Category Archives: Henning Mankell

Standing on My Own Two Feet*

One of the writing projects I’m working on right now is a standalone that features one of the characters from my second Joel Williams novel, B-Very Flat. It’s a bit of a risk. After all, it’s one thing for a character to appear – even to have an important role – in a novel. It’s quite another for that character to feature in the lead role.

And yet, there are cases where it’s done successfully. And sometimes, that character has enough backstory, personality, and so on to make a novel (or even a new series) interesting. Here are just a few examples to show you what I mean.

K.B. Owen’s historical (end of the 19th Century) series (which begins with Dangerous and Unseemly) features Concordia Wells, who teaches at Hartford Women’s College. It’s not so much that she’s overly eager to investigate and solve crimes. And in her world, ‘proper’ ladies do not interest themselves in something as sordid as murder. But she is curious, and she does want to see justice done. So, she gets drawn into mysteries. One of the characters we meet in that series is Penelope Hamilton Wynch, a former operative for Pinkerton’s. She serves as a mentor for Concordia, but she doesn’t ‘star’ in that series. Still, she’s an interesting character in her own right. So, Owen decided to give Penelope her own series. That series, which begins with Never Sleep, starts some thirty years before the Concordia Wells series. It tells the story of Penelope’s work with Pinkerton’s and details some of her cases.

Henning Mankell is perhaps best known for his series featuring Ystad police detective Kurt Wallander. Fans of that series will know that Wallander has a daughter, Linda, with whom he has a complicated relationship. As the series goes on, she begins to come into her own as a character. In fact, Mankell planned a three-novel series in which she was to be the protagonist. The first novel, Before the Frost, was published in 2002. But, tragically, Johanna Sällström, who took the role of Linda Wallander in the Swedish television series, died in 2007, probably by suicide. Her death had a real impact on Mankell, and he never finished the trilogy. It would have been interesting to see Linda’s character develop over time if he had.

Michael Connelly took a very interesting approach to giving a character a ‘spinoff’ series. Fans will know that Connelly’s Harry Bosch is a homicide detective for the L.A.P.D. He is the son of Marjorie Lowe, who was a prostitute, and prominent attorney J. Michael ‘Mickey’ Haller. Bosch never met his father, and his mother was murdered when he was a boy. So, he grew up mostly in a children’s home. In The Black Ice, Connelly shares a flashback in which Bosch discovers who his father is, and learns that he is dying. He decides to pay his father a visit, and, later attends his funeral. Bosch also learns that he has a half brother several years younger:
 

‘The half brother was now a top defense attorney and Harry was a cop. There was a strange congruence to that that Bosch found acceptable. They had never spoken and probably never would.’
 

That half brother turns out to be Mickey Haller, whom we later meet in The Lincoln Lawyer. He has his own backstory, including two ex-wives, a daughter, and his own history with his father. Since The Lincoln Lawyer, Haller has appeared in eight other Connelly novels, and ‘starred’ in five of them. He’s certainly become very much his own character, and fans will tell you that he carries that series quite well.

Tana French has also taken an interesting approach to giving some of her characters their own stories. Her Dublin Murder Squad series includes (thus far) six novels. The first two feature Cassie Maddox (although In the Woods really ‘stars’ Rob Ryan). In the second, The Likeness, we’re introduced to Frank Mackey, who is the main protagonist in the next novel, Faithful Place. That sort of shifting of main characters happens in the other novels, too. In real life, police detectives do move in and out of assignments. They join and leave squads, and so on. It makes sense that that would happen in this series, too, and that’s how French has chosen to write it.

And then there’s Kathy Reichs’ Temperance ‘Tempe’ Brennan. She’s a forensic anthropologist who’s moved from North Carolina to Montréal, where she’s called in when the bodies of murder victims can’t easily be identified. Fans will tell you that, along with her professional work, Brennan also has family issues that sometimes come up. And one of those family members is her grand-niece, Tory. Tory doesn’t really play a role in this series, but she does in another series that Reichs has written with her son, Benjamin. That four-book YA series, called the Virals series, tells the story of a group of young people who live in South Carolina. The novels have elements of the speculative (the young people, for instance, acquire special powers through a mysterious infection they get in the first novel). The focus, though, is on the mysteries that they solve.

There are all sorts of ways in which a character in one novel or series can end as the main character in another. It is a bit tricky to do that, as that character has to be strong enough to take the lead. When it works, though, it can make for an interesting new direction for an author.

ps. The picture shows just how well spin-offs can work on television…

 
 
 

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

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Filed under Henning Mankell, K.B. Owen, Kathy Reichs, Michael Connelly, Tana French

The Answer is Easy if You Take it Logically*

I’m sure you’ve heard the old expression, ‘When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses, not zebras.’ It comes from the medical field, and refers to an approach to diagnosis. The idea is that the doctor should link symptoms to the most likely diagnosis, rather than look for a very rare diagnosis. Of course, there are people who have rare illnesses, so it’s wise for the doctor to keep an open mind. But looking for the most straightforward explanation can oten be useful.

It’s that way in crime fiction, too. Sometimes, crimes that look very complex really aren’t. So, the wise crime-fictional sleuth keeps an open mind, but tries to focus on the simplest, most straightforward explanation for a crime. It doesn’t always work as a strategy, but it’s generally a solid starting point.

A few of Agatha Christie’s plots focus on murders that are a lot simpler than they seem to be on the surface. In The Clocks, for instance, we meet Colin Lamb, a British agent who’s been tracking a spy ring that may be based in the town of Crowdean. He gets drawn into a case of murder when the body of an unknown man is discovered in a house on a block he’s checking. On the surface of it, the murder looks very complex. The dead man had no connection to the woman who owns the home, and there are four clocks, all set to the wrong time, in the room. None of the clocks belongs to the homeowner, either. Here, though, is what Poirot says about the murder when Lamb brings the case to him:
 

‘He reflected a moment. ‘One thing is certain,’ he pronounced. ‘It must be a very simple crime.’
‘Simple?’ I demanded in some astonishment.
‘Naturally.’
‘Why must it be simple?’
‘Because it appears so complex.’’
 

And so it turns out to be. The murder is a simple crime, committed for a simple reason.

In Dorothy L. Sayers’ Have His Carcase, mystery novelist Harriet Vane takes a hiking holiday near the village of Wolvercombe. She gets involved in a case of murder when she discovers the body of an unknown man lying by the sea. He turns out to be Paul Alexis, a professional dancer at a nearby hotel. At first, his murder seems to be quite a complex matter. There’s even a possibility that he might have been mixed up in a Russian political plot, since that’s his background. But in the end, this turns out to be a very simple case. With help from Lord Peter Wimsey, Vane discovers that the killer had a simple motive, and made the death look more complicated than it was. Once that simple motive is found out, so is the murderer.

Henning Mankell’s Faceless Killers introduces readers to Ystad detective Kurt Wallander. Late one night, Johannes Lövgren and his wife, Maria, are brutally attacked in their home. Wallander and his team are called in quickly, but not quickly enough to save Johannes. Maria, though, is still alive. She’s rushed to the nearest hospital, where she survives for a short time. Just before she dies, she says the word ‘foreign.’ There’s already anti-immigrant sentiment in the area, and this terrible pair of murders, ostensibly committed by foreigners, only makes matters worse. So, Wallander and his team have to work quickly to find the killer or killers. The only problem is, there seems to be no motive. The victims weren’t wealthy, there was no history of family rancor or dark secrets, and neither victim was mixed up in criminal activity. It seems very complicated on the surface, but in the end, and thanks to a chance discovery, Wallander learns that it’s a very simple crime.

Kel Robertson’s Smoke and Mirrors is the second of his novels to feature Australian Federal Police (AFP) detective Bradman ‘Brad’ Chen. In this story, Chen is taking some time off from work after the incidents of Dead Set. He’s pulled back on duty when the bodies of Alec Dennet and Lorraine Starke are discovered at a Canberra writers’ retreat called Uriarra. Dennet was a member of the 1972-75 Gough Whitlam government, and was at the retreat to work on his memoirs; Starke was his editor. When it’s discovered that the manuscript is missing, Chen and his team immediately suspect that the victims were killed because of what was in it. And that’s not a crazy assumption, since it was said that Dennet was going to share a lot of things that some very highly-placed people don’t want revealed. And, there are other governments involved, too – governments that might find it very useful to have that memoir. It takes a while, but Chen and his team work through all of those layers and get to the very simple truth about the murder.

And then there’s Alexander McCall Smith’s The Good Husband of Zebra Drive. In it, Mma Precious Ramotswe is faced with a difficult case. Her cousin, Tati Monyena, is facing real trouble at the hospital where he works. There’ve been three deaths, all on the same day of the week (during different weeks). And all three patients were on the same bed in the Intensive Care ward when they died. It seems a very complex case (perhaps some airborne pathogen, or contaminated equipment, or….). Monyena is very concerned about the hospital’s reputation, and wants Mma Ramotswe to solve the case as quickly and quietly as she can. She agrees, and looks into the matter. And it turns out that the solution is very simple.

And that’s the thing about some cases. They look very complicated on the surface, and sometimes that’s done on purpose. But underneath, they’re very simple indeed. Which ones have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Paul Simon’s 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alexander McCall Smith, Dorothy L. Sayers, Henning Mankell, Kel Robertson

When Sleuths Take Flight ;-)

when-sleuths-take-flightAs this is posted, it’s 113 years since Wilbur and Orville Wright conducted the first sustained flight of a motor aircraft. Since that time, flight has changed dramatically. Of course, modern air travel has lots of inconveniences, and I’m sure all of you have your own airline ‘horror stories.’ I know I do.

It’s all got me to thinking. At this time of year, many people travel by air, whether it’s to visit friends and family, or to get away for a holiday. Fictional sleuths are no different, if you think about it. So, what would it be like if some of our most famous fictional sleuths took to the air on a modern flight? If you’ll ask your disbelief to go get some snacks and an airport book for the trip, let’s talk about…

 

When Sleuths Take Flight

 

I. Miss Marple (Agatha Christie)

 

Miss Marple approaches the security checkpoint. She is carrying a handbag and a tote bag that contains her knitting and a book.

First Security Officer: Boarding pass and ID, please.
Miss Marple (After fumbling for a moment in her purse for her boarding pass): Here you are.

The security officer glances at the documents and then briefly at Miss Marple. Then, the officer nods and waves a hand towards the conveyer belts. Miss Marple approaches the belt and places her things on the belt as she walks through the metal detector.

Second Security Officer (Holding up Miss Marple’s tote bag): Whose is this bag?
Miss Marple; Why, that’s mine. She steps over to retrieve it, but the security officer holds up a hand to stop her.
Second Security Officer: I’m afraid you can’t take this on board, Madam.
Miss Marple: Whyever not?
Second Security Officer: It’s the knitting needles, Madam. They’re forbidden on the aircraft. You may check them if you wish.
Miss Marple: But then I shall have to go down two floors, through the security checkpoint again, and then quite probably miss my flight.
Second Security Officer: I’m sorry, Madam, but that’s the rule. No knitting needles on board.
Miss Marple (Leaning closer and looking somewhat sorrowful): You know, it would be a real shame, wouldn’t it, if I couldn’t finish this jumper that I’m knitting. It’s a Christmas present, you see. And (drops her voice even lower as her eyes become much shrewder), you wouldn’t want me to mention to your superiors that I saw that open flask in your pocket, would you? She smiles and reaches out for the tote. The security officer hands it back to her wordlessly. She straightens up and, with great dignity, goes on towards the gate. 

 

II.Sherlock Holmes (Arthur Conan Doyle)

 

Holmes and Dr. Watson are seated on a plane. Watson glances around; Holmes is reading a scholarly paper on bloodstain analysis.

Watson:  Quite a nice pair of seats we have, Holmes, wouldn’t you say?
Holmes (Without looking up): I daresay they are comfortable, but the airline has certainly seen better financial days. These seat covers have been repaired at least three times, rather than being replaced. And you’ll note that the overhead compartments are made of a plastic that was last manufactured eight years ago. A solvent airline would replace them with a more modern plastic.
Watson (Now looking out of the window): Holmes! Look here! You can see the entire region!
Holmes: (Glances past Watson’s shoulder at the view from the window). Yes, we are approximately five miles from Ramsgate, heading south. You will observe the way the traces of the Wealdon Dome become quite obvious at this point. He turns back to his paper. Watson snaps down the window shade and, shaking his head, picks up his book.

 

III. Nero Wolfe (Rex Stout)

 

Wolfe and Archie Goodwin are sitting in the First Class cabin. Wolfe looks around peevishly, and shifts in his seat.

Wolfe: Confound it, Archie! I cannot possibly be expected to be comfortable in this seat! It was obviously designed for a malnourished ten-year-old street urchin!
Goodwin (Looking pointedly at Wolfe’s bulk): I’m not having any problems. Besides, I figured you were gonna gripe about it, so I got you two seats.
Wolfe: Two!? Preposterous! You see, Archie? This is why I object so strenuously to any kind of travel. There is simply no room to sit. And what will happen when this infernal contraption begins to move?
Goodwin (Shrugs): Best way to get where we’re going. The client lives in Miami. And he’s rolling in it. We want the dough, we go there. Besides, you haven’t wanted to throw a Christmas party in a few years. Might’s well go where it’s warmer.
Wolfe: Hmmph. He tries again to settle into his seat. For a few moments, there’s silence. Archie stretches his legs, slips his fedora over his eyes, and tries to sleep. Meanwhile, Wolfe is looking at the menu card. Then he mutters, grudgingly.  Well, at least there’s to be a real meal. Medallions of lamb, baby potatoes, yes, it might be all right. Archie pretends not to hear his boss, but smiles a little.

An hour later….

Archie straightens up and pushes back his fedora. He and Wolfe are getting ready to eat. A flight attendant brings them utensils. Wolfe looks askance at his.

Wolfe: Archie, this isn’t genuine silver.
Goodwin: So? It does the job. Better than what you get at a greasy spoon. He looks up as the attendant returns, this time with covered food dishes. The attendant places some dishes in front of each man and invites them to enjoy their meals. Wolfe suspiciously lifts the lid off his dish.
Wolfe: I don’t like the smell of this, Archie. Not at all. It certainly doesn’t smell like proper medallions of lamb.
Goodwin (already starting to eat his own meal): It’s OK. Give it a try.
Wolfe raises an eyebrow, but slowly picks up his fork and takes a cautious bite. Immediately he winces and drops the fork. He then lets out a stream of incoherent Serbo-Croatian invective. The flight attendant rushes up.

Flight attendant: Is something wrong, sir?
Goodwin: Nah, I think he just bit his tongue a little. He starts to grin as he turns his attention back to his meal.

 

IV. Kurt Wallander (Henning Mankell)
 

Wallander is sitting morosely in his Economy Class seat. He is on the aisle. The passenger to his left is wearing a red cap decorated with a pom-pom and sparkles. She turns to Wallander.

Passenger: Don’t you just adore Christmas? I do!! It’s so lovely with all of the lights, and the presents, and the good will!

Wallander nods in an attempt to be polite, and opens a report he has on his lap. Just then, there is an announcement requesting all passengers to pay attention to the safety video. Wallander sighs, puts down his report and looks up at the monitor in front of him. The characters on this particular safety video are all elves, and the whole theme is Christmas joy. When the video finally ends, Wallander picks up his report again. Just then, there’s a noise from across the aisle. Sitting there is a set of parents with two very small children. They’ve begun to sing Christmas songs, clapping to the rhythm and encouraging their youngsters to do the same. A flight attendant, dressed like a Christmas elf, comes down the aisle. She stops when she gets to the front of the cabin.

Flight Attendant: Welcome on board everyone! Now, to get us in the holiday spirit, why don’t we all join this lovely family here and sing some Christmas carols! Won’t that be fun?  Wallander signals for the flight attendant and, when he arrives, asks for whisky.

These are just a few examples (space precludes any more from me). Your turn!

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Henning Mankell, Rex Stout

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.

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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.

 

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