Category Archives: Elizabeth Spann Craig

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

Wouldn’t You Like to Get Away*

If you think about it, most people have three major ‘places’ where they spend most of their time. That usually means three major social networks. One of them is, of course, home and family. Another is work.

It’s that third place that’s really interesting. It might be a pub or bar, or a sport club, or a religious group, or a group of people with a shared hobby or interest. Whatever it is, that ‘third place’ can help people unwind, and can put them in touch with others in a unique way. And, for the crime writer, the ‘third place’ offers all sorts of possibilities for plot threads, characters, tension, backstory, and more. So, it shouldn’t be surprising that we see a lot of ‘third places’ in the genre.

One of the classic ‘third places’ that people have is their local. Bars and pubs are often gathering places for ‘regulars.’ That makes sense, too. For plenty of people, there’s nothing like a drink and a chance to catch up with friends who go there, too. And, of course, they can be really effective places for character interactions, plot points, and more.

There are dozens of series with a bar or pub as the ‘third place.’ One of them is Peter Temple’s Jack Irish series. Irish is a sometimes-lawyer, who is also good at finding people. So, he does his share of PI work, too. Besides his work, Irish also has a ‘third place’ – the Prince of Prussia pub. His father’s ‘football friends’ all gather there, and they all know Irish. They may not help him solve mysteries, but that ‘third place’ is very important to Irish.

The focus of Ray Berard’s Inside the Black Horse is a pub on New Zealand’s North Island called the Black Horse Bar and Casino. It’s owned by Toni Bourke, a recently-widowed Māori who’s doing the best she can to support her children. She isn’t getting rich from the pub, but she makes ends meet, usually. It’s not an upmarket or famous place, but the local people gather there. Toni knows most of them, and they know her. Everything changes when a young man named Pio Morgan targets the Black Horse. He’s in debt to a ruthless local pot grower, and the only way he can think of to get money quickly is to rob the pub. Unfortunately, he picks a time when a drugs dealer, Rangi Wells, happens to be there, so that deal is interrupted, and there will be consequences for that. The robbery goes horribly wrong, and there’s a murder. Pio gets thousands, though, and flees, leaving Toni with a large debt she now owes to the betting authorities. Toni’s insurance company isn’t about to pay up without an investigation, so they send PI Brian Duncan to look into the matter. Little by little Brian and Toni get to the truth about the theft and murder, but they have to go up against two nasty gangs and an insurance company that suspects Toni of being a thief.

Another traditional ‘third place’ is the club. Club memberships are a major part of several cultures, and have been for a long time. Just ask Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. His brother, Mycroft, is a member of the Diogenes Club, and rarely goes anywhere but there or his home. Everyone there knows him and vice versa. What’s interesting, too, is that he can put together clues and make solid deductions on cases without ever leaving his club.

In Dorothy L. Sayers, The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, Lord Peter Wimsey investigates two murders, one of which takes place in his own club. Old General Fentimen dies while sitting in his usual chair at the club. His sister, wealthy Lady Dormer, also dies. The question of which died first becomes extremely important, because of the terms of Lady Dormer’s will. Under those terms, if Lady Dormer dies first, her considerable fortune passes to Fentimen’s grandson. If Fentimen dies first, the money goes to Lady Dormer’s distant cousin, Ann Dorland. Matters get complicated when it’s discovered that Fentimen was poisoned. Now, Lord Peter and his friend, Inspector Parker, have to discover not just which person died first, but also, who killed Fentimen. Among other things, it’s an interesting look at the club setting.

Agatha Christie used that setting in several of her novels and stories, too. For instance, in Taken at the Flood, Hercule Poirot first hears about the small town of Warmsley Vale, and the Cloade family that lives there, from a fellow club member named Major Porter. The story comes back to haunt, as it were, when a murder takes place in Warmsley Vale, and the Cloade family is involved in it.

For many people, their local church or other house of worship is that ‘third place.’ It’s not just a matter of religion. It’s also about social interaction. We see that, for instance, in Elizabeth Spann Craig’s Pretty is as Pretty Dies. In that novel, retired teacher Myrtle Clover is ‘volunteered’ by her son to volunteer at her church. She’s not happy about that, but she goes to the church. Then, she discovers the body of real estate developer Parke Stoddard in the church. Myrtle’s not ready to be ‘put out to pasture’ yet, and she decides to prove that by finding out who the murderer is.

A Toronto-area mosque serves as a ‘third place’ for the transplanted Bosnian Muslim community in Ausma Zehanat Khan’s The Unquiet Dead. In that novel, Inspector Esa Khattak and Sergeant Rachel Getty of the Community Policing Section (CPS) of the Canadian federal government investigate the death of Christopher Drayton. It comes out that he may have been Dražen Krstić, a notorious war criminal known as the butcher of Srebrenica. So Khattak and Getty have to consider those who might have known him in that capacity. They make contacts within the mosque, and get to know some of its members. But at the same time, they don’t overlook the victim’s family members. There are other possibilities, too, and this case becomes more complicated than either thought it would be.

Some ‘third places’ are sport or hobby groups. Just ask the surfers we meet in Don Winslow’s The Dawn Patrol. This group of San Diego surfers meets just about every morning for a pre-work surf session. And it’s much more than just fun for them. They are passionate and very knowledgeable about the water, about surfing, and about weather conditions, too. They have their differences, but surfing is part of the glue that holds them together. For former cop-turned-PI Boone Daniels, the Dawn Patrol is very much his ‘third place.’ In fact, he’d probably say that it’s more important than his work. That’s the impression we get when he’s hired to find a missing stripper named Tamera Roddick. Then, her best friend, who goes by the name of Angel Heart, is murdered. Daniels and his friends get drawn into the case, and Daniels is forced to face his own past.

Almost all of us have a ‘third place.’ Certainly, fictional characters do. What’s yours?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo’s Where Everybody Knows Your Name.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Ausma Zehanat Khan, Don Winslow, Dorothy L. Sayers, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Peter Temple, Ray Berard

The City Council is Very Alarmed*

A national government can only do so much, especially in a country with a large, or a scattered, population. So, many of the day-to-day decision making is done by smaller groups like city or town councils. There are also housing communities and club governing boards that have their own councils to run things within those communities. And they can wield quite a lot of control over what people do.

Those small groups determine where you may park your car, what sort of trees you can plant on your property, how and when your trash can be put out for collection, and much more. And governing boards determine who can join a group, what members are allowed and not allowed to do, and more. Such groups have a lot of influence in real life, so it’s not surprising that they show up in crime fiction, too.

For instance, it’s the town council of Paradise, Massachusetts, that hires Jesse Stone as chief of police in Robert B Parker’s Night Passage. The council, led by selectman Hastings ‘Hasty’ Hathaway, wants to hire a police chief who can be manipulated easily, and Stone seems to be the right choice. He left the LAPD in disgrace because of drinking (which is still a major problem for him), and the town council thinks he’ll be a useful ‘puppet.’ But things turn out quite differently. Stone isn’t as gullible or as weak-willed as it may seem, and it’s not long before he begins to show more initiative than anyone on the council really wants. He begins to unearth some ugly things the town is hiding, which is problematic enough. Then, there’s a murder that’s connected to those secrets. Little by little, Stone finds out the truth, and the town council learns that he is no patsy.

M.J. McGrath’s White Heat takes place mostly on Ellesmere Island, where Edie Kiglatuk is
 

‘…the best damned hunting guide in the High Arctic.’ 
 

Tragedy mars one of her expeditions, though. Kiglatuk takes Felix Wagner and Andy Taylor on a hunting trip, and finds that neither of them is a particularly good shot. They’re not very pleasant people, either. Still, they’ve paid plenty of money for the trip, and it’s her job to ensure their safety and provide them with a good experience. Tragically, Wagner is shot. Taylor claims he’s not responsible, and the evidence supports him. So, at first, the death looks like a tragic accident. But that in itself is a major problem for Kiglatuk. Wagner was killed on her watch, and the council of Elders may rescind her guide license because of it. There are some council members who don’t like the idea of a woman hunting guide as it is, and who would gladly use this as an excuse to remove her. And one of them, Simeonie Inukpuk, resents her privately because of her breakup with his brother, Sammy. The council decides not to revoke Kiglatuk’s license, but that plot thread shows just how much authority the members have.

Elizabeth Spann Craig’s Pretty is as Pretty Dies takes place in the fictional small town of Bradley, North Carolina. In the novel, retired English teacher Myrtle Clover finds the body of real estate developer Parke Stoddard in a local church. She may be in her eighties, but Myrtle is not ready to be ‘put out to pasture.’ So, she decides to investigate. And she soon learns that there are plenty of suspects. One of them is City Councilman Benton Chambers. It turns out that he is not at all the ‘family man’ and ‘man of the people’ that he wants his constituents to believe he is. The victim knew that, and was blackmailing Chambers. So, one very good possible motive for this murder is political.

A local council features in Angela Savage’s short story, The Teardrop Tattoos. In it, we are introduced to a woman (the narrator of the story) who’s recently been released from prison, where she was serving time for murder. She’s given housing not far from a local child care facility, and settles in there with her only compassion, a Pit Bull called Sully. All goes well enough until one of the parents associated with the child care facility lodges a complaint about the dog. Before long, the narrator gets a letter from the council, informing her that she’ll have to get rid of Sully, because he’s a restricted breed. This is devastating, and the woman decides to take her own sort of revenge.

And then there’s Claudia Piñeiro’s Thursday Night Widows. That novel takes place in the late 1990s, mostly at the Cascade Heights Country Club, an ultra-exclusive gated community about thirty miles from Buenos Aires. Usually known as The Heights, it’s the sort of place where only the very, very rich can afford to live. And even they are carefully ‘vetted’ before they’re allowed to move in. The community isn’t really subject to local laws. Instead, it’s governed by a Commission, composed of certain residents. It’s believed that disputes and other such matters are best handled ‘in house,’ rather than involving other authorities. Members of the Commission decide who will move in, who must leave, and so on. They make decisions, too, about what the houses will be like, which activities and events are acceptable, and more. All is well in this luxurious, protected community until the economic problems of 1990s Argentina find their way in. Little by little, that safe, secure stronghold weakens for some of the residents, and it all ultimately leads to tragedy.  

In Nelson Brunanski’s Crooked Lake, it’s the Board of Directors of the Crooked Lake Regional Park and Golf Course who turn out to be important. They’re the ones who determine what happens in the park, who’s allowed to work there, and what improvements, changes and events will happen in the park. When Nick Taylor, Head Greenskeeper, is fired, he blames Board member Harvey Kristoff, who’s never liked him and who would like nothing better than to see him gone. So, when Kristoff’s bludgeoned body is discovered on the golf course, Taylor becomes a very likely suspect. He says he’s innocent, though, and asks his friend, John ‘Bart’ Bartowski to help him. Bart isn’t sure what he can do. He’s not a police officer (he actually owns a fishing lodge), and he’s not an attorney. But he is a longtime resident of Crooked Lake, and he knows everyone. So, he agrees to find out what he can. And it turns out that plenty of other people might have wanted Kristoff dead.

There are lots of other examples of novels where local councils, governing boards, and so on. They wield a lot more authority than it might seem on the surface, and people elected to such groups are much more powerful than you might think.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bruce Hornsby’s Talk of the Town.

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Filed under Angela Savage, Claudia Piñeiro, Elizabeth Spann Craig, M.J. McGrath, Nelson Brunanski, Robert B. Parker