Category Archives: Giorgio Scerbanenco

I Can’t Face Another Day*

Even in today’s world of better understanding of mental health, many people still don’t feel comfortable talking about suicide. It can be incredibly difficult to talk about the depression and sadness that lead people to take that step. But, of course, we need to.

And suicide doesn’t just affect those who take their own lives. Those left behind are devastated, and often feel a deep sense of guilt and, often, shame. Because mental health issues such as depression often contribute to suicide, it’s not something people have tended to discuss openly, but we should.

Suicide is there. And it causes a great deal of pain. The recent deaths by suicide of Kate Spade and of Anthony Bourdain have brought suicide into the public conversation, but it’s a tragic reality for many families. And we see that in crime fiction, too. In fact, it’s interesting to note how often characters don’t want a death to have been suicide. They don’t want to bear the guilt that comes with suicide. Or, they don’t want to believe a loved one was depressed/upset/etc. enough to commit suicide. Or…

There’s a mention of suicide in Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone. In that novel, Rachel Verinder receives a valuable diamond called the Moonstone for her eighteenth birthday. It may not be the generous gift it seems to be, though, because it is said to be cursed. And misfortune soon befalls the Verinder family. On the very night Rachel receives the diamond, it’s stolen from her room. Then, second housemaid Roseanna Spearman disappears and is found to have committed suicide. This devastates her family, and, of course, saddens the members of the household where she works. Sergeant Cuff investigates the theft of the diamond, and, over the course of the next two years, traces its whereabouts and finds out who stole it. And we see how the theft and suicide are related.

Agatha Christie mentions suicide in more than one of her stories. In And Then There Were None, for instance, we are introduced to Miss Emily Brent. She is one of ten people who are invited to a house on Indian Island, off the Devon coast. On the night she and the others arrive, each one is accused of causing the death of at least one other person. In the case of Miss Brent, it’s the death of Beatrice Taylor, a former housemaid who threw herself into a river. Miss Brent insists that Beatrice’s death was not her fault; in fact, she’s quite smug about it on the surface. That night, one of the other guests dies of what turns out to be poison. Then, there’s another death later that night. Now, it’s clear that the guests have been lured to the island, and that their lives are in danger. Miss Brent is not immune, as we learn when she is killed by what looks like a bee sting. And it’s interesting to see that, as we get to know her a bit, we see that she is more haunted by Beatrice’s death than she lets on.  Suicide also impacts The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and The Hollow, among others.

There’s an Ellery Queen novel in which a suicide towards the end of the novel rocks Queen to the core. Without going into details, Queen feels that he bears some of the responsibility for this suicide, and he finds that very difficult. Among other things, this shows a bit of Queen’s human side, if I may put it that way. And it shows a bit of the impact a suicide can have on those left behind.

We also see that impact in Giorgio Scerbanenco’s A Private Venus. Davide Auseri happens to be in Milan one day, where he meets Alberta Radelli. On impulse, he invites her for a drive to Florence and a day there. She agrees, and the two find they enjoy each other’s company. At the end of the day, Alberta begs Davide to take her with him, and not back to Milan. He demurs, and she insists. Then, she threatens to commit suicide if he doesn’t take her. He refuses again. Not long afterwards, Alberta’s body is found in a field outside Milan, and it seems she’s carried out her threat. The thought that he is responsible for this suicide devastates Davide, leaving him inconsolable. He takes to heavy drinking, and even trips to rehabilitation facilities don’t help. Now, his father is deeply concerned about his son, and hires Dr. Duca Lamberti to help. Lamberti isn’t sure what he can do, but he agrees. As he gets to know Davide, he finally learns the truth about the young man’s depression. Lamberti finally concludes that the only way to solve this is to find out what really happened to Alberta Radelli, so as to relieve Davide of his guilt. It turns out that Alberta was murdered, but the novel has a very vivid depiction of a someone consumed by grief and guilt because of a suicide.

Nicolas Freeling’s Double-Barrel begins as Amsterdam police detective Piet Van der Valk is seconded to the small town of Zwinderen. Someone has been sending vicious anonymous letters to various residents, and they’ve had terrible consequences. In fact, two of the recipients have committed suicide. The local police haven’t been able to find out who wrote the letters, but whoever it is bears some responsibility for those deaths. As Van der Valk and his wife, Arlette, get to know the people in town, they learn that more than one person has secrets to hide…

In Arnaldur Indriðason’s Jar City, Reykjavík police inspector Erlendur and his team investigate the murder of a seemingly inoffensive elderly man named Holberg. At first, it looks like a robbery gone horribly wrong. But soon enough, the evidence suggests something different. So, Erlendur and the team look into the victim’s past. They learn that he’d been accused of rape more than once. The first to make that accusation was a woman named Kolbrún. When she went to the police, they didn’t take her seriously; in fact, they humiliated her. Her distress was so great that she committed suicide. Although this all happened years ago, Kolbrún’s sister, Elín, still grieves. She is also still bitter about the way the police handled the case, and blames the police, at least in part, for her sister’s suicide. Erlendur knows that Elín is suffering, but he also knows that she may be an important source of information. So, he takes the risk of talking to her about what happened. She is no friend of the police, but she ends up being helpful.

It doesn’t take a detective, or crime fiction, really, to know how awful suicide is, both for the person who takes that step, and for those who are left behind. It’s hard to remember at times, but we don’t have to go through life’s pain alone. For anyone who’s thinking about suicide, here are some people to talk to:

 

Australia – 1300 22 4636

Canada – 1-833-456-4566

India – 91-22-27546669

Ireland – 087 2 60 90 90

New Zealand – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

Spain (Also serves some Latin American countries) – 717-003-717

UK –  08457 90 90 90

USA – 1-800-273-8255

 

If I didn’t list your country, that doesn’t mean there isn’t help. There is. Reach out.

 

We can all do our bit to help. If someone needs to talk, we can listen – without judgement. We can help find resources. We can take it seriously when someone is depressed and check in to be sure that person has support. We can’t make life’s sadness go away. But we can stand together to get through it.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Elton John’s Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arnaldur Indriðason, Ellery Queen, Giorgio Scerbanenco, Nicolas Freeling, Wilkie Collins

Fresh Out of Jail Trying to Make a New Start*

An interesting comment exchange with Cleo, at Cleopatra Loves Books, has got me thinking about ex-convicts. People go to prison for different reasons, not all of which mean that the ex-convict is going to be a danger to society once released. But that doesn’t necessarily mean life is easy for those who are trying to start over again.

For one thing, it’s often hard for an ex-convict to get a job. Not many employers are willing to give a chance to someone who’s been in prison. There’s also the issue of settling back into ‘regular’ society. Prison is its own world, with its own culture and its own ways. A person can get used to life there, and then find it very difficult to rejoin ‘the rest of us’ when the time comes. There are other challenges, too.

That transition – from prison to life on the outside – can make for an interesting plot point or layer of character development in a crime novel. And it makes sense, too, since prison and crimes often go together. Here are just a few examples; I know you’ll think of many, many more.

In Ngaio Marsh’s Tied Up In Tinsel, sculptor and painter Agatha Troy is commissioned to do a portrait of Hilary Bill-Tasman. She’ll be working over the Christmas holiday, so Bill-Tasman invites her to do the work at his country home, Halbards. He’s planning a holiday gathering, too, so there is a lot going on at the estate. Bill-Tasman’s staff is unusual in that each one of them has spent time in prison for murder. None of these people is habitually violent or likely to offend again, so Bill-Tasman wanted to give them another chance. He’s a big believer in the redemptive power of productive and dignified employment, and he’s confident this experiment will work. On Christmas Eve, Bill-Tasman has a party for the local children, at which his uncle, Fleaton ‘Uncle Flea’ Forrester, is to dress up as a Druid and distribute gifts. But Forrester is taken ill at the last minute and isn’t able to do the job. His servant, Alfred Moult, stands in for him, and the party goes on. After the party, Moult goes missing and is later found dead. Troy’s husband, Inspector Roderick Alleyn, is persuaded to investigate. It’s assumed at first that a member of Bill-Tasman’s staff must be guilty, since each one of them has already killed, and since there was always friction between them and Moult. In the end, though, Alleyn finds it’s not quite that simple.

Giorgio Scerbanenco’s A Private Venus introduces us to Dr. Duca Lamberti. He’s recently been released from prison, where he served time for euthanasia. One evening, wealthy engineer Pietro Auseri offers Lamberti an unusual proposition. He wants to hire Lamberti to help his son, Davide, overcome a bout with severe alcoholism and depression. It seems that Davide Auseri has not been able to stop drinking, despite spending time in rehabilitation facilities. Lamberti isn’t sure what he can do, but he agrees to try. Little by little, he finds out why Davide is suffering so much. A year earlier, he happened to meet a young woman, Alberta Radelli. They started talking, decided they liked each other, and spent a pleasant day together in Florence. At the end of the day, Alberta begged her new friend to take her with him. Davide refused, and Alberta threatened suicide. He continued to refuse, and not long afterwards, Alberta’s body was discovered in a field outside of Milan. Since then, Davide has blamed himself for what he thinks is her suicide. Lamberti believes that the only way to help Davide is to find out what really happened to Alberta Radelli, and he sets out to do just that.

Angela Savage’s short story The Teardrop Tattoos begins shortly after the narrator has been released from prison, where she served time for murder. She is given a place to live not far from a child care facility, and she settles in with her constant companion, a Pit Bull named Sully. All goes well enough until the day a complaint is filed against her. One of the mothers whose children attend the child care facility lodged the complaint because Sully is a restricted breed. The local council then sends a letter to the narrator, instructing her to give Sully up. She has no choice, but that doesn’t mean she’s not going to do anything about it. As the story goes on, we learn more about why the narrator was in prison, and that adds an interesting and important layer to the story.

John Clarkson’s Among Thieves features James Beck, who owns a bar in the Red Hood section of Brooklyn. He served eight years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, and he bought the bar with money he got from a wrongful-imprisonment lawsuit. The bar’s co-owners are Emmanuel ‘Manny’ Guzman, Demarco Jones, and Ciro Baltassare, all people Beck met in and through prison. The bar is their chance to ‘go straight’ and live legal lives. Everything changes when Manny’s cousin, Olivia Sanchez, comes to him for help, claiming that she’s been harassed by a co-worker. She goes on to say that she was hounded out of her job and ‘blacklisted’ from other companies because she was going to ‘blow the whistle’ on illegal activity at the investment firm where she worked. Manny wants to handle this in his own way, but Beck persuades him to hold off – at first. Then, the group discovers that there’s a lot more going on here than it seems on the surface. And they soon find themselves drawn into a complicated case of fraud, theft and murder.

And then there’s Magdaleno ‘Mags’ Argueta, whom we meet in Christina Hoag’s Skin of Tattoos. He’s recently been released from prison, where he served time on weapons charges. He was set up by a fellow gang member, and he’s aware of that. But his feeling is that, by taking this prison time, he’s demonstrating loyalty to his gang, which he’s always thought as a family. Showing that sort of loyalty goes far among gang members. Now that he’s out of prison, Mags wants to ‘go straight,’ try to get a legitimate job, and maybe even get out of the gang-ridden area of Los Angeles where he lives. It’s going to be difficult, though. For one thing, the gang leadership doesn’t easily let members go. For another, not many employers will trust someone who’s been in prison with a job. Certainly, there aren’t many legitimate opportunities to make a decent income. And there’s Mags’ loyalty to the gang. The members are closer than brothers. Still, Mags is determined to try to live a legitimate life – until a series of events draws him closer to the gang life and forces him to make some choices that could cost him his life.

Being released from prison doesn’t really end a former convict’s challenges. It’s not easy to start over, and certainly not easy to live a ‘straight and narrow life.’ And that tension can add much to a crime novel.

Thanks, Cleo, for the inspiration. Now, folks, give yourselves a treat and go visit Cleo’s excellent blog. Fine reviews await you!

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Kinks’ Once a Thief.

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Filed under Angela Savage, Christina Hoag, Giorgio Scerbanenco, John Clarkson, Ngaio Marsh

Spare Him His Life From This Monstrosity*

It’s easy to understand how people might want to clear their own names if they’re mixed up in a crime, especially a crime such as murder. It’s also easy enough to understand why, for instance, attorneys work to defend their clients and clear their names. That makes sense both in real life and in crime fiction.

But there are also cases in crime fiction where someone else steps in to try to clear another person of a crime. And there are many reasons to do that. It might be that the suspect is a friend or loved one. Or it might be the sleuth him or herself who doesn’t believe a suspect is guilty. There are other reasons, too. This plot point gives an author some interesting possibilities for character and plot development, as well as for adding in tension. There are plenty of examples – far more than I can mention in one post. Here are just a few.

Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Boscombe Valley Mystery introduces readers to Alice Turner. When her fiancé, James McCarthy, is arrested for murdering his father, she goes to Inspector Lestrade to ask him to review the case.  She is convinced that McCarthy is innocent, and wants his name cleared. There’s plenty of evidence against McCarthy, but Lestrade presents the case to Sherlock Holmes, who asks Dr. Watson to help him look into it. In this case, it’s not just Alice Turner’s love for her fiancé that drives her. She is convinced that he wouldn’t be capable of committing murder. And Holmes’ investigation proves that she was right.

In Agatha Christie’s Five Little Pigs, Carla Lemarchant hires Hercule Poirot to investigate the sixteen-year-old poisoning murder of her father, famous painter Amyas Crale. Crale’s wife (and Carla’s mother) Caroline was arrested, tried, and convicted in the matter, and there was plenty of evidence against her.  But Carla doesn’t think she was guilty. And it’s not just because of any sentimental attachment Carla has to her mother. She firmly believes her mother was innocent of murder, and she wants Poirot to investigate. He agrees, and then interviews the five people who were ‘on the scene’ at the time of the murder. He also gets written accounts from each of those people. In the end, he discovers that Carla was right: someone else killed Amyas Crale.  Christie uses this plot point in other stories, too, right, fans of Mrs. McGinty’s Dead?

Lord Peter Wimsey has a very strong motive for wanting to clear Harriet Vane’s name in Dorothy L. Sayers’ Strong Poison: he’s fallen in love with her. Vane is arrested and tried for the poisoning murder of her former lover, Philip Boyes. There is evidence against her, too. But the jury can’t reach a verdict, so the judge declares that there will be a new trial. Wimsey, who attended the first trial, is determined to ask Vane to marry him. But he’ll have to clear her name first. So, he decides to investigate the murder. With the help of some friends, he’s able to find out who really killed Boyes and why.

In Giorgio Scerbanenco’s  A Private Venus, we meet Dr. Duca Lamberti. He’s recently been released from prison, where he was serving a sentence for euthanasia. One evening, wealthy engineer Pietro Auseri offers Lamberti a proposition. It seems that Auseri’s son, Davide, has been drinking heavily, despite going for treatment. Auseri’s concerned for Davide and wants Lamberti to help. Lamberti’s not sure how much good he can do, but he agrees to at least try. After a b it, he discovers the reason for Davide’s drinking and depression. It seems that a year earlier, Davide met a young woman named Alberta Radelli. They had a pleasant day together in Florence, and at the end of it, Alberta asked Davide to take her with him. He refused, and she threatened suicide. Not long afterwards, she was found dead in a field outside Milan. Davide’s convinced he is responsible for Alberta’s death. Lamberti believes that the best way to help Davide is to find out what really happened to Alberta, so he begins to ask questions. It’s not long before he turns up the distinct possibility that Alberta was murdered. So, Lamberti works to find out who killed the victim, so he can clear Davide of his sense of guilt.

In Håkan Nesser’s Mind’s Eye, it’s actually the police detective who decides to clear a suspect’s name. Inspector Van Veeteren and his team gathered the evidence that implicated Janek Mitter for the murder of his wife, Eva Ringmar. Mitter claims that he is innocent, but he was so drunk on the night of the murder that he has no memory of what happened, nor of who else might have committed the crime. So, he is tried and convicted. Van Veeteren has begun to have his doubts about MItter’s guilt, so he goes over the case again. He’s hoping to be able to clear Mitter’s name and find out who the killer is. Then, Mitter himself is murdered. Now Van Veeteren and his team redouble their efforts to find out the truth.

And then there’s Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s Last Rituals. Reykjavík attorney Thóra Gudmundsdóttir gets a telephone call from Germany, from Amelia Guntlieb. Her son, Harald, was studying at the university in Reykjavík when he was murdered. The police think they have the right suspect in Harald Guntlieb’s friend, Hugi Thórisson. But Amelia Guntlieb doesn’t believe he killed her son. She wants Thóra to defend Hugi and find out who the real killer was. It’s an unusual request, but the fee is irresistible. So, Thóra and the Guntlieb family banker, Matthew Reich, work together to find out the truth about this case.

There are many other cases, both real and fictional, where someone asks for a suspect’s name to be cleared. These are only a few. Your turn.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Dorothy L. Sayers, Giorgio Scerbanenco, Håkan Nesser, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

And I Blame Myself*

One way to get away with a crime – or leas have a good chance of it – is to frame someone else. And a very effective way to frame someone else is to convince that someone that she or he is guilty. That’s not easy to do, as you can imagine, but it can happen. And when it’s successful, a real murderer has a ready-made scapegoat.

This plot point can be difficult to pull off in crime fiction. It’s got to be done in a credible way, and most people wouldn’t easily believe that they are guilty of murder. But when it’s done effectively, it can add suspense to a story.

For example, in Agatha Christie’s Third Girl, Hercule Poirot gets a visit from a young woman who tells him that she may have committed a murder. Before she can give any details, though, she re-thinks her visit and leaves without giving her name. With the help of his friend, detective novelist Ariadne Oliver, Poirot discovers that the young woman is called Norma Restarick. Poirot and Mrs. Oliver try to find Norma, but she goes missing.  As they look into this case further, they discover that there really was a murder. And it turns out that more than one person had a motive for murder, and a motive to make Norma think she is guilty. But until Norma turns up, it will be difficult to find the truth about the case.

In Ellery Queen’s Ten Days Wonder, we are introduced to Howard Van Horn. He’s been having disturbing blackouts lately, which is difficult enough. Then one morning, he wakes up with blood all over him. Terrified that he’s done something horrible, Van Horn reaches out to his old university friend, Ellery Queen, for help. Queen agrees to see what he can do, and he and Van Horn try to get to the root of what’s been going on. The trail leads to Van Horn’s home town of Wrightsville, so the two go there. They stay with Van Horn’s father, Dietrich, and his stepmother, Sally. One night, Sally is strangled. Van Horn’s had another blackout, so he is convinced he was responsible. In fact, everyone believes that except for Queen. Among other things, this story shows just how powerful a belief can be.

Giorgio Scerbanenco’s A Private Venus introduces readers to Dr. Duca Lamberti. He’s recently been released from prison where he served time for euthanasia, and isn’t quite sure what he’ll do next. Then, he’s approached by a wealthy Milanese engineer, Pietro Auseri, to help solve a difficult problem. Auseri’s son, Davide, has been drinking heavily and showing signs of severe depression and despair. Nothing, not even stints in exclusive rehabilitation facilities, has helped. Lamberti isn’t sure what he can do to help, but he agrees to try. After a time, he learns the reason for Davide’s drinking. A year earlier, Davide happened to meet a young woman named Alberta Radelli. After spending a day together, she begged him to take her with him, but Davide refused. Then, she threatened suicide if he didn’t, saying that she couldn’t go back to her own life. He refused again, and they parted. Soon afterwards, her body was discovered, and the death looked very much like a suicide. Since then, Davide has blamed himself for her death, believing that he’s a murderer, even if he didn’t actually use a weapon. Lamberti believes that the only way to help Davide is to find out the truth about Alberta’s death, so he begins to look into it. And he finds that this was no suicide: someone murdered the young woman. As Davide helps Lamberti get to the truth, he slowly frees himself of his guilt.

In The Sins of the Fathers, Lawrence Block’s first Matthew Scudder novel, Scudder is approached by wealthy Cale Hanniford. His daughter, Wendy, was recently murdered, and the police have a suspect in custody. He is Richard Vanderpoel, Wendy’s roommate. At first, Scudder isn’t sure how he can help Hanniford. But then, Hanniford says that what he really wants is to learn more about Wendy, and what led up to the murder. He tells Scudder that he and Wendy were estranged for several years, so he didn’t know much about her, her friends, or her life. Now, he wants to find out about her. Scudder reluctantly agrees to ask some questions, and he goes to visit Vanderpoel in prison. His meeting with the young man isn’t successful, though, as Vanderpoel is too drugged or dazed to be coherent. He doesn’t dispute his guilt, but Scudder does begin to wonder if the facts are as clear as they seem. And it turns out that they are not. Someone else was willing to let Vanderpoel believe he committed a murder.

And then there’s David Rosenfelt’s One Dog Night. Noah Galloway believes that, just over six years before the events in the novel, he was guilty of arson and the murder of twenty-six people. He’s done his best to re-build his life since then, but has always been afraid he’d be caught. He’s especially worried about the effect on his wife, Becky, and their son. Still, life’s gone on. Then, the FBI catches up with him and arrests him. Galloway doesn’t really protest. In fact, he even says,
 

‘‘Take me away.’’
 

But he will need a lawyer to take his case. That lawyer turns out to be Andy Carpenter. For Carpenter, it’s an awkward situation. Several years earlier, Galloway was using drugs, and broke into Carpenter’s home to try to find money or valuables. At the time, Carpenter chose not to press charges; now he’s questioning the wisdom of that decision. Still, he takes Galloway’s case, and starts looking into the arson and deaths. And he discovers that Galloway was very successfully duped into thinking he is guilty.

It’s not easy to really convince people they’ve committed murder. So, if that plot point is to be used in a crime novel, it’s got to be used carefully. But when it is used effectively, it can add an interesting layer of suspense to a story.

 
 
 

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

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Filed under Agatha Christie, David Rosenfelt, Ellery Queen, Giorgio Scerbanenco, Lawrence Block

I’m an Adult Now*

When does a young person become an adult? What’s the line between ‘not-an-adult’ and ‘adult?’ It’s really rather blurred, if you think about it. Legally speaking, people attain majority in many places when they’re 18, or sometimes 21. This means they can vote, enter into contracts, give sexual consent, and more.

But if you think about it, do you really consider an 18-year-old an adult? In some ways, yes, especially legally. But if you know young people in this age group, you know that they’re often in that ‘not-quite-ready-for-adulthood’ category. So, the legal definition doesn’t really capture it. There are, of course, coming-of-age rituals in different cultures and religions (e.g. the Bar/Bat Mitzvah, the quinceañera, confirmation, or the kinaalda (that’s the coming-of-age ritual for Navajo girls)). But those rituals usually take place during the early-to-mid teen years. And most of us would likely agree that people that age are not adults.

So, the answer to ‘how do you know when someone’s an adult’ can be murky. And crime fiction explores that murkiness. That shouldn’t be surprising, since the genre shows us ourselves. But it’s really interesting to see how the question is addressed.

Some people think of adulthood as meaning the taking on of adult responsibilities, such as getting a job, minding the children, having a home, and the like. But plenty of very young people do those things. For instance, in Denise Mina’s Garnethill, protagonist Maureen ‘Mauri’ O’Donnell is trying to clear her name of suspicion of murdering her former lover, Douglas Brady. At one point, she’s visiting her friend, Leslie. Here’s what Leslie says about some of the children who live near her:

 

‘‘That’s wee Magsie,’ said Leslie. ‘She’s three and a half. Aren’t ye, wee teuchie?’
Wee Magsie kept her skirt over her face and giggled shyly, rocking from side to side.
‘Yes,’ said the biggest girl, who could only have been seven. ‘I’m her big sister and I’ve to look after her today.’…
‘See that?’ said Leslie. ‘They’re wee mammies before they stop being kids.’’ 

 

This child is only seven – certainly not an adult chronologically. but she’s already doing the sort of child-minding that many parents would entrust only to an adult in whom they had confidence.

In Peter May’s Entry Island, Sergeant Enquêteur Sime Mackenzie of the Sûreté du Québec is seconded to Entry Island when James Cowell is murdered there. As it is, he has regular bouts of insomnia. But during his trip to the island, he begins to have vivid dreams of stories he was told as a child – stories of his Scottish ancestor, also called Sime. As the novel goes on, we learn more about that Sime, who lived during the early-to-mid 19th Century, and emigrated to Canada. Among other things, we learn that, although he’s a boy by nearly any modern standard, he takes on a great deal of adult responsibility when his father’s off hunting. I don’t think it’s spoiling this novel to say that the 19th-Century Sime’s father is killed. At that point, Sime takes on even more responsibility for his home, his mother and his siblings. That scenario might not be unusual for the times, but it certainly blurs the line between child and adult.

To make matters even murkier, there are also plenty of crime-fictional characters who are chronologically adults, but don’t really seem to have crossed that threshold. For example, in Agatha Christie’s Appointment With Death, we are introduced to the Boynton family. Matriarch Mrs. Boynton and her adult children, Lennox, Raymond and Carol, are in the Middle East on a sightseeing tour. With them is Mrs. Boynton’s youngest child, seventeen-year-old Ginevra ‘Jinny,’ and Lennox’s wife, Natalie. This isn’t a ‘normal’ family trip, though. Mrs. Boynton is malicious, domineering and mentally cruel. Her family members are so cowed that no-one dares to oppose her, and that includes the three oldest Boyntons. Through the eyes of some of the other characters (including Hercule Poirot), we get to know the Boyntons. It’s interesting to see that, although Lennox, Raymond and Carol are chronologically adults (they’re in their twenties to early thirties), they don’t really live like adults, as we usually conceive of that. Several characters make mention of it. But that doesn’t stop them being suspected when Mrs. Boynton is murdered on the second day of the family’s journey to Petra…

In Vicki Delaney’s Winter of Secrets, we are introduced to Wendy Wyatt-Yarmouth, her brother Jason, and five of their friends. All of them are university students on a skiing trip to Trafalgar in British Columbia. They’re all from well-to-do families, so they have no problem affording the trip, renting an SUV, bringing all of the skiing equipment they’ll need and so on. On Christmas Eve, Jason and his best friend, Ewan Williams, are in the SUV the group has rented. They have a terrible accident and go off the road into a nearby river. Jason dies from the injuries he’s received. But it turns out that Ewan was dead – probably for several hours – before the accident. Now, Sergeant John Winters and Constable Moonlight ‘Molly’ Smith have a murder case on their hands. And it won’t be easy. All of the people involved are hiding things, and Wendy and Jason’s parents aren’t very helpful. In the end, though, they find out who the murderer is. Throughout the novel, it’s interesting to see how, although these are adults in several ways, they don’t really live completely responsible adult lives.

And then there’s Giorgio Scerbanenco’s A Private Venus. Dr. Duca Lamberti has recently been released from prison after serving a sentence for euthanasia. One day he’s approached by Pietro Auseri, an engineer who’s concerned about his son, Davide. It seems that Davide has been in a deep depression, and has taken to drinking heavily. Even stints in rehabilitation facilities haven’t been of any help. Auseri wants Lamberti to find out what’s the matter with Davide, and help him. Lamberti isn’t sure what he can do, but he agrees. He soon learns that Davide’s depression stems from an incident a year earlier, when a young woman named Alberta Radelli died after threatening Davide that she would commit suicide if he didn’t take her with him. Davide blames himself for her death, so Lamberti believes that his patient won’t heal unless they learn the truth about the young woman’s death. Davide agrees, and the two look more closely into the matter. It turns out that Alberta’s death was not a suicide at all. Throughout the book, we see that, although Davide Auseri is chronologically an adult, he doesn’t really have an independent life, and Lamberti has to coach him to really start thinking for himself.

As you can see, crime fiction isn’t very helpful when it comes to working out where the line is between ‘adult’ and ‘not-an-adult.’ And it’s quite likely that it’s not really a line, anyway. What do you think? When did you first really think of yourself as an adult? I’m due any day now, I think…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by The Pursuit of Happiness.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Denise Mina, Giorgio Scerbanenco, Peter May, Vicki Delany