Category Archives: Gail Bowen

When You’re Down and Out, When You’re On the Street*

ShelterWhere do you go if you have to escape a domestic abuser in the middle of the night, with nothing but car, keys and kids (if you even have a car)? What if you’ve run out of money and have no place to live? What if you’re a teen who’s been thrown out of your home, or who’s had to escape an abuse situation? Your first thought might be to go to the home of a friend or relative. But if that’s not an option, what other choice have you got?

For many people, the answer is a shelter. There are different kinds of shelters, of course. Some are municipal, some are run by charities, and others by individuals. And they vary greatly in safety and quality. But they’re all integral parts of a system where people sometimes fall through the proverbial cracks. And they can, quite literally, mean the difference between life and death for those who live there.

It’s easy to see, too, why such places are woven through crime fiction. Consider the disparate people who live and work in shelters. And there’s the myriad stories of the residents. That, too, can create conflict, tension, and all sorts of plot points. So it’s little wonder we see shelters in the genre.

For example, Denise Mina’s Exile is the second in her trilogy featuring Maureen ‘Mauri’ O’Donnell. In this novel, she has a job in a Glasgow women’s shelter called Place of Safety. While she’s there, she meets one of the residents, Ann Harris. When Ann goes missing, Mauri begins to get concerned. On the one hand, the residents aren’t required to report on where they go and what they do. Still, as this is a women’s shelter, there’s always the concern that someone might return to an abusive situation. When Ann’s body turns up in the Thames two weeks later, all signs point to her husband, Jimmy, as the killer. But his cousin Louise, who runs the shelter, doesn’t think he’s the murderer. So she and Mauri start to ask questions to find out what really happened to Ann Harris.

Peter Temple’s Bad Debts sees Melbourne PI and sometimes-lawyer Jack Irish trying to find out who killed a former client, Danny McKillop. The trail seems to lead to a man named Ronnie Bishop, who very likely knows more than he’s said about the murder and the past circumstances that led to it. But Irish soon discovers that Bishop has gone missing. As he tries to trace the man, Irish learns that he once worked for the Safe Hands Foundation, a charity group that supports homeless children. And it turns out that Bishop recently telephoned Father Gorman, who runs the foundation. So Irish visits the place and talks to Father Gorman. The visit doesn’t solve McKillop’s murder, but it does give Irish important background information.

The real action in Robert Barnard’s No Place of Safety begins when teenagers Katy Bourne and Alan Coughlan go missing on the same day. Leeds PC Charlie Pearce looks into the case and soon learns that the two young people attended the same school, but had nothing else in common. They didn’t even really know each other. Still, he suspects their disappearances may be related. Sure enough, he finds them both at a hostel for runaways. Usually called The Centre, it’s run by an enigmatic man named Ben Marchant. For various reasons, Pearce thinks at first that the best choice for both young people is to stay at the hostel for the time being. But little by little, questions arise about the place. For one thing, very little is known about its owner. For another, the relations between Marchant (and the hostel’s residents) and the people who live nearby are not good. Tensions are high, and could lead in any number of directions. Then a young girl, Mehjabean ‘Midge’ Haldalwa, shows up at the refuge, claiming that she’s running away from an arranged marriage. As things at the hostel get more and more dangerous, Pearce is going to have to contend with more than just two runaway teens.

In Gail Bowen’s The Wandering Soul Murderers, academician and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn gets an early-morning call from her daughter, Mieka, who’s just discovered the body of seventeen-year-old Bernice Morin in a trash bin near her catering shop. At first, the police think Bernice is the latest in a series of murders they’re calling the Little Flower murders. But this murder turns out to be different. Then there’s another death. The trail in this case leads to the Lily Pad, a Regina drop-in refuge for homeless teens. On the surface, it seems to be a safe place for young people, with hot meals, showers, counseling, and mentoring. But as Kilbourn learns, there’s more going on there than it seems. And some people are carrying secrets from their pasts.

Sara Paretsky’s Tunnel Vision features Arcadia House, a women’s shelter where Chicago PI V.I. Warshawski volunteers, and also sits on the board. One of the plot threads in this novel concerns one of the other board members, Dierdre Messenger. Since the shelter’s focus is survivors of domestic abuse and their children, there are several people – some in very high places – who don’t want it known that anyone in their family is there. And that plays its role when Messenger is murdered and her body left in Warshawski’s office…

And then there’s Sarah Hilary’s Someone Else’s Skin. DI Marnie Rome is assigned to try to interview Ayana Mirza, whose brothers attacked her with acid. The police are hoping that if she’s willing to testify, her brothers can be prosecuted successfully. At the moment, Ayana is living in a women’s shelter in Finchley, so Rome and DS Noah Jake go to the shelter to try to convince Ayana to speak out. When they get there, though, they find a shocking surprise. Hope Proctor, another resident, has stabbed her husband Leo. On the one hand, all of the witnesses and all of the evidence suggest that Hope was defending herself. On the other hand, there’s a big question of how Leo Proctor got into the shelter in the first place. The more Rome and Jake learn about the shelter and the people there, the more past history and secrets people are keeping play their roles.

Shelters of all kinds are vital resources in many communities. They can literally save lives, and are usually staffed by tireless, deeply committed people. They’re also really interesting contexts for novels, including crime novels.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water.   

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Filed under Denise Mina, Gail Bowen, Peter Temple, Robert Barnard, Sara Paretsky, Sarah Hilary

Show Me Don’t Tell Me*

Depicting MurdersOne of the questions I’m facing as I work on my new manuscript is whether or not to depict the murder featured in the story. On the one hand, including the murder, especially at the beginning of a story, can be a powerful way to draw the reader in. It really can be a solid ‘hook.’ Showing the murder can also give a novel a solid core around which a plot can be built, and it doesn’t require a gory description.

On the other hand, depicting the murder can be tricky. It requires thought to do it without identifying the murderer. For the whodunit author, for instance, that requires finesse. And even authors who write different kinds of crime fiction (i.e. not whodunits) need to handle the depiction carefully. Otherwise, the writer runs the risk of being melodramatic.

There are really arguments on both sides of this question. And of course, there are plenty of crime novels that are examples of each approach. And as I think you’ll see, it can work either way.

In Gail Bowen’s Deadly Appearances, political scientist and academician Joanne Kilbourn is attending a community picnic where her friend, Androu ‘Andy’ Boychuk is scheduled to make a speech. He’s an up-and-coming politician who’s just been selected to lead Saskatchewan’s Official Opposition party, so this is an important speech for him. He’s just gotten started when he suddenly collapses on stage and quickly dies of what turns out to be poison. Bowen doesn’t provide all of the details of his death, but the murder is depicted. As a way of coping with her grief at the loss of her friend, Kilbourn decides to write a biography of Boychuk. As she learns more about him, she also learns that his life was more complicated than she’d thought. And the closer she gets to an understanding of that life, the closer she gets to the truth about the murder.

In one of the main plot threads of Ian Rankin’s Black and Blue, Aberdeen-based oil worker Allan Mitchison is having some drinks with some companions. Mitchison’s drinking buddies take him back to their place, where they murder him. This killing is portrayed clearly. At first, there doesn’t seem to be a motive for the murder. Mitchison didn’t have obvious enemies, and he wasn’t important enough, if I can put it that way, to make a difference. As Inspector John Rebus discovers, though, he’d found out some secrets that it wasn’t safe for him to know.

Martin Edward’s The Cipher Garden begins with the murder of landscaper Warren Howe. He’s on the job one afternoon when he is murdered with his own scythe. This murder isn’t depicted in all of its detail. But readers are witnesses to what happens. At the time of the murder, everyone thinks Howe’s wife Tina is guilty, and she has plenty of motive. Howe is an abusive, unfaithful husband, and those are his good qualities. But the police can’t find enough evidence to pursue the case. Ten years later, anonymous tips suggest that Tina really was guilty. So DCI Hannah Scarlett, head of the Cumbria Constabulary’s Cold Case Review Team, decides to re-open the case. When she and her team do so, they find that this case is more complicated, and has deeper roots, than it seems. At the same time, Oxford historian Daniel Kind is working on a mystery of his own. He’s recently taken a cottage with an unusual garden, laid out in a cryptic shape. It turns out that the mystery of the garden is connected to the mystery of who killed Warren Howe, and why.

In all of these novels, the authors show the murders, but they do so in ways that don’t reveal the killers’ identities. What’s more, none of the authors revels in a gore-fest. So the murders aren’t depicted for ‘shock value.’

Still, there are plenty of authors who choose not to depict the murders at the core of their novels. And many readers prefer this style of mystery, as they don’t care much for a lot of violence. For those authors and readers, the ‘hook’ may be the discovery of a body. Or it may be something else.

For instance, in Colin Cotterill’s The Coroner’s Lunch, Dr. Siri Paiboun and his team face a strange case. Comrade Nitnoy, the wife of Senior Comrade Kham, suddenly collapsed and died during an important luncheon. This is 1970s Laos, where the Party is firmly in control, and where everyone knows better than to go against the wishes of a highly-placed Party member. In fact, Party instructions are the reason for which Dr. Siri has become Laos’ medical examiner in the first place. So when he is told that Comrade Nitnoy died of accidental poisoning by parasites in some raw food, he is expected to go along with that explanation, submit a cursory report and be done with the matter. But a few pieces of evidence suggest that something else caused the victim’s death. Now, Dr. Siri has to decide whether and how much to go against his superiors’ wishes to find out what actually happened. In this case, readers don’t see the murder committed. Rather, we learn about the death when Comrade Nitnoy’s body is wheeled into the mortuary. Readers find out more of the details as Dr. Siri talks to people who were at the luncheon, and as he does his own tests to find out how Comrade Nitnoy died.

Jill Edmondson’s Blood and Groom introduces Toronto PI Sasha Jackson. In that novel, she’s recently opened for business, and is eager to build a clientele. So when she gets a visit from Christine Arvisais, she’s hoping she’ll be able to help this new client. As Arvisais tells the story, she had been planning to marry Gordon Hanes. Their engagement ended, though, and Arvisais claimed she’d moved on. Hanes was shot on the day that was supposed to have been their wedding day, and plenty of people blame his ex-fiancée.  Arvisais is spoiled, rude, and malicious. But she claims to be innocent, and a fee is a fee, so Jackson takes the case. As she starts to look into the matter, she finds that more than one person could have had a good motive for murder. The murder of Gordon Hanes isn’t depicted. Rather, Jackson learns what happened as she asks questions and does research.

There are many authors who choose to have a character discover a body, rather than show the murder. That’s what happens in Christine Poulson’s Murder is Academic. Cambridge academic Cassandra James goes to the home of Margaret Joplin, who heads the English Literature Department at James’ college. She’s stopped by the house to collect some exam paper. Instead, she finds her boss’ body in the pool, and the papers scattered everywhere. At first, the death looks like a terrible accident. But soon enough, little clues suggest otherwise. As James looks into the death, she finds that the victim had a more complicated life than it seemed.

What do you think? Do you have a preference when it comes to the way authors present murders in the crime fiction you read? If you’re a writer, do you depict the murder, or allude to it? Why?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Rush’s Show Don’t Tell.

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Filed under Christine Poulson, Colin Cotterill, Gail Bowen, Ian Rankin, Jill Edmondson, Martin Edwards

Put Under the Pressure of Walking in Your Shoes*

Famous ParentsOne of the big challenges that young people face is finding their own paths in life, and becoming their own selves, separate from their parents. That sort of individuation is hard enough as it is; it’s even more difficult if those parents are well-known, or even famous. There are all sorts of expectations, and of course, there’s the insecurity about following in well-known footsteps.

It adds up to a lot of pressure, and that can add an interesting layer of tension and conflict to a crime novel. It can also make for a solid plot thread of family dynamic as well as character development. Little wonder that we see this dynamic in the genre.

In Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun, we are introduced to sixteen-year-old Linda Marshall. She feels the awkwardness that’s common to many teenagers, and it doesn’t help matters that she has a famous stepmother, Arlena Stuart Marshall. Arlena is a well-known and somewhat notorious actress, who’s beautiful, graceful, sophisticated – in short, everything Linda feels she’s lacking. And although she’s not cruel to Linda, Arlena certainly doesn’t pay her much attention or support her in any way. One day, during the Marshalls’ holiday on Leathercombe Bay, Arlena is found strangled on a beach not far from the hotel where the family is staying. Hercule Poirot is staying at the same hotel, and he works with the police to find out who the killer is. As he does, it’s interesting to see the role that that family dynamic plays.

In Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent, we are introduced to Rožat ‘Rusty’ Sabich, who in this novel is a prosecuting attorney for fictional Kindle County. He gets drawn into a very difficult case when a colleague, Carolyn Polhemus, is murdered. It’s important that the case be solved as quickly as possible, and ‘by the book,’ especially since the victim is part of the prosecution team. It turns out that Sabich had an affair with Polhemus – a relationship he doesn’t mention at first. When that’s discovered, he’s removed from the case. Then, little pieces of evidence begin to suggest that he himself might be guilty. He’s indicted and soon finds himself on trial. One of the sub-plots in this novel (and, actually in Innocent, too) is the relationship Sabich has with his son, Nat. It’s not as though Nat and his father don’t care about each other. But there’s certainly awkwardness in the relationship. And part of it comes from the fact that Sabich is first a successful attorney, then a successful judge. Nat himself becomes a lawyer and, in Innocent, we see how that plot thread of following in famous footsteps plays out. In that novel, Sabich is once again accused of murder – this time of his wife, Barbara.

One of the plot points in Gail Bowen’s The Endless Knot has to do with the relationships between Canadian celebrities and their children. Investigative journalist Kathryn Morrisey is doing an exposé of these families, and there are plenty of people who are upset about it. In fact, Sam Parker is so infuriated that he shoots (but does not kill) Morrisey. Parker hires Zack Shreve to defend him in court, and that lands Shreve and his partner, academician and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn, in the middle of this controversial case. As the story unfolds, we see how having a famous parent has a real impact on some of these young people, whether the relationship is dysfunction or not.

Louise Penny’s A Fatal Grace (AKA Dead Cold) features the de Poitiers family. CC de Poitiers has achieved a great deal of celebrity as a life coach and, if you will, lifestyle guru. Her book Be Calm has created a lot of interest and eager fans. CC’s daughter Crie faces enough challenges, being both brilliant and socially awkward. She’s also not what you’d call beautiful or graceful. So having a mother who’s good-looking and famous is awfully hard for her. Matters are made worse by the fact that CC is selfish, malicious and cruel. She’s very hard on her daughter, taking every opportunity to belittle her. CC makes plenty of other enemies, too. So when she is murdered during a Boxing Day curling match, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his team have more than one likely suspect.

And then there’s Shamini Flint’s A Calamitous Chinese Killing. Singapore Police Inspector Singh is called in on a very delicate case. Susan Tan is First Secretary to the Singapore Embassy in Beijing. Recently, her son Justin was murdered, and his body found in one of Beijing’s older, run-down blocks. The official police theory is that this was a robbery gone wrong. But Susan doesn’t believe it, and she wants Singh to look into the matter. Singh travels to Beijing, with the idea being that he’ll review the police report and probably come to the same conclusion. But when he gets there, he begins to believe that Susan Tan was right: this murder was planned. And it turns out there’s more than one suspect, too. For one thing, Justin had a romantic rival. For another, he was involved in research with Professor Luo Gan, who has opposed certain land development plans for Beijing. There are other possibilities as well. As Singh investigates, we see a gradually-developing portrait of a young man who was trying to find his own place, and of the challenges he faced being the son of a well-known diplomat.

And that’s the thing about having a well-known parent. It’s hard to escape the fame (or notoriety) and make one’s own way. And that can create an interesting context for a crime novel.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Linkin Park’s Numb.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Gail Bowen, Louise Penny, Scott Turow, Shamini Flint

Preschool Days*

Day CareOne of the major changes that we’ve seen in Western society in the last decades has been the growth of preschool and day care facilities. There are, of course, good reasons for this. For one thing, there’s an increasing number of both dual-income households and households headed by single adults. For another thing, there are fewer extended families living in the same area than there used to be. This means fewer grandparents and others who can help take care of little children while parents work (besides; many of today’s grandparents have full-time jobs themselves). What’s more, many Western cultures (certainly not all!) tend to be individualistic. So the care of small children isn’t necessarily seen as a family group responsibility in the same way as it is in more collectivist cultures.

All of this has arguably led to the day care/preschool solution. These facilities vary greatly, depending on income, location and the like. But in whatever form they take, they’ve become a fixture in many cultures, and many families depend on them.

Child care facilities/preschools show up in crime fiction as well. And it’s interesting to see how they’re portrayed. Carin Gerhardsen’s The Gingerbread House begins with a prologue that takes place in 1968, when day care was just beginning to be a ‘respectable’ option and many people still thought less of parents who took advantage of it. An incident takes place at a preschool in the Swedish town of Katrineholm (and no, it’s not the stereotypical abducted child scenario). That incident has repercussions years later, when Stockholm real estate sales professional Hans Vannerberg disappears after telling his wife, Pia, that he’s going to look at a house for a client. When his body is later discovered in a different house, Stockholm DCI Conny Sjöberg and his team investigate. They’re just getting started when there’s another murder. And another. Sjöberg and his team will have to go back to the past, as it were, to find out the truth behind these killings.

Karin Alvtegen’s Betrayal introduces readers to Eva Wirenström-Berg and her husband Henrik. Together with their six-year-old son Axel, they seem to be living the idyllic suburban life. And that’s the way Eva is determined to keep it. Her world is shattered, though, when she discovers that Henrik has been unfaithful. When Eva learns who the other woman is, she is devastated. And in one plot thread of this novel, she begins to plot her revenge. That plan turns out to have devastating consequences for several of the characters. And without spoiling the story, I can say that Axel’s day care/preschool plays a role in what happens.

Håkan Östlundh’s The Intruder has as its focus Malin Andersson, her husband Henrik Kjellander, and their two children, Ellen and Axel. They return to their home on Fårö after a two-month absence, only to find that everything is in a serious mess. At first, they blame the state of their house on the tenants who stayed there during their absence. But then Malin finds a carefully mutilated family photograph – not something a careless or even spiteful tenant would likely do. She calls in the police, and Gotland police detectives Fredrik Broman and Sara Oskarsson begin to look into the matter. It could be a tenant with a personal grudge. It could also be someone else who knows the family and broke into the house. There are other possibilities, too. Then there’s another scare. Malin drops Axel off at his preschool/day care, hoping to get him back into the family’s normal routine. As she’s leaving the facility, she notices a woman watching her. It’s not one of the teachers; nor is it another parent – at least not one she knows. On the surface of it, it’s just a woman on the same street. But Malin has the eerie sense that this woman is specifically watching her for some reason. And thing brings up all sorts of fears for Axel’s safety. It’s little wonder that most modern preschools and other child care places have strict policies about who is allowed on the premises, when, and so on.

Gail Bowen’s series features Joanne Kilbourn Shreve, a now-retired academician and political scientist. In Kaleidoscope, her adult daughter Mieka opens a new facility in Regina’s economically struggling North Central district. Called UpslideDown, it’s a combination playground/meeting place. Parents can let their children play safely, learn from other parents, and support one another as they also take advantage of UpslideDown’s parenting information. UpslideDown acknowledges the reality that many parents don’t have family support, and cannot afford safe, high-quality child care and parenting answers. UpslideDown seeks in part to fill that gap.

Child care is address in two of Angela Savage’s stories. In The Half Child, Jim Delbeck hires Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney to investigate the death of his daughter, Maryanne. She was a volunteer at New Life Children’s Centre when she was pushed (or fell, or jumped) from the roof of the building where she lived. The police claim this is a case of suicide. But Delbeck doesn’t believe it, and wants the truth. Keeney takes the case and travels to Pattaya, where Maryanne died. As a part of looking into the matter, Keeney goes undercover at New Life to find out what goes on there. It’s not a day care/preschool in the sense that most Westerners think of such places. Rather, it’s a combination orphanage and child care facility. Some of the babies there have been abandoned, and are simply staying there until they can be matched with adoptive parents. Others, though, are ‘boarders.’ They are the children of young women, mostly single, who cannot care for them, and who no longer live in their home villages, where relatives could look after their babies. The ‘boarders’ live at New Life, but their mothers visit them. The idea is that these babies will return to their homes when their mothers have saved up enough money, and are in a good position to take care of them. It’s an interesting look at child care in a culture where extended families have traditionally provided that support. Savage’s short story The Teardrop Tattoos also involves child care. A young woman is released from prison, where she’s served a sentence for murder. She and her pit bull Sully are provided a place to live not far from a local day care provider. One day, one of the mothers lodges a complaint about Sully, and Sully’s human companion is given no choice but to get rid of him. Devastated at this loss, the woman plots her own sort of revenge…

Whether you call such places day care, preschool, crèches, or something else, child care facilities are fast becoming a fixture in many modern cultures. They provide a service that many parents depend on, and they can add an interesting layer to a crime novel.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Dogwood. Incidentally, they’re a punk band based only about 30k (about 21 miles) from where I live.

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Filed under Angela Savage, Carin Gerhardsen, Gail Bowen, Håkan Östlundh, Karin Alvtegen

And I’m Not What I Appear to Be*

Impostor SyndromeNone of us is perfect. We all know that in the abstract, but it doesn’t stop us wanting to appear to ‘have it all together’ in front of others. That’s a very natural desire, really. Who wants to come across as incompetent? But for some people, it goes further than that. For those people, it leads to strong feelings of self-doubt and fear that others will find out about real and perceived weaknesses. And that can result in what’s often called Imposter Syndrome.

People with Imposter Syndrome are convinced that they’re not really competent or successful, no matter how much evidence there might be to the contrary. Because of this, they sometimes feel fraudulent; that can lead to even more feelings of unworthiness or worse.

There are certainly people like that in real life, and we see such characters in crime fiction, too. They can add sub-plots, story arcs, and more to a story or series; and such characters can resonate, since there are plenty of readers who can relate.

In Agatha Christie’s Three Act Tragedy (AKA Murder in Three Acts), Hercule Poirot is invited to a cocktail party hosted by famous actor Sir Charles Cartwright. Among the other guests is Oliver Manders, a young man who’s just getting started in his career. Manders is an insecure and unhappy young man; but of course, he doesn’t want anyone to know that. So he pretends to be bored and jaded, and pretends to a lot of self-confidence that he doesn’t really have. Unfortunately, because of that superficial attitude, he doesn’t make the best of first impressions. Still, he thinks that, as the saying goes, he has everyone fooled. At the cocktail party, another guest, Reverend Stephen Babbington, suddenly dies of what turns out to be poison. Manders is shaken up, as all of the guests are, but continues to put on a façade of sneering contempt. It’s not until there’s a second murder, and the possibility that he may be blamed for it, that Manders is willing to admit his insecurities. When he does, Poirot turns out to be quite helpful to him.

It’s not unusual for young people to be vulnerable to Imposter Syndrome; they’re trying to fit in, and they often don’t have the confidence in themselves that they’ll develop later in life. That’s arguably the case with Christy Sinclair, whom we first meet in Gail Bowen’s Murder at the Mendel. In one sub-plot of that novel, we learn that Christy is dating Peter Kilbourn, the son of Bowen’s sleuth, Joanne Kilbourn. In the next novel, The Wandering Soul Murders, it’s revealed that Christy and Peter have broken up, and that Joanne is just as well pleased about that. Then, Christy comes back into the Kilbourns’ lives, even saying that she and Peter are getting back together. Not long afterwards, Christy dies in what seems at first to be a suicide by drowning. It’s not that simple, though, and as Joanne looks into the matter, she finds that Christy had quite a lot of insecurity, and a sense of not being ‘good enough.’ Partly that came from her background (she grew up on the proverbial wrong side of the tracks). But there are other reasons, too, and they form part of this plot thread.

Natsuo Kirino’s Real World takes us into the lives of five Tokyo teenagers. When one of them, Ryo, is suspected of killing his mother, he goes on the run. Each in a different way, the other four teens, all of whom are in the same social group, interact with Ryo. The situation begins to spin out of control for all of them, but instead of getting the adult help they need, they decide to try to manage it themselves. None of them even speaks to a parent about what’s really going on. In part, that’s because they don’t want to be suspected of being complicit in a murder. But there’s also the strong sense that they don’t want to appear helpless and unable to cope. They’d rather be caught in a dangerous and frightening mess than show just how incompetent they really think they are. And in the end, that choice has tragic consequences.

Plenty of new parents feel a sense of the Impostor Syndrome. Advertisements, some television characters, and so on make parenting a brand-new infant look easy. It’s not. There’s the set of hormonal changes, there’s chronic sleep deprivation, and there’s the never-ending demand for feedings, changings, changings, changings…  And that’s not to mention infants’ occasional illnesses or issues such as colic. And yet, plenty of new parents buy into the myth that they should do it all and do it well. And that can go on for a long time (‘If I were a good parent, my child would ____,’ or, ‘If I ask for help with ____, everyone’ll know what a horrible parent I am.’).

We see that sort of Impostor Syndrome reflected in a lot of crime fiction. I’m sure you can name plenty of examples. One of the more recent ones is Sinéad Crowley’s Can Anybody Help Me? Like many new mothers, Yvonne struggles with the demands and societal expectations for new parents. Matters aren’t made any easier by the fact that she’s recently moved from Ireland to London, so she hasn’t made a lot of friends – not friends that she can really trust. So, she turns to NetMammy, an online community of new mothers, for support. And that’s what she finds at first. Then, one of the other members all of sudden goes ‘off the grid.’ Anyone can take a break from online activity, but Yvonne begins to suspect that something is very wrong. And then a body is discovered…

No-one likes to appear weak or incompetent. And sometimes, those feelings of inadequacy, and the myth that everyone else has it right, can lead to a real sense of self-doubt. And that can lead in all sorts of directions, especially in crime fiction.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Beatles’ I’m a Loser.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Gail Bowen, Natsuo Kirino, Sinéad Crowley