Category Archives: Elizabeth Spann Craig

But You Were Just Too Clever By Half*

Too CleverIf you read enough crime fiction, you learn a few lessons. One of them is that there is danger in being very clever and observant. Characters who notice things and put the proverbial two and two together tend to come upon truths that aren’t safe for them to know. And that tends to make fictional characters very vulnerable.

Of course, a certain amount of cleverness is important; otherwise fictional sleuths couldn’t easily find out the truth about a murder. But how often does a character become a victim because s/he found out a secret the killer was keeping? Or because s/he knows about another murder? It happens a lot in the genre.

Agatha Christie used this plot point in several of her novels and stories. For example, in Lord Edgware Dies (AKA Thirteen at Dinner), Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings investigate the stabbing death of Lord Edgware. His wife, famous actress Jane Wilkinson, is the most likely suspect. She wanted to divorce him so that she could marry someone else – a divorce he would not grant. And what’s more, she even threatened his life publicly. To make matters worse, the butler and Edgware’s secretary both say that someone who looked like her, and gave her name, came to the house just before the killing. But she has a solid alibi. Twelve people are prepared to testify that on the night of the murder, she was at a dinner party in another part of London, so she couldn’t possibly have been the killer. Poirot, Hastings, and Chief Inspector Japp are trying to reconcile the two sets of evidence when there’s another death. And another. One of the other victims is up-and-coming actor Donald Ross. As it turns out, he’d noticed one small thing, which got him to wondering too much and coming too close to the truth.

In Colin Dexter’s The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn, we are introduced to Nicholas Quinn, the only Deaf member of the Oxford Foreign Exams Syndicate. This group is responsible for administering and managing exams given in other countries that follow the British educational system. One afternoon, Quinn dies of what turns out to be poison. Inspector Morse and Sergeant Lewis look into the case, and soon learn that the members of the Syndicate all had things to hide. One by one, each member’s secret comes out, and Morse and Lewis have to work out which of those secrets was deadly for Quinn. It turns out that he found out more about the Syndicate and the lives of its members than it was safe for him to know, and paid a very high price for it.

One of the most chilling examples of being too clever is Ruth Rendell’s A Judgement in Stone. The wealthy and well-educated Coverdale family is in need of a new housekeeper. So Jacqueline Coverdale goes in search of a suitable person. She soon hires Eunice Parchman for the job, and at first, things are all right. But Eunice has a secret that she’s determined will not come out. One day, and quite by accident, one of the Coverdales finds out Eunice’s secret. That unwitting discovery ends up in tragedy.

Donna Leon’s Through a Glass, Darkly introduces readers to Giorgio Tassini, who works as a night watchman at one of Venice’s glass-blowing factories. He is convinced that the factories are illegally disposing of toxic waste, and poisoning Venice’ water. In fact, he blames them for the fact that his daughter was born with special needs. One morning, Tassini is discovered dead at the factory where he works. Commissario Guido Brunetti and Ispettore Lorenzo Vianello investigate, and at first, it seems this death was a terrible accident. But it’s not long before murder is suspected. So the detectives look into the allegations that Tassini had made, to see whether they might have led to his murder. As it turns out, Tassini had learned more than was safe for him to know. And that cleverness, if you want to call it that, cost him his life.

We see that sort of consequence in Shona (now writing as S.G.) MacLean’s The Redemption of Alexander Seaton. In that novel, which takes place in 17th Century Banff, Seaton is undermaster at a local grammar school. One morning, the body of local apothecary’s assistant Patrick Davison, is discovered in Seaton’s classroom. He’s died of poison, and soon enough, music master Charles Thom is arrested and imprisoned for the crime. Thom says he’s innocent, and asks his friend Seaton to help. Seaton reluctantly agrees, and begins to ask questions. One possibility is that Davidson was murdered because of his political leanings. Banff is staunchly Protestant, and there was talk Davidson might have been a spy for Catholic King Philip of Spain. But there are other possibilities, too. And in the end, Seaton finds that Davidson had innocently observed something that gave him more information than was safe for him to have. That knowledge cost him his life.

Many whodunits, cosy and otherwise, include (at least) a second death, where the victim’s killed because of finding out too much about the first murder in the novel. That’s the case in Elizabeth Spann Craig’s Pretty is as Pretty Dies, the first in her Myrtle Clover series. Myrtle is a retired English teacher who’s not yet ready to be put out to pasture, as the saying goes. Her son Red, who’s the local Chief of Police, sees things otherwise, and ‘volunteers’ his mother to work at the local church. When Myrtle goes to the church, she discovers the body of Parke Stockard. Determined to prove that she’s not ready to be put aside yet, Myrtle decides to investigate. And there are plenty of suspects, too. The victim was both malicious and scheming, and had made enemies all over the small North Carolina town where she’d recently moved. Then there’s another death. One of the members of the church, Kitty Kirk, is killed. As it turns out, she had noticed something about the murderer that would have made it too easy for her to work out what happened to Parke Stockard.

See what I mean? All you have to do is look at crime fiction to conclude that maybe it’s best not to be too observant and clever. At the very least you live longer…

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Long Blondes’ Too Clever by Half.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Colin Dexter, Donna Leon, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Ruth Rendell, S.G. MacLean, Shona MacLean

Between This Genre, That Genre*

Crossover WritersI’ve started a new manuscript (an occupational hazard for writers). This one’s not a Joel Williams mystery; in fact, it’s not really even a traditional-style whodunit, ‘though it is a crime novel. I’m pleased about the idea, but it’s still in its beginning stages, so we’ll see how it goes. The process of getting started on this story has got me thinking about other writers who make an even bigger leap with their stories than I am with mine.

Some authors have even written in different genres. Or, they’ve written both fiction and non-fiction. Or they’ve written both poetry and crime novels. That sort of ‘branching out’ is risky. After all, many people write what makes them comfortable, and perhaps even get a reputation and a following. Trying something new means building up a new audience, using different skills, and so on. To move on to something different isn’t always easy. But it can result in some excellent work. And it gives the author the chance to experiment and ‘stretch’ creatively.

As you’ll no doubt know, Edgar Allan Poe is often credited with pioneering the detective story. Works such as The Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Purloined Letter are frequently cited as examples of detective fiction. But as you’ll also know, Poe was a master of the horror story, too. The Fall of the House of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum and The Black Cat are just a few examples.

More recently, Alan Orloff has done a similar thing. Under his own name, he’s written Diamonds for the Dead, Killer Routine and Deadly Campaign, all crime novels. Under the name Zak Allen, he’s written The Taste and First Time Killer, both of which are horror novels. You might argue (and you’d have a well-taken point!) that horror novels and crime novels are close cousins. But they do require different sorts of storytelling skills, and they appeal to different audiences. That sort of flexibility takes skill.

Agatha Christie, of course, is renowned for her mysteries. She wrote all sorts of plays, short stories and novels featuring crime and its investigation. And if you’re kind enough to read this blog with any kind of regularity, then you know what a fan I personally am of her crime fiction. But she also wrote novels that explore characters and trace their lives. Under the name of Mary Westmacott, she wrote stories such as Giant’s Bread and A Daughter’s a Daughter, that explore love in its different forms, and provide interesting character studies. In those novels, the focus is on psychology and relationships, rather than on crime. And she’s by no means the only one to write both romance and crime fiction (Am I right, fans of Georgette Heyer?)

More recently, Paddy Richardson has written both well-regarded literary fiction (such as The Company of a Daughter) and well-regarded crime fiction (such as Hunting Blind and Swimming in the Dark). And she’s not only one who’s made that ‘literary crossover.’ Many other literary writers have also written crime fiction.

Some of them have been poets. For instance, Cecil Day-Lewis was the UK’s Poet Laureate. His collections are extremely highly regarded. Under his own name, he also wrote some literary novels. As fans will know, he also wrote a series of crime novels under the name of Nicholas Blake. His sleuth in those stories is Nigel Strangeways, who is, like his creator, a poet. And that’s an interesting example of the ways in which one’s writing in one genre/type of book can influence one’s writing in another.

Isaac Asimov gained a worldwide reputation as a scientist and an author of science textbooks. He was also a skilled writer of science fiction, such as the Foundation series. With his name made, as the saying goes, in that field, Asimov also created a short series of crime novels featuring Elijah ‘Lije’ Baley. Baley is a homicide detective in a futuristic New York, which bears all the hallmarks of Asimov’s background in science fiction. But the stories (The Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun, The Robots of Dawn, and the short story Mirror Image) are distinctly crime fiction.

There’s also Ausma Zehanat Khan, whose novels The Unquiet Dead and The Language of Secrets are crime novels featuring detectives Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty. They take place in contemporary Ontario, and focus on crimes and their investigations. Khan is also writing a fantasy series (at the moment, it’s scheduled as a quadrilogy). The first in this series, Bloodprint, is due to be published in 2017.

Elizabeth Spann Craig has written three mystery series. Under her own name, she writes the Myrtle Clover series; under the name of Riley Adams, she writes the Memphis Barbecue series. She also writes the Southern Quilting Mysteries. Recently, Craig has also ‘branched out’ and written a post-apocalyptic novel that includes zombies. It’s a big change from cosy mysteries to post-apocalypse, but Craig has made it successfully.

Of course, there are plenty of other authors, too, who have used their skills in more than one genre or type of writing. J.K. Rowling, Sara Paretsky, and before them, Charles Dickens, are just some examples. I know that you’ll have lots more in mind to share.

Have you read the same author in two different genres? What have you thought? Can authors do that effectively, so that you, as a reader, enjoy their work? If you’re a writer, have you experimented in different genres, or with a literary-to-genre move (or vice versa). What was it like for you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Utada Hikaru’s Crossover Interlude.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alan Orloff, Ausma Zehanat Khan, Cecil Day-Lewis, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Isaac Asimov, J.K. Rowling, Mary Westmacott, Nicholas Blake, Paddy Richardson, Riley Adams, Sara Paretsky, Zak Allen

It Was the Third of June, Another Sleepy, Dusty Delta Day*

Some Sothern Crime FictionAs you’ll no doubt know, there are a lot of important regional differences in the US. You can hear it in the way people speak, and you can see it clearly in the way people live their lives. One of the very distinctive regions in the US is the American South. Of course, there are differences even among various parts of the South. That said, though, there are certain things that the different areas of the South seem to have in common. There’s plenty of crime fiction set in different places in the American South, and those novels reflect the various aspects of Southern culture.

One important element that we see in crime novels that take place in the South is a focus on the local (rather than, say, on the regional or national). For instance, in novels such as John Grisham’s A Time to Kill and Elmore Leonard’s Maximum Bob, there’s a real emphasis on local judges, local authorities and so on. In A Time to Kill (which takes place in Mississippi), local attorney Jake Brigance takes the case of Carl Lee Hailey, who’s been arrested for murdering the two men responsible for beating and raping his ten-year-old daughter. The case gets a lot of state and even national media attention. There’s talk, too, about ‘importing’ attorneys on both sides of the case. What’s interesting is that almost no-one in town wants outsiders involved. There’s plenty of feeling on both sides of the case, but one thing everyone seems to have in common is that it’s a local matter that should be handled that way. It’s a clearly-articulated bias.

That focus on the local is also clear in Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman. In one plot thread of that novel (which takes place twenty years after the events of Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird), there’s a discussion of the NAACP. Even those characters who aren’t fanatically racist are concerned about national-level groups and authorities getting involved in local affairs. There’s a sense that people who don’t know anything about life in that area are trying to dictate what will happen there.

Lee’s novels also reflect a very clear social structure. Blacks and whites live in completely different worlds, and their experiences are quite distinct. So do wealthy whites and those whites who live in poverty. We see that also in Attica Locke’s novels Black Water Rising and Pleasantville. Both of these novels feature Houston-area attorney Jay Porter, who is black. In one plot thread of Black Water Rising, for instance, Porter works with his father-in-law on a case involving local longshoremen. One union, the Brotherhood of Longshoremen (BoL) represents black longshoreman. The other, the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) is white. The BoL wants pay and other parity with its counterparts in the ILA, and the matter has escalated into violence. If this issue isn’t resolved soon, then both groups will be at a serious disadvantage in an upcoming strike that’s being planned. Somehow, Porter has to find a way to get the groups to cooperate.

In this novel (which takes place in 1981), and in Lee’s work, we see how the South is trying to face its history of racism. It’s a slow, painful, sometimes ugly process. We see that legacy and that difficult process in Deborah Johnson’s The Secret of Magic. In that novel, which takes place just after World War II, Regina Robichard travels from New York, where she works for the Legal Defense Fund, to Revere, Mississippi. She’s drawn there by a letter from a reclusive author who’s asked for someone to investigate the murder of a black veteran, Joe Howard Wilson. As she looks for the truth, Robichard learns that racism is complex, and that it’s not just a ‘Southern problem.’ She also learns that people are multidimensional, too, and not ‘all good’ or ‘all bad.’

Barbara Neely’s Blanche White novels also reflect a clear social structure. Blanche is a black professional housekeeper; most of her employers are white. As she works in different households, we can see that she and her employers move in different worlds. Blanche has social connections among other blacks in the area, and has created her own supportive network, independent of her white employers. What’s important to note here, too, is that it’s not just race that divides people; it’s also socioeconomic status. Wealthy whites move in very different circles to those who are not.

In several of the novels I’ve mentioned, churches are shown as critical parts of social life in the South. And they’re not just places of worship (although they are that, of course). In both A Time to Kill and Black Water Rising, they are also sources of support, places of political and social activism, and more. In fact, when a family is in need, it’s often members of the local church who help out, whether it’s bringing food, helping to rebuild a burned-out home, or consoling people after a bereavement.

Along with the focus on the local, and the social connections, many crime novels set in the American South reflect the smaller-town tradition of everyone knowing everyone. Of course, that doesn’t apply in large cities such as Atlanta. In many novels, though, it’s very clear that there’s a focus on people’s relationships with each other. Julia Keller’s Bell Elkins series, for instance, takes place in the small West Virginia town of Acker’s Gap. People shop at stores owned by acquaintances, friends and relatives. The person who sells you your car might be your best friend’s brother-in-law, and so on. Those connections are an important part of life, and nearly everyone is woven into the social fabric. You see that, also, in Elizabeth Spann Craig’s series featuring retired English teacher Myrtle Clover, and in her series featuring art expert Beatrice Coleman.

Sometimes those connections go back a very long way, too, so it’s not surprising that many crime novels set in the South focus on past/present links. That’s certainly true of Sarah R. Shaber’s Simon Shaw novels. Shaw is a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, who’s chosen to teach at Kenan College, a small school in North Carolina. The mysteries he investigates link past events and relationships to the present. And we see how, in some places, the past, even from over a century ago, is never very far away.

We also see that mix of past/present connections and local social networks in Tom Franklin’s Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. In that novel, an event from twenty-five years ago still impacts local opinion in the small town of Chabot, Mississippi. Silas Jones grew up there, but left years ago. Now he’s back as the town’s constable, and is drawn into the case of a young woman who’s disappeared. The most likely suspect is Larry Ott, whom many people blame for another disappearance that took place twenty-five years ago. The past plays a key role in the way people feel about Ott, and in the way they feel about Jones, too.

There are many other crime novels set in the South (I know, fans of James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux series – sorry!). I’ll bet you could list more of them than I ever could. It’s a unique place, with a lot of history, and it’s been the setting for a lot of fine crime fiction.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bobbie Gentry’s Ode to Billie Joe.

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Filed under Attica Locke, Barbara Neely, Deborah Johnson, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Elmore Leonard, Harper Lee, James Lee Burke, John Grisham, Julia Keller, Sarah R. Shaber, Tom Franklin

Cornershop*

Small ShopsIn these days of online shopping and large mega-retailers, it’s really easy to lose sight of the fact that there are still plenty of small businesses and ‘mom and pop shops’ out there. In fact, lots of people prefer them, as they offer personal service in ways that the larger retailers can’t, even if they don’t always have as much selection. And in many areas, they’re the best option (e.g. rural areas where it’s a long way between towns, or heavily populated urban areas, where space is too expensive for large stores).

Small shops can make very effective contexts for a murder mystery, too. Proprietors, customers, and visitors all meet up with each other in a way that can add a layer of interest, and even tension, to a novel. And sometimes they’re gathering places for local residents, so they also offer opportunities for character development and even conflict.

At one time, small ‘mom and pop shops’ were the rule, not the exception. We see that a lot in Agatha Christie’s work. To take just one (of many!) examples, a grocery features in Sad Cypress. In that novel, local GP Dr. Peter Lord asks Hercule Poirot to clear Elinor Carlisle of suspicion of murder. She’s been arrested in connection with the poisoning death of Mary Gerrard, and there is no lack of motive. She had the opportunity, too, as she prepared the sandwiches in which it’s believed the poison was placed. In fact, at her trial, the proprietor of the local grocery testifies that she bought fish paste from him, and commented at the time about the likelihood of its being tainted. Poirot looks into the matter, and discovers that more than one person had a very good motive for murder.  Yes, indeed, fans of The ABC Murders.

As larger retailers, shopping malls and the like became popular, small shops sometimes suffered quite a lot. We see this, for instance, in Catherine O’Flynn’s What Was Lost.  At the beginning of that novel (that part takes place in 1984), we are introduced to ten-year-old budding detective Kate Meaney. In fact, she has her own agency, Falcon Investigations. She spends quite a lot of time at the newly-opened Green Oaks Shopping Center, thinking that she’s sure to find plenty of suspicious activity there. She’s content with her life, but her grandmother, Ivy, believes she’d be better off going away to school. So she arranges for Kate to sit the entrance exams at the exclusive Redspoon School. Kate’s friend Adrian Palmer agrees to go along with her for moral support, and both board the bus to the school. When only Adrian returns, a massive search for Kate is launched. But no trace of her is found. Twenty years later, Adrian’s younger sister Lisa, who works at Green Oaks, happens to meet Kurt, a security guard there. They form an awkward sort of friendship, and, each in a different way, return to the past, as the saying goes, and we learn the truth about Kate. The opening of the mall has a serious impact on many of the local businesses, including the newsagent shop owned by Adrian’s father. And one plot thread of the story shows the stark contrast between the local shops (Kate knows and likes just about all of their owners) and the mall shops.

There are still, of course, lots of small ‘mom and pop shops.’ And people continue to open and run them. They’re still there in crime fiction, too. For instance, Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series takes place in rural Absaroka County, Wyoming, where most of the towns are small, and so are the businesses. In Death Without Company, the main plot revolves around the death of Mari Baroja, who lived in the Durant Home for Assisted Living. When it turns out that she was poisoned, Longmire looks into the case. And he discovers that it has connections that go more than fifty years into the past. In one (admittedly small) plot thread, we meet the victim’s granddaughter, Lana. She’s just opened her own bakery, and is trying to make a go of it. She describes herself as
 

‘…the best kept secret in Durant.’
 

It’s not an easy life, running one’s own small shop, and Lana doesn’t have a lot of financial ‘padding.’ But she’s a hard worker and a determined one.

Any fan of Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman series can tell you about the small ‘mom and pop shops’ that occupy part of the Melbourne building where Chapman lives and has her own bakery. Since Chapman narrates the stories, readers get a good look at what it’s like to own and run one’s own small shop. Besides the bakery, there’s (among others) a family restaurant, a chocolatier, and a Wiccan store in the building, each of which is a small enterprise. The shop owners (Chapman among them) take great pride in what they do, and in creating and/or selling the very best products that they can. Among other things, this series shows how much knowledge individual proprietors need to have to open, manage, and succeed with a small shop.

And then there’s Garry Disher’s Bitter Wash Road. Constable Paul ‘Hirsch’ Hirschhause has just been transferred to Tiverton, a small, rural South Australian town. He’s gotten a reputation as a ‘whistleblower,’ and the incident that led to that has basically exiled him from his former station in Adelaide. He hasn’t been in Tiverton long when the body of fifteen-year-old Melia Donovan is discovered by the side of a road. Hirsch investigates, beginning with Melia’s family and friends. Melia’s best friend, Gemma Pitcher, works at the general store, so Hirsch goes there to speak to her:
 

‘The interior was a dim cave. The ceiling, pressed tin, was stalactited with hooks from the days when a shopkeeper would hang it with buckets, watering cans, coils of rope, and paired boots. Refrigerator cases lined a side wall, shallow crates of withered the back, and in the vast middle ground were aisles of rickety shelving, stacked with anything from tin peaches to tampons. The sole cash register was next to the entrance, next to ranks of daily newspapers and weekly and monthly magazines and a little bookcase thumbtacked with a sign, LIBRARY.’
 

As it turns out, Gemma knows some helpful information about what happened to Melia. When Hirsch finally gets the chance to speak to her, he gets some valuable clues.

There are, of course, many more examples of ‘mom and pop shops’ in crime fiction. For instance, Elizabeth Spann Craig’s Southern Quilting series features the Patchwork Cottage, a small quilting supply store. And some of D.S. Nelson’s Blake Heatherington stories take place in the village of Tuesbury, home to several small shops. There are lots more, too. Which ones have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Babybird.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Catherine O'Flynn, Craig Johnson, D.S. Nelson, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Garry Disher, Kerry Greenwood

What Are We Going to Do About the Other Generation?*

Sandwich GenerationAs people live longer, we’re seeing more and more of what’s sometimes called ‘the sandwich generation.’ By that I mean adults who are taking care of their elderly parents, but at the same time helping to launch their young adult children into their own lives. Sometimes those young people are still living at home.

It can all get very complicated, especially if the young people run into job, drugs, or relationship problems, or have unexpected children of their own. It’s even more complicated if the elderly parent involved has dementia or other health problems. Put all of that together and you have the potential for a great deal of stress. It’s a fact of life for many people, and we certainly see it in crime fiction.

One of the more famous such characters is Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander. As if his job wasn’t stressful enough, Wallander also deals with his elderly father, who has dementia. Their relationship is complicated already, and is made all the more so by the older man’s illness. It doesn’t help matters that Wallander’s sister doesn’t live close by, so she can’t step in and help. At the same time, Wallander is also concerned about his daughter Linda. She’s grown and out of the house as the series begins, but he worries about her, and thinks that at times, she’s not making wise decisions. Their relationship, too, is complicated, and they’ve had their share of estrangement. But he does care about her and tries to be a part of her life.

Elizabeth Spann Craig’s Myrtle Clover is a retired teacher who’s now in her eighties. Although she’s in relatively good health, and certainly of sound mind, that doesn’t mean her son Red doesn’t worry about her. He’s the police chief of Bradley, North Carolina, so he’s all too aware of how much risk there is, especially for an elderly woman. But Myrtle is not the type to be ‘put out to pasture,’ and she’s intrigued by solving crimes. So she’s a constant source of concern to her son. At the same time, Red and his wife Elaine are raising their young son, Jack. He’s a healthy boy, but very active, and of course, his parents want to keep him safe. The Clovers certainly don’t have a restful life, but being in the ‘sandwich generation’ means that life’s never boring for them.

In Catherine O’Flynn’s The News Where You Are, we are introduced to TV presenter Frank Allcroft. He’s happily married, and the proud father of eight-year-old Mo. But he’s gotten to a sort of crossroads in his life. For one thing, he can’t let go of the death of his predecessor, Phil Smedway, who was killed in an apparent hit-and-run incident. Allcroft finds himself drawn to the place where Smedway died, and can’t help asking questions about what really happened. At the same time, he’s concerned about his mother, who has recently moved to an elder care home. She’s having trouble adjusting to live in that new environment, and that adds stress to their already complicated relationship. Still, he cares about her, and wants to make sure that she’s as comfortable and well cared-for as possible.

Tarquin Hall’s Vishwas ‘Vish’ Puri is a successful Delhi PI. Much of his business is concerned with ‘vetting’ potential spouses for each other’s families. But sometimes, he gets involved in much more serious cases. In his private life, Puri is a proud father (his children are grown and on their own) and a dutiful son to his beloved Mummy-ji. Although the family is a healthy, loving family, that doesn’t mean that Puri never feels the pressure of being between two generations. For one thing, his daughter’s just recently had a baby boy of her own, so there are all kinds of family events connected with that. And new parents often need grandparent-ly help. And then there’s Mummy-ji. She’s energetic and active, and gets involved in more than one investigation of her own. Puri loves his mother, but she certainly causes him concern (not that that stops her).

Michael Redhill (who writes as Inger Ash Wolfe) has created an interesting ‘sandwich generation’ character in the form of DI Hazel Micallef. She and her team work out of Port Dundas, Onatrio. Hazel is in early sixties, and thinking about the transition between a full-time life of work, and retirement. She is also very much caught between two generations. For one thing, there’s her octogenarian mother Emily, who is Port Dundas’ former mayor. Emily is very much her own person, and absolutely not one to sit around and knit. But at the same time, she is in her eighties, and her health and stamina aren’t what they were. So Hazel is concerned about her. It doesn’t help matters that she and Emily don’t always agree, and both are very strong-minded. On the other end, so to speak, is Hazel’s younger daughter Martha. Here’s how Hazel describes her in The Taken:
 

‘Jobless, loveless, dogged by depression and unable to make a constructive choice…’
 

Hazel loves her children, but it’s not always easy to be Martha’s mother. It’s not always easy to be Emily’s daughter, either.

And then there’s Wendy James’ The Lost Girls. Documentary maker Erin Fury has decided to do a film detailing the impact of murder on families. As a part of that, she wants to look into the 1978 murder of fourteen-year-old Angela Buchanan. So she asks Angela’s now-middle-aged cousin, Jane Tait, and Jane’s brother Mick, as well as their parents, for interviews. No-one in the family really wants the murder raked up again. But Jane’s daughter Tess wants to know the truth. So the interviews go forward. As we learn about the murder (which was never solved), we also learn more about the family. Jane is very much a ‘sandwich generation’ parent. She is the mother of a university student, and that has its own challenges. But she is also the daughter of Doug and Barbara Griffin, and that adds more challenges. Doug has dementia, and rarely speaks. In fact, he’s just been moved to a care home. Barbara is in reasonable health, but she needs support as she gets accustomed to life without the husband she’s known. Against this backdrop, we learn what really happened when Angela died, and who really killed her.

More and more, as life spans increase, adults find themselves very much between two generations. It’s not an easy position to be in, but it is real life. And it can add important character development and plot layers to a novel.

 

 
 

*NOTE:  The title of this post is a line from Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s The Other Generation.

 

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Filed under Catherine O'Flynn, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Henning Mankell, Inger Ash Wolfe, Michael Redhill, Tarquin Hall, Wendy James