tati Monyena, is facing real trouble at the hospital where he works. It seems that there’ve been three deaths at the hospital recently. All three occurred on the same day of the week (‘though during different weeks), and all three patients were in the same bed in the Intensive Care ward when they died. It’s already been established that there were no pathogens involved, so Rra Monyena doesn’t know what might have been responsible. If the hospital’s reputation comes into question, though, this could be catastrophic. So, Mma Ramotswe agrees to look into the matter. When she goes to the hospital, she brings along Mr. Polopetsi, her newest assistant. And it turns out that that was a wise choice, since he is very familiar with the area and the people who live there. According to Clovis Anderson,
 

‘Local knowledge is like gold.’
 

It’s that sort of wisdom that Mma Ramotswe seeks, and sometimes finds, in the book.

You see? Books themselves play an important role in crime fiction. If you think about it, we likely wouldn’t even have the genre if we didn’t have easy access to books. So, perhaps it’s fair to say that we owe the genre in part to Gutenberg…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger’s The Printer’s Trade.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alan Bradley, Alexander McCall Smith, Donna Leon, Ian Sansom

Make Me Beautiful*

Cosmetic surgery has advanced a great deal over the years, as has its relative, reconstructive surgery. There are new techniques and materials, and new options. It’s no longer the exclusive property of the very rich and Hollywood stars, either.

I got to thinking about the whole topic when I read an interesting post by Moira at Clothes in Books. By the way, if you’re not already following that excellent blog, I recommend it highly. It’s a treasure trove of fine book reviews and discussions of clothes and culture in fiction, and what it all says about us.

Moira was discussing Ngaio Marsh’s Death and the Dancing Footmen, but that’s not the only example of a crime novel where cosmetic surgery plays a role. It’s not hard to see why, either. There are all sorts of possibilities for the author. And, whatever you feel about cosmetic surgery, it’s increasingly popular.

In P.D. James’ The Private Patient, we are introduced to journalist Rhoda Gradwyn. She checks into Cheverell Manor, an exclusive private clinic for patients undergoing cosmetic surgery. Her plan is to have a facial scar removed, but that’s not what happens. During her stay at the clinic, Gradwyn is strangled. Met Commander Adam Dalgliesh and his team investigate, and there are several possibilities. Certainly, the victim’s surgeon had opportunities to kill her. But, so did several nurses, attendants, and even visitors, among others. Dalgliesh and his team have to go back into Gradwyn’s past to see who would want to murder her.

In M.C. Beaton’s Death of a Hussy, Lochdubh PC Hamish Macbeth investigates the murder of Maggie Baird. Although she hasn’t been a commercial sex worker, she’s certainly traded sex for expensive things, posh places to live, and so on. Now, although she’s still attractive, she’s middle-aged, and, at least in her view, has lost her looks. So, she goes away for several months and undergoes cosmetic surgery. When she returns, with her looks restored, she invites four former lovers to visit, and announces that she’s going to get married. Instead, she dies, ostensibly of a heart attack suffered during a car fire. Macbeth soon learns that there are several people who could have wanted the victim dead. For one thing, her four suiters have all come down in the world, as the saying goes. Any one of them could have killed her for her money. Then there’s her niece, who’s just been cut out of her will. There are other possibilities, too. The story certainly shows the wisdom of the saying, ‘Looks aren’t everything.’

One plot thread of Donna Leon’s About Face concerns a businessman, Maurizio Cataldo. Conte Orazio Falier is considering doing business with Cataldo, but he wants to be sure of the man before he actually signs anything. So, he asks his son-in-law, Commissario Guido Brunetti, to ‘vet’ Cataldo, and see if there’s anything Falier should know. Brunetti agrees to do so. In the process of getting to know Cataldo’s life better, Brunetti also gets to know his wife, Franca Marinello. One of the things we learn about her is that she’s had cosmetic surgery. That surgery isn’t the reason for Falier’s caution. But it plays a role in the novel, and in some of the tragic events that happen.

Carl Hiaasen’s Skin Tight features former police officer Mick Stranahan (yes, fans, he later appears in Skinny Dip).  He learns that an unknown man has been asking where lives. He isn’t sure who the man might be, but it doesn’t take long for them to meet up. In fact, the man breaks into Stranahan’s home. In the course of defending himself, Stranahan kills the home invader, goring him with the stuffed head of a marlin (it is Hiassen…). Then he dumps the body, which is later discovered by a couple of tourists. In the meantime, Stranahan decides to find out who’s trying to kill him. His attacker had no ID and there was no way to connect him with any particular one of Stranahan’s enemies, so it won’t be an easy task. It’s made even harder by the fact that Stranahan’s got plenty of enemies. There’s the sleazy injury lawyer, the annoying TV journalist, the hit man, and an inept plastic surgeon named Rudy Graveline. They’re all good candidates, and Stranahan will have to work through all of them to find out who the killer is.

Leigh Redhead’s Peepshow is the first of her novels to feature Melbourne PI Simone Kirsch. She’s got a background as a stripper, and has now gotten her PI license. When the body of Francesco ‘Frank’ Parisi is discovered in a local bay, Simone’s best friend, Chloe, becomes a suspect. Parisi was the owner of a table-dancing strip club called the Red Room, where Chloe works. She was among several people who had a very good reason to kill the victim, and she’s worried about what to do. Matters get worse when Parisi’s underworld brother, Sal, gets involved. He wants Simone to find out who killed his brother, and he takes Chloe as ‘insurance.’ Since the only way to free Chloe is to find the killer, Simone gets started right away. She goes undercover as a new table dancer at the Red Room, and begins to get to know the people in the dead man’s life. And it’s not long before she discovers that some very dangerous people had very good murder motives. While cosmetic surgery isn’t the reason for the murder in this case, it does have a part in the story. And on a side note, it’s interesting to see how the table dancers use wigs, makeup, and costuming to play their roles.

And then there’s Sophie Littlefield’s A Bad Day For Mercy, which features her sleuth, Stella Hardesty. By day, she owns Hardesty Sewing Machine Repair & Sales. But she has a ‘side business,’ too. She pays ‘friendly visits’ to those who’ve committed domestic abuse, and she has very effective ways of reminding them of how to behave, let’s just say. In this novel, Hardesty learns that her step-nephew, Chip, is in serious trouble because of gambling debts. In fact, his life’s been threatened. So, she drives from her home in small-town Missouri to Wisconsin to visit him. When she gets there, she finds Chip and his girlfriend, Natalya, trying to get rid of a dead man’s body. The man turns out to be Natalya’s abusive husband, and it looks very much as though Chip might be responsible. He and Natalya claim that they’re innocent, though, and found the body on their porch. So, if they aren’t the killers, Hardesty is going to have to find out who is. One very good possibility is a medical student named Doug, who has a sideline performing illegal (and not particularly professional) Botox injections. As it turns out, he had dealings with the victim, and a good reason to want him dead. But he’s not the only likely candidate.

Whatever your opinion of cosmetic surgery, there’s no doubt it’s popular. And it really does have a place in crime fiction, Thanks, Moira, for the inspiration.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Engine Room’s A Perfect Lie.

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Filed under Carl Hiaasen, Donna Leon, Leigh Redhead, M.C. Beaton, Ngaio Marsh, P.D. James, Sophie Littlefield

I Went Down to the Demonstration*

Lots of us want to see change in the world, or at least in our part of it. Many of us vote for what we want. Others get involved in some sort of activism, whether it’s protesting, a letter campaign, or something else. Still other people are even more deeply involved in activism.

Activists can make quite a difference in the real world, and they can be very interesting fictional characters. They’re often passionate, and the author can use such characters as protagonists or antagonists, depending on where the story is going. And there’s often suspense when there’s a conflict between activists and those against whom they protest.

In Agatha Christie’s One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (AKA The Patriotic Murders and An Overdose of Death), we are introduced to Harold Raikes. He wants major societal changes, and protests people and institutions he feels hold back progress. One of his targets, if you will, is powerful banker Alistair Blunt. Blunt has conservative views about government and finance, and believes in careful, prudent steps and slow decision-making. To Raikes, he represents all that is wrong with the current British system of things. One day, Blunt finally gives in to the pain of a toothache and goes to see his dentist, Henry Morley. When Morley is shot in his surgery, the police and the Home Office believe that this was really an attempt on Blunt (after all, he’s certainly made plenty of enemies). And Raikes comes in for his share of suspicion, since he was in the building at the time of Morley’s murder. Hercule Poior was also a patient of the victim’s, so he works with Chief Inspector Japp to find out who killed Morley.

In Gail Bowen’s Kaleidoscope, we are introduced to Riel Delorme, a Regina-based Métis activist. Delorme has his own issues to deal with, but he is committed to bettering the lives of the people who live in Regina’s North Central district. When a development company proposes a project in North Central, Riel is one of the leaders of the opposition to it. He believes the project will disenfranchise the people who live in that area, and will force them out of their homes. So, when one of the development company’s employees is murdered, Delorme is a very likely suspect. Bowen’s sleuth, academician and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn Shreve gets involved in the case for two reasons. First, her husband is the attorney who represents the development company. Second, her daughter, Mieka, is romantically involved with Delorme. In this case, the investigation strikes quite close to home.

Ruth Rendell’s Road Rage features activists from several groups who converge on the town of Kingsmarkham when a new road is announced. The road will run through Framhurst Great Wood, and plenty of people are strongly opposed to it. That includes Inspector Reg Wexford’s wife, Dora. Wexford is hoping that the protests and activism won’t get out of control, but that’s not to be. First, a group of hostages – including Dora – is taken. Then, there’s a murder. The stakes get very high as Wexford and his team have to solve the murder and try to get the hostages free without a bloodbath.

Eco-activist Samuel Spender finds out just how dangerous activism can be in Linwood Barclay’s Bad Move.  A development company has put up new suburban housing in a community called Valley Forest Estates. Spender and his group are very much against the development, and have been proverbial thorns in the company’s side. One day, Spender goes to the company’s sales office, and has a loud argument with one of the executives. Witnessing that argument is science-fiction writer Zack Walker, who moved his family to the community for greater safety and security. When Walker finds Spender’s body in a nearby creek later that day, he learns just how unsafe and unsecure a suburb can be…

Peter Temple’s Bad Debts introduces his sleuth, PI Jack Irish. Irish is also a sometime-lawyer. One day, one of his former clients, Danny McKillop calls, asking to meet him as soon as possible. Irish doesn’t get around to it right away, and by the time he does, McKillop is dead. As it is, Irish felt guilty about McKillop’s case; he didn’t do a good job of defending his client against a hit-and-run murder charge. Now he feels even more guilty. So he starts to look into the case. McKillop had originally been convicted of killing Melbourne activist Anne Jeppeson. But, the more deeply Irish looks into the case, the more he suspects that his former client was framed, and that Jeppeson was killed by someone who wanted to shut her up.

In Donna Leon’s Through a Glass Darkly, we meet Venice activist Marco Ribetti. He and his group are convinced that the local glass-blowing factories are major polluters, and very dangerous for the environment. So, one day, Ribetti and his group stage a protest in front of a factory owned by his own father-in-law, Giovanni de Cal. Ribetti is arrested and jailed. Ispettore Lorenzo Vianello is a friend of Ribetti’s, so Ribetti asks him for help. Vianello agrees and asks his boss, Commissario Guido Brunetti, for support. Together, the two arrange for Ribetti’s release. Not long afterwards, Giorgio Tassini, who works as night watchman at de Cal’s factory, dies in what looks like a terrible accident. But, when Brunetti learns that Tassini, too, was convinced the factories pollute the environment, he begins to wonder whether it was an accident.

And then there’s legendary environmental activist Jay Duggan, whom we meet in Geoffrey Robert’s The Alo Release. He’s been working with the Los Angeles-based Millbrook Foundation. That group has been monitoring a company called Vestco, which claims to have created a seed coating that will increase world food production by a substantial factor. Millbrook doubts both the company’s claims and the safety of the seed coating, but hasn’t been able to prevent its release. Now, with nine days to go, the foundation has decided not to fight the release any longer. Duggan decides to leave the foundation and return to his native New Zealand, and invites two colleagues to join him for a visit before they return to work. All three leave on their flight, with no idea that a Vestco employee has just been murdered. When they land in Auckland, they learn about the death. They also learn that they’ve been framed for it, and have become international fugitives. Now, they have to find out who the killer really is, and avoid the police if they can. There’s also the matter of stopping the release of the seed coating, which is imminent.

Activism is an important part of what makes our society look at itself and, hopefully, reflect and improve. And activists are involved in a number of different causes. They are important in real life, and they make interesting fictional characters.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Rolling Stones’ You Can’t Always Get What You Want.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Donna Leon, Gail Bowen, Geoffrey Robert, Linwood Barclay, Peter Temple, Ruth Rendell