Category Archives: Hannah Dennison

Stars on TV Screens*

You see them on TV all the time. You may even feel that you know them, they’re that familiar. Yes, I’m talking about TV presenters. They may host a quiz or celebrity show, or they may host some other sort of show. Either way, they’re a part of our lives.

They may seem to live charmed lives, but TV presenters are humans, as we all are. And they work in what can be very highly-charged, tense atmosphere. So, it’s not surprising that they also show up in crime fiction. After all, where would we be without those shows and their hosts?

In Julian Symons’ A Three-Pipe Problem, we are introduced to television star Sheridan ‘Sher’ Haynes. He is the lead in a popular Sherlock Holmes series, with Basil Wainwright as his Watson. Although Haynes is a popular television personality, the show has been slipping in ratings. What’s more, Haynes has his share of problems with the show. He is a dedicated fan of the Holmes stories, and isn’t happy at all with the changes that the show’s creators have made to the stories and some of the major characters. Then, Haynes gets an idea to save the series and show that his more purist view of the show will prevail. There’s been a series of bizarre murders, called the ‘Karate Killings.’  The police haven’t made much progress, but Haynes thinks that if he uses Holmes’ method, he can find out who the killer is. It’s a strange idea, and plenty of people in Haynes’ life are not happy about it. But he persists and starts to ask questions. He gets into his share of trouble, but in the end, he finds out the truth.

In Catherine O’Flynn’s The News Where You Are, we meet TV presenter Frank Allcroft. As the novel begins, he’s at rather a crossroads in his life. He’s doing well at his show, he’s happy with his wife, and a proud father. But he doesn’t feel settled. He’s also dealing with the death of his predecessor, friend, and colleague, Phil Smedway. It seems that Smedway was jogging one morning when he was killed in a hit-and-run incident. In his restlessness, Allcroft is drawn to the scene of Smedway’s death. He notices some things that make him wonder. For one thing, the road is straight and clear. For another, the weather on the day of Smedway’s death was dry. There’s no reason a driver wouldn’t have been able to swerve to avoid hitting Smedway. Now, Allcroft begins to wonder what really happened. Among other things, the novel gives real insight into what it’s like to be a TV presenter.

Christopher Fowler’s Ten Second Staircase features London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit (PCU). Arthur Bryant and John May and the rest of the PCU investigate a bizarre set of murders. It seems that someone is targeting minor celebrities and seems to be doing it to become a star himself. One of those the killer targets is Danny Martell, the host of a popular ITV teen lifestyle show. He’s in the gym one day, trying to work off some stress and lose a bit of weight when he’s mysteriously electrocuted. It’s a strange set of crimes, and the PCU team has its hands full as it tries to make sense of the only clear clue: an eyewitness who says the killer was wearing a cape and a tricorner hat.

Lynda Wilcox’s Strictly Murder is the first of her novels to feature Verity Long. She is research assistant to famous crime novelist Kathleen ‘KD’ Davenport. Mostly, her job is to research old crime cases that Davenport can use as the basis for her work. Long gets involved in her own murder case when she decides to look for a new home. A house agent is showing her a place when she discovers the body of celebrity TV presenter Jaynee ‘JayJay’ Johnson. Since Long found the body, she’s of interest to the police, and she gets involved in finding out who killed the victim. And it turns out that there are several suspects. The behind-the-scenes atmosphere wasn’t at all pleasant, since Johnson wasn’t exactly beloved among her colleagues.

And then there’s Hannah Dennison’s Katherine ‘Kat’ Stanford. She was a successful TV presenter who hosted a show called Fakes & Treasures. But she got ‘burned out’ from the stress of being in the media limelight. Her plan had been to open an antiques business with her mother, but everything changes in Murder at Honeychurch Hall. In that novel, Stanford discovers that her mother has abruptly moved to the Devon village of Little Dipperton. Shocked at her mother’s choice, Stanford rushes there, only to find that her mother’s been injured in a minor car accident. She stays on to help while her mother heals up and gets drawn into a murder mystery.

Television presenters may seem to lead magical lives, but things don’t always go very smoothly. Those conflicts and stresses can make things difficult for the presenter, but they can add much to a crime novel. These are just a few examples. I know you’ll think of more.

 
 
 

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

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Filed under Catherine O'Flynn, Christopher Fowler, Hannah Dennison, Julian Symons, Lynda Wilcox

Few of the Sins of the Father are Visited Upon the Son*

When a crime is committed, especially something like murder, it’s not just the victim and the perpetrator who are affected. The public’s memory can be long; so, even a generation or two (or more) later, a family can be associated with a crime. And that can impact family members, and even be very difficult for them (e.g. ‘Are you any relation to that man/woman who…?’).

Having an infamous crime or ancestor in one’s past can make for an interesting layer of character development. How, for instance, do you deal with the fact that your parent, or grandparent, or great-grandparent, etc., killed someone? Or stole a lot of money? This sort of plot point can add tension to a story, too. So, it’s little wonder we see it in crime fiction.

For example, Ruth Rendell’s first novel as Barbara Vine was A Dark-Adapted Eye. In it, Faith Longley Severn has to come to terms with a terrible crime in her family’s past. Many years earlier, Vera Longley Hilliard was arrested, convicted, and executed for murder. The Longley family had always prided itself on its respectability, so this was an especially hard blow. No-one’s spoken of it since. But now, a journalist, Daniel Stewart, finds out about the story, and decides to write a book on the family and the hanging. He approaches Faith to see if she’ll cooperate, and provide him with whatever family history she may have. It’s a wrenching topic, but Faith agrees. And, as she and Daniel look into the past, we learn what happened in the Longley family, and how and why the death happened.

John Grisham’s The Chamber features the Cayhall family. Former Ku Klux Klansman Sam Cayhall is in prison in Mississippi, on death row for a bombing murder. He says he’s not guilty of the bombing. In fact, he’s had several stays of execution, but has run out of options, and is scheduled to be executed. His case is taken pro bono by a Chicago law firm. They send one of their attorneys, Adam Hall, to their Memphis office to defend Cayhall. As we soon learn, Hall was born Alan Cayhall, and is actually Sam Cayhall’s grandson. It turns out that Adam/Alan’s father, Eddie, was disgusted with his father’s Klan activities and bigotry, and left for California, never to return. He didn’t want to be associated with the Cayhall name. As the novel goes on, and Adam/Alan works on behalf of his grandfather, we learn the family’s history, and we learn the truth about the bombing.

Apostolos Doxiadis’ Three Little Pigs is the story of the Franco family. At the turn of the 20th Century, Benvenuto ‘Ben’ Franco and his family leave their native Italy to settle in New York. He gets a job at a shoe repair shop, and starts to do well. In fact, he ends up opening his own shoe repair and sales company, and the family prospers. Unfortunately, he starts drinking, and ends up killing a man in a bar fight one night. He’s arrested and taken into custody. Then he discovers that the victim was Luigi Lupo, son of notorious crime boss Tonio Lupo. When Lupo finds out who killed his son, he visits Franco in jail, and curses his three sons, saying that they’ll die at the same age as his son was when he died. As the story goes on, we learn what happens to those three sons, and how they deal with being the sons of a man who committed murder.

Steve Robinson’s In The Blood introduces his sleuth, genealogist Jefferson Tayte. In this novel, business executive Walter Sloane hires Tayte to trace his wife’s ancestry. Her family, the Fairbornes, split into two branches, one of which returned to their native England during the American Revolution. So, Tayte travels to England to contact the modern-day Fairbornes and see what he can learn. He discovers that some of the family members when missing, so he decides to find out what happened to them. Soon enough, he’s warned off, and it’s clear that someone does not want the truth about the family to come out. It turns out that even things that happened as long ago as the late 1700s still impact the family today.

We see a bit of similarity in Hannah Dennison’s Murderous Mayhem at Honeychurch Hall. In one plot thread of this novel, the small Devon town of Little Dipperton is preparing for a Skirmish – a re-enactment of a battle between the Cavaliers, who supported King Charles I, and the Roundheads, who supported Oliver Cromwell. As it happens, the Honeychurch family were Cavaliers; so Rupert Honeychurch is taking on that role. His wife, Lavinia, was a Carew before she married; and the Carews were Roundheads. As the story goes on, it’s interesting to see how crimes that were committed (or alleged to have been committed) by one side or other still play roles today.

There’s also Sue Younger’s Days Are Like Grass. Pediatric surgeon Claire Bowerman returns from London to her native Auckland with her partner, Yossi Shalev, and her fifteen-year-old daughter, Roimata ‘Roi.’ She had her reasons for leaving Auckland in the first place, so she’s reluctant to go back. But it’s very important to Yossi, so she agrees. At first, all goes well enough. But then, one of her patients, two-year-old Rory Peteru, is diagnosed with a tumour on his kidney. From Claire’s perspective, it’s best to remove the growth as soon as possible. But the child’s parents, Isa’ako and Kate, refuse the procedure on the grounds of their religious beliefs. The media take an interest, and before Claire knows it, she’s the focus of publicity – some thing she didn’t want. Years earlier, her father, Patrick, was arrested and convicted for the 1970 murder of Kathryn Philips. Although he was jailed, there was never enough evidence to truly determine whether he was guilty, so he was released. Still, plenty of people think he was guilty, and they associate Claire’s name with that case. For Claire, it’s as though she can’t shake the stigma associated with her father.

And that does happen when a family member commits a crime. Sometimes it even happens when there’s just suspicion. Either way, it can cast a very long shadow.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Midnight Oil’s Forgotten Years

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Filed under Apostolos Doxiadis, Barbara Vine, Hannah Dennison, John Grisham, Ruth Rendell, Steve Robinson, Sue Younger

Everybody in the World Likes Chocolate*

Recently, FictionFan, at FictionFan’s Book Reviews, conducted an interesting scientific study of chocolate. Using the My Life in Books meme from Adam at Roof Beam Reader, Fiction Fan compared two sets of data. One set, collected before eating any chocolate, was an initial list of responses to the My Life in Books prompts. Then, FictionFan provided answers to the same prompts after eating chocolate. As you can clearly see from FictionFan’s answers, there was a definite positive effect of chocolate on mood.

Of course, any study ought to be replicated, if possible, in order to lend support to the results. So, I decided to do just that. Like FictionFan, I collected two sets of data: one was collected before eating chocolate, and the other after. My own data is presented below:

 

Prompts

Before Chocolate

After Chocolate

In high school, I was:

Among Thieves

In Like Flynn

People might be surprised (by):

The Colaba Conspiracy

[What] Harriet Said

I will never be:

You

Wife of the Gods

My fantasy job is:

Nunslinger

An Easy Thing

At the end of a long day, I need:

Burial Rites

A Jarful of Angels

I hate it when:

Days are Like Grass

Not a Creature Was [is] Stirring

Wish I had:

The Frozen Shroud

Greenlight

My family reunions are:

Murder and Mayhem at Honeychurch Hall

Above Suspicion

At a party, you’d find me with:

The Hidden Man

Ruby and the Blue Sky

I’ve never been to:

The Cemetery of Swallows

China Lake

A happy day includes:

Dead Lemons

Crystal Ball Persuasion

Motto I live by:

Can Anybody Help Me?

Happiness is Easy

On my bucket list is:

Talking to the Dead

The Dawn Patrol

In my next life, I want to have:

A Moment’s Silence

A Three-Pipe Problem

 

As you can see, chocolate also had a positive effect on my mood. Now, of course, this study is limited, as all studies are. For one thing, I made use of Belgian chocolates for this research. Other sources and types of chocolates would have to be studied to really confirm the hypothesis that chocolate enhances one’s mood. For another thing, FictionFan’s data and mine are only two iterations of this study. More researchers would be needed, to rule out effects based on any similarities between me and FictionFan (I mean, we are both crime fiction readers, etc..). There are other limitations, too, as any academician can tell you.

That said, though, I think it’s safe to say that this study certainly lends support to FictionFan’s conclusion that chocolate has mood-enhancing effects. Anyone else care to take part in this all-important research?

Thanks, FictionFan, for your groundbreaking study!

 
 
 

NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Soul Control’s Chocolate (Choco Choco).

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Filed under Babs Horton, Beryl Bainbridge, Christopher Abbey, Don Winslow, Edney Silvestre, Finn Bell, Gordon Ell, Hannah Dennison, Hannah Kent, Harry Bingham, Jane Haddam, Jean-Denis Bruet-Ferreol, John Clarkson, Julian Symons, Katherine Dewar, Kwei Quartey, Lynda La Plante, Meg Gardiner, Paco Ignacio Taibo II, Rhys Bowen, Robin Blake, Sinéad Crowley, Stark Holborn, Sue Younger, Surender Mohan Pathak, Zoran Drvenkar

So Much Has Happened, But Nothing Has Changed*

Buildings often have a lot of history to them, especially if they are older buildings. And it’s interesting to see how they change over time, and how our perceptions of them change as we get older. If you’ve ever returned to a home you knew as a child, you know the feeling, I’m sure.

A building with history can add much to a story, including, of course, a crime story. It can add atmosphere, tension, character development, and a lot more. There are a lot of them in the genre; here are just a few. I know you’ll think of more.

Interestingly enough, Agatha Christie uses such buildings in a few of her stories. One is Styles Court, in Styles St. Mary. This old family home makes its debut in The Mysterious Affair at Styles (incidentally, Hercule Poirot makes his first appearance in the same novel). In the story, Captain Hastings visits an old friend, John Cavendish, who now lives at Styles Court with his wife, Mary, his brother, Lawrence, and his stepmother, Emily Inglethorp. Also living there is Mrs. Inglethorp’s husband, Alfred, her protégée, Cynthia Murdoch, and her good friend, Evelyn ‘Evie’ Howard. When Mrs. Inglethorp is murdered, all of the other residents are suspects. Poirot feels a debt to the victim, since she sponsored him as a refugee. So, he investigates her murder. Years later, Styles Court features again in Curtain, the last Hercule Poirot novel. It’s now a Guest House, and an aged and ailing Hercule Poirot is staying there. He wants Captain Hastings to be his ‘eyes and ears,’ and help him catch a killer known only as X. According to Poirot, X has killed before, and he wants the murderer stopped. Then, there’s a murder at the Guest House, and it looks very much as though X has struck again. It’s a complicated puzzle, and it’s interesting to see the changes to Styles Court between these two novels.

Christopher Fowler’s Full Dark House introduces his sleuths, Arthur Bryant and John May, both of London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit (PCU). As the novel begins, Bryant’s writing his memoirs, including the story of the first PCU case. Then, a bomb blast goes off at the PCU offices, taking Bryant with it. A grieving May wants to find out who is responsible, and decides to go back through that old first case to try to get some answers. He returns to the scene, London’s Palace Theatre. In that 1940 investigation, Bryant and May looked into some bizarre deaths and a disappearance, all connected with the theatre’s upcoming production of Orpheus. As the modern-day May re-examines the case, we learn that an important part of it was never solved. So, May picks up that piece and searches again for the truth. At the same time, we go back to 1940, and follow along as Bryant and May investigate. Both timelines feature the Palace Theatre. In 1940, it’s a vibrant place with plenty of innovation, new shows, and so on. The building still stands in the modern-day timeline, but of course, it’s much older. It may not have changed dramatically, since it’s not a private residence or a more typical business. But it’s got more ‘ghosts,’ including the people involved in the 1940 case. As May goes back to the past, as you might say, we see how much the Palace has and hasn’t changed.

Peter May’s Lewis trilogy features Fionnlagh ‘Fin’ Macleod. As the first novel begins, he’s an Edinburgh police detective who’s investigating a bizarre murder. When another, very similar, murder occurs on the Isle of Lewis, MacLeod is seconded there. The idea is that if these two crimes were committed by the same person, it makes sense to join forces. If not, nothing’s been lost. For MacLeod, this is a homecoming, since he grew up on the island. But it’s not a joyful reunion with friends and family. MacLeod has his own past history, and some very good reasons for having left in the first place. As the trilogy goes on, we see several places on the island both as they were years earlier, and as they are now. And, we see how MacLeod’s perspective has changed, now that he’s an adult. It’s an interesting and distinctive use of the setting.

A great deal of Babs Horton’s A Jarful of Angels takes place in a small Welsh village. In one timeline, it’s 1962, and we follow the fortunes of four children: Lawrence ‘Fatty’ Bevan, Elizabeth ‘Iffy’ Meredith, Elizabeth ‘Bessie’ Tranter, and William ‘Billy’ Edwards. They don’t have much in common, but there aren’t many children in the village, so they spend their share of time together. And that fateful summer, they unearth several dark secrets that some people have been keeping. The other timeline is contemporary. In it, retired police detective Will Sloane returns to the village after several years in Spain. There’s one case he hasn’t solved yet – a missing child – and he wants some resolution before he dies. As Sloane returns to the village and interacts with people, we see how much (and how little) everything has changed. There are some new shops and businesses (and residents), and some old buildings that have fallen into disuse. There are other changes, too. At the same time, the rhythm of the village is much the same. It’s an interesting look at the pace of village life.

And then there’s Hannah Dennison’s Katherine ‘Kat’ Stanford series. These novels are set in the small Devon village of Little Dipperton. The main estate there is Honeychurch Hall, which has been owned by the same family for many, many generations. Today, it’s lived in by Lady Edith Honeychurch, her son, Rupert, his wife, Lavinia, and their son, Harry. The roots of the house and the village are very deep, and they include Stanford’s mother, Iris. In fact, in Murder at Honeychurch Hall, the first in this series, Iris has abruptly left London and taken a small house on the Honeychurch property. Her daughter goes to Little Dipperton to see what’s behind her mother’s sudden decision, and ends up staying. As the series goes on, we see the hall and the village as they are now. But we also see them as they once were, especially during the 1950s, when Iris was there as a teenager and young woman. It’s especially interesting to see how things have (but haven’t, really) changed.

And that’s the thing about those old buildings. They have a lot of history. On the one hand, they change, as everything does. On the other, in many ways, they may not. These are just a few examples. Your turn.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Glenn Frey’s You Belong to the City.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Babs Horton, Christopher Fowler, Hannah Dennison, Peter May

Jackie Kept a Lookout Perched on Puff’s Gigantic Tail*

childhoodplayA big part of a healthy childhood is play. In fact, plenty of well-respected scholars agree that play is an important way for children to prepare for later life. Whether it’s hide-and-seek or fantasy play (e.g. ‘You be the dragon and I’ll try to keep you away from the castle.’) or something else, children need that opportunity to let their imaginations rule.

We see that innocence and imagination in plenty of crime fiction, and that makes sense. Many fictional characters are, or have, children, and it’s realistic that they would show that side of childhood. For the author, including that aspect of childhood offers some interesting possibilities for plot lines, character development, atmosphere, and even comic relief.

In Arthur Upfield’s Death of a Swagman, for instance, Queensland Police Inspector Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte is sent to the small town of Merino to investigate the death of itinerant stockman George Kendall. To find out as much as possible, he goes undercover as a stockman himself, even arranging (with the help of Sergeant Marshall of the local police) to have himself locked up for ten days for vagrancy. During his ‘sentence,’ he meets the sergeant’s eight-year-old daughter, Florence, who usually goes by the name of Rose Marie. She brings him afternoon tea, very much playing the adult hostess, and they form a bond. That bond becomes a part of the story. One of the interesting moments in their first conversation happens when Florence decides that the jail cell door will have to be opened if they’re to have tea. She makes Bony,
 

‘Cross your fingers properly, and promise out loud [that he won’t try to escape]. Hold them up so’s I can see.’
 

It’s a very believable portrayal of a child who lives partly in the real world and partly in a world where crossed fingers and ‘out loud’ promises are as much as contracts. You’re absolutely right, fans of The Bushman Who Came Back.

In Agatha Christie’s The Clocks, we meet ten-year-old Geraldine Brown. She’s recovering from a broken leg, so she spends plenty of time sitting, looking out of her window. Special agent Colin Lamb meets her while he’s looking into the murder of an unknown man who was killed just across the street from Geraldine’s window. When he sees her looking out, he knows that she might have seen something, so he goes up to her flat and talks to her. In a way, she’s got her own fantasy world. Here’s what she says when Lamb asks her about the people who live across the street:
 

‘Of course, I don’t know their real names, so I have to give them names of my own…There’s the Marchioness of Carrabas down there…That one with all the untidy trees. You know, like Puss in Boots…’
 

On the other hand, she is a keen observer, and her comments turn out to be very helpful.

Catherine O’Flynn’s What Was Lost introduces readers to ten-year-old Kate Meaney. More than anything else, Kate wants to be a detective. She’s even started her own agency, Falcon Investigations. Her partner is a stuffed animal, Mickey the Monkey, who travels everywhere with her. When the Green Oaks Shopping Center opens not far from her home, Kate believes that it will be a very good place to look for suspicious activity. So, she spends a lot of time there, and it’s interesting to see how her world is partly the reality of her life in the Midlands, and partly the fantasy world of her detective agency. Her grandmother, Ivy, thinks it would be better for Kate to go away to school, and get ready for the ‘real world.’ So, she arranges for the girl to sit the entrance exams at the exclusive Redspoon School. Kate goes, but doesn’t return. Despite a massive search, no trace of her is found. Twenty years later, a Green Oaks Shopping Center security guard named Kurt notices something unusual in the surveillance footage he sees. There are several somewhat blurred images of a young girl carrying a backpack with a stuffed monkey sticking out of it. One night, he meets Lisa Palmer, assistant manager of the mall’s music store. It turns out that she knew Kate. The two form an awkward sort of friendship, and each in a different way, they go back to the past as we learn what really happened to Kate.

In Aditya Sudarshan’s A Nice Quiet Holiday, Judge Harish Shinde and his law clerk, Anant, travel from Delhi to Bhairavgarh, in the Indian state of Rajasthan, for a two-week holiday. They’ll be staying with Shikhar Pant, an old friend of Shinde’s. There are other houseguests, too, including Dr. Davendra Nath and his daughter Mallika and sons Ashwin and Nikhil. Also visiting is Pant’s cousin Kailish, a well-known writer. One afternoon, Kailish is found stabbed in his cousin’s library. The police are called in, and Inspector Patel begins the investigation. There are several possible suspects, too. As Patel, the judge, and Anant work through the clues, we see how different the house and the events are for Ashwin and Nikhil. They’re just children, so as soon as they arrive, they want to explore. Their opinion of the house has more to do with its suitability for hide-and-seek than anything else, and they’re more enthusiastic about playing cricket than about catching up on the gossip with the other guests. Their perspectives form an interesting counterpoint to the adult concerns in the story.

And then there’s Harry Honeychurch, whom we first meet in Hannah Dennison’s Murder at Honeychurch Hall. Katherine ‘Kat’ Stanford has decided to give up her life as a television presenter, and go into the antiques business with her mother, Iris. She’s tired of the stress of being ‘under the microscope,’ and is looking forward to some privacy. Everything changes when her mother telephones her with startling news. She’s taken the old carriage house on the property of Honeychurch Hall, Little Dipperton, Devon. Kat’s shocked at this change of plans, and goes to Little Dipperton right away. There, she finds that her mother’s broken a hand in a car accident, so she decides to stay and help out until her mother can manage on her own. While she’s there, Kat meets the members of the Honeychurch family, including young Harry. In fact, one night, his parents ask her to look after him while they go out, and she reluctantly agrees. Harry lives in a fantasy world at least part of the time. He’s obsessed with WWI hero James ‘Biggles’ Bigglesworth, and imagines himself as Biggles quite often. He’d far rather live out his hero’s adventures than study, and it’s interesting to see how his childlike view of the world contrasts with those of the adults in his life. That comes to the fore in the next novel in the series, Deadly Desires at Honeychurch Hall.

But that’s what a healthy childhood often is: a perspective that’s quite different to that of adults. There’s a blend of fantasy and reality as children sort their worlds out, and play is often the way they do that. So, perhaps that Superman cape or imaginary horse isn’t such a bad idea…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Leonard Lipton and Peter Yarrow’s Puff, the Magic Dragon. I had the privilege of seeing them live once, and they did this song. As they did, we all sang along, of course. At the very end, they asked us to change the last verse from the past tense (…lived by the sea….) to the present tense. They wanted us to remember that Puff the Magic Dragon never really goes away…

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Filed under Aditya Sudarshan, Agatha Christie, Arthur Upfield, Catherine O'Flynn, Hannah Dennison