Category Archives: Helen Fitzgerald

Could’ve Been Me*

Readers often get drawn into a story by identifying with particular characters or situations. That feeling of ‘That could be me!’ can add suspense to the reading experience. It can also help readers understand characters and their motivations. And plenty of authors use this approach.

For example, the real action in Agatha Christie’s 4:50 From Paddington (AKA What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!) begins as Elspeth McGillicuddy is on board a train on the way to visit her friend, Miss Marple. She gets comfortable and drowses just a bit, as anyone might do. She happens to wake when another train passes her train, going in the same direction. As the train goes by, Mrs. McGillicuddy happens to glance into the windows of the other train. That’s when she sees a man strangling a woman. We’ve all been in situations where we were on trains, buses or planes, half-asleep and not paying much attention. So, it’s easy to relate to Mrs. McGillicuddy’s shock when she sees the murder. She tries to get the conductor and police to believe her, but no-one has been reported missing, and there’s been no report of a body on any train. The only person who really does believe Mrs. McGilicuddy is Miss Marple. She does her own experimentation to find out where the body might be, and soon enough, it’s discovered.

Gail Bowen’s The Wandering Soul Murders starts when Bowen’s sleuth, academician and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn, gets a call from her daughter, Mieka. It seems Mieka was getting rid of some dirty rags that had gotten soiled from cleaning up at the catering business she owns. That’s how she found the body of seventeen-year-old Bernice Morin in a nearby trash dumpster. Kilbourn goes to help her daughter and ends up getting involved in a case of multiple murders that has its roots in the past. We’ve all taken trash out, probably without thinking much about it. It’s one of those ordinary things that can make a reader think, ‘That could’ve been me.’

Peter Robinson’s Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Alan Banks series begins with Gallows View. In the novel, Banks has recently moved with his family from London to the Yorkshire town of Eastvale. He’s not there long before he finds himself confronted with several cases. One of them is the case of a voyeur who’s making the lives of Estvale women miserable. In a couple of scenes related to that sub-plot, a character is changing clothes, and gets a creepy sense of being watched. It’s easy for readers to identify with that feeling. If you’ve ever started to change your clothes, and then suddenly checked to be sure the curtains or shades were drawn, you know that feeling. Readers can identify with hat eeriness, and it draws them in.

C.J. Box’s Three Weeks to Say Goodbye isn’t part of his Joe Pickett series; it’s a standalone. In it, we meet Jack McGuane, a Travel Development Specialist for the Denver Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau. His wife, Melissa, works at a local hotel. They are also loving parents to eighteen-month-old Angelina. Then, one day, their world is shattered. They get a call from the agency through which they adopted Angelina, and it’s very bad news. It seems that the baby’s biological father, eighteen-year-old Garrett Moreland, never waived his parental rights. Now, he’s decided to exercise them, and he wants Angelina back. At first, it seems like a terrible mix-up. But then, the McGuanes’ adoption lawyer refuses to get involved, saying there’s nothing much that can be done. It’s clear now that there’s something more here than a change of mind. To make matters worse, Garrett’s father is powerful judge John Moreland, and he intends to do whatever it takes to support his son. In fact, the McGuanes receive a court order to surrender Angelina within twenty-one days. This they refuse to do. And before he knows it, McGuane finds himself doing things he never would have imagined. And it’s not hard for readers, especially readers who are parents, to identify with what it might be like to have your child taken from you. That connection adds to the suspense of the novel.

If you’ve ever taken a baby or a very small child on a plane trip, you can understand how Joanna Lindsay and Alistair Robertson feel at the beginning of Helen Fitzgerald’s The Cry. They’re on the way from Scotland to Robertson’s native Victoria, a trip of some 24 hours or sometimes much more, depending on stopovers. With them is their nine-week old son, Noah. Even under the best of circumstances, Noah isn’t an ‘easy’ baby. And a long airline trip is not the best of circumstances. Any parent who’s been on a long flight like this will likely identify with the parents’ exhaustion and frustration as the baby refuses to stay settled and sleep. Several of the other passengers lose their tempers, and it’s an awfully difficult experience for everyone. The tension doesn’t ease up when the plane lands, either. On the drive from the airport in Melbourne to their destination, the couple faces every parent’s worst nightmare: the loss of their son. There’s a massive search, and a lot of help and sympathy, too. Then, there start to be whispers (and then gossip, and then full-on accusations) that the parents, especially Joanna, might have been involved in this case. Matters get worse and worse, but in the end, we find out the truth about Noah.

These are only a few examples of the way authors can use events to draw readers into a story. When readers can connect with the characters (i.e. ‘That might have happened to me!’), they’re more likely to stay engaged in the story. And that’s what any author wants.


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


Filed under Agatha Christie, C.J. Box, Gail Bowen, Helen Fitzgerald, Peter Robinson

What’s in My Head*

Most crime novels involve at least a little violence. After all, a lot of them are about (at least one) murder. For some novels, though, the focus of the tension is as much on the psychological as it is on anything else, perhaps more. And, for many readers, that sort of suspense has powerful impact – even more than does physical violence.

The focus on psychology (as opposed to violence) for tension has been around for a long time. For example, Charlotte Perkins Stetson’s The Yellow Wallpaper, from 1892, details a woman’s slow descent into madness over the course of a summer. There isn’t really violence in this story, but it’s psychologically suspenseful.

James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity also has more of a focus on the psychological than it does on violence. In it, insurance agent Walter Huff happens to be in the area where a client of his, H.S. Nirdlinger, lives. He stops by in the hopes of getting Nirdlinger to renew his policy. When Huff gets to the house, he finds that Nirdlinger isn’t home, but his wife, Phyllis, is. The two get to talking, and Huff is soon smitten. Phyllis does nothing to discourage him, and it’s not long before the two are involved romantically. Phyllis has a plan to kill her husband; in fact, she even knows the sort of insurance policy she’ll need to carry out her plan. By the time she shares that plan with Huff, he’s so besotted that he goes along with it, even writing the plan that Phyllis needs. The murder is duly carried out, but Huff soon sees that that’s only the beginning of his troubles. In the story, the psychology involved causes at least as much tension as does the actual murder.

Beryl Bainbridhe’s Harriet Said also uses psychology to build suspense. It’s the story of a thirteen-year-old unnamed narrator who’s waiting for her fourteen-year-old friend, Harriet, to return to England from a trip to Wales. Feeling a little restless, the narrator strikes up a friendship with a middle-aged man named Peter Biggs. She starts to feel the hormone rush that comes from attraction, but she doesn’t do anything about it, as she wants to wait for Harriet’s return. And, in any case, Biggs is both older and married. When Harriet comes back, she says that she doesn’t want her friend to be overly emotional about Biggs. Rather, she wants this to be an objective observation. So, her plan is to spy on Biggs, and then ‘humble’ him. The two teenagers put their plan into motion. But, when they see something they were not intended to see, everything changes, and takes a much more sinister turn…

There’s also a lot psychological tension in Nicolas Freeling’s Double Barrel. In it, Amsterdam police detective Piet Van der Valk is seconded to the small town of Zwinderen. Someone has been sending out vicious anonymous letters, and they’ve wreaked so much havoc that two people have committed suicide. Another has had a complete mental breakdown. The local police haven’t got very far in finding out who’s responsible, so it’s hoped that Van der Valk can discover the truth. Little by little, he gets to know the people of Zwinderen; and, as he does, he finds that many of them are really terrified of the letters. It’s a small town, where everyone knows everyone, and everyone sits in judgement. The hold that the letter writer has over the residents is much more psychological than it is anything else.

That’s also the case with A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife. Todd Gilbert and Jodi Brett are a successful Chicago couple who’ve been together twenty years, although they’ve never legally married. He’s a developer; she’s a psychotherapist. Everything begins to fray at the edges for them when Todd has an affair with Natasha Kovacs, the daughter of his business partner. This isn’t the first time that Todd has strayed, but this time, it’s different. Natasha discovers that she’s pregnant, and she decides she wants to marry and have a family. Todd tells her (and himself) that this is what he wants, too. His lawyer convinces him to serve Jodi with a formal eviction notice that will require her to leave their home. Jodi’s lawyer tells her that Illinois doesn’t have a provision for common-law marriages. This means that Joid has no legal claim on the house. With her options getting more and more limited, Jodi becomes more and more withdrawn. Then, Todd is killed in a drive-by shooting. On the surface, it looks as though he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, so to speak. But it turns out that someone hired the killers. And now, the police have to go through a number of suspects to find out who’s responsible.

Helen Fitzgerald’s The Cry also has very little focus on violence, and much more on psychology. Joanna Lindsay and her partner, Alistair Robertson, travel from Scotland to his native Victoria with their nine-week old son, Noah. The flight itself is a nightmare, but they finally land in Melbourne. During the long drive from the airport to their destination, they suffer every parent’s worst nightmare: the loss of their son. There’s a massive search for baby Noah, and all sorts of public and private groups join in. At first, there’s quite a lot of sympathy for the couple. Then, a few questions start to be raised. Little by little, suspicion starts to fall on, especially, Joanna. As she and Alistair deal with the media, the police, and Alistair’s daughter, Chloe, we learn the truth about Noah.

And then there’s Herman Koch’s The Dinner. That novel takes place mostly at an exclusive Amsterdam restaurant – the kind where you have to call in months ahead of time to (hopefully) get a table. Two couples, Paul and Claire Lohman, and Paul’s brother Serge and his wife, Babette, meet at the restaurant for dinner. As the dinner proceeds, course by course, we slowly learn more about these two couples. We also learn of a terrible secret they are keeping. Paul and Claire’s fifteen-year-old son, Michel, and Serge and Babette’s son, Rick, also fifteen, are guilty of an awful crime. In fact, that’s the reason the couples are dining together. They’re trying to work out what they’re going to do, now that the police are investigating. While we do learn what the crime is (and it’s violent), the real focus of the novel is the dysfunction in the families, and the psychology involved.

And, very often, that psychology has at least as much capacity for drawing the reader in as does violence – perhaps even more (Right, fans of Shirley Jackson’s work?). When it’s well-written, a psychological novel can be tense and suspenseful. Which ones have you liked best?


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from 4 Non Blondes’ What’s Up.


Filed under A.S.A. Harrison, Beryl Bainbridge, Charlotte Perkins Stetson, Helen Fitzgerald, Herman Koch, James M. Cain, Nicolas Freeling, Patricia Highsmith, Shirley Jackson

No, You Could Not See it Coming*

Although it isn’t really true, there are some major changes that seem to come ‘out of nowhere.’ Those changes often have a strong and lasting impact, too. But, as the saying goes, a lot of people never see them coming. And coping with those changes, especially if one’s not prepared for them, can be difficult.

Authors have, of course, explored those changes in a lot of their work, and that includes crime writers. That makes sense, too, as coping with those changes can add to a plot line, a character, or the tension in a story. There are far too many examples for me to list in this one post, but here are a just a few.

One of the big changes that plenty of people didn’t see coming was what I’ll call the sexual revolution that began in the 1960s. This revolution challenged the idea that sex should be exclusive to heterosexual, married couples. There are certainly people who still believe that ought to be the case. Bu the sexual revolution questioned that belief, and it became much more socially acceptable, for instance, to live together without marriage, to be involved in a homosexual relationship, and so on. We see this new attitude of sexual liberation in Ellery Queen’s The Fourth Side of the Triangle. In that novel, we are introduced to famous fashion designer Sheila Grey. She’s single, and in no hurry to get married. Here’s what she says about it:

‘‘My notion of love doesn’t require marriage to consummate it, that’s all. In fact – I’m speaking only for myself – I reject the whole concept of marriage. I’m no more capable of being happy as a housewife, or a country club gal, or a young suburban matron than I am of renouncing the world and taking the veil.”

She doesn’t lack for companionship, though. Although she’s not promiscuous, she has had several relationships. One of them is with wealthy businessman Ashton McKell. When McKell’s son, Dane, discovers this, he decides to meet her himself and force an end to her relationship with his father. Instead, he finds himself falling in love with her. They begin an affair, but that ends one night when Grey is shot. Inspector Richard Queen investigates, and, of course, his son Ellery gets involved. There really are only three major obvious suspects: McKell, his son, and his wife. As it turns out, the victim leaves a cryptic clue as to her killer, and when Queen interprets it correctly, he’s able to catch the murderer.

Although people had been using drugs for a long time, many people didn’t see the counterculture/drug culture of the 1960s coming. There are several crime novels that explore this (right, fans of Steph Avery’s Our Trespasses?). One of them is Agatha Christie’s Third Girl. In that novel, Hercule Poirot and detective novelist Ariadne Oliver work to solve a murder that may or may not have happened. A young woman named Norma Restarick believes she may have committed a murder. But she can’t give many details, and in any case, she thinks Poirot is too old (her words) to help her. Then, she goes missing. Both Poirot and Mrs. Oliver think that if they can find out about the murder, that will tie into Norma’s disappearance. As they look into Norma’s life, friends, and so on, they meet several members of London’s 1960s counterculture, including one of Norma’s roommates, who’s an artist, and the young man Norma’s dating.

Developments in technology have brought about many important changes, several of which a lot of people didn’t see coming. The use of computers in everyday personal and business life seemed to mushroom, beginning in the 1980s. Peter Lovesey explores this in The Last Detective: Introducing Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond. In that novel, we are introduced to Superintendent Diamond, who has his eccentricities (he’s been known to take naps on mortuary gurneys, for instance). He believes firmly in old-fashioned detective work: ‘legwork,’ interviewing witnesses and suspects, and actually looking for physical evidence. His skills are put to the test when the body of Geraldine ‘Gerry’ Jackman is pulled from Chew Valley Lake, near Bristol. Diamond uses more old-fashioned methods to get to the truth, but many in his office use computers to collect data, run fingerprints, and so on. While it’s Diamond who eventually gets to the truth, we also see the advantages of more technologically modern tools.

Even after the advent of the Internet, many people didn’t see the coming of the social networking revolution that began in the early 2000s. People had learned to access information on the Internet, but to produce it, add to it, comment on it, and so on was brand new then. And it has dramatically changed the way we use the Internet. We see that in Helen Fitzgerald’s The Cry. When Joanna Lindsay and her partner, Alistair Robertson, travel from Scotland to Robertson’s native Victoria, they bring along their nine-week-old son, Noah. Shortly after their arrival, they face every parent’s worst nightmare: the loss of baby Noah. At first, there’s a lot of sympathy for them as a massive search for Noah is undertaken. Social media erupts in a frenzy of web sites, speculation, and more. Then, people begin to wonder whether the parents, in particular Joanna, might have had something to do with the baby’s disappearance. Now, the same social media that supported them starts to turn against them. And it’s fascinating to see how people all over the world use social media to weigh in on the case, in ways that hadn’t been possible just a few years earlier.

And then there’s the banking and financial collapse of 2007/2008. Prior to that, many economies had been booming, not least of which was Ireland’s ‘Celtic Tiger’ economy. While there had been some predications of trouble ahead, most people weren’t prepared for the great crash of 2008. And we see that in Gene Kerrigan’s The Rage. In one plot thread, Dublin Detective Sergeant (DS) Bob Tidey and Detective Garda Rose Cheney investigate when banker Emmet Sweetman is murdered in his own home by two hired thugs. It turns out that he had made some dangerous deals during the ‘Celtic Tiger’ years, not imagining that things would unravel. When the crash came, he owed too much money to some dangerous people, and couldn’t pay it back.

And that’s the thing about some of the big changes that have come along. Sometimes we can see them coming. Other times, they catch a lot of people unawares. What do you think? What will be the next big change?

ps. The ‘photo was taken during a freak hailstorm that struck my area about a year ago. Nobody saw that one coming.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Woody Guthrie’s Los Angeles New Year’s Flood.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Gene Kerrigan, Helen Fitzgerald, Peter Lovesey, Steph Avery

You’re Just Another Face That I Know From the TV Show*

With the obvious exception of journalists, most fictional sleuths don’t spend a lot of time in front of television cameras. So, many of them aren’t particularly comfortable ‘going live.’ Yet, in real life and in fiction, television can be a useful ally in solving crime. That’s why, for instance, police give interviews to the press. Real and fictional lawyers know this, too, and may (or may not) give interviews, depending on whether they see an interview as helpful or hurtful to their clients’ chances.

It’s realistic, especially in today’s world of 24-hour news, to include a TV interview with a sleuth. What’s more, such a plot point can add tension to a story, especially as the media impacts public opinion. So, it’s little wonder that we see that influence of television in crime fiction.

A great deal of Agatha Christie’s writing was done before television dominated the news landscape. But at the time, newspaper interviews often played similar roles. For instance, in The ABC Murders, Hercule Poirot works with Captain Hastings, Chief Inspector Japp and local police to solve a baffling set of murders.  The case has captured the public’s attention, in large part because this isn’t a matter of one murder, or of one murder with a second murder committed to keep someone quiet. Hastings, in particular, isn’t used to being in the media spotlight, and it leads to consternation for him, especially when he learns the way some newspapers operate:

‘‘Poirot,’ I would cry. ‘Pray believe me. I never said anything of the kind.’…
‘But do not worry yourself. All of this is of no importance. These imbecilities, even, may help.’
‘Eh, bien,’ said Poirot grimly. ‘If our madman reads what I am supposed to have said to the Daily Flicker today, he will lose all respect for me as an opponent!’’

In the end, Poirot gets to the truth about these murders. And it’s interesting to see the way that those public interviews play a role in the story.

Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn is an academician and political scientist. She understands how important television interviews can be, especially for politicians. But she herself isn’t in front of the cameras very often, at least not at first. But then, in The Wandering Soul Murders, she gets a new opportunity. Nationtv is making some changes to the panel for its politics-themed show, Canada Tonight, and Joanne’s name is put forward as a good choice for a new panelist. At first, she’s reluctant, but she agrees to be a part of the show, and it turns out to be the right choice for her. Still, it requires adjustment for someone who’s usually worked behind the political scenes, rather than in front of the cameras:

‘I had bought a new dress for the show, flowered silk, as pretty as a summer garden.
‘Next time,’ she said kindly, ‘try to find a solid colour. That’s going to make you look like you’re wearing your bedroom curtains.’’

Joanne learns quickly, and in A Killing Spring, makes really effective use of being on camera.

In high-profile trials, attorneys know that giving interviews can be a useful legal strategy. And, for those lawyers who are ambitious, television interviews can be an effective way to get their names ‘out there,’ especially if they win an important case. So, even those who aren’t particularly comfortable in front of television cameras often learn how to do successful interviews. That part of what a lawyer does comes out in several novels, including John Grisham’s A Time to Kill. In the novel, the small town of Clanton, Mississippi becomes the scene of a very public set of crimes. First, ten-year-old Tonya Hailey is brutally raped and left for dead. Her attackers are soon caught and arrested. Tonya’s father, Carl Lee, is, of course, enraged and heartbroken. And, since the two men responsible are white, while he and is family are black, Hailey doesn’t think justice will be done. So, he ambushes the two men, killing them both, and wounding a sheriff’s deputy. Hailey asks Jake Brigance to defend him, and Brigance agrees. Because of the sort of case this is, it gets a lot of media scrutiny, and television cameras are everywhere. And it’s interesting to see how both Brigance and his opponent, Rufus Buckley, make use of interviews.

In Helen Fitzgerald’s The Cry, we are introduced to Joanna Lindsay and Alistair Robertson. As the novel begins, they’re en route from Scotland to Alistair’s home town in Victoria with their nine-week-old son, Noah. It’s a long, nightmarish flight, and both parents are only too happy when it ends. Then, tragedy happens. During the drive from the airport to their destination, they face every parent’s worst nightmare: the loss of baby Noah. A massive search begins, and the media soon pick up on the story. There’s no sign of the baby, though. At one point, it’s proposed that a television interview with the parents might produce results. Joanna is very reluctant to do this, but Alistair insists, so the cameras are set up and the interview takes place. It’s an awful experience for Joanna, who’s not used to being on television, and who is devastated by the ordeal she’s suffering. What’s worse, when the public sees that interview, plenty of people take her discomfort as one of several signs that she may have had something to do with Noah’s disappearance. It’s not long before the media and the public begin to turn against Joanna and Alistair, and it’s very interesting to see how that tense interview plays a role in what happens.

And then there’s Peter James’ Not Dead Yet. In one plot thread of this novel, Brighton and Hove Superintendent Roy Grace and his team take on a new investigation. The body – well, really, the torso – of an unknown man has been found in a disused chicken coop. There is no identification, and no immediate clues as to who the victim is. This means it’s going to be very hard to identify him, let alone track down the killer. So, it’s decided that a television interview might be a good way to make the public aware of the case.  To that end, the police send Grace’s second-in-command, Glenn Branson, and another colleague, Bella Moy, to appear on a true-crime show called Crimewatch. This show presents re-enactments of real crimes, interviews with people involved, and invitations for call-ins from people who may know something about the cases. It’s not a typical way for police officers to spend their days, but Branson and Moy go on the air.

Not everyone is comfortable in a television interview. But they can be very useful for getting information. And in a crime novel, they can add interesting layers to a story.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Genesis’ Turn It On Again.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Gail Bowen, Helen Fitzgerald, John Grisham, Peter James

I’m Talking to Myself*

An interesting post by Cleo at Cleopatra Loves Books has got me thinking about inner dialogue. Sometimes, a certain amount of inner dialogue is helpful. It can add some richness to a story, and add to character development. But, like everything else, inner dialogue is probably best given in measured doses.

Too much inner dialogue can slow a story down, and lead to ‘telling, not showing.’ And the wrong sort of inner dialogue can even be melodramatic if it’s not handled effectively. So, it’s important that any inner dialogue be carefully managed.

Inner dialogue is used in a very interesting way in Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. In that novel, we are introduced to eighteen-year-old Mary Katherine ‘Merricat’ Blackwood. She, her sister, Constance, and their Uncle Julian live in a large house not far from a small Vermont town. Almost from the beginning of the story, we get the sense that something is very, very wrong with the family, and we soon learn what that something is. Six years before the events in this novel, three other members of the Blackwood family died of poison. No-one was ever convicted, but the villagers are convinced that one of the Blackwoods is guilty. So, they give the family a very wide berth, as the saying goes. Still, the Blackwoods have managed to get along. Then, the outside world intrudes in the form of a family cousin, Charles Blackwood. He visits Julian, Constance, and Merricat, and his stay touches off a series of incidents that ends in real tragedy. The story is told from Merricat’s point of view, and it’s interesting to see how her internal dialogue is woven into the novel. Among other things, it gives the reader insight into her psychology, as everything is filtered through her thought processes.

Zoran Drvenkar’s You follows several plot threads, including the friendship among four teenage girls: Sunmi ‘Schnappi’ Mehlau, Ruth Wassermann, Isabell ‘Stink’ Kramer, and Vanessa ‘Nessi’ Altenburg. They’re concerned because the fifth member of their group, Taja, hasn’t been seen or heard from in several days, and they decide to check on her and make sure she’s all right. Their search for Taja, and what happens when they find her, involves them in the other two plot threads – and into serious danger. All of the plot threads are narrated in the second person, and in present tense, so the reader is drawn into what the characters are thinking in a different sort of way. Although there is plenty of action in the novel, there is also reflection, as we learn about the different characters’ backstories and interactions. So, there is plenty of inner dialogue; it’s told in second person, though:

‘You look at your wrist, the tattoo gleams dully. Gone. You can’t take your eyes off those four letters and wonder what would happen if you saw all the things in your dreams that you don’t want to see in real life.’

Some of the characters reflect on heir pasts in this way, too.

In Helen Fitzgerald’s The Cry, Joanna Lindsay and her partner, Alistair Robertson, make the long trip from Scotland to Victoria, where Alistair grew up. With them is their nine-week-old son, Noah. The flight itself is awful, but when they land and start the journey to Alistair’s home town, the real nightmare begins: they lose baby Noah. A massive search is undertaken, and the media and public are quite sympathetic at first. But there’s no trace of Noah. After a time, questions about, especially, Joanna, begin to come up. Could she or Alistair (or both) have had something to do with the baby’s disappearance? As more suspicions are raised, matters get worse and worse for the family. The novel is told from a few different perspectives, including Joanna’s, Alistair’s daughter, Chloe’s, and his ex-wife, Alexandra. As we see these different points of view, there’s plenty of inner dialogue. So, we learn how the different characters feel about each other, about the situation, and so on.

Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites is the fictional retelling of the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, one of the last people to be executed for murder in Iceland. The story begins in 1828, when Natan Ketilsson and Pétur Jónsson, are murdered, allegedly by Agnes Magnúsdóttir, Friðrik Sigurðsson, and Sigrídur ‘Sigga’ Gudmondsdóttir. All three suspects are found guilty, and it’s decided they will be hanged. In the months before the execution, Agnes will stay with District Officer Jón Jónsson, his wife, Margrét, and their two daughters, Steina and Lauga. It’s hoped that, by living with a ‘proper Christian family,’ Agnes will repent of what she’s done and talk about it. At first, it’s awkward for the family to have a convicted murderer with them. But gradually, they get to know Agnes, and they learn a little more about her. And, as Agnes reflects, we learn about her life, and about what happened that led to the murders. And part of that information comes from Agnes’ inner dialogue as she thinks about the family she’s with, and about her situation.

And then there’s Finn Bell’s Dead Lemons. That’s the story of thirty-seven-year-old Finn Bell, who’s reached a crossroads in his life. His marriage has ended, and he’s in a wheelchair as a result of a car accident.  He decides he needs a new start, and chooses the town of Riverton, on New Zealand’s South Island, to do so. The cottage he’s bought was previously owned by the Cotter family, and Bell soon finds out the tragedy in that family’s past. In 1988, Alice Cotter, who was then a child, disappeared and was never found. A year later, her father also went missing. Little by little, Bell gets drawn into the mystery of what happened to the Cotters. At the same time, he’s working with a therapist, Betty Crowe, to put the pieces of his life back together. As Bell works to find out the truth about the Cotter family, he discovers that some very dangerous people want the mystery buried. He also finds himself slowly coming back to life, as the saying goes. And readers follow that progress through inner dialogue, as Bell processes what he’s discovering.

And that’s the thing about inner dialogue. As Cleo points out, it can drag a story down, and it has to be used very carefully. But when it’s handled effectively, it can be very effective.

Thanks, Cleo, for the inspiration! Now, folks, may I suggest your next blog stop be Cleopatra Loves Books? Excellent reviews await you there!


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from George Harrison’s Stuck Inside a Cloud.


Filed under Finn Bell, Hannah Kent, Helen Fitzgerald, Shirley Jackson, Zoran Drvenkar