Category Archives: Ellery Queen

No, You Could Not See it Coming*

Although it isn’t really true, there are some major changes that seem to come ‘out of nowhere.’ Those changes often have a strong and lasting impact, too. But, as the saying goes, a lot of people never see them coming. And coping with those changes, especially if one’s not prepared for them, can be difficult.

Authors have, of course, explored those changes in a lot of their work, and that includes crime writers. That makes sense, too, as coping with those changes can add to a plot line, a character, or the tension in a story. There are far too many examples for me to list in this one post, but here are a just a few.

One of the big changes that plenty of people didn’t see coming was what I’ll call the sexual revolution that began in the 1960s. This revolution challenged the idea that sex should be exclusive to heterosexual, married couples. There are certainly people who still believe that ought to be the case. Bu the sexual revolution questioned that belief, and it became much more socially acceptable, for instance, to live together without marriage, to be involved in a homosexual relationship, and so on. We see this new attitude of sexual liberation in Ellery Queen’s The Fourth Side of the Triangle. In that novel, we are introduced to famous fashion designer Sheila Grey. She’s single, and in no hurry to get married. Here’s what she says about it:

‘‘My notion of love doesn’t require marriage to consummate it, that’s all. In fact – I’m speaking only for myself – I reject the whole concept of marriage. I’m no more capable of being happy as a housewife, or a country club gal, or a young suburban matron than I am of renouncing the world and taking the veil.”

She doesn’t lack for companionship, though. Although she’s not promiscuous, she has had several relationships. One of them is with wealthy businessman Ashton McKell. When McKell’s son, Dane, discovers this, he decides to meet her himself and force an end to her relationship with his father. Instead, he finds himself falling in love with her. They begin an affair, but that ends one night when Grey is shot. Inspector Richard Queen investigates, and, of course, his son Ellery gets involved. There really are only three major obvious suspects: McKell, his son, and his wife. As it turns out, the victim leaves a cryptic clue as to her killer, and when Queen interprets it correctly, he’s able to catch the murderer.

Although people had been using drugs for a long time, many people didn’t see the counterculture/drug culture of the 1960s coming. There are several crime novels that explore this (right, fans of Steph Avery’s Our Trespasses?). One of them is Agatha Christie’s Third Girl. In that novel, Hercule Poirot and detective novelist Ariadne Oliver work to solve a murder that may or may not have happened. A young woman named Norma Restarick believes she may have committed a murder. But she can’t give many details, and in any case, she thinks Poirot is too old (her words) to help her. Then, she goes missing. Both Poirot and Mrs. Oliver think that if they can find out about the murder, that will tie into Norma’s disappearance. As they look into Norma’s life, friends, and so on, they meet several members of London’s 1960s counterculture, including one of Norma’s roommates, who’s an artist, and the young man Norma’s dating.

Developments in technology have brought about many important changes, several of which a lot of people didn’t see coming. The use of computers in everyday personal and business life seemed to mushroom, beginning in the 1980s. Peter Lovesey explores this in The Last Detective: Introducing Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond. In that novel, we are introduced to Superintendent Diamond, who has his eccentricities (he’s been known to take naps on mortuary gurneys, for instance). He believes firmly in old-fashioned detective work: ‘legwork,’ interviewing witnesses and suspects, and actually looking for physical evidence. His skills are put to the test when the body of Geraldine ‘Gerry’ Jackman is pulled from Chew Valley Lake, near Bristol. Diamond uses more old-fashioned methods to get to the truth, but many in his office use computers to collect data, run fingerprints, and so on. While it’s Diamond who eventually gets to the truth, we also see the advantages of more technologically modern tools.

Even after the advent of the Internet, many people didn’t see the coming of the social networking revolution that began in the early 2000s. People had learned to access information on the Internet, but to produce it, add to it, comment on it, and so on was brand new then. And it has dramatically changed the way we use the Internet. We see that in Helen Fitzgerald’s The Cry. When Joanna Lindsay and her partner, Alistair Robertson, travel from Scotland to Robertson’s native Victoria, they bring along their nine-week-old son, Noah. Shortly after their arrival, they face every parent’s worst nightmare: the loss of baby Noah. At first, there’s a lot of sympathy for them as a massive search for Noah is undertaken. Social media erupts in a frenzy of web sites, speculation, and more. Then, people begin to wonder whether the parents, in particular Joanna, might have had something to do with the baby’s disappearance. Now, the same social media that supported them starts to turn against them. And it’s fascinating to see how people all over the world use social media to weigh in on the case, in ways that hadn’t been possible just a few years earlier.

And then there’s the banking and financial collapse of 2007/2008. Prior to that, many economies had been booming, not least of which was Ireland’s ‘Celtic Tiger’ economy. While there had been some predications of trouble ahead, most people weren’t prepared for the great crash of 2008. And we see that in Gene Kerrigan’s The Rage. In one plot thread, Dublin Detective Sergeant (DS) Bob Tidey and Detective Garda Rose Cheney investigate when banker Emmet Sweetman is murdered in his own home by two hired thugs. It turns out that he had made some dangerous deals during the ‘Celtic Tiger’ years, not imagining that things would unravel. When the crash came, he owed too much money to some dangerous people, and couldn’t pay it back.

And that’s the thing about some of the big changes that have come along. Sometimes we can see them coming. Other times, they catch a lot of people unawares. What do you think? What will be the next big change?

ps. The ‘photo was taken during a freak hailstorm that struck my area about a year ago. Nobody saw that one coming.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Woody Guthrie’s Los Angeles New Year’s Flood.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Gene Kerrigan, Helen Fitzgerald, Peter Lovesey, Steph Avery

Just a Few People That Both of Us Know*

In many crime novels (especially whodunits), there’s a victim (sometimes more than one) and a set of suspects. And the sleuth investigates the different subjects in terms of their motives, alibis, and so on. There’s often more to it than that, but that’s the basic structure.

Sometimes, there are a lot of suspects, too (e.g. everyone who went in and out of a building during a given day). But sometimes, there are only a few suspects. On the one hand, that makes the sleuth’s job easier. There are fewer people to consider, and fewer sets of alibis and motives to check. On the other, it can be a challenge for the author to make a story really interesting if there are only a few suspects. It’s not easy to do well, but when it is, having only a few suspects can make for an interesting approach to storytelling.

For example, in Agatha Christie’s Cards on the Table, an enigmatic man named Mr. Shaitana invites eight people to dinner. Four of them are renowned sleuths. The other four are people that Shaitana hints have gotten away with at least one murder. After dinner, the group settles in to play bridge. The four sleuths are in one room; the four other guests are in another. By the end of the evening, Mr. Shaitana has been stabbed. He was in the same room as the four people he’d accused of being murderers. No-one else entered or left the room, so those people are the only possible suspects. Poirot is among the sleuths who were invited to dinner, so he works with the other three (Colonel Race, Superintendent Battle, and Ariadne Oliver) to find out who the killer is. In this case, the story has to do with the backgrounds of these four suspects, so each one’s history is told, probably in more detail than might be the case if there were more suspects.

There’s also a limited number of suspects in Ellery Queen’s The Last Woman in his Life. In this novel, Queen is invited for a getaway weekend at the property of wealthy jet setter John Levering Benedict III. He’ll be staying at Benedict’s guest house, so he can get some writing done. Queen settles in, and begins what he hopes will be a peaceful, productive stay. It’s not to be, though. Benedict also has other guests who are staying at his house: his three ex-wives, his attorney, and his attorney’s secretary. Needless to say, this makes for quite a lot of tension, and Queen does his best to avoid the house. Then one night, he gets a frantic call from Benedict, who says that he’s been murdered. He’s not able to get the name of the killer out, but Queen rushes over right away. By the time he gets there, Benedict is dead of blunt force trauma. The only clues are an evening gown, a pair of gloves, and a wig. Each item belongs to a different person, so Queen has to work out how each item got there, and who the real killer is.

In Minette Walters’ The Breaker, PC Nick Ingram is the first called to the scene when the body of Kate Sumner is found near Chapman’s Pool on the Dorset Coast. Not long afterwards, her toddler daughter, Hannah, is found wandering alone in the nearby town. Ingram works with DI John Galbraith, WPC Griffiths and Superintendent Carpenter to find out who killed the victim and why. They soon find that there are really only three possible suspects. One is the victim’s husband, William Sumner. Then there’s Stephen Harding, an actor whom she’d flirted with more than once. There’s also Harding’s roommate, a teacher named Tony Bridges. In this case, solving the murder isn’t really a matter of knocking on a lot of doors or sifting through dozens of mug shots. It’s a matter of examining the relationships that the victim had with each man, and then working out which one was the killer. In this case, the victim’s past, and her psychology, play important roles in the story.

There’s a limited number of suspects in Domingo Villar’s Death on a Galician Shore, too. In that novel, Vigo police inspector Leo Caldas, and his assistant, Rafael Estevez, investigate the death of a fisherman named Justo Castelo. At first, it looks as though he committed suicide by drowning. But little clues suggest otherwise to Caldas, and he decides to look more closely into the matter. On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be much motive. Castelo lived a very quiet life and didn’t have a list of enemies. In fact, Caldas and Estevez can really only find two former friends: another fisherman named José Arias, and Marcos Valverde, who no longer fishes but has remained in the area and become a successful businessman. As the sleuths continue to dig, they find out that all three men (Castelo, Arias and Valverde) were on a fishing boat one night in 1996 when a terrible storm came up and the captain, Antonio Sousa, was lost. That tragedy seems to have had a powerful effect on the survivors, and Caldas think it may have played a role in Castelo’s death. In this case, the men’s histories turn out to be important to the novel, and they’re explored in a bit of depth, since there are so few ‘people of interest.’

In Aditya Sudarshan’s A Nice Quiet Holiday, Justice Harish Shinde and his law clerk, Anant, travel from Delhi to the town of Bhairavgarh, in the Indian state of Rajasthan, for a two-week holiday. They’re looking forward to escaping the intense Delhi heat, and to some relaxation. While there, they’ll be the guests of Shikhar Pant, an old friend of the judge’s. Pant has also invited a few other guests: Ronit and Kamini Mittal, who run an NGO; Pravin Anand and Anand’s son Avinash; and Dr. Davendra Nath and his daughter Mallika and sons Ashwin and Nikhil. Also present is Pant’s cousin, Kailish. One afternoon, Kailish is found stabbed in his cousin’s library. Inspector Patel is called in and begins to investigate. I can say without spoiling the story that the Nath children are not suspects. So, really, Patel doesn’t have a large pool of suspects: Pant, the Mittals, the Anands, and Dr. Nath. The judge and Anant get to know the various suspects; and, in the end, they find out who killed the victim and why. It’s an interesting modern-day country house sort of murder with just a few suspects.

It’s not always easy to pull of an engaging mystery with just three or four suspects. When it works, though, it can be an effective approach to building tension and to character development. Which ones have stayed with you?


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Noel Gay, Douglas Ferber, and L. Arthur Rose’s Me and My Girl.


Filed under Aditya Sudarshan, Agatha Christie, Domingo Villar, Ellery Queen, Minette Walters

Stay By My Side, Guide Me*

As this is posted, it would have been Grigori Rasputin’s 149th birthday (by the Gregorian calendar). Whatever else he was, Rasputin was certainly an influential person at the Romanov court. And that influence had real consequences, as you’ll know.

It’s all got me thinking about crime-fictional characters who may be (at least at first) behind the scenes, but who still wield considerable influence. Those characters can be at least as interesting as the more prominent characters. Sometimes, they turn out to be far more powerful than it seems on the surface.

For example, In Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles, we are introduced to Evelyn ‘Evie’ Howard. She serves as companion/factotum/but mostly friend to wealthy Emily Inglethorp. She wields considerable influence in the household, although she generally keeps a low profile. Also living at the Inglethorp home, Styles Court, are Mrs. Inglethorp’s husband, Alfred; her two stepsons, John and Lawrence Cavendish, and John’s wife, Mary; and Mrs. Inglethorp’s ward, Cynthia Murdoch.  John Cavendish invites his old friend, Captain Hastings, for a visit, so Hastings is on hand when Mrs. Inglethorpe is poisoned one night. All of the members of the family are possible suspects, since the victim had a fortune to leave. When Hastings learns that his old friend, Hercule Poirot, is staying in the nearby village, he asks for Poirot’s help investigating, since the family doesn’t want a scandal. As Poirot and Hastings get to know the different members of the family, we learn about their relationships and some of the tensions among them. And it turns out that those relationships have a lot to do with the murder.

Ellery Queen’s Origin of Evil sees Queen staying in the Hollywood Hills, so that he can get some writing done. His plan changes when Laurel Hill asks for his help. Her father, Leander, recently died of a heart attack, but she is sure it was deliberately induced. It seems that both he and his business partner, Roger Priam, were receiving macabre ‘gifts’ that seemed meaningless on the surface, but frightened both men. Laurel claims that the packages scared her father to death. At first, Queen’s reluctant to take the case, but he is eventually persuaded. Oddly enough, Priam has no interest in finding out what or who is behind the events, but Queen persists. In the end, he finds that the mystery has its roots in both men’s pasts. He also learns that someone has been wielding quite a lot of influence, even though it’s not obvious on the surface.

In Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza’s A Window in Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro Police Inspector Espinosa and his team are faced with a troubling case. Three other police officers have been killed, all in quick succession. At first, it looks as though this is a case of someone who has a vendetta against the police. But then, the mistress of one of the victims is murdered. Then another falls, or is pushed, from the window of her apartment. And another disappears. It’s now clear that someone was deliberately targeting this group of people, and it may be because they were involved in corruption, all too common among the police. But if so, why would the victims’ mistresses also be targeted? As Espinosa and his team investigate, we learn that someone has had a major influence on the victims and on the case. That influence plays an important role in what happens.

Philip Margolin’s Executive Privilege has two major plot threads. In one, former-cop-turned-PI Dana Cutler gets a new assignment. Wealthy and influential Washington D.C. attorney Dale Perry wants Cutler to follow nineteen-year-old Charlotte Walsh, and report where she goes, whom she sees, and what she does. At first, very little happens. Then, one night, Walsh parks her car at a local shopping mall. Then, she’s picked up by another car and driven to a remote safe house. To Cutler’s surprise, the person Walsh meets is US President Christopher Farrington. It’s clear now that this is a much bigger case than it seems on the surface, and Walsh calls her employer to back out of it. That proves impossible, though, when Walsh is found murdered the next morning. This death turns out to be linked to another murder a few years earlier, and both are related to a common experience in the victims’ pasts. Throughout this novel, someone is wielding a lot of influence behind the scenes, and it’s interesting to see how that plays out in the story.

And then there’s Shamini Flint’s A Calamitous Chinese Killing. In that novel, Singapore police detective Inspector Singh is sent to Beijing on a very delicate matter. Susan Tan is First Secretary at the Singapore Embassy in China. Recently, her son, Justin, was killed in an older, run-down part of Beijing. At first, it looks like a mugging gone wrong. But Tan believes her son was deliberately murdered, despite what the official police report says. She wants Singh to look into the matter. He’s reluctant, but he’s not in a position to refuse. When he gets to Beijing, he starts to work with former Beijing police officer Li Jun to find out the truth. It’s a challenging case, and it leads to some high places. And when we learn the truth, we also learn that someone has been behind the scenes, wielding quite a lot of power. And that person has every interest in keeping that power.

And that’s the thing about people who have a lot of influence, the way Rasputin did. They sometimes work very much behind the scenes, and they often have more power than it can seem on the surface. This can make them very interesting – and very dangerous – people.


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


Filed under Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza, Phillip Margolin, Shamini Flint

And the Newspapers, They All Went Along For the Ride*

As this is posted, it’s 23 years since the beginning of the famous O.J. Simpson trial. As you’ll know, he was arrested and tried for the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown-Simpson, and the murder of Ron Goldman. The trial made world headlines, and every detail that could be shared in the press, was. In part, the trial caught people’s interest because of the lurid details. In part, it was arguably because Simpson was famous. Little wonder that it was called ‘the Trial of the Century,’ whether or not it actually deserves that status.

Certainly, Simpson’s trial wasn’t the first or last sensational murder trial. There’s just something about certain trials that get the press’ and public’s attention. That’s true in real life, and it’s certainly true in fiction.

Martin Edwards’ Dancing For the Hangman bridges the gap between fiction and real life. It’s a fiction re-telling of the story of Harvey Hawley Crippen, who was arrested, tried, and executed in 1910 for the murder of his wife, Cora. The arrest and trial were a media sensation, and papers all over the world carried regular news about the Crippen case. It’s not surprising that the trial caught the public’s interest as it did, even though Crippen wasn’t famous. There was a love triangle involved, which always adds to the ‘spiciness’ of a case. What’s more, the murder itself was considered sensational. There was also doubt (still is, if the truth be told) as to whether Crippen was actually guilty. All of this added to the media frenzy. And it helped make the career of pathologist Bernard Spilsbury.  Edwards tells the story from Crippen’s point of view, and suggests a possibility for what might have really happened.

In Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds (AKA Death in the Air), Marie Morisot, a French moneylender who goes by the name of Madame Giselle, is poisoned during a flight from Paris to London. The only possible suspects are other people in the cabin, one of whom is Hercule Poirot. A few of the passengers are ‘society’ people, which in itself garners a lot of public interest. What’s more, the murder itself is considered sensational. It turns out that the victim was poisoned by what seems to be a dart from a blowgun – an exotic sort of crime. The coroner’s inquest is well attended, and all of the papers cover the story.

‘The reporters wrote: “Peer’s wife gives evidence in air-death mystery.” Some of them put: “in snake-poison mystery.”
Those who wrote for women’s papers put: “Lady Horbury wore one of the new collegian hats and fox furs” or “Lady Horbury, who before her marriage was Miss Cicely Bland, was smartly dressed in black, with one of the new hats.”

It’s not spoiling the story to say that at first, the coroner’s jury accuses Poirot of the crime, since the blowpipe was found by his seat. Needless to say, Poirot isn’t happy about that finding, and neither is the coroner. Poirot works with Chief Inspector Japp to find out who the guilty person is.

Ellery Queen’s Calamity Town takes place mostly in the small New England town of Wrightsville. Queen’s gone there for some peace and quiet, so he can write, and he’s staying in a guest house owned by social leaders John and Hermione ‘Hermy’ Wright. That’s how he gets involved in family drama when the youngest Wright daughter, Nora, rekindles an old relationship. She’d been engaged to Jim Haight, but he jilted her and then disappeared for three years. Now he’s back, and Nora shocks everyone by agreeing to marry him. The wedding goes off as planned, but shortly afterwards, suspicion arises that Haight may be planning to kill his bride for her money. Then, on New Year’s Eve, Haight’s sister, Rosemary, who’s been staying with the family, is poisoned by a drink that was intended for Nora. Now, Haight finds himself arrested and on trial for murder. The trial is a major media event, and all of the papers cover it. After all, the Wrights are social elites. And there’s the whole ‘romance-gone-wrong’ angle. In the end, only Queen and Nora’s older sister, Pat, actually believe that Haight may be innocent. And they are determined to clear his name.

John Grisham’s A Time to Kill also tells the story of a sensational murder trial in Clanton, Mississippi. Carl Lee Hailey has been arrested for the murders of two men, and the wounding of another. There’s a lot to this case that generates interest. The two men that Hailey shot were responsible for raping his ten-year-old daughter, so there’s a lot of sympathy for him. At the same time, though, he killed two people. The man he wounded is a sheriff’s deputy, and that complicates matters. There’s also the fact that Hailey is black and his victims white. This adds fuel to the media-frenzy fire, and news outlets from all over the country cover the trial. And some powerful forces have an interest in the outcome of the case, and aren’t afraid to use that power to do so.

And then there’s William Deverell’s Trial of Passion, the first of his novels to feature Vancouver attorney Arthur Beauchamp. He’s decided to retire and move to Garibaldi Island, and he’s looking forward to stepping back from the stress of big-firm work, and the failure of his marriage. Then, his former colleagues ask for his help. Professor Jonathan O’Donnell, acting dean of law at the University of British Columbia, has been arrested and charged with raping a law student, Kimberly Martin. O’Donnell claims to be innocent, and wants Beauchamp to defend him. Beauchamp refuses at first, but is finally persuaded. The trial gets a great deal of media attention. There’s the ‘he said/she said’ angle, and there’s the fact that O’Donnell is well known in the academic community. And there are the lurid details that come out during the trial. Through it all, Beauchamp works to find out what really happened on the night in question, and try to do his best for his client.

There are lots of other trials, too, both real and fictional, that get a great deal of media attention, even hype. Testimony from both sides gets splashed in the headlines, and daily updates of these cases are passed along. Some cases just seem tailor-made to become sensations.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bob Dylan’s Hurricane.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, John Grisham, Martin Edwards, William Deverell

And I Blame Myself*

One way to get away with a crime – or leas have a good chance of it – is to frame someone else. And a very effective way to frame someone else is to convince that someone that she or he is guilty. That’s not easy to do, as you can imagine, but it can happen. And when it’s successful, a real murderer has a ready-made scapegoat.

This plot point can be difficult to pull off in crime fiction. It’s got to be done in a credible way, and most people wouldn’t easily believe that they are guilty of murder. But when it’s done effectively, it can add suspense to a story.

For example, in Agatha Christie’s Third Girl, Hercule Poirot gets a visit from a young woman who tells him that she may have committed a murder. Before she can give any details, though, she re-thinks her visit and leaves without giving her name. With the help of his friend, detective novelist Ariadne Oliver, Poirot discovers that the young woman is called Norma Restarick. Poirot and Mrs. Oliver try to find Norma, but she goes missing.  As they look into this case further, they discover that there really was a murder. And it turns out that more than one person had a motive for murder, and a motive to make Norma think she is guilty. But until Norma turns up, it will be difficult to find the truth about the case.

In Ellery Queen’s Ten Days Wonder, we are introduced to Howard Van Horn. He’s been having disturbing blackouts lately, which is difficult enough. Then one morning, he wakes up with blood all over him. Terrified that he’s done something horrible, Van Horn reaches out to his old university friend, Ellery Queen, for help. Queen agrees to see what he can do, and he and Van Horn try to get to the root of what’s been going on. The trail leads to Van Horn’s home town of Wrightsville, so the two go there. They stay with Van Horn’s father, Dietrich, and his stepmother, Sally. One night, Sally is strangled. Van Horn’s had another blackout, so he is convinced he was responsible. In fact, everyone believes that except for Queen. Among other things, this story shows just how powerful a belief can be.

Giorgio Scerbanenco’s A Private Venus introduces readers to Dr. Duca Lamberti. He’s recently been released from prison where he served time for euthanasia, and isn’t quite sure what he’ll do next. Then, he’s approached by a wealthy Milanese engineer, Pietro Auseri, to help solve a difficult problem. Auseri’s son, Davide, has been drinking heavily and showing signs of severe depression and despair. Nothing, not even stints in exclusive rehabilitation facilities, has helped. Lamberti isn’t sure what he can do to help, but he agrees to try. After a time, he learns the reason for Davide’s drinking. A year earlier, Davide happened to meet a young woman named Alberta Radelli. After spending a day together, she begged him to take her with him, but Davide refused. Then, she threatened suicide if he didn’t, saying that she couldn’t go back to her own life. He refused again, and they parted. Soon afterwards, her body was discovered, and the death looked very much like a suicide. Since then, Davide has blamed himself for her death, believing that he’s a murderer, even if he didn’t actually use a weapon. Lamberti believes that the only way to help Davide is to find out the truth about Alberta’s death, so he begins to look into it. And he finds that this was no suicide: someone murdered the young woman. As Davide helps Lamberti get to the truth, he slowly frees himself of his guilt.

In The Sins of the Fathers, Lawrence Block’s first Matthew Scudder novel, Scudder is approached by wealthy Cale Hanniford. His daughter, Wendy, was recently murdered, and the police have a suspect in custody. He is Richard Vanderpoel, Wendy’s roommate. At first, Scudder isn’t sure how he can help Hanniford. But then, Hanniford says that what he really wants is to learn more about Wendy, and what led up to the murder. He tells Scudder that he and Wendy were estranged for several years, so he didn’t know much about her, her friends, or her life. Now, he wants to find out about her. Scudder reluctantly agrees to ask some questions, and he goes to visit Vanderpoel in prison. His meeting with the young man isn’t successful, though, as Vanderpoel is too drugged or dazed to be coherent. He doesn’t dispute his guilt, but Scudder does begin to wonder if the facts are as clear as they seem. And it turns out that they are not. Someone else was willing to let Vanderpoel believe he committed a murder.

And then there’s David Rosenfelt’s One Dog Night. Noah Galloway believes that, just over six years before the events in the novel, he was guilty of arson and the murder of twenty-six people. He’s done his best to re-build his life since then, but has always been afraid he’d be caught. He’s especially worried about the effect on his wife, Becky, and their son. Still, life’s gone on. Then, the FBI catches up with him and arrests him. Galloway doesn’t really protest. In fact, he even says,

‘‘Take me away.’’

But he will need a lawyer to take his case. That lawyer turns out to be Andy Carpenter. For Carpenter, it’s an awkward situation. Several years earlier, Galloway was using drugs, and broke into Carpenter’s home to try to find money or valuables. At the time, Carpenter chose not to press charges; now he’s questioning the wisdom of that decision. Still, he takes Galloway’s case, and starts looking into the arson and deaths. And he discovers that Galloway was very successfully duped into thinking he is guilty.

It’s not easy to really convince people they’ve committed murder. So, if that plot point is to be used in a crime novel, it’s got to be used carefully. But when it is used effectively, it can add an interesting layer of suspense to a story.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Fleetwood Mac’s Jumping at Shadows.


Filed under Agatha Christie, David Rosenfelt, Ellery Queen, Giorgio Scerbanenco, Lawrence Block