Category Archives: Elizabeth Spann Craig

We’re Not Quite Sure Just What We’re Dying Of*

If you’ve ever been ill, even with something relatively minor like a cold, you know how easy it is to be preoccupied about your health. And that has advantages. It’s important to take medication, especially things like antibiotics, as directed, to rest if needed, and so on.

But, like anything else, it’s possible to take that preoccupation too far. I’m emphatically not talking here of genuine chronic illness. That’s an entirely different matter. Rather, I’m talking of cases where preoccupation becomes hypochondria. In real life, it can be annoying to spend too much time with a hypochondriac. But hypochondria can add an interesting character layer in a novel. And, if it’s a crime novel, there’s just a chance that preoccupation with one’s health is justified…

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sign of the Four, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson investigate a strange case brought to them by Mary Morstan. Years earlier, her father returned from India to London, and arranged to meet her. But he didn’t keep that appointment and hasn’t been seen since. Not long after his disappearance, Mary began receiving a set of pearls, one each year, from an anonymous person. Holmes and Watson discover that that person is Thaddeus Sholto, the son of a friend of Morstan’s. It turns out that Sholto has some important information about what happened to Morstan, and why he’s been sending the pearls. As it happens, Thaddeus Sholto is a hypochondriac, who can go on at great length about his health (and does). Even Dr. Watson finds his medical conversations tiresome.

Agatha Christie’s After the Funeral (AKA Funerals Are Fatal) features the Abernethie family. When wealthy patriarch Richard Abernethie dies, his family members gather for the funeral and the reading of his will. During the gathering, Abernethie’s younger sister, Cora Lansquenet, says that he was murdered. Everyone else hushes her up, and even she tells the others not to pay attention to her. But the seed has been sown, and everyone wonders whether she might be right. When she herself is murdered the next day, it seems clear that she was right. Family attorney Mr. Entwhistle asks Hercule Poirot to look into the matter, and he agrees. One of the people concerned in this case is Abernethie’s younger brother, Timothy. He doesn’t attend the funeral because of ill health, and we soon learn that ill health is his status quo. He revels in his bottles of medicine, and is obsessed with his heart rate, his pulse, and so on. This hypochondria isn’t the reason for the two deaths, but it adds an interesting layer to the story.

Fans of Martha Grimes’ Inspector Richard Jury will know that his assistant, Sergeant Wiggins, is also obsessed with his health. He’s constantly concerned about whether he’s well, and he keeps himself updated on all of the latest articles about health, whether they’re from responsible sources or they’re faddish. Wiggins can be tiresome about health matters, and that annoys Jury. But Wiggins is also a skilled police officer who knows his job. So, Jury tries to keep Wiggins’ hypochondria in perspective. It’s not always easy, though…

Elizabeth Spann Craig’s amateur sleuth, Myrtle Clover, is a retired English teacher who lives in the small town of Bradley, North Carolina. She originally gets involved in solving mysteries mostly to prove she’s not ready to be ‘put out to pasture,’ although that’s what her son, the local police chief, would like. Myrtle sometimes needs a ‘sounding board’ for her ideas, or some help putting them into action. One of the people she turns to is her friend, Miles Bradford. Like Myrtle, he’s retired. His idea of retirement, though, is quite different to Myrtle’s. He’d pictured a quiet retirement, without a lot of adventure. But that’s not what happens once he gets to know Myrtle. Miles is a germaphobe, and someone of a hypochondriac, although he’s not the whiny sort. Still, Myrtle doesn’t always have patience for his more cautious approach. He makes for an interesting contrast to Myrtle’s more adventurous nature.

Of course, there are times when it’s wise to pay close attention to, and to focus on, one’s health. For instance, Gail Bowen’s Deadly Appearances introduces us to her sleuth, academician and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn. In the main plot of the novel, she happens to be present when her friend, up-and-coming politician Androu ‘Andy’ Boychuk, suddenly collapses and dies of poison. As a way of coping with her grief, she decides to write a biography of her friend. And, as she does, she gets closer and closer to the truth about what happened to him. In another plot thread, she begins to lose weight and have other signs of illness. At first, she doesn’t pay much attention, as she’s not one to be obsessed about her health. But as time goes by and things get worse, she gets concerned and seeks medical attention. At first, there aren’t any clear answers to what’s going on, and that’s scary. It’s easy to see why, in cases like this, one would start getting very preoccupied with health.

It can be annoying to spend too much time with a hypochondriac in real life. But in fiction, hypochondria can make for an interesting layer of character. And there really are people like that, so it can be credible, too. These are just a few examples. Your turn.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Hotspur’s Hypochondria.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Gail Bowen, Martha Grimes

His Painting’s On the Wall*

We’ve all heard of world-famous paintings such as Picasso’s Guernica. Beyond their monetary value, there’s just something about certain pieces of artwork that capture the imagination – or at least, people’s attention. If you’ve ever stood looking at a piece of artwork, drawn to it, you know what I mean.

And artwork certainly plays its role in crime fiction. And we don’t just see it in ‘heist’ stories, either. Sometimes, a particular piece of art is central to a plot; sometimes it’s not. Either way, it can add an interesting layer to a story.

For instance, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Six Napoleons, Inspector Lestrade brings Sherlock Holmes an unusual case of vandalism. It seems that two busts of Napoleon, sold by the same shop, have been smashed. Then another is found smashed, and this time, there’s also a murder. Lestrade wonders whether the culprit is some sort of madman with a fanatical hatred of Napoleon, but Holmes guesses that’s not the case. He traces the smashed busts to their origin, and, in the end, finds out why someone would want to destroy them.

In Agatha Christie’s short story Within a Wall, famous artist Alan Everard and his wife, Isobel, host a tea party to unveil his latest work: a portrait of her. It’s technically flawless, but Everard knows it doesn’t have the passion of his earlier works. Then, one of the guests discovers a painting of Everard’s daughter’s godmother (and his muse) Jane Haworth. The contrast between the two paintings shows just how much influence Jane has had on his work, and that influence has had its consequences. Admittedly, this story isn’t really as much a crime story as it is a psychological study. But it shows how one painting can play an important role in a story. I see you, fans of Five Little Pigs

Aaron Elkins’ Loot begins as Boston art expert Benjamin ‘Ben’ Revere gets a call from his friend, pawn shop owner Simeon Pawlovsky. It seems that Pawlovsky has gotten in a new painting, and he wants Revere to tell him whether it’s valuable. Revere goes to the shop, expecting that the painting won’t be worth much. To his shock, though, it appears to be a priceless Velázquez. Revere wants to do some research on the painting, but he’s concerned for Pawlovsky’s safety if the painting is left in the shop. He asks for permission to take the painting with him while he does the research, but Pawlovsky refuses. Reluctantly, Revere leaves the painting behind. By the time he returns, Pawlovsky’s been murdered. Guilty about leaving his friend in such a dangerous situation, Revere wants to know who’s responsible for the killing. He knows that he’s not a professional detective. But he reasons that, if he can trace the painting from its last known owner to the pawn shop, he might be able to find out who the killer is. And that’s what he proceeds to do. It gets him into plenty of danger, but Revere finds out the truth.

As Bartholomew Gill’s McGarr and the PM of Belgrave Square begins, Chief Superintendent Peter McGarr of the Garda Síochána is at the scene of a murder. Antiques and art dealer William Craig has been shot, and his body has been discovered behind the building that houses his home and his shop. McGarr and his assistant, O’Shaughnessy, have just gotten started on the case when it’s discovered that one of the paintings in the shop is missing. This adds a possible motive, and McGarr wants to find out more about the painting. His wife, Noreen, works at her family’s picture gallery, and has a background in art history. So, he taps her expertise. It turns out that the research she does, and the background of that painting, prove to be important clues in this case.

An argument over a painting is an important plot point in Riley Adams’ (AKA Elizabeth Spann Craig’s) Hickory Smoked Homicide. Tristan Pembroke is a wealthy beauty pageant coach, who’s as malicious and mean-spirited as she is influential. She commissions a portrait from local artist Sara Taylor. Tristan isn’t happy at all with the result, as she feels that it doesn’t do her justice. So, she refuses to pay Sara. As you can imagine, that prompts a dispute between the two. When Tristan holds a charity art auction at her home, Sara includes the painting among the pieces that will be sold. After all, she reasons, who’s going to want to buy a portrait of someone else who isn’t world-famous? At the auction, the painting prompts another argument. Later, Tristan is found murdered, and Sara becomes the prime suspect. Her mother-in-law, Lulu Taylor (the sleuth in this series) knows that Sara’s innocent, and she sets out to find out who the real killer is.

And then there’s Gail Bowen’s The Gifted. Political scientist and academician Joanne Kilbourn Shreve, and her husband, Zack, are excited when their daughter, Taylor, is invited to include some of her work in an upcoming charity art auction. Taylor is a talented, passionate artist, and this is a real chance for her. She’s already shown her parents one of the two pieces that she will contribute. The other, which she’s called BlueBoy21, is a portrait of her muse and love interest, Julian Zentner. No-one sees that painting until it’s revealed on the night of the auction. And it turns out that that piece of artwork will have tragic consequences for more than one person.

Some pieces of art are like that. Beyond any monetary value, they have influence, appeal, or influence on their own. These are just a few examples of how plot point can play out in crime fiction. I know you’ll think of others.

 

The ‘photo is of a beautiful Joan Miró sculpture that’s displayed at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, in Madrid.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Paul McCartney’s Picasso’s Last Words (Drink to Me).  

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Filed under Aaron Elkins, Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Bartholomew Gill, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Gail Bowen, Riley Adams

Perfect Isn’t Easy, But It’s Me*

We all know that people aren’t perfect. Most of us do some things well (perhaps even very well), and some things not very well. And, yet, there’s a myth that we ought to be perfect. We’re ‘supposed to’ do our work with no mistakes, always look perfectly ‘put together,’ and so on. There are even more myths around raising children (our perfect children are supposed to be raised perfectly).

Everyone knows that human make mistakes. Still, lots of people want to be perfect. On the one hand, there’s nothing wrong (and a lot of things right) with setting goals, wanting to improve, and so on. It’s when perfectionism takes over that it can present a problem. I got to thinking about this after reading a really interesting post by Elizabeth Spann Craig. By the way, if you haven’t read Elizabeth’s mystery series (she’s got several), you want to try them. You won’t regret it.

Elizabeth’s post had a focus on perfectionism in writing (in case you’re wondering, it’s not possible.). But perfectionism isn’t just confined to writers. And it’s not confined to real life, either. There are plenty of crime novels in which perfectionism plays a role. Here are just a few.

In Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun, we are introduced to sixteen-year-old Linda Marshall. She goes with her father, Captain Kenneth Marshall, and her stepmother, Arlena Stuart Marshall, to the Jolly Roger Hotel on Leathercomb Bay for a holiday. But this isn’t a happy time for Linda. She is very much dissatisfied with her physical appearance, for one thing. She’s also got that teenage awkwardness that makes it hard for her to feel confident. Linda wishes she were perfect in appearance, grace, and so on, but she knows she isn’t. And that makes life very hard for her. It doesn’t help matters that her stepmother is a famous and beautiful actress, with all of the looks, confidence, and grace you’d expect. Linda has a lot of resentment towards Arlena, and that’s part of what makes her a ‘person of interest’ when Arlena is murdered one day. Hercule Poirot is staying at the same hotel, and he works with the police to find out who the killer is.

Talmage Powell’s short story To Avoid a Scandal features a banker named Horace Croydon. He has what he sees as the perfect life. He does his job perfectly, he has a perfect little place to live, and he’s never done anything to raise even the merest hint of a scandal. Then, he meets his boss’ cousin, Althea. After a very respectable courtship, they marry. Almost immediately, Horace sees that he’s made a dreadful mistake. Althea doesn’t serve meals on time, she doesn’t do the shopping in the ‘right’ way, and she’s made several changes to his perfect home. She doesn’t even dress properly to appear at the breakfast table. All of that’s bad enough, but one day, she goes too far. When she destroys some ciphers that Horace is working (it’s his hobby and passion), he decides he’s going to have to act. And he comes up with his own plan to solve the problem.

Karin Alvtegen’s Betrayal is the story of Eva Wirenström-Berg. She’s always wanted the ‘perfect’ suburban life, complete with white picket fence. And she thinks she has it. She and her husband Hendrik have been married for fifteen years, and they have a six-year-old son, Axel. For Eva, it’s very important to have the perfect home, the perfect marriage, and so on. Then, she discovers to her shock that Hendrik has been unfaithful. She’s devastated by this and decides to find out who his lover is. When she does, she decides to take revenge. In the meantime, we meet Jonas Hansson, who’s got his own issues. One night, he’s in a pub when Eva stops in for a drink. The two get to talking, and, soon enough, things spiral out of control for both of them. In this case, perfectionism has a very dark side.

It does in Sinéad Crowley’s Can Anybody Help Me? too. Yvonne and Gerry Mulhern and their newborn daughter move from London to Dublin, so that Gerry can take advantage of a very good job opportunity. It’s hard for Yvonne, because she doesn’t really know anyone in Dublin. And, while she’s not stupid or gullible, she has been subjected to the myth of the ‘perfect mother.’ As anyone who’s ever had a newborn knows, babies are exhausting. There’s little time to eat properly, clean the house, put together the right outfits, and so on. And there’s no magic way to get them to stop crying when you want them not to cry. Yvonne doesn’t really have a support system and feels very strongly that she doesn’t ‘measure up.’ Then, she discovers an online forum called Netmammy. It’s a chat group for new mums, and there, she finds the camaraderie and support she so desperately needs. Then, one of the other members of the forum goes ‘off the grid.’ Yvonne’s concerned enough to go to the police, but there’s not much they can do. Then, the body of an unknown woman is found in an empty apartment. It could very well be Yvonne’s missing friend. If it is, what does this mean for Netmammy? Could the other members, including Yvonne, be in danger?

And then there’s Megan Abbott’s You Will Know Me. Devon Knox has rare gymnastic talent. Her parents, Katie and Eric, want to nurture that talent, so they are only too happy to listen when gymnastics coach Teddy Balfour invites them to place her in his gymnastics coaching program. Then, a tragic hit-and-run accident (if it was, indeed, an accident) changes everything. The question is now: how far does a family go to reach the Olympics? There’s a great deal of pressure in the program to be the best – to be perfect. And that plays its role in the novel.

We all know we’re not perfect. We’re messy, flawed, nuanced human beings. But it can be easy to ‘buy’ the myth that perfect is possible. And when that happens, it can lead to trouble.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Barry Manilow, Jack Feldman, and Bruce Sussman’s Perfect Isn’t Easy.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Karin Alvtegen, Megan Abbott, Sinéad Crowley, Talmage Powell

They Both Met Movie Stars, Partied and Mingled*

Networking isn’t usually the first thing that comes to mind when you think about being a writer. But it’s important. If people don’t know who you are, and don’t know the kind of things you write, they’re not likely to read your work. Many writers I know aren’t especially fond of networking, but it does matter.

People I know who are musicians and visual artists tell me it’s similar for them. The ability to network can get you more readers, more people listening to your music, and more people looking at your art. Of course, with today’s social media, it’s much easier to network than it ever was. But there’s still an important role in real life for meeting people face to face, handing out a card, and talking about your work.

Networking matters in crime fiction, too. And it can have all sorts of consequences, depending on what the author plans. For instance, in Agatha Christie’s Five Little Pigs, Hercule Poirot is hired to find out who killed famous painter Amyas Crale. Everyone assumed his wife, Caroline, was responsible, and she had motive. There was evidence against her, too. In fact, she was convicted of the crime, and died in prison a year later. Now, the Crales’ daughter, Carla, wants her mother’s name cleared. Poirot takes the case and interviews the five people who were on hand on the day of the murder. He also gets written accounts of the murder from each of his interviewees. That’s how he learns the background of the affair that Crale was having with one of those people, Elsa Greer. It seems that Crale was at a studio party, where he was networking. Elsa attended the same event and asked to meet him. For her, one meeting was all it took, and it wasn’t long before they were involved. That (plus the fact that Crale was doing a painting of her) is the reason she was at the Crale home on the day he died. It’s also the reason, so said the prosecution, that Caroline Crale was motivated to kill her husband.

Networking causes an awful lot of trouble in Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley Under Ground. In that novel, Tom Ripley and three of his friends, Jeff Constant, Ed Banbury, and Bernard Tufts, have convinced the Buckmaster Gallery in London to carry the work of a relatively unknown painter named Philip Derwatt. The artist died a few years earlier, but Tufts has created some new ‘Derwatt paintings,’ and the business is going well. Then, things start to fall apart. An American Derwatt enthusiast named Thomas Murchison goes to London for a special Derwatt show at the gallery. He asks a few questions about some subtle but real differences between the genuine Derwatt paintings he knows, and those the Buckminster is showing. Ripley and his group conclude that the best way to head off disaster is for Ripley to go to London disguised as Derwatt and authenticate the work. The arrangements are made, and Ripley carries off the sham at a networking event. But Murchison isn’t convinced. Now, the team will have to think of another solution. Ripley deals with ‘the Murchison problem’ in his own way, but he soon finds he’s got even bigger problems…

Riley Adams’ (AKA Elizabeth Spann Craig) Hickory Smoked Homicide introduces readers to wealthy beauty pageant coach and judge Tristan Pembroke. She is malicious and competitive, so she hasn’t exactly won a lot of fans. But she is wealthy and influential. One night, she hosts a benefit art auction at her home. Local artist Sara Taylor has already had her share of run-ins with Tristan, but this art auction is a chance for her to get the word out about her work. So, she attends, and contributes some of her art. Tristan is murdered during the event, and Sara’s mother-in-law, Lulu Taylor, discovers the body. Sara is a likely suspect, but Lulu is convinced she is innocent. So, she starts to ask questions. And it’s not long before she discovers that plenty of people wanted Tristan Pembroke out of the way.

There’s an interesting networking event in Martin Edwards’ The Hanging Wood. In that novel, Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Hannah Scarlett and her Cold Case Review Team look into the twenty-year-old disappearance of Callum Payne. At the same time, they’re investigating whether it might be related to the recent suicide (or was it?) of his sister, Orla. In one sub-plot of the novel, Scarlett’s boss, Assistant Chief Constable (ACC) Lauren Self, insists that she attend a ‘command performance’ Awards Dinner. It’s absolutely not Scarlett’s sort of thing. But a lot of business and community leaders will be there, and their funding is important to the constabulary. It’s important that the police network there, and leave as good an impression as they can, to secure that money. So, Scarlett attends. And it’s as well she does, too, because it helps her investigation.

Athletes have to do their share of networking, too. We see that, for instance, in Alison Gordon’s Kate Henry novels. Henry is a sportswriter for the Toronto Planet. Her specialty is baseball, so she follows the Toronto Titans to their away games, attends all of the home games, and is there for all of the team’s press events. And there are plenty of them, too. The Titans know that they need to network and get the word out if they’re going to keep their fan base, and hopefully get more fans. Members of the press know that networking allows them exclusive stories and other ‘ins’ that make them more competitive. That relationship is also explored a bit in Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar series. Bolitar is a sports agent, so part of his job is to network with owners and managers to get his clients on teams.

And then there’s Louise Penny’s Ruth Zardo. She is a gifted poet who live in the small Québec town of Three Pines. She’s not exactly a social person; in fact, she can be quite acerbic. But she knows that, as a poet, she has to get the word out about her work. So, in A Fatal Grace (AKA Dead Cold), she goes to a Montréal bookshop to do a reading and some networking. The event isn’t the main focus of the novel, but it does add to the plot, and it shows how difficult it can be for people to network and get others to pay attention. Trust me. It is. But networking has to be done. If you’re a writer, how do you network?

ps. The ‘photo is of a custom-printed tote that I use. It’s got the same logo as my business card, as you see. It’s one of the hopefully-not-annoying ways I have to ‘sell myself’ when the opportunity arises.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Tom Petty’s Into the Great Wide Open.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alison Gordon, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Harlan Coben, Louise Penny, Martin Edwards, Patricia Highsmith, Riley Adams

People Livin’ in Competition*

A recent post from Bill Selnes, who blogs at Mysteries and More From Saskatchewan, has got me thinking about competitiveness. Bill’s post, which you really should read, discusses competitiveness in attorneys. His point, which is very well-taken, is that trial lawyers have to be competitive. Otherwise, they don’t keep the ‘fire’ they need to do all of the work that’s involved in preparing for a trial and seeing it through.

There are many, many legal mysteries that bear him out, too. In John Grisham’s A Time To Kill, William Deverell’s Trial of Passion, and Robert Rotenberg’s Old City Hall, to name just three, we see examples of attorneys who take on difficult cases – and want to win. There are far too many more examples of such novels for me to mention in this one post, so I won’t.

There’s plenty of competitiveness in other crime fiction, too, and it can add a healthy dose of character development, suspense, and plot to a novel. And, since there’s competitiveness in many different professions, the author has a lot of flexibility when it comes to integrating it into a story.

Competitiveness is certainly important in the world of athletics. That’s a major part of the plot in Megan Abbott’s You Will Know Me. Devon Knox has rare gymnastic talent, and her parents, Katie and Eric, want to nurture it. So, when gymnastics coach Teddy Balfour approaches them with a proposition, they’re happy to listen:
 

‘‘Bring her to BelStars [a program he’s started up]  and she’ll find the extent of her power.’’
 

Then, a tragic hit-and-run accident (which might not have been an accident) occurs, and changes everything. Devon is gifted, but the question becomes: how far are she and her family willing to go to get to the Olympics? After all, there are only a limited number of young people who can join the US team. So, when one person earns a place, it often means others lose.

Alison Gordon’s Kate Henry series also explores athletic competitiveness (and for the matter of that, journalistic competitiveness as well). Like her creator, Henry is a sportswriter. She works for the Toronto Planet. Henry especially follows the doings of the Toronto Titans baseball team, so she goes along with them on ‘away’ tours, attends the home games, and gets locker-room interviews with players, coaching staff and the like. When the team is in a slump, it’s devastating. When the team does well, it’s euphoric. These players work hard and train intensively to go as far as they can in the World Series competition. Gordon doesn’t lose sight of the fact that this is a mystery series, and the murder plots dominate the books. But the books also give readers a look at what it’s like to be Major League Baseball athlete. It’s not a life for those who aren’t competitive. Neither is the life of those who write and publish stories about sports.

Business can be very competitive, too. In most industries, there’s a finite pool of customers. So, companies vie to get as much of their business as possible. And sometimes, that competitiveness can be deadly. In Robin Cook’s medical thriller, Contagion, for instance, we learn about a major competition between two insurance giants: AmeriCare and National Health. That competition becomes important when a virulent strain of influenza seems to be the cause of a series of deaths at Manhattan General Hospital. Medical examiners Dr. Jack Stapleton and Dr. Laurie Montgomery try to find out what’s causing the virus. The hospital’s authorities are interested in keeping the whole matter as quiet as possible, mostly to protect the institution’s image. But Stapleton in particular wants to whatever it takes, regardless of unpleasant publicity, to prevent more deaths. When it comes out that Manhattan General is affiliated with AmeriCares, the question becomes: did someone at National Health have something to do with these deaths, with the aim of discrediting the competition?

Riley Adams’ (AKA Elizabeth Spann Craig) Hickory Smoked Homicide deals with the competitive world of the beauty pageant circuit. In it, wealthy pageant coach and judge Tristan Pembroke is murdered during a charity art auction being held at her home. The most likely suspect is local artist Sara Taylor, who had a public argument with the victim shortly before the murder. But Sara’s mother-in-law, Lulu, is sure that she’s not guilty. So, she sets out to clear Sara’s name and find out who the real killer is. There are plenty of suspects, too, as Tristan was both malicious and vindictive. And, for the contestants in the pageant, and their families, there’s an awful lot at stake. The beauty pageant life is demanding, expensive, stressful and time-consuming. You don’t stay in it long if you have no sense of competitiveness.

I’m sure I don’t have to convince you that there’s a lot of competitiveness in the academic world, too. Many academic mysteries have plots that involve competition for scholarships/bursaries, prizes, academic jobs, funding and so on. It’s a demanding life that takes a lot of time and effort. Just to give one example, Christine Poulson’s Cassandra James novels take place in the context of St. Etheldreda’s College, Cambridge, where James heads the English Literature Department. One of the sub-plots in the first of this series, Murder is Academic, concerns funding for the program. Each department’s funding is based on its performance in the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). There’s a lot of competition for finite funding, and James knows that she will have to ensure that all of the faculty’s scholarship (including her own) is as impressive as possible. That in itself is stressful. At the same time, she’s caught up in the investigation of the murder of her predecessor, Margaret Joplin. Admittedly, getting funding isn’t the reason for the murder. But it does add to the tension in the novel. And it’s a realistic look at one way in which competition works in academia.

Bill is right that being competitive is important if you’re going to win your case in a trial. It’s also an important personality trait in other fields, too. So it’s little wonder it figures so much in crime fiction. Thanks, Bill, for the inspiration. Now, folks, give yourselves a treat and go visit Bill’s blog. Thoughtful reviews and commentary await you there!

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Boston’s Peace of Mind.

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Filed under Alison Gordon, Christine Poulson, Elizabeth Spann Craig, John Grisham, Megan Abbott, Riley Adams, Robert Rotenberg, Robin Cook, William Deverell