Category Archives: Harlan Coben

Pressure, Pushing Down on Me*

In the US, one of the last major hurdles for Ph.D. candidates is defending their dissertations. I understand it’s the same in many other places, too. If you have a Ph.D. yourself, or you’ve sat in on one of these events, then you know it’s a very intense experience. As this is posted, it’s my ‘dissertation anniversary,’ which has me thinking about the process. Candidates spend weeks or even months preparing their presentations of their material, as well as responses to possible questions they may get from members of their dissertation committees (and, at times, the audience). And, of course, those questions may be about any aspect of the dissertation, so the candidate needs to be thoroughly familiar with every bit of the material. It’s nerve-wracking, to say the least.

The thing about defending a dissertation is that it’s a bit difficult to describe, since it doesn’t have a lot of obvious parallels in other fields. But a look at crime fiction can help give a few insights.

Getting ready to defend a dissertation is a little like rehearsing for a performance. Just as actors must know their lines and musicians must know their pieces, Ph.D. candidates have to have their presentations well-prepared. We see the intensity of rehearsal in a lot of crime fiction. For instance, Christine Poulson’s Stage Fright sees her protagonist, Cassandra James, asked to adapt a Victorian novel, East Lynne, for a stage production. She’s Head of the English Department at St. Etheldreda’s College, Cambridge, and her specialty is Victorian literature. So, she’s the right choice for the job. All starts out well enough, and rehearsals begin. But then, Melissa Meadows, who is to take a leading role in the play, tells James that someone is stalking her. Then, she goes missing. This throws rehearsals into chaos, and, when she doesn’t return, leads to the investigation of a possible murder.

Fans of Ngaio Marsh, Simon Brett, and Deborah Nicholson, among others, will know that their novels also take the reader ‘backstage.’ In such novels, we see how many times material has to be prepared and how important timing is. We also see the suspense, nerves and tension that come out under so much pressure. It’s the same when one’s preparing to defend a dissertation.

Defending a dissertation isn’t really entertainment, though. Candidates need to be prepared to address challenges to everything about their work. They need to examine each aspect of their dissertations, from the topic, to the data collection, to the data analysis, and more. In that sense, preparing to defend a dissertation is a little like preparing for a trial. A good attorney prepares thoroughly for each trial. That includes working with witnesses and, possibly, the defendant. It also includes looking carefully at each aspect of the case, and addressing possible weaknesses. Attorneys know that any serious weaknesses in a case will be exploited by the other side. So, they do everything possible to prevent that. Admittedly, the Ph.D. candidate doesn’t risk prison. But it’s still quite a high-stakes process.

We see that sort of preparation in work by, for instance Scott Turow, John Grisham, Robert Rotenberg, and Paul Levine. The writing team of ‘Perri O’Shaughnessy’ also explore this sort of pre-trial work in their Nina Reilly novels.

Presenting one’s material before the dissertation committee, and fielding questions, isn’t exactly like a trial. The role of the dissertation committee is to support the candidate. After all, if the candidate doesn’t do well, this reflects on the committee, too – in particular on the candidate’s advisor/tutor, who generally chairs the committee.

In that way, defending a dissertation is a bit like a major sports competition. On the one hand, the player has to work very hard, and coaches can be difficult to satisfy. The Olympic Games, the World Series, the World Cup, and other such contests, all require discipline and focus. And coaches and trainers push and challenge players to get the most from them. At the same time, their role is to be allies and support systems.

Alison Gordon’s crime novels give readers a good look at what it’s like to play for a Major League baseball team. Readers see how important the actual games can be, and what the roles of coaches and trainers are. John Daniell’s The Fixer offers some similar insight into the world of rugby. And there’s Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar series, which takes the perspective of a sports agent. In all of these novels and series, we see how pivotal a game or series of games can be. That stress and tension is quite similar to what it’s like to defend a dissertation.

As I say, it’s a little difficult to describe getting ready to defend a dissertation. It’s a singular experience, and it challenges Ph.D. candidates to think about their work in ways they probably wouldn’t otherwise. But there is nothing quite like being informed you’ve passed, and having your committee address you as ‘Doctor.’ I often think it would actually be a solid context for a crime novel. There’s tension, intense preparation, possible ego clashes, and there’s no telling what the candidate might uncover in pursuit of that all-important data set. If you went through this process, I’d love to hear your experiences. I still remember mine, even after a number of years.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Queen and David Bowie’s Under Pressure.


Filed under Alison Gordon, Christine Poulson, Deborah Nicholson, Harlan Coben, John Daniell, John Grisham, Ngaio Marsh, Paul Levine, Perri O'Shaughnessy, Robert Rotenberg, Scott Turow, Simon Brett

Anyone For Tennis*

TennisAh, tennis! For many years it was one of those genteel sports, where players and coaches were supposed to behave politely. But if you’ve ever played tennis, you know that it can be extremely competitive. And for those with real talent, the international tennis circuit can be lucrative, so there’s a lot at stake.

With all of that competitiveness and money (not to mention the fame) on the line, it shouldn’t be surprising that tennis features in crime fiction. Here are just a few examples to show you what I mean. I know you’ll think of more than I could.

In John Dickson Carr’s The Problem of the Wire Cage, we are introduced to Frank Dorrance and his fiancée, Brenda White. Frank has made it clear that his main purpose in marrying Brenda is access to the money she will inherit if they marry. But Frank has a rival, Hugh Rowlands, an impoverished solicitor who’s genuinely in love with Brenda. One day, Frank and Brenda attend a tennis party, where Frank manages to alienate just about everyone there. When it’s over, they leave the court. After the party, Brenda finds her fiancé murdered on the same court. The only footprints on the wet, sandy court belong to Frank, so there’s very little evidence to suggest how and by whom he might have been killed. But there’s no lack of suspects, as the victim was arrogant and obnoxious, and had made many enemies. Dr. Gideon Fell gets involved in the case, and finds that he has to clear both Hugh and Brenda, since both had motives.

Several of Agatha Christie’s stories involve tennis. In Cat Among the Pigeons, for instance, we are introduced to Jennifer Sutcliffe, who is an avid tennis player. She’s a new student at Meadowbank, an exclusive girls’ school, and soon makes friends with another new student, Julia Upjohn, and both enjoy their shared interest in tennis. Late one night, the school’s games mistress, Grace Springer, is shot in the new Sports Pavilion. Then there’s a kidnapping. And another murder. Julia’s mother happens to be friends with Maureen Summerhayes, an acquaintance of Hercule Poirot’s, whom fans of Mrs. McGinty’s Dead will remember. When she finds an important clue to the murder, Julia uses that connection to visit Poirot. He returns with her to Meadowbank, and investigates the events there.  You’re absolutely right, fans of The Mystery of the Blue Train, and of Evil Under the Sun.

In Harlan Coben’s Drop Shot, sports agent Myron Bolitar and his friend, Win Lockwood, are attending a U.S. Open tennis event, where Bolitar’s client, Duane Richwood, is competing. Richwood is an up-and-coming tennis star from the proverbial wrong side of the tracks, ready to take the tennis world by storm, as the saying goes. During the game, Bolitar and Lockwood head to the food court outside the stadium, where they discover the body of former tennis great Valerie Simpson. For a number of reasons, Bolitar has an interest in finding out who killed the victim. First, it’s possible that his client might have known her. If there is a connection between the two, then Richwood could be a suspect. Second, Bolitar himself had been getting calls from Simpson, who wanted to resurrect her career. And it turns out that Lockwood referred her to him. With all of these connections hitting close to home, Bolitar decides to find out the truth behind the murder.

There’s a tennis angle in Elmore Leonard’s The Switch, too. Ordell Robbie and Louis Gara met in a Michigan prison, where both were serving time for stealing cars. They’ve become friends, and have decided to join forces to plan a potentially very lucrative crime. They’re going to kidnap Margaret ‘Mickey’ Dawson, wife of wealthy Detroit developer Frank Dawson. He’s in a position to pay a large ransom, and Robbie and Gara don’t think they’ll have any trouble from Mickey. She’s a devoted wife, and dedicated ‘tennis mum’ to thirteen-year-old Bo, who’s shown real talent on the court. But this plan soon goes wrong. First, Dawson has little interest in paying ransom. He’s got a girlfriend in the Bahamas, and was planning to divorce his wife, anyway.  There are other complications, too (no spoilers here!). As the novel goes on, we see that Mickey comes into her own, showing herself to be far from the ‘meek little housewife’ she seems to be at first. Among other things, this novel gives readers a peek at the perspective of the ‘sports parent.’

Many people know H.R.F. Keating best from his Inspector Ganesh Ghote novels. But he wrote several other novels too, including a series featuring Detective Superintendent Harriet Martens of the Greater Birchester Police. In one plot thread of A Detective in Love, the second in that series, Martens is seconded to the Leven Vales Police when U.K. tennis star Bubbles Xingara is stabbed to death during a morning training run. The victim was top-seeded at Wimbledon, so there’s more than just possible personal angle to this murder. What’s more, her fame and her reputation as a ‘media darling’ means that this case is going to get international exposure. So Martens will have to do everything right.

I don’t think I could do a post on tennis in crime fiction without making reference to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1951 film adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train. As fans of the film will know, Hitchcock turns Guy Haines from an architect (his profession in the novel) to a professional tennis player. And there’s a very famous scene in the film that takes place at a tennis match in which Haines competes. Those who know the film will know exactly which scene I mean. If you haven’t seen this adaptation, I recommend it. But then, I admit to bias, as I like Hitchcock’s work very much.

See what I mean? Tennis seems like such a civil sort of game, where everyone is well-behaved. But under the surface? Hmm…. I’m not so sure.


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


Filed under Agatha Christie, Alfred Hitchcock, Elmore Leonard, H.R.F. Keating, Harlan Coben, John Dickson Carr, Patricia Highsmith

You Know I Think It’s Time to Give This Game a Ride*

The Major League Baseball season has started, the National Hockey League playoffs have started and the National Basketball League playoffs will be starting in a couple of weeks. And even though the Summer Olympic Games in London won’t be held until the end of July, there’s quite a lot of fervor already as final preparations are made and all of the athletes get into their best physical condition. Sport is a really important part of lots of people’s lives even if they don’t participate themselves. If you’ve ever had to get through a traffic jam because of people leaving or going to a game, you know what I mean. If you arrange your schedule to watch your favourite team play, you know what I mean. We see that interest in sport in real life of course, and we see it in crime fiction, too. And no, I don’t just mean sleuths such as Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar and Dick Francis’ Sid Halley, who are former professional athletes. Sport’s woven all through the genre.

For instance, you wouldn’t think of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot as a lover of sport, and really he isn’t. But in The Mystery of the Blue Train, he uses tennis matches as a very good opportunity to follow up on leads in the murder of Ruth Van Aldin Kettering. She was traveling on the famed Blue Train to meet her lover when she was strangled. At first the motive seems to be a jewel theft, since a very valuable ruby necklace she had was stolen. But Poirot soon discovers that it’s more complicated than that and he looks into the case at the request of Ruth’s father Rufus Van Aldin. Several of the important people from whom Poirot thinks he can get clues are attending a tennis match, so Poirot goes, too. And it turns out he gets some interesting and useful information there, too.

Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey shows himself to be quite the cricket player in Murder Must Advertise. In that novel, Wimsey goes undercover at Pym’s Publicity, Ltd. when one of their copywriters Victor Dean is killed one afternoon when he’s at work. At first Dean’s death looks like a tragic accident (he fell down a flight of stairs), but he left behind a half-finished note alleging that someone at the company has been using company resources for illegal purposes. Pym’s management wants to get to the bottom of the matter and hires Wimsey for the purpose. Wimsey soon finds that someone in the company was using the company’s advertising resources to set up meetings between a drugs gang and a group of local dealers. Dean found out about it and was blackmailing that person, and that’s the reason he was killed. In his guise as new copywriter Death Bredon, Wimsey finds out who the killer was. He also ends up playing for the company cricket team and it’s at that match that the climactic scenes of the novel happen.

Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski follows sport closely and particularly likes the Chicago Cubs baseball team. In Indemnity Only, for instance, Warshawski is tracking down a young woman Anita Hill who seems to have disappeared. In the process of looking for the missing woman, she goes to the home of Anita’s boyfriend Pete Thayer only to find he’s been killed. Now Warshawski gets involved in a case involving insurance fraud, union thugs, and another murder. But she’s not too busy to listen to her beloved Cubs on the car radio as she drives, and we listen to the progress of the game, too. Warshawski is also a former basketball player and in Blood Shot (AKA Toxic Shock) she attends a reunion of her former team. That’s when Caroline Dijak, the organiser of the reunion, asks Warshawski’s help. Dijak wants to find her father, whom she never knew. Warshawski agrees, but then, the body of another friend is found in Dead Stick Pond. Now Warshawski has two cases, each involving friends of hers, to solve.

Peter Temple’s Jack Irish is a Fitzroy supporter and the son of a former Fitzroy player, so he spends his share of time with some of this father’s old football friends at the Prince of Prussia. In Bad Debts, Irish has just finished one case and is started on the case of the mysterious murder of Danny McKillop, a former client. He stops in at the pub and several of its usual denizens ask where he’s been.


“‘I had to go to Sydney,’ I said. ‘Work.’…
‘What kind of work does a man have in Sydney on Satdee arvo?’ said Norm O’Neill in a tone of amazement. These men would no more consider being away from Melbourne on a Saturday in the football season than they would consider enrolling in personal development courses.”  


Irish also follows horse racing, and a sub-plot of this novel involves a case of racing and betting arrangements.

Helene Tursten’s sleuth Inspector Irene Huss is a former European woman’s champion in judo and is still involved. She teaches a judo class and her daughter Katarina has inherited her interest. Huss doesn’t solve her cases by using judo, but she does use it to stay in shape, clear her mind and focus when she needs to. Her workouts at the dojo and her interest in judo are woven through the novels rather than becoming a separate plot in and of themselves.

And then there’s Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen’s The Cosy Knave. In that novel, retired teacher Rose Walnut-Whip is murdered during a football match between England and Germany. Everyone has gathered to watch the match on television at the home of grocer Tuxford Wensleydale and the noise from the match is so loud and people’s attention is so fixed on what’s happening in the game that they pay no attention to what has happened to Rose until it’s too late. Constable Archibald Penrose isn’t accustomed to having to deal with murder cases, but his boss Chief Inspector Alexander Mars-Wrigley is far too interested in the outcome of the match to pay a lot of attention to the investigation. So with the help of his fiancée Rhapsody Gershwin, Penrose has to put the pieces of the puzzle together himself.

Even when sport isn’t a major theme of a novel, it’s often woven into a story in subtle ways. In many, many crime novels, characters watch ball games on television (or attend them), they talk about their favourite teams and so forth. Sport is a very important part of life for many people, so it makes sense that it’s a part of stories, too. Just to show you what I mean, here’s a bit I particularly like from Kel Robertson’s Smoke and Mirrors, which isn’t even about sport. In that novel, Australian Federal Police Officer Bradman “Brad” Chen is taking a leave of absence from work. He’s lured back to investigate the murders of former politician Alec Dennet and the editor of his memoirs Lorraine Starke. This is the conversation that takes place just after Chen has been persuaded to come back to work and help investigate this case:


Welcome back,’ said Talkative. “let’s go and talk post-mortems.’
‘Nah, I’ll come back tomorrow,’ I said, ‘to read my way through things.’
‘Dr. Nick will be shattered, not seeing you.’
‘He’s a South Sydney supporter,’ I said. ‘They’re used to heartbreak.’”


See what I mean about sport?



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from John Fogarty’s Centerfield.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Dick Francis, Dorothy Sayers, Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen, Harlan Coben, Helene Tursten, Kel Robertson, Peter Temple, Sara Peretsky

You Don’t Feel You Could Love Me, but I Feel You Could*

People who love to read have dozens of reasons for enjoying getting lost in a book. Sometimes it’s because the plot intrigues them. Sometimes it’s because they enjoy a particular topic like cooking, sports, birds or something else, and want to read about that topic. Or it could be because of that power books can have to teach us, take us on virtual trips all over the world, and introduce us to all sorts of memorable characters. What’s so interesting about crime fiction (after all, this is a blog about crime fiction…) is that it’s woven all through literature. You don’t have to have read a lot of Agatha Christie’s books to have read fiction that has to do with crime. No matter what your taste in books is, you’ll find at least hints of the mystery and suspense (and of course, the criminal activity) that make for quality crime fiction.

For example, one very popular genre of fiction is science fiction. Science fiction lovers may not think they’d like crime fiction, but there are some fine crime fiction novels that are also science fiction stories. For example, Isaac Asimov’s Elijah “Lije” Baley/R. Daneel Olivaw series takes place on a futuristic Earth (mostly in what we know now as New York City). Many of the fascinating questions that science fiction readers like to ponder are addressed in this series (e.g. What will the future be like? What would it be like if positronic robots were integrated into society? What kinds of scientific and technological developments could there be?) And yet, this series is a crime fiction series. It features a human police detective (Baley) and his positronic sleuthing partner (Olivaw) who investigate murders. They follow leads, collect evidence, make sense of clues, and search for motives, just like many other sets of fictional detectives.

People who enjoy reading about sport and athletes might say they don’t enjoy mysteries and crime fiction. But crime fiction is woven into that genre, too. For instance, many of Harlan Coben’s novels feature Myron Bolitar, a former basketball star who’s been sidelined because of an injury. He becomes an agent, and later an investigator. In the earlier Bolitar novels in particular, we see the same themes that make other sports novels appealing to their fans. There are larger topics such as the nature of competition, the roles of men and women in sports, greed, the passion and tenacity that it takes to be great, and more. There’s also interesting information about sport itself. The same is true of Dick Francis’ horse racing-themed novels. And yet, these novels are crime fiction novels. They focus on crimes (mostly murder) and their detection, and feature a lot of the elements in other crime fiction novels.

Many people enjoy reading about history. And there are some highly talented authors of historical fiction. For instance, there’s James Michener, whose historical novels have taken readers from Hawai’i to the Middle East to Poland (and many other places, too). For history buffs, authors such as Michener and Edward Rutherfurd provide delightful journeys into the past. And yet, there are plenty of elements of crime fiction in those novels as well. There are several sections in Michener’s and Rutherfurd’s work (to take just those two examples) in which someone is killed or other crimes are committed. And a good part of what keeps readers turning pages during those sections is finding out whodunit and whydunit.

There are also those who like to read romance novels. For romance fans, there’s nothing like getting caught up in the drama of falling in love, working through misunderstandings, learning to know each other, and the suspense of “will-they-or-won’t-they.” And of course, the attraction at the heart of these novels also draws readers in. Romance lovers may not think of themselves as crime fiction readers, but at times, they are. For instance, Jude Deveraux’s A Knight in Shining Armor and LaVyrle Spencer’s Morning Glory both involve crimes. In the former, Nicholas Stafford has been unjustly convicted of treason and needs the help of Douglass Stafford to clear his name. In the latter, Will Parker, who has a criminal past, falls in love with Eleanor “Ellie” Dinsmore. Their plans are complicated not only by Parker’s criminal reputation, but also by a blackmailer. There are a lot of other examples, too. These are romance novels, so the focus of the stories is the developing relationship between two people. But they also have plenty of crime fiction elements. And I’m sure you could name far more novels than I could in which a developing romance plays a role in a novel that’s mostly about a crime and its investigation.

Many, many readers are drawn to what’s often called “great literature.” They enjoy the work of Shakespeare, Jane Austen, William Faulkner, James Joyce and other writers who are known for their literary greatness. If you ask those readers whether they like crime fiction, you’d probably get plenty who’d tell you, “no.” But the fact is, there’s plenty of murder, mayhem and other crime in literary novels. For instance, Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca is considered one of the truly excellent examples of English-language literature. Gabriel García Márquez’ Crónica de una Muerte Anunciada (Chronicle of a Death Foretold) is regarded as a fine example of Latin American Spanish-language literature. Both authors use very highly-regarded literary styles (although those styles are quite different), and both are often named among the top writers in their languages. And yet, those novels focus on crime and mystery. Rebecca is, among many other things, the unfolding story of the death of Rebecca de Winter, who died under mysterious circumstances. Crónica de una Muerte Anunciada tells of the murder of Santiago Nasar. There are plenty of other examples, too, from other truly great writers (“The Scottish Play,” anyone?). And of course, there are many crime fiction writers whose work is also highly regarded as literary fiction (Peter Temple, anyone? P.D. James?). It really doesn’t take much looking to see that crime fiction and “great literature” have affected each other.

I could mention lots of other kinds of fiction that integrates crime, mystery and suspense. The fact is that many of the elements that make up a good crime story aren’t that different from the elements that make up any other excellent story. There’s an engaging and absorbing plot, appealing characters (or at least interesting and intriguing ones), solid writing style and a setting and context that adds to the story. Crime fiction, like other fine fiction, is about believable people facing challenges (in crime fiction’s case, crime). Like other fiction, it’s about how those conflicts are resolved. No wonder crime fiction is so appealing, even to those who don’t think they like it.

What about you? Which novels and authors do you recommend when friends and relations tell you they don’t like crime fiction? If you’re a writer, how do you make your work appealing to those who may not have tried crime fiction, or who may think they don’t like it?



On a Related Note….

It’s National Book Week, and today is National Book Lovers Day. What better way to celebrate than to try a new book or author…




*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Paul Simon’s Gumboots.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Daphne du Maurier, Dick Francis, Edward Rutherfurd, Gabriel García Márquez, Harlan Coben, Isaac Asimov, James Joyce, James Michener, Jane Austen, Jude Deveraux, LaVyrle Spencer, William Faulkner, William Shakespeare

>Put Me In, Coach*

>We recently had the chance to witness some spectacular athletic competition during the Winter Olympics that were held in Vancouver, B.C. And yesterday, the 2010 Major League Baseball season began. With all of this (and lots of other) sport activity going on, it seems a good time to think about how important sports are in most cultures. Practically every culture has some sort of sports or games, and it’s interesting to consider how very much integrated sport is into our lives. Even the way we speak includes lots of sports metaphors; for example, many people refer to a difficult situation as a “sticky wicket,” a weakened person as being, “on the ropes,” or a missed obligation as “dropping the ball.” With sports such an important part of our lives (even we’ve never played sports ourselves), it’s only natural that sports are integrated into crime fiction, too. Sports and athletics are very believable contexts, too, for murder mysteries; after all, they are often highly competitive, so it’s easy to imagine a murder in that kind of situation. Also, some sports attract lots of betting and gambling and that, too, is a very believable context for murder.

For example, many of the novels of Dick Francis are focused on the horse racing world. For instance, he introduces one of his sleuths, former-jockey-turned racetrack investigator Sid Halley in Odds Against. In that novel, Halley’s coping with the fact that an injury to his left hand has ended his racing career. He’s been working at the Hunt Radnor Associates Detective Agency for two years when he’s shot during the course of an investigation. When he recovers, his father-in-law, Charles Roland, engages Halley to find out what he can about Howard Kraye, a shady businessman whom Roland suspects of trying to take over his Seabury Racecourse as a part of a deal to build valuable property on the land. Halley takes the case and finds out that Kraye is part of a conspiracy to sabotage local racetracks in order to make a profit. In the end, Halley is able to uncover the plot and help save the racecourses. He also starts a new career as a racetrack investigator.

Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar novels are also centered on the world of sports. Bolitar is a former basketball star whose career was ended by a knee injury. After basketball, Bolitar worked as an FBI agent, but he’s now a sports agent, and does private investigation on the side. In his first outing, Deal Breaker, Bolitar is about to make a major deal for his first “name” client, rookie football quarterback star Christian Steele, who seems to be the “all-American” type. One day, though, Steele gets a call from an old girlfriend, Kathy Culver. What’s strange is that Kathy is supposed to be dead. Eighteen months ago, Kathy disappeared under strange circumstances, and everyone thinks that she was killed. Now, Christian starts getting strange clues that she may still be alive. So Bolitar decides to investigate to find out what really happened to Kathy. In the end, he discovers some dark secrets about Kathy’s family and her past as he uncovers the truth about her disappearance.

Sports is also the theme of Michael Balkind’s Reid Clark series. Clark is a professional golfer who’s at the top of the PGA tour. He’s also known as difficult and temperamental. In Sudden Death, Clark receives a death threat on the night before he’s supposed to tee off on the final day of the Master’s Tournament. Reid’s agent, Buck Green, suggests that he hires private investigator Jay Scott to help him find out who’s behind the death threat, and why his life is at risk. Clark agrees, and Scott goes to work. Meanwhile, Clark’s focused on winning the tour, despite the risk to his life. In Dead Ball, Clark hires Scott again. In that novel, Clark has opened up AllSports, a large golfing complex designed to give inner-city young people a chance to learn about golf. One day, Clark is giving the President of the United States and the First Lady a tour of Allsports when they find the body of Clark’s friend, Bob Thomas. When the body is found, AllSports is locked down until the police can find out who the killer is, so Clark hires Scott to find the murderer as quickly as possible.

Even when sports aren’t at the center of a mystery, they can still play an important role in a story. That’s what happens in Mark Richard Zubro’s Tom Mason/Scott Carpenter series. Mason is a high school English teacher. His lover, Scott Carpenter, is a famous baseball pitcher. So sports are often integrated into these mysteries. For instance, in Why Isn’t Becky Twitchell Dead, we meet basketball and football player Jeff Trask, one of Mason’s remedial English students. Trask has been accused of killing his pregnant girlfriend, Susan Warren, after a party they both attended. He asks Mason to help him prove that he’s innocent, and Mason and Carpenter begin to look into the death. As they begin to interview the people who were at the party, they meet some of the other people involved in Susan’s life, including vicious Becky Twitchell, the daughter of the President of the School Board. Very soon, they find that Susan’s death is just the “tip of the iceberg” as they uncover a schoolwide drugs conspiracy involving the coach, a school administrator, other students, and some unexpected people. In the end, Mason and Carpenter find that Susan Warren’s death had everything to do with the conspiracy.

Zubro has created another series, too, featuring Chicago police officers Paul Turner and Buck Fenwick, and we see sports integrated in that series, too. In Another Dead Teenager, Turner and Fenwick investigate the murders of Jake Goldstein and Frank Douglas. Goldstein and Douglas were star athletes who were well-liked, not involved in drugs or gangs, and hadn’t seemed to make any enemies. On the night of the murders, they’d been invited to meet with some of the Chicago Bears football players after a practice session, but they never showed up. When their bodies are discovered, Turner and Fenwick look into their private lives to try to find a connection, but don’t seem able to. Then, another teenager is brutally murdered. Now, it seems that there’s a serial killer at work, and the two detectives have to find out who’s behind the murders before another student dies.

There’s plenty of classic crime fiction, too, in which sports play a role. For instance, in Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders, Hercule Poirot investigates a series of murders that seem connected only by warning notes he receives before each murder, and an ABC railway guide lying near each body. In fact, everyone thinks these killings are the work of a crazed serial murderer. The killer seems to be choosing his victims in alphabetical order, so by the time the fourth warning comes, the police are out in full force in Doncaster, where the killer warns that the murder will take place. Everyone thinks that this time, with lots of extra police on duty, and everyone on guard, the murderer will be caught. There’s only one problem, though, as one character mentions:

“’It’s easy to see you’re not a sporting man, Inspector.’
Crome stared at him.
‘What do you mean, Mr. Clark?’
‘Man alive, don’t you realize that on next Wednesday, the St. Leger is being run at Doncaster?’”

In this case, the murderer makes use of the popularity of horse racing to draw attention away from the murder. In the end, it turns out that all of the killings have been committed not by an insane person, as Poirot says, but by a sane one.

In Cat Among the Pigeons, Poirot investigates the shooting murder of Grace Springer, games mistress at Meadowbank, an exclusive school for girls. Late one night, Springer is found dead in the newly-built Sports Pavilion. At first, the police look for a personal reason for her death, but there doesn’t seem to be one. She was annoying and nosy, but in the words of another character, “she was just the games mistress.” Soon, though, some other mysterious happenings occur, including another murder and a kidnapping. Before long, it’s clear the Meadowbank is the focus of something much larger than just someone getting upset with the games mistress.

In Dorothy Sayers’ Murder Must Advertise, it’s cricket that plays an important role. In that novel, Lord Peter Wimsey goes undercover at Pym’s Publicity, Ltd. a highly respectable advertising company, in order to investigate the death of copywriter Victor Dean. Wimsey finds out that Dean’s death is related to a drugs ring that’s been using the advertising agency to communicate with dealers. The closer Wimsey gets to the truth, the more dangerous his own situation gets. In the end, at a very pivotal cricket match, Wimsey shows not only his ability to get out of a difficult situation, but also his skill at cricket.

Much as we may enjoy them, sports aren’t always, “good, clean fun.” They can be competitive, risky, and can lead to murder. The tension and the pressure that’s felt in sports make a naturally suspenseful background to a crime fiction story, so it makes sense that there are several crime fiction novels that focus on or include sports. When they’re well-written, even those who aren’t sports fans can really enjoy them. Do you agree? If so, which sports-related crime fiction have you enjoyed? Or, if you don’t enjoy sports, is that enough to keep you from reading sports-related crime fiction?

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from John Fogarty’s Centerfield

Go, Phillies : )!

On Another Note: Please accept my apologies if you commented on my post about characters from different series appearing together, and I didn’t respond. Blogger decided to make me look the fool, and chewed up your comments and, for some of you, my responses. They did appear briefly, though, and I did read your comments, for which I thank you. I also tried to respond. Unfortunately, Blogger didn’t like that, either. Please know that I appreciate all your input!


Filed under Agatha Christie, Dick Francis, Dorothy Sayers, Harlan Coben, Mark Richard Zubro, Michael Balkind