Category Archives: Henning Mankell

Why is it Always a Fight?*

Own Worst EnemyThere’s something to the old expression about people being their own worst enemies. It’s such a common human experience that ‘war against self’ is one of the basic conflicts that we find in literature. That’s just as true of crime fiction as it is of any other sort of fiction.

The ‘war against self’ can take many forms, too. It can be a matter of conquering a fear, overcoming a self-destructive habit, or even learning a new (but difficult) skill. You’ll notice as I go on today that I won’t be mentioning the all-too-common version of this where a dysfunctional sleuth battles the bottle and can’t keep a relationship. There are many such characters, and I’m sure you could name more than I could. The reality is, though there are plenty of other ways to portray this ‘war against self.’

In Agatha Christie’s Hickory Dickory Dock, we are introduced to Len Bateson. He’s a London medical student with St. Catherine’s Hospital, who lives in a student hostel. Bateson’s a friendly enough person, who enjoys a good laugh. But in several ways, he’s his own worst enemy. For one thing, he has a temper that sometimes gets in the way of his judgement. For another, he has a secret – one that holds him back, at least in his own mind. He gets drawn into a strange mystery when his stethoscope disappears, along with other odd things (a shoe, some light bulbs, and a cookery book, among other things). Matters take a murderous turn when a fellow resident, Celia Austin, dies in what looks at first like a suicide. When it’s proven that she was murdered, Inspector Sharpe investigates. Also involved is Hercule Poirot, mostly at the request of the hostel’s manager Mrs. Hubbard, the sister of Poirot’s frighteningly efficient secretary, Felicity Lemon. As Sharpe and Poirot look into the death, they find that several people in the hostel are hiding things, and some are not what they seem to be. Admittedly, Bateson’s struggle with himself is not the major plot point in this novel, but it adds to one plot thread.

Ruth Rendell’s A Judgement in Stone tells the story of Eunice Parchman. When the wealthy and well-educated Coverdale family hires her as housekeeper, she’s glad of the job. But she is keeping a secret – one that truly has held her back. She’s very much her own worst enemy in that she doesn’t really take any positive steps towards dealing with that secret. Rather, she’s desperate that no-one will find out the truth, and goes to great length to prevent that. As fans of the story can tell you, that leads to terrible tragedy. One thing that makes this story all the more tragic is that there are several points along the way where it all might have been avoided.

Fans of Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander series will know that in many ways, he’s his own worst enemy. Certainly he is when it comes to his health He knows very well that he doesn’t eat well, doesn’t take care of himself, and so on. He’s not particularly good, either, at reaching out for help or at the social glue that holds relationships together. He’s intelligent, too, so he’s aware that he’s often his own greatest obstacle. But as I’m sure we can all attest, knowing something doesn’t always translate to making better (or at any rate, more healthful) choices.

Jassy Mackenzie’s PI/bodyguard protagonist Jade de Jong is also arguably her own worst enemy. When we first meet her in Random Violence, she’s just returned to her native Johannesburg after being away for ten years. Many people would say that, as the saying goes, her heart’s in the right place. But she faces plenty of battles with her own demons. She has a dark past, and is trying to come to terms with it. What’s more, she’s coping with the fact that her father was murdered. As the novels go on, she becomes a little more mature, and slightly less alienated. But that doesn’t mean things magically become easier for her.

We might say a similar thing about Sharon Bolton’s Lacey Flint. She’s a police detective who has her share of personal issues. She has some real darkness in her past, and finds it difficult (at least at first) to trust anyone. That’s one of several reasons that she doesn’t reach out when she might be better served by doing so. And although she’s not what you’d call a stereotypical ‘maverick,’ she does go out on her own without always thinking of her own safety or the consequences. She finds trust quite difficult in her personal life, too, which certainly doesn’t make life easier. On the one hand, Flint is not a demon-haunted sleuth who can’t stay away from the bottle, and can’t care about anyone else. On the other, she often has to overcome herself, if I can put it that way. And it’s interesting to see how she’s doing that as the series goes on.

And then there’s Peter May’s Fionnlagh ‘Fin’ MacLeod, whom we first meet in The Blackhouse. MacLeod is an Edinburgh police detective who returns to his home on the Isle of Lewis when a murder there looks suspiciously like another murder he’s investigating. Fin’s past plays a major role in his interactions with the other characters, and in the actual case he’s working. In many ways, that past holds him back. Facing it and dealing with it are hard to do, but that’s the battle with himself that Fin faces.

And that’s the thing about being our own worst enemies. Sometimes people spend more time throwing up obstacles themselves than they do getting past hurdles anyone else sets up. It’s a common human tendency, so it’s little wonder we see it as much as we do in crime fiction.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Big Man on Mulberry Street.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Henning Mankell, Jassy Mackenzie, Peter May, Ruth Rendell, Sharon Bolton

What Are We Going to Do About the Other Generation?*

Sandwich GenerationAs people live longer, we’re seeing more and more of what’s sometimes called ‘the sandwich generation.’ By that I mean adults who are taking care of their elderly parents, but at the same time helping to launch their young adult children into their own lives. Sometimes those young people are still living at home.

It can all get very complicated, especially if the young people run into job, drugs, or relationship problems, or have unexpected children of their own. It’s even more complicated if the elderly parent involved has dementia or other health problems. Put all of that together and you have the potential for a great deal of stress. It’s a fact of life for many people, and we certainly see it in crime fiction.

One of the more famous such characters is Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander. As if his job wasn’t stressful enough, Wallander also deals with his elderly father, who has dementia. Their relationship is complicated already, and is made all the more so by the older man’s illness. It doesn’t help matters that Wallander’s sister doesn’t live close by, so she can’t step in and help. At the same time, Wallander is also concerned about his daughter Linda. She’s grown and out of the house as the series begins, but he worries about her, and thinks that at times, she’s not making wise decisions. Their relationship, too, is complicated, and they’ve had their share of estrangement. But he does care about her and tries to be a part of her life.

Elizabeth Spann Craig’s Myrtle Clover is a retired teacher who’s now in her eighties. Although she’s in relatively good health, and certainly of sound mind, that doesn’t mean her son Red doesn’t worry about her. He’s the police chief of Bradley, North Carolina, so he’s all too aware of how much risk there is, especially for an elderly woman. But Myrtle is not the type to be ‘put out to pasture,’ and she’s intrigued by solving crimes. So she’s a constant source of concern to her son. At the same time, Red and his wife Elaine are raising their young son, Jack. He’s a healthy boy, but very active, and of course, his parents want to keep him safe. The Clovers certainly don’t have a restful life, but being in the ‘sandwich generation’ means that life’s never boring for them.

In Catherine O’Flynn’s The News Where You Are, we are introduced to TV presenter Frank Allcroft. He’s happily married, and the proud father of eight-year-old Mo. But he’s gotten to a sort of crossroads in his life. For one thing, he can’t let go of the death of his predecessor, Phil Smedway, who was killed in an apparent hit-and-run incident. Allcroft finds himself drawn to the place where Smedway died, and can’t help asking questions about what really happened. At the same time, he’s concerned about his mother, who has recently moved to an elder care home. She’s having trouble adjusting to live in that new environment, and that adds stress to their already complicated relationship. Still, he cares about her, and wants to make sure that she’s as comfortable and well cared-for as possible.

Tarquin Hall’s Vishwas ‘Vish’ Puri is a successful Delhi PI. Much of his business is concerned with ‘vetting’ potential spouses for each other’s families. But sometimes, he gets involved in much more serious cases. In his private life, Puri is a proud father (his children are grown and on their own) and a dutiful son to his beloved Mummy-ji. Although the family is a healthy, loving family, that doesn’t mean that Puri never feels the pressure of being between two generations. For one thing, his daughter’s just recently had a baby boy of her own, so there are all kinds of family events connected with that. And new parents often need grandparent-ly help. And then there’s Mummy-ji. She’s energetic and active, and gets involved in more than one investigation of her own. Puri loves his mother, but she certainly causes him concern (not that that stops her).

Michael Redhill (who writes as Inger Ash Wolfe) has created an interesting ‘sandwich generation’ character in the form of DI Hazel Micallef. She and her team work out of Port Dundas, Onatrio. Hazel is in early sixties, and thinking about the transition between a full-time life of work, and retirement. She is also very much caught between two generations. For one thing, there’s her octogenarian mother Emily, who is Port Dundas’ former mayor. Emily is very much her own person, and absolutely not one to sit around and knit. But at the same time, she is in her eighties, and her health and stamina aren’t what they were. So Hazel is concerned about her. It doesn’t help matters that she and Emily don’t always agree, and both are very strong-minded. On the other end, so to speak, is Hazel’s younger daughter Martha. Here’s how Hazel describes her in The Taken:

‘Jobless, loveless, dogged by depression and unable to make a constructive choice…’

Hazel loves her children, but it’s not always easy to be Martha’s mother. It’s not always easy to be Emily’s daughter, either.

And then there’s Wendy James’ The Lost Girls. Documentary maker Erin Fury has decided to do a film detailing the impact of murder on families. As a part of that, she wants to look into the 1978 murder of fourteen-year-old Angela Buchanan. So she asks Angela’s now-middle-aged cousin, Jane Tait, and Jane’s brother Mick, as well as their parents, for interviews. No-one in the family really wants the murder raked up again. But Jane’s daughter Tess wants to know the truth. So the interviews go forward. As we learn about the murder (which was never solved), we also learn more about the family. Jane is very much a ‘sandwich generation’ parent. She is the mother of a university student, and that has its own challenges. But she is also the daughter of Doug and Barbara Griffin, and that adds more challenges. Doug has dementia, and rarely speaks. In fact, he’s just been moved to a care home. Barbara is in reasonable health, but she needs support as she gets accustomed to life without the husband she’s known. Against this backdrop, we learn what really happened when Angela died, and who really killed her.

More and more, as life spans increase, adults find themselves very much between two generations. It’s not an easy position to be in, but it is real life. And it can add important character development and plot layers to a novel.



*NOTE:  The title of this post is a line from Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s The Other Generation.



Filed under Catherine O'Flynn, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Henning Mankell, Inger Ash Wolfe, Michael Redhill, Tarquin Hall, Wendy James

It’s All Part of the Job*

NuisancesWe all have to deal with irritants in our jobs. They take time away from what we’d really like to be doing (or should be doing), and they can be time-consuming. Even when they’re not, they can certainly be frustrating. But they are part of the job, and as the saying goes, they come with the territory.

There are plenty of these irritants in crime fiction, and they can serve some useful purposes. They can add to character development, context, and sometimes, even the plot. Like anything else, they’re best used in moderation, so as not to distract from the plot. But when handled deftly, they can add to a story.

For instance, in Agatha Christie’s The Hollow (AKA Murder After Hours), we are introduced to Dr. John Christow, a successful Harley Street specialist. As the story begins, he’s finishing up his last bit of work for the week before taking a weekend trip to the country home of some friends, Sir Henry and Lady Lucy Angkatell. It’s not that he doesn’t want to help people who are genuinely ill, but he’s tired, a bit fed up, and eager to get on with the weekend:

‘It took him a quarter of an hour to deal with Mrs. Forrester. Once again it was easy money. Once again he listened, asked questions, reassured, sympathized, infused something of his own healing energy. Once more he wrote out a prescription for an expensive proprietary.’

His patient leaves, satisfied that all will be well. But she’s only been an irritant to Christow, who is eager to get away. I can say without spoiling the story that this particular annoying patient isn’t the reason for Christow’s murder two days later. But it does give a glimpse of his perspective on his patients.

Gail Bowen’s A Killing Spring features academician and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn. The main plot of the novel concerns the murder of a colleague, Reed Gallagher. Kilbourn gets involved in the investigation from the beginning, since she knows Gallagher’s widow. At the same time, she is concerned about a student, Kellee Savage, who is emotionally fragile to begin with, and who’s been making accusations against another student. Then, Kellee disappears. Kilbourn learns that she was last seen in a bar, and asks several of the students about what happened. It turns out Kellee made a recording of what was said there, and that one of Kilbourn’s students expressed some vehement opinions:

‘‘If I’d known Kilbourn was such a bitch about not letting people express their own opinions, I wouldn’t have taken her…course. You know what she gave me on my last paper? Fifty-eight percent! Just because I didn’t use secondary sources! I showed that paper to my boyfriend and a lot of other people. Everybody says I should’ve got an A.’’

Anyone who’s had a student like this will be familiar with the sort of trouble and annoyance such a person can create.

Kathryn Fox’s Anya Crichton is a New South Wales-based pathologist and forensic physician. When we first meet her in Malicious Intent, she works with her friend, DS Kate Farrer, to link a series of deaths. All of the victims turn out to have had traces of asbestos in their lungs; so, besides finding out the truth about the deaths, Crichton also sees the urgent need to track down the source of asbestos. In the meantime, she has to get on with the rest of her life. And part of what she does is give university lectures and work with students. Here’s a scene from one of her lectures:

‘Put the word ‘forensic’ in a lecture’s title and it pretty much guaranteed a full house. Anya introduced the day’s topic and a croaky voice from the back row interrupted.
‘Excuse me, but will this be in the exams?’
The most predictable question had taken all but thirty seconds to be asked.’

Again, anyone who’s ever worked with students will be familiar with this sort of person…

Police, of course, have their nuisances, too. There are plenty of people who will claim to see things they haven’t seen, or confess to crimes they didn’t commit, for any number of reasons. There are also those who take up police time with what most people would call trivial things that aren’t really the business of the police. There are other annoyances, too. Of course, the police have to follow up on these leads, because one of them could be valuable. And it’s not good for the police’s public image to be seen as ignoring citizens. It’s a difficult balance to strike.

We see a bit of this in Andrea Camilleri’s Wings of the Sphinx. The central plot of the novel concerns a young woman whose body is found near a landfill not far from Vigàta. It’s a complicated case, and Inspector Salvo Montalbano is trying to focus his energies on solving it. But in the meantime, he’s been assigned another case. Wealthy businessman Arturo Picarella has disappeared in what his wife, Ciccina, says was an abduction. At first, that’s what the case looked like, and Montalbano and his team took it seriously. But it turns out to have been quite different. The only problem is that Signora Picarella, who carries weight with the Commissioner, won’t let the matter rest, and creates a fair amount of annoyance for Montalbano.

Among other things they do to solve cases, the police often have to give press briefings. The members of the top brass use them for their own political purposes, and journalists use them to do their jobs. Sometimes those public updates and calls for information can be extremely useful. We all know stories of people who’ve contacted police with vital information after they saw a news story. And the police know that avoiding the press can create more problems than it solves. But for a lot of police investigators, dealing with press briefings is a real nuisance. Briefings take up their time, are often fraught with politics, and tend to result in a lot of extra ‘sightings of criminals’ and strong public sentiment. All of those can complicate police work. Still, they’re a necessary part of solving a major crime. We see this in a lot of crime fiction. I’m thinking, for instance, of several of Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander stories, and of Jørn Lier Horst’s William Wisting novels. In both series (and lots of others, too numerous to mention), there are plenty of scenes where the investigator has to make time for press briefings. Neither Wallander nor Wisting really likes them. But each knows it comes with the job.

And that’s the thing about those irritations. They’re part of the job, and they come with the proverbial territory. We may not like them, but they can add a layer of realism to a crime novel.



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Masketta Man’s Flying Good.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Gail Bowen, Henning Mankell, Jørn Lier Horst, Kathryn Fox

When Fictional Sleuths Go Christmas Shopping ;-)

When Sleuths Shop for ChristmasIt’s the last week before Christmas, and a lot of people are doing their final rounds of shopping and preparation. Everyone’s got a different way of buying gifts, so I thought it might be enlightening (or at least entertaining!) to think about how some of crime fiction’s sleuths go about it. So now, if you’ll kindly have your disbelief stay home and watch some holiday films, let’s take a look at what happens…


When Fictional Sleuths Go Christmas Shopping


I. Andy Dalziel (Reginald Hill)

Dalziel and Sgt. Wield are in Dalziel’s office.

Dalziel: One more thing, Wieldy. I’m needing a Christmas present for Ellie.
Wield: Ellie, Sir?
Dalziel: Aye, Ellie. Soothe some ruffled feathers, that sort of thing.
Wield: What’ll you get her?
Dalziel: I dunno, lad! Think I’d ask you if I did?
Wield: Right. Well, a food gift basket’s always welcome. You can find some nice ones, too. And not too expensive.
Dalziel: All right, then. What store, do you think?
Wield: I know just the one. She loves it. Here, I’ll write it for you. Scribbles a name and address on a piece of paper and pushes it across the desk to his boss. Dalziel nods his thanks.

Later that day, Dalziel goes into the store Wield suggested…

Shop Assistant: Welcome to The Good Life. How may I help you?
Dalziel: Do you have gift baskets?
Shop Assistant: We certainly do, Sir. We offer only all-organic, gluten-free, planet-friendly baskets. Now, would you be interested in our Orchard Treasures basket? Our Green Tea and Rest basket? We also have a lovely Natural Grains basket. Or perhaps (pointed look at Dalziel’s waistline) our Refresh and Fit basket?


II. Walt Longmire (Craig Johnson)

Longmire and Ruby are in his truck.

Longmire: Thanks for coming with me, Ruby. It’s getting harder and harder to buy Cady something she wants.
Ruby: No problem. I don’t want to hear you complain for the rest of the year that Cady didn’t like what you got her.
Longmire: I really wish we hadn’t had to drive into Sheridan for this, though.
Ruby: What do you care? You drive a lot further than this all the time.
Longmire: Guess so.

They arrive at the store.

Longmire (Looking askance at the store): You serious, Ruby? A cosmetics store?
Ruby (Smiling): You should thank me. Vic wanted me to take you to Victoria’s Secret…


III. Kurt Wallander (Henning Mankell)

Wallander is having coffee with his sometimes-lover, Baipa Liepa.

Walander: That’s the thing. I want to get something for Linda’s baby, but Mona always handled those things when Linda was that age. I have no idea what to get.
Baipa: Let’s take a walk. It’s not too cold, and maybe we’ll see something.
Wallander: All right.

The two are walking….

Baipa: How about here?
Wallander: I’m not sure about that.
Baipa: We don’t have to stay long, and I’ll bet you’ll find something.
Wallander, looking none too happy, nods in a resigned way and they walk in.
Christmas carols are playing loudly on the store’s sound system. A determinedly cheerful young man, dressed as a Christmas elf, greets them:
Welcome to Lattjo Toys, where all your Christmas dreams come true!
Just then, a small child rushes by, brushing against Wallander and smearing chocolate on his sleeve.


IV. Annika Bengtzon (Liza Marklund)

Annika is having a glass of wine with her friend Anne.

Anne: So, have you finished your Christmas shopping yet?
Annika: No, not yet. I still need to get something for my cousin Klara.
Anne: Any ideas?
Annika: I don’t know. She’s getting married in a few months, and I was thinking of getting her something for their home.
Anne: Good idea! I know just the place, too. It’s called Lilian’s. They’re supposed to have all kinds of bridal things there.
Annika: All right. Go with me?
Anne: Sure. I might even look around. I’ve never been in.

Later, the two go into Lilian’s.

Shop Assistant: May I help you?
Annika: Thanks. I’m looking for the right gift for my cousin, who’s getting married in a few months.
Shop Assistant: Wonderful! I have just the thing. We’ve got some lovely treasures in our ‘Together Forever’ collection.
Annika (Looking a bit doubtful): Could you show me a few things?
Shop Assistant: Absolutely. Right this way. Here we’ve got some things I really love. The ‘Together Forever’ collection has everything from matching ‘his and hers’ hand towels, to these heart-shaped ‘photo frames, to these beautiful wine glasses. See? They’ve got ‘Bride’ and “Groom’ etched on them. Perfect for those special nights. She winks knowingly.


V. Hercule Poirot (Agatha Christie)

Poirot is talking to George.

Poirot: And so you see, Georges, I would like to get something special for Miss Lemon.
George: A very good idea, Sir. Perhaps I might suggest something?
Poirot: Ah, non, merci. I already have the best idea. I want to give Miss Lemon a new desk and office chair. Something that will be comfortable for her.
George: An excellent idea, Sir. I was thinking something along the same lines myself.
Poirot: Bon. Now, I must choose the furniture and arrange for delivery. Putting his hat on. Please arrange for a taxi for me, Georges, as I do not know how far this place is.
George: Yes, Sir. If I may ask, where are you planning to go?
Poirot: I have heard that Asda sells the sort of thing I want.
George: But, Sir…
Poirot: Not now, Georges. I am in a hurry. Puts his coat on and gets ready to leave.
George: Shaking his head sorrowfully and muttering to himself. I don’t know what he’ll do when he learns that Asda’s owned by WalMart.


So there you have it. What sort of shopping experience do you think your top fictional sleuths would have??

ps. You may notice that I didn’t include Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe here. Now that he’s learned to shop online, he has no need to go out…😉


Filed under Agatha Christie, Craig Johnson, Henning Mankell, Liza Marklund, Reginald Hill

That is All I Have Left to Say*

Dying WordsNot every fictional victim gets the chance for last words. But it’s interesting to see how many crime novels include dying words. It’s tricky to handle dying words effectively. For one thing, a lot depends on how the fictional victim dies. In many cases, it wouldn’t be possible for a victim to say anything. And there’s the matter of melodrama. That said though, dying words can be very interesting; and sometimes, they’re important clues to the killer.

For example, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Speckled Band, Sherlock Holmes gets a visit from Helen Stoner. She feels that her life may be in danger, and she wants Holmes’ help. It seems that Helen’s sister Julia suddenly died after a strange series of eerie noises and unexplained events. On the night of Julia’s death, Helen heard her sister scream. She rushed from her bedroom into the corridor and saw her sister there. Julia was only able to say,

‘‘Oh my God! Helen! It was the band! The speckled band!’’

before she died. Helen could make little sense of the words, but now, she’s hearing the same strange noises that preceded Julia’s death. Holmes and Watson travel to Stoke Moran, the estate where Helen lives, and investigate to find out who would want both women dead and why. I know, I know, fans of The Boscombe Valley Mystery.

In Ellery Queen’s The Last Woman in His Life, Queen is invited for a getaway weekend at a guest house belonging to wealthy playboy John Levering Benedict III. Also staying (but in the main house) for the weekend are Levering’s three ex-wives, his attorney, and his attorney’s secretary. As you can guess, the atmosphere at the house is tense, so Queen spends most of his time at the guest house. One night, Queen gets a frantic call from his host, who says that he’s been murdered. He tries to say more, but because he stutters, it’s extremely difficult for him to get anything out. And at least at first, Queen can’t make sense of what he does say. In any case, he rushes over to the main house. But by then, it’s too late: Benedict has been killed by a blow to the head. The only physical clues are a wig, an evening gown and a pair of gloves. It turns out that Benedict knew all along who killed him; had Queen understood what he was saying, the case would have been solved before it began. But of course, that wouldn’t make for riveting reading…

Agatha Christie used dying words in more than one of her stories. For instance, in The Boomerang Clue (AKA Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?), Bobby Jones is golfing with his friend, Dr. Thomas. At one point, they’re looking for a ball that went over a cliff when they see a man who’s fallen off the cliff and landed below. Jones goes to stay with the man as Thomas rushes off to get help. So Jones is alone when the victim says,

‘Why didn’t they ask Evans?’

and then dies. The words seem meaningless at first, but as Jones and his friend, Lady Frances ‘Frankie’ Derwent ask some questions, it becomes clear that the man was murdered, and that he’s the key to something much bigger than they’d thought. I know, I know, fans of The Hollow.

Henning Mankell’s first Kurt Wallender novel, Faceless Killers, begins with brutal attacks on a rural farmer, Johannes Lövgren, and his wife, Maria. Johannes dies before any help can arrive, but Maria lives long enough to be transported to emergency care at the nearest hospital. She, too, later dies, but not before uttering the word,


That one word means serious trouble for Wallander and his police team. There is already simmering resentment against immigrants in the area. If it gets out (which it does) that these murders were likely committed by foreigners, there’s no telling what might happen. And when the media hears about it, the police have to deal with a real backlash – including the murder of a Somali immigrant who was living at a nearby camp. Now the police have to fend off the media, solve the murder of the immigrant quickly (so as not to appear prejudiced) and continue to work on the Lövgren case.

And then there’s Shona (now writing as S.G.) MacLean’s The Redemption of Alexander Seaton. Seaton is an undermaster at the local grammar school in 17th Century Banff, in Scotland. One morning he wakes to the news that there’s a dead body in his classroom. He finds that the dead man is apothecary’s assistant Patrick Davidson, and that Davidson has been poisoned. The most likely suspect is his romantic rival, music master Charles Thom, who is duly arrested. Thom claims that he’s innocent, and begs Seaton to help clear his name and get him out of prison. Seaton agrees and begins asking questions. He saw Davidson alive, not long before his death, and now that vision comes back to haunt him. Davidson had tried to get his attention, but Seaton didn’t respond. Now he discovers that two other people did respond: local prostitutes Mary and Janet Dawson saw Davidson and tried to help him. Neither they nor Seaton can make sense of Davidson’s dying words, at least at first. But as we find out, those words have a lot of significance.

And that’s the thing. Dying words often do have a significance, both in real life and in crime fiction. It’s just that sometimes, it’s harder to work out what the meaning is than it is other times. Which fictional dying words have stayed with you?

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Eric Clapton’s version of Muddy Waters’ Blow Wind Blow. 


Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Ellery Queen, Henning Mankell, Shona MacLean