Category Archives: Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen

Copenhagen, I’ve Never Felt Your Grip so Tight*

denmarkOn the surface of it, Copenhagen is a peaceful, lovely place. When you think of Copenhagen, you may think of Hans Christian Andersen, or perhaps the beautiful Tivoli Gardens.  If you think of Denmark, you may think of the striking seacoast, or the quiet farmland. Your first thought probably isn’t of murder and mayhem. But trust me, there is plenty of crime-fictional havoc wreaked in Denmark. Don’t believe me? Just consider these examples from the genre.

Copenhagen is the setting for part of Peter Høeg’s Smilla’s Sense of Snow. That’s the story of Smilla Jaspersen, a half-Inuit Greenlander who now lives in Copenhagen. Smilla’s not a particularly social person, but she’s developed a sort of friendship with a ten-year-old boy, Isaiah Christiansen, who lives in the same building. He, too, is a Greenlander, so they share that bond. One day, Isaiah dies from a tragic fall from the room of his (and Smilla’s) apartment building. Smilla finds herself drawn to the scene, and notices the patterns in the snow. They suggest to her that Isaiah’s fall wasn’t so accidental, so she starts to ask questions. Those questions lead Smilla into grave danger – and into something much bigger than one small boy’s fall from a roof.

In Leif Davidson’s The Serbian Dane, we are introduced to Vuk, a Bosnian Serb who was raised in Denmark. He is hired to kill Sara Santanda, an Iranian author who’s been living in hiding in London. She’s under a death threat, and Vuk is tapped to carry that threat out when Santanda decides to travel to Copenhagen. Her plan is to give an exclusive interview to Lise Carlsen of the newspaper Politiken. The Danish government is well aware of her plan, and assigns Per Toflund, a security expert with the Danish national police, the responsibility for her safety. He and Vuk are formidable opponents, and as the story goes on, we see the tension build as we learn what measures each side is taking. We also learn the backstories of the main characters, and what’s led to the roles each plays.

Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Department Q series also takes place in Copenhagen. It features homicide detective Carl Mørck. When the series begins, he’s recovering from a line-of-duty incident in which he was gravely injured and a colleague killed. Another colleague was left with paralysis. As it is, Mørck’s not exactly an extrovert or an optimist. But after the incident, he got so difficult to work with that people no longer wanted to be teamed up with him. So, he was tapped to lead the new ‘Department Q,’ which was set up to investigate ‘cases of special interest’ – cold cases. Not only did that decision solve the problem of what to do with Mørck, but also, it gave the police some leverage with the government and the media. The top brass can now say they take all crimes seriously, and are conscientious about investigating. As the series continues, Mørck acquires first one assistant, Hafez al-Assad, and then another, Rose Knudsen. Both have interesting backgrounds and unique skills that they bring to the department. And all three are, in their way eccentric. Together, they form an interesting investigative team.

In Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis’ The Boy in the Suitcase, we are introduced to Red Cross nurse Nina Borg. When an old friend asks her to go to Copenhagen’s main train station and pick up a suitcase, Nina is willing to oblige. She discovers, to her shock, that the suitcase contains a little boy. He is drugged and frightened, but alive. When she tries to contact her friend, it seems that friend has disappeared. Now, Nina is drawn into a case that involves a missing boy, a shadowy figure nicknamed The Dane, and murder. As the series continues, Nina continues her work on behalf of others, especially immigrants to Denmark, who sometimes come with not much more than the clothes they’re wearing. As she tries to help those most in need, Nina has a tendency to put herself in too much danger. It’s alienated her family and is a serious, ongoing threat to her health. As the series goes on, she tries to put herself together, and it’s interesting to see how she goes about it.

And, just in case you were thinking that the rest of Denmark must be safer than Copenhagen, think again. Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen has written a few award-winning series and standalones. One of them features Tora Skammelsen, a writer who has moved to her aunt’s North Sea cottage to find some peace and quiet, sort her life out, and of course, write. In North Sea Cottage, she uncovers a skeleton in an old stable on the property. And she finds figurative skeletons in her family’s history. In The Woman Behind the Curtain, Tora finds out more than she intended about the people who live near her parents. And then there’s Football Widow, in which Tora and local police officer Thomas Bilgren look into the world of football and footballers’ families. There’s a fourth Tora Skammelsen story in the making, and I’m excited for it (I’m almost finished reading it, Dorte!).

And I haven’t even mentioned television series such as The Bridge and Dicte. You see? Don’t let appearances deceive you. Denmark is beautiful and peaceful on the surface. Underneath? Perhaps not so much.

ps Thanks, for the lovely ‘photo!


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Tina Dickow’s Copenhagen.


Filed under Agnete Friis, Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Leif Davidsen, Lene Kaaberbøl, Peter Høeg

I Won’t Back Down*

DaresMost of us don’t want to appear weak in front of others. That’s arguably why people often don’t tell their troubles to a lot of people or admit their mistakes. That desire to appear strong and brave is also part of the reason people take dares and bets. Backing out of a dare or challenge can be seen as cowardly, so people go through with sometimes foolish and dangerous dares and bets to avoid that label. I’m sure you’ve seen it in real life, and that plot point runs through crime fiction too.

For example, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist, we are introduced to Violet Smith, who’s taken a position as piano teacher/governness at Chiltern Grange. During the week, she stays there. At the weekend, she goes to London to visit her mother. Lately, she’s noticed that a strange man on a bicycle has been following her on the way to and from the train station. He’s never threatened her or even spoken to her. But she’s beginning to worry for her safety. She’s also curious about who the man is and what he wants. So she engages Sherlock Holmes to get to the bottom of the mystery. He and Dr. Watson investigate, and they soon find that Violet Smith is in great danger. Unbeknownst to her, she’s a pawn in a very high-stakes game, as the saying goes. And it all started because of the need to appear strong and not back down from a challenge, in this case, a card game.

John Dickson Carr’s Hag’s Nook is the first in his Gideon Fell series. In this novel, Tad Rampole has recently been graduated from university, and has come to England at the suggestion of his mentor, who knows Fell. Rampole is on the way to Chatterham, where Fell lives, when he meets Dorothy Starberth. He’s smitten with her, so he takes a special interest when Fell tells him about the mysterious history of the Starberth family. For two generations, the Starberths were Governers of the now-disused Chatterham Prison. Even though the prison has been abandoned for a hundred years, the Starberths are still associated with it through a family ritual. Each Starberth heir spends the night of his twenty-fifth birthday in the old Governor’s Room at the prison. During the evening, the heir opens the safe in the room and follows the instructions inside it. Now it’s the turn of Dorothy’s brother Martin. He’s not particularly eager to take on this challenge; the Starberth heirs have a habit of dying suddenly and violently. But he doesn’t want to back down and appear a coward. So he goes along with the ritual. During the night he stays in the prison, Martin Starberth dies of what looks like a tragic accident. But Fell is able to prove that the death was quite purposeful.

Agatha Christie’s Hickory Dickory Dock (AKA Hickory Dickory Death) features a group of residents who live in a hostel for students. The hostel is managed by Mrs. Hubbard, whose sister Felicity Lemon is, as fans will know, Hercule Poirot’s frighteningly competent secretary. Mrs. Hubbard’s concerned about a series of odd and seemingly meaningless petty thefts going on at the hostel, so Miss Lemon asks her employer to look into the matter. This he agrees to do, and he pays a visit to the hostel. That evening, one of the residents Celia Austin confesses to the thefts, so it seems that the matter is settled. But when she dies two nights later, it’s clear that there’s more going on here than thievery. Poirot and Inspector Sharpe establish that Celia was murdered, and begin to investigate. As they do, they discover that just about everyone in the hostel is hiding something. One of the things they find out, for instance, is that a few of the residents got involved in what seemed like a harmless bet. They were joking around about being able to commit murder without being caught. Jokes led to a bet, which led to poisons being in the hostel at the time of Celia Austin’s death. And no, that’s not a spoiler, ‘though it may seem to be…

Catherine Aird’s The Religious Body is the story of the murder of Sister Mary St. Anne, who was a part of the community at the Convent of St. Anselm. When her body is discovered at the foot of the convent’s basement stairs, Berebury Police Inspector C.D. Sloan and his assistant Constable William Crosby investigate. Their first interest is of course, the network of relationshps at the convent, and they interview all of the people who live and work there. But they don’t neglect other possibilities. For example, there’s Sister Anne’s family. Also, close to the convent is an Agricultural Institute. It wouldn’t seem that anyone there would have a reason to kill Sister Anne, but on Guy Fawkes day, some of the students follow the college’s tradition of burning a guy. This time, though, the guy is dressed in a nun’s habit and what turn out to be Sister Anne’s spectacles. So it’s very clear that someone at the school was at the convent. Sloan and Crosby find that that element of the mystery has to do with a prank and some students’ desire to take on a challenge.

And then there’s Ann Cleeves’ Raven Black. On New Year’s Eve, Sally Henry and Catherine Ross are on their way home from a party when they pass by the house of Magnus Tait, who’s generally regarded as a misfit and a strange person. Catherine dares her friend to knock on the door and although she’s reluctant, Sally doesn’t want to appear cowardly. So she agrees and the two go to the house. Tait invites them in, and finds himself accused of murder when Catherine is killed a few days later. Inspector Jimmy Perez is assigned to the case and interviews the people in Catherine’s life, including Tait. There is evidence against him, but Tait claims that he’s innocent, and Perez comes to believe him. It’s interesting in this novel to see how that simple dare gets Tait mixed up in the girls’ lives.

Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen’s short story Trick or Treat begins as a young boy goes up to the door of Crow House, which has a creepy reputation. He’s been dared to knock on the door and of course, he doesn’t want to back down, so he knocks. When he’s admitted, he finds a trick he couldn’t have imagined…

Most of don’t want to seem weak, so it’s only natural not to want to back down from dares, bets and challenges. But as crime fiction shows us, it might just be safer all round to risk that…

ps. Oh, the ‘photo? Go ahead, pick a card. Dare ya! You’re not afraid, are you???

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of song by Tom Petty.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Ann Cleeves, Arthur Conan Doyle, Catherine Aird, Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen, John Dickson Carr

Another Pleasant Valley Sunday*

Village MurdersOne of the more enduring traditions in crime fiction is the ‘English village murder.’  That sort of novel features a seemingly sleepy village where everyone knows everyone’s business, and where people are (at least on the surface) shocked when murder strikes. Over time, of course, the context has been extended to include villages in many different countries. And there are lots of fictional villages that many crime fiction readers have come to love. I’ve only space to mention a few ‘village series’ here; I’m sure you’ll be able to fill in the gaps though.

Perhaps the most famous fictional village is Agatha Christie’s St. Mary Mead, the home of Miss Jane Marple. Miss Marple claims that she’s learned quite a lot about human nature, just from observing her fellow villagers. And several of the Miss Marple stories focus on life in St. Mary Mead, and on the people who live there. Beginning with The Murder at the Vicarage, readers have come to know the vicar Leonard Clement and his wife Griselda, Colonel Arthur Bantry and his wife Dolly, and lots of other villages too. Interestingly, St. Mary Mead also features in Christie’s The Mystery of the Blue Train, which is not a Miss Marple novel. In that story, we meet Katherine Grey, who’s lived in St. Mary Mead as a paid companion for ten years. Her life changes completely when she inherits a great deal of money and decides to travel. That’s how she gets mixed up in a case of theft and murder. What’s particularly of interest is that Katherine Grey and Miss Marple never meet. It’s not surprising though, since Miss Marple didn’t make her fictional debut until after the publication of The Mystery of the Blue Train.

M.C. Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth is the local bobby in the Highlands village of Lochdubh. He’s quite happy with his quiet village life, and has no burning desire to live and work anywhere else. In the course of that series, we get to know the village and its eccentric inhabitants. For instance, there’s occasional poacher Angus Macgregor, there’s village GP Dr. Brodie, and there are the Reverend and Mrs. Wellington. There’s also local news reporter Elspeth Grant, and the ‘well-born’ Priscilla Halburton-Smythe, both of whom are also love interests for Macbeth.

Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen has created the fictional Yorkshire village of Knavesborough. Her sleuth Rhapsody Gershwin is the daughter of Knavesborough’s vicar, and the fiancée of its local bobby Archie Penrose. In stories such as The Cosy Knave and Green Acres, we meet some of Knavesborough’s eccentric residents. For example there’s local mushroom enthusiast Arthur Kickinbottom and his grumpy wife Mildred; there’s Penrose’s boss and football enthusiast DI Mars-Wrigley; and there are Rhapsody’s sisters Psalmonella and Harmonia. This series features plenty of ‘village spite’ and of course, crime, but it’s also got quite a lot of wit.

Both Dicey Deere and Ian Sansom have written series that feature Irish villages. Deere’s sleuth is Torrey Tunet, an American-born translator/interpreter. She travels quite a bit for her job, but always enjoys time at her European ‘home base,’ the Irish village of Ballynagh. The local law is enforced by Inspector O’Hare, who does not appreciate Tunet’s involvement in any investigation. But although Tunet wasn’t born in Ballynagh, she’s been accepted by the locals, and finds it hard to leave matters alone when one of the friends she’s made is threatened. Readers who would rather not catch up on a long series will appreciate that this one only consists of four entries.

Sansom’s series, the Mobile Library Series, features Israel Armstrong, a ‘blow-in’ from London who’s been hired as the librarian for the Tumdrum and District Mobile Library. As we first learn in The Case of the Missing Books, his job is, on the surface, of it, hardly a dream job for a librarian. He drives the area’s rattletrap mobile library bus, which is kept stocked and running only because the law requires that a library be accessible to the locals. But the residents of Tumdrum and the surrounding area love having books available, and as the series goes on, Armstrong slowly gets to know them and vice versa. This series has a slightly more cynical edge to it, if I may put it that way, than some ‘village’ series do. It’s a funny and wry look at village life through the eyes of someone who’s very accustomed to London life.

There’s also Martin Walker’s series featuring Benoît ‘Bruno’ Courrèges. This series takes place mostly in the French village of St. Denis, in the Périgord. Bruno is very much ‘one of us,’ as far as the other villagers are concerned. He does his job not just because it’s what he’s paid to do, but also because he knows and cares about the other people who live in St. Denis. This series often links past events and crimes to present-day mysteries. It also features, as do most ‘village’ series, a look at the lifestyle and culture of the area. This series isn’t as light as some ‘village’ series are; there are sometimes ugly crimes and motivations. But it shows the real appeal of life in a village in that part of France.

And I couldn’t imagine a post about ‘village’ murders without a mention of Louise Penny’s series featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec. This series’ focus is the village of Three Pines, which we first ‘visit’ in Still Life. This isn’t what you’d call a cosy ‘village series,’ although there are plenty of light moments. In some ways, it does have quite an edge. But it’s clear that life in Three Pines can be very good indeed, and the series offers readers an authentic look at its culture and lifestyle. The series includes some beloved characters too, such as bistro/B&B owners Olivier Brulé and his partner Gabriel Dubeau. There are also for instance artists Peter and Clara Morrow and poet Ruth Kemp Zardo. Among other things, this series is almost as much about those characters and the ways their lives intersect.

And that’s the thing about ‘village’ mystery series. They tell stories of crime of course. But they also show what it’s like to live in a village, and they depict the ways in which the residents’ lives are woven together. There are only a very few crime-fictional villages. Which ones do you like to ‘visit?’



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Gerry Goffin and Carole King’s Pleasant Valley Sunday, made famous by the Monkees.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Dicey Deere, Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen, Ian Sansom, Louise Penny, M.C. Beaton, Martin Walker

The Alphabet in Crime Fiction: Mushrooms

MushrooomsMmmm… the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme has made quite a lot of progress on our treacherous trek through the letters. My thanks as ever to Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise for such a well-oganised and enjoyable (if dangerous…) trip. Today we’re stopping at M & Co., the world-famous restaurant. Our table isn’t ready yet, so while we’re waiting, I’ll share my contribution for this stop: mushrooms.

Mushrooms can be delicious additions to a lot of different dishes, but as most people know, some varieties are deadly, And that of course makes mushrooms a very effective murder weapon. After all, you can’t easily prove that such a killing was deliberate; the various kinds of mushrooms can be difficult to sort out. And it doesn’t take a lot of technical knowledge, strength or skill to use deadly mushrooms. No wonder they show up all the time in crime fiction.

For instance, in 4:50 From Paddington, Elspeth McGillicuddy is on a train on her way to visit her friend Miss Marple. When another train passes in the same direction, Mrs. McGillicuddy glances through the other train’s window just in time to witness a woman being strangled. At first no-one believes her because a body isn’t discovered on the train. But Miss Marple does, and deduces that the body must be on the property of Rutherford Hall, which is owned by Luther Crackenthorpe and his family. So Miss Marple fixes it up so that her friend Lucy Eyelesbarrow gets a position there as housekeeper, with the understanding that Lucy will search for the body. When she does find the body the police are called in and begin to investigate. Shortly afterwards, everyone gets sick at lunch one day and the mushrooms that Lucy included in the meal are blamed. Then, one of the family members dies. Now it’s clear that someone wants to wreak havoc on the Crackenthorpe family. With help from Lucy’s observant eyes and ears, Miss Marple figures out who the killer is and how that death is related to the death of the unknown woman on the train.

In Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen’s The Cosy Knave, murder and poisoning come to the small town of Knavesborough. Small-town-boy-made-good Mark Baldwin, who now calls himself Marco Bellini, returns to Knavesborough after having lived abroad for many years. He throws a housewarming party at which Rose Walnut-Whip becomes ill. Not long afterwards she is found stabbed. Constable Archibald ‘Archie’ Penrose ends up investigating the murder and he and his fiancée Rhapsody Gershwin look into the case. They soon find that more than one person wanted to murder the victim. They’re working on the investigation when another villager Jack Warburton is murdered. His body is discovered by avid mushroom collector Arnold Kickinbottom. Kickinbottom also had a motive for murdering Rose Walnut-Whip and he is most definitely a suspect in this second death too, having (perhaps too conveniently) found the body. Then Kickinbottom himself is poisoned by mushrooms. Perhaps the poisoning was a clever way to throw suspicion from himself, or perhaps there’s a serial killer loose in Knavesborough…

Ariana Franklin’s The Serpent’s Tale is the story of the murder of Rosamund Clifford, mistress of King Henry II. When someone feeds Rosamund poisoned mushrooms, the case threatens to cause a major upheaval for the country, especially since there is talk that Queen Eleanor may have been responsible. If she is guilty, the result could be a civil war. The king summons Adelia Aguilar, a doctor and ‘mistress of the art of death’ to find out what really happened to his mistress. She will have to tread very lightly though, since this murder has so many important political ramifications.

Mushrooms also wreak havoc in Julie Smith’s short story Project Mushroom. Katherine is a botanist who’s hired to work on a public-relations project to promote California’s mushroom industry. Project head Martin Larson is infuriating enough that everyone on the project wants to kill him. The longer Katherine works with the team the more she sees how he drives everyone else mad. One night there’s to be a banquet to celebrate the group’s work and call attention to the project. All of the dishes at the banquet contain different varieties of mushrooms. That’s where Larson learns what happens when you aren’t good to the people who work with you. The next morning, the headlines are full of the news of his death, and with all of the mushrooms served at the dinner, the police believe that he must have died from accidental mushroom poisoning. But Katherine knows better…

Dance troupe manager Victor Owens finds out a similar thing in Kaitlyn Dunnett’s Scone Cold Dead. Owens is the leader of a Scottish dancing troupe that has decided to go on tour. Former member Liss Macrimmon find out about the tour and invites the group to make a stop in her adopted town of Moosetookalook, Maine, to which she retired after an injury. One night she throws a party for the dance troupe at which different Scottish foods will be featured. Shortly after the party, Owens dies of anaphylaxis brought on by eating a scone filled with mushrooms, to which Owens was violently allergic. Liss soon comes under suspicion since she threw the party and since she was no friend of Owens. But Owens was an obnoxious person who alienated just about everyone and who sexually harassed more than one person. So as Liss tries to clear her own name, she finds plenty of possible ‘replacement suspects.’

See what I mean? Mushrooms can be nasty things if they’re not carefully chosen and properly handled and cooked. But when done right, they really are delicious, don’t you think? Oh, I’ve just been told that our table is ready. Care to join us??? 😉


Filed under Agatha Christie, Ariana Franklin, Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen, Julie Smith, Kaitlyn Dunnett

It’s an Illusion, It’s a Game*

Penn and TellerHave you ever been to a magic show? I mean a really well-done show. We all know going into a show that the magician really cannot, for instance, turn water into coins. But a talented magician can make the audience believe even if it’s just for a moment that a handkerchief turned into flowers. Magicians use misdirection and other strategies to create illusions. And when they do it well, it takes all of one’s effort to remember that it isn’t real.

We see that same use of strategy to create illusion in crime fiction. I’m not referring here to things like faking an alibi. Rather, I mean strategies that make people believe that something they think they see is true, while the reality is something entirely different. And when you get people to think that something is true, they are often convinced – even to the point of testifying in court – that they are right. And that fact of human life can be useful to criminals.

For instance, in Agatha Christie’s Lord Edgware Dies (AKA Thirteen at Dinner), Hercule Poirot investigates the stabbing death of the 4th Baron Edgware. Edgware’s wife Jane Wilkinson is the most likely suspect. It’s well-known that she wanted a divorce from her husband so that she could marry again. She’s even approached Poirot to try to convince Edgware to withdraw his objection to the divorce. What’s more, she was heard to threaten her husband. And she was admitted to the house on the night of the murder. So at first, Chief Inspector James ‘Jimmy’ Japp believes that he’s got his culprit. But on the night of the murder Jane Wilkinson went to a dinner party in another part of London. Twelve people, including the host, are willing to swear in court that she was at the party. So Poirot, Hastings and Japp have to look elsewhere for the killer. And they find plenty of suspects too, as Edgware was an extremely unpleasant person. In the end Poirot finds out who the killer is and we get a first-class lesson in the power of illusion.

Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives introduces us to attorney Walter Eberhart, his wife Joanna and their two children Pete and Kim. The Eberharts decide to move from New York to the beautiful and quiet town of Stepford, Connecticut and at first all goes well. They are warmly welcomed and the children soon settle into school and start to make friends. But soon, Joanna begins to think that something odd is going on in Stepfored. She and her new friend Bobbie Markowe ask a few questions, but they don’t get clear answers. Besides, there is no obvious danger to them or their families. Then, disturbing things begin to happen and Joanna becomes more and more convinced that Stepford’s beauty, peace and quiet are illusions. She begins to believe that something truly sinister is going on in town. It turns out that she’s right.

We also see the use of illusion strategies in Linwood Barclay’s Bad Move Science fiction writer Zack Walker, his journalist wife Sarah and their children Angie and Paul move to a beautiful new housing development called Valley Forest Estates. Zack is hoping that the lower cost of living in the suburbs will mean that he can write full-time, and he’s utterly convinced that life in the suburbs will be safer than it is in the city where they lived before the move. But little by little, his illusion of the ‘perfect suburban life’ is shattered. First, the house itself has all sorts of structural and other problems and Zack can’t seem to get anyone in authority to respond to his requests for maintenance. Then he discovers the body of Samuel Spender, a local environmental activist, in a creek. Then there’s another murder. Little by little Zack discovers that the development has mostly been a carefully orchestrated illusion designed to cover up some nasty goings-on. It’s not until Zack puts aside his belief that life is safer in the suburbs that he’s really able to see what’s happening.

Caroline Graham’s A Ghost in the Machine also includes the use of illusion to cover up a crime. Mallory Lawson and his wife Kate move to the village of Forbes Abbot when Mallory’s wealthy Aunt Carey dies. Aunt Carey has left her home and much of her fortune to Mallory and his family on the condition that her former companion Benny Frayle will always have a home. Mallory and Kate are happy to agree to that and everyone settles into the new arrangement. Then, the Lawsons’ financial advisor Dennis Brinkley is killed in what looks like a very tragic accident. But Benny thinks it was murder and tries to get the police to investigate. No-one takes very much notice of her allegation until there’s another death. Self-styled medium Ava Garret is leading a séance one day; during the event she says some things about the murder that she couldn’t possibly know. Not long afterwards she’s poisoned. Now Inspector Tom Barnaby and his team re-open the Dennis Brinkley case and slowly link it to Ava Garret’s murder. In a sad irony, Ava’s determination to maintain the illusion that she is psychic costs her her life as the murderer uses what you could call an illusion against her.

There’s an effective use of illusion in Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen’s Toffee’s Christmas too. In that short story, an author of romance novels who calls herself Toffee Brown moves to the small Yorkshire village of Knavesborough. As she tells the local vicar’s daughter Rhapsody Gershwin, Toffee came to the village to get some rest. Although she’s very eccentric and rather put out at not being identified as the world-famous writer she is, Toffee becomes a part of village life and settles in. Then one day, Rhapsody and her sister Psalmonella discover Toffee’s body in the cottage she’s taken. Rhapsody’s fiancé local constable Archibald ‘Archie’ Primrose begins to investigate and in the process they learn what Toffee’s real identity was. That doesn’t bring them much closer to finding the murderer though. It’s not until Rhapsody discovers that another character has created an illusion that she and her fiancé catch the killer.

Betty Webb’s Desert Wives is mostly set in the compound of a polygamous sect called Purity. The sect has been run by Brother Solomon Royal until he is murdered. Private investigator Lena Jones goes undercover to join Purity and find out who killed Royal when her client Esther Corbett is accused of the crime. Esther had a good motive for the murder too, as Royal had been planning to marry Esther’s thirteen-year-old daughter Rebecca. Jones settles into Purity and begins to ask questions about Royal’s murder. What she finds is that Purity is hiding some truly ugly secrets. There’s been a very carefully-designed illusion of Purity as being a peaceful, happy group of people who help each other, meet the group’s needs in a self-sufficient way and raise the group’s children together. But the reality is far, far different. Jones discovers domestic abuse, child molestation, and intermarriage leading to some serious birth defects. She also discovers financial wrongdoing. In fact, the reality underneath the illusion of Purity is so awful that Jones finds it hard to focus on her main reason for being there. But she does discover who killed Solomon Royal and why.

The thing about well-crafted illusions is that they can be very convincing. And in crime fiction that ability to create a reality that isn’t there can be very useful to criminals. Of course, sleuths can create illusions too; maybe I’ll address that in another post…


ps.  The photos are of Penn Jillette and Raymond Teller, who make up the hugely popular and successful magician duo Penn and Teller. Not only are they dedicated to debunking fraudulent psychics and other fakes, but they are truly gifted illusionists themselves. Oh, and they’re as pleasant in person as you could wish for, despite their great success.




*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Genesis’ Abacab.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Betty Webb, Caroline Graham, Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen, Ira Levin, Linwood Barclay