Category Archives: Gene Kerrigan

I’m Finding it Hard to Be Really As Black As They Paint*

petty-crime-and-murderIf you read enough crime fiction, you learn that, at least fictionally, anyone can be a killer. But are some people more likely to kill than others? For instance, are people who shoplift, or steal cars, or rob homes more likely to kill than are people who don’t commit those crimes? It’s not an easy question to answer, because there are a lot of different factors that play roles in who kills and who doesn’t (or in who embezzles and who doesn’t, or…). The picture isn’t really made any clearer by looking at crime fiction, either.

For instance, Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot speaks often of the psychology of someone who kills. And he differentiates it clearly from the psychology of someone who steals (not that he thinks either is acceptable). I don’t want to say much about specific Christie novels, for fear of spoilers, but I will say this. In many (not all!) cases, Poirot points out that just because a suspect has committed a crime (say theft) doesn’t mean that suspect is, per se, a murderer, too. He even makes this comment about the difference to Katherine Grey in The Mystery of the Blue Train:
 

‘You could, perhaps, love a thief, Mademoiselle, but not a murderer.’
 

That said though, there are cases (again, no spoilers) where someone who’s unmasked as a thief also turns out to be a killer.

In Peter Robinson’s Gallows View, DCI Alan Banks has recently moved from London to the small Yorkshire town of Eastvale. He’s barely had time to settle in when he has deal with some difficult cases. For one thing, a voyeur is making the lives of Eastvale women miserable. There’s a lot of pressure on Banks and his team to catch this person. As if that’s not enough, there’s been a series of home invasions and thefts lately. And then, there’s a murder. Is there a connection between the home invasions and the killing? What about the peeper? The question of whether the same person is responsible for all (or some) of these activities is an important part of the novel.

A similar sort of question comes up in Colin Dexter’s The Remorseful Day. Two years before the events in the novel, Yvonne Harrison was murdered, and her body found in her bedroom. On the one hand, she led a private life that could easily have put her in danger. And her family life was complicated and dysfunctional. On the other, the police never could get sufficient evidence against one person, and the case was allowed to go cold. Now, a man named Harry Repp has been released from prison, where he was serving time for burglary. Anonymous tips have suggested that he killed Yvonne Harrison. Inspector Morse is assigned the case, but he seems quite reluctant to do much about it. So, Sergeant Lewis does most of the investigation. And he’s faced with a difficult question. There’s no doubt that Repp is a thief. Did he escalate to murder? Was he framed? As it turns out, this case isn’t going to be easy for anyone, least of all Morse or Lewis.

Jean-Claude Izzo’s Total Chaos introduces readers to a Marseilles police officer, Fabio Montale. He and his two good friends, Manu and Pierre ‘Ugo’ Ugolini grew up in one of Marseilles’ rough districts. And they got into more than their share of trouble as young people. Then came a tragedy that caused Montale to re-think all of his choices. He served in the military, then returned to Marseilles and joined the police. Manu and Ugo, though, got involved in the criminal underworld. As the novel starts, Manu’s been murdered, and Ugo returns to Marseilles to avenge his friend’s death. When he, too, is killed, Montale feels a sense of obligation to find out what happened to his friends.  Without giving away spoilers, I can say that it’s interesting to see how being involved in petty crime impacted each of these characters.

In one plot thread of Gene Kerrigan’s The Rage, we meet Vincent Naylor. He’s recently been released from prison, and has quite a history with law enforcement. He has no desire to go back inside, so he’s decided not to take any more risks. Not unless the payoff is so great that it makes the risk worthwhile. He thinks much more in terms of heist and theft than he does of murder. After his release, he meets up with his brother Noel, his girlfriend, Michelle, and some other friends. Before long, they begin to plan a major heist – one that will set them all up financially. Their target will be Protectica, a security company that transports cash among various Dublin banks. The group plans out every detail of what they’re going to do, and pull off the heist. But then, things begin to go badly wrong. There’s no doubt that Vincent Naylor is a thief who’s been in more than one scuffle with the law. Does that mean he’s a murderer, too? It’s an interesting layer in this novel.

Of course, there are characters such as Donald Westlake’s John Dortmunder, and Lawrence Block’s Bernie ‘the Burglar’ Rhodenbarr. They’re thieves, and have committed other crimes, too. But they aren’t what you’d call ‘natural’ killers. And, of course, any crime fiction fan knows that there are characters who are completely law-abiding – until the day they kill. So perhaps the connection between crimes such as theft, home invasion and so on and murder isn’t really clear. Certainly the law puts those crimes in very different categories. What do you think about all of this?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Lionel Bart’s Reviewing the Situation.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Colin Dexter, Donald Westlake, Gene Kerrigan, Jean-Claude Izzo, Lawrence Block, Peter Robinson

Look Out of Any Window*

windowsI’ll bet you do it without even thinking about it. I’m talking about looking out the window. Even if your view isn’t exactly stunning, it’s almost impossible to resist glancing out, especially if you see movement or hear something. Don’t believe me? I challenge you to go for a day without looking out of your office window if you work from an office that has one. I’ll bet you’d find it hard-put to avoid looking out of your windows at home, too.

But windows can be very dangerous things, if you think about it. Just a quick look at crime fiction shows that looking out of a window can put you smack in the middle of a crime. And that can be risky. Windows can make people quite vulnerable, too.

In John Bude’s The Cornish Coast Mystery, Julius Tregarthan is shot one night through the open window of his sitting room at the family home, Greylings. Dr. Pendrill is summoned to the scene, and brings with him his old friend, the Reverend Dodd. It’s soon very clear that this was neither an accident nor a suicide. Inspector Bigwell takes the case, and works to find out who would have wanted to kill the victim. What’s interesting is that three shots were fired through the window, from three slightly different angles. Two went wide; one found its mark. So, one question is: were there three killers? If not, how did the murderer fire from three different angles so quickly? It’s a complicated case, but the Reverend Dodd slowly puts the pieces together, and works with Pendrill and Bigwell to get to the truth.

In Agatha Christie’s 4:50 From Paddington (AKA What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!), Elspeth McGillicuddy is on her way by train to visit her friend, Miss Marple. She happens to look out her window just as another train goes by, heading in the same direction. Her view lets her see through the windows of the other train, which is how she sees a woman apparently being strangled. She alerts the conductor, but no-one believes her, since there hasn’t been a body discovered. Miss Marple does take her seriously, though, and does some research of her own. She deduces that the body is likely on the property of Rutherford Hall, which belongs to the Crackenthorpe family. Not having an ‘in’ of her own, Miss Marple enlists her friend, professional housekeeper Lucy Eyelesbarrow, to be her eyes and ears. Lucy agrees and is soon hired as the Crackenthorpes’ housekeeper. Sure enough, she finds the body of a woman, and the police soon take charge. In her own way, Miss Marple stays involved, and works out who the killer is. There’s even a Christie novel in which a murder is committed through a window. But no spoilers!

In one plot line of Ruth Rendell’s Simisola, Inspector Reg Wexford and his team investigate the strangling murder of Annette Bystock. She was killed in her bed, so it’s going to be important to find anyone who might have seen someone coming or going at the time of the murder. Fortunately for the police, retiree Percy Hammond lives next door to the murder scene, and spends his share of time looking through his window. And it turns out he saw something very important to the investigation. In the end, this murder is related to a missing person case that the police are also investigating.

Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza’s Inspector Espinosa is faced with a difficult and dangerous case in A Window in Copacabana. Three police officers are murdered with expert precision, and in quick succession. Now, there’s a general fear that someone is targeting cops. But that’s not the only possibility. The victims might have been involved in corruption and gotten mixed up with the wrong people. There’s nothing in their backgrounds or records to suggest that, but it’s certainly not impossible. Everything changes when the mistress of one of the victims is found shot in her car. Then, Rosita, who was the mistress of another of the police victims, is killed by a fall from her window. It looks like suicide at first. But Serena Rodes, the wife of a wealthy businessman, contacts Espinosa. It seems she was looking out her window and saw Rosita get pushed through the window (‘though she didn’t see by whom). This complicated case turns out to be rooted in corruption – only not in the way you might think.

Gene Kerrigan’s The Rage features Maura Cody, a former nun who’s now trying to live as quiet and unassuming a life as she can. She looks out her window one day and sees something that puts her in grave danger. It’s relevant to two cases that Dublin D.S. Bob Tidey, and Garda Rose Cheney, are working. So, they do their best to protect her as they get to the truth about those cases, and the link between them. What’s interesting here is that Maura had no desire to get involved in something so risky. But a look out the window changes everything for her.

Christopher Brookmyre’s Jack Parlabane learns the hard way how risky windows can be in Quite Ugly One Morning. He wakes up one morning with an awful hangover, and hears a commotion outside. So, he leaves his flat and goes downstairs to see what’s going on. Unfortunately, his door locks behind him and he’s forgotten his key. He does remember that he left a window open, though. So, he decides that the best thing to do is to sneak through the downstairs flat, which has a corresponding window, and get back into his own place that way. Things don’t work out well, though. First, he discovers a brutally-murdered body in the flat downstairs. Then, as he’s trying to sneak out the window, he’s caught by Jenny Dalziel,the police detective who’s investigating that murder. After a great deal of initial suspicion, he and Dalziel see that they can be of help to each other, so they work together to find out who the killer is.

See what I mean? Looking out the window or using it is as natural as anything. But safe? I’m not so sure of that. Right, fans of Jeffery Deaver’s The Broken Window?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Grateful Dead’s Box of Rain.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Christopher Brookmyre, Gene Kerrigan, Jeffery Deaver, John Bude, Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza, Ruth Rendell

Instant Karma’s Going to Get You*

Mending KarmaIn Hinduism and Buddhism, it’s called karma – bringing upon oneself the inevitable results of one’s own actions. Good deeds tend to mend one’s karma; bad deeds have the opposite effect. Western spiritual traditions have different concepts, but there’s still the underlying principle that what you do comes back to you, if you will.

Many people believe in karma, or something similar to it. So it’s not surprising that we see a lot of fictional characters who try to redeem themselves, especially if they’ve done things of which they’re particularly ashamed. Self-redemption can make for an interesting layer of character development. And it’s effective as a source of conflict in a story, as well. It’s an appropriate fit for crime fiction, too, if you think about it.

One such character is G.K. Chesterton’s Hercule Flambeau. When we first meet him in The Blue Cross, he is a most accomplished and notorious international thief. In this story, he’s after a silver cross covered in precious blue stones. The cross is the property of Father Brown, who’s taking it to a gathering of priests. As the story goes on, we see how Flambeau is pitted against Father Brown and against Valentin, head of the Paris police. As time goes on, Flambeau decides to quit his life of crime. He becomes instead a private investigator – and maintains a friendship with Father Brown. One can’t say that Flambeau makes the conscious decision to mend his karma; still, it’s clear that he sees a way to redeem himself. And he becomes quite good at what he does, too.

In Giorgio Scerbanenco’s A Private Venus, we are introduced to Davide Auseri. For the past year, he’s been sunk in a deep depression, and spent most of his time drunk. His father has tried several remedies, including rehabilitation facilities, to help him, but nothing’s worked. Then, Davide’s father meets Dr. Duca Lamberti, who’s recently been released from prison, where he served time for euthanasia. Auseri hires Lamberti to try to help Davide, and Lamberti agrees. In the course of some rather unorthodox therapy, Lamberti learns the reason for Davide’s condition: he believes he’s responsible for the death of Alberta Radelli. A year ago, they met by chance and decided they liked one another’s company. After spending a day in Florence, though, Alberta begged him to take her with him, and not return her to Milan. Davide refused, and Alberta threatened to kill herself. He held firm, though, and she was later found dead of what’s been called a suicide. Lamberti comes to believe that the only way to help Davide is for him to redeem himself, if you will, by learning the truth about what happened to Alberta. So he and Davide look into the case. They find that the victim’s death had nothing to do with Davide. Although he doesn’t speak of it in terms of mending karma, Davide undertakes the investigation as a way to do some good after what he feels he’s done.

Fabio Montale, whom we first meet in Jean-Claude Izzo’s Total Chaos, is a Marseilles police officer. In fact, he patrols the area of Marseilles where he grew up. When Montale was young, he and his best friend Pierre ‘Ugo’ Ugolini, and their friend Manu, caused more than their share of trouble in town. One night, what started out as petty crime turned tragic, and that changed everything for Montale. Although he promised to remain loyal to his friends, he re-thought the course his life was taking. He first joined the army, and then returned to his old haunt as a cop. Now he’s trying to do some good as a sort of way to make things right. Then, Manu is murdered, and Ugo returns to Marseilles to avenge his death. When Ugo himself is killed, Montale feels a real obligation to find out what happened to his friends. It’s an interesting case of a man who knows he cannot take back the past, but wants to do his small part in the future.

Although he’s from a very different culture, John Burdett’s Sonchai Jitpleecheep has a similar motivation in being a Bangkok police officer. Several years earlier, Sonchai and his friend, Pichai Apiradee, killed a drug dealer. Both were extremely remorseful about taking a life, and spent time at a monastery facing what they’d done. Being devout Buddhists, they wanted to mend their karmas. To do that, both became members of the Royal Thai Police. In this way, they would protect lives instead of taking them. Since the novels in this series are written from Sonchai’s point of view, we learn quite a lot about the Buddhist approach to doing right and mending karma.

And then there’s Maura Cody, a former nun who plays an important role in Gene Kerrigan’s The Rage. Mara left the convent for good reasons, and carries a burden of guilt for things that happened in her past. This is an important part of the reason she chooses to get involved when she happens to see something as she’s looking out of one of her windows. At first, she’s not sure she should get involved. But she wants a way to redeem herself – to do some good. So she reports what she sees, and becomes a critical witness to two cases that Dublin DS Bob Tidey and Garda Rose Cheney are investigating. Maura’s role in those cases doesn’t erase the past. But it does give her an opportunity to ‘do it right this time,’ if I may put it that way.

There are plenty of other fictional characters who are motivated by that sort of wish for self-redemption and mending karma. Which ones have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from John Lennon’s Instant Karma! (We All Shine On).

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Filed under G.K. Chesterton, Gene Kerrigan, Giorgio Scerbanenco, Jean-Claude Izzo, John Burdett

Multi-Million Dollar Heist*

HeistsHave you ever seen George Roy Hill’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)? If you have, then you know its focus is an outlaw gang called the Hole in the Wall Gang. One of their goals is to rob the Union Pacific’s Overland Flyer, and the gang makes preparations to do so – twice, on both the eastward and westward run of the train. The first time they’re successful. The second train’s arrival, though, sets off a chain of events that changes the story dramatically. Throughout the story, though, the two lead characters, played by, respectively, Paul Newman and Robert Redford, are portrayed sympathetically.

More than that, Hill built the tension in this film not through a murder (or murders) and the investigation, but through the plans and execution of a heist. And that makes sense. Fictional heists can add at least as much conflict and tension as a murder can, not to mention another layer to a plot. It’s little wonder, then, that they figure so often in crime fiction.

Many heist novels do include murders or other deaths. It’s just that it’s the heist that’s the main plot, rather than the murder(s). There are a lot of heist novels out there. I’ll just mention a few; I know you’ll think of more.

In Robert Pollock’s Loophole, or: How to Rob a Bank, we are introduced to professional thief Mike Daniels and his teammates Harry and Gardner. They decide to pull off a difficult, but potentially very lucrative job – a theft from the City Deposit Bank. It’s a heavily guarded bank with the latest in security, so it’s not going to be easy. In fact, in order to carry their plan out, the thieves will need the services of an architect. They find one in the person of Stephen Booker, who’s recently been laid off from his job and hasn’t been able to find another. In fact, he’s been driving cab at night to pay the bills. That’s how he meets Daniels, who finally convinces Booker to join the thieves. They prepare very carefully for the heist, and on the day of the job, all goes well at first. Then a sudden storm blows up, and changes everything for the men.

In Donald Westlake’s The Hot Rock, we are introduced to professional thief John Dortmunder. He’s recently been released from prison, and the plan is that he’ll ‘go straight.’ But that’s before he meets up with his old friend and co-conspirator Andy Kelp. Kelp tells Dortmunder that a new heist is in the works, one that’s worth ten thousand dollars to each member of the team. The target is a valuable gem called the Balabomo Emerald, currently on display at the Coliseum in New York. While the African nation of Akinzi claims ownership, another African nation, Talabwo, contests that claim. Talabwo’s Ambassador to the US, Major Patrick Iko, wants the gem, and is willing to pay the heist team to get it. Dortmunder, Kelp, and the rest of the gang meet and plan the heist very carefully. But almost from the beginning, things don’t go at all as the team planned…  Westlake’s Dortmunder series sees the heist team get in several serious situations as they plan and try to carry out difficult heists.

Fans of Lawrence Block will tell you that one of his series features Bernie Rhodenbarr, who’s a New York bookseller. But he’s also a burglar. In fact, he served a prison sentence as a young man. Now he’s determined not to get caught again, so he’s very careful when he plans a heist. He’s good at what he does, but he sometimes has a habit of finding bodies when he’s actually on the trail of some other prize. Bernie is well aware that it’s illegal to break and enter, but he’s what you might call addicted to the thrill. This series is lighter than Block’s Matthew Scudder series. Although I don’t usually like to compare series, it has a hint of similarity to Westlake’s Dortmunder series on that score.

In one plot thread of Gene Kerrigan’s The Rage, we are introduced to Vincent Naylor. He’s recently been released from prison, and has no desire to go ‘back inside.’ So he’s careful about avoiding risk unless the payoff is very much worth it. He meets up with this girlfriend, Michelle Flood, his brother Noel, and some other friends; together, they come up with an idea for a heist that will set them all up for life. The target is Protectica, a company that provides secured transportation of cash among different banks. The heist is planned down to the last detail, and everyone is hoping it’ll go smoothly. At first, things do go well. But then, there’s a tragic turn of events that changes everything.

And then there’s Andrew Nette’s Gunshine State. Gary Chance is, among other things, a professional thief who’s been lying low in South Australia. A union leader friend of his named Lawrence convinces him to work a robbery so he can have money to care for his wife Faye, who has cancer. When that robbery goes wrong, Chance knows he has to get out of the area. So he heads for Brisbane. There, he meets Dennis Curry, who runs certain non-casino poker games. Curry wants to rob wealthy Frederick ‘Freddie’ Gao, who’s one of his high rollers. Chance meets the rest of Curry’s team and takes the job. Not one of the other team members is a reliable, straightforward sort of thief, but they’re the people Curry has picked. Despite the fact that he doesn’t really trust them, Chance has to work with them to plan the heist with as few risks as possible. But this doesn’t turn out to be anything like the sort of job Chance thought he was taking.

There are, of course, many other kinds of heist novels. Some, such as Gunshine State, are a little grittier. Others are lighter. But all of them have an added layer of tension that comes from the heist and the planning that leads up to it. Which ones have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Blue Meanies’ Big Brother’s Watching.

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Filed under Andrew Nette, Donald Westlake, Gene Kerrigan, Lawrence Block, Robert Pollock

Sister Mary Used To Be a Nun*

Former NunsAn interesting post from Moira at Clothes in Books has got me thinking about women who join a convent, but then later, decide to leave it. Nuns who choose to leave the convent have to re-accustom themselves to the outside world, and that’s not always easy. But they have an interesting perspective on both the religious life and the secular life. There are several such characters in crime fiction. Here are few; I know you’ll think of others.

In Catherine Aird’s The Religious Body, Inspector D.C. Sloan and his assistant, Constable William Crosby, investigate a mysterious death at the Convent of St. Anselm. Sister Mary St. Anne (Sister Anne)’s body has been found at the bottom of the basement staircase, and it’s soon clear that this was no accident. One of the lines of investigation that Sloan has to follow is the network of relationships among the nuns. To get a perspective on that, and on the victim’s interactions with the others, he turns to the former Sister Bertha, now once again using her birth name of Eileen Lome. She’s been out of the convent less than a month, and still finds everything very, very different. What she tells the Sloan doesn’t solve the murder. But it does give an important perspective on Sister Anne’s personality and background. And it provides readers with an interesting look at what it’s like to leave the convent.

Marian Babson’s Untimely Guest is the story of a staunchly Catholic Irish family, headed by a strong-willed matriarch known only as Mam. Mam’s adult sons Kevin and Patrick are married and have their own families. Her daughter Dee Dee has committed what, for Mam, is the terrible sin of getting divorced. Her daughter Veronica lives at home and cares for her. The whole family is rocked when Mam’s daughter Bridget ‘Bridie’ returns to the family after ten years in a convent. Financial problems have meant the closure of the convent, and Bridie really has nowhere else to go. Besides having to adjust to the outside world again, Bridie’s going to find it extremely difficult to tell the truth to Mam, since it was Mam who was determined she’d enter the convent in the first place. As it happens, Dee Dee also returns to the family, hoping to introduce them to her new fiancé. All the ingredients are there for a family feud, and that’s exactly what happens. Then one day, Dee Dee takes a tragic fall down a staircase and dies. But was it an accident? And if it wasn’t, which family member is responsible?

Fans of James Lee Burke’s Louisiana police detective Dave Robicheaux will know that, in Crusader’s Cross, he investigates the 50-year-old murder of a prostitute. In the course of that, he goes up against the powerful and wealthy Chalon family. And it turns out, they’ve had some run-ins before with one Sister Molly Boyle, who runs a group that builds houses for the poor and homeless. So he follows up that lead by meeting Sister Molly and talking to her. That interview is the beginning of what turns into a romance between them. Fans will know, too, that she later leaves the convent and becomes Robicheaux’s wife.

In Gene Kerrigan’s Rage, Dublin DS Bob Tidey and Garda Rose Cheney investigate the murder Emmet Sweetman, a banker who was murdered, execution-style, in his own home. In the meantime, Vincent Naylor has recently been released from prison. Now he re-connects with his girlfriend, Michelle Flood, his brother Noel, and some of his friends. Together, they plan a heist that will set them all up financially. The target is to be a van belonging to Protectica, a security company that transports money among banks. The Naylor brothers and their friends duly pull off the heist. But then there’s a tragedy that changes everything. In the midst of it all, and a link between these cases, is a former nun named Maura Cody. She has her own secrets, and her own private reasons for leaving the convent. Something she sees draws her into Tidey’s investigations, and makes her vulnerable. So Tidey and Cheney determine to do everything possible to keep her safe.

There are also some series with former nuns as protagonist. For example, there’s Alice Loweecey’s series featuring Giulia Falcone, whom we meet in Force of Habit. In that novel, we learn that she’s recently left the convent and gone to work for Driscoll Investigations, which is run by former cop Frank Driscoll. The main plot in this novel features wealthy Blake Parker and his fiancée, who’ve been getting some disturbing ‘gifts.’ But woven throughout the novel is also Falcone’s process of getting used to the outside world again. As the series goes on, she gets more accustomed to it, and more streetwise, and that evolution of her character adds a layer to the novels. Oh, and it’s also worth noting that Loweecey herself is a former nun.

There’s also Lee Harris’ (AKA Syrell Leahy) Christine Bennett series. Bennett is a former nun who lived at St. Stephen’s Convent, and taught English. Now she’s moved to Oakwood, in upstate New York, and lives in her now-deceased Aunt Margaret’s house. In The Good Friday Murder, where we first meet her, Bennet attends a town meeting where one point of contention is the planned relocation of Greenwillow Institution to the town. For Bennett, this has personal implications, since her cousin, Gene, is a resident in the institution, and she is his legal guardian. Through Gene, Bennett has gotten to know a pair of savant twins with mental retardation who were convicted many years earlier of murdering their mother. Now senior citizens, they’ve become friends to Bennett, and she doesn’t think they’re guilty of murder. The institution needs support for its plan to move to Oakwood, and Bennett is a connection between the two. So she agrees to look into that old murder case to try to exonerate the twins. Along with the murder investigation, readers also get a look at what it’s like to readjust to the outside world after a long time ‘away.’

There are plenty of other crime novels and series that include this sort of character. Which ones have stayed with you?

Thanks, Moira, for the inspiration. Now, may I suggest your next blog visit be Clothes in Books? A treasure trove of posts about clothes and popular culture in fiction, and what it all means about us, awaits you.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jewel Kilcher’s Everybody Needs Someone Sometime.

 

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Filed under Alice Loweecey, Catherine Aird, Gene Kerrigan, James Lee Burke, Lee Harris, Marian Babson, Syrell Leahy