Category Archives: Fred Vargas

She Won’t Join Your Clubs, She Won’t Dance in Your Halls*

groupdynamicsAs I’ve said many times on this blog, well-written crime fiction shows us ourselves. And one of the things we see about ourselves is the way we behave in groups. Humans are social animals, so it’s natural for us to want to belong to a group. And, once in, we try to sort ourselves out. You can call it group dynamics, or group politics, if you will. Whatever you call it, it’s one way people try to impose order on their worlds.

Group dynamics can add much to a crime novel. There’s the tension as people establish the group order. There’s other tension as ‘outsiders’ try to become ‘insiders.’ There’s also the suspense as people try to either stay in the group, or leave it, or gain a particular position within it. There are too many examples in the genre for me to mention them all. Here are just a few.

Claudia Piñeiro’s Thursday Night Widows takes place mostly at the ultra-exclusive Cascade Heights Country Club, located about thirty miles from Buenos Aires. Only the very wealthy can afford to live there, and even they are carefully ‘vetted.’ The community is tightly-knit, and figuratively and literally separated from the outside world. It’s an insular group, and everyone knows the ‘right’ places to shop, the ‘right’ schools for their children, the ‘right’ people to befriend, and the ‘right’ causes to support. Everything changes when Argentina’s financial situation begins to deteriorate (the novel takes place at the end of the 1990s/beginning of 2000). At first, the residents of ‘the Heights’ seem impervious to the developing crisis, but that doesn’t last. The end result is a tragedy, and the residents now have to deal with what’s happened.

Megan Abbott’s Dare Me explores the world of teen social dynamics. Addy Hanlon and Beth Cassidy have been best friends for years. Now, they’re in their last year of high school, and they ‘own’ the school, Beth in particular. They’re both on the cheerleading squad, and getting ready to start their lives after they graduate. Then, the school hires a new cheerleading coach, Collette French. Right from the start, French changes the social order. She makes the cheerleading squad a sort of exclusive club, and Addy is welcomed as an ‘insider.’ Beth, however, is excluded, and becomes an outsider ‘looking in.’ Then, there’s a suicide (or was it?). Now this social group is turned upside down as everyone deals with what’s happened.

Qiu Xiaolong’s Chief Inspector Chen Cao series takes place in Shanghai in the late 1990s, a time of great change in China. There’s still an influence of Maoism, and of some older, even ancient, traditions. But there’s also a newly developing form of capitalism as China continues to work with capitalist nations. China’s bureaucracy is a system of cadres, or social levels. Those in extremely important positions are ‘high cadre’ people, and do not take kindly to any threat, real or imagined, to their status. For that reason, the police have to work very carefully whenever a crime might possibly involve such a person. As the series goes on, we see how these cadres sort themselves out and establish and keep order. The dynamics may change as one or another member’s fortune changes. But the cadre system itself is a well-established and deeply-ingrained social structure.

If you’ve ever worked for a law firm, you know that the attorneys in a firm often form a community. In a large firm, you may find senior partners, junior partners, associates, and contract lawyers. And that’s to say nothing of the legal assistants (such as clerks, paralegals, and legal secretaries) and support staff. Even smaller firms have some sense of community, and, therefore, of social structure. And, even in the most supportive and employee-friendly firms, people sort themselves out. A beginning associate who wants to become a partner needs to know how the firm’s structure works, and what the firm’s priorities are. Crime writers such as Robert Rotenberg, John Grisham and Scott Turow explore not just the particular legal cases at hand, but also the inner workings of law firms. And it’s interesting to see how the social structure at a firm can impact what lawyers do.

Police departments also have their own social structure, and anyone who works in one quickly learns what that structure is. There are many, many police procedural series, some of them outstanding, that depict the ways in which police social structure works. In healthy departments, cases are solved by teams of people who have supportive leadership. Fred Vargas’ Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg novels are like that. And so, arguably, are Helene Tursten’s Irene Huss novels, Katherine Howell’s Ella Marconi novels and Reginald Hill’s Dalziel/Pascoe novels. That’s not to say that the characters are all perfect, with no faults, quirks or weaknesses. Rather, we see how the groups in these novels sort themselves out, and how the people in them work out what their roles are.

Of course, there are plenty of police procedurals where we see a very unhealthy social dynamic. In those novels, ‘patch wars,’ infighting, and even sabotage happen. A few examples are Karin Slaughter’s Cop Town, Simon Lelic’s A Thousand Cuts (AKA Rupture), and Garry Disher’s Bitter Wash Road. There are many others.

And then there’s Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies. That novel’s focus is Piriwee Public School, on Piriwee Peninsula, near Sydney. The main characters are members of three families, all of whom have children in the school’s Kindergarten class. Shortly after the school year begins, there’s a bullying incident. Renata Klein, one of the most influential ‘school mums,’ accuses another child of bullying her daughter. That boy, Ziggy, is the son of a relative newcomer. Ziggy says he didn’t do any bullying, and his mother believes him. And it’s not long before there are two camps. Tension escalates for this and other reasons, until it boils over on Quiz Night, which was planned as a school fundraiser. Tragedy results, and each family is deeply affected by what happens. Throughout this novel, we see the social structure of ‘playground mums’ and some dads, too. The elite group here is called ‘the Blond Bobs’:
 

‘The Blond Bobs rule the school. If you want to be on the PTA, you have to have a blond bob…it’s like a bylaw.’
 

Part of the tension in the story comes from the way this social hierarchy plays out.

And that’s the thing about groups. Almost any time people get together, those dynamics come into play. And they can be very dangerous.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Actress Hasn’t Learned the Lines.

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Filed under Claudia Piñeiro, Fred Vargas, Helene Tursten, John Grisham, Katherine Howell, Liane Moriarty, Megan Abbott, Qiu Xiaolong, Reginald Hill, Robert Rotenberg, Scott Turow

Suddenly I Don’t Remember the Rules Any More*

crime-fiction-rulesThrough the years, there’ve been several sets of rules for detective fiction, among them S.S. Van Dine’s 20 rules, and Ronald Knox’s 10 rules. In some ways, it can be very helpful for the crime writer to have some guidance for creating a well-written story. This might be especially true for the first-time crime writer.

That said, though, we could also ask whether these rules really are relevant, especially for today’s crime fiction. Is it possible to write an excellent crime novel without each of those rules being followed?

Here’s one example. Both Van Dine and Knox wrote that the solution to a mystery should not be supernatural or otherworldly. They claimed that, to be credible, a mystery has to have a prosaic solution. Most readers seem to agree with this. In fact, one of the major ‘pet peeves’ that I’ve read is when a book lacks credibility, especially if there’s some sort of ghostly or paranormal solution. Some authors (Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie, to name just two) have played with this rule. They’ve included characters who believe in the supernatural, for instance, or written stories where the culprit makes the murder look as though it has a supernatural explanation. But there’s nothing otherworldly about the real solution.

Closely related to this, both Van Dine and Knox claim that fictional detectives should not solve crimes through accident, intuition, or other means (Van Dine included unmotivated confession) besides logical deduction. And that was Arthur Conan Doyle’s main argument in creating Sherlock Holmes. He wanted a detective who solved crimes through logical, scientific means, not intuition. Crime fiction fans want their stories credible. That includes the means by which the sleuth gets to the truth. Too much coincidence takes away from that credibility. Seemingly magic intuition does, too. In real life, detectives solve crimes by making sense of evidence and putting the pieces together logically. That doesn’t mean they can’t have creative ideas. Great detectives do. But I think most of us would agree what we don’t want crimes to be solved through a series of happy accidents.

Another rule that both Van Dine and Knox mention is that the detective should not also be the killer. This, to these writers, is not ‘playing fair’ with the reader. What’s interesting about this rule is that there’ve been several novels (I won’t mention them because of spoilers) where the protagonist is, indeed, the killer. And some of those novels have gone on to great success and acclaim. Does this mean this rule isn’t relevant? What do you think? Have you read excellent crime novels where a detective is also the killer?

One rule that really is relevant (at least from my perspective – yours may differ) is that in whodunits, all of the clues have to be there for the reader to find. That is to say, both Van Dine and Knox refer to the need to give the reader the same opportunity as the detective has to solve the murder. I’m sure you can think of at least one novel you’ve read where you thought, ‘Well of course I’d have known who the killer was if I’d known that!’ I think most of us would agree that we want the author of a crime novel to ‘play fair’ and show us all the clues. In fact, the ‘Queen Team’ included asides to the reader in some of the Ellery Queen novels, to the effect that all of the clues are now in the reader’s possession. In a well-written whodunit, the clues may not be glaringly obvious, but they are there for the reader to find.

Van Dine has an interesting rule to the effect that there must be no love interest in a crime novel. He saw a romance angle as ‘cluttering up’ the intellectual exercise of solving a crime. On the one hand, I think most crime fiction fans would agree that too much emphasis on a romance can be a distraction. And, of course, every reader is different with respect to how much romance is ‘too much.’ That said, though, I can think of several highly-regarded crime novels that do include romances. One, for instance, is Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night. Fans of Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey series will know that his romance with detective novelist Harriet Vane is a story arc that ends with their wedding just before Busman’s Honeymoon. Romances are woven into some of Tony Hillerman’s Jim Chee/Joe Leaphorn novels, too. And those are by no means the only examples. What do you folks think? Was Van Dine right that romance should not figure into crime novels?

One of the other rules that Van Dine (but not Knox) proposed was that there should only be one detective – one main character. This one arguably hasn’t held up. If you look at series such as Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse series, or Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series, or Reginald Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe series (to name only three), you see how successful fictional partnerships can be. And a quick look at Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series, or Fred Vargas’ Commissaire Adamsberg series, is all you need to see how well ‘ensemble’ series can work.

What about some of Van Dine’s and Knox’s other rules? Knox for instance, claimed that there shouldn’t be twins involved, unless the reader has been prepared for that. Van Dine said that there absolutely must be a corpse:
 

‘Three hundred pages is far too much pother for a crime other than murder.’
 

He also said that all crimes must have a personal motive, among other things.

What do you think of these rules? If they don’t apply, should there be other rules? If you’re a writer, do you follow ‘rules’ as you write your crime fiction?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s This Night.

 

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Colin Dexter, Dorothy Sayers, Ed McBain, Elly Griffiths, Fred Vargas, Reginald Hill, Ronald Knox, S.S. Van Dine, Tony Hillerman

The Call of the Mountains, the Call of the Alps*

alpsIt’s the time of year when a lot of people enjoy cold-weather sports. And what better place than the Alps? There’s stunning scenery, all sorts of hiking, skiing and skating activities, après-skis, and lovely places to stay. And, since the Alps extend to eight different countries, there are all sorts of languages spoken and cultural traditions.

But if you think that means the Alps are safe and peaceful, think again. If you look at crime fiction, you see all sorts of examples that prove otherwise. Warm clothes and a cheery hearth don’t always keep people safe…

In Agatha Christie’s Cards on the Table, we are introduced to Anne Meredith. During a winter trip to Switzerland, she meets an enigmatic man named Mr. Shaitana. As she puts it,
 

‘I didn’t know him well at all. I always thought he was a most frightening man.’
 

But he has a certain macabre appeal, and he does have very interesting parties. About nine months later, back in England, Anne is invited to dinner at Mr. Shaitana’s home. Also invited are seven other people. Four of them (including Hercule Poirot) are sleuths. The others are people Mr. Shaitana hints have committed murder. After dinner, everyone settles in to play bridge. During the game, someone stabs Mr. Shaitana. It’s now clear that he was right about at least one person in the group, and that person wasted no time keeping him quiet. Poirot works with the three other sleuths to find out who the killer was. And, in the process, they find out some truths about the other guests, too. In this case, that meeting in Switzerland ended up drawing Anne Meredith into a murder case.

Scotland Yard detective Henry Tibbett and his wife, Emmy, take a trip to the Italian Alps in Patricia Moyes’ Dead Men Don’t Ski. They’re planning to stay at the Bella Vista Hotel in Santa Chiara for a holiday, which Henry is combining with a bit of investigating. Right from the time they arrive at the hotel, there’s tension among some of the guests. But everyone seems determined to have a good time. Then, one evening, several of the hotel guests are taking the chair lift from the village of Santa Chiara up to the hotel. On the way up, they see the other chair lift going down. In it is the body of one of the hotel guests, Austrian-born businessman Fritz Hauser. Capitano Spezzi and his team investigate the murder. Later, when he’s discovered Henry Tibbetts’ profession, Spezzi begins to work with him to find out who the killer is. Oh, and it’s not spoiling the story to say that there’s a very dramatic ski-escape scene here.

Fred Vargas’ Seeking Whom He May Devour takes place in the French Alps. The residents of the towns of Ventebrune and Pierrefor are unsettled when nine sheep are discovered with their throats slashed. At first, it looks like the work of a wolf. But then, a sheep breeder named Suzanne Rosselin is found murdered in one of her sheep pens. She’s been killed in the same way as the sheep were, and now, there are whispers that a werewolf is on the loose. Those who believe that story even think they know who the werewolf is: a loner named Auguste Massart. He seems to have disappeared, though, so the villagers decide to try to track him down so that they can find out the truth. But they’re not successful, and end up asking Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg to investigate. He travels to the Alps and looks into the matter. As you can imagine, there are no werewolves behind the deaths.

In Michael Dibdin’s Medusa, a group of Austrian cavers discover a decomposed corpse in a disused military tunnel in the Italian Alps. The body turns out to belong to Leonardo Ferrero, an Italian soldier who was said to have died in a freak air accident years earlier. The body is taken to the morgue, from whence it soon disappears. It doesn’t take long for it to be clear that there’s some sort of cover-up going on. The Interior Ministry suspects that something untoward may be going on, so they send Aurelio Zen to investigate. And it turns out that he has to peel back several layers of secrets and corruption to find out the truth about what happened to Ferrero, and how it’s related to a secret Italian military organization called Medusa.

And then there’s Apostolos Doxiadis’ Three Little Pigs. That novel begins in 1974 at a monastery in the Swiss Alps. An unnamed art restorer has come to the place to look at some frescoes in the chapel, with an eye to restoring them. During his stay, he meets an old man who’s living in the care home on the monastery’s property. One day, the old man promises to tell him a story – ‘a good story’ – in exchange for having it recorded. So, the art restorer buys some tapes and the old man begins his tale. The story concerns the Franco family, who emigrated from Italy to New York at the turn of the 20th Century. At first, the family did well. But then, patriarch Benvenuto ‘Ben’ Franco got into a bar fight and ended up killing Luigi Lupo, son of notorious gangster Tonio Lupo. The elder Lupo put a curse on the Franco family, saying that all three of Ben Franco’s sons would die at the age of forty-two, the age Luigi was when he was killed. The old man then relates the stories of the three sons and their fates as his listener records them. Years later, those recordings play a role in the story, which ends in modern times. And it all starts because of what’s supposed to be a harmless visit to the Alps.

See what I mean? The Alps are beautiful, and a visit there may seem wonderful, especially if you’re sweltering in summer heat or dying for a break from fog, cold rain or slush. But safe? I don’t know about that…

Thanks, Alpenwild, for the lovely ‘photo!

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Eluveitie’s The Call.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Apostolos Doxiadis, Fred Vargas, Michael Dibdin, Patricia Moyes

It’s Only Surreal*

SurrealMost crime fiction fans want their stories to ‘feel’ real – as though the characters in them might exist, and the events happen. It takes a deft hand to introduce elements of the surreal – or at least dreamlike unreality – into a crime novel and make it work.

And yet, there are ways in which it can be done. For example, I’ll bet you’ve read crime novels where a character is drugged (either for medical reasons or for another reason) and that drug affects her or his perceptions. There are other ways, too, in which an author can introduce that sort of unreality. And it certainly can add some interest to a story when it’s done well.

For instance, in Agatha Christie’s After the Funeral, patriarch Richard Abernethie dies suddenly, and his family members gather for his funeral. When the family members get together to hear the will, Abernethie’s younger sister, Cora Lansquenet, blurts out that her brother was murdered. At first, everyone hushes her up; she herself urges the rest to pay no attention to her. But privately, everyone does start to wonder. And when Cora herself is murdered the next day, everyone becomes certain she was right. The family solicitor, Mr. Entwhistle, visits Hercule Poirot, and asks him to look into the matter. Poirot agrees, and begins to investigate. Slowly, little pieces of the puzzle start to fall together, and one night, Poirot has a very strange dream about it. The dream itself is quite surreal, as many dreams are. But it gives him the answer to the puzzle. I see you, fans of Murder in Mesopotamia.

Fred Vargas’ novels featuring Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg often have elements of surrealism in them. For example, The Chalk Circle Man begins with a very odd phenomenon: someone’s been drawing circles made of blue chalk on the pavement in different parts of Paris. Various weird objects are found in them, and there seems no explanation at all. And then comes the day when one of those ‘objects’ is a body…  In The Ghost Riders of Ordebec, Adamsberg is persuaded to travel from Paris to the small town of Ordebec at the request of Valentine Vendermot. Her daughter Lina has had a vision in which she’s seen the legendary Ghost Riders. As the story goes, they appear in the company of those who are going to die a violent death. And Lina has seen them in the company of locals she knows. She’s very disturbed by the vision, and that’s why her mother wants Adamsberg’s help. He goes to Ordebec to look into the story of the Ghost Riders, only to get caught up an odd murder investigation when one of the people Lina saw is killed. And then there’s the matter of Snowball the office cat, who is, of all things, an expert tracker… Fans of this series will tell you that all kinds of surreal things happen in it.

In Sylvie Granotier’s The Paris Lawyer, we are introduced to newly-fledged lawyer Catherine Monsigny. She gets her chance for a real push to her career when Myriam Villetreix asks specifically for her. Villetreix has been arrested and charged in the murder of her wealthy husband, Gaston, and wants Monsigny (whom she met when she first came from Ghana to France) to defend her. A win in this case will open many proverbial doors, so Monsigny gets right to work to do the best job she possibly can. As it turns out, the town where the murder took place is not far from where a tragedy occurred in Monsigny’s own life. When she was a very small child, her mother was murdered, with Monsigny as the only witness. She remembers very little from that day, and what there is, is hazy at best. But as she spends time in that place, some of the pieces begin to fit together. And as the story goes on, she begins to have dreamlike, disjointed memories of the day of the murder. They are surreal, but gradually, they give her information about what really happened to her mother.

Fans of Craig Johnson’s Sheriff Walt Longmire series will know that he has more than one encounter with the Old Cheyenne. Some people call them ghosts; some call them visions. Still others simply think that they’re a case of Longmire’s mind ‘playing tricks,’ as the saying goes. Whatever they are, they seem to be there when Longmire especially needs their help. For instance, in The Cold Dish, they appear as Longmire is caught on a mountain in a life-threatening snowstorm. They don’t magically transport him to safety, but their presence keeps him going. Longmire is a pragmatic person, and not given to believing in ghosts. But he has come to accept the Old Cheyenne, however surreal they may seem.

In Adrian Hyland’s Gunshot Road, Aboriginal Community Police Officer (ACPO) Emily Tempest and her team investigate when Albert ‘Doc’ Ozolins is murdered in Green Swamp Well. At first, the death is put down to the tragic consequences of a drunken quarrel. But Tempest begins to have her doubts. So she looks into the case more thoroughly. The closer she gets to the truth, the more risk there is for her, as some very dangerous people are threatened by what she discovers. It turns out that Doc’s death had nothing to do with a drunken quarrel. At one point, Tempest has what can only be described as a surreal encounter with Andulka Jangala, about whom many stories have been told, some stranger than others. Even Tempest admits that some of the stories must be myths, rather than truth.
 

‘…but what the hell: our mob have lost so many myths along the way, I couldn’t see any harm in inventing a few new ones.’
 

He is (or was) a real person, but he’s disappeared. Tempest isn’t even sure he’s still alive, but one of her friends, Meg Branbles, says that he is. And then Tempest finds out for herself.

And then there’s Catherine O’Flynn’s What Was Lost. That novel begins in 1984, when Kate Meaney is ten years old. She dreams of being a detective, and has even launched her own agency, Falcon Investigations. She spends a lot of time at the newly-opened Green Oaks Shopping Center, looking for suspicious activity. One day, she disappears during a trip to sit entrance exams at the exclusive Redsppon School. A thorough search is undertaken, but no sign of her is found – not even a body. Twenty years later, a mall security guard named Kurt notices that the security cameras have recorded something very strange: the dreamlike image of a young girl who looks a lot like Kate did. He tries to find the child, but can’t locate her. Still, the image keeps showing up on his camera. One night, he meets Lisa Palmer, assistant manager at the mall’s music store. She remembers Kate; and, when Kurt tells her what he’s seen, the two begin an awkward sort of friendship. Each in a different way, the two go back to the past, and we learn what really happened to Kate.

Those dreamlike, surreal moments aren’t the sorts of things you’d expect to happen in real life. But when they’re well-written, those moments can add an interesting flair to a crime novel.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Innocence Mission’s Surreal.

  

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Filed under Adrian Hyland, Agatha Christie, Catherine O'Flynn, Craig Johnson, Fred Vargas, Sylvie Granotier

Man, What a Ride*

Car DangersSometimes, news stories are stranger than anything writers dream up. For instance, a Florida man has been arrested for allegedly throwing a live alligator through the window of a drive-through fast food restaurant. And yes, that’s a real story; you can read about it right here.

As I was thinking about that story, it occurred to me that this would mean that the man in question had to transport that alligator in his car. I’m no zoologist, but my guess is that that in itself was a dangerous thing to do.

And it all just goes to show that you never know what might happen when you get into a car. There are all sorts of crime-fictional examples of what I mean. Here are just a few of them.

In William Brittain’s short story Yellowbelly, two bank robbers, Bryce and Augie, are on the run after holding up the Royson Bank. They’re planning to hide for the night up in the mountainous desert of the US Southwest, but instead of emptiness, they find a small roadside café and garage called Yellowbelly’s. They stop to get some fuel and to get the car’s faulty air conditioning repaired. They stay as calm as possible, hoping that Yellowbelly Dobkins, the owner of the place, and Pete Muggeridge, who works there, won’t have heard the news about the heist they just pulled off. All goes smoothly enough at first. Then, while Bryce and Augie are in the café eating, the restaurant’s radio broadcasts the news of the robbery and complete descriptions of the thieves. Pete acts precipitously and is wounded; now he and Yellowbelly are more or less at the mercy of their visitors. Yellowbelly repairs the car, and in the morning, the two thieves leave. But there’s one thing they hadn’t planned on: Yellowbelly’s knowledge of the desert and its inhabitants. When Bryce and Augie drive off, they turn on the newly-repaired air conditioning, only to find that the more comfortable environment has lured out of hiding a rattlesnake that was left in the car. Here’s what Yellowbelly later says about it to a police officer:
 

‘‘…a snake ain’t very lively when it gets too hot…I figgered that thing’d stay down below the seat in the shade.
Course when the air conditioning brought the temperature down to his likin’, first thing old snake wanted to do was come out to see what was going on.’’
 

The snake’s curiosity certainly changes plans for the bank robbers.

And that’s not the only example of snakes in crime-fictional cars.  As John Burdett’s Bangkok 8 begins, Sonchai Jitpleecheep and his partner Pichai Apiradee of the Royal Thai Police are on a surveillance assignment. They’ve been following a grey Mercedes and, for a few moments, lose sight of it. By the time they see it again, it’s too late: the occupant, William Bradley, is dead. A closer look at the scene shows that the car is full of poisonous snakes, and that the victim probably died from their bites. And when Pinchai investigates a little further, one of the snakes bites him, too. Sonchai is determined to avenge the death of his police partner and ‘soul brother,’ so his interest in this case is as personal as it is professional.

Sometimes what’s found in cars is quite a different kind of animal. For example, in Donald Honig’s short story Come Ride With Me, a man named Gannon stops at the Quick Stop diner. He has a specific purpose in mind: to ‘borrow’ a car. He’s just committed a robbery that ended in murder, and needs a getaway vehicle. Gannon waits at the diner until he sees exactly the sort of fast, late-model car he wants. When the car’s owner, well-off Frank Carstairs, uses the diner’s telephone, Gannon sees his chance and hides in the back of the car. Carstairs gets in his car and Gannon takes him hostage. But as he soon learns, he’s picked the wrong car. Carstairs has an entirely different purpose for it.

In one plot thread of Ruth Rendell’s The Veiled One, DCI Reg Wexford learns that his daughter Sheila has been caught cutting wire fencing on government property as a part of a protest against nuclear development. She stays with Wexford and his wife Dora for a short time after the incident’s made public. One evening, Wexford goes outdoors to move Sheila’s car so he can put his own away. That’s when a bomb rigged underneath the car goes off. Wexford is thrown clear, injured but alive. There’s heavy damage to the house, too, but no-one else is hurt. Wexford spends some time recovering, which means his assistant Mike Burden takes on the ‘lion’s share’ of another investigation, this one of a woman whose body is found in a shopping mall’s parking garage.

And then there’s Fred Vargas’ Ghost Riders of Ordebec. In one plot thread of that story, Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg and his team investigate a car fire. Wealthy and well-connected Antoine Clermont-Brasseur has been killed in what authorities discover is a case of arson. The official theory is that the victim was killed by a local firebug named Momo, who has a record of torching cars. But Momo claims he’s innocent, and there’s evidence to support him, too. Commissaire Adamsberg comes to believe Momo, and takes a very unusual course of action to try to prevent an innocent man from being convicted. In the meantime, Adamsberg’s team learn that there are several other people who had a motive for murder.

As you see, most of us don’t drive around with alligators in our cars. But that doesn’t mean that a car ride is always smooth and easy. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to take a drive myself. Care to join me???

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Charlie Ryan’s Hot Rod Lincoln. Listen to that version and the other popular version, recorded by Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, and see which you prefer.

 

 

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Filed under Donald Honig, Fred Vargas, John Burdett, Ruth Rendell, William Brittain