Category Archives: Donna Leon

Diamonds Never Lie to Me*

There’s something about jewels. In part, it’s their mystique, of course. But they are considered to have a lot of intrinsic value. What’s more, they’re often small, so they can be easily transported, traded, and so on. It’s little wonder, then, that the jewel trade is such a lucrative one. Companies such as De Beers have made fortunes through the years. That alone means that the jewel trade is a very attractive target for all sorts of crime.

That, plus the hold the jewel trade has on a lot of people’s imaginations, means that there are plenty of references to it in crime fiction. Here are just a few. I know you’ll think of others.

In Agatha Christie’s The Mystery of the Blue Train, we are introduced to Demetrius Papopolous. Based in Paris, he is a highly respected dealer in jewels and valuable antiques. So, he’s aware of it right away when new collections of diamonds, rubies, and other jewels go on the market. This expertise makes him a very useful contact for Hercule Poirot, who’s tracing a valuable ruby known as Heart of Fire. It was purchased by wealthy American businessman Rufus Van Aldin for his daughter, Ruth. But she’s been murdered, and the ruby (along with the necklace that held it) is gone. As one angle of investigation, Poirot tries to determine what’s happened to the jewel. As he interacts with M. Papopolous, we learn a little about the side of the jewel trade that involves exclusive dealers and their clients.

Jewel dealers have played an important role in times of anxiety, when people were scrambling to get as much ready cash as possible. For instance, during the last years of the Weimar Republic, many Germans were desperate for money. Their currency had little value, and the Great Depression of the early 1930’s was in full force. We see a bit of that in Rebecca Cantrell’s A Trace of Smoke. Journalist Hannah Vogel lives and works in 1931 Berlin, not long before the Nazis take power. Everything is scarce, and very few people have money. Hannah herself has been slowly selling her jewelry, as her salary gives her barely enough to keep going. In the main plot of this story, she discovers to her shock that her brother, Ernst, has died. She wants to find out how and why, but she has to move very quietly, so as not to attract any attention. Still, she doesn’t give up; and in the end, she finds out the truth about Ernst’s death. Along the way, she has more than one conversation with Herr Mordecai Klein, the jeweler with whom she’d been doing business. Those conversations shed some interesting light on the way people used the jewel trade to manage during that time of panic.

Because the jewel trade is so lucrative, many governments cooperate with the mining industry to ensure a steady supply of gems. That’s what’s happened between the government of Botswana and the Botswana Cattle and Mining Company (BCMC) in Michael Stanley’s A Carrion Death. The story starts when Professor of Ecology Bengani Sibisi and his guide discover the remains of an unknown man near rural Dale’s Camp. At first, it looks as though the dead man wandered too far from camp and was attacked by wild animals. But it’s not quite that simple, and Botswana CID Assistant Director David ‘Kubu’ Bengu begins to look into the matter more closely. There seems to be a connection between this death (and another) and BCMC, so Bengu and his team pay particular attention to the way the company does things. So, readers learn about how diamonds are discovered, how their ownership is established, and how they are bought, sold, and transferred.

Sometimes, of course, the jewel trade has a darker side. In Donna Leon’s Blood From a Stone, for instance, Venice Commissario Guido Brunetti and his team are faced with a puzzling case. An unidentified Senegalese immigrant has been shot, execution-style, at one of the city’s open-air markets. The first step in trying to find out who the killer was is to find out more about the victim. So, Brunetti and Ispettore Lorenzo Vianello start asking questions about the man. It takes some time, both because of the language barrier, and because the man was in Italy illegally. But eventually, Brunetti and Vianello find the home where the dead man lived. As they look through his possessions, they find a hidden cache of diamonds. Now, the case takes on a whole new complexity as the detectives link this murder to the illegal ‘conflict diamonds’ trade.

And then there’s Faye Kellerman’s Sanctuary. In one plot thread of this novel, LAPD Detective Peter Decker and his police partner, Marge Dunn, investigate a strange disappearance. Wealthy Los Angeles jewel dealer Arik Yalom and his family have disappeared. Later, the Yalom parents are found dead, and their two teenage sons are suspected. But they’re still missing. So, Decker and Dunn follow leads through Los Angeles’ diamond district, all the way to South Africa, and eventually to Israel, the Yalom family’s original home. Along the way, readers learn something about the diamond industry and its worldwide reach.

Diamonds and other jewels really do have a fascination for a lot of people. So, it shouldn’t be surprising that we see that industry showing up in crime fiction. These are just a few examples. Your turn.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from John Barry and Don Black’s Diamonds Are Forever.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Donna Leon, Faye Kellerman, Michael Stanley, Rebecca Cantrell

Poison is the Wind That Blows*

As this is posted, it’s 55 years since the first publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. It was a very influential indictment of the pesticide industry, and of those who accepted that industry’s claims without researching them. Carson also laid out the consequences for the environment of using pesticides and other toxins indiscriminately.

Since that time, many governments have made an effort to reduce or eliminate dangerous chemicals and other toxins that threaten the environment. And Carson is by no means the only one to have called attention to this very real risk. She wrote non-fiction, but there are also plenty of fiction writers who’ve addressed this issue.

In many ways, it’s harder for fiction writers to write about threats to the environment. Most readers don’t want ‘preaching’ in their fiction. Nor do they want to be made to feel guilty as they read. They want good stories that engage them, and well-drawn characters. That said, though, there are authors who’ve balanced telling stories with making a point about the environment.

In one of Robin Cook’s early efforts, Fever, Dr. Charles Martel is working on a very promising cancer study at the Weinberger Institute. The company authorities, though, want him to work on a new product, Canceran. Martel isn’t convinced that Canceran is effective, but the company needs government approval of the drug to put it on solid financial footing. So, Martel is pulled from his own research, and told to work on Canceran studies. He agrees, but in secret, continues his own research. Then, his daughter, Michelle, is diagnosed with acute myeloblastic leukemia. Now, Martel works desperately on his own studies, to try to find a treatment that will help Michelle. He also searches for any information he can find about this particular form of leukemia. That’s when he discovers that a powerful company has been dumping toxic chemicals into a nearby river. Martel tries to bring the company’s activities out into the open and stop them. But he’s up against wealthy and well-connected people. And he’s running out of time if he’s to save his daughter.

Fans of Donna Leon’s work will know that her sleuth, Venice police detective Guido Brunetti, often finds himself up against companies that allow toxic chemicals into public water, soil, and so on. For example, in Through a Glass, Darkly, he investigates the death of Giorgio Tassini, who was night watchman at one of Venice’s glass blowing factories. At first, the death looks like a terrible accident. But Brunetti soon suspects otherwise. It comes out that he accused his employer and other such factories of dumping toxic waste into the local water. In fact, he cited that dumping as the cause of his daughter’s array of special needs. Now, Brunetti and his team look more closely at the industry, and try to find if Tassini was telling the truth. If he was, it’s very likely that someone in the industry was responsible for his death.

Carl Hiaasen takes an interesting (and funny – it is Hiaasen) perspective on illegal and dangerous chemical dumping in Skinny Dip. In the novel, we are introduced to Charles ‘Chaz’ Perrone. He is, by background, a marine biologist, who’s hired by agribusiness owner Samuel Johnson ‘Red’ Hammernut. Perrone’s task will be to show that Hammernut’s business does not pollute the environment or change the quality of the local water. Hammernut’s not looking to be a good global citizen; he just wants the ‘rubber stamp’ he needs to continue doing business as he is, and keep government authorities and environmentalists away. And Perrone is the perfect person to do the job. He has no professional integrity, and is willing to do whatever his new boss wants, because the price is right. And he’s invented a way to make water studies look ‘clean,’ even if they aren’t. Then, Perrone’s wife, Joey, finds out what her husband’s doing. She threatens to go to the authorities, and Perrone knows he has to act fast. So, he invites her on a romantic, ‘just the two of us’ cruise of the Everglades, to celebrate their anniversary. While they’re on the cruise, Perrone pushes his wife overboard. He believes he’s killed Joey, but he’s forgotten that she’s a champion swimmer. Joey doesn’t die, but is rescued by former copper Mick Stranahan. Together they concoct a plan to rattle Perrone and make him admit that he tried to kill his wife. The more he tries to cover everything up, the more Broward County police detective Karl Rolvaag suspects that he’s guilty.

In both Black Water Rising and Pleasantville, Attica Locke tells the story of Houston-area lawyer Jay Porter. In both novels, he gets involved in murder investigations that lead to the very top of the local corporate ladders. As he does, he finds that, in both cases, the companies involved are linked to some very corrupt activity that has a real impact on the environment. It wasn’t what Porter intended to do with his life, but he finds himself tangling with some well-connected enemies in these novels.

And then there’s Geoffrey Robert’s The Alo Release. In that novel, legendary environmentalist Jay Duggan has been working with a Los Angeles-based watchdog group called the Millbrook Foundation. They’re concerned about the forthcoming release of a new, genetically-modified, seed coating. Its manufacturer, a company called Vestco, claims that it will do much to end world hunger. But Millbrook has grave doubts about the company’s claims. They’re not successful in preventing Vestco from planning the release, though, and Duggan decides to take this opportunity to retire and return to his native New Zealand. He invites two work friends, Science Director Dr. Catherine ‘Cat’ Taylor, and IT director Matthew Liddell, to join him there for a short visit before they get back to work. The three have already left Los Angeles when word comes that a Vestco employee named Henry Beck has been murdered. Duggan, Taylor and Liddell are being framed for the murder, so when they arrive in Auckland, they’re considered international fugitives. Now, they’re in a race against time (and several forces, both police and otherwise) to stop the seed coating from actually being released, clear their names, and find out the truth about Beck’s death.

Rachel Carson was well known for speaking out against the use and misuse of toxic chemicals and other pollutants. But she’s not the only one who’s done so. There are plenty of real-life and fictional characters who’ve also addressed that problem. When it’s handled so that it doesn’t come across as preaching, it can make for a compelling context for a crime novel.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Marvin Gaye’s Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology).

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Filed under Attica Locke, Carl Hiaasen, Donna Leon, Geoffrey Robert, Rachel Carson, Robin Cook

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