Category Archives: Helene Tursten

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

Take These Tables, Take These Chairs*

FurnitureYou can tell a lot about people by their furniture. People who can afford to do so usually buy furniture that suits their tastes; so, for instance, minimalists will tend to have spare furniture with very clean lines. Those who like a particular style (e.g. rustic, art deco, Victorian, Colonial) will choose that sort of furniture if they can. And those who like creating and refinishing furniture will reflect that in their choices. You can also tell some things about people’s economic situations by their furniture too. Because of the way furniture reflects the owner, it’s an interesting way for an author to give characters some depth without too much narrative. For the same kind of reason, it’s worth it to a sleuth (real or fictional) to pay attention to witnesses’ and suspects’ furnishings.

There’s another reason too: furniture can sometimes hold some valuable clues to a case. That’s part of the reason that detectives do thorough searches of furniture. You never know what you’ll find. Let me just give you a few examples of what I mean.

Agatha Christie uses this plot point in several of her stories. In Third Girl for instance, Hercule Poirot gets a visit from a young woman who seems both troubled and interested in hiring him. In fact, she says she may have committed a murder. All of a sudden though, she changes her mind and says that he’s too old. Then she leaves without giving her name. When Poirot shares what happened with his friend, detective novelist Ariadne Oliver, he learns that the woman’s name is Norma Restarick. With Mrs. Oliver’s help he finds out where Norma’s family lives, and tries to find her. But by that time, she’s disappeared. Now, Poirot and Mrs. Oliver are faced with the tasks of following up on the possibility of a murder and of finding Norma. At one point, Mrs. Oliver visits the London building where Norma shares a flat with two other young women. She finds that removal men are taking furniture out of another flat where the resident apparently committed suicide. A piece of paper falls out of a desk drawer, and Mrs. Oliver picks it up. That paper turns out to be an important clue in this case. There’s another Christie story in which the location of a piece of furniture turns out to matter quite a lot…

In Harry Mulheim’s short story The Dusty Drawer, we meet botany professor Norman Logan. He knows that William Tritt, one of the tellers at his bank, has cheated him out of money. But he has no way to prove it, and Tritt has such a sterling reputation at the bank that Logan knows no-one would believe his story. One day he’s sitting at a table in the bank, waiting to cash in a bond. That’s when he discovers that the table has a half-hidden drawer. A little experimentation shows Logan that the drawer is never used; most people likely don’t even know it’s there. That drawer gives him the perfect idea for getting back at Tritt, and he carries out his plan. It turns out that the plan works perfectly, and all because of a stuck, hard-to-find drawer…

Charlotte Jay’s A Hank of Hair is the story of Gilbert Hand, who works for a small publishing firm. He’s recently lost his wife Rachel in a terrible shipboard accident and is dealing with the grief and loss that you might expect. Partly at his doctor’s suggestion, Hand sells the home he and Rachel shared and moves to London. There he takes a room in a respectable, quiet hotel, hoping to settle in and find some peace. Instead he finds something quite different. The room he’s been given has a davenport with a storage area that Hand wants to use. When he opens it though, he discovers a bundle of silk wrapped around a long coil of dark hair. Very curious about his find, Hand starts to ask some questions. He learns that the last occupant of the room was a man named Freddie Doyle. Once he learns the man’s name, Hand decides to find out more about him. In the meantime, Doyle returns to the room, saying he ‘left something behind.’ Hand knows what it is, but finds ways to prevent Doyle from getting the coil of hair back. As the story goes on, Hand becomes more and more obsessed with Doyle, and is convinced that there’s some sort of eerie chess game going on between them. The more deeply involved he gets in this ‘chess match,’ the more his life starts to fall apart as he becomes determined to ‘win’ over Doyle.

In Helene Tursten’s The Glass Devil, Göteborg police detective Irene Huss and her team investigate the murders of schoolteacher Jacob Schyttelius and his parents. The parents are shot in their home, and their son is shot in the family’s summer cottage. At first it looks as though a group of Satanists might be responsible, and that’s logical since the elder Schyttelius was a minister. But there are enough inconsistencies with that theory that the police have to reconsider it. Another possibility is that someone has a vendetta against the Schyttelius family. If that’s the case, then Jacob’s sister Rebecka, who now lives in London, may be in danger. So Huss travels to London to try to ensure her safety and learn as much as possible from her. Rebecka, though, is in a fragile mental and emotional state and can’t be much help. Despite that, the team gradually puts the pieces of the puzzle together. And one important source of information is a cupboard hidden inside a wall at the summer cottage. Perhaps a wall isn’t, strictly speaking, furniture, but this one’s used quite cleverly.

One of Timothy Hallinan’s protagonists is ex-pat American travel writer Philip ‘Poke’ Rafferty. Rafferty lives in Bangkok, where he’s gotten the reputation for being able to find people who don’t want to be found. That’s why, in A Nail Through the Heart, Clarissa Ulrich wants to hire him. She’s visiting from Australia, hoping to find her Uncle Claus. She’s always felt close to him, but hasn’t heard from him in a few months, and now she’s worried. So she wants Rafferty to track him down. As you’d expect, Rafferty goes to Claus Ulrich’s apartment to see if he can find any clues as to the man’s whereabouts. At first search he doesn’t find much – certainly not anything that would indicate where the man is. He does find a possible lead though, because Ulrich’s maid has disappeared too. Perhaps by tracking her, he’ll find the key to the mystery. That trail leads Rafferty to the other main plot thread: the search for a man who allegedly took something from an enigmatic elderly lady named Madame Wing. But still Rafferty can’t find Ulrich. So he returns to the apartment, hoping he’ll find something he overlooked the first time. This time his efforts are rewarded. He forcibly opens a filing cabinet that turns out to hold a vital clue.

One of the characters in Peter James’ Not Dead Yet is Anna Galicia, who is utterly obsessed with entertainment superstar Gaia Lafayette. Anna is thrilled when the news comes out that her idol will be coming to Brighton and Hove to do a film called The King’s Mistress. Anna’s obsession is reflected in the way her home is furnished:
 

‘She sat in the gilded, white velour upholstered armchair that was an exact copy of the one she had seen Gaia lounging back in, in a Hello! magazine feature on her Central Park West Apartment. Anna had had the replica made by a firm in Brighton, so that she could lounge back exactly the same way Gaia did, unlit cigarette gripped louchely between her forefinger and middle finger.’
 

Anna isn’t the only one obsessed with Gaia. When the superstar’s life is threatened, Brighton and Hove authorities decide that she’ll need extra protection during her stay in the area, so Superintendent Roy Grace is asked to provide enhanced security and do whatever is possible to ensure her safety. Grace isn’t any too thrilled about this task, since he’s already involved in other cases, including the bizarre discovery of an unidentified torso in an unused chicken coop. But orders are orders, as the saying goes, and Grace takes up his new responsibility. Gaia’s visit to Brighton and Hove turns to be much more dangerous than anyone imagined.

Desks, sofas, beds, cabinets and so on may not always exactly solve mysteries. But they can give sleuths a lot of information about the people involved in them. And sometimes, they contain valuable clues…
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Go-Betweens’ Second-Hand Furniture.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Charlotte Jay, Harry Mulheim, Helene Tursten, Peter James, Timothy Hallinan