Category Archives: Gail Bowen

I Can’t Do My Homework Anymore*

It’s Sunday as this is posted, a day when young people everywhere are scrambling to finish up those school assignments before they have to be turned in on Monday. It can be a frantic time, especially for students who – ahem – don’t feel the need to rush into things without reflection. It’s all got me thinking about school assignments.

Most school assignments, at any level, are fairly straightforward, if not exactly benign. Students are expected to do activities, write things, create things, and so on. If the assignments are engaging and relevant, they can serve student understanding and growth. If not, they can end up being a major bone of contention at home and at school.

You might not have thought about it (I know I didn’t until I started reflecting on it), but schoolwork does play a role in crime fiction. And that makes sense, if you think about it. After all, you never do know what a student may turn up in the course of doing research.

For instance, in Ellery Queen’s The Adventure of the African Traveler, Queen has agreed to teach a master’s degree course in applied criminology. Of the many who applied to take the course, only two have been selected. A third is the daughter of the professor who persuaded Queen to teach the class, so she’s been admitted, too. Queen takes seriously the term ‘applied,’ and takes the group to the scene of a murder. The victim, Oliver Spargo, was a representative for a large exporting company. After a year in Africa, he’d recently returned, and was staying at the Fenwick Hotel when he was bludgeoned to death. Queen makes the case a sort of laboratory for the students, and each of them tries to use the clues to work out who the killer is. This one may not be regarded as Queen’s best, but it’s certainly an interesting take on coursework…

In Ruth Rendell’s A Judgement in Stone, we are introduced to Melinda Coverdale. A university student, she is the daughter of wealthy and successful George Coverdale, and step-daughter to his wife, Jacqueline. When the Coverdales decide to hire a new housekeeper, Melinda doesn’t think too much about it; she’s quite busy, as university students are, with her own life. But Eunice Parchman isn’t like other housekeepers. She has a secret – one she is terrified will get out. Unbeknownst to Eunice, Melinda’s done some work in school that allows her to find out more than she should know. And when she comes home for a visit, the result is tragic.

In one plot thread of Val McDermid’s The Grave Tattoo, Wordsworth scholar Jane Gresham learns that an unidentified body has been pulled from a bog not far from her home village in the Lake District. There is evidence that the body could very well be that of Fletcher Christian. If it is, it means that he didn’t die on Pitcairn Island, as had always been assumed. And, if he made it back to the Lake District, what would be more natural than that he should contact his close friend, Wordsworth? And if that happened, it would only make sense that Wordsworth would have written something about Christian’s adventures. This logic tallies with the stories Gresham’s heard about an unpublished manuscript. Finding such a treasure would make her academic career, so Gresham immediately travels to her home town and starts trying to track down the manuscript, if it exists. Oddly enough, she gets some very valuable assistance from an assignment that her schoolteacher brother, Matthew, has given to his class, and one student’s response to it. Jane follows all of the leads, but the closer she gets to the truth about the manuscript, the more danger there is. And a strange series of deaths seems to follow along…

Gail Bowen’s A Killing Spring concerns the murder of Reed Gallagher, whose body is discovered in a seedy hotel room. Bowen’s sleuth, Joanne Kilbourn, is a university colleague of Gallagher’s, and acquainted with his widow. So, it’s not long before she’s involved in the murder investigation. Not long after Gallagher’s murder, journalism student Kellee Savage goes missing after an argument at a bar. Kellee is a also student in one of Kilbourn’s classes, so this deepens her involvement in the case. It turns out that Gallagher’s death and Kellee Savage’s disappearance are related. And part of it has to do with Kellee’s work as a journalism student.

A school assignment turns out to have major implications for three families in Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies. This story’s focus is Piriwee Public School, on the Piriwee Peninsula, near Sydney, where a tragedy occurs on a much-anticipated Trivia Night, which is supposed to be a fundraiser. The novel follows the lives of three families, all of whom have children enrolled in the school. One family consists of Madeline Mackenzie, her second husband Ed, and their children Fred and Chloe. There’s also Madeline’s daughter, Abigail, whose father, Nathan, has recently remarried. Another family is the White family: Perry, his wife Celeste, and their twin sons Max and Josh. The third is Jane Chapman and her son, Ziggy. As the story unfolds, we learn how these families interconnect when Ziggy is accused of bullying – an accusation he denies, but doesn’t protest. That accusation, and some other conflicts, touch off a series of incidents that lead to the tragedy. In one plot thread, the Kindergarten teacher assigns her students to create a family tree. It seems a simple enough assignment, but it isn’t. Ziggy doesn’t know who his father is, and his mother says she doesn’t, either. In Madeline’s family’s case, the assignment is complicated by the fact that Abigail has a different father to Fred and Chloe, and that creates difficulties for Madeline. And Celeste has her own issues with the assignment. It’s not the reason for the tragedy, but it shows how complex even a simple school project can be.

And that’s the thing about schoolwork. One never knows where it’ll lead. Perhaps it’s little wonder so many people leave it to the last moment to complete their homework.

 
 
 

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

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Filed under Ellery Queen, Gail Bowen, Liane Moriarty, Ruth Rendell, Val McDermid

I’ll Arrange For Making All Arrangements*

caterersMany years ago, families who hosted formal parties would depend on their own kitchen staff (and, sometimes, ‘borrowed’ staff) to prepare the food, clean up, and so on. Families without the means for that would do their own cooking. That’s not so much the case in today’s world. Many people have full-time jobs, and don’t have a lot of spare time for event planning and elegant food preparation. Others simply don’t have the interest.

That’s where professional event planners and caterers come in. It’s a huge business, too. Many restaurants have a catering option; other caterers are independent businesses. And event planners have quickly become a very attractive option for people who are getting ready for a wedding, a corporate dinner, or other major event.

It’s not surprise, then, that caterers and event planners have begun to make appearances in crime fiction, too. These professionals see a lot, hear a lot, and are usually highly skilled at noting and managing even the smallest detail. So, they’re in a very good position to be sleuths, witnesses, or victims.

One of the more famous sleuths in the catering business is Diane Mott Davidson’s Gertrude ‘Goldy’ Schulz. Beginning with 1990’s Catering to Nobody, this series follows Schulz, who lives and works in the small town of Aspen Meadow, Colorado. As a caterer, she gets involved in all sorts of events, from after-funeral gatherings to graduations to weddings. So, she’s often not far from the scene when there’s a murder, and in more than one case, she finds the body. Another fictional catering company is Isis Crawford’s A Little Taste of Heaven, based in Longely, New York. It’s owned and run by sisters Bernie and Libby Simmons, who are the daughters of a retired police officer. Like Goldy Schulz, the Simmons sisters are often on the scene when there’s a murder. And once or twice, they fall under suspicion themselves. There are other examples, too, of mystery series that feature sleuths who are caterers.

There are also several crime novels and series that include wedding and other event planners. For instance, in Jill Edmondson’s Blood and Groom, Toronto PI Sasha Jackson gets a new client, Christine Arvisais. It seems that Arvisais’ former fiancé, Gordon Hanes, was shot on what was supposed to be their wedding day. Since the couple’s engagement had been broken off, many people think Arvisais is the murderer, although she’s never been formally accused. Still, she wants her name cleared. She’s rude, highhanded, and selfish, but a fee is a fee, so Jackson takes the case. One lead takes her to the office of wedding planner Valerie O’Connor, who was to put together the Arvisais/Hanes wedding. Jackson decides that it’s best to visit in the guise of a bride-to-be, so she persuades a friend to pose as her fiancé. It’s a funny scene, and the visit gives Jackson some valuable information.

Marla Cooper has recently launched a series featuring San Francisco-based wedding planner Kelsey McKenna. In the first novel, Terror in Taffeta, McKenna is hired to plan a destination wedding that’s to take place in the small Mexican town of San Miguel de Allende. Her clients, Nicole Abernethy and Vince Moreno, are happy with the arrangements, and everything seems to be going smoothly enough. Then, just at the end of the ceremony, one of the bridesmaids, Dana Poole, collapses and dies of what turns out to be poison. The local police begin to investigate, and soon settle on the bride’s sister, Zoe, as the killer. Zoe is arrested and jailed, but she claims she’s innocent. McKenna wants to get Zoe out of jail if she can. What’s more, the bride’s mother insists that she ‘fix the problem,’ even saying that that’s part of her job. So, McKenna begins to ask questions. She soon finds that there are things about the victim that a lot of people didn’t know, and that more than one person could have had a motive for murder.

Gail Bowen’s sleuth, Joanne Kilbourn Shreve, is a political scientist and retired academic. She is also the mother of four children. In The Wandering Soul Murders, the oldest, Mieka, has made the difficult decision to leave university and open her own catering business. Although her mother isn’t very happy about it, Mieka has a solid business plan and purchases a catering company called Judgements. It’s so successful that she’s actually planning to open a second location. Then one morning, she discovers the body of one of her employees, seventeen-year-old Bernice Morin, in a trash bin. Needless to say, Mieka is badly shaken. Still, the police are called in, and begin to investigate. Then, there’s another death which might be linked. It’s not long before Mieka and her mother are involved in a case with deep roots and a dark background.

And then there’s Mari Jungstedt’s Dark Angel. Successful Gotland event planner Vicktor Algård has fallen deeply in love with Veronika Hammer. In fact, he’s left his wife and their children for her sake. One night, he is hosting a glittering opening event for a new conference center, when Veronika hands him a cyanide-laced drink, then goes to use the restroom. He drinks it, collapses and dies, and the next morning, police detective Anders Knutas and his team begin the investigation. On the surface, it seems that the case is very clear. But it’s not long before other possibilities come up. Was the drink originally intended for Veronika? If so, that opens up an entirely new line of questioning. Was it intended for Algård, and Veronika used as a pawn? That’s a possibility too. It turns out to be a much more complicated case than it seems on the surface.

Caterers and event planners have certainly carved out a place for themselves in today’s professions. And they’ve made an impression in crime fiction, too. Which ones have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jerry Herman’s Just Leave Everything to Me.

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Filed under Diane Mott Davidson, Gail Bowen, Isis Crawford, Jill Edmondson, Mari Jungstedt, Marla Cooper

Nobody Was Really Sure if He Was From the House of Lords*

legislatorsWatch (or read) any news reports, and you’ll be reminded of something interesting about democratic governments. They are often led by presidents, prime ministers, or their counterparts. But in reality, a lot of political power rests with legislators. They may be members of Parliament, members of Congress, or of some other legislative body. Whatever their position, these people often have quite a lot of power.

It’s interesting to see how they’re treated in crime fiction, too. Legislators are natural fits for crime fiction, if you think about it. There’s power, money, status – and vulnerability. Just a quick look at the genre should show you what I mean.

In Agatha Christie’s Appointment With Death, we are introduced to Lady Westholme, MP. She and her friend, Miss Pierce, join an excursion to the famous Middle East city of Petra. With them on the trip are several other people, including newly-minted doctor Sarah King, and the members of the Boynton family, who are also touring the Middle East. From the moment that we meet her, Lady Westholme is assertive (some might even say aggressive) and quite clear in her views. There’s an interesting scene, for instance, where she has an argument with a representative from the travel company about the size and amenities of the car that’s to take the group to Petra. Needless to say, Lady Westholme wins the day. On the second afternoon of the trip, Mrs. Boynton (matriarch of the Boynton family) suddenly dies of what looks like heart failure. That’s not surprising, considering her age and health. But Colonel Carbury, who’s the investigator in the area, isn’t entirely convinced. He asks Hercule Poirot, who’s also in the Middle East, to look into the matter, and Poirot agrees. It turns out there are several suspects, too, as Mrs. Boynton was tyrannical, manipulative, and cruel to the members of her family. In the end, though, Poirot gets to the truth about the murder.

Ngaio Marsh’s The Nursing Home Murder is the story of Sir Derek O’Callaghan, MP. He’s written a controversial Anarchy Bill that specifically targets leftist revolutionaries and their activities. There’s no guarantee that the bill will be accepted, but it does have support. Sir Derek believes firmly that it will help keep the country safer. Others claim it squelches free speech. Whatever the bill’s fate, it seems clear that it’s going to spark fierce discussion. One day, Sir Derek is giving a speech when he suddenly collapses from a ruptured appendix. He’s rushed to a nearby nursing home run by his longtime friend, Sir John Phillips. There, he undergoes an emergency operation, which he survives. Later, though, he dies of what turns out to be hyoscine poisoning. Sir Roderick Alleyn and his assistant, Inspector Fox, investigate. And one important avenue they explore is the bill that Sir Derek had written. It’s not the only possibility, though, and the two end up with several suspects. I see you, fans of Died in the Wool.

P.D. James’ A Taste For Death introduces us to Crown Minister Paul Berowne. As a close advisor to the Prime Minister, he’s got plenty of power and ‘clout.’ One day, he’s found dead in a church not far from his home. Also found there is the body of a local tramp, Harry Mack. Commander Adam Dalgliesh, DCI John Massingham, and DI Kate Miskin investigate the deaths. They do, of course, look into Berowne’s political life. People in a position of power often make enemies. They also look into his personal life, and there are plenty of suspects there, too. It turns out to be a complex case that challenges the team.

As you’ll know, Margaret Truman was the daughter of US President Harry S. Truman. She was also a crime writer who wrote the well-regarded Capital Crimes series. More than one of those novels involves crime, corruption and murder in the US Congress. For instance, in Murder at the Kennedy Center, US Senator Ken Ewald is making a bid for the presidency. He has a very good chance at being elected, too, as he’s politically astute. He has an egalitarian agenda, but he also knows how to play the ‘power game.’ One night, at a glittering fund-raiser, Ewald staffer Andrea Feldman is shot. Georgetown University Law School professor Mackensie ‘Mac’ Smith discovers the body – or, rather, his dog does – during a late-night walk. Soon enough, he’s drawn into the case, because he knows the Ewalds. Ewald himself is a suspect, since his gun was used in the murder. But so is his son, who was having an affair with the victim. Those aren’t the only possibilities, though. For as many friends as Ewald has, he has enemies, too, and some of them would be only too happy to see his campaign in ruins. It’s an interesting look at the ins and outs of legislative politics. So, by the way, is Truman’s Murder in the House.

In Robin Cook’s medical thriller, Seizure, we meet US Senator Ashley Butler. He’s a conservative, who’s staunchly opposed to stem-cell research and other, similar, medical advances. He’s also a strong proponent of ‘traditional family values.’ He’s used his constituents’ concerns about the economy, social change, and other issues to cement his role as one of the most powerful senators in Congress. His next goal is the US presidency. But even as it is, he has an awful lot of ‘clout.’ The, he is diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. If the truth about this comes out, Butler knows he’ll never be elected, and may not even keep his Senate seat. So, he reaches out to Dr. Daniel Lowell, who’s been doing exactly the sort of research Butler has publicly opposed. He offers Lowell a deal: if Lowell will perform the controversial procedure he’s been studying on Butler, then Butler will withdraw his opposition to this sort of research. And that isn’t trivial. Millions of dollars ride on whether the government will or will not support medical and other scientific research. Lowell agrees, unable to resist the opportunity to try his new procedure. The two make their plans, and surgery is scheduled. It doesn’t work out the way either plans, though, and the result involves real danger.

And then there’s Gail Bowen’s Deadly Appearances, the first of her Joanne Kilbourn novels. As the series begins, Kilbourn is a political scientists and academician. She’s been working on the campaign of Androu ‘Andy’ Boychuk, who’s just been selected to lead Saskatchewan’s Official Opposition party. He’s got a very promising future as a provincial political leader, but it all ends one afternoon at a barbecue, where he’s scheduled to give an important speech. He’s just about to start, when he suddenly collapses and dies. Kilbourn is devastated at the loss of her friend, so, partly as a way to deal with the grief, she decides to write a biography of Boychuk. As she does, she gets closer and closer to the truth about his death. In fact, she could very well be the next victim…

Just because someone has a lot of power, as legislators often do, doesn’t mean one’s safe from harm. And it’s interesting to see how that combination of power and vulnerability is treated in crime fiction. Which examples have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Beatles’ A Day in the Life.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Gail Bowen, Margaret Truman, Ngaio Marsh, P.D. James, Robin Cook

Listen to the Auctioneer*

auctionsHave you ever been to an auction? They can be a lot of fun, whether or not you’re actually bidding on something. And sometimes, you can find a very good deal on something you really like. Auctions have their own kind of tension, too, as the items are described and the bidding starts. That’s one reason they can be such good backgrounds for scenes in novels, or even for contexts.

They’re quite varied, too. There are charity auctions, fun auctions (at street fairs, for instance), and silent-bid auctions. There are also, of course, extremely exclusive, high-bid auctions for ultra-expensive items. So, an author has flexibility when it comes to weaving an auction into a book.

Auctions bring a lot of disparate people together, and that can be part of their appeal, both in real life and as a tool for the writer. Wherever you have a group of people, you can have conflict and tension. And that can add much to the suspense of a story.

For instance, in Phoebe Atwood Taylor’s Going, Going, Gone, an auction turns out to be murderous. Atwood Taylor’s sleuth, Asey Mayo, takes his cousin, Jennie, to a local auction. Wealthy John Aiden has died, and the story is that he hid a lot of cash among his things. If that’s true, any of the items up for bid could have a lot of money in them. Aiden’s brother, Gardner, pays the unusually high price of three thousand dollars (the story takes place during WWII) for an old chest that’s supposed to contain books. But the key’s gone and the chest is locked. Mayo, being a local handyman, among other things, has a lot of different sorts of keys, and he’s asked to help open the chest. When it is finally opened, everyone’s shocked to see the body of Solatia Spry, who is said to be the local antiques ‘eyes and ears’ for a wealthy California client. Now, Mayo gets drawn into the investigation, and it turns out that more than one person had a very good motive for murder.

John Grant, who wrote as Jonathan Gash, wrote a series of mysteries featuring Lovejoy, an antiques expert and dealer. He’s got more than his share of faults, but Lovejoy knows an antique’s value. He what he does, and is passionate about antiques. And he’s gotten to know many of the other people in the field, as it’s a small community, so to speak. He attends his share of auctions, where he picks up on a lot of the gossip going around that community. In fact, in The Judas Pair, that’s one strategy he uses to try to track down a mythical (or is it?) pair of flintlocks called the Judas Pair. George Field wants Lovejoy to find these guns, because one of them was used to shoot his brother, Eric. Lovejoy’s not even sure they really exist, but he agrees to see what he can do. He puts the word out among his friends in the business, and starts going the rounds of the auctions. He soon learns that the guns actually do exist, and that someone really did use one of them to kill Eric Field. The closer Lovejoy gets to the truth, the more danger there is for him.

Tony Hillerman’s People of Darkness features his sleuth, Navajo Tribal Police Officer Jim Chee. In one part of this novel, Chee is looking for a man named Tommy Charley, who may have information on a case he’s investigating. He’s told that Charley will be attending a rug auction at a local elementary school, so he changes plans and goes. The auction itself doesn’t solve the case, but Chee does get some information. And, he meets a teacher there named Mary Landon, whom fans will know as Chee’s love interest for part of the series. The auction scene also gives readers a look at smaller, local auctions where you can find truly beautiful, handmade items that you can’t get at more ‘touristy’ or big-budget places.

Riley Adams’ (AKA Elizabeth Spann Craig) Hickory Smoked Homicide features a charity dinner and art auction hosted by Memphis-area socialite and beauty pageant coach Tristan Pembroke. The evening is to be a benefit event, but Tristan is hardly a kind, generous person. She’s vindictive, malicious, and motivated only by self-interest. Still, plenty of people attend. One of the artists whose work will be featured is Sara Taylor. She’s already had a serious argument with Tristan about one of the paintings, but she can use the recognition (and money) that comes from being featured at the auction. When Sara’s mother-in-law, restaurant owner Lulu Taylor, discovers Tristan’s body that evening, Sara becomes the most likely suspect. Lulu knows she’s innocent, so she starts asking questions. And, as you’d imagine, she finds plenty of people who are not upset by Tristan Pembroke’s death.

And then there’s Gail Bowen’s The Gifted, which features her sleuth, political scientist and (now-retired) academician Joanne Kilbourn Shreve. Her daughter, Taylor, has real artistic talent and passion, and has been invited to include some of her work in an upcoming charity art auction to be held in aid of Regina’s Racette-Hunter Centre. She’s only fourteen, and her parents aren’t entirely sure she’s ready for all the recognition this event could bring her. But they give permission for her to go ahead with her work. Taylor’s already shown her parents one of the pieces that she’ll present at the auction. The other, though, she keeps secret. And that painting proves to have tragic consequences for several people.

Auctions bring together people from all over, and they can be fun and exciting. But they can also be tense, and full of suspense. Little wonder we see them in the genre.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from REM’s Auctioneer (Another Engine).  

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Filed under Elizabeth Spann Craig, Gail Bowen, John Grant, Jonathan Gash, Phoebe Atwood Taylor, Riley Adams, Tony Hillerman

See You, Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard*

schoolyards-and-playgroundsWhen children are in the classroom, they’re supposed to behave themselves, and many do. What’s more, classroom activities are usually structured and choreographed by the teacher. So, they’re not always realistic, natural looks at what children are like.

But you can learn a lot about children and their families by watching them in the schoolyard or on the playground. Whether it’s before school, after school, or at recess/lunch/break, children tend to be more unguarded there. And, even when their parents or caregivers know that other people may see them, they’re sometimes unguarded, too. That can lead to all sorts of interactions.

Those can be the basis for interesting, and even suspenseful, plot points in crime fiction. There are a number of examples of these sorts of scenes. Here are just a few.

In Karin Alvtegen’s Betrayal, Eva Wirenström-Berg discovers that her husband, Henrik, has been unfaithful. She’d had the illusion that she, Henrik, and their six-year-old son, Axel, had the perfect suburban life, so the news of Henrik’s affair is devastating. When Eva learns who Henrik’s mistress is, she decides to plot her own revenge. Her plan spins out of control, though, and leads to tragedy. In one plot thread of the story, she has a different sort of worry. One day, she’s driving Axel home from school when she notices he has a new toy. Then, he tells her about the man who gave it to him:
 

‘‘…he was standing outside the fence by the woods and then he called me while I was on the swing and said he was going to give me something nice.’’
 

Naturally, Eva’s frightened at the thought of what could have happened. Axel, as it turns out, is unhurt. But the man does figure into the plot, and the playground scene could frighten any parent.

Paddy Richardson’s Traces of Red concerns the murders of Angela Dickson, her husband, Rowan, and their son, Sam. The only survivor that day was their daughter, Katy, who wasn’t home at the time of the killings. For years, Angela’s brother, Connor Bligh, has been in prison for the murders. But now, there are little hints that he might not be guilty. And if he is innocent, Wellington journalist Rebecca Thorne thinks she’s found the story to guarantee her place at the top of the list of New Zealand journalists. She starts asking questions, and takes the opportunity to meet several people, some of whom are convinced Bligh is guilty, and others who aren’t so sure. She also meets with Bligh himself, and persuades him to tell her his story. He takes her at her word, and sends her a long letter, telling her about his life. It’s not been a very happy one, either. He’s unusually intelligent, and never really fit in at school, because he was so far ahead of the other children intellectually. The letter tells of brutal play yard bullying, among other things. But then, Thorne learns that his story is different to the stories that his former schoolmates tell. The playground incidents aren’t the reason for the murders. And they don’t really get Thorne any closer to the truth about those killings. But they certainly shed light on what playground activities can be like when the adults aren’t around.

Håkan Östlundh’s The Intruder tells the story of Malin Andersson, her husband, Henrik Kjellander, and their two children, Ellen and Axel. When they return to their home on the island of Fårö after two months away, they’re dismayed to see terrible messes everywhere. At first, it looks like a case of horrible tenants. But some of the family photographs have been damaged in a very deliberate way that looks much more personal. Gotland police detectives Fredrik Broman and Sara Oskarsson begin to look into the case, and see two possibilities. One is that one of the tenants had a personal grudge against the family. The other is that someone who knows the family found a way to get inside the house. The police aren’t sure what sort of case this is until the day that seven-year-old Ellen disappears from school. According to her friend, Matilda, Ellen was lured into a white car that stopped by the playground at the school she attends. That’s enough for the police to set a major search in motion, and certainly convinces them that this family is being targeted. Now they have to discover who’s behind everything, and what the motive is.

Some of the key action in Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies takes place on the playground of Piriwee Public School, on the Piriwee Peninsula, near Sydney. The story’s focus is three families who send their children to Kindergarten at the school. One of those children is accused of bullying by the mother of another child, and before long, this causes a major conflict. Many parents take the side of the accusing parent, because she’s one of the school’s leaders. Others, though, are not so quick to accuse, and take the side of the boy who’s been accused of bullying. The truth is, it was a playground incident, so no adult actually saw what happened. So, it’s hard to know who did what. There are other conflicts among some of the families, too, and other dynamics going on. It all simmers until Trivia Night, which is supposed to be a fundraiser for the school. The food doesn’t arrive on time, so everyone has too much to drink and not enough food to absorb the alcohol. Tempers flare and the end result is tragedy. The police investigate, and we slowly learn what really happened on the playground, and what really happened on Trivia Night.

And then there’s Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn Shreve, a retired academic and political scientist. In Kaleidoscope, her adult daughter, Mieka, opens a combination playground/meeting place she calls UpSlideDown in Regina’s struggling North Central district. Young parents in that area do not always have the support they need to help their children. So, Mieka has designed UpSlideDOown as a place where parents can meet, let their children play, get parenting advice, and find support. It’s so successful that Mieka opens UpSlideDown2. Admittedly, neither place is the scene of a murder, or an investigation. But both places play roles in the stories. And they’re both examples of the ways in which a playground can be a very positive place.

Playgrounds and schoolyards are where the action often is when it comes to young people’s interactions. And it’s where you sometimes see their parents in very unguarded moments, too. That’s part of what can make them so effective in crime novels.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Paul Simon’s Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.

    

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Filed under Gail Bowen, Håkan Östlundh, Karin Alvtegen, Liane Moriarty, Paddy Richardson