Category Archives: Ellery Queen

Some Folks are Born, Silver Spoon in Hand*

famous-people-public-and-privateA lot of us get tired of hearing about the doings of famous people. That’s understandable, when you consider the ways the media treats stories about celebrities. The truth is, famous people are, first and foremost, people. And sometimes stories about that side of them can be interesting, especially if they’re done well. Readers can certainly connect to a famous person if they see that person as, well, real.

The thing about famous people is that, like the rest of us, they often have family and friends. They have pasts, too, and often their own secrets. All of that can make for an interesting context for a crime novel, providing that the famous character is depicted as an authentic person.

We see the human side of famous actress Marina Gregg in Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side (AKA The Mirror Crack’d). In that novel, Marina and her husband have just purchased Gossington Hall, in the village of St. Mary Mead. They decide to continue the tradition of an annual charity fête at the hall, and open their new home to the public. One of those most excited about this is Heather Badcock, who is one of Marina Gregg’s biggest fans. She goes to the big event, and actually gets the chance to meet her idol. Shortly afterwards, Heather becomes ill and then dies of what turns out to be poison. At first, it’s believed that the intended victim was Marina, and there are certainly are those who wish her harm in both her professional and personal lives. But Miss Marple deduces that Heather was actually meant to be the victim all along. With some help from her friend, Dolly Bantry, Miss Marple works out who would have wanted to kill Heather and why. As the novel goes on, we learn about the real person behind the famous Marina Gregg, and that side of her plays its role in the story.

In Ellery Queen’s The Four of Hearts, we are introduced to famous actors Blythe Stuart and John Royle. They had a very public, very stormy romance that finally ended. Each married someone else and each now has an adult child. Magna Studios wants to do a biopic on the couple, and Ellery Queen’s working on the screenplay. No-one thinks that the two actors will consent to do the film, but to everyone’s surprise, they agree. What’s more, they re-kindle their romance and even decide to get married. Rather than let this sudden change of plans get in the way of the film, the studio decides to make the most of it and give the couple a Hollywood-style wedding. It’s to take place on an airstrip, and is to be followed by the couple and their children taking off for their honeymoon trip. The wedding comes off as planned, and the plane duly takes off. But when it lands, both newlyweds are dead of what turns out to be poison. Their children are the likely suspects, but each of them claims to be innocent. Queen investigates, and discovers that the truth can be found by seeing the couple as actual people, rather than as celebrities.

Josephine Tey’s The Man in the Queue begins as a group of people are waiting outside the Woofington Theatre to see the final performance of Didn’t You Know?, starring famous actress Ray Marcabel. The doors finally open and the crowd moves in. In the confusion, no-one notices at first that there’s been a stabbing and a man is dead. Inspector Alan Grant investigates; and, of course, one of his first questions is the man’s identity. It turns out that the victim was small-time bookmaker Albert Sorrell. At first, it looks very much as though Sorrell’s roommate is guilty. Even Grant is convinced of this at first. But he soon begins to wonder whether he has the right man. So he goes back to the beginning of the case to find out the truth. And as he does, he learns more about the real person behind the famous Ray Marcabel, and that plays a part (pun intended) in the mystery.

Robert Crais’ Los Angeles-based PI Elvis Cole has had his share of encounters with famous people, and has learned what some of them are like behind their public personas. That’s what happens, for instance, in Lullaby Town. Famous director Peter Alan Nelson hires Cole to track down his ex-wife Karen Shipley, mostly so that Nelson will have a chance at a relationship with his twelve-year-old son, Toby. At first, Cole is reluctant to take the case, since it’s very likely that Karen doesn’t want to be found. But Nelson insists, saying that he really wants to be a father to his son. So Cole finally relents and starts asking questions. It doesn’t take him long to trace Karen and Toby to a small Connecticut town, but that’s only the start of Cole’s problems. It seems that Karen’s gotten mixed up with the Mob. She wants to get free of that connection, but that’s much easier said than done. Cole decides that he’ll have a better chance of getting Karen to talk to her ex-husband if she stays alive; and for that, he’ll need help from his PI partner, Joe Pike. In this novel, we don’t just see Nelson as a famous director; we see the human side of him, too.

Kalpana Swaminatham’s The Page Three Murders features a Mumbai house party being hosted by Dr. Hilla Driver, who’s just inherited a very upmarket home and wants to have a sort of housewarming. She also wants to celebrate the upcoming birthday of her niece, Ramona. So she arranges an elegant, ‘foodie’ weekend, with her chef, Tarok Ghosh, in charge of planning and preparing the menu. Several famous people are invited, including a model, a famous writer, a critic, an activist, and a socialite and her husband. All of them have both public and private personas. And it turns out that Ghosh has found out a lot about these guests’ personal lives. In fact, he drops hints about what he knows, and that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. The next day, he’s found murdered. One of the house guests, Lalli, is a former police detective who immediately starts investigating. When there’s another murder, she knows she doesn’t have much time to catch the killer. Among other things, the novel gives an interesting look at the lives of Mumbai’s famous people when they’re not in front of cameras, as the saying goes.

And then there’s Peter James’ Not Dead Yet. Brighton and Hove Police Superintdent Roy Grace gets a new assignment when superstar Gaia Lafayette plans to come to town. She’s originally from Brighton, and is coming back to do a film. There’s already been an attempt on her life, and Grace and his team are expected to do what they can to provide security for her and her young son. In the meantime, they’re already investigating a murder, and there’s the usual work that police do, the team has quite a lot going on. But ‘no’ isn’t an option, so Grace and his team get to work to protect the star. As they do, we get to know a bit about what Gaia is like as a person – behind the cameras.

And that’s the thing. Major stars are just people, like the rest of us, despite their seemingly gilded lives. Seeing them as real people can be interesting.

 

ps. The ‘photo is of John Fogerty (on the right, holding a guitar) and his son Shane (to the left, also with a guitar). It’s a nice look at a famous person as just a person with a family.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Creedance Clearwater Revival’s Fortunate Son.

 

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Josephine Tey, Kalpana Swaminathan, Peter James, Robert Crais

I Was Just a Kid, They All Called Me ‘Sidekick.’

young-sidekicksAn interesting post from Moira at Clothes in Books has got me thinking about the roles that young people play in crime novels. It’s a bit tricky to have a young person as the sleuth (‘though there are exceptions, such as Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce series). It’s also tricky to have a young person as a sidekick. After all, investigating crime is dangerous, even deadly at times, and adult sleuths wouldn’t want to put a young person in harm’s way. What’s more, it can be a challenge to write a convincing young character. Still, there are some interesting examples of young people playing the role of crime-fictional sidekicks.

Fans of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes can tell you that, in several of those stories, Holmes makes use of a group of street children he calls the Baker Street Irregulars. Led by a boy called Wiggins, they serve as Holmes’ ‘eyes and ears’ in some cases. They have an advantage in those situations in that no-one really takes very much notice of them at all. So they can easily follow people, keep watch on a place, and so on. Holmes himself treats them quite the same as he does his more adult informants, and that’s not surprising. For one thing, he respects anyone who helps with his cases. For another, many Victorians didn’t see the need to especially protect children, or shield them from danger. As you’ll know, it wasn’t until late in the 19th Century that laws protecting child workers were passed and began to be enforced. Holmes’ attitude towards the Baker Street Irregulars isn’t strange, considering the era.

By the time Agatha Christie was writing, attitudes towards young people had changed, and we see that as her sleuths encounter young people. Still, there are examples of young people as sidekicks in her work. In 4:50 From Paddington (AKA What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!), for instance, a friend of Miss Marple’s is on a train when she sees a murder. At first, no-one believes her, because nobody’s been reported missing, and there isn’t a body. But Miss Marple doesn’t think her friend was imagining things. She deduces that the body must be on the property of Rutherford Hall, which belongs to the Crackenthorpe family. So she makes an arrangement with professional housekeeper Lucy Eyelesbarrow. Lucy will apply for a position as the Crackenthorpe’s temporary housekeeper, and do some sleuthing during her stay. All goes as planned, and Lucy settles in. That’s when she meets Alexander Eastley (grandson of patriarch Luther Crackenthorpe) and his friend, James Stoddart-West. The two boys are home for the Christmas holidays, and they’re only too eager to find clues and help solve the mystery. Lucy has concerns for them, because they’re just boys. But they prove helpful, too.

One question we might ask is: at what age does a young person become an adult? The answer to that question has changed over time, and I’m not sure we’d all agree on it. Still, if you look at Ellery Queen’s The Origin of Evil, there’s an interesting example of a young sidekick whom you could argue still falls into the ‘not really an adult yet’ category. She is nineteen-year-old Laurel Hill. When her father, Leander, dies suddenly of a heart attack, she becomes convinced that his death was planned. She visits Queen, who’s staying in a rented home nearby, and asks him to investigate. At first, he’s very reluctant. But then she tells him that, prior to his death, her father had received a series of macabre ‘gifts’ that led to his heart attack. So, says Laurel, did his business partner, Roger Priam. This piques Queen’s interest, and he starts looking into the matter. Laurel Hill may be all of nineteen, but she’s still rather innocent and vulnerable. That doesn’t stop her being very helpful as Queen investigations, and she certainly sees herself as his assistant.

Tony Hillerman’s Navajo Tribal Police Sergeant Jim Chee gets an unexpected sidekick in The Ghostway. In that novel, he’s looking into the death of Albert Gorman, a Los Angeles Navajo who’s come to live on the Reservation. At the same time, he is assigned to find Margaret Billy Sosi, a sixteen-year-old Navajo girl who has gone missing from the school she attends. Chee traces the girl back to Los Angeles, where she’s clearly following a lead on the Gorman case. It turns out that Gorman was a distant relative of Margaret’s, and that she got a postcard from her grandfather about him. Chee finds Margaret; and, although they don’t officially work together (in fact, he is very worried for her safety), she does help a lot in solving the case. She even saves Chee’s life at one point.

The protagonist and sleuth in Riley Adams’ (AKA Elizabeth Spann Craig) Memphis Barbecue Series is Lulu Taylor. She’s the owner of Aunt Pat’s, a well-respected Memphis restaurant. Lulu’s nine-year-old granddaughter Ella Beth is a budding detective, and actually keeps a detective notebook in which she writes down things she sees and describes people she encounters. And in Finger Lickin’ Dead, it’s Ella Beth who discovers the body of bitterly-hated restaurant critic Adam Cawthorn. On the one hand, she’s not Lulu’s ‘official’ sidekick. But she’s got the same curiosity and interest, and Lulu can see her becoming a police officer or PI when she’s grown. That said though, Lulu does feel protective of her, and doesn’t deliberately expose her to danger.

And that’s the thing about young sidekicks in crime fiction. There’s a delicate balance between the very credible desire to protect them and keep them away from murder investigations on the one hand, and their curiosity (and sometimes, helpful assistance) on the other. Which young sidekicks have stayed with you?

Thanks, Moira, for the inspiration. Now, folks, give yourselves a treat and go visit Clothes in Books. Excellent reviews, and interesting discussion on fictional clothes and popular culture, and what it all says about us, await you.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Guy Clark’s Desperados Waiting For a Train.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alan Bradley, Arthur Conan Doyle, Ellery Queen, Elzabeth Spann Craig, Riley Adams, Tony Hillerman

Wouldn’t You Rather Have Your Precious Little Ingénue*

ingénuesOne of the character types we often associate with classic and Golden Age crime fiction (although this character shows up elsewhere, too) is the ingénue – the somewhat unsophisticated, inexperienced young woman. Ingénues aren’t necessarily unintelligent. In fact, many are quite bright. But they tend to be less worldly and more innocent than more experienced female characters.

There are a lot of them in crime fiction, too. Sometimes they’re unjustly accused of murder. Sometimes they’re guilty, and hide behind the ingénue façade. They can also make for effective love interests, among other things. Whatever role the ingénue plays, she’s an integral part of, especially, classic and Golden Age crime fiction.

Fans of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes will know that, in more than one of his adventures, he helps an ingénue. For example, in The Boscombe Valley Mystery, James McCarthy is arrested for the murder of his father, Charles. There’s evidence against him, too, as he was seen quarrelling with his father just before the murder. He claims he’s innocent, though, and his fiancée, Alice Turner, believes him. She’s convinced enough to go to Inspector Lestrade and ask him to look into the case again. Lestrade thinks he has his man, but he agrees to consider the matter more closely. He contacts Sherlock Holmes, asking him to examine the evidence and see if there are any other possibilities. Holmes acquiesces and he and Dr. Watson travel to Boscombe Valley, where the murder occurred. They find that the victim gave an important clue to his killer, but no-one understood it at the time of his death.

In Agatha Christie’s Three Act Tragedy, we are introduced to Hermione ‘Egg’ Lytton Gore. Although she’s ‘well born,’ she’s been rather sheltered, and hasn’t had a chance to travel or spend a lot of time in exotic circles. She and her mother, Lady Mary Lytton Gore, are invited to a cocktail party hosted by famous actor Sir Charles Cartwright. During the party, another guest, Reverend Stephen Babbington, suddenly dies of what turns out to be poison. Also present at the party is Hercule Poirot (and Mr. Satterthwaite, by the way). Poirot takes an interest in the case, and Egg persuades him to pursue it when there’s another, similar death. Egg is a smart young woman, and by no means a ‘helpless female.’ But there are ways in which she’s an ingénue, and it’s interesting to see how that impacts her character.

In John Dickson Carr’s Hag’s Nook, recent university graduate Tad Rampole takes the advice of his mentor and travel from his native US to England. While he’s there, he’s going to meet lexicographer and academician Dr. Gideon Fell. Rampole is on his way to Fell’s home when he meets Dorothy Starberth, whose family lives not far away. He’s immediately smitten with her, so he’s happy to listen when Fell tells him the story of the Starberth family. Several generations of Starberths were Governors at a nearby prison that’s fallen into disuse. And even today, there’s a Starberth tradition connected with the prison. Every male Starberth spends the night of his twenty-fifth birthday in the old Governor’s Room at the now-ruined prison. As proof of presence, he opens the safe in the room and follows the instructions inside it. Now it’s the turn of Dorothy’s brother Martin, and she’s concerned about it. For many years, there’s been talk of a curse on the family; several of its male members have met with untimely deaths. Martin’s not overly eager to go to the prison, either, but he goes ahead with the plan. On the night of his birthday, Martin Starberth dies of what looks like a fall from a balcony. Gideon Fell isn’t so sure, though, and works to find out the truth. In this novel, Dorothy Starberth is smart and aware, but still has an air of innocence that one could definitely call ingénue.

So does nineteen-year-old Laurel Hill, whom we meet in Ellery Queen’s The Origin of Evil. In that story, Queen has taken a place in the Hollywood Hills to do some writing. He’s hoping for some peace and quiet, but that’s not what happens. Laurel visits him one day, asking him to investigate the death of her father, Leander, who died recently of a heart attack. Laurel is convinced that someone deliberately brought that attack on by sending him a series of macabre ‘gifts.’ At first, Queen has no interest in the case. But he gradually gets interested in the puzzle of what the packages may mean, and how they’re related. That’s especially true when he learns that Hill’s business partner, Roger Priam, has also been getting similar deliveries. For her part, Laurel is smart and capable. But there’s something a little innocent and young about her, and it adds to her interest as a character.

And then there’s Steph Avery’s Our Trespasses. One day, the police at one of the South London stations get an anonymous letter. In it, the author confesses to the murder of a vagrant whose body was found at an underground station. There’s very little in the letter that could identify the writer, so the police can’t really do much about it, even if it is genuine. And we soon learn that it is. The story behind the letter begins in 1966 South East London, where teenaged ingénues Bridget ‘Bridie’ and Madeline ‘Midge’ Dolan live with their parents. They’re as well-sheltered and protected as their parents can manage, but they still have an interest in the clothes, lifestyle and experimentation of the times. One Friday night, they wangle permission to go dancing at the Palais Royale, so long as their cousin Jimmy takes them and brings them back. Bridie and Midge are happy enough with this arrangement, and eagerly get ready for their big night. What happens that night is life-changing for several characters in the story, and it’s connected with the letter the police get decades later.

There are a lot of other examples of ingénues in classic and Golden Age crime fiction, and in some historical crime fiction. Do you think there are still crime-fictional ingénues today? Which ones have stayed with you?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Andrew Lloyd Weber, Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe’s Prima Donna.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Ellery Queen, John Dickson Carr, Steph Avery

What You Need is Some Fresh Publicity*

Publicity StuntsThere are plenty of times when people want to call as little attention to themselves as possible. That’s especially true if one is by nature a private person, or the matter is something personal, and one doesn’t want it getting around. But there are also times when publicity is exactly what’s needed. Whether it’s to sell a company’s product, tout a particular political candidate, or boost a particular cause, publicity can be very helpful. So, sometimes, people or companies do publicity stunts to call attention to themselves.

I don’t have to tell you how often that happens in real life. And it happens in crime fiction, too. Space only permits me to share a few examples; I know you will think of many more.

Agatha Christie took part in a publicity stunt to boost tourism on the Isle of Man. She wrote a short story called Manx Gold, in which engaged couple Fenella Mylecharane and Juan Faraker take part in a scavenger hunt to find treasure that’s buried on the island. It seems that Fenella’s eccentric Uncle Myles has stipulated in his will that the treasure goes to whichever of his potential heirs finds it first. Each competitor gets the same clues, and soon enough, it’s clear that someone is willing to kill to win. The story was linked to an actual competition on the island. Four identical snuffboxes filled with Manx half-pennies were hidden at various places on the island. The story, which was printed in instalments, provided clues to those boxes. Anyone who could find all four snuffboxes would win £100. Interestingly, no-one ever claimed the prize.

Hollywood is well-known for publicity stunts, and that’s exactly what happens in Ellery Queen’s The Four of Hearts. Queen is working temporarily at Magna Studios, where he’s doing some screenwriting on a biopic of famous stars John Royle and Blythe Stuart. The couple had a famous, very public, very stormy romance that ended bitterly. Each then married someone else, and each now has an adult child. Now, Magna wants to reunite the couple for the film. To everyone’s surprise, they agree. What’s more, they rekindle their romance, and decide to get married. So, rather than fighting the force of love, so to speak, Magna decides to use the wedding as a publicity stunt for the film. The plan is for the couple to marry on an airstrip, and then immediately board a private plane for their honeymoon trip. The wedding gets an awful lot of hype, and everyone’s there for the big day. Royle and Stuart duly marry; then, they and their children get onto the plane. But by the time the plane lands, the newlyweds are dead – murdered, as it turns out, by poison. The couple’s children claim they’re innocent, but it’s hard to imagine who else had the opportunity. Queen looks into the matter and finds out the answer.

Sometimes, publicity stunts are undertaken for a good cause. In Alexander McCall Smith’s The Full Cupboard of Life, for instance, Mma Sylvia Potokwani wants to raise awareness and money for the orphanage she runs. So she decides to have a publicity-stunt parachute jump. And she can’t think of anyone better suited to jump than Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, who runs Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors. He’s committed to the orphanage, and spends quite a lot of time there, fixing equipment and doing repairs. But Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni is not eager to do the jump. Not only does he tend to shy away from publicity, but also, there’s the very real danger. Still, he allows himself to be persuaded. His fiancée, Mma Precious Ramotswe, finds a solution. She persuades Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni’s assistant, Charlie, to jump instead, telling him that it will impress all of the girls. The idea works, and the orphanage gets the publicity it needs.

A publicity stunt backfires badly in Anthea Fraser’s Eleven That Went Up to Heaven. In that novel, wealthy conference center owner Richard Vine decides to hold a publicity-stunt party to which he’s invited several guests, twenty of whom are also named Richard Vine. Hours later, a minibus crashes not very far from where the party was held. There are ten fatalities; five of the victims are called Richard Vine. What’s more, it’s soon clear that this was no accident. Now DCI Webb and his team have to find out whether the deaths were related to the publicity stunt, or whether someone had another reason for killing.

When a trial gets a lot of media attention, very often, the attorneys involved do, too. And that publicity can be a real help to their careers, especially if they want to work for a large, rich firm, or even go into politics. There are, of course, limits to what lawyers are allowed to do in terms of publicity.  They’re expected to behave professionally. Still, every attorney knows how important publicity can be, not just for the case at hand, but also for the future. In John Grisham’s A Time to Kill, small-town attorney Jake Brigance gets the opportunity of a lifetime when Carl Lee Hailey hires him. Hailey has been jailed for murdering Billy Ray Cobb and James Louis ‘Pete’ Willard. But this isn’t a typical case. Cobb and Willard had brutally raped Hailey’s ten-year-old daughter, Tonya, and there are plenty of people who support Hailey. Just as many, though, want this case to go away. The national media get hold of the story, and one plot thread in this novel is the way Brigance and his counterpart for the prosecution, Rufus Buckley, make use of the publicity.

Publicity stunts and grandstanding have their place. They can help people’s careers, support a cause, and much more. These are only a few crime-fictional examples. Now it’s your turn to take the stage.

ps. The ‘photo you see is of player cards for two of the players for the (US) National Football League (NFL)’s Philadelphia Eagles. Several years ago, a menswear store opened not far from where Mr. COAMN and I were living. As a publicity stunt for the store, several of the players were in the store, signing player cards and greeting fans. I got to meet three of them – all very courteous and gracious. It turned out that the event was a real success.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Joan Baez’ Time Rag.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alexander McCall Smith, Anthea Fraser, Ellery Queen, John Grisham

So Christian Dior Me, From My Head to My Toes*

Fashion DesignFashion design is big business. Whether you’re a fan of a certain designer, or you couldn’t care less what name you’re wearing, it’s hard to deny the influence designers have. The most successful designer houses make billions each year; and buyers for large and small companies know that at least some of their profits depend on having the latest creations. The fashion design business is highly competitive, too.

With that tension, and with so much at stake, it shouldn’t be surprising that fashion designers and design houses would play a role in crime fiction. Fashion design’s a very effective context, and there’s plenty of opportunity for conflict and worse.

In Agatha Christie’s Three Act Tragedy (AKA Murder in Three Acts), we are introduced to successful fashion designer Cynthia Dacres. Always alert to the newest trends, she’s built her business on cutting-edge clothes. Her fashion design company, Ambrosine, Ltd., seems on the surface to be doing quite well. One evening, she and her husband, Captain Freddy Dacres, attend a cocktail party at the home of famous actor Sir Charles Cartwright. All goes well until another guest, Reverend Stephen Babbington, suddenly collapses and dies of what turns out to be a poisoned drink. Hercule Poirot is also at the party, and takes an interest in what happened. Not long afterwards, there’s another, similar murder. This time, well-known specialist Dr. Bartholomew Strange is murdered at his home in Yorkshire during a dinner party. Several of the same guests (including the Dacres) attended both parties; and it’s very likely that the murders are related. Cynthia Dacres becomes a suspect when Poirot takes an interest in this case and works with the police to find out who the killer is.

Margery Allingham’s Fashion in Shrouds features fashion designer Valentine ‘Val’ Ferris, sister of Allingham’s sleuth, Albert Campion. In this novel, Campion discovers the body of Richard Portland-Smith, who disappeared three years previously. The trail leads to Portland-Smith’s former fiancée, famous actress Georgia Wells. Since Wells is good friends with Campion’s sister, and her best client, Campion asks his sister for an introduction. That meeting takes place at a major event during which Ferris’ newest designs are to be revealed. The evening is ruined when it’s discovered that the design for the main creation has been leaked. Then, there’s a murder. And another. And Ferris is implicated. So Campion works to find out who’s really responsible.

Ellery Queen’s The Fourth Side of the Triangle introduces readers to successful fashion designer Sheila Grey. She’s passionate about creating new clothing designs. She’s not just talented; she also has strong business skills. So she’s not dependent on anyone, and she has no desire to marry and have children. In fact, she’s gained a certain amount of something like notoriety for her series of affairs. Dane McKell meets her when he discovers that she’s in a relationship with his father, wealthy business mogul Ashton McKell. Then one night, she is murdered, and Inspector Richard Queen investigates, as does his son, Ellery. The most likely suspect is Ashton McKell, but he is soon cleared of suspicion. Then, McKell’s wife Letitia becomes a suspect. So does Dane. It turns out that the victim’s fashion designs contain an important clue to her murderer.

There’s another sort of look at the fashion design industry in Rhys Bowen’s For the Love of Mike, which takes place at the very beginning of the 20th Century. Molly Murphy has emigrated from Dublin to New York City. There, she’s decided to continue operating the PI business her former mentor left behind when he died. Most of her cases consist of following adulterous spouses, and she can’t stomach that for much longer. Then, in one plot thread of the novel, she gets a different sort of case. Clothing designer Max Mostel has determined that someone’s been stealing his designs and selling them to his biggest competitor, Lowenstein’s. Mostel and Murphy put together a plan for finding out who’s guilty. Murphy goes undercover briefly at Mostel’s, to learn the trade and get to know some of the people who work there. Then, she goes undercover at Lowenstein’s, so she can catch the guilty person. Among other things, this novel gives a ‘behind the scenes’ look at what it was once like to produce those design creations and sell them to shops.

Fans of J.K. Rowling/Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike novels will know that, in The Cuckoo’s Calling, Strike gets involved in the death of supermodel Lula Landry. She fell (or was it pushed? Or did she jump?) from her balcony three months previously. At the time, the police claimed it was a case of suicide, and the victim did have a history of depression. Still, her adoptive brother John Bristow hires Strike to find out the truth about her death, claiming that he’s not convinced it was suicide. Part of the trail leads to Guy Somé, a well-known fashion designer whose creations the victim modeled. She and Somé were close friends; in fact, she’d recently signed a lucrative contract to model his clothes. It’s hoped that he can provide some insight into why she might have died. At the very least, Somé can help Strike trace her last days and weeks. It’s an interesting look at the world of today’s high-powered fashion designing.

And then there’s Sophie Littlefield’s Hanging By a Thread, a YA standalone featuring fledgling clothes designer Clare Knight. At the beginning of the novel, she and her mother have just moved back to her home town of Winston, California, a quiet beach community. There, she sets up a business with her best friend, Rachel, selling the one-of-a-kind vintage clothes she designs. On the surface, life in Winston seems idyllic. But the town has had its share of tragedy. For the last two years, a young person has disappeared during the July Fourth celebrations. One was ten-year-old Dillon Granger. The second was a high school student, Amanda Stavros. Gossip has started that someone else will disappear this year, but Clare doesn’t believe it, and tries to enjoy life in Winston. Until she discovers a denim jacket that Amanda owned. Clare is a synthaesthete, who senses people’s pasts when she touches clothes they’ve worn. When she finds the jacket, Clare knows that Amanda was murdered. Now she looks into the reason why, and uncovers some dark secrets about her home town.

See what I mean? Fashion design can be exciting. For some very lucky and talented designers, it can also be lucrative. But it can also be dangerous…

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice’s Rainbow High.

 

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, J.K. Rowling, Margery Allingham, Rhys Bowen, Robert Galbraith, Sophie Littlefield