Category Archives: Geraldine Evans

Boy, You’ll Be My Foil*

foilsOne interesting way to show what a character is like is by using a foil. Fictional foils contrast with other characters, so their personalities are more sharply defined. As with anything in crime fiction, foils have to be handled carefully. Otherwise, they can become too cartoonish. But when they’re well-crafted characters in their own right, foils can bring out other characters, and can add a layer of interest to a story. There are plenty of examples of foils in crime fiction; here are just a few.

In Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (AKA A Holiday For Murder and Murder For Christmas), we are introduced to the Lee family. Family patriarch Simeon Lee decides that he wants his relatives to gather at the family home, Gorston Hall, for Christmas. No-one in the family wants to make the trip; Lee is a malicious, unpleasant old man who takes pleasure in others’ discomfort. But no-one dares to refuse the invitation. On Christmas Eve, Lee is murdered in his private room. Hercule Poirot is staying nearby, and works with the police to find out who the killer is. In this novel, there’s an interesting contrast between two of Simeon Lee’s sons: Alfred and Harry. Alfred’s always been ‘the good son,’ who went into the family business (which he never wanted to do), and who has stayed at the family home to help care for his father. Harry is the wild adventurer, who’s been all over the world, and in trouble more than once. Where Alfred is more reserved and cautious, Harry is extroverted, and he can be witty. Their father knows all too well that Alfred and Harry’s differences will likely lead to conflict; that’s a big part of the reason he invited Harry. And it’s interesting to see how these two serve as foils for each other. You’re absolutely right, fans of Five Little Pigs. There’s an interesting contrast between brothers there, too.

Fans of Reginald Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe series will know that there are plenty of foils there. To take the most obvious example, we can look at the characters of Superintendent Andy Dalziel and Sergeant (later, Inspector) Peter Pascoe. Where Pascoe is educated, intellectual, and in some ways, highbrow, his boss is the opposite. Dalziel is a brilliant detective, but he doesn’t have a university background or gentrified tastes. They have other differences, too, and Hill used those differences to make them foils for each other. What’s interesting is that Pascoe’s wife, Ellie, also serves as a foil. In her political and social views, she often differs with Dalziel. She resents what she sees as his way of commandeering her husband, too. Part of what makes these characters work as foils is that all of them are well-developed and ‘fleshed out.’ They see one another’s positive traits, too, so their interactions are rich and complex.

Geraldine Evans’ DI Joe Rafferty and DS Dafyd Llewellyn are also police partners who serve as foils for each other. Rafferty has Irish, working-class roots. He’s outgoing, and sometimes tends to jump to conclusions (although he usually isn’t overly rash).  Rafferty sometimes gets drawn into his family’s drama, too. On the other hand, Llewellyn is more intellectual and long-headed, as the saying goes. He’s quiet, and his personal life isn’t complicated in the way that his boss’ is. They’re both smart detectives, and bring complementary strengths to their investigation. And that’s arguably why they make successful foils for each other. They highlight one another’s personalities, and respect each other despite their differences.

And, of course, I don’t think it would be possible to discuss foils in crime fiction without mentioning Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. As fans know, they are, in many ways, a study in contrasts. Wolfe has a rigid routine and a taste for luxury, and can be both arrogant and temperamental. But he is a brilliant detective, and he has a compassionate side in his way. By contrast, Goodwin is energetic, pragmatic and down-to-earth. He does quite a lot of the ‘legwork’ for his boss, and is an accomplished detective in his own right. He sometimes gets himself into trouble by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or by wisecracking when that isn’t the safest choice to make. But he is at heart a person of integrity. Wolfe and Goodwin often spar. But they do respect each other, and their skills are complementary. Again, that’s part of what makes them good foils for each other.

If you think about it, foils really don’t have to be characters. Other sorts of contrasts can work, too. For instance, in Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn, we are introduced to Mary Yellan. As the story begins, she’s on her way from her home village of Helford to stay with her Aunt Patience and Uncle Joss at their establishment, Jamaica Inn. Mary’s mother has recently died, and Mary’s fulfilling a last promise to her by going to her relatives. Du Maurier presents Helford as a start contrast – a foil – for Jamaica Inn:

‘How remote now and perhaps hidden for ever were the shining waters of Helford, the green hills and the sloping valleys, the white cluster of cottages at the water’s edge. It was a gentle rain that fell at Helford…

This was a lashing, pitiless rain that stung the coach, and it soaked into a hard and barren ground.’  
 

The contrast between the two places becomes even more pronounced when Mary arrives at Jamaica Inn. It’s eerie, dilapidated, and lonely. It’s out by itself on the moor, and certainly not the welcoming, friendly place that Helford is. And the differences add to the sense of place in the novel, and the sense of foreboding. And if you’ve read the novel, you know just how dangerous and creepy Jamaica Inn turns out to be.

That’s really one of the most important purposes of foils. They serve to highlight aspects of a place or a character, because they provide contrasts with other characters and places. And that can be an effective to show what a character or a place is like without a lot of verbiage. Which fictional foils have you liked best?

 

ps. The ‘photo is of Jim Hutton (L) and John Hillerman (R), who had the roles, respectively, of Ellery Queen and private investigator/radio host Simon Brimmer in the 1975-76 series. Brimmer sees Queen as a rival, and often serves as his foil in this series, and Hillerman played the role quite well, I think.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Driving With Andy’s Sugar, Sugar.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Daphne du Maurier, Geraldine Evans, Reginald Hill, Rex Stout

Everything She Wants is Everything She Sees*

High MaintenanceYou know the type, I’ll bet. The sort of person who has no problem sending a dish back to the kitchen three times. Or who insists on getting instant service, answers to questions, and so on. Or who absolutely must have the best in clothes, food, or wine (or all of the above). Yes, I’m talking about high-maintenance people. I’m sure we’ve all met folks like that.

High-maintenance people can be the bane of existence for anyone in any sort of service industry. And they don’t tend to endear themselves to others in personal life, either. But they can make for interesting fictional characters. And they can be a ‘gold mine’ of conflict and tension in a crime novel.

Agatha Christie included high maintenance characters in several of her novels. One of them is Timothy Abernethie, whom we meet in After the Funeral (AKA Funerals Are Fatal). He’s the younger brother of patriarch Richard Abernethie, who, at the beginning of the novel, has just died. Timothy is a hypochondriac who really does seem to relish the attention he gets due to his ‘ill health.’ He’s demanding, querulous and petulant, too. When his brother’s will is read, Timothy naturally assumes that he should inherit everything (and it’s quite a fortune), and be trusted to look after the other members of the family. That’s not what happens, though. Instead, the money is divided more or less evenly amongst Richard Abernethie’s relatives, and this infuriates Timothy. But that turns out to be the least of his problems when a suspicion is raised that this death might have been a murder. And when the youngest Abernethie sister, Cora Lansquenet, is murdered, it looks as though someone is determined to get that fortune. The family lawyer, Mr. Entwhistle, asks Hercule Poirot to look into the matter, and he agrees. It turns out to be a very interesting psychological case.

Barbara Neely’s Blanche White has to deal with high maintenance people in more than one of her investigations. She’s a professional housekeeper whose clients often make assumptions about themselves and about her because of their different social classes. They also often make such assumptions because many of them are white, and Blanche is black. On the one hand, she’s learned to manoeuver in that environment. She’s also learned that in subtle but real ways, she’s the one in control. On the other hand, that doesn’t mean she’s immune to the very natural irritation that comes from being treated in a demanding, high-handed way. In Blanche on the Lam, for instance, she ends up taking a temporary housekeeping job with wealthy Grace and Everett. From the moment Blanche begins her new job, Grace treats her with at best, condescension and at worst, complete disrespect. Both Grace and Everett are demanding, high-handed and very particular. The fact that they’re high maintenance isn’t the reason for the two murders that occur in the novel. But it makes for an interesting layer of tension.

In Geraldine Evans’ Dead Before Morning, DI Joe Rafferty and DS Dafyd Llewellyn investigate the murder of a young woman whose body is found on the grounds of the exclusive Elmhurst Sanatorium. Its owner, Dr. Anthony Melville-Briggs, is extremely concerned lest anything happen to the facility’s reputation, and he wants the case solved as quickly as possible. Soon enough, the body is identified as that of a sex worker named Linda Wilks. Once she is identified, the two sleuths trace leads that may link her to her killer. One very good possibility is that Melville-Briggs himself may be responsible, and Rafferty would like nothing better. Melville-Briggs is high-handed, demanding, and rude. He’s also quite high maintenance in that he expects instant results, instant call returns, and so on. It’s actually Llewellyn who has to remind Rafferty that there are other possibilities.

Toronto PI Sasha Jackson doesn’t have it much easier in Jill Edmondson’s Blood and Groom. One day, she gets a visit from Christine Arvisais, who wants to hire Jackson to solve a murder case. It seems that Arvisais’ former fiancé, Gordon Hanes, was shot on the day that would have been their wedding day had the engagement not been broken off. Everyone thinks Arvisais is responsible, but she claims to be innocent. From the beginning, Jackson doesn’t care much at all for this client. She’s rude, overly pampered, snooty, and very high maintenance. In fact, she doesn’t want the case solved because she cares who shot Hanes. She only wants to prove she didn’t. Still, a fee is a fee, and Jackson is just getting started as a PI. So she takes the case and gets started looking for answers. She finds that Hanes’ murder is linked to another murder, and in the process, digs up some shady secrets.

Sometimes, high maintenance goes beyond just spoiled and petulant. For example, in Patricia Abbott’s Concrete Angel, we meet the very high maintenance Eve Moran. From the time she was a small child, Eve has always wanted to acquire. And she’s never let anything, not even murder, get between her and what she wants, whether it’s money, jewels, men, or something else. Her daughter Christine has been raised in this toxic environment, so she and her mother have a very dysfunctional relationship. The more time goes on, the more trapped Christine is in her mother’s web. Then, she sees that her little brother Ryan is at risk of being caught in the same trap. She decides that she’s going to have to free both herself and Ryan if she’s going to save them.

And I don’t think I’d be forgiven if I discussed high maintenance people in crime fiction without mentioning Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe. Fans will tell you that he’s demanding, extremely particular, high-handed and sometimes very condescending. He definitely insists that the world run by his rules. And his partner, Archie Goodwin, is not afraid to tell him so. Wolfe gets away with what he does because he happens to be a brilliant detective. But that doesn’t make him a delight to be around at times…

And that’s the thing about high maintenance people. They are sometimes most unpleasant, and they’re not popular as bosses, potential partners or customers/clients. But they’re also a part of life. And they can add some interesting tension to a crime novel.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Wham! ‘s Everything She Wants.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Barbara Neely, Geraldine Evans, Jill Edmondson, Patricia Abbott, Rex Stout

I Will Never Rest*

Fixations on SuspectsWhen professionals investigate a crime, they’re supposed to keep an open mind – as Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot puts it, to ‘suspect everybody’ – until there’s a reason to go after one particular suspect. But that’s a whole lot easier to say than it is to do. For one thing, detectives are human. They have prejudices and biases as we all do. So it can be difficult to be objective about suspects. That’s especially true if a suspect has a history with a detective.

It doesn’t often go as far as Inspector Javert’s pursuit of Jean Valjean in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. Still, there are plenty of examples of crime novels where the sleuth fixates on one suspect or theory, for whatever reason. And this can lead the sleuth right down the proverbial garden path. Even when the sleuth happens to be right, that sort of obsession can add an interesting layer of tension to a story, and a layer of character development. There are a lot of examples of this kind of fixation in crime fiction. I’ll just mention a few of them.

In Agatha Christie’s The Murder on the Links, Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings investigate the murder of Paul Renauld, a Canadian émigré to France. Renauld wrote to Poirot, saying that his life was in danger and asking for Poirot’s help. But by the time Poirot and Hastings got to Renauld’s home, it was too late. Now Poirot feels that he owes it to his client and his client’s widow to find out what happened. Also investigating the case is Inspector Giraud of the Sûreté. To put it mildly, Poirot and Giraud are not compatible. Most of that is because Giraud has become fixated on one theory of the murder. And in fact, I don’t think it’s spoiling the story to say that he arrests the victim’s son Jack as a part of that theory. He is so obsessed with Jack Renauld that he doesn’t listen to what Poirot has to say about the matter until it’s almost too late.

In Reginald Hill’s Recalled to Life, Cissy Kohler is released from prison after serving a long sentence for the 1963 murder of Pamela Westrup. There’s a lot of not-very-flattering talk that she was innocent, and that the investigating officer, Wally Tallentire, know that. In fact, so goes the gossip, he tampered with evidence to ensure she’d be imprisoned. Tallentire has since died, but Superintendent Andy Dalziel, whom Tallantire mentored, is sure that his boss behaved appropriately. He’s just as certain that Cissy Kohler was guilty. So he re-opens the case in his own way and goes into the events again. It’s mostly to clear his mentor’s name, but he also wants to show, once and for all, that Cissy Kohler was a killer.

In Geraldine Evans’ Dead Before Morning, DI Joe Rafferty and DS Dafyd Llewellyn of the Elmhurst CID, Essex, investigate the murder of a young woman whose body is found on the grounds of the exclusive Elmhurst Sanatorium. As you can imagine, they look closely into the backgrounds and doings of the people who live and work there. So one of their ‘people of interest’ is the hospital’s owner, Dr. Anthony Melville-Briggs. Rafferty takes an instant dislike to Melville-Briggs, and it’s not hard to see why. Melville-Briggs is arrogant, insufferable, malicious, a serial adulterer and more. Nonetheless, as Llewellyn points out, there are other possibilities. When the victim is identified as a sex worker named Linda Wilks, the duo begin looking into her contacts with clients, her family, and other people she knew. But Rafferty is certain – too certain, if you ask Llewellyn – that the man they want is Melville-Briggs. That fixation plays its role in the way the investigation proceeds, and it adds an interesting layer of character.

Peter James’ Superintendent Roy Grace of the Brighton and Hove CID falls prey to the same sort of fixation in Not Dead Yet. In one plot line of that novel, Grace learns that Amis Smallbone has just been released from prison. In Grace’s opinion, Smallbone is,
 

‘…the nastiest and most malevolent piece of vermin he had ever dealt with.’
 

So he’s not too pleased to hear the news. One day, Grace’s partner Cleo Morey finds that her car has been sabotaged and a taunting sign painted on it. Grace is certain Smallbone is responsible, and wastes no time tracking the man down. When he finds him, let’s say that Grace wastes no time following up on his assumption. His certainly that Smallbone is the vandal blinds Grace to any other possibility.

And then there’s DS Bev Morriss, whom we first meet in Maureen Carter’s Working Girls. In that novel, she and her team investigate the murder of fifteen-year-old Michelle Lucas. It turns out that Michelle was a sex worker whose pimp was a man named Charlie Hawes. There are all kinds of stories about him, so Morriss is prepared to dislike him already. And when she finally gets the chance to meet him, she is even more certain that he is the murderer. In fact, she determines to do whatever she needs to do to get him. Her fixation on Hawes as the killer means that she’s not as open to other suspects as she might otherwise be, and it affects the investigation.

Of course, no discussion of this kind of fixation would really be complete without a mention of Ian Rankin’s John Rebus and his fixation with Morris Gerald ‘Big Ger’ Cafferty. As fans will know, Cafferty is an Edinburgh crime boss who’s been a thorn in Rebus’ side for a long time. And every chance he gets, Rebus is all too happy to go after his nemesis. It sometimes leads him in the wrong direction (no spoilers here), but it always adds a layer of tension to the novels.

Sometimes police can have that sort of fixation about one of their own. For example, in Brian Stoddart’s 1920’s-era A Madras Miasma, Superintendent Christian Le Fanu and his assistant Muhammad ‘Habi’ Habibullah investigate the murder of Jane Carstairs. One morning her body is discovered in the Buckingham Canal in Madras (now Chennai). Le Fanu and Habi get to work on the investigation, and are almost immediately hampered by Madras Commissioner of Police Arthur Jepson. Jepson dislikes and distrusts Le Fanu for several reasons, not least of which is that he thinks Le Fanu is ‘too soft’ on Indians. So he takes every opportunity to sabotage the investigation and make things difficult for Le Fanu and Habi.

Everyone has biases and strong beliefs. When they get in the way of objectivity, they can hamper, and even ruin, police investigations. Still, they can add an interesting layer of conflict to a story or series.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Michel Schönberg and Herbert Kretzmer’s Stars.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Geraldine Evans, Ian Fleming, Maureen Carter, Peter James, Reginald Hill, Victor Hugo

In the Spotlight: Geraldine Evans’ Dead Before Morning

>In The Spotlight: Ross Macdonald's The Far Side of the DollarHello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. The British police procedural in its varied forms has been a staple of crime fiction for a very long time. It’s evolved with the times, but is still very much with us. Let’s take a look at one example of this sort of novel today, and turn the spotlight on Geraldine Evans’ Dead Before Morning. This is the first of her series featuring DI Joe Rafferty and DS Dafyd Llewellyn of the Elmhurst CID in Essex.

The two are called out to the exclusive Elmhurst Sanatorium when the body of a young woman is discovered on the grounds. She doesn’t have any identification, but it’s soon established that she’s not one of the patients; nor is she on the staff. But, since the body was found on the property, Rafferty and Llewellyn start their investigation with the people who live and work there.

The sanatorium, owned by Dr. Anthony Melville-Briggs, has a good reputation and attracts well-heeled patients. So Melville-Briggs wants the police to move as quickly as possible, and involve his hospital as little as possible. And he’s not above using his considerable wealth and influence to ensure that happens. Despite Melville-Briggs’ veiled and not-so-veiled threats and posturing, Rafferty and Llewellyn get to work and begin to get to know the people at the sanatorium.

Before long, the victim is identified as a sex worker, Linda Wilks. This discovery opens up several possibilities. One is that she had arranged to meet someone who works at Elmhurst, and who then killed her. And there is a telephone record to support that. But it does seem an odd place for a sex worker to meet a client. And there’s no evidence as to who could have made that call. One by one, the detectives work through the names of the staff members, but no good leads turn up.

There’s another possibility, too. Melville-Briggs is an unpleasant and much-disliked person – and for good reason. He’s got his share of well-earned enemies and at least one bitter professional rival. It could be that one of those people killed Linda Wilks and left her body on the hospital grounds to sabotage him.

It’s also possible that Melville-Briggs himself is the murderer. He seems to have an unbreakable alibi – he was attending a major evening event at the time, and was seen by a lot of people – but Rafferty and Llewellyn don’t discount him. That’s especially true of Rafferty, who’s taken a strong dislike to the man.  And, given his personal habit of serial infidelity, Rafferty’s view isn’t far-fetched. Melville-Briggs could very well have had his reasons for the murder. Little by little, and with an unexpected piece or two of luck, the two detectives find out the truth about the murder. They also uncover some very unseemly things going on at the hospital.

This is a procedural, so the focus is Rafferty and Llewellyn’s search for the killer. The story is told from Rafferty’s point of view (in third person), so readers follow along as he and Llewellyn follow up leads, get information from the medical examiner, interview suspects and witnesses, and make sense of the evidence. This novel isn’t what you’d call an ‘ensemble’ procedural, but readers do get the sense that several people are involved in the investigation.

Because the story is told from Rafferty’s perspective, we learn quite a bit about him. He’s from a large, Irish, working-class family.
 

‘His family was the limit, especially as some of them were of the opinion that if they must have a copper in the family, he might at least have the decency to be a bent one.’
 

He’s widowed, and feels a mixture of relief and guilt over that relief when he thinks about his wife. His marriage was not a happy one, and he’s really in no way interested in another try. That doesn’t stop his mother from trying to match him up with his distant cousin, Maureen, though. In this novel, despite her efforts, he’s contentedly single.

Through Rafferty’s eyes, we get to know a little about Llewellyn, too. Unlike his boss, Llewellyn has a university education. He can be quite erudite, and Rafferty is sure that he does it just to be irritating, since he knows that Rafferty can’t match him in that arena. He doesn’t have the experience Rafferty does, but he has a good background in psychology. He’s a recent transfer to Elmhurst in this novel, so readers get the chance to see how this duo first interact and become accustomed to each other’s strengths and weaknesses. They are quite different, and they irritate each other at times. But this isn’t a stereotyped case of police who can’t work together and can’t respect each other’s skills.

The solution to the mystery is an unhappy one. This isn’t one of those stories where the killer is led away as everyone else lives happily ever after. There’s some real sadness for some people. That said, it’s also not a gritty, seamy sort of crime novel. A friend I trust implicitly once described certain kinds of novels as ‘cosies with an edge.’ This one falls within that category. It’s not gratuitous, and the violence, while mentioned and made clear, is mostly ‘offstage.’ At the same time, it’s hardly ‘frothy.’

Still, there is wit in the story. For instance, at one point, Rafferty is sharing a theory about the killer with Llewellyn.
 
‘Back into his stride with a vengeance, Llewellyn threw cold water over the idea with the ease of long practise.’
 

There are also some funny bits as Rafferty’s mother tries to match him up with Maureen, and as she asks for his help getting a wayward cousin out of jail.

Dead Before Morning is a light police procedural that introduces two quite different detectives, each of whom is good at his job, but in different ways. It takes place mostly in the context of an exclusive psychiatric hospital, and gives readers a look at what sometimes goes on behind very respectable doors. But what’s your view? Have you read Dead Before Morning? If you have, what elements do you see in it?

 
 
 

Coming Up On In The Spotlight
 

Monday, 18 January/Tuesday, 19 January – The Beast Must Die – Nicholas Blake

Monday, 25 January/Tuesday, 26 January – The Merchant’s House – Kate Ellis

Monday 1 February/Tuesday 2 February – Maximum Bob – Elmore Leonard

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Filed under Dead Before Morning, Geraldine Evans