Category Archives: Ellery Queen

Sends Shivers Down My Spine*

Reactions to Taking a LifeCommitting murder isn’t easy for most people. In fact, in real life, most of us would be horrified, or at least badly affected, by having taken a life. That’s arguably one reason for which returning soldiers have so much difficulty after they’ve fought in a war. And it’s part of why stories about people who kill in a cold-blooded, unfeeling way make the news. That uncaring reaction seems so alien to most people.

There are, of course, all sorts of different types of killers in crime fiction. Some of them (a post in and of itself, actually) are hardened and unfeeling. Or they completely justify the taking of a life in some way, so that it doesn’t really affect them. But many, many killers are devastated when they take a life.

In Agatha Christie’s Murder in Mesopotamia, for instance, we are introduced to Louise Leidner. She’s accompanied her husband, noted archaeologist Eric Leidner, on a dig at a site a few hours from Baghdad. One afternoon, she is bludgeoned in her room at the expedition house. Hercule Poirot is in the area, and is persuaded to take a few days and investigate the murder. It’s very unlikely (‘though not impossible) that an outsider committed the murder, so the pool of suspects is somewhat limited. Still, as Poirot learns more about the victim, he discovers that more than one person might have wanted to kill her. It’s not spoiling the story to say that murderer intended to kill. But that doesn’t mean that person was left unaffected by taking life. Here’s what the murderer says:
 

‘‘I think – really – I am rather glad  [at being found out]…I’m so tired…’’
 

Even the narrator of the story feels a sort of pity for the killer.

In James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity, insurance sales representative Walter Huff meets Phyllis Nirdlinger, the wife of one of his clients. He’s immediately besotted, and she seems to reciprocate. Soon enough, they begin an affair, and she persuades him to help her plot to kill her husband for the life insurance money. He’s so much under her spell that he goes along with her plan. Then, once the deed is done, it starts to sink what he’s really done:
 

‘I knew then what I had done. I had killed a man to get a woman. I had put myself in her power, so there was one person in the world that could point a finger at me, and I would have to die.’ 
 

The problem is, of course, that he can’t confess his guilt without risking everything. There are other reasons, too, for which it won’t be as easy as it may seem to simply go to the police and tell them what he’s done. So Huff decides he’ll have to take other action.

In Ellery Queen’s The Fourth Side of the Triangle, Inspector Richard Queen and his son Ellery investigate the murder of fashion designer Sheila Grey. After a bit of digging, they settle on Ashton McKell as the chief suspect. He was in the victim’s apartment on the night of the murder, and was known to be in a relationship with her. When McKell’s name is cleared, both his wife, Lutetia, and his son, Dane, fall in for their share of suspicion, and there are reasonable cases against them. But the McKells aren’t the only possibilities by any means. In the end, the Queens get to the truth about the matter. And we discover that the murderer has been badly affected by killing Sheila Grey. Here’s what the killer says:
 

“…I’m sorry, I’m sorry, there’s something wrong inside me, there always has been since I was a kid. Everything went wrong.”
 

It’s clear that this person is not left untouched.

Neither is the killer in William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw. In that novel, Glasgow DI Jack Laidlaw investigates the rape and murder of eighteen-year-old Jennifer Lawson. Although there’s a great deal of sympathy for the Lawson family, the case is not an easy one to solve. For one thing, the victim wasn’t mixed up with drugs or prostitution, so there is no ‘criminal involvement’ lead to follow. What’s more, nobody really knows what Jennifer did or where she went at the time of the murder. People really weren’t paying attention. So nobody can say who might have been with her. What’s more, the people who live in the area where the girl was found are not exactly fond of talking to the police. So even if someone saw something or knows something, it’s not likely to be reported. Still, Laidlaw and his team persist, and in the end, they find out the truth. In this case, the killer is consumed by guilt about the crime, and knows full well exactly how horrible a crime it was. That sense of horror and guilt play a major role in what that person does.

Geoffrey McGeachin’s The Diggers Rest Hotel introduces Melbourne copper Charlie Berlin. It’s 1947, and Berlin has recently returned from WWII service in Europe. He’s still dealing with the trauma of that experience, but is also trying to get on with his life. He’s seconded to Wodonga to help investigate a series of robberies in the area, and catch the motorcycle gang that’s responsible. Berlin’s in the middle of that investigation when the body of sixteen-year-old Jenny Lee is found in an alley. At first, there’s a suspicion that the motorcycle gang was involved, but Berlin soon learns that’s not true. So he begins to look elsewhere for the person responsible. In the end, he finds out the truth, part of which is that the killer is devastated by what’s happened. This is no case of a cold-blooded psychopath, and McGeachin makes it clear that taking lives exacts a real toll from the people who take them.

And then there’s Angela Savage’s The Dying Beach. Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney and her partner Rajiv Patel are taking some time off at Krabi. They enjoy their holiday until they find out about the death of Chanida Manakit, who went by the nickname of Pla. Miss Pla was an expert swimmer, who actually guided a tour that Keeney and Patel took, so they feel a personal sense of loss when her body washes up in a cave. It’s very hard to tell exactly how she died, but Keeney doesn’t immediately accept the police theory that this was an accident; Miss Pla was too good a swimmer for that. She and Patel agree to stay in Krabi for a few extra days to look into the matter. And when they find out the truth, we learn that Pla’s death was not a case of falling into the water and drowning. The person responsible for her death is both fearful and horrified by what’s happened, and Savage makes that clear. That horror turns out to have consequences, too.

There are of course killers who aren’t affected by taking a life. But many real-life killers are. So it makes sense that fictional ones would be, too.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Ellery Queen, Geoffrey McGeachin, James M. Cain, William McIlvanney

If You Help Us Solve This Crime*

Armchair DetectionThere is something about, especially, unsolved crimes that gets people’s interest. I’m talking here more of the intellectual challenge of solving a mystery than of anything else, and it seems to come up whenever there’s a difficult case in the news. People talk about it, and all kinds of people try to solve the case. Sometimes their ideas are helpful to the police; sometimes the police find them a nuisance.

It shouldn’t be surprising that we see that interest in crime fiction, too. People can’t help being curious, so it makes sense that they would want to put their hands in, so to speak, when there’s an investigation.

Agatha Christie’s The Thirteen Problems certainly reflects that tendency. This is a collection of short stories, loosely tied together by an overarching context. A group of people meet each Tuesday night. At each meeting, one person tells the story of a crime, and the rest of the group tries to solve the case. It’s an interesting example of ‘armchair detection.’ Of course, Miss Marple is one of the members of this club, so as you can imagine, the cases get solved. I know, I know, fans of The ABC Murders.

There’s a similar kind of, if you will, detection club in Anthony Berkeley’s The Poisoned Chocolates Case. Journalist Roger Sheringham runs the Crimes Circle, a discussion group for those interested in crimes and their solutions. When DCI Moresby is invited to address the club, he presents the members with a difficult case. Famous chocolatiers Mason & Sons have come out with a new variety of chocolates. To help spread the word (and, of course, generate sales), they send a courtesy box of the new chocolates to a variety of influential people. One of them is Sir Eustace Pennefather. Since Pennefather himself doesn’t eat chocolate, he gives the box to an acquaintance, Graham Bendix. Bendix, in turn, gives it to his wife. Joan. Hours after they have some of the chocolate, Joan dies of what turns out to be poison. Her husband, too, is poisoned, but survives. So the question before the club becomes: who poisoned the chocolates and why? And who was the intended victim?

There’s a different take on this sort of group in Georges Simenon’s Maigret and the Yellow Dog. Inspector Jules Maigret is called to the seaside town of Concarneau to investigate the attempted murder of prominent wine dealer Monsieur Mostaguen. It seems that Mostaguen was on his way home from the Admiral Hotel when he stopped to light a cigar. The night was windy, so he stepped into the shelter of a doorway. Someone on the other side of the door shot him while he was trying to light his cigar. Maigret and his assistant Leroy take up temporary residence at the Admiral, where it’s been Mostaguen’s custom to spend a great deal of time with a small group of friends: Dr. Michoux, newspaper editor Jean Servières, and Monsieur le Pommerat. On the very night they meet Maigret, the whole group is sickened by a bottle of wine that someone has poisoned. Now it’s clear that someone is targeting the group; and, of course, it’s in their interest to find out who it is. As you can imagine, the investigation becomes the main topic of discussion for this group.

Jodie Evans Garrow finds herself in the middle of a hotly-debated case in Wendy James’ The Mistake. At the beginning of the novel, Jodie has what most people would call a near-perfect life. She’s got good looks and good health, she’s married to a successful attorney, and she’s the mother of two healthy children. Disaster strikes when word gets out that years ago, she had another child. Not even her husband knows about this birth. Jodie says she gave the baby up for adoption, but there are no formal adoption records. Soon, questions begin to arise. Where is the child? If she’s alive, what’s happened to her? If not, did Jodie have something to do with her death? Both privately and very publicly, people argue about whether Jodie is innocent or a murderer. One night, she’s invited to join a book club discussion group. Delighted at this show of kindness, Jodie attends. To her dismay, though, the group is discussing the famous Lindy Chamberlain case (did Lindy Chamberlain kill her baby, or did she not?), and wants Jodie there more as a specimen than a person. It’s an unsettling example of the negative consequences of people trying to solve cases.

Things are just as unsettling in Helen Fitzgerald’s The Cry. Joanna Lindsay and her partner, Alistair Robertson, travel from her native Scotland to his home in Victoria with their nine-week-old son, Noah. The idea of the move is that Alistair will be in a better position to get custody of his teenaged daughter Chloe, who lives in Victoria with her mother. On the way from the airport in Melbourne to Alistair’s home town, the couple face every parent’s worst nightmare: the loss of baby Noah. A massive search is undertaken, but the baby isn’t found. At first, the Australian media is very sympathetic, and several different people set up ‘Find Baby Noah’ websites and online pages where there’s plenty of discussion and attempts to unravel the mystery. You might even say it’s a case of an international group trying to solve the case. Little by little, though, questions begin to arise about the parents, particularly Joanna. And it isn’t long before suspicion soon falls on her. Among other things, this novel shows how today’s technology has made it possible for people to be in these crime-solving, even if they live on different continents.

There are all kinds of real-life and fictional cases where people try to get involved in solving a crime. There’s even an Ellery Queen short story (The Adventure of the African Traveler) in which  Queen is teaching a university class, and some of his students form a sort of ‘detection group’ to solve a  murder. These are just a few examples. Over to you.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Kinks’ Missing Persons.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Berkeley, Ellery Queen, Georges Simenon, Helen Fitzgerald, Wendy James

Found in a Book, Hidden on the Pages*

Hidden in BooksWhen most of us think of books, we think of the pleasure of reading. That’s treasure enough in itself. But books can serve other purposes, too. For instance, they’re very good hiding places for things. Don’t believe me? All you need to do is take a quick look through crime fiction.

For example, in Ellery Queen’s short story The Adventure of the One-Penny Black, philatelists Friedrich and Albert Ulm report that a valuable stamp – a one-penny black, with Queen Victoria’s signature on it – has been stolen from their collection. On the same day, a man rushes into a nearby bookshop followed by police. The man disappears through the back of the store before the police can catch him. Then, the next day, the bookshop owner reports that someone came in and bought all of his copies of a book called Europe in Chaos. To add to the oddness, certain customers who’ve bought copies of that book have been robbed of those copies. Ellery Queen figures out that whoever stole the stamp probably hid it in a copy of Europe in Chaos as an emergency measure, and then went back to get it later (hence the need to buy and steal as many copies of that book as possible). But where is the stamp now? Who hid it? And what’s the truth about the robbery? It’s not as simple as you might think.

In Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, a group of passengers is taking a cruise of the Nile. Among them are Linnet Ridgeway Doyle and her new husband Simon. On the second night of the journey, she is shot. The most likely suspect is her former best friend Jacqueline de Bellefort, whose fiancé Simon was before he met Linnet. But it’s soon proven that Jacqueline could not be the murderer. So Hercule Poirot, who is on this cruise as well, has to look elsewhere for the killer. As he does so, he finds out a great deal about some of the other characters. And it turns out that one of them has been using hollowed-out books for an ingenious purpose…

A hollowed-out book turns out to be both lucrative and very dangerous in Harry Whittington’s Fires That Destroy. In that novel, we meet Beatrice Harper, secretary to wealthy businessman Lloyd Deerman. When she finds a cache of US$24,000 in a hollowed out book she can’t resist the opportunity to get her hands on that money. So she devises a plan. Deerman drinks more than he should, so one night, when he’s had plenty, she pushes him down a staircase to his death. Now Beatrice has the money; and at first, it opens up a world of privilege, good-looking young men, cars, and so on. But Beatrice doesn’t find it easy to live with the guilt of what she’s done. And her new boyfriend Carlos has his own demons. They try to start life over in Florida, but that only makes matters worse. Soon enough, life spins out of control for both of them. The saying that money can’t buy happiness turns out to be tragically true.

In Lilian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who Knew a Cardinal, the local community theatre group is doing a production of Shakespeare’s Henry VIII under the direction of high school principal Hilary VanBrook. On the night of the final performance VanBrook is found dead in his car on the property of journalist James ‘Qwill’ Qwilleran. Qwill and local police chief Andrew Brodie look into the murder and soon find that VanBrook had made more than his share of enemies. One of the clues in this case actually comes from VanBrook’s personal library. Qwilleran finds a hollowed-out book in which there’s a list of other books, some of which have red dots next to the titles. In each of those books, Qwill finds a cache of money. Working out where the money came from and what this particular code means turns out to be essential to finding the killer.

And then there’s Kishwar Desai’s Witness the Night. Social worker Simran Singh lives and works in Delhi, but travels to her home town in the state of Punjab at the request of an old friend who’s now the state’s inspector general. He’s faced with a baffling and difficult murder case. Thirteen members of the wealthy and powerful Atwal family have been poisoned, and several stabbed as well. What’s more, their house has been set on fire. The only survivor is fourteen-year-old Durga Atwal. It isn’t clearly evident whether she committed the murders, or is a victim who just happened to stay alive, and she’s said nearly nothing about the crime since the night it happened. The hope is that Simran will be able to get Durga to talk about the night of the murders, so that the police will know what steps to take. At first, Durga is reluctant to say much of anything, and Simran herself isn’t too enthusiastic about this case. But gradually the two start to communicate. At one point, Durga, who’s being kept in makeshift quarters in an adult prison, asks Simran to retrieve some of her books from the family home. Simran agrees, and gathers the materials. When she does, she finds a photograph that falls out of one of the books. It’s not a ‘photo of Durga, but all the same, it’s disturbing in its way. And it proves to be an important clue as Simran searches for the truth about what happened to the Atwal family and what led to it.

You see? Books are a never-ending source of interesting things, aren’t they? And I didn’t even mention the number of stories in which people find wills, names on a flyleaf, or margin notes in books – too easy!!  And all of this isn’t even to mention actually reading them…

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Spock’s Beard’s On a Perfect Day.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Harry Whittington, Kishwar Desai, Lilian Jackson Braun

And His Future Was Doomed*

DoomedCharactersSome crime plots are structured so that the murder (or the first murder) is discovered right away. That’s got the advantage of inviting the reader’s interest from the very beginning of the story. Other plots, though, build up, at least a little, to the murder. In those stories, we get to know the victim before she or he is killed.

Once you’ve read enough crime fiction, you can even start to get a sense of who the victim is likely to be. That’s because authors frequently offer little hints, so that readers know a character is doomed. I’m not talking here of the stereotypical ‘person goes alone into basement’ sort of hint. Rather, the author sets the victim up, and the savvy crime reader can sometimes sense it.

Agatha Christie used those clues in several of her stories. For instance, in The Mystery of the Blue Train, we are introduced to Ruth Van Aldin Kettering. Daughter of an American millionaire, she is unhappily married to Derek Kettering. She decides to take the famous Blue Train to Nice for a holiday (or at least, that’s what she tells her father. Really, she has other plans). Against her father’s advice, Ruth takes with her a valuable ruby necklace that contains a famous stone, Heart of Fire. All of the personal drama in Ruth’s life, plus the fact that she has that priceless necklace, sets Ruth up neatly to be the doomed victim in this novel, and so she is. Hercule Poirot is aboard the same train, and helps to find out who killed the victim and why. You’re absolutely right, fans of Death on the Nile!

In Ellery Queen’s The Last Woman in His Life, John Levering Benedict III invites Queen and his father, Inspector Richard Queen, for a getaway weekend. The plan is that they’ll use Benedict’s guest house as a retreat. Also present for the weekend, and staying in the main house, are Benedict’s three ex-wives, his attorney, and his attorney’s secretary. That premise sets Benedict up to be the victim in this story, and, indeed, he is. One night, Queen gets a frantic call from Benedict, who says he’s been murdered. Queen rushes over to the main house, but doesn’t get there in time. He discovers that his host has been killed by a blow to the head from a heavy statuette. The only clues to the killer are an evening gown, a wig, and a pair of gloves, each owned by a different character. Queen works through the clues and eventually learns that the victim himself all but identified the killer – if Queen had only understood what he meant.

Donna Leon’s Through a Glass, Darkly takes place mostly in the world of the Venice glass-blowing industry. Giorgio Tassini works as night watchman in a glass-blowing factory owned by powerful Giovanni del Cal. He’s claimed for some time that the factories dispose of toxic waste illegally and dangerously. In fact, he blames his daughter’s multiple special needs on that dumping. Naturally, his accusations are not popular with del Cal or the other factory owners, but in general, he’s not taken too seriously. Then one night, he dies in what looks like a terrible accident. That’s the theory that the police are expected to endorse, too. But Commissario Guido Brunetti is not so sure that this was an accident. So he and Ispettore Lorenzo Vianello look into the matter more deeply. It’s not hard to tell, though, that Tassini is a doomed character…

Very often (‘though certainly not always!), when a fictional character goes missing, that person ends up being a victim. So, even though it’s hardly foolproof, crime fiction fans often take a disappearance as a clue that a particular character is not long for the world. And that’s exactly what happens in Anthony Bidulka’s Amuse Bouche. Saskatoon PI Russell Quant gets a new client in the form of wealthy businessman Harold Chavell, whose fiancé Tom Osborn has disappeared. Chavell believes that Osborn may be following the itinerary (a trip through France) that the two had planned for their honeymoon, so he asks Quant to follow the same itinerary to try to find Osborn. During the trip, Quant gets a note that says Osborn doesn’t want to be found. That’s enough for Chavell to call off the search. After Quant returns to Saskatoon, though, Osborn’s body is discovered in a local lake. Chavell, naturally enough, is suspected of the murder, and he asks Quant to find out the truth and clear his name.

As Keigo Higashino’s Salvation of a Saint begins, Yoshitaka Mashabi and his wife Ayane Mita are having a very tense conversation. They’ve been married for a year, and have no children. Now Mashabi wants to divorce his wife, since starting a family is a crucial part of his life’s plan. They can’t finish the conversation, though, because they’re expecting dinner guests. But it’s clear that the matter isn’t settled. Two days later, Mashabi is dead – killed by arsenous acid. His widow is, naturally, the most likely suspect. But it is soon proven that she wasn’t in Tokyo at the time of the death. And, since the poison was found in a cup of coffee, it’s unlikely that she could have put it there. And, as it turns out, there are other suspects. Detective Shunpei Kusanagi and his team have to first establish how the poison got into the coffee before they can settle on the person mostly likely to be the killer. For that, they get help from mathematician and physicist Dr. Manabu ‘Galileo’ Yukawa. Once he is able to show how the poison was administered, the police figure out who murdered Mashabi. But from the very beginning of the story (a tense conversation, an awkward dinner party, etc..) it’s not hard to guess who the victim will be.

Of course, crime writers know that readers can often spot the son-to-be victim, and some manipulate those expectations. But even so, there are stories in which one can tell fairly soon who the doomed character is. All sorts of little (and sometimes not-so-little) clues are there for the spotting.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Rolling Stones’ Blinded by Love.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Bidulka, Donna Leon, Ellery Queen, Keigo Higashino

You’re So Vain*

EgotistsMost of us know, whether or not we admit it to others, that we’re not perfect. We’re wrong at times, and we make mistakes. And there are plenty of people who know more than we do and can do things better. But not everyone’s like that. There are certain people with very exaggerated senses of their own knowledge and importance. I’ll bet you’ve met people like that, yourself. Such people are sometimes very successful, if you define success as having a lot of money and/or power. And they can be personable, even charming. But they can be dangerous, too. And they can add an interesting texture to a crime story, even if they’re neither the victim nor the killer.

Agatha Christie created several egotistical characters in her novels. Some of them are obvious, and some less so. In Hickory Dickory Death, for instance, Hercule Poirot investigates some odd thefts and other disturbing incidents at a hostel for students. When one of the residents, Celia Austin, admits to some of the thefts, everyone thinks the matter is closed. Then, two nights later, she dies. At first glance it looks like a suicide, but very soon it’s proven to be murder. Now Poirot works with Inspector Sharpe to find out who the killer is. They start with the other hostel residents, one of whom is a law student named Elizabeth Johnston. After interviewing her, here is what Inspector Sharpe has to say:

 

‘‘That’s a very interesting girl who just went out. She’s got the ego of a Napoleon and I strongly suspect that she knows something.’’

 

As it turns out, all of the residents are keeping secrets that they aren’t particularly eager to share.

One of the very interesting things about Elizabeth Johnston is that she isn’t the stereotypical egomaniac, who’s impolite to others and who constantly talks about him or herself. Rather, she’s quiet, unassuming, even pleasant. It’s an effective way to show that not all of those with oversized egos are obvious about it.

That’s certainly not true of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe. As fans of this series know, he is not in the least bit unassuming, and is positively arrogant in his estimation of his own ability. Stout uses the character of Archie Goodwin in part to serve as a foil to Wolfe. But even Goodwin accepts the fact that Wolfe is brilliant. He may have a Napoleonic ego, but he is very, very good at what he does. Is it really arrogance if you can back it up with success? Wolfe would probably say, ‘no.’ Or Pfui!

Some characters have been surrounded by sycophants and other hangers-on for so long that they’ve come to believe their own hype. This can make people all the more arrogant and convinced of their own worth and importance. Such a person is Kane ‘King’ Bendigo, whom we meet in Ellery Queen’s The King is Dead. He is the very powerful owner of a hugely successful munitions firm, so he has become quite wealthy. He, his wife Karla, and his two brothers, Abel and Judah, live on a private, heavily guarded island. When Bendigo begins to receive cryptic threats on his life, he doesn’t take them seriously at first. After all, the people on the island are loyal to him, and in any case, he’s carefully protected. You might say that he’s so convinced of his own hype that he can’t imagine anyone killing him. Abel, however, convinces him to take the threat seriously, so he arranges for Inspector Richard Queen and his son Ellery to travel from New York City to investigate the matter. The Queens are not exactly enthused about being summoned in that highhanded way, but they are convinced to go. They settle in and begin asking questions. Meanwhile, the threats continue, and get more and more specific about the date and time. It’s finally revealed that Bendigo will be shot on a certain Thursday at midnight. On that night, at that time, he is in his hermetically sealed office/study with his wife. There are no weapons in the office, and no-one can get in or out. Still, he is shot, just as was threatened. What’s even stranger is that the weapon used to shoot him was a gun that Judah fired at exactly midnight – in another room. Judah couldn’t have somehow gone to his brother’s office; he was with Ellery Queen. It’s a very tangled sort of ‘impossible, but not really’ crime.

In Robert Crais’ Lullaby Town, we are introduced to successful Hollywood director Peter Alan Nelson. Like many Hollywood moguls, he’s been surrounded by eager hangers-on and sycophants for a very long time, and has come to have a high opinion of himself. More to the point for this novel, he believes that he can manipulate people and events to suit his whims. So when he decides that he’d like to get to know his twelve-year-old son Toby, he doesn’t see why that shouldn’t quickly happen. The only problem is, Toby lives with Nelson’s ex-wife Karen Shipley, and the two of them have disappeared. So Nelson hires L.A. PI Elvis Cole to find his family. At first, Cole demurs. He’s sure, as many people would be, that Nelson’s ex-wife had her own reasons – possibly very good ones – for going away without letting Nelson know. But Nelson insists. So Cole gets started on the case, and traces Shipley and Toby to a small town in Connecticut. He also discovers that Shipley has gotten tangled up with the Mob. Now he’s up against an arrogant director who insists on reuniting with his family, and a Mob group with an interest in that family. It’s going to be a tricky case for Cole and his partner Joe Pike.

And then there’s Louise Penny’s Yvette Nichol. When we first meet her in Still Life, she’s just been named to the Sûreté du Québec. Even better, she’s assigned to work with Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, who has the best reputation in the agency. It’s an understatement to say that Nichol isn’t perfect. She makes plenty of mistakes, and like anyone new at the job, she has a lot to learn. Fans of this series will know, too, that she turns out to be duplicitous, even malicious, and not trustworthy. Despite Gamache’s attempts to help her learn how to fit in and do her job well, Nichol refuses to take his advice. Part of the reason for that is that she is arrogant. She is convinced that she knows what she’s doing, and that any failures she has are the fault of others. In a sense, she becomes the victim of her own sense of self. What’s interesting about her character is that she combines this egotism with a desperate need to belong.

Egotists aren’t all rich and powerful. But, more or less, they all have an overinflated sense of their worth and importance. That can make life miserable for those around them, but even when it doesn’t, such characters can add to a story.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a Carly Simon song. Did you know Carly Simon has a literary connection? That’s right. Her father, Richard Simon, was a co-founder of Simon and Schuster.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Louise Penny, Rex Stout, Robert Crais