Category Archives: Eva Dolan

The Account Of the Capture Wasn’t in the Papers*

An interesting post from Tim at Informal Inquiries has got me thinking about the different ways in which the media and the public react to a murder investigation. In some cases, there’s a great deal of hype and attention, sometimes to an almost frenzied level. In other cases, though, there’s very little attention paid to a case. Either it’s not seen as sensational enough, or some other major news story eclipses the case, or something else happens.

We see that distinction in a lot of crime fiction, too. And that means that the author has a lot of flexibility when it comes to the plot. Will the case by hyped for some reason? That can add plot threads and suspense. Will it go nearly unnoticed? That, too, can add different sorts of plot threads, and a tension of its own.

One of the most eagerly followed cases of the early 20th Century was the Crippen case. In 1910, Harvey Hawley Crippen was convicted and executed for the murder of his wife, Cora. The details of the murder, of Crippen’s flight from England with his lover, Ethel ‘Le Neve’ Neave, and his subsequent arrest, made headlines all over the world. On the one hand, people have murdered spouses for a very long time, and most of those cases don’t get into the papers, or at least not beyond a few lines. On the other, the Crippen case included lurid details. There was the love triangle, Crippen’s attempted escape, and more. All of this combined to catch the public’s attention. There’s an interesting look at this case in Martin Edwards’ Dancing For the Hangman. That’s a fictional account of the Crippen case, told from Crippen’s point of view. Among other things, it raises an interesting possible account of what really happened to Cora.

The real action in Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders begins as Hercule Poirot receives a cryptic warning note that tells him to
 
‘Look out for Andover…’
 

Sure enough, on the day specified in the note, Alice Ascher is murdered in her small tobacconist/newsagent shop.  Not much attention at all is paid the crime. It is, after all, what looks like a case of a robbery gone wrong. Terrible, of course, but hardly worth media hype. Then, after another warning note is sent to Poirot, twenty-three-year-old Betty Barnard is strangled. Her body is discovered on a beach, and an ABC railway guide is found nearby. Now, there’s some interest, especially after it comes out that an ABC guide was also found near Mrs. Ascher’s body. Before long, and after another murder, the media begin to carry all the details of the case, and the public is enlisted to help catch the killer. It’s interesting to see how the case of Mrs. Ascher doesn’t get any attention at all until it’s linked to others.

Sue Younger’s Days Are Like Grass begins as pediatric surgeon Claire Bowerman returns to her native Auckland from London. With her are her partner, Yossi Shalev, and her fifteen-year-old daughter, Roimata ‘Roi.’ Claire’s reluctant to make the move, but it’s important to Yossi, so she goes along with it. And we soon find out why she’d rather have stayed in London. In 1970, seventeen-year-old Kathryn Phillips disappeared. There was a great deal of media attention to the case, as you can imagine. Some of the evidence pointed to Claire’s father, Patrick Bowerman. In fact, he was arrested and imprisoned in the matter. But there was never enough evidence to really make the case, so he wasn’t convicted. Still, plenty of people think he’s guilty. Claire doesn’t want this old case raked up again. That’s exactly what happens, though, when she gets involved in another case. A two-year-old patient of hers has a tumour that needs to be removed. But his parents refuse the surgery on religious grounds. The conflict between the hospital and the family thrusts Claire into the spotlight, and brings up the old case again.

In Ernesto Mallo’s Needle in a Haystack, we are introduced to Buenos Aires police detective Venancio ‘Perro’ Lescano. The novel takes place in the late 1970s, a very dangerous time in that place. The military government is in firm control, and anyone seen as dissenting or ‘making trouble’ is quickly imprisoned. Many simply disappear. Those murders don’t make the news or get a lot of public discussion. It’s too dangerous to bring the topic up. Even Lescano, who is a good cop, knows better than to go up against the army. So, one morning, when he’s called out to a scene where two bodies were found, he’s inclined to leave the matter alone. The bodies bear all the hallmarks of an army ‘hit.’ But then, he sees a third body. This one’s a little different, and Lescano looks into the matter further. The dead man turns out to be a moneylender named Elías Biterman, and his death doesn’t look like a typical army killing. The murder doesn’t get any attention; after all, who cares about ‘just a Jew?’ But Lescano persists, and finds that looking into this murder might cost him his life.

Rebecca Cantrell’s A Trace of Smoke features Berlin crime reporter Hannah Vogel. The novel is set in 1931, during the last years of the Weimar Republic. The Nazis have already started to become powerful, and people know how dangerous it is to go up against them. Against this background, Vogel makes a shocking discovery one morning. She happens to be at the police station when she looks at the photographs displayed in the station’s Hall of the Unknown Dead. Among those ‘photos is one of her brother, Ernst. His death hasn’t been mentioned anywhere else; in fact, this is the first Vogel has heard of it. She wants to find out what happened to her brother, but in this place at this time, it’s very dangerous to call attention to oneself. So she’ll have to move very quietly. As she looks for the truth, we see how certain deaths get absolutely no media or public notice at all.

That’s the case with the death in Eva Dolan’s Long Way Home. The body of an unknown man is found in the ruins of a fire that broke out in a shed belonging to Paul and Gemma Barlow. When it’s established that the dead man might have been a foreigner, DI Dushan Zigic and DS Mel Ferreira, of the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit are assigned to the case. There’s plenty of anti-immigrant sentiment in the area, so this could be a hate crime. As Zigic and Ferreira look into the matter, we see how little public and media attention is really paid to that death and to some other things that the sleuths uncover.

And that’s the way it is with some cases. They get very little media hype and public attention. Others, though, make headlines, sometimes for a long time. Thanks, Tim, for the inspiration.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Gerry Goffin and Carole King’s Smackwater Jack.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Ernesto Mallo, Eva Dolan, Rebecca Cantrell, Sue Younger

Where’s That Careless Chambermaid?*

When real and fictional police and PIs investigate, they try to get as much information as they can. Of course, they talk to family members, friends and co-workers, but even that doesn’t always fill in the proverbial blank.

A good detective can tell you that the real people to talk to when there’s a disappearance or a murder are people like restaurant servers and hotel chambermaids. And that makes sense if you think about it. A spouse or partner might not know about that ‘special guest’ in the hotel room, but the chambermaid will. The boss might not know how much someone drinks at lunch, but the server will. That’s part of the reason that the police work as hard as they do to trace a victim’s last days. Talking to people like porters, chambermaids, servers and so on can yield valuable clues.

Agatha Christie uses that plot point in several of her stories. For example, in Evil Under the Sun, we are introduced to Gladys Narracott. She works as a chambermaid at the Jolly Roger Hotel on Leathercombe Bay. She gets involved in a murder investigation when one of the guests, famous actress Arlena Stuart Marshall, is murdered. The first suspect is, as you’d imagine, the victim’s husband, Captain Kenneth Marshall. But he has an alibi for the time of the murder, and Gladys can corroborate that alibi. So, the police have to look elsewhere for the killer. Hercule Poirot is staying at the same hotel, and he works with the police to find out who the murderer is. And he discovers that Gladys has some useful information and insight to offer, just from what she’s learned about the guests as she’s tended their rooms.

In Dennis Lehane’s Gone, Baby, Gone, PIs Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro are hired to investigate the disappearance of four-year-old Amanda McCready. The child’s mother, Helene, claims that she doesn’t know who would have wanted to take her daughter; she also says, naturally enough, that she didn’t have anything to do with the abduction. But Kenzie and Gennaro follow up on every possibility, one of which is that Amanda was taken by someone Helene knows. There’s also the chance that Helene herself is responsible for whatever happened to Amanda. So, Kenzie and Gennaro trace Helene’s movements, and do what they can to find out about her background. And some of that information comes from the Filmore Tap, a very tough, seedy bar in Dorchester (Massachusetts). It turns out that Helene’s known there; and, although no-one says very much about her, the bartenders and owner know more than they want to tell.

Lilian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who Said Cheese takes place, as many of her novels do, in the small town of Pickax, Moose County, ‘400 miles north of nowhere.’ A mysterious woman has moved into town, and is staying at the New Pickax Hotel. No-one knows anything about her, although there’s plenty of speculation and gossip. One day, a bouquet of flowers arrives for this enigmatic guest. Part-time housekeeping aide Anna Marie Toms is on duty when the flowers arrive, and prepares to take them to the new hotel guest. Then, a bomb hidden in the bouquet goes off, killing Anna Marie. Shortly afterwards, the mysterious woman goes missing. Local journalist James ‘Qwill’ Qwilleran, Braun’s sleuth, starts asking questions, and he and local police chief Andrew Brodie find out who the woman is, and who the killer is.

Eva Dolan’s Long Way Home introduces us to the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit, and to Detective Inspector (DI) Dushan Zigic and Detective Sergeant (DS) Mel Ferreira. They’re called in to investigate when the body of an unknown man is found in a shed belonging to Paul and Gemma Barlow. The man is identified as an Estonian named Jaan Stepulov, who was apparently in the UK as a migrant worker. It’s often not easy to find out information about migrant workers, since they don’t generally ‘put down roots’ or have close connections with locals. But Zigic and Ferreira get to work. One of their stops is Maloney’s, a pub right near the local bus station. It’s frequented by people just like Stepulov, and Ferreira finds that one bartender in particular has some very valuable information about the case.

And then there’s Qiu Xiaolong’s Enigma of China. In that novel, Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police is faced with a challenging case. Zhou Keng, head of Shanghai’s Housing Development Committee, is suspected of corruption, arrested, and held to face charges. He’s housed in a Shanghai hotel, rather than in the local prison, because of his status. One morning, he is found hanged in his room. The official theory is that he committed suicide, rather than face the shame of corruption charges. And Chen is expected to ‘rubber stamp’ that theory. But some things don’t add up. So, Chen and his assistant, Yu Guangming, look into the case more carefully. They’re going to have to move quietly and delicately, since this is no ordinary death. But in the end, they find out the truth. And some of the clues they need come from an interview with one of the hotel attendants, Jun, whose information proves quite useful.

And that’s the thing about people such as room attendants, chambermaids, bartenders and other servers. We may not notice them, but they know a lot. And their help can be invaluable when the police are on a case.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Al Dubin and Henry Warren’s Lulu’s Back in Town.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Dennis Lehane, Eva Dolan, Lilian Jackson Braun, Qiu Xiaolong

Don’t Ask Too Many Questions*

Las Vegas is the sort of place where it’s very easy to be whatever you want, so to speak. People don’t ask a lot of questions; hence, the iconic Vegas catchphrase: what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.

Las Vegas, of course, isn’t the only place or context where people don’t ask questions. There are plenty of places where asking too many questions is considered at best, bad form, and at worst, dangerous. This sort of context – where curiosity is not welcomed – can be a very effective backdrop for a crime novel. We all have secrets that we’d rather no-one ask about, and criminals in particular have things to hide. So it makes sense that they would prefer a context where no-one asks too many questions.

Kate Grenville’s The Secret River isn’t, admittedly, a crime novel per se. But crimes are definitely committed in it. Beginning in 1806, the novel tells the story of William Thornhill, his wife, Sal, and their children. Thornhill is a London bargeman who’s sentenced to transportation to Australia for stealing a load of valuable wood. The family lands in Sydney, which is at the time very much a frontier. It’s the sort of place where questions are discouraged. Most people are trying to start over, and don’t want a lot of discussion about what brought them there and what they’re doing. Thornhill gets a job delivering goods up and down the local waterways; his wife opens a makeshift pub. As time goes by, Thornhill finds a piece of land that he finds irresistible, and decides to claim it for his own. And he’s not alone. Plenty of other new arrivals want land, too. This leads inevitably to conflict and worse with the people who have always been on that land. Some brutal and bloody crimes are committed, and Thornhill wants no part of it, especially at first. But he also comes to see that he’ll have to get his hands dirty, too, if he wants to build the sort of life he wants.

In Megan Abbott’s Die a Little, we are introduced to Pasadena schoolteacher Lora King. She’s particularly close to her older brother, Bill, so she’s concerned when he meets and falls in love with former Hollywood dressmaker’s assistant, Alice Steele. At first, Lora puts her misgivings down to human enough, if not exactly productive, feelings of jealousy and protectiveness, since she is close to her brother. Bill and Alice marry, and Lora tries to be friends with her new sister-in-law. But as time goes by, she gets more and more worried about Alice, and what she finds out repels her. Alice’s former world – or is it really former? – is seamy and dangerous. She knows a lot of the sort of people who don’t welcome questions, and they certainly don’t welcome questions from Lora. At the same time as Lora is repulsed by Alice’s world, she is also drawn to it, though, and this has a real impact on her feelings and choices. Then, there’s a murder. Alice could very well be mixed up in it, too, so Lora decides to protect Bill (or so she tells herself) and find out the truth about what happened. The closer she gets to the truth, the closer she also gets to Alice’s life.

Eva Dolan’s Long Way Home introduces her protagonists, DI Dushan Zigic, and DS Mel Ferreira. They work with the Peterborough Police Hate Crimes Unit, so they’re called in when the body of man is found in a burned-out shed belonging to Paul and Gemma Barlow. The man is identified as an Estonian named Jaan Stepulov, and there’s a good possibility that his murder might be a hate crime. It’s going to be very hard to get answers, though. The immigrant community within which the victim moved is the sort of culture in which no-one asks questions. People often come, work for a while, and leave. Or, they stay longer, have their family join them, and move on. Or, they disappear for whatever reason. But no close ties are formed, and people such as landlords and moneylenders don’t ask any questions. In the end, Zigic and Ferreira find out who killed the victim and why. But they get very little willing help from anyone with whom he interacted.

Malcolm Mackay’s Glasgow trilogy is set mostly in Glasgow’s criminal underworld. It tells the stories of men who kill for hire, and of the people who hire them. It also tells the stories of the victims, and how they get themselves into trouble. One of the important rules among these people is that you don’t ask a lot of questions. You buy your weapons, for instance, from people who won’t ask where the money came from, or how the weapon will be used. You borrow a car from someone who won’t ask why you need it. The more reliable you are at keeping your mouth shut and your curiosity under control, the more you’ll be trusted.

Even between people who are married, there are instances where it’s expected that you don’t ask a lot of questions. For instance, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Dancing Men, Sherlock Holmes gets a visit from Hilton Cubitt. It seems that Cubitt’s wife, Elsie, has been acting strangely lately. She’s been getting some cryptic letters lately from America, where she was born, and they have upset her greatly. She won’t tell her husband what the problem is, though, so he’s quite worried about her. They’ve always had the agreement that he would ask her nothing about her life in the US, because she had some unpleasant associations there. As she puts it, she has,
 

‘‘…nothing she need be personally ashamed of,’’
 

but she insists that her past be kept strictly private. And Cubitt has always respected that. But now he’s worried. Then, the same cryptic figures that appeared on the letters begin appearing in chalk on the ledges of the Cubitt home. Holmes works out that the drawings are a code, and that Elsie is being stalked. Then, one night, Cubitt is murdered. Holmes uses the code in the letters to lure the killer and learn the truth.

There are times and places where people don’t welcome a lot of questions. Asking them can get you in a lot of trouble – or worse. Especially in crime fiction.
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Turin Brakes’ Last Chance.

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Filed under Arthur Conan Doyle, Eva Dolan, Kate Grenville, Malcolm Mackay, Megan Abbott

It’s Not Supposed to Be This Hard*

Have you ever noticed that there are some myths out there about life? Bear with me and I’ll explain. All of the advertisements and popular-culture outlets present life in certain ways that just aren’t realistic. And because of that people believe that’s how things ‘should’ be. The problem with that, of course, is that it’s not true.

Many people buy into those myths, only to discover later that things don’t work out that way. And that can lead to tension, depression, and more. That’s certainly true in real life. You may even have had the experience of thinking, ‘Why am I struggling so hard with this? It ought to be a lot easier!’ We see it in crime fiction, too. Although it can be damaging in real life, it can also add to the tension and suspense of a novel.

For example, one of the most pervasive myths there is, is that parents of newborns immediately bond with their children in such a fierce way that the challenges of child rearing simply don’t matter. But that’s not true. Caring for a baby is very hard work. We see that, for instance, in Sinéad Crowley’s Can Anybody Help Me. That novel is the story of Yvonne and Gerry Mulhern, who move from London to Dublin with their newborn daughter, Róisín. They’ve made the move so that Gerry can take a new job that’s a real step up for him. This means that he’s gone a lot, so Yvonne does most of the child care. And it turns out to be nothing like the myths of newborns and their mothers. She loves her daughter, but she finds many things a challenge. And it doesn’t help that she really doesn’t know anyone in Dublin. So, she turns to an online forum called Netmammy, where she finds solace and good advice from other new mothers. Then, one of the members of the group drops off the proverbial grid. Yvonne gets concerned, but there’s not much she can do about it. Then, the body of an unknown woman is discovered in an empty apartment. Is it the missing member of Netmammy? If so, this has a lot of serious implications for the group. DS Claire Boyle and her team investigate, and find that the two cases are related, but not in the way you might think.

We also see this myth of the parent/child bond in Helen Fitzgerald’s The Cry. Joanna Lindsay and her partner, Alistair Robertson, make the move from Scotland to Alistair’s home town in Victoria, with their nine-week-old son, Noah. The first scenes in the novel take place during the flight. And we soon see just how challenging it is to travel with an infant, and how much harder those myths make it. The baby cries – a lot – and the parents are just as exhausted as any new parents are. Add to that the stress of travel, and it’s little wonder the flight is a nightmare. But there’s this myth that newborns are easy to care for, and that all new parents delight in the myriad tasks that are a part of raising children. And those myths don’t go away as children get older. Most parents do love their children very, very much, but that bond is a lot more complex than the myth would suggest.

So is the bond between partners. A permanent bond between two people requires hard work and commitment. That’s not to say there’s no fun and joy in it. There is. But it’s not easy. Just ask Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn Shreve and her husband, Zack. As of the most recent novel in this series, Joanne is a retired academic, political scientist, and mother/grandmother. Zack is the current mayor of Regina. The two of them have faced a number of challenges, and are both strong-willed. They love each other and are committed to each other. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy for them all the time. But then, neither was really expecting that the myth of the blissful, uncomplicated marriage could be real.

On the other hand, that’s exactly what Eva Wirenström-Berg, whom we meet in Karin Alvtegen’s Betrayal, was hoping to have. She and her husband Henrik have been married for fifteen years, and have a six-year-old son, Axel. From the beginning, Eva believed in the myth of the perfect, blissful marriage and the ‘white picket fence’ sort of home. But lately, things between her and Henrik have been strained. It isn’t supposed to be this hard, and Eva is hoping that it’s just work stress. But then, she discovers to her dismay that Henrik has been unfaithful. And, in one plot thread of this story, she determines to find out who the other woman is. When she finds out, she makes plans of her own, but things spiral far out of her control…

Another of those myths is the ‘golden life in a new place.’ After all, that’s the reason so many millions of immigrants have made the move from their homes to a new country. But, for many immigrants, no matter which country they choose, it’s rarely as easy is it seems that it ought to be. There’s the language, there’s finding work, there’s educating children, and more. In some cases, such as Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe, immigrants end up being highly successful; and in real life, that does happen.

But there are also cases where settling in to a new country and lifestyle is a lot harder than the myths say. For instance, in Robin Cook’s Vector, we are introduced to a taxi driver named Yuri Davydov. In the former Soviet Union, he was a technician working for the Soviet biological weapons program. After the breakup of the USSR, he emigrated to the US, lured (as he sees it) by promises of wealth and great success. But that hasn’t happened. He hasn’t found any sort of job in his area of expertise, so he’s had to take a job driving a cab. He’s completely disaffected, and so, is easy prey for an equally-disaffected group of skinheads who want to carry out a plan of ‘revenge’ – the release of anthrax in New York City. When medical examiners Jack Stapleton and Lori Montgomery become aware of the plot they have to work to find out who’s behind it, and stop the conspirators if they can.

There are many other crime novels that feature immigrants who find that life in their new home is a lot harder than they’d thought. Eva Dolan, Ruth Rendell, and Ausma Zehanat Khan, among others, have all written about this topic. And they’re far from the only ones.

Those myths of how easy it’s ‘supposed to be’ to have a child, sustain a marriage, become a professional lawyer (or doctor, or professor, etc.) are woven into many cultures. And those dreams can be motivating. But the reality is seldom much like the myth. And that can add tension, a plot thread, or a layer of character development to a crime novel.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Spinfire’s Prove Me Wrong.

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Filed under Ausma Zehanat Khan, Eva Dolan, Gail Bowen, Helen Fitzgerald, Karin Alvtegen, Rex Stout, Robin Cook, Ruth Rendell, Sinéad Crowley

Working on a Building*

constructionWhere I live, the climate allows for construction throughout the year. So there’s quite a lot of ongoing building/tearing down/painting, and so on. That means, of course, work for local construction firms and their workers. It also has got me thinking about how neatly construction projects fit in with crime fiction plots.

For one thing, there’s the site itself. There are lots of opportunities for ‘accidents’ on construction sites. For another, there are the people who work on the site. Construction projects, especially large ones, draw all sorts of people from different backgrounds. So there’s lots of opportunity for the author to create different character portraits and plot threads. And there’s a lot of money at stake in construction projects. So companies sometimes go to all sorts of lengths to get bids for the work. And the less they have to spend on doing the work, the better they do. That lends itself to all sorts of plot threads. So it’s little wonder that construction projects figure the way they do in crime fiction.

There’s an interesting example of a construction project in Reginald Hill’s An Advancement of Learning. There’s a major project taking place on the campus of Holm Coultram College, that involves moving an eight-foot bronze memorial from one part of campus to another. When the memorial and its base are lifted, everyone is shocked to discover that there’s a body underneath. It’s even more shocking when the body turns out to be former College President Alison Girling, to whom the memorial was dedicated. Everyone had assumed that she was killed in a freak avalanche during a skiing trip five years earlier, but now it’s clear that either she never left campus, or her body was brought back there for some reason. Superintendent Andy Dalziel and Sergeant Peter Pascoe investigate. They find that this death has everything to do with the complicated network of relationships on campus.

In Barry Maitland’s The Marx Sisters, we are introduced to DCI David Brock and DS Kathy Kolla. The novel begins with the death of Meredith Winterbottom, one of three sisters who live in a home in London’s historic Jerusalem Lane. At first, the death looks like a suicide, but Kolla notices a few things that don’t add up. So, with Brock’s support, she starts asking questions. It turns out that a large construction and development company wants to buy out all of the residents of Jerusalem Lane in order to create a new entertainment and shopping/dining district. The victim and her sisters were the last holdouts, and there’s a lot of money at stake. So that’s one very likely lead. So is the fact that Meredith’s son Terry, who inherits the house at his mother’s death, is very much in need of money. The proceeds from the sale of the property could be just what he needs. There are other leads, too. And it’s interesting to see throughout the novel how the coming construction impacts both the people of Jerusalem Lane and the local area.

In S.J. Rozan’s No Colder Place, PI Bill Smith gets an interesting case from a colleague, former cop Chuck DeMattis. Someone’s stolen a backhoe from Crowell Construction, the general contractor building a new high-rise building in Manhattan. What’s more, Lenny Pelligrini, the crane operator has disappeared. Smith’s task will be to go undercover as a mason and find out what’s going on. He starts on the job, and begins to ask questions. Then, Pelligrini’s body is discovered. And foreman Joe Romeo meets with a convenient ‘accident’ during a very carefully orchestrated riot. There’s clearly more going on here than a case of theft, and Smith works with his occasional business partner, Lydia Chin, to find out what’s behind the murders.

Many large construction projects attract immigrant workers, and that’s been another fruitful avenue for crime novelists to explore. For example, in Eva Dolan’s Long Way Home, we meet DI Dushan Zigic and DS Mel Ferreira of the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit. The body of an unknown man is found in a burned-out shed belonging to Emma and Paul Barlow. The evidence suggests that the man had been living there, and that’s not out of the question, since migrant workers often take up temporary residences in places like sheds, until they can afford somewhere else to live. If the man was a foreigner, this could be a hate crime, which is why Zigic and Ferreira get the case. The man is soon identified as an Estonian named Jaan Stepulov. Now, the detectives trace the victim’s last days and weeks to find out who would have wanted to kill him and why. And as they do, they learn about the inner workings of construction companies and contractors who hire migrants to do the work. It’s an interesting, if sometimes tragic, look at the lives who come to work on construction projects.

And then there’s Jen Shieff’s The Gentlemen’s Club, which takes place in 1950’s Auckland. In one plot thread of that novel, Istvan Ziegler emigrates from his native Hungary to New Zealand. He’s got a line on a job working on a new bridge that’s being constructed, and he’s hoping to make a new life for himself. He believes that working on construction sites, even though it’s difficult, will offer more than staying in Hungary. He connects with his new employer, settles into a cheap hotel and gets ready to begin his job. One day, he discovers a young woman in another room of the hotel, who seems to have been badly injured. He stays with her until she’s out of danger and learns some things about her. She is Judith Curran, who’s come to Auckland to have an abortion. The procedure left her badly hurt, and of course, she doesn’t want to admit what happened to more people than is absolutely necessary. She and Ziegler get drawn into a dangerous mystery surrounding a group of orphan girls who’ve just arrived in New Zealand. Admittedly, the new bridge going up isn’t the main point of the novel. But readers get to see what it’s like for construction workers as they settle into new places. And there’s an interesting bit that shows how workers heard about such jobs in the days before the Internet.

Construction sites draw all sorts of people together. They also mean work and commerce. But they can be at the very least annoying, and at worse, lethal. But don’t take my word for it; just check crime fiction and you’ll see.

 
 
 

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

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Filed under Barry Maitland, Eva Dolan, Jen Shieff, Reginald Hill, S.J. Rozan