Category Archives: Gail Bowen

You’re Just Another Face That I Know From the TV Show*

With the obvious exception of journalists, most fictional sleuths don’t spend a lot of time in front of television cameras. So, many of them aren’t particularly comfortable ‘going live.’ Yet, in real life and in fiction, television can be a useful ally in solving crime. That’s why, for instance, police give interviews to the press. Real and fictional lawyers know this, too, and may (or may not) give interviews, depending on whether they see an interview as helpful or hurtful to their clients’ chances.

It’s realistic, especially in today’s world of 24-hour news, to include a TV interview with a sleuth. What’s more, such a plot point can add tension to a story, especially as the media impacts public opinion. So, it’s little wonder that we see that influence of television in crime fiction.

A great deal of Agatha Christie’s writing was done before television dominated the news landscape. But at the time, newspaper interviews often played similar roles. For instance, in The ABC Murders, Hercule Poirot works with Captain Hastings, Chief Inspector Japp and local police to solve a baffling set of murders.  The case has captured the public’s attention, in large part because this isn’t a matter of one murder, or of one murder with a second murder committed to keep someone quiet. Hastings, in particular, isn’t used to being in the media spotlight, and it leads to consternation for him, especially when he learns the way some newspapers operate:
 

‘‘Poirot,’ I would cry. ‘Pray believe me. I never said anything of the kind.’…
‘But do not worry yourself. All of this is of no importance. These imbecilities, even, may help.’
‘How?’
‘Eh, bien,’ said Poirot grimly. ‘If our madman reads what I am supposed to have said to the Daily Flicker today, he will lose all respect for me as an opponent!’’
 

In the end, Poirot gets to the truth about these murders. And it’s interesting to see the way that those public interviews play a role in the story.

Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn is an academician and political scientist. She understands how important television interviews can be, especially for politicians. But she herself isn’t in front of the cameras very often, at least not at first. But then, in The Wandering Soul Murders, she gets a new opportunity. Nationtv is making some changes to the panel for its politics-themed show, Canada Tonight, and Joanne’s name is put forward as a good choice for a new panelist. At first, she’s reluctant, but she agrees to be a part of the show, and it turns out to be the right choice for her. Still, it requires adjustment for someone who’s usually worked behind the political scenes, rather than in front of the cameras:
 

‘I had bought a new dress for the show, flowered silk, as pretty as a summer garden.
‘Next time,’ she said kindly, ‘try to find a solid colour. That’s going to make you look like you’re wearing your bedroom curtains.’’
 

Joanne learns quickly, and in A Killing Spring, makes really effective use of being on camera.

In high-profile trials, attorneys know that giving interviews can be a useful legal strategy. And, for those lawyers who are ambitious, television interviews can be an effective way to get their names ‘out there,’ especially if they win an important case. So, even those who aren’t particularly comfortable in front of television cameras often learn how to do successful interviews. That part of what a lawyer does comes out in several novels, including John Grisham’s A Time to Kill. In the novel, the small town of Clanton, Mississippi becomes the scene of a very public set of crimes. First, ten-year-old Tonya Hailey is brutally raped and left for dead. Her attackers are soon caught and arrested. Tonya’s father, Carl Lee, is, of course, enraged and heartbroken. And, since the two men responsible are white, while he and is family are black, Hailey doesn’t think justice will be done. So, he ambushes the two men, killing them both, and wounding a sheriff’s deputy. Hailey asks Jake Brigance to defend him, and Brigance agrees. Because of the sort of case this is, it gets a lot of media scrutiny, and television cameras are everywhere. And it’s interesting to see how both Brigance and his opponent, Rufus Buckley, make use of interviews.

In Helen Fitzgerald’s The Cry, we are introduced to Joanna Lindsay and Alistair Robertson. As the novel begins, they’re en route from Scotland to Alistair’s home town in Victoria with their nine-week-old son, Noah. It’s a long, nightmarish flight, and both parents are only too happy when it ends. Then, tragedy happens. During the drive from the airport to their destination, they face every parent’s worst nightmare: the loss of baby Noah. A massive search begins, and the media soon pick up on the story. There’s no sign of the baby, though. At one point, it’s proposed that a television interview with the parents might produce results. Joanna is very reluctant to do this, but Alistair insists, so the cameras are set up and the interview takes place. It’s an awful experience for Joanna, who’s not used to being on television, and who is devastated by the ordeal she’s suffering. What’s worse, when the public sees that interview, plenty of people take her discomfort as one of several signs that she may have had something to do with Noah’s disappearance. It’s not long before the media and the public begin to turn against Joanna and Alistair, and it’s very interesting to see how that tense interview plays a role in what happens.

And then there’s Peter James’ Not Dead Yet. In one plot thread of this novel, Brighton and Hove Superintendent Roy Grace and his team take on a new investigation. The body – well, really, the torso – of an unknown man has been found in a disused chicken coop. There is no identification, and no immediate clues as to who the victim is. This means it’s going to be very hard to identify him, let alone track down the killer. So, it’s decided that a television interview might be a good way to make the public aware of the case.  To that end, the police send Grace’s second-in-command, Glenn Branson, and another colleague, Bella Moy, to appear on a true-crime show called Crimewatch. This show presents re-enactments of real crimes, interviews with people involved, and invitations for call-ins from people who may know something about the cases. It’s not a typical way for police officers to spend their days, but Branson and Moy go on the air.

Not everyone is comfortable in a television interview. But they can be very useful for getting information. And in a crime novel, they can add interesting layers to a story.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Genesis’ Turn It On Again.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Gail Bowen, Helen Fitzgerald, John Grisham, Peter James

What I Didn’t Realise Was How You Would Change My Life*

One of the most common types of blended families is the stepfamily. In fact, there’ve been stepparents and stepchildren for so many years that we could even think of it as one of the traditional family structures.

Blending a family in this way can work, especially if everyone involved is willing to be flexible. But ‘stepping’ almost always presents challenges, even when family members love one another, and really want the relationships to be successful. And when there’s spite or malice, things can turn very bad, indeed.

There’ve been many, many crime novels that involve stepfamilies. One post couldn’t possibly do the topic justice. But I’ll mention a few examples, to start the conversation. Oh, and you’ll notice I don’t include examples of what a lot of people call domestic noir. Too easy…

Agatha Christie used stepfamilies many times in her work, so there are several examples. One is Evil Under the Sun. In that novel, Captain Kenneth Marshall and his daughter, Linda, travel to the Jolly Roger Hotel on Leathercombe Bay for their holiday. With them is Marshall’s second wife (and Linda’s stepmother), famous actress Arlena Stuart Marshall. It’s soon clear that Linda dislikes her stepmother heartily. It’s not so much that Arlena is cruel to her, but she is self-involved, and mostly, she ignores Linda. What’s worse, Arlena is beautiful and graceful, and Linda is at an awkward point in her life, as young people often are at sixteen. One day, Arlena is found strangled in a cover not far from the hotel, Linda becomes a ‘person of interest,’ as does her father. Hercule Poirot is also staying at the hotel, and he works with the police to find out who killed the victim and why. And as far as the ‘evil stepmother’ stereotype goes, there’s Christie’s Appointment With Death

In Ellery Queen’s The Origin of Evil, we are introduced to the Priam family. Roger Priam and his business partner Leander Hill ran a successful company for years. But then, they both began receiving macabre ‘gifts’ that unsettled them. In fact, Hill died of a heart attack shortly after getting one of them. Hill’s daughter, Laurel, asks Ellery Queen  to find out who has sent the parcels, because she believes her father’s death is directly related to them. At first, Queen demurs, but he’s finally persuaded. When he learns that Priam also received packages, he tries to get his help. But Priam is unwilling to get involved at first. Still, Queen meets Priam’s wife, Delia, and her son, Crowe ‘Mac’ MacGowan. Mac is a very unconventional person. He lives in a treehouse he’s made on the Priam property, and wears as little as possible – sometimes nothing at all. He’s convinced that nuclear bombs are about to be unleashed (the book takes place in the early 1950s, during a particularly tense part of the Cold War), and wants to be ready to live in a world where not much is left. Priam has little to do with his stepson; he’s a businessman through and through. There’s an interesting, if dysfunctional, dynamic in the Priam household…

James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity begins when insurance sales representative Walter Huff decides on a whim to visit one of his clients, H.S. Nirdlinger. Huff happens to be in that area, and wants to see if he can get Nirdlinger to renew his policy. When Huff gets to the house, he finds that Nirdlinger isn’t there, but his wife, Phyllis is. The two get to talking and Huff soon finds himself attracted to her. She does nothing to discourage him, and before long, they’re having an affair. Then, Phyllis reveals that she wants her husband killed. By this time, Huff is so besotted that he falls in with her plan, even going so far as to write the double indemnity insurance policy she’ll need in order to collect from the company. The murder is duly pulled off, but that’s really only the beginning of Huff’s problems. He’s going to have to protect Phyllis as best he can if he’s going to protect himself. Then, he meets Phyllis’ stepdaughter, Lola. The two form a friendship (which Huff would like to be more than a friendship), and Lola tries to warn him about her stepmother. There is no love lost between the two, so there’s a possibility her attitude might simply be spite. But it turns out that Huff is in much deeper than he thought…

M.J. McGrath’s White Heat is the first in her series featuring Ellesmere Island hunting guide Edie Kiglatuk. As the story begins, Kiglatuk is escorting two hunters, Felix Wagner and Andy Taylor. During the trip, Wagner is fatally shot. Taylor says he’s not responsible, and the evidence supports him. So, at first, the death is put down to a tragic accident. But Kiglatuk is fairly certain that’s not the truth. Evidence that she saw suggests that another person shot Wagner. But she’s told that the Council of Elders, on whom she depends for her guide license, wants the ‘accident’ explanation ‘rubber stamped.’ Still, she starts to ask some questions. There’s not much she can do officially, but she tries to get answers. Then, there’s a disappearance. Then, her former stepson, Joe, with whom she’s still close, dies. On the surface, it looks like a suicide. But Kiglatuk is now sure that it was murder. In the end, we learn what connects all of these events; it turns out that there’s something much bigger going on than most people knew. The relationship between Kiglatuk and Joe is an undercurrent throughout the novel. It’s clear that they see each other as family, and take care of each other as close family members do. Not much of the ‘wicked stepmother’ stereotype here…

There’s also Surender Mohan Pathak’s The Colaba Conspiracy. In that novel, former safecracker/lockbreaker Jeet Singh has decided to ‘go straight.’ He now owns and runs a small keymaking business. Everything changes, though, when he gets drawn into just one last job, for the sake of his former lover Sushmita. She married wealthy industrialist Pursumal Changulani, but now, he’s been murdered. At first, the murder looked like a carjacking gone wrong. But now, there’s evidence that it was a pre-planned murder. Sushmita is the main suspect, since her husband’s death means she now stands to inherit a considerable fortune. However, Changulani has three children from a previous marriage, and they claim that she was never legally married to their father. They argue that their stepmother was really just their father’s live-in lover. Sushmita needs money to pay a good lawyer to defend her interests, so Singh decides to help her. He ends up, though, being framed for murder. Throughout the novel, it’s interesting to see how stepmother and stepchildren view each other when a lot of money is involved.

Many stepfamilies work well, function as a unit, and love each other (right, fans of Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn Shreve?). But there are always some complexities, and sometimes, they play out in unexpected ways.
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Peter Andre’s Unconditional.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Gail Bowen, James M. Cain, M.J McGrath, Surender Mohan Pathak

Just One More Link to the Chain*

Whenever the police are faced with multiple murders, especially similar sorts of murders, they try to look for links among the victims. There’s almost always some connection among the victims, and if the police can find that link, they can often also find the killer. So, part of investigating multiple murders is tracing the victims’ last days and weeks to see if there’s a common thread.

We see that part of a police investigation in lots of crime fiction – more than there is space for me mention here. But a few examples should suffice to show how the sleuth goes about trying to find those links. And sometimes, they are surprising.

In Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders, for instance, Hercule Poirot begins to receive a series of cryptic notes, warning him of murders that will occur, and giving the name of the town where the killing will take place. Not long after each letter, there is a murder, and a body discovered, in the town the killer has mentioned. An ABC railway guide is discovered near each body, but that clue isn’t very helpful. And nothing else, other than the letters to Poirot, seems to link the victims. They didn’t know each other, they didn’t live in the same place or go to the same school. It creates a very difficult puzzle for Poirot and the police. In the end, though, Poirot discovers what really links the murders. Once he does, he knows who committed them.

Gail Bowen’s The Wandering Soul Murders features her sleuth, academician and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn. In the novel, Kilbourn’s daughter, Mieka, discovers the body of Bernice Morin in a city trash bin. At first, the police think that Bernice was killed by someone the police have dubbed the ‘Little Flower’ killer. But then, there’s another tragedy. Theresa Desjalier, the former girlfriend of Kilbourn’s son, Peter, dies in what looks like a drowning accident. That death turns out to be murder, though, and it’s linked to Bernice’s murder, as well as to other incidents in the novel. Once Kilbourn discovers what links everything, she’s able to get to the root of some very dark truths.

In Jørn Lier Horst’s Dregs, Chief Inspector William Wisting and his team are faced with a baffling case. A left foot clad in a training shoe has washed ashore near the Norwegian town of Stevern. Very soon afterwards, another foot is discovered. Then another. Very soon, all sorts of wild speculations start to circulate, including the possibility that a psychopathic serial killer is stalking the area. There are other possibilities, too, none of which put the local residents at ease. The police try to link the deaths by searching missing person reports. They discover that three of the four missing people were connected with a local elder care facility. The fourth lived in a house that belonged to another resident who died just before the others went missing.  It’s soon clear that these people are somehow linked to the missing feet, and Wisting and his team work to find out what, exactly, is the history behind these deaths.

Carin Gerhardsen’s The Gingerbread House is the story of a series of deaths, and the link among them. The first is of successful real-estate broker Hans Vannerberg. The second is of a prostitute named Ann-Kristin Widell. Then, Lise-Lott Nilsson, a working-class homemaker, is murdered. Stockholm Chief Inspector Conny Sjöberg and his team believe that the murders might be linked; but on the surface, the victims have nothing in common. Then, it comes out that all of the victims were forty-four years old. That doesn’t seem to make sense as a motive or link, but Sjöberg has to start somewhere. Gradually, the victim’s lives are traced, and the team members discover what links them. And that leads to the killer.

In D.S. Nelson’s Model For Murder, retired milliner Blake Heatherington gets involved in a bizarre series of murders in the village of Tuesbury. First, newsagent Harold Slater is murdered. Then, Mr. Davies, the greengrocer; James Dockerty, the local bookie; Albert Pane, the baker; and Mr. Rawlinson, the butcher, are also killed. None of the victims seemed to have enemies, and none had a fortune to leave. So, at first, there doesn’t seem to be any motive. And, although all of the victims had local businesses, there wasn’t anything else that really linked them. Is it possible that someone is targeting the village? It doesn’t seem likely, since other business owners are not killed. What’s more, these killings do not seem haphazard. Tuesbury takes great pride in its miniature ‘model village.’ But someone seems to be defacing it. Before each murder, a cross is marked on the miniature of that victim’s business on the model village. And the statuette representing each victim goes missing. Heatherington is sure that something links those victims, and he slowly begins to put the pieces together. Oh, and I have it good authority that Blake Heatherington will be back in another mystery…

Medical thrillers such as Michael Palmer’s and Robin Cook’s often feature plots that focus on finding a link among medical cases. And that makes sense, since that’s what real-life medical experts do when they’re trying to find and stop outbreaks of illness. If the sleuth can find out what the victims of an illness have in common (e.g. where they ate, where they stayed), then the cause of the illness is easier to identify, and other deaths might be prevented. And if the deaths are deliberate, then the person responsible can be caught.

Finding the link or links among a set of victims can be difficult. And sometimes, the real link isn’t apparent right away. But it can be the key to solving the mystery when the sleuth is looking into multiple deaths.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Alarm’s Tell Me.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Carin Gerhardsen, D.S. Nelson, Gail Bowen, Jørn Lier Horst, Michael Palmer, Robin Cook

We Know That It’s Probably Magic*

As this is posted, it would have been Jim Henson’s 81st birthday. As you’ll know, Henson was a creative innovator who pioneered an entirely new sort of character –  the Muppet. He was also instrumental in creating children’s television programming that reflected a diverse audience.

But it’s Henson’s way of reaching out to children that stays with me more than anything else. If you’ve ever seen episodes of Sesame Street (or, for the matter of that, any other of the various Muppet-based shows), you’ll already know that those shows respected their audiences. They addressed children’s real concerns about things as varied as starting in a new school and coping after death. There were segments that included children from many different socioeconomic and ethnic groups, too. Henson and his team communicated with their young viewers in real ways. And viewers responded. They still do.

Lots of famous people guested on the show, too, and allowed young people to see the range of creative talent out there. Among the famous visitors were Maya Angelou, Paul Simon, Meryl Streep, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Robin Williams, and Billy Joel. Yes, he visited several times. Yes, I watched those episodes. What?!   😉

Being able to reach out to children, to treat them with respect, and communicate with them, isn’t always easy, in real life or in fiction. But sometimes, children have important things to say. In some crime fiction, for instance, children may hold clues to investigations. Or, they may be deeply affected by something that’s happened, and need to be supported. So, being able to reach out to them can be a particularly valuable skill.

Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware, for instance, is a child psychologist. He’s therefore quite skilled at getting young people to talk, and helping them work through the things that they need to face. And it’s sometimes quite difficult. For instance, in When the Bough Breaks, Delaware’s friend, L.A.P.D. detective Milo Sturgis, asks for his help with a particularly challenging case. Psychiatrist Morton Handler and his lover Elena Gutierrez have been murdered. The only witness is seven-year-old Melody Quinn, but she can’t provide much information, and what she does say isn’t particularly coherent. Sturgis is hoping that Delaware will be able to get the child to open up and say what she saw. But that’s not going to be easy. Melody has been diagnosed with ADHD and other learning difficulties, so she’s heavily under the influence of Ritalin and other medications. What’s more, her pediatrician, Dr. Lionel Towle, isn’t willing to reduce her medication so that she’ll be able to communicate with Delaware. But Delaware manages to form a sort of bond with her. He even persuades her mother to reduce her medication somewhat, so that he can talk to the child in more depth. Then, Melody begins having nightmares. Her mother and Towle won’t let Delaware have any more access to the child, but he’s learned enough to start on the right trail. And it leads to the past, and to a secret that some people share.

Fans of Michael Robotham’s psychologist sleuth Joe O’Loughlin will know that he, too, has a special way of getting young people to talk to him. At the very beginning of The Suspect, for instance, he’s up on the roof of London’s Royal Marsden Hospital, trying to persuade a suicidal teenager not to jump. He’s successful, and just wants to get back to ‘normal’ life. But that’s not to be. Shortly thereafter, he’s drawn into the investigation when the body of a former client, Catherine McBride, is pulled out of the Union Canal. Detective Inspector Vincent Ruiz is soon convinced that O’Loughlin is, at the very least, a ‘person of interest.’ And the longer things go on, the more drawn into the case O’Loughlin is. He soon sees that if he’s going to clear his own name, and catch the killer, he’s going to have to confront someone from his own past, and it could get very dangerous for him.

Kishwar Desai’s Witness the Night introduces readers to Delhi social worker Simran Singh. She is persuaded to return to her home town of Jullundur, in the state of Punjab, when the police there are faced with a horrible and baffling set of murders. Thirteen members of the Atwal family have died of poison, and some of them have also been stabbed. The house has been set on fire as well. The only survivor is fourteen-year-old Durga Atwal, but it’s hard to tell from the evidence whether she is responsible for what happened, or was also a victim who just happened to survive. And Durga isn’t talking to anyone. It’s hoped that Singh will be able to break through and get Durga to tell her what really happened that night. Things don’t go well at first. Durga doesn’t trust Singh, and it’s soon clear that there are plenty of people who do not want the truth to come out. Little by little, though, we learn what really happened at the Atwal home that night – and why.

And then there’s Dr. Helen Blackwell, whom we first meet in Rennie Airth’s River of Darkness. She’s the local GP for the village of Highfield, at a time (just after World War I) when there were few female doctors. One night, Colonel Charles Fletcher, his wife, Lucy, their maid, Sally Pepper, and the nanny, Alice Crookes, are all brutally murdered. The only survivor is four-year-old Sophy Fletcher; she hid under a bed, and the killer didn’t find her. Sophy has been through quite a lot of trauma, and in any case, isn’t very articulate, because of her age. Still, Blackwell works with her and, little by little, gets her to remember what happened. And it turns out that Sophy has some very important clues to the killer.

There’s also an interesting example of reaching out to children in Gail Bowen’s A Killing Spring. In it, political scientist and academician Joanne Kilbourn gets involved in investigating the murder of a colleague, Reed Gallagher.  At one point (and it’s not, admittedly a major part of the plot), Joanne and her adopted daughter, Taylor, are invited for dinner at the home of Ed Mariani and his partner, Barry Levitt. As it happens, Mariani and Levitt happen to have a painting done by Taylor’s biological mother, Sally Love. Mariani finds a way to reach out to Taylor by offering to let her see the painting. It gives her a connection, and reinforces her own interest in, and talent at, art.

Sometimes children do have important things to say. But it’s not always easy for adults to reach out in effective ways and hear it. That’s why people who can interact with children are so valuable. We miss you, Mr. Henson.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from John Williams’ and Kenneth Ascher’s The Rainbow Connection.

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Filed under Gail Bowen, Jonathan Kellerman, Kishwar Desai, Michael Robotham, Rennie Airth

Sing Out, Louise!*

An interesting post from Moira at Clothes in Books has got me thinking about what I’ll call ‘stage parents.’ These are parents who push their children to excel, far beyond the usual rules about getting schoolwork done, or the usual supports, such as going to games or paying for music lessons. Some parents do this because they honestly believe it’s a good way of ensuring that their child succeeds. They see it as their way of providing for their child. Others arguably do it because it allows them to succeed vicariously. There are other reasons, too.

You see such parents at sporting events, recitals and music competitions, and beauty pageants. They’re also in crime fiction. That makes sense, too, if you think about it. That sort of pressure adds a dimension of conflict and tension to a fictional relationship. It can also make an effective motive for murder.

In Elizabeth George’s A Traitor to Memory, we are introduced to Gideon Davies. He’s got rare musical talent, and at twenty-eight, has become a world-class violinist. One day, he discovers to his horror that he can’t play. Desperate to find out what’s blocking his playing, he visits a psychotherapist. In the meantime, Davies’ mother, Eugenie, goes out to dinner one night. She leaves the restaurant and is struck in what looks like a tragic hit-and-run accident. Inspector Thomas Lynley and Sergeant Barbara Havers investigate, and find that this was no accident. Both this death and Davies’ struggles are related to a twenty-year-old tragedy. And woven through the story is Davies’ own history as a child who was raised by ‘stage parents,’ who saw his musical talent and pushed him.

James Ellroy’s historical novel, L.A. Confidential, introduces readers to Preston Exley, who is a revered member of the LAPD. His fondest dream is for his son Edmund ‘Ed’ to rise to the top of the ranks, and he pushes, prods, and does whatever he can to make sure that Ed moves on in his career. This pressure is very difficult for Ed, as you can imagine. Still, he wants to please his father. On Christmas Day, 1951, seven civilians are brutally attacked by members of the police force. At first, nothing’s done about it. Then, a groundswell of protests forces the department to do an internal investigation. Ed Exley is caught up in that event, and in another event two years later. This time, it’s a shooting at an all-night diner called the Nite Owl. The two incidents are related, and we gradually learn what links them as the investigation plays out. Throughout the novel, we see how profoundly Ed Exley has been affected by his father’s ‘stage parenting.’

Riley Adams’ (AKA Elizabeth Spann Craig) Hickory Smoked Homicide introduces readers to Tristan Pembroke. She’s a wealthy and successful beauty pageant coach and judge who’s helped more than one young girl to win. When she’s murdered at a charity art auction, there are several possible suspects, since she’s made quite a number of enemies. One of those suspects is Sara Taylor, a local artist. Sara’s mother-in-law, restaurant owner Lulu Taylor, knows that Sara’s innocent, and decides to clear her name. As the novel goes on, we learn some things about the beauty pageant circuit, what it takes to win, and how many beauty pageant ‘stage mothers’ there are.  Here’s what one of them, Colleen Bannister, says about pageants:

 

‘‘…you know that Pansy [Colleen’s daughter] and I are not competing for fun, we’re competing to win. Nothing makes that girl happier than having one of those ten-story crowns on her head, all glitzy and shiny, and everyone standing up and cheering themselves hoarse.’’

 

It’s very interesting to see how quick Colleen is to say that the pageant circuit is what Pansy wants. The reality is, of course, that Colleen wants it at least as much.

Megan Abbott’s You Will Know Me takes readers into the world of competitive gymnastics. Katie and Erick Knox are the proud parents of fifteen-year-old Devon, a truly gifted gymnast. When Coach Teddy Belfour sees her in action, he makes her parents an offer:

 

‘‘Bring her to BelStars [a program he’s started up] and she’ll find the extent of her power.’’

 

He means it, too, and Devon’s parents are more than willing to do that. Before long, Devon’s well on the way to national, even Olympic, fame. Then, a tragic hit-and-run accident (or was it an accident?) changes everything. Besides the mystery surrounding the death, Abbott also takes a close look at the families behind competitive athletes. It’s a stark case of ‘stage parents’ who will do whatever it takes to make sure their children are winners.

Of course, not all parents of gifted children are ‘stage parents.’ Take Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn Shreve, for instance. She’s a retired academic and political scientist. She and her attorney husband, Zack, are also the parents of Taylor, a gifted artist. The Shreves have always known about Taylor’s very special and unusual talent. But they’re determined that she’ll have as normal a childhood as possible. In several story arcs that run through this series (and, actually, in a major plot thread of The Gifted), they’re careful about what they allow her to do. For them, it’s a question of balancing support for her talent with support for the rest of her development.

But not all parents do that. And when parents push their children too hard, the result can be tragedy. These are only a few examples. Over to you.

Thanks, Moira, for the inspiration. Folks, may I suggest your next blog stop be Clothes in Books? You’ll find it a rich resource of fine reviews and discussion about clothes, popular culture, fiction, and what it all means about us.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jule Shyne and Stephen Sondheim’s May We Entertain You?

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Filed under Elizabeth George, Elzabeth Spann Craig, Gail Bowen, James Ellroy, Megan Abbott, Riley Adams