Category Archives: Helene Tursten

I Ain’t Got No Crystal Ball*

Crystal BallIf you read a lot of crime fiction, you see certain patterns often enough that you can almost predict what’s going to happen in a given story. Of course, if the author’s done her or his job, you’ll still be interested – even absorbed. But even so, there are just certain things you can guess about certain characters and events. You don’t need a crystal ball to work some things out.

Space only allows for a few examples. But I’m sure you’ll be able to think of dozens more; I hope you’ll share them in the comments. Here is just a smattering:

 

The Blackmailer is a Marked Person

Blackmailing in any form has a way of shortening people’s life spans. On the surface, it may seem like a quick and easy way to make a fortune. But any crime fiction fan knows that a person who wants to be paid for silence usually pays a much greater price in the end.

Just ask Monte Field, the wealthy lawyer whom we meet in Ellery Queen’s The Roman Hat Mystery. One evening, Field attends a production at New York’s Roman Theatre. By the end of the performance, Field is dead of what turns out to be poison. Inspector Richard Queen takes the case and he and his son Ellery start to put the pieces of the puzzle together. As it turns out, Field’s wealth didn’t just come from representing his clients; he was also an accomplished blackmailer. As you can imagine, this makes for quite a list of suspects, several of whom were at the performance on the night Field died. So the Queens have to go over all of the events of that evening to find out which suspect could have had the opportunity to commit the murder.

Agatha Christie address the risks of being a blackmailer too. In Death on the Nile, for instance, beautiful and wealthy Linnet Ridgeway Doyle is on her honeymoon trip with her new husband Simon. On the second night of their cruise of the Nile, Linnet is shot. The first and most likely suspect is her former best friend Jacqueline ‘Jackie’ de Bellefort, whose fiancé Simon was before he met Linnet. But Jackie could not have committed the crime. So Hercule Poirot, who’s on the same cruise, has to consider other alternatives. As the story goes on, we learn that one person knows who the killer is. When that person makes the mistake of trying to get money for silence, well, I’m sure you know what the result of that is…

You could predict the same risk, too, for other people who know too much, even if they don’t blackmail. You know, the person who calls the sleuth with an important clue that can’t be discussed over the telephone. Or the person who arranges to meet the killer to confront that person. Both are dangerous things to do…

 

People Who Seem to ‘Have it All’ Are in Trouble

We all know that life isn’t perfect. But there are some people who seem to have ‘it all’ – money, a successful marriage, and so on. Any dedicated crime fiction fan can tell you that those people are likely in for a lot of trouble. In fact, that’s the main plot point of a lot of noir stories.

In Karin Alvtegen’s Betrayed, for instance, we meet Eva Wirenström-Berg and her husband Henrik. They’ve been married for fifteen years, and are the parents of six-year-old Axel. On the surface, they seem to have a fine suburban life. But then, disaster strikes. Eva learns to her shock and dismay that Henrik has been unfaithful. She’d suspected he wasn’t happy for some time, but had been hopeful they’d work matters out. When she learns the truth, Eva becomes determined to find out who the other woman is. As matters start to spin out of control, we see that having ‘it all’ is no guarantee of avoiding trouble. In fact, in crime fiction, quite the opposite often happens.

It certainly does in Helene Tursten’s Detective Inspector Huss. Richard von Knecht is a very successful financier with a beautiful penthouse, a circle of family and friends, and just about everything else you’d associate with ‘success.’ One day he jumps (or falls, or is pushed) to his death from the balcony of his penthouse. At first it seems to be a case of suicide, although there doesn’t appear to be any kind of logical motive. But as Göteborg Police Inspector Irene Huss and her team discover, this is no suicide. When forensic evidence shows that von Knecht was murdered, the team looks into the victim’s background and family life. As we learn more and more of the truth, we see that ‘having it all’ can cover up some very ugly things.

 

Don’t Expect Help From the Locals

Whenever there’s a serious crime, especially murder, the police interview people who live in the area. And it doesn’t take a crystal ball to predict that in a crime novel, at least some of the locals are going to be close-mouthed and suspicious. Sometimes it’s because they’re hiding their own embarrassing truths. Other times it’s because they know something about the crime and either don’t want to be suspected, or don’t want the killer to target them. There are other reasons, too (e.g. not trusting the police).

We see this, for instance, in Barry Maitland’s The Marx Sisters. Meredith Winterbottom lives with her two sisters in Jerusalem Lane, a very historic area of London. When she dies in what looks like a successful suicide attempt, DCI David Brock and DS Kathy Kolla investigate. Kolla isn’t so sure that this was a suicide, and Brock gives her the go-ahead to look into the case. It turns out that everyone in Jerusalem Lane knows everyone else. The locals have formed a tight community and keep their own and each other’s secrets. Here’s what Kolla says about it:
 

‘It’s almost as if the people who live here are all frantically signaling to one another, without letting on to the people passing through on the street.’
 

And as it turns out, that insularity hides some interesting truths…

Thea Osborne finds much the same sort of close-mouthed insularity in Rebecca Tope’s A Cotswold Killing. Duntisbourne Abbots residents Clive and Jennifer Reynolds have hired Osborne as a house/pet sitter for the three weeks during which they’ll be away on a cruise. On the appointed day, Osborne duly arrives and gets ready to take on her responsibilities. She’s under pressure as it is, since Reynolds has given her a long and exhaustive list of things to do. Matters get worse when she hears (or does she?) a scream late that night. The next morning, Osborne discovers the body of Joel Jennison in a pond on the Reynolds property. She gives the alarm and the police are called in. It’s not long before she learns that there may be more going on in this case than it seems. Then, she discovers that the victim’s brother was killed just six months earlier. Now the question seems to be: who had a vendetta against the Jennison family? To look into the case further, Osborne’s going to need to penetrate the layer of reticence among the locals. And that’s not going to be easy…

These are just a few instances of things you can predict without a crystal ball when you read enough crime fiction. Which patterns have you discovered?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Sublime’s Santeria. Not exactly a family-friendly song, but the lyric worked…

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Barry Maitland, Ellery Queen, Helene Tursten, Karin Alvtegen, Rebecca Tope

Looks Like Another Suicide*

Faked SuicidesOne way in which real and fictional murderers may try to hide their crimes is by setting the scene to make it look as though the victim committed suicide. After all, we never really know what’s in someone’s mind, so it’s plausible that someone might commit suicide without giving a hint of suicidal thinking. That certainly happens in real life, and thanks to Carol at Reading, Writing and Riesling, I’ve been thinking about how it can happen in crime fiction too.

Agatha Christie used that plot point in several of her stories. In Dead Man’s Mirror, for instance, Hercule Poirot receives a summons from Gervase Chevenix-Gore to the family home at Hamborough Close. Chevenix-Gore believes that someone in his family may be cheating him, and he doesn’t want to call in the police. Poirot is none too happy about being summoned in such an autocratic way, but he goes. Shortly after Poirot’s arrival, Chevenix-Gore is killed, apparently the result of suicide. And several signs point to just that explanation. But Poirot has already concluded that the victim was most assuredly not the kind of person who would kill himself. So he investigates further and finds that someone set the scene up to look like suicide.

Giorgio Scerbanenco’s A Private Venus begins when Milan-based Dr. Luca Lamberti is hired by wealthy engineer Pietro Auseri to help with Auseri’s son Davide. It seems that Davide has developed a severe depression coupled with a serious drinking problem. Nothing seems to have helped, and now Auseri simply doesn’t know what to do next. Lamberti agrees to at least meet Davide and see if he can be of assistance. After a time, he learns the reason for Davide’s troubles. A year earlier, Davide met a young woman, Alberta Radelli. After spending a day out of town together, Alberta begged Davide not to take her back to Milan. In fact, she threatened suicide if he did, and tried to persuade him to take her along wherever he was going. Davide refused. Not long afterwards, Alberta’s body was discovered in a field outside Milan, an apparent victim of suicide. Now Davide blames himself for her death. Lamberti comes to believe that the only way to help his patient is to find out what really happened to Alberta. So he begins to look into the matter. Davide soon takes an interest too. In the end, Lamberti discovers that Alberta did not commit suicide; she’d gotten involved in a very dangerous business with some very dangerous people, and paid the price.

Helene Tursten’s Detective Inspector Huss introduces Göteborg Inspector Irene Huss. She is part of the Violent Crimes Unit supervised by Sven Andersson. When the team hears of the death of wealthy businessman Richard von Knecht, they go into action. The victim apparently committed suicide by jumping from the balcony of his upmarket penthouse. But soon enough, forensic and other evidence suggests that von Knecht was murdered. What’s more, he didn’t seem despondent enough to have taken his own life. What’s more, von Knecht was afraid of heights. If he’d decided to commit suicide, he wouldn’t likely have used that means to do so. Now that it seems clear von Knecht was murdered, Huss and her team look more closely at the people in the victim’s life to see who would have had a motive to kill him. It turns out that there’s more than one possibility.

Domingo Villar’s Death on a Galician Shore begins with the discovery of the body of local fisherman Justo Castelo. At first it looks as though Castelo committed suicide; and he kept to himself so successfully that no-one really knows whether he had a motive. But little pieces of evidence suggest to Vigo Inspector Leo Caldas that perhaps Castelo was murdered. So Caldas and his team begin to look a little more closely into the victim’s life. They find that his death is related to a tragic incident in the past.

Suicide by drowning also seems to be the verdict in Martin Edwards’ The Serpent Pool. DCI Hannah Scarlett and her Cold Case Review Team have re-opened the six-year-old case of the death of Bethany Friend. Scarlett isn’t entirely satisfied that the victim committed suicide. For one thing, she didn’t seem to have a motive. For another, she was very much afraid of drowning; so, even if she had decided to kill herself, Scarlett doubts she’d have chosen that method. As the team finds out more, Scarlett comes to believe that this death may be related to two more recent deaths. And so it proves to be. The three deaths have a link that Oxford historian Daniel Kind helps to discover.

And then there’s Katherine Howell’s Web of Deceit. One morning, Sydney paramedics Jane Koutofides and Alex Churchill go to the scene of a one-auto crash. The driver, Marko Meixner, refuses to let them take him to a local hospital at first. In fact, he says that he is in danger and they will be, too, if they spend any time with him. Koutofides thinks Meixner needs a psychiatric evaluation, so when she and Churchill finally get their patient to the nearest hospital, she requests a workup. But Meixner leaves before that can be done. Later that day, he is killed in what looks like a suicide when he falls under a commuter train. In fact, he’d attempted suicide before. But when New South Wales Police Inspector Ella Marconi learns what Meixner said to the paramedics, she begins to wonder whether this was a case of murder. So she and her police partner Murray Shakespeare look more closely at the case. They find that Meixner’s murder was engineered.

There are a lot of other cases, too, of fictional murders ‘dressed’ as suicides. Which ones have stayed with you? Thanks to Carol for the inspiration! Now, may I suggest your next blog stop be her excellent Reading, Writing and Riesling? You’ll be rewarded with great book reviews (with a focus on Australian writers) as well as terrific recipes and stunning ‘photos.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Close to the Borderline.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Domingo Villar, Giorgio Scerbanenco, Helene Tursten, Katherine Howell, Martin Edwards

And I Have My Say and I Draw Conclusions*

Conclusions and EvidenceMost of us make sense of what we see and draw conclusions from it without even being aware of what we’re doing. For instance, suppose you don’t see your car keys where you usually leave them. You look out the window and your car’s still there, so you conclude that no-one stole your car, and your keys must be in the house somewhere. Then you use evidence (e.g. what rooms you were in the last time you had your keys, which trousers you were wearing), and usually, you track them down. You may not be consciously aware that you’re drawing conclusions as you go, but you are.

Evidence and conclusions play huge roles in crime fiction for obvious reasons. Skilled sleuths pay attention to the evidence and use it as best they can to draw reasonable conclusions. Even more skilled sleuths know that evidence can be faked, so they look for more than just what’s obvious. And one of the biggest mistakes sleuths make is to draw conclusions that are too hasty, because they haven’t paid attention to the evidence.

The way sleuths draw conclusions is central to court cases too, since evidence is key to either prosecuting or defending an accused person. ‘S/he did it – I know it!’ simply isn’t enough for a conviction. And there are a lot of crime novels where original investigators didn’t do a good job with the evidence, so the case is re-opened.

Using that connection between evidence and conclusions as a plot point can be risky. A sleuth who doesn’t pay attention to the evidence or who draws all of the wrong conclusions can come off as bumbling, and that’s off-putting. On the other hand, a sleuth who never has to puzzle over what conclusions to draw can come off as not very credible.

Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is one of the most famous fictional users of evidence to draw conclusions and make deductions. Here, for instance, is his commentary on Dr. Watson when they first meet in A Study in Scarlet:
 

‘I knew you came from Afghanistan. From long habit the train of thoughts ran so swiftly through my mind, that I arrived at the conclusion without being conscious of intermediate steps. There were such steps, however. The train of reasoning ran, ‘Here is a gentleman of a medical type, but with the air of a military man. Clearly an army doctor, then. He has just come from the tropics, for his face is dark, and that is not the natural tint of his skin, for his wrists are fair. He has undergone hardship and sickness, as his haggard face says clearly. His left arm has been injured. He holds it in a stiff and unnatural manner. Where in the tropics could an English army doctor have seen much hardship and got his arm wounded? Clearly in Afghanistan.’ The whole train of thought did not occupy a second. I then remarked that you came from Afghanistan, and you were astonished.’
 

In fact, Holmes and his creator had little patience for sudden flashes of intuition.

Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot is very interested in psychology, and draws conclusions from psychological evidence as well as physical evidence. And it’s interesting to see how he draws conclusions when the physical and psychological evidence are at odds. That’s what happens, for instance in Dead Man’s Mirror. Poirot is summoned to the home of Sir Gervase Chevenix-Gore, who believes he’s being cheated by someone in his inner circle. Very shortly after Poirot arrives, Chevenix-Gore is dead, apparently by suicide (there’s even a suicide note). And at first, that’s what everyone believes, since the physical evidence (locked study door, etc.) suggest it. But to Poirot, someone as self-important as Gervase Chevenix-Gore would simply not believe that the world could get along without him. He wouldn’t commit suicide. So Poirot looks more carefully at the physical evidence and discovers that there are some pieces that don’t add up to suicide either. And that’s how he draws the conclusion that Chevenix-Gore was murdered.

In Adrian Hyland’s Gunshot Road, Aboriginal Community Police Officer (ACPO) Emily Tempest is part of a team that investigates the murder of geologist/prospector Albert ‘Doc’ Ozolins. He was stabbed in his hut not very long after a drunken pub quarrel with John ‘Wireless’ Petherbridge. And the obvious evidence is very strong that Wireless is the killer. So Tempest’s boss Bruce Cockburn draws the very reasonable conclusion that Wireless is the man they want, and is ready to wrap up the case quickly. Tempest notices other evidence though – evidence from nature – and begins to suspect that Wireless may be innocent. So she begins to ask questions. In this novel, there’s an interesting debate between the evidence that comes from things such as bloodstains, wounds and so on, and the evidence that’s more psychological and intuitive. And as it turns out, depending on just the one or the other leads to the wrong conclusions. Fans of Arthur Upfield’s Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte will know that he too relies on ‘the Book of the Bush’ – evidence from nature – to draw conclusions, and that he often looks beyond the actual physical evidence that he sees.

Sometimes, it’s hard to draw solid conclusions at first, because a fictional death looks so much like a suicide or accident. For example, in Angela Savage’s The Dying Beach, Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney and her partner Rajiv Patel are taking a much-needed getaway break at Krabi, on the Thai coast. During their visit, they take a tour that’s led by a guide named Pla. That personal connection is one reason why both are very upset when they learn that Pla’s body has been found washed up in a cave. They decide to take a few extra days to see if they can find out what happened to her. The police report suggests that the victim died by accident or perhaps committed suicide by drowning. It’s not an unreasonable conclusion, and there isn’t very much physical evidence to suggest otherwise. But Keeney isn’t so sure. For one thing, she knows that Pla was an expert swimmer. So although it’s not impossible, an accident is unlikely. And nothing she learns suggests that Pla was despondent enough to kill herself. So Keeney starts asking questions. In the end, she finds that the truth is very different to what it seems on the surface. But at the same time, it’s easy to see why the police would draw the conclusions they did. If you don’t pay attention to those small bits of evidence, it’s very hard to work out whether someone drowned by accident, suicide or murder.

In Helene Tursten’s Detective Inspector Huss, Göteborg police inspector Irene Huss and the other members of the Violent Crimes Unit are faced with a puzzling case. Successful entrepreneur Richard von Knecht jumps from the balcony of the penthouse where he and his wife Sylvia live. At first the case looks very much like a suicide. It’s a reasonable conclusion, and anyone might have a hidden motive for that. But the police pay attention to other pieces of evidence that suggest otherwise. For one thing, the victim had acrophobia. If he was going to kill himself, it seems odd that he’d have chosen that method. For another, there is some forensic evidence that points to murder. So the team has to look at this case in an entirely new way.

And that’s the thing about drawing crime-fictional conclusions. It’s natural and human to draw conclusions from what we see. That’s how we make sense of our world. And those details and pieces of evidence that sleuths see are critical to drawing conclusions. That’s not always as easy to do as it seems, but the way sleuths go from details/evidence to conclusions is an important part of an investigation.

ps. Just to see how this works, what conclusions do you draw from the evidence in the ‘photo? ;-)

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Blonde Over Blue.

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Filed under Adrian Hyland, Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Arthur Conan Doyle, Arthur Upfield, Helene Tursten

I Had a Friend Was a Big Baseball Player Back in High School*

Youth SportsIt’s fairly well documented that being physically active is good for physical and mental health. And if research on intelligence and knowing is correct, it seems that we’re all born with a certain measure of what’s sometimes called kinesthetic intelligence. That’s the sense of our bodies in space, and it’s essential to doing well in things like sport.

Put those two things together and you have some very strong arguments for including sport in the school curriculum. It helps young people develop good health habits and it teaches other skills such as teamwork. For those students with a lot of kinesthetic intelligence, it also allows them to play to their strength and have some real success. Students who are exceptionally talented can use that skill as a steppingstone to a sometimes very lucrative career, too. And for many (certainly not all) students, it’s fun.

Of course, not everything about school sport is positive. Sometimes parents and coaches put unhealthy pressure on young people. There’s also the element of bullying. And there are plenty of cases where young sport stars get away with things that their counterparts who are less skilled on the field don’t. But for better or worse, sport is woven into most young people’s school experiences.

It shouldn’t be a surprise then that it’s woven into crime fiction too. For example, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter, Sherlock Holmes gets a visit from Cyril Overton, who coaches Cambridge’s rugby team. He’s concerned because his three-quarter Godfrey Staunton has gone missing. As if his personal concern for the young man’s welfare weren’t enough, the Cambridge team is scheculed for a match against Oxford the next day – a match they have no chance to win if Staunton doesn’t play. Holmes and Watson trace Staunton’s movements to the moment when he left the hotel where the team has been lodging. Then he uses other clues (including a scent-dog!) to find out what really happened to the young athlete. In this case, the solution has everything to do with a message Staunton received before he left.

Agatha Christie’s Cat Among The Pigeons is in part a look at games and sport at Meadowbank, an exclusive girls’ school. Shortly after the summer term begins, newly hired games mistress Grace Springer is shot one night at the school’s new Sports Pavilion. The police are called in and begin to investigate. Then there’s a kidnapping. And another murder. One of the pupils, Julia Upjohn, uncovers an important clue to the events, and visits Hercule Poirot, who is a friend of one of her mother’s friends. Poirot returns to Meadowbank with Julia and works with the police and with Headmistress Honoria Bulstrode to find out the truth. Interestingly, Julia and her friend Jennifer Sutcliffe are both avid tennis players and enjoy the chance for physical activity. But not every student feels that way. It’s interesting to see the difference in attitdues among the students.

Priscilla Masters’ River Deep introduces us to Martha Gunn, coroner for Shrewsbury. Gunn is also the widowed mother of twins Sam and Sukey. In this novel, the focus of the main plot is the murder of an unidentified man whose body floats out of a house when the River Severn overflows its banks. His death turns out to be connected with a missing person case that occurred at about the same time. And no, the missing man is not the dead man. In the meantime, Gunn faces a bit of a personal dilemma. Sam is a very talented footballer; in fact, he’s the ‘Beckham of Shrewsbury School.’ One day, she gets a call to a school meeting with Paul Grant, the P.E. Master. He gives her the news that Sam has rare talent and could easily get a place at a football training school. And therein lies the problem. On the one hand, Gunn supports her son’s talent and wants him to succeed. On the other, she knows the odds of becoming a professional footballer for one of the well-paying clubs. And there’s always the risk of serious injry. The solid education he’s getting at his present school will prepare him for all kinds of careers. So at first, she isn’t sure what she and Sam will do. It’s a choice that a lot of parents of talented athletes have to face.

Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn Shreve is a political scientist and academician. She is also the mother of four children, and throughout the series, her home life is woven into the plots. Kilbourn’s third child Angus is very much a ‘sporty’ sort of person. Throughout the novels he plays (Canadian rules) football, Ultimate Frisbee and other sports as well. I don’t think it spoils the series to say that Angus doesn’t end up becoming a professional player. But in several of the stories (Verdict in Blood is one example), his school sport experience plays a role in the larger plots of the novels.

Irene Huss, the creation of Helene Tursten, is a homicide inspector with the Göteborg Violent Crimes Unit. She is also a former jiujitsu champion who came to national fame at a young age. She no longer competes formally, but she still goes to the dōjō for occasional workouts. Jiujitsu helps her to focus, to stay physically fit and to reduce stress. Huss is also the mother of twin daughters Jenny and Katarina. Jenny’s interests are more musical, but Katarina shares her mother’s love of sport. For years she studies jiujitsu too, and although she doesn’t compete nationally, she enjoys it. Then in The Fire Dance, she takes an interest in dance. Huss is none too happy about her daughter not making use of all of the years of jiujitsu training she’s had, but she knows arguing about it won’t do any good. Besides, Katarina is excited about it – and about the young man who’s sparked her interest in dancing. Every parent who’s done some sort of sport and wants to pass it on can understand Huss’ feelings…

And then there’s Martin Walker’s Benoît ‘Bruno’ Courrèges. He is Chief of Police in the small French town of St. Denis, in the Périgord. In his professional capacity, Bruno is kept busy balancing the requirements of the law with the reality of the lives of the people he serves. And sometimes, that’s not easy. But he always makes time to coach the local youth football team. His belief is that if young people are encouraged to play at one or another sport, they’re less likely to become delinquent. He’d quite frankly rather coach them than arrest them. It works out rather well for everyone, since the young people know him as more than just a cop who’s out to keep them from having a good time.

Perhaps you loved swimming, tennis, football, or some other sport in school. Perhaps you dreaded P.E. Either way, it’s an important part of a lot of curricula. And there is something in staying active and fit. And school sport can lead to a really lucrative career for a lucky few, and millions in alumni donations. Not surprising then that we see it in crime fiction. Which gaps have I left?
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bruce Springsteen’s Glory Days.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Gail Bowen, Helene Tursten, Martin Walker, Priscilla Masters

Pizza’s Cooking in a Storefront Oven*

PizzaThe culture of eating has changed dramatically over the past decades. One of the biggest changes since the mid-twentieth century has been the increasing popularity of….pizza. That’s right, pizza. Of course, pizza has a long history, but it’s really only since the end of World War II that it’s come into its own as a worldwide phenomenon. Today, as you know, pizza’s available in myriad varieties and styles. You can get upmarket pizza in a restaurant with crystal and cloth, or you can get a cheap frozen pizza and heat it up yourself. And that’s not to mention the booming pizza delivery business. Let’s face it: people love their pizza.

It’s easy to see why, too. Of course there’s the taste. But pizza’s also really convenient, especially if you have it delivered. And there’s something social about sharing a pizza with a group of people. With all of that going for it, it shouldn’t surprise you that pizza plays a big role in crime fiction. Here are just a few examples; I know you’ll be able to think of more.

Like many fictional sleuths, Katherine Howell’s Inspector Ella Marconi doesn’t have a lot of free time to cook for herself. As a busy member of the New South Wales Police, she also doesn’t have a lot of time to spend sitting in restaurants eating. So pizza delivery is tailor-made for her needs, as it is for so many other fictional cops. Here’s what she says about it in The Darkest Hour. In this scene, she’s looking for a flyer from a local gourmet pizza place, but can’t find it:
 

‘Had she thrown it out?
No, she wouldn’t have done that, not even on the worst-scale day. Mushroom pizzas were an important part of life, it was a recognised fact. Or if it wasn’t, she thought it ought to be.’
 

Pizza lovers everywhere would probably agree.

Helene Tursten’s Irene Huss is a member of the Göteborg Police’s Violent Crimes Unit. She is also married to Krister, a very skilled chef who works at a well-regarded upmarket restaurant. Krister does quite a lot of the cooking at home, too. But that doesn’t stop his wife eating her share of pizza. Quite frequently, the members of Huss’ team have evening meetings about cases they’re working. When that happens, they have a standing order at a local pizza delivery place. The only person (besides team members) who is allowed to interrupt those meetings is the receptionist, and then only to let the team know that the pizza has arrived. There are also several scenes in this series where individual team members go to lunch together. Pizza is a staple in those cases too.

And then of course, there’s Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander. As those who’ve read this series will know, Salander is not exactly health-conscious when it comes to her diet. And one of the main elements of that diet is Billy’s Pan Pizza. It actually serves her well, as she’s not exactly an extrovert who enjoys dining with others. A frozen pizza that can be heated up easily and eaten at her computer desk allows her the solitude and flexibility she needs to do the research at which she is an expert. Little wonder it’s a staple food for her. It would be nice to know how she manages to stay so slender on a diet like that…

Of course, crime-fictional pizza isn’t just useful as fuel for busy sleuths. Pizza boxes can be handy for forensics experts who may need to get samples for testing. And they have even more inventive uses too. Consider Peter Lovesey’s The Vault. In that novel, a security guard who works at the Roman Baths makes the gruesome discovery of a severed hand during his rounds. As soon as he is able to do so, he goes to the Bath Police to report what he’s found. When he does so, he faces a problem: how to transport his find. He thinks quickly and puts the hand in the pizza box that contained his lunch. As you can imagine, this causes more than a little consternation when he gets to the police station. At first, Superintendent Peter Diamond isn’t exactly overwhelmed. After all, the bones were found beneath Bath Abbey Churchyard. There are any number of reasons for which they might be there, none of which involve a crime. But when the hand turns out to be much more recent – from the 1980s – things begin to take a more sinister turn.

With pizza being as popular as it is, it shouldn’t surprise you that there’s a mystery series devoted to the topic. Chris Cavender’s Pizza Lovers Mysteries features A Slice of Delight, a pizzeria located in Timber Ridge, North Carolina. The restaurant is owned by Eleanor Swift and her sister Maddy, and offers both ‘regular’ pizzas and some gourmet styles. With that context, there are all sorts of possibilities for murder. Customers, vendors, delivery staff and so on all have their individual stories, and they all in some ways touch the lives of the Swift sisters.

That’s part of what can make pizza such a useful tool for authors too. There are so many ways in which clues can be left, characters can interact, the sleuth can get involved and so on. And that’s not to mention the way pizza can be used to give a little character depth too.

As a case in point, there’s a crime novel that uses the job of delivering pizza quite effectively. After all, what better way to put your victim off guard and get as close as you want than to use the guise of delivering a pizza? I don’t want to spoil the story, so I won’t give author or title. But I’ve always thought that to be particularly clever!

Really, there’s something ‘pizza’ for just about everyone. Whether you prefer upmarket, mushroom, vegetarian, kosher, lots of meat, Hawai’ian style, or something else entirely, there’s probably a pizza out there with your name written on it. Little wonder we see so much of it in crime fiction. Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s the doorbell. I think my pizza’s here…
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Bouncing Souls’ The Pizza Song.

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Filed under Chris Cavender, Helene Tursten, Katherine Howell, Peter Lovesey, Stieg Larsson