Category Archives: Gordon Ferris

This Isn’t Where We Intended to Be*

Almost all relationships are founded on certain assumptions. When those assumptions change, or when something else fundamental changes, the relationship changes, too. Sometimes those changes are what a lot of people think of as positive (a new baby, a major promotion, for instance). Other changes are traumatic (a major injury, say, or the death of a loved one). When those things happen, the old rules don’t apply any more, and a new understanding has to develop. Sometimes it works well; sometimes it doesn’t. Either way, that re-writing of the rules can make for a lot of awkwardness and strain.

And that’s part of what makes it a solid and useful plot thread for a crime novel. Major changes in relationships can add character development, too. And they’re realistic, so they can add authenticity to a book.

For example, one of the major characters in Agatha Christie’s Taken at the Flood (AKA There is a Tide…) is Lynn Marchmont. She’s recently returned from service in WWII to her home village of Warmsley Vale, and for the moment, is living with her mother, Adela. Lynn’s been away for a few years, and experienced a number of things. While she’s still her mother’s daughter, she’s a full-fledged adult with a very different perspective to the one she had. And that makes for some awkwardness between them. It’s clear that they love each other, but their relationship has gotten somewhat strained. That’s especially true with regard to their financial situation. In one major plot thread, we learn that Adela’s brother, Gordon Cloade, was a very wealthy man who’d always promised that his siblings and their families wouldn’t have to worry about money. But he married without changing his will to protect the rest of his family. Shortly after his marriage, Cloade was killed in a bomb blast. Now, his widow, Rosaleen, is set to inherit his considerable fortune, leaving the rest of the Cloades in need of money. Lynn and her mother don’t agree on how to cope with this, and it makes for some friction between them. And that adds to the tension in the story.

Wartime experience also changes the relationship between former Glasgow copper Douglas Brodie and his good friend, Hugh ‘Shug’ Donovan, whom we meet in Gordon Ferris’ The Hanging Shed. As the novel begins, WWII has just ended. Brodie has returned to the UK after his service, and is trying to make a life for himself in London. Then, he gets a call from Donovan. It seems that Donovan’s been arrested and imprisoned for the abduction and murder of a boy named Rory Hutchinson, and he’s soon to be executed. Brodie isn’t sure what, if anything, he can do to help. And in any case, he’s not even sure that his friend is innocent, as there’s solid evidence against him. The relationship was a bit strained anyway, since Donovan had been involved with Brodie’s one-time love interest. Still, Brodie agrees to at least ask a few questions. So, he travels to Glasgow and begins to look into the matter. And soon, he and Donovan’s lawyer, Samantha ‘Sam’ Campbell, find that this case is much more complicated than they thought. As it turns out, there are several people who might have wanted to frame Donovan for this murder. Both Brodie and Donovan have had terrible wartime experiences, and deal with what we now would call PTSD. This doesn’t incapacitate Brodie, but it does impact the friendship between the two men.

Fans of Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series will know Clara and Peter Morrow. They are both artists who live in the small Québec town of Three Pines. The main sleuth in this series is Gamache, but as the series goes on, we get to know the Morrows, along with several other Three Pines residents. At the beginning of the series, Peter Morrow is acknowledged as the Morrow with the real talent. Clara accepts this, and those are the rules by which they live. Gradually, Clara finds her own self as an artist, and over time, her skill begins to eclipse that of her husband. That change causes real upheaval in their marriage. The rules the Morrows have always accepted have to be re-written, and this leads to an important story arc.

There are several important changes in the relationship between Håkan Östlundh’s Gotland police detective Fredrik Broman and his wife, Ninni. For one thing, the rules they’ve always lived by change as a result of an affair that Borman has. In fact, Ninni asks him to leave. Now, the couple have to re-write their ‘rules of engagement,’ since they have two children. They’re working that out when he is seriously injured in the line of duty. Now, the couple re-writes their relationship again, since Borman is in real need of regular care as he recuperates. In that sense, as devastating as his injuries are, it enables the couple to work together, so that they can, well, be a couple again.

That story arc is a just a little reminiscent of what happens to DI Hazel Micallef, whom we first meet in Inger Ash Wolfe/Michael Redhill’s The Calling. She’s been divorced from her ex-husband, Andrew, for some time, and he is now remarried. She’s not overly vengeful about it, but at the same time, she has no great desire to patch things up, or even to be friends with Andrew. They’re civil enough when they need to communicate, and that’s as far as Hazel is interested in going. Then, in one story arc in this series, Hazel finds herself in need of emergency back surgery. This surgery entails a long recuperation, during which Hazel won’t be able to care for herself. And her mother, Emily, is too old and frail to take over. So, for practical purposes, the only choice she has is to move in with Andrew and his second wife. That change causes a real re-writing of the rules they’ve lived by, and makes for an interesting plot thread.

And then there’s Dunedin Detective Senior Sergeant Leo Judd and his wife, Kate, whom we meet in Jane Woodham’s Twister. Nine years before the events in the novel, their daughter, Beth, went missing, and was never found. This in itself changed their relationship dramatically, and they’re still dealing with that. Then, the body of Tracey Wenlock is discovered after a twister and a lot of rain pass through Dunedin. She was reported missing two weeks earlier, and now that her body has been find, the missing person case becomes a murder case. The police department has been hit by a ‘flu epidemic, and Judd’s the only one available to lead the investigation, so he starts the process. The case forces both Judds to look again at their marriage and Beth’s disappearance, and the process is painful for them. And it leads to another re-working of their personal rules.

And that’s what often happens when a major event happens within a relationship. The people involved change, so the relationship changes. Even when that change is for the better, it’s still stressful.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s You Must Love Me.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Gordon Ferris, Håkan Östlundh, Inger Ash Wolfe, Jane Woodham, Louise Penny, Michael Redhill

That’s the Night That They Hung an Innocent Man*

One of the more popular, and often very effective, tropes in crime fiction is the character who’s been wrongly convicted of murder. It’s no wonder that it’s popular, too. For one thing, convictions are not always the end of the proverbial story. There are appeals, and there are opportunities for detectives to go back over a case. As you’ll know, there are instances, too, where people who’ve been imprisoned are exonerated. And sometimes, it’s less clear that someone was wrongly convicted. So, there’s a big question of whether that person is, in fact, guilty. All of this means the crime writer has a lot of flexibility with respect to how a plot will develop.

There’s also the suspense involved. Will the wrongly convicted character be set free? If that person’s innocent, who committed the crime? Is the character actually innocent? All of these questions can add interest and tension to a plot.

In Friedrich Glauser’s Thumprint, we are introduced to Sergeant Jacob Studer of Bern Cantonal Police. As the novel begins, he recently compiled the evidence that landed Erwin Schlumpf in jail, convicted of murdering Wendelin Witschi. On impulse, Studer decides to visit Schlumpf in prison, and arrives just in time to stop him committing suicide. Studer has a liking for this prisoner, and decides to look at the facts of the case again. The trail leads to the small town of Gerzenstein, where the Witschi family lives. And, as Studer gets to know the town and its residents, he learns that this murder may be more complicated than he thought. Certainly, there are more suspects than it seemed at the beginning.

Agatha Christie used the ‘wrongly convicted person’ in several of her stories. In fact, as a personal aside, I wouldn’t be surprised if she had a special interest in/concern for the innocent person who’s been convicted. In Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, for instance, Superintendent Albert ‘Bert’ Spence asks Hercule Poirot to revisit one of his (Spence’s) cases. James Bentley has been convicted of the murder of his landlady, Mrs. McGinty, and will soon be executed. Spence has come to believe that Bentley may be innocent; if so, he wants the man’s name cleared. Poirot agrees to look into the matter, and visits the village of Broadhinny, where the murder took place. It doesn’t take long before he discovers that Mrs. McGinty was a charwoman who worked in several homes in and near the village. She was naturally curious, and had found out some things that it wasn’t safe for her to know. So, there are several people who are just as well pleased that she’s dead. I see you, fans of Five Little Pigs and of Ordeal by Innocence.

As James Lee Burke’s A Morning For Flamingos begins, New Iberia Police detective Dave Robicheaux is assigned to transport two convicted prisoners to Louisiana’s Angola Penitentiary. One of these prisoners is Tee Beau Latiolais; the other is Jimmie Lee Boggs. During the trip, Boggs manages to escape, killing Robicheaux’s partner Lester Benoit, and badly wounding Robicheaux. Separately, he and Latiolais go on the run, and one plot thread of this story concerns Robicheaux’s search for them. Latiolais’ grandmother, Tante Lemon, begs Robicheaux to help her son. She says that he’s not guilty of murder (he was with her at the time of the killing), and that he was wrongly convicted. She also says, though, that the police won’t listen to her, and certainly won’t listen to her grandson. So, another plot thread in this novel follows Robicheaux’s search for the real killer.

In Gordon Ferris’ The Hanging Shed, we are introduced to former Glasgow copper Douglas Brodie. He’s recently returned from service in World War II (the novel takes place just after the end of that war), and is dealing with what we now call PTSD. He’s living in London, trying to start a career in journalism, when he gets a call from an old friend, Hugh ‘Shug’ Donovan. Donovan’s been convicted and jailed for the abduction and murder of a young boy named Rory Hutchinson, and is slated for execution in four weeks’ time. There’s credible evidence against him, too. In fact, the evidence is strong enough that Brodie isn’t entirely sure his friend is innocent. But Donovan says that he isn’t guilty, and Brodie finally allows himself to be persuaded to at least ask a few questions. So, he travels to Glasgow, where he meets with Donovan’s lawyer, Samantha ‘Sam’ Campbell. She is firmly convinced her client is not guilty, and after a short time, Brodie begins to believe here. For one thing, there are a few too many obstacles to their finding out the truth, so it’s clear that someone wants the case left alone. For another, there are other possibilities. It’s not going to be an easy investigation, though; there are plenty of people who do not want the truth discovered.

And then there’s Paddy Richardson’s Traces of Red. Connor Bligh has been in Rimutaka State Prison for several years, convicted of murdering his sister, Angela Dickson, her husband, Rowan, and their son, Sam. Only their daughter, Katy, survived, because she wasn’t home at the time of the killings. Now, little pieces of evidence suggest that Bligh may not be guilty. And that possibility gets the attention of Wellington journalist Rebecca Thorne. If Bligh is innocent, this could be the story of Thorne’s career – the one that will cement her position at the top of New Zealand television journalism. So, she wastes no time starting to ask questions. The more she discovers, the closer she gets to the story – too close for comfort, as the saying goes. In this story, part of the tension comes from the question of whether Thorne is really onto something, or whether Bligh is a multiple murderer.

Of course, many convicted prisoners claim that they’re innocent. But there are cases where some of them really are, or could be. And even the possibility that an innocent person has been convicted can add much to the tension and suspense in a crime novel.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bobby Russell’s The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia. 

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Friedrich Glauser, Gordon Ferris, James Lee Burke, Paddy Richardson

Just as Long as You Stand, Stand by Me*

loyalThere are a lot of qualities we value in others. One of the most important is loyalty. Whether it’s friends or co-workers, people tend to prefer those who are loyal. In fact, for some people, loyalty is more valuable than just about any other quality.

Loyalty also impacts the relationships that we have with others, and therefore, the way we behave. Some people hide things, lie, or more out of a sense of loyalty. But even those who don’t do those things will often let their loyalties impact what they do.

Because of that, loyalty can be a very interesting thread in a crime novel. It comes up in all sorts of different ways, and there are far too many examples for me to share them all. But here are a few to give you a sense of how loyalty can work.

In Agatha Christie’s Death in the Air, Hercule Poirot is on a flight from Paris to London when one of his fellow passengers, Marie Morisot, dies of what turns out to be poison. The victim was a well-known moneylender who went by the name of Madame Giselle, so as you can imagine, there is more than one suspect. But the only people who could have committed the crime are the other passengers. So Poirot works with Chief Inspector Japp to find out which person is the killer. Part of the trail leads to Madame Giselle’s maid, Elise Grandier. When Poirot interviews her, he finds that she was intensely loyal to her employer, and for good reason. Out of that loyalty, she’s kept some information that could prove to be useful. Poirot has to find a way to get her to share that information; and at first, it’s not easy. But he finally persuades her to confide in him.

In Gordon Ferris’ The Hanging Shed, we meet former Glasgow police officer Douglas Brodie. He’s recently returned from war (the novel takes place immediately after WWII), and has settled in London. One day, he gets a call from an old friend from school, Hugh ‘Shug’ Donovan, who’s scheduled to be executed. It seems Donovan was arrested for the kidnap and murder of a young boy, Roy Hutchinson, and there is evidence against him. He claims to be innocent, though, and wants Brodie’s help in clearing his name. Brodie isn’t eager to go back to Glasgow for a number of reasons. But Donovan is an old friend and wartime buddy, so Brodie feels a sense of loyalty to him. He travels to Glasgow and starts asking questions about what happened to Roy Hutchinson, and it’s not long before some dangerous people in high places decide that he’s too curious for his own good…

Angela Savage’s Behind the Night Bazaar begins as Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney travels to Chiang Mai to visit her friend Didier ‘Didi’ de Montpasse. During her visit, Didi’s partner, Nou, is brutally murdered. Didi himself is the most convenient suspect, and the police focus on him, although he claims he’s innocent. One night, the police raid his home, killing Didi in the process. Their account is that they’d come to arrest him, and he resisted to the point where they had no choice but to kill him. But Keeney doesn’t believe that’s so. Nor does she believe her friend would have killed his partner. So, out of loyalty, she changes her plans and remains in Chiang Mai to try to clear Didi’s name, and find out who really killed Nou.

In Maureen Carter’s Working Girls, Birmingham DS Beverly ‘Bev’ Morriss investigates the murder of fifteen-year-old Michelle Lucas. It’s soon discovered that she was a commercial sex worker, so the police concentrate on that aspect of her life. In order to find out more about her, Morriss gets to know some of the other sex workers in the area. Through them, she finds out that the victim was working for a notorious pimp, Charlie Hawes. There is no concrete evidence against him, but Morriss is sure that he had something to do with the murder, even if he wasn’t directly responsible. As she tries to find the truth, Morriss finds that the group of sex workers she meets have a solid sense of loyalty to each other in their way. They help each other, and they’ve formed a social group of their own. Among other things, this novel shows how that bond can develop.

Loyalty is a proverbial double-edged sword, of course. It can be the reason that people don’t report a crime, or don’t ‘blow the whistle’ when they might otherwise do so. That can make it very difficult for someone who does speak up. For instance, in Garry Disher’s Bitter Wash Road, we are introduced to Constable Paul ‘Hirsch’ Hirschhausen. He’s just been stationed in Tiverton, in rural South Australia. He’s there mostly because he got a reputation as a ‘whistleblower’ in an internal investigation in Adelaide, and has basically been exiled from there. Hirsch’s reputation has followed him to Tiverton, and all of the other police there treat him as an outcast. They do everything they can to sabotage his work, embarrass him, and make his life harder. They see him as disloyal, and that’s an unforgivable sin to them. Still, Hirsch has a job to do, so when the body of fifteen-year-old Melia Donovan is found by the side of Bitter Wash Road, he investigates. It’s not easy, since he has no support from his colleagues. But in the end, he gets to the truth.  

There are lots of other examples, too, of novels where we see what happens to characters who are seen as disloyal. It’s an important character trait that many see as essential. And the quality of loyalty can add an interesting layer to a fictional character. Which loyal characters have you enjoyed (I agree completely, fans of Craig Johnson’s Henry Standing Bear)?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Ben E. King, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller’s Stand by Me.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Craig Johnson, Garry Disher, Gordon Ferris, Maureen Carter

Well, On His Porch They Stretched a Banner That Said ‘Johnny, Welcome Home’*

Returning VeteransThe end of a war doesn’t mean that people go back to whatever passes for ‘normal’ when it’s over. The guns, bombs and so on may stop, but postwar life often involves major upheavals, uncertainty and trouble. We’ve seen that far, far too often in real life, and it’s woven through crime fiction, too. That backdrop of uneasiness and uncertainty can make for a compelling context for a story.

One challenge that any postwar society faces is the reality of returning soldiers. These people have seen unspeakable things, and, sometimes, done them. They are not the same as when they left, and society doesn’t always know how to respond to them. That’s particularly true for those who come back with obvious physical disabilities.

We see this struggle, for instance, in Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs, which takes place in post-World War I London. In one plot thread of this novel, Maisie, who’s just hung out her shingle as a private investigator, looks into the goings-on at The Retreat. That’s a refuge built especially for injured veterans who’ve found it too difficult to function among ‘regular’ people. They’ve found that most people are too uncomfortable around them because their wounds remind others of the lives lost and the horror of war. I know, I know, fans of Charles Todd’s Ian Rutledge novels and Bess Crawford novels.

That theme of returning veterans is brought up in Gordon Ferris’ The Hanging Shed, which takes place mostly in Glasgow just after World War II. Douglas Brodie has just returned from service and is trying to put his life back together in London when his old friend Hugh ‘Shug’ Donovan asks for his help. Donovan’s been arrested, tried and convicted in connection with the murder of a young boy. He claims he’s innocent, and he wants Brodie to help clear him. One of the facts of life for Donovan is that he was severely wounded in the war. Despite several surgeries, he still has very obvious (and to many people, repulsive) scars and wounds. What’s more, he’s in quite a lot of pain, and has taken up the heroin habit to cope. All of this makes his case all the more difficult. While the focus of the novel isn’t really on Donovan’s service (or Brodie’s, for the matter of that), we do get a sense of the struggle that returning veterans face, especially when they’ve been wounded.

Returning veterans also have the task of fitting in again into a society that often doesn’t want to hear about (and probably wouldn’t understand) what they’ve experienced. War can’t help but leave deep psychological scars, and veterans have to deal with them. That’s one of the things we see in Geoffrey McGeachin’s The Digger’s Rest Hotel. In this, the first of his Charlie Berlin novels, it’s 1947, and Berlin has recently returned from war. He has nightmares, flashbacks and other signs of the psychological burden he bears. It doesn’t help matters, either, that he’s been jilted by the woman he’d hoped would wait for him. The main focus of this novel is his investigation into a series of robberies by a motorcycle gang, as well as the death of a teenage girl whose body is found in an alley. But throughout the novel, we see how Berlin has to adjust to peacetime life.

So do Lynn Marchmont and David Hunter in Agatha Christie’s Taken at the Flood (AKA There is a Tide). They’ve both recently returned from service (the story takes place just after World War II), and both are having their issues adjusting. Hunter is the kind of risk taker who’s invaluable in war, but who can’t adjust to peacetime social expectations and rules. Marchmont thought she longed for home, daily life and so on; but now that she’s back, she finds it hard to re-adjust to the mundane life of her village. The main plot thread of this novel concerns the death of a family patriarch, two other subsequent deaths, and what it all means for the family involved. But throughout the novel we see the difficulty of adapting to peacetime life after the pace of war.

There’s also a look at the economic privations brought on by war. Wars are very, very expensive, even for the victors. And it doesn’t help matters that after the war’s over, all of the industries that supported it must either change to meet the needs of a peacetime economy, or close. In the England of Taken at the Flood, there’s still rationing going on, prices are high, not much food’s available, and everyone feels the pinch. That includes veterans who are looking for jobs.

Sarah Waters’ The Paying Guests depicts that economic privation too. That novel takes place in 1922 London, where Frances Wray and her mother have suffered heavy economic blows as a result of the war (to say nothing of their grief over the loss of Frances’ brothers Noel and John Arthur, who died in the war). There’s not much money, and even for those who have money, there’s not much to be had. So the Wrays reluctantly decide that their only choice is to open their home to lodgers – ‘paying guests’ is the euphemism. Len and Lilian Barber like what they see and soon move in, and that choice has drastic and tragic consequences. Throughout the novel, we see how difficult it was for returning soldiers (many of whom can’t get jobs, can’t adjust to peacetime life, and don’t fit in). We also see society’s ambivalence towards them. At the same time as one feels sorry for them and compassionate, they also make people uncomfortable.

All of these novels also depict the uncertainty of post-war society. The war’s over, so what comes now? What are the new rules? It’s not easy for a society to switch its focus from wartime unity of purpose, efforts, and sacrifices to peacetime. And in many cases, there’ve been a lot of major changes in social roles as a result of war. As just one example, many US Blacks served with distinction in the military during World War II and Korea. When they returned, it was to a society that wasn’t ready to accept them as full partners, despite their sacrifices. Some people argue that this had an impact on the Civil Rights movement that started just a few years later. And it wasn’t just in the US. To return to McGeachin’s The Digger’s Rest Hotel, one of the characters is an Aboriginal former soldier who’s faced with the same paradox: a country that welcomed his wartime service, but now wants him to go back to being a second-class citizen.

Post-war life is challenging enough for a society that supports a war. It’s even more so for an unpopular war. Vietnam, the Falklands conflict, and the wars in the Middle East have not at all had the support that other wars have had. This has made life extremely difficult for returning veterans of those wars. And we see that reflected in crime fiction, too. For example, in one plot thread of Derek B. Miller’s Norwegian By Night, we learn the back story of octogenarian Sheldon Horowitz, who’s recently moved from his native New York to Norway to be closer to his granddaughter and her Norwegian husband. Her father, Saul, died during his second mission to Vietnam, and parts of the novel describe his visit home between missions. He doesn’t really fit in, and has to deal with people who bitterly opposed US involvement in the war. And part of Horowitz’ later burden is guilt over encouraging Saul to enlist in the first place.

Just because the guns are put down and the bombs stop doesn’t mean that trouble ends after a war. There are often real and difficult struggles that societies face when they return to peacetime life. And veterans and their families have their own difficult burdens to bear, even when they’re no longer fighting.

This post is dedicated to those who served, and continue to serve, their countries in the military, and to their families. They’ve made sacrifices many of us wouldn’t be willing to make. I truly hope the time will come when no more young men and women in uniform will be lost to war. poppy

 

 

 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bruce Springsteen’s Shut Out the Light.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Charles Todd, Derek B. Miller, Gordon Ferris, Sarah Waters

But Everything I Know, I Keep it to Myself*

Reporting SuspicionsOne of the dilemmas people face, both in real life and in crime fiction, is whether (perhaps more accurately, at what point) to act when they suspect that something dangerous or worse is going on. On the one hand, most people don’t want to be considered fanciful or meddling. What’s more, something they consider suspicious may be perfectly innocent; reporting it thus wastes police time and thoroughly upsets and inconveniences an innocent person. That’s not a good way to build and maintain a harmonious relationship with someone.

On the other hand, I’m sure you’ve seen the same public service announcements (e.g. ‘If you see something, say something’) that I have. And there certainly are crimes that are prevented or quickly solved because someone spoke up or did something. So there’s an argument that speaking out is worthwhile. It’s a tricky dilemma, though, as crime fiction shows us.

For example, in Agatha Christie’s Appointment With Death, Hercule Poirot is staying in a Jerusalem hotel. One night, he happens to be at the window of his room, preparing to shut it, when he hears these words:
 

‘‘You do see, don’t you, that she’s got to be killed?’’
 

Poirot wonders, briefly, whether he ought to act on his natural curiosity, but quickly decides not to do so. After all, it’s probably
 

‘A collaboration, perhaps, over a play or a book.’
 

Poirot’s decision not to act comes back later, when an American visitor to the Middle East, Mrs. Boynton, is killed during a visit to Petra. You can’t really say that Poirot’s choice allows the murder to happen. But it’s an interesting example of that sort of dilemma.

In When the Bough Breaks, Jonathan Kellerman’s first Alex Delaware novel, LAPD officer Milo Sturgis gets a particularly ugly case. Psychiatrist Morton Handler and his lover Elena Gutierrez have been brutally murdered, and the only witness is seven-year-old Melody Quinn. Not only is her testimony impacted by her youth, but also, she’s on heavy medication for attention disorders, so it’s not easy to communicate with her. Sturgis hopes that his friend, child psychologist Alex Delaware, will be able to work with Melody and get her to talk about what happened. It’s not easy, but eventually, Delaware and Sturgis link these murders to a residential school for children called Casa de Los Niños. Later, it’s all linked to some events in some of the characters’ pasts. As it turns out, some characters face a difficult dilemma over telling what they know about what’s going on at La Casa de Los Niños, and it’s interesting to see how they have dealt with that dilemma.

In Kate Atkinson’s One Good Turn, crime writer Martin Canning is faced with a slightly different sort of ‘should I act’ dilemma. He and some other people are waiting their turn one day to buy tickets for a lunchtime radio comedy show. As they’re waiting, Canning and the others suddenly see a blue Honda hit the rear of a silver Peugeot that braked too quickly. The two drivers get out and get into an altercation that turns serious when the Honda driver brandishes a baseball bat and starts to beat Paul Bradley, who’s driving the Peugeot. No-one quite knows what to do or whether to act. Then, almost by instinct, Canning throws his laptop case at the Honda driver, saving Bradley’s life. Out of a sense of duty, Canning accompanies Bradley to a nearby hospital to make sure that he’s all right, and promptly gets involved in a web of fraud and murder he hadn’t imagined.

The question of ‘should I have spoken up?’ becomes very important in Honey Brown’s Through the Cracks. Fourteen-year-old Adam Vander has finally gathered the courage he needs to escape his abusive father, Joe. But he’s been so locked away that he has little knowledge of the world or how to survive in it. Fortunately for him, he meets Billy Benson, a young man who is visiting the house, as he leaves. Billy helps Adam get away, and the two take off. During the next week, they stay where they can, eat what and when they can, and get to know each other. They learn that there’s more in both of their pasts than either thought, and that they are connected to a past tragedy. They also get into real danger together. One of the things that comes up is: why didn’t anyone do anything to help Adam before? Everyone knew the kind of violent person Joe Vander was, so why didn’t anyone speak up or ask the authorities to investigate?

Ilse Klein has to decide whether to speak up in Paddy Richardson’s Swimming in the Dark. She is a secondary school teacher in Alexandria, on New Zealand’s South Island. One of her most promising pupils is fifteen-year-old Serena Freeman. The girl has real academic skill and Ilse is confident she’ll do well. Then, Serena starts skipping school. And when she is there, she doesn’t participate. Ilse is concerned about it, and ends up speaking to the school’s counselor, who visits the girl’s home. In this case, that makes sense, since teachers and counselors are, as a rule, required to report suspected child abuse or neglect. Rebuffed by Serena’s mother, the counselor doesn’t make much headway. Then Serena disappears. She’s gone for three weeks before her mother contacts her older sister Lynnette ‘Lynnie.’ And one question Lynnie has is, why isn’t anyone looking for Serena? Why has so little been done? As we find out the truth about Serena, we also learn how important it can be to speak up and report things.

And then there’s Gordon Ferris’ The Hanging Shed. World War II has just ended, and Douglas Brodie is trying to put the pieces of his life back together in London. Then, he gets a call from an old friend Hugh ‘Shug’ Donovan. It seems that Donovan’s been arrested for the murder of a young boy. He claims to be innocent, and wants Brodie to come to Glasgow, where the two grew up, and find out the truth. Brodie agrees to go, very reluctantly, and at first, he is not convinced of Donovan’s innocence. There’s certainly evidence against him; there’s even a possibility that he committed four other murders. Then, Brodie meets Donovan’s lawyer, Samantha ‘Sam’ Campbell. She believes that her client has been framed, and, slowly, Brodie comes around to her point of view. The trail in this case leads to some ugly secrets that some well-placed people have been keeping. What’s more, it raises the question of what might have happened if people who’d suspected something had not kept quiet.

And that’s the thing. Sometimes, something that seems suspicious is quite innocent. It’s a very serious matter, too, to make allegations. But at times, ‘If you see something, say something’ makes more sense.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Buddy Guy’s Keep it to Myself (AKA Keep it to Yourself).

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Gordon Ferris, Honey Brown, Jonathan Kellerman, Kate Atkinson, Paddy Richardson