Category Archives: Ernesto Mallo

While the Millionaires Hide in Beekman Place*

Have you ever noticed those truly elegant, super-expensive homes? The kind that ‘the rest of us’ could never even imagine owning? The kind you see in magazines or television shows? Yeah, those homes. One of the interesting things about them is that they tend to be set apart. Sometimes they’re in gated, even guarded, communities. Sometimes the properties themselves are gated and/or guarded. Either way, just looking at the houses is a reminder that the very wealthy often live lives that are far removed from the rest of us. And very often (certainly not always!)  that’s by design.

When it’s handled well, that physical gulf between the very rich and other people can add some interesting tension to a novel. Little wonder it’s been a part of literature for a very long time (I’m thinking, for instance, of Émile Zola’s Germinal). And it’s woven into crime fiction, too.

For example, in Vicki Delany’s Winter of Secrets, we are introduced to the Wyatt-Yarmouth family. Drs. Jack and Patricia Wyatt-Yarmouth are both very wealthy, influential people. Their children, Jason and Wendy, have been raised with every privilege, too. It’s that sort of family. One Christmas, Jason and Wendy take a ski trip to the small British Columbia town of Trafalgar. With them, they bring four of their wealthy friends, and stay in a local B&B. On Christmas Eve, Jason and his friend, Ewan Williams, are in the group’s rented SUV when it skids on ice and plunges into the Upper Kootenay River. Constable Moonlight ‘Molly’ Smith goes to the scene and begins the investigation. Soon, though, she and her boss, Sergeant John Winters, discover that, while Jason was killed by the accident, Ewan had already been dead for some time before the incident. Now the investigation becomes a murder investigation. When they hear of their son’s death, the Wyatt-Yarmouth parents travel to Trafalgar. It’s immediately obvious that they are not accustomed to mixing with ‘regular folks.’ Their attitude causes no end of difficulty and conflict as Smith and Winters try to solve the mystery.

Ernesto Mallo’s Needle in a Haystack takes place in late 1970s Buenos Aires. It’s a very dangerous time to be in the city, what with the military in firm control of the government. Anyone who is even suspected of disagreeing with the government, or of ‘causing trouble’ is likely to be killed, or worse. No-one is really trustworthy, and even a whisper of dissidence could easily be passed along. Against this backdrop, police detective Venancio ‘Perro’ Lescano investigates the murder of Elías Biterman, a successful pawnbroker and moneylender. The death looks at first like a standard army ‘hit,’ so it’s obvious that those in authority want the case left alone. But that’s not the kind of detective Lescano is. So, he begins to ask a few questions. The trail leads to some very high places, too, as people from even the highest socioeconomic levels made use of Biterman’s services. And one of the important elements in this novel is the divide between the very rich and everyone else. The wealthy separate themselves, and do everything they can to jealously guard their privilege. And the desire to penetrate that ‘wall’ factors into the story.

Claudia Piñeiro’s Thursday Night Widows also takes place in the Buenos Aires area (about 30 miles away), this time, at the end of the 1990s. Most of the action takes place in an ultra-exclusive residential community called Cascade Heights Country Club. Only the very wealthiest people can afford to live there, and even they are carefully ‘vetted’ before being allowed to purchase a home in ‘the Heights.’ Every effort is made to keep these very rich people from having to interact with ‘regular people,’ too. There’s a wall, a guard, and a procedure for showing identification before being allowed on the property. Disputes aren’t handled by the regular police, either, but by a special Commission set up by the residents. Many of those who live in the Heights feel a real sense of security living in a community that’s removed from the rest of the area. That ‘safety net’ is torn, though, when the financial problems of the late 1990s/early 2000s find their way into the Heights. Little by little the security is eroded, until tragedy strikes.

Kalpana Swaminatham’s Greenlight is the sixth in her series featuring retired Mumbai police detective Lalli. In it, a series of ugly child abductions and murders has struck a local slum called Kandewadi. At first, the incidents don’t get very much press or police attention. But finally, there’s enough pressure on the police to step up the investigation, and Inspector Savio is assigned to the case, He consults regularly with Lalli, so she, too, gets involved in the case. Throughout the novel, there’s a strong sense of the gulf between the very rich and everyone else. The rich separate themselves, and it’s clear that they want to stay far removed from, especially, the poor. And there’s a lot of resentment about that fact that plays a role in the story.

There are, of course, other series where we see the way the wealthy live quite far removed from everyone else. For instance, there’s Brian Stoddart’s Superintendent Christian ‘Chris’ Le Fanu series, which takes place in Madras (today’s Chennai) in the 1920s, in the last years of the British Raj. India is still in the hands of the wealthy and titled English, and they want to retain control. Most of the English in India live in separate communities. The really wealthy ones belong to exclusive clubs, where only the ‘right’ people belong. In other ways, too, many of the wealthy English choose to remain at a distance from any of the ‘regular’ people.

And there’s Sulari Gentill’s Rowland ‘Rowly’ Sinclair series. Those novels take place in the early 1930s, mostly in New South Wales. At the time, the Great Depression has taken firm hold, and many people are desperate. There is a small group, including the Sinclair family, who have money, power and privilege. And many want to keep it that way. So, the very wealthy separate themselves, and work to keep that physical divide between themselves and ‘everyone else.’ Rowly himself isn’t nearly so conservative, and has friends from different socioeconomic strata, much to the dismay of his older brother and head of the family, Wilfred.  

And Wilfred’s not alone. There are plenty of fictional wealthy people and communities that try to stay as far removed as possible from the rest of us. That can add some interesting tension to a novel.

Ps. Oh, the ‘photo? That’s a ‘photo of Billy Joel’s Florida home. Yes, I took several shots of it during a recent trip. What?! 😉

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Close to the Borderline.

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Filed under Brian Stoddart, Claudia Piñeiro, Ernesto Mallo, Kalpana Swaminathan, Sulari Gentill, Vicki Delany

As I Recall, It Ended Much Too Soon*

If your TBR is anything like mine, you do not need to add to it. There are always so many fine novels coming out that it’s impossible to ever read them all. And then there are those excellent novels from past years that sit on the ‘I really will read this’ list for too long.

That said, though, there are some series that I, for one, wish would be continued. I understand all about the vagaries of publishing and the demands of authors personal lives. There’s also the matter of what the author would like to do. But still, here are just a few authors I hope will/wish could add to their series.

One is Adrian Hyland. His novels Diamond Dove (Moonlight Downs) and Gunshot Road feature Aboriginal Community Police Officer (ACPO) Emily Tempest. She’s half-Aborigine, half-white, and was brought up in the small Moonlight Downs community. After an absence of several years, she returns, and immediately gets involved in murder cases. The books have met with a great deal of critical acclaim (Hyland won the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Fiction for Diamond Dove), and they’ve been very highly regarded among readers. And yet, there hasn’t been a third Emily Tempest novel. At least, there hasn’t to my knowledge (so someone, please put me right if I’m wrong about that). I would love to know what happens next in Emily Tempest’s life, and I hope there’ll be another in this series.

Ernesto Mallo has written, as far as I know, two novels featuring Buenos Aires police detective Venancio ‘Perro’ Lescano. The stories take place in the late 1970s – a very dangerous time to be in Argentina. The military is in firm control of the government, and has no compunctions about getting rid of anyone who would appear to disagree with their hard-right agenda. Against this backdrop, Lescano tries to simply be a good police detective and do his job well. But that often puts him up against some very dangerous forces. So far, Needle in a Haystack and Sweet Money are the only two Lescano novels. I truly hope that there’ll be more.

Hilary Mantel has gotten a great deal of praise for her two novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. In fact, Mantel won the Man Booker prize for Wolf Hall. These stories detail the early life, rise, and fall of Thomas Cromwell, who was at one time a close confidant of King Henry VIII. As you’ll know, he fell from grace and was executed in 1540. The novels give the reader an ‘inside look’ at court intrigue, Cromwell’s personal life, and the atmosphere of the times. The third novel in this planned trilogy, The Mirror and the Light, is, from what I understand, in progress. I’ve not seen a publication date for it, yet, although I did read that it may be 2019 before we see this release. Mantel has contended with health issues, among other things, but still, I do hope The Mirror and the Light is published sooner rather than later. It’s been a wait…

In Domingo Villar’s Water Blue Eyes, we are introduced to Vigo police detective Inspector Leo Caldas. Along with his police duties, he also hosts a regular radio show called Patrolling the Waves. It’s an attempt to connect the police with citizens, and allows people to call in and ‘talk with a cop’ about their concerns and questions. Caldas features in Death on a Galician Shore as well. But, to my knowledge, there hasn’t been a third Leo Caldas novel. I understand that Cruces de Piedra (Stone Crosses) was to have been published a few years ago, but I haven’t seen it available (at least in the US). I’d love to know if it’s available elsewhere. And I look forward to reading the next Leo Caldas novel if there is one.

Nelson Brunanski is the author of, among other things, three novels featuring John ‘Bart’ Bartowski, who owns a fishing lodge in the northern part of Saskatchewan. He and his wife, Rosie, live further south in the province, in a small town called Crooked Lake. In Crooked Lake, Frost Bite, and Burnt Out, Bart gets involved in investigating mysteries, even though he’s reluctant to do so. These novels have a strong sense of small-town Saskatchewan, and are also character studies. I would like to read more about Bart and his friends and family.

There are, sadly, some series that didn’t continue because their authors passed away. That’s the case with, for instance, Scott Young’s series featuring RCMP police detective ‘Matteesie’ Kitologitak. Both Murder in a Cold Climate and The Shaman’s Knife offer interesting looks at life in Canada’s Far North. They also are police procedurals that show how the RCMP operates, especially in rural areas. I wish there had been more novels in this series.

Authors may choose not to continue a series. Or, publishers may decline to support the continuation of a series. There may be other reasons, too, for which a series might not continue, or for which there might be a delay in a series. But for readers, it can be difficult to wait for that next novel. Even with people’s TBRs as they are. These are just a few of my ideas. Which series would you like to see continue?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Four Seasons’ December 1963 (Oh What a Night).

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Filed under Adrian Hyland, Domingo Villar, Ernesto Mallo, Hilary Mantel, Nelson Brunanski, Scott Young

Will You Give All You Can Give*

risking-to-helpWe’ve all read and heard stories of those who risked everything, including their lives, to right a wrong and/or to help others. While some of them are well-known, others are not so well-known. For instance, do you know who Miep Gies was? She was a secretary for the Dutch offices of the German firm, Opekta. She was also one of those who helped to hide Otto Frank (who worked for Opekta), his wife, Edith, and their daughters, Margot and Anne, among others, from the Nazis. Miep and her husband Jan (who was a member of the Dutch Resistance) took grave risks to help the Frank family and the others who hid with them. What makes this story especially remarkable is that neither Gies was what you call a ‘superhero.’ They were ordinary people who did extraordinary things.

They aren’t the only examples of such courage, of course. We’ve seen them in real life, and we see them in crime fiction, too. It’s a bit tricky to create such a character, because it’s so important that the character be believable. But when they’re well-drawn, characters who risk everything to help others, or to do good, can add much to a story. They can be interesting in and of themselves, and the risks they take can add tension to a plot.

In Agatha Christie’s short story, The Theft of the Royal Ruby (AKA The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding), Hercule Poirot is persuaded against his better judgement, to spend Christmas at Kings Lacey, the home of Colonel Horace Lacey, his wife, Em, their grandchildren and great-niece, and some other house guests. Poirot is ostensibly there to experience an old-fashioned English Christmas. But the real reason for his visit is to recover a valuable ruby that was stolen from an Eastern prince. On Christmas Eve, Poirot finds a note on his pillow, warning him not to eat any of the Christmas pudding. He’s puzzled, but doesn’t ignore the note. The pudding becomes important in the recovery of the jewel, and Poirot discovers that the author of the note is the family maid, Annie. It’s not spoiling the story to say that she didn’t steal the ruby. But she does take quite a risk, especially considering her position, in warning Poirot of what she sees as real danger to him.

Rebecca Cantrell’s Hannah Vogel series takes place mostly in Berlin, just before and during the Nazi era. As the series begins (with A Trace of Smoke), Vogel is a crime reporter for the Berliner Tageblatt. The Nazis are rising to power, and it’s getting more and more dangerous to oppose them. This makes it challenging enough for Vogel (and for many other Germans). But she’s got another challenge. She and her brother Ernst lent their identity papers to two Jewish friends who needed them to escape Berlin. Those friends have promised to return the papers, but the Vogels took a real risk. When Vogel discovers that her brother has been murdered, she has to be extremely cautious in finding out why and by whom. If she’s caught without papers, her doom is sealed. As the series goes on, she takes other risks, too. Fans of the novels will know that, more than once, she goes up against the Nazis as she finds out the truth of what they’ve been doing.

Ernesto Mallo’s Needle in a Haystack introduces Buenos Aires police detective Venancio ‘Perro’ Lescano. He lives and works in the late 1970s, a very dangerous time for most people in Buenos Aires. With the military government firmly in control, any whisper of dissent is brutally put down, and anyone who is considered to have ‘the wrong’ sympathies simply disappears. Against that backdrop, Lescano is called one morning to a riverbank where three bodies have been dumped. Two of them look like regular ‘army hits,’ and Lescano knows better than to question them if he can possibly avoid it. The third, though, is a little different. It turns out that this is the body of a moneylender named Elías Biterman, and Lescano doesn’t think he was killed in the usual way. So, very quietly, he begins an investigation. The trail leads to the very highest levels, and Lescano himself takes risks as he looks into the matter. He’s not the only one. When a court office boy named Marcelo discovers some very incriminating documents, he risks his life to get them to Lescano, and they play an important role in the case. Lescano is also helped by the medical examiner, Dr. Fusili, who risks his life to get to the real cause of Biterman’s death.

Malla Nunn’s DS Emmanuel Cooper has to take real risks, as well. This series takes place in the early 1950s, not long after South Africa’s apartheid laws were enacted. In the first novel, A Beautiful Place to Die, Cooper (who is white) is sent from Johannesburg to the small town of Jacob’s Rest to investigate the murder of Willem Pretorius. During the course of this investigation, we see the way the apartheid laws impact every aspect of life. Breaking any of them causes trouble; opposing them can be a fatal decision. Cooper, though, is determined to find out who killed the victim and why. In the course of doing so, he finds himself up against some very dangerous odds. And anyone who helps him faces risks, too. As the series goes on, we see that Cooper risks his life more than once to do the right thing.

So do several characters in David Whish-Wilson’s Line of Sight. This novel, which takes place in late-1970s Perth, features Superintendent Frank Swann. Swann left Perth several years earlier, but returns when he learns that a friend, Ruby Devine, has been murdered. He’s taking a risk looking into the case, as he’s already a ‘marked man.’  That’s because he convened a Royal Commission investigation into the activities of a group of corrupt police known as the ‘purple circle.’ They’ve got plenty of power, and aren’t afraid to use it, as brutally as necessary. Going against them can amount to a death sentence, so not many people are willing to help Swann. But a few brave people are. And in the end, we learn what happened to Ruby.

It takes a great deal of courage to risk everything in order to help others, or to right a wrong. But those who do make all the difference in the world. And they can serve as interesting characters in a crime novel.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Michel Schönberg and Herbert Kretzmer’s Do You Hear the People Sing?

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Filed under Agatha Christie, David Whish-Wilson, Ernesto Mallo, Malla Nunn, Rebecca Cantrell

In the End, Only Kindness Matters*

OnlyKindnessMattersThere’s been a lot of bad news from all over the world lately. At times like this, I think it’s helpful to remember that people are also capable of great kindness (and OK, the cute ‘roo in the ‘photo is an extra bonus 😉 ). I’d bet you’ve experienced kindness in your own life, and shared it with others. It’s all over crime fiction, too.

It’s not easy to write a ‘kind’ scene in a crime novel. After all, those stories are about things that people do to one another, and crime fiction fans don’t want their books too ‘sugary.’ But there are ways to weave such scenes into a crime novel. And, when done well, they can add a welcome bit of light into an otherwise sad novel. For the writer, they can move the plot along, too, and add character development.

In Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side (AKA The Mirror Crack’d), we are introduced to Heather Badcock. She lives with her husband, Arthur, in a brand-new council housing development in St. Mary Mead. Heather’s far from perfect, but she has what’s sometimes called a big heart. So one day, when she sees an elderly lady stumble and twist her ankle, she’s only too happy to help. That lady turns out to be Miss Marple, who is quite grateful for the kindness of a stranger. That’s partly why she gets involved in the case when Heather later dies of what turns out to be poison. Miss Marple is not at all blind to Heather’s faults and weaknesses, but she also sees her good qualities. It’s an interesting case of a character whose positive qualities turn out to have a negative side, if I can put it that way.

In Arthur Upfield’s Death of a Swagman, Queensland Police Inspector Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte travels to the small town of Merino to investigate the death of itinerant stockman George Kendall. In order to get as much information as possible, he goes undercover as ‘just another swagman.’ With the help of Sergeant Marshall of the local police, he arranges to be jailed for ten days for vagrancy, loitering, lying to the police, and interfering with the police. He’s in his jail cell when he meets eight-year-old Florence Marshall (who usually goes by Rose Marie), the sergeant’s daughter.  Florence brings the ‘prisoner’ tea, and strikes up a friendship with him, and Bony is grateful for her kindness. Interestingly enough, he doesn’t condescend to her, which endears him to her. Later in the novel, Bony’s able to repay her kindness.

Ernesto Mallo’s Needle in Haystack begins as Buenos Aires police officer Venancio ‘Perro’ Lascano and his team raid a brothel. They have to be careful about, too. On the one hand, the ruling far-right junta (the novel takes place in the late 1970s) wants to put on a show of being tough on such crimes. And it’s as much as a death sentence to go against them. On the other, several important community leaders are patrons of the brothel. Still, the police carry out their duty. As Lascano is making one last pass through the establishment, he discovers a young woman hiding there. She’s not one of the brothel workers; rather, she’s using the place as a refuge. Lascano escorts her to safety, where he finds out that her name is Eva. He gives Eva temporary shelter in his home; and at first, she assumes he’s going to want something in return. But he asks neither for information nor sexual attention. In fact, as the novel goes on, he continues to treat her with kindness with no apparent ulterior motive. In the end, that kindness saves her life. This isn’t the main plot of the novel, really. But it does show how a kind gesture can add a ‘lift’ even to a noir story such as this one, where people generally can’t trust one another.

Andrea Camilleri’s The Snack Thief includes a sub-plot regarding a young boy named François. When his mother, Karima, disappears (her reasons are a part of the main plot), he’s left more or less alone in the world. Vigàta Inspector Salvo Montalbano has compassion for the boy and takes him in temporarily. That’s mostly at the behest of Montalbano’s longtime lover, Livia, who’s visiting at the time. Livia and François, especially, form a bond that benefits both of them. In the end, that kindness allows François to build a new life.

Paddy Richardson’s Hunting Blind is the story of Stephanie Anderson. When she’s fourteen, her younger sister Gemma goes missing during a school picnic/barbecue. Despite a massive search, no trace of Gemma is ever found. Seventeen years later, Stephanie is just finishing her training in psychiatry in Dunedin. She gets a new patient, Elisabeth Clark, who tells her a story that’s eerily similar to Stephanie’s own. Elisabeth’s sister Gracie also disappeared, also with no trace. Against her better judgement, Stephanie decides to lay her own ghosts to rest, and goes in search of the person who caused so much hurt to both her family and the Clarks. So she travels back to her home town of Wanaka. Along the way, she stays for a short time with Elisabeth’s father, Andy. Although she’s a stranger to Andy, really, he makes her welcome at the Guest House he owns, and treats her with kindness. So do other people she meets along the way. That kindness doesn’t catch the person responsible for the disappearances, but it shores Stephanie up during her journey. And it helps her do some healing.

And then there’s Ilsa Evans’ Nefarious Doings, which introduces Victoria newspaper columnist Nell Forrest. One night, Nell gets a visit from the police, who tell her that there’s been a fire at the home of her mother, Lillian ‘Yen.’ What’s more, a man’s body was found in the ruins of the garage, where the fire started. He is Dustin Craig, who lived next door. At first, the police think that he died in a terrible accident (although there is some question about what he was doing at the next-door house late at night). But soon, it’s proven that he was murdered. Now, Yen herself comes under suspicion, and there’s good reason for that. Nell starts to ask some questions, and discovers that several other people have strong motives for murder. In the course of her search for the truth, Nell herself gets into grave danger. Despite that, though, she finds a way to be kind to another character who’s also in danger. That kindness doesn’t exactly cement a friendship. But it does show that even when things look terrible, people can be kind.

And that’s the thing about kindness. It doesn’t have to be ‘sugary sweet’ (Nell’s isn’t, for instance). And in a crime novel, most readers wouldn’t want such saccharine anyway. But kindness can add a touch of relief to a novel. And in real life, those little kindnesses can make a difference. It doesn’t take much to reach out. And it can be an antidote to everything going on in the world…
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jewel Kilcher’s Hands.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Arthur Upfield, Ernesto Mallo, Ilsa Evans, Paddy Richardson

Get Away From These Demagogues*

DemagoguesLet’s face it: the world can be a very scary place. Tragedies happen, changes happen; and sometimes, life seems to be full of frightening news. At times like that, some people try to use others’ uncertainty and fears to gain power, or at least ascendency, over others. And that sort of demagoguery can have devastating and lasting consequences. We certainly see it happen in real life. We’re seeing it now.

It’s certainly not unique to real life, though. There’s plenty of demagoguery in crime fiction, too. And that makes sense. For one thing, the use of rhetoric and bigotry instead of reasoned debate has been going on for a lot time. For another, the sort of conflict that demagogues exploit can serve as a very useful tool for building tension in a story. There are a lot of examples of this in the genre. I’ll just mention a few.

Some novels and series explore the consequences of the actions of real demagogues. For instance, both Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series and Rebecca Cantrell’s Hannah Vogel series are set (at least partly) in Berlin just before and then during the Nazis’ rise to power. In both of those series, there are good reasons for people to be uncertain and afraid. It’s the height of the worldwide Great Depression, there’s little food, and the currency isn’t worth very much. There aren’t many jobs, either. Against this background, as you’ll know, Hitler rose to power in part through exploiting people’s fears, and setting up easy targets for them to blame. You’ll also know just how horrible the consequences of that demagoguery were.

We also see that pattern in William Ryan’s Alexei Korolev series, which begins in Moscow just before World War II. Josef Stalin is firmly in power, and has consolidated his control of the Communist Party. He’s done that in part through playing his political rivals off against one another, and by preying on people’s fears of what might happen if he’s not there to steer the proverbial ship of state. And that’s not to mention the fears people have already had about securing life’s basic necessities. The consequences of that demagoguery have been tragic, too, as hundreds of thousands of people have died in Stalin’s purges and other oppressions. Against this background, Korolev and his assistant, Sergeant Slivka, have to move very carefully. One wrong move and they could be next on the list, so to speak. At the same time, they are charged with upholding the law and catching criminals. It’s not an easy balance to strike, and Ryan acknowledges that fact.

U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy was also arguably a demagogue. He exploited Americans’ fears of Communism to the point where many people were jailed and worse. Others lost their jobs (and any chance of getting another one), were shunned by others in their communities, and more. We see part of the impact of that demagoguery in Walter Mosley’s A Red Death. Ezekiel ‘Easy’ Rawlins is a sort of unofficial PI in post-WWII Los Angeles. One day, he gets a letter from Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tax agent Reginald Lawrence. The letter says that Rawlins owes thousands of dollars in back taxes – money he has no way of paying. He’s resigning himself to prison when FBI agent Darryl Craxton offers him a way out. If Mosley helps the FBI bring down suspected Communist Chaim Wenzler, Craxton will make those tax problems go away. Mosley has little choice but to accept. And in any case, he, too, has been taught to fear Communism, and Craxton appeals to his patriotism on that issue. The case turns out to be much more complicated than Rawlins imagined when he finds himself becoming friends with Wenzler. It’s even more complicated when he’s framed for two murders.

Argentina has had more than its share of demagogues. Many of the military rulers have used people’s fears, as well as their concerns about meeting their basic needs, to get and maintain power. For instance, Juan Perón came to power with the backing of (and a great deal of appeal to) the working classes. Once in power, he maintained his position through increasingly authoritarian decisions. The impact of that demagoguery lasted for many decades, long after Perón was no longer in office. Ernesto Mallo’s Venancio ‘Perro’ Lascano series takes place in late 1970’s Argentina, a time when a military dictatorship is in control of the country. People have been taught to fear the political left; and those who are suspected of having leftist sympathies are brutally silenced. So are those who are suspected of questioning or, worse, opposing, the existing government. It’s a very difficult political landscape for a police officer who’s just trying to do his job, and Mallo depicts this faithfully.

In Sulari Gentill’s A Few Right Thinking Men, artist Rowland ‘Rowly’ Sinclair runs directly into demagoguery when he gets involved in finding out who murdered his uncle, also named Rowland. There’s a good possibility that Uncle Rowland was killed by members of the New Guard, an ultra-right political group led by Colonel Eric Campbell. Campbell’s been taking advantage of people’s misery (the novel takes place in 1931, and the Great Depression is taking a toll) and fear, and appealing to their patriotism to gain power. He and the New Guard are planning to install a new government in Australia, one run by ‘a few right thinking men’ who will preserve traditional ways of life and the current class order. He’s gotten plenty of people afraid of Communism, working-class revolts, and other perceived threats, and is set to gain real power. The radical left isn’t taking this lightly, and is preparing for an all-out battle. Rowly wants not only to find out whether Campbell sanctioned his uncle’s murder, but also to prevent violence if he can. But it won’t be easy.

And then there’s Robin Cook’s Seizure, in which we are introduced to US Senator Ashley Butler. He’s a demagogue who’s used people’s fear of the unknown to gain quite a bit of power. He’s strongly opposed to stem-cell research and other, similar, scientific advances. He’s also a staunch supporter of the ‘traditional’ family and ‘traditional family values.’ And he’s used his constituents’ worries about societal change, the economy, and other issues for his own purposes. Then, he is diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Butler knows that if the facts of his medical condition are made public, he’ll never succeed at becoming president, which is his goal. So, despite the rhetoric he’s used, he reaches out to Dr. Daniell Lowell, who’s been doing exactly the kind of research Butler has publicly opposed. Lowell is no friend to Butler, as he’s seen quite a lot of scientific progress stymied by Butler. He’s also not a fan of Butler’s rightist social leanings. But when Butler offers to withdraw his opposition to stem cell research, Lowell can’t resist the opportunity to use his controversial procedure to see if he can help Butler. Technically speaking, this is more a thriller than a crime novel. But the character of Ashley Butler was too good an example of a demagogue not to mention it.

In case you hadn’t noticed, demagoguery is alive and well. In crime fiction, it almost always has unfortunate, sometimes tragic consequences. I think it does in real life, too.

 

 
 

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

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Filed under Ernesto Mallo, Philip Kerr, Rebecca Cantrell, Robin Cook, Sulari Gentill, Walter Mosley, William Ryan