Category Archives: Edney Silvestre

Fooling Myself*

As this is posted, it’s the 70th anniversary of the first staging of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Arguably, one of the important themes in the play is the inability to let go of illusions. Several characters in the play, including Willy Loman, have illusions about themselves and others, and it’s painful, even tragic, when they’re confronted with the reality.

That’s the way real life sometimes works, though. People may have illusions about their children (e.g. ‘My daughter’s just got a great job – she’s going to go to the top!’), or their own importance to their employer, or, or… Some of those illusions may be harmless enough; others are not. And when we are confronted with them, there can be any number of reactions.

It’s the same thing in crime fiction. And, because everyone’s different, an author has all sorts of options when it comes to weaving this theme into a novel. Certainly, it can add to character development as well as to the main plot.

There’s an Agatha Christie novel, for instance, in which someone’s quite illusory plans lead that person to commit more than one murder. No titles or sleuths, in the interest of spoiler-prevention. But Christie fans will know which novel I mean.

In Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, we are introduced to the Blackwood family: eighteen-year-old Mary Katherine ‘Merricat,’ her older sister Constance, and their Uncle Julian. They live in a large, isolated house near a small New England town that considers them pariahs. And we soon learn the reason. Six years before the events of this novel, three other members of the Blackwood family died of what turned out to be poison. Although no-one was ever convicted, the locals are certain that one of the remaining Blackwoods is responsible. Despite this, the family lives peacefully enough, and Merricat (from whose point of view the story is told) has developed an entire set of illusions about her life, her family’s life, and the people in the town. Everything changes when a cousin, Charles Blackwood, comes to visit. His visit sets off a chain events that ends in more tragedy. Throughout the novel, we see just how strong some of Merricat’s illusions really are.

Karin Alvtegen’s Betrayal is the story of Eva Wirenström-Berg, her husband, Henrik, and their son, Axel. Eva has always wanted the ‘white picket fence’ suburban dream, and she thinks she has it. She and Henrik have been happily married for fifteen years, and Axel is healthy and doing well.  Then, Eva’s illusions are shattered. She discovers that Henrik has been unfaithful. Devastated by this news, Eva determines to find out who the other woman is. When she does, she sets in motion her own plan. In the meantime, we also meet Jonas Hansson, who has his own issues. One night, Eva goes to a pub where she happens to meet Jonas. The two start talking, and before they know it, things spiral out of control for both. And part of the reason is that Jonas has his share of illusions, too.

In Virginia Duigan’s The Precipice, we are introduced to Thea Farmer. She’s retired from her job as a school principal and moved to the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. There, she had a custom-made house built – her dream home. But bad luck and poor financial decision-making have meant that she’s had to put that home up for sale and move into the house next door. As if that’s not enough, Thea learns that a new couple, Frank Campbell and Ellice Carrington, have bought the house she still considers hers. To add insult to injury, Frank’s niece, Kim, comes to live with them. Unexpectedly, Thea forms an awkward sort of friendship with the girl, though, and sees in her real promise as a writer. So, she’s very concerned when she begins to believe that Frank is not providing an appropriate home for Kim. When the police won’t do anything about it, she makes her own plan of action. Throughout this novel, we see how many illusions Thea has about her life, her reasons for leaving her job, her home, and much more. And those illusions play important roles in the choices that she makes.

Edney Silvestre’s Happiness is Easy introduces successful São Paolo advertising executive Olavo Bettencourt, his ‘trophy wife,’ Mara, and their son, Olavinho.  Bettencourt is very much in demand by companies that want to increase their visibility and sales. And, with Brazil’s laws about political campaigning undergoing change, Bettencourt also finds that several politicians, some of them powerful, also seek him out. This gives him a real illusion of his own importance and power. All of that changes when a gang decides to kidnap Olavinho. By accident, they abduct the wrong boy (they take the son of Bettencourt’s housekeeper), and are now caught in a dangerous web. In the meantime, Bettencourt has a serious dilemma. The more public he goes with the kidnapping situation, the more likely it is that some ugly truths about his business dealings will come out. And that could mean major legal trouble for him. But he can’t be seen to be doing nothing. As the story goes on, he learns the hard way that he doesn’t have nearly as much power as he thinks he does.

And that’s the thing about illusions. It can be very hard to let go of them, but it can be at least as dangerous not to do so. And illusions can serve some effective purposes in a crime novel.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Edney Silvestre, Karin Alvtegen, Shirley Jackson, Virginia Duigan

Local Girl Makes Good, Weds Famous Man*

There’s a very interesting dynamic within what I’ll call ‘power couples.’ By that, I mean couples where both individuals have wealth, or ‘clout’ or some other claim to being ‘important.’ In real life, couples like Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt, or Juan and Eva Peron, are examples.

We see those couples in crime fiction, too, and they can add layers to a story. They’re influential, so they can impact a plot. And they have their own sort of dynamic, so such couples can be interesting as characters, too.

For example, in Agatha Christie’s Lord Edgware Dies, we meet famous American actress Jane Wilkinson. She’s well-known in her own right and is married to the wealthy and influential 4th Baron Edgware. She’s not happy, though, as she has fallen in love with the Duke of Merton. So, she asks Hercule Poirot to convince her husband to give her a divorce, so that she will be free to marry again. Poirot’s reluctant, but is eventually persuaded. When he and Captain Hastings visit Edgware, though, they are shocked to learn that he already withdrew his objection to a divorce, and, in fact, informed his wife of that. On the surface, it seems that the matter is settled. But that night, Edgware is stabbed. His wife is the most likely suspect, but she claims that she was at a dinner in another part of London at the time, and there are twelve people who are willing to swear that she was there. So, Poirot, Hastings, and Chief Inspector Japp have to look elsewhere for the criminal.

Emily Brightwell’s historical (Victorian-Era) Mrs. Jeffries Forges Ahead features Arlette Montrose Banfield and her husband, Lewis. They’re a rising ‘power couple,’ Lewis being from a wealthy ‘blueblood’ family, and Arlette being a well-known sculptor and artist’s model with a deep background in the arts. The Banfield family hosts an annual ball, and this year is no different. On the night of the big event, though, Arlette is poisoned. Inspector Gerald Witherspoon and his team investigate the murder, and they find there are several suspects. For one thing, there are several members of the Banfield family who feel that Lewis married ‘beneath him.’ The Montroses, for their part, resent the fact that Arlette married into what they see as a family of philistines with no culture whatsoever. There are other possibilities, too, and the investigation is not made easier by the Banfields’ status as influential people.

Anthony Bidulka’s Russell Quant is a Saskatoon-based PI who’s lucky enough to have several caring people in his world. One of them is his mentor, Anthony Gatt. Gatt is the owner of a very successful, upmarket menswear company. In fact, Gatt frequently tries to help Quant with matters sartorial. He knows everyone who is anyone in Saskatchewan and is quite influential in his own way. His partner, Jared Lowe, is a supermodel (later, he leaves that business). Together, the two are a ‘power couple’ who are well known internationally, and who have all sorts of ‘important’ friends.

Shadaab Amjad Khan’s Murder in Bollywood introduces readers to a Bollywood ‘power couple.’ Nikhil Kapoor is Bollywood’s top director. His wife is famous actress Mallika Kapoor. Together they reign supreme in Bollywood society. Then, one night, at a private party, Kapoor says that he knows one of the people at the party has killed and will kill again. Not long afterwards, Kapoor is found dead of what looks like a freak electrical accident. His wife, too, dies, of what looks like an unfortunate drug overdose. But Senior Inspector Hoshiyar Khan finds small pieces of evidence that suggest that the Kapoors were murdered. His boss, Meeta Kahsyap, supports Khan’s thinking, and he investigates the case more deeply. Beginning with those at the private party, he gets to know the people in the victims’ lives and tries to work out who would want both of them dead. He learns that there are past connections among these people, and that these murders have to do with the past.

Edney Silvestre’s Happiness is Easy is the story of Olavo Bettencourt and his wife, Mara. Bettencourt is an advertising executive who’s had a great deal of success. Mara is a former actress. They live in an exclusive area of São Paulo with their son, Olavinho. The business is much in demand, including by politicians who want to take advantage of Brazil’s increasing openness to political advertisement. On the surface, the Bettencourts are very much a ‘power couple’ who wield a great deal of influence. But they are also vulnerable. For one thing, Bettencourt is caught up in a web of dubious deals and ‘dirty money,’ and he’s not nearly as much in control as he thinks he is. Mara has a past that she would much rather not have made public. Everything comes to the surface when a group of kidnappers decide to take Olavinho, thinking his parents can afford to pay well for his safe return. But they get the wrong boy. Instead of Olavinho, they kidnap the son of the Bettencourt’s housekeeper. Now, the kidnappers have to decide what to do with the boy they have. And Bettencourt has to decide how much to tell the media and the police. The more he tells, the more vulnerable he is to criminal investigation.  As both sides work to get out of the situation, we learn just how vulnerable even ‘power couples’ can be.

And then there’s Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti. He is married to Paola Falier, who is the daughter of a very influential ‘power couple.’ Conte Orazio Falier and his wife, Donatella, know everyone who is anyone in Venice. They’re on every A-list, and they have a great deal of social ‘clout.’ Their status sometimes proves to be very helpful to Brunetti, especially when he’s investigating crimes where the trail leads to high places.

There are other ‘power couples’ in crime fiction. They can be interesting in and of themselves, and they can add to a plot. Which ones have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s High Flying, Adored.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Bidulka, Donna Leon, Edney Silvestre, Emily Brightwell, Shadaab Amjad Khan

Exposing Every Weakness*

In Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Hercule Poirot solves the stabbing murder of a retired business tycoon. At one point, he has this to say:
 

‘‘Let us take a man – a very ordinary man. A man with no idea of murder in his heart. There is in him somewhere a strain of weakness – deep down.’’
 

We all have flaws, of course, and in some cases, those flaws – those strains of weakness – can be used to manipulate us. For instance, someone who’s secretly a little greedy can be tempted quite a lot by money.

In crime fiction, this can make for an interesting layer of psychological tension, as well as a character motivation. There are lots of examples in the genre; here are just a few.

In Agatha Christie’s Dead Man’s Folly, detective novelist Ariadne Oliver is hired by Sir George and Lady Hattie Stubbs to create a Murder Hunt event for an upcoming fête. On the surface, it seems quite innocent – all in fun. But Mrs. Oliver suspects that more is going on, and she asks Hercule Poirot to investigate. On the day of the fête, fourteen-year-old Marlene Tucker, who’s playing the part of the victim in the Murder Hunt, is actually killed. Poirot works with Inspector Bland to find out who the killer is. One of the ‘people of interest’ in the story is a scientist, Alec Legge, who’s rented a nearby cottage. As Poirot finds out more about the case, he discovers that Legge was drawn in, if you will, by some dangerous people. He had, as Poirot puts it, sympathy for a certain political party, and the more powerful members of that party wanted to exploit both that sympathy and Legge’s science skills. When Legge tried to extricate himself, he found it much harder and more dangerous than he imagined. It’s an interesting look at the way people’s biases and weaknesses can be used against them.

William Hjortsberg’s Falling Angel introduces readers to low-rent New York PI Harry Angel. The novel takes place in the 1950’s, not very long after the end of World War II. One day, Angel gets a call from the prestigious and upmarket law firm of McIntosh, Winesap and Spy. Ordinarily, such a firm wouldn’t hire a PI like Angel. But one of their clients, a man named Louis Cyphre, wants to find a man, Jonathan Liebling, who’s gone missing. According to Cyphre, Liebling, who went by the name of Johnny Favorite, was a talented jazz musician whom Cyphre helped at the start of his career. In exchange, Favorite promised Cyphre ‘a certain collateral.’ Then, Liebling was drafted into service in World War II. He came back from the war suffering from physical wounds as well as what we now call PTSD. Eventually, he was placed in a special hospital. Now, he’s disappeared from the hospital, and Cyphre wants to find him. The fee is tempting, and Angel takes the case. He soon finds that this is no ordinary missing person case. Instead, Angel’s been drawn into a web of horror, and his weaknesses are being exploited.

We also see that in John Grisham’s The Firm. In that novel, Harvard Law School graduate Mitchell ‘Mitch’ McDeere gets an offer from the Memphis law firm of Brendini, Lambert, & Locke. It’s by no means the only offer he’s gotten. McDeere is smart, has a good background, and is hungry for success, as many young lawyers are. And that’s exactly the sort of lawyer Brendini, Lambert, & Locke want. They make McDeere an irresistible offer, and he signs on. At first, all seems to be going well. McDeere’s new colleagues help him pass the Tennessee Bar Exam, and he’s welcomed in other ways, too. But it’s not long before he begins to have some questions. Several attorneys connected with the firm have died, and McDeere wonders about the circumstances. By the time he starts to get some answers, though, he’s in deep, as the saying goes. His own ambition has drawn him in and been exploited. If he’s going to stay alive, he’s going to have to find a way to extricate himself.

In Malcolm Mackay’s The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter, we meet Winter, a small-time Glasgow drug dealer who wants to make a name for himself in the criminal underworld. He’s caught the attention of Peter Jamieson and his right-hand man, John Young. Jamieson is a ‘rising star’ in the underworld himself, and he has no interest in sharing the spotlight with an upstart who’s not nearly as clever as he thinks he is. So, he and Young hire Callum MacLean to ‘take care of’ Winter. MacLean has a good reputation and knows how to do the job. He soon sets his plan in motion. And, even though things don’t go exactly the way he intended, we see how weaknesses such as greed and desire can make a person very vulnerable.

Edney Silvestre’s Happiness is Easy is in part the story of Olavo Bettencourt. He’s a wealthy and successful São Paolo advertising executive who has a life that most people would envy. He has a beautiful home in a closely-guarded part of the city. He has a gorgeous ‘trophy wife,’ and a healthy son, Olavinho. As Brazil’s political system gets a bit more open, several political candidates are advertising more, and they’re depending on people like Bettencourt. And that’s to say nothing of the large companies with which Bettencourt does business. He very much enjoys the money, perks, and power of his situation, but he’s really not as much in control as he thinks. In fact, some even more powerful and dangerous people have used Bettencourt’s weaknesses against him, and he’s now caught in a web. Then, a group of gangsters decides to abduct Olavinho – not an outrageous idea, considering the family’s wealth. They put together their plan and set it in motion. But they kidnap the wrong boy. Instead of Olavinho, the gangsters find that they have taken the mute son of the Bettencourts’ housekeeper. Now, the gang has to decide what to do about the boy they’ve abducted, and what to do about Olavinho. For his part, Bettencourt has to decide just what to tell the media and police. After all, too many questions about him could land him in jail…

We all have our weaknesses. They’re part of what makes us human. And it can make for an interesting layer of character development and suspense when those weaknesses are exploited.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Pink Floyd’s The Happiest Days of Our Lives.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Edney Silvestre, John Grisham, Malcolm Mackay, William Hjortsberg

Everybody in the World Likes Chocolate*

Recently, FictionFan, at FictionFan’s Book Reviews, conducted an interesting scientific study of chocolate. Using the My Life in Books meme from Adam at Roof Beam Reader, Fiction Fan compared two sets of data. One set, collected before eating any chocolate, was an initial list of responses to the My Life in Books prompts. Then, FictionFan provided answers to the same prompts after eating chocolate. As you can clearly see from FictionFan’s answers, there was a definite positive effect of chocolate on mood.

Of course, any study ought to be replicated, if possible, in order to lend support to the results. So, I decided to do just that. Like FictionFan, I collected two sets of data: one was collected before eating chocolate, and the other after. My own data is presented below:

 

Prompts

Before Chocolate

After Chocolate

In high school, I was:

Among Thieves

In Like Flynn

People might be surprised (by):

The Colaba Conspiracy

[What] Harriet Said

I will never be:

You

Wife of the Gods

My fantasy job is:

Nunslinger

An Easy Thing

At the end of a long day, I need:

Burial Rites

A Jarful of Angels

I hate it when:

Days are Like Grass

Not a Creature Was [is] Stirring

Wish I had:

The Frozen Shroud

Greenlight

My family reunions are:

Murder and Mayhem at Honeychurch Hall

Above Suspicion

At a party, you’d find me with:

The Hidden Man

Ruby and the Blue Sky

I’ve never been to:

The Cemetery of Swallows

China Lake

A happy day includes:

Dead Lemons

Crystal Ball Persuasion

Motto I live by:

Can Anybody Help Me?

Happiness is Easy

On my bucket list is:

Talking to the Dead

The Dawn Patrol

In my next life, I want to have:

A Moment’s Silence

A Three-Pipe Problem

 

As you can see, chocolate also had a positive effect on my mood. Now, of course, this study is limited, as all studies are. For one thing, I made use of Belgian chocolates for this research. Other sources and types of chocolates would have to be studied to really confirm the hypothesis that chocolate enhances one’s mood. For another thing, FictionFan’s data and mine are only two iterations of this study. More researchers would be needed, to rule out effects based on any similarities between me and FictionFan (I mean, we are both crime fiction readers, etc..). There are other limitations, too, as any academician can tell you.

That said, though, I think it’s safe to say that this study certainly lends support to FictionFan’s conclusion that chocolate has mood-enhancing effects. Anyone else care to take part in this all-important research?

Thanks, FictionFan, for your groundbreaking study!

 
 
 

NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Soul Control’s Chocolate (Choco Choco).

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Don’t Blame Them, You’re the Same*

It seems to be a part of human nature that we’re sometimes very critical of others, for the very same things we do ourselves. We use a different set of standards, if you like to put it that way (e.g. ‘Well, it’s different in my case!’). Or, we simply don’t see the same trait in ourselves.

t’s certainly a human characteristic, so it’s realistic. It’s little wonder, then, that it comes up in fiction, including crime fiction. And it can make for interesting character development, not to mention tension.

In Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, for instance, we are introduced to Miss Emily Brent. She’s among a group of people who are invited to spend time on Indian Island, off the Devon coast. When the group arrives, they’re surprised to find that their host hasn’t yet made an appearance, but everyone settles in. Then, that night, each one is accused of having caused the death of at least one other person. Not long afterwards, one of the guests dies of what turns out to be poison. Later that night, another guest dies. Soon, it’s clear that someone has lured the guests to the island, and plans to kill them all. Now, the survivors have to find out who the killer is, and stay alive themselves. Miss Brent denies causing anyone’s death, and has no problem sitting in judgement, if you will, of the others as we learn about their situations. But little by little, we learn that she’s no different. She refuses to see that she’s no less guilty, though, and it’s an interesting layer to her character.

Nicholas Blake’s The Beast Must Die introduces readers to novelist Frank Cairns, who writes as Felix Lane. His son, Martin ‘Martie’ was tragically killed in a hit-and-run incident, and now, Cairns wants to kill the man who was responsible. So, he returns to the town in which he and Martie lived at the time of the death, and begins to track down the driver of the car. He finds out that that man is George Rattery, and slowly makes his plans. His idea is to take Rattery out sailing and make sure he drowns. But Rattery finds out what Cairns has planned, and tells Cairns that if anything happens to him, Cairns will be suspected. Later in the day, Rattery is murdered by what turns out to be poison. Now, Cairns contacts poet and amateur sleuth Nigel Strangeways. He tells Strangeways that, while he plotted to kill Rattery, he isn’t actually the murderer. Strangeways agrees to look into the case and find out who the real killer is. Throughout the novel, it’s interesting to see how Cairns views what he planned. He doesn’t put his plot to murder Rattery in the same category as Rattery’s killing of Martie. He doesn’t see what he’s doing as the same thing at all.

In Megan Abbott’s historical novel (1950s) Die A Little, we meet Lora King, a Pasadena, California, teacher. She has a very close relationship with her brother, Bill, so she’s concerned when he begins to date former Hollywood seamstress assistant Alice Steele. At first, Lora tells herself that she’s being overprotective of her brother, but her concerns only grow when Bill and Alice marry. She tries to be nice to her new sister-in-law for Bill’s sake, but she starts to find out some things about Alice that really unsettle her. At the same time as she is repulsed by Alice’s life, though, she is also drawn to it. Then, there’s a murder, and Alice could very well be mixed up in it. Lora tells herself she’s trying to help her brother, and begins to ask questions. Throughout this novel, there’s a very interesting and real question about whether Lora is really very much different to Alice, despite the way she judges her sister-in-law.

In Maureen Carter’s Working Girls, Birmingham police detective Beverly ‘Bev’ Morriss and her team investigate the murder of fifteen-year-old Michelle Lucas. When it’s discovered that she was a sex worker, the team looks among Michelle’s fellow sex workers and clients to find out who would have wanted to kill her. And it’s not long before they find several different possibilities. Throughout the novel, we see a clear prejudice against sex workers among many people. One thread of that (albeit not a major point in the novel) is that those who use sex worker services see a big difference between what they do and what the sex workers do.

And then there’s Edney Silvestre’s Happiness is Easy. That novel is the story of a plot to kidnap the son of wealthy São Paolo business tycoon Olavo Bettencourt. Bettencourt has a life that just about anyone would envy. He’s rich, he has a beautiful ‘trophy wife,’ Mara, and quite a lot of ‘clout.’ He also has a young son, Olavinho. A gang decides to kidnap the boy, and sets the plan in motion. Everything falls apart, though, when they get the wrong boy. Instead of Olavinho, they abduct the mute son of the Bettencourt’s housekeeper. Now, the gang has to decide what to do about this situation. And Bettencourt has to decide what to tell the media and the police about the situation. His business deals have not all been entirely legal, and he’s reluctant to have any of that brought to light. As the novel goes on, we learn more about the Bettencourts. Mara grew up desperately poor, and has done a lot of questionable things to get to the wealthy life she has now. She despises her husband, but it’s arguable that she’s not much different. For his part, Olavo is contemptuous of his wife and her ‘low class’ background. But again, it’s arguable that he is no different.

There are plenty of other examples of characters who look down on, or at the very least, judge, the very qualities in others that they themselves share. It’s a human trait, so it makes sense that we’d see it in fiction.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice’s Good Night and Thank You.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Edney Silvestre, Maureen Carter, Megan Abbott, Nicholas Blake