Category Archives: Ian Rankin

Say That We’ll be Nemeses*

A recent post from Sue at Novel Heights has got me thinking about fictional nemeses. I’m not talking here of one antagonist in one novel. Rather, I mean a recurring character who serves as a ‘bad guy,’ or at least an antagonist, in more than one novel.

It’s not easy to create such a character. By and large, crime fiction fans want their characters to be believable. So, if a character is going to, say, be arrested in one novel and imprisoned, there’d have to be a credible reason that character would show up in another.

Sue’s post (which you really do want to read) mentions Dean Reeve, whom we first meet in Nicci French’s Blue Monday. That series’ protagonist is London psychologist Frieda Klein, who encounters Reeve in the course of linking a decades-old disappearance with a contemporary one. I don’t want to say much more for fear of spoilers. Reeve’s role in the series doesn’t end with that novel, though. He returns later in the series and upends Klein’s life. And his role in the novels is a clear example of the way nemeses can add to a series.

But Reeve is hardly the only example of a fiction nemesis. Fans of Arthur Conan Doyle will know that his Sherlock Holmes goes up against Professor Moriarty more than once in the course of his career. In fact, he has what Conan Doyle originally thought of as a final showdown in The Adventure of the Final Problem. In that story, Holmes and Watson have to leave London, and end up in Switzerland. There, Holmes has a confrontation with Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls. Fans of the Holmes stories didn’t want them to end, though, and Conan Doyle was persuaded to bring Holmes back in further stories.

In Reginald Hill’s An Advancement of Learning, Superintendent Andy Dalziel and Sergeant Peter Pascoe are sent to the campus of Holm Coultram College. A body has been discovered in the course of some campus renovations, and Dalziel and Pascoe investigate the death. One of the people they encounter is brilliant and enigmatic student activist leader Franny Roote. He’s a thorn in both detectives’ sides during this novel, and his role doesn’t end there. Roote makes appearances in A Cure For All Diseases, Death’s Jest-Book, and Dialogues of the Dead. And in each one, he proves to be a more-than-worthy adversary, especially to Pascoe. Roote’s an interesting character in his own right, and his presence in the novels arguably adds leaven to the series.

We might say the same thing about Ian Rankin’s Morris Gerald ‘Big Ger’ Caffery. As fans of Rankin’s Inspector John Rebus series know, Cafferty is an Edinburgh crime boss, who makes his first appearance in Tooth and Nail. He goes on to appear in several other Rebus novels, and the two have an interesting relationship. On the one hand, they are antagonists. Cafferty is a criminal and Rebus is a copper. Rebus will do whatever it takes to put Cafferty behind bars, keep him there, and stop his operations. And, of course, Cafferty has no intention of letting that happen. On the other hand, the two develop a grudging respect for each other over time. And there are cases in which they end up helping each other. As time goes on, we also see how the face of Edinburgh crime and law enforcement change. Those changes impact both men, so that each one wonders, in his own way, where he’s going to fit in in the new order of things.

Not all fictional nemeses are criminals. For instance, Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch contends with Irvin Irving in more than one of the Bosch novels. Irving is a very politically astute member of the LAPD, who’s involved in several of Bosch’s cases. For various reasons, mostly to protect himself or other, highly-placed, members of the police force, he often tries to limit what Bosch does. He’s been responsible for disciplining him, having him transferred, and so on. Later in the series, Irving runs for, and is elected to, political office. But that doesn’t mean he and Bosch no longer interact. Irving isn’t an evil, twisted serial killer, nor a crime boss. But he isn’t above squashing investigations and muzzling the police detectives who want to pursue them, especially if his name is connected to anything. And he’s not at all afraid to threaten Bosch’s job and career if that’s what it takes. Bosch, of course, isn’t willing to shut up and go away, or ‘rubber stamp’ an investigation. It makes for an interesting adversarial relationship as the series goes on.

And that’s the thing about nemeses. When they’re well drawn as characters, they can add suspense and strong story arcs to a series. They can also be interesting characters in their own right, so that we want to know more about them, even if we want the protagonist to ‘win.’ These are only a few examples of nemeses; I know you’ll think of more.

Thanks, Sue, for the inspiration! Now, folks, may I suggest you pay a visit to Sue’s excellent blog? Fine reviews and news await you there.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jonathan Coultron and John Roderick’s Nemeses.

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Filed under Arthur Conan Doyle, Ian Rankin, Michael Connelly, Nicci French, Reginald Hill

Say I’m Old-Fashioned*

As times change, people often change with them. We learn to use new technology, we may change our thinking about things, and so on. But there are people whom time seems to leave behind. They stay with more traditional ways of thinking, and they see value in sticking to the old ways.

Characters like that can add a layer to a crime novel. They can be interesting in and of themselves. They can also provide perspective on other characters, and on the context of the novel.

For instance, in Agatha Christie’s Five Little Pigs (AKA Murder in Retrospect), we are introduced to Miss Cecilia Wiliams. She’s one of five people who were ‘on the scene’ on the day famous painter Amyas Crale was poisoned. Crale and his wife, Caroline, had hired Miss Williams to teach Carline’s half-sister, Angela Warren. So, she was present on the afternoon of his death. At the time, Caroline was widely assumed to be guilty, and she had good reason. That, plus the evidence against her, was enough to convict her of the crime, and she died in prison. Now, sixteen years later, the Crales’ daughter, Carla, wants her mother’s name cleared. So, she hires Hercule Poirot to re-investigate the murder. To do so, he interviews Miss Williams and the other people who were at the Crale home when the killing took place. He also gets written accounts from each. Those interviews and accounts give Poirot the information he needs to find the killer. Throughout the book, we get to know Miss Williams’ character. She is Victorian in her outlook, and traditional in what she believes.
 

‘She had that enormous mental and moral advantage of a strict Victorian upbringing, denied to us in these days – she had done her duty in that station in life to which it had pleased God to call her, and that assurance encased her in an armour impregnable to the slings and darts of envy, discontent and regret.’
 

Miss Williams’ evidence doesn’t solve the murder, but it does help clear Caroline Crale’s name.

In Ellery Queen’s The Fourth Side of the Triangle, Dane McKell learns that his wealthy father, Ashton, is hiding a secret. It seems that he is having an affair with famous fashion designer Sheila Grey. When Dane discovers who his father’s paramour is, he decides to confront her. Unexpectedly, he finds himself attracted to her, and the two begin a relationship. Then, one night, Sheila Grey is murdered. New York Police Inspector Richard Queen investigates, and, naturally, his son, Ellery, gets involved in the case. Both Ashton and Dane McKell come in for their share of suspicion. So does Ashton’s wife, Lutetia. As the Queens get to know her, we learn that she is very much a ‘throwback’ to Victorian times. She’s very traditional in her views, and that adds to the tension and even dysfunction in the family. As the investigation continues, the Queens find that the McKells aren’t the only suspects. The victim had a complicated personal life, and there are several possibilities when it comes to her murderer.

One of the recurring characters in Ian Rankin’s Inspector John Rebus series is Morris Gerald ‘Big Ger’ Cafferty. He’s a notorious Edinburgh crime boss, and, as such, frequently goes up against Rebus. Every once in a while, the two find themselves ‘necessary allies’ when it’s in both of their interests. And, over time, they develop a grudging respect for each other, even though neither really likes or trusts the other. As the series begins, Cafferty is very much in charge of his share of Edinburgh’s crime trade. But, as the series goes on, times change, and crimes change with them. Little by little, crime bosses such as Cafferty are being supplanted by other sorts of crime and new sorts of criminals. For Cafferty, this raises a question. Where does an old-style crime boss like him fit in in Edinburgh’s new crime scene? It’s not an easy situation for him.

Peter Lovesey’s The Last Detective: Introducing Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond is the first of his series featuring Diamond. There’s a reason for that title, too. Diamond is, in many ways, an old-fashioned sort of detective. He believes in ‘legwork,’ in looking for clues, interviewing witnesses and suspects, and so on. And, although he’s had some trouble, he’s good at what he does, and he has a solid instinct. He sees himself as the last of the true detectives, who rely on their own skills, rather than getting all of their answers from computers. And he’s well able to show that nothing can completely replace a good police detective with solid instincts and the ability to put the pieces of a puzzle together.

Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman is a former accountant-turned baker, who lives and has her bakery in a large Melbourne building called Insula. Fans of this series know that the building is also home to several other ‘regular’ characters. One of them is retired professor Dionysus Monk. He’s a bibliophile who regularly quotes Greek and Roman classics. While he is fully aware that it’s a modern world, he has a sort of ‘old world’ charm and courtliness that appeals. And he often has quite a lot of wisdom.

So does Alexander McCall Smith’s Precious Ramotswe. She is the owner of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, Botswana’s only female-run private investigation company. Mma Ramotswe understands that the world keeps changing, and so do tastes and attitudes. She even agrees with some of those changes, as they improve life. But she is old-fashioned in many respects. She clings to traditional Botswana values, and is very proud of her people’s ways. She isn’t completely ‘stuck in the past,’ but she believes that many traditions are worth preserving.

There are other characters, too, who are, as you might say, reminders of an earlier time. They know the world is changing, but they prefer some (or even all) of the older ways. Depending on how the author creates those characters, this can make for a sympathetic character or…the opposite. Which have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bob Seger’s Old Time Rock and Roll.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alexander McCall Smith, Ellery Queen, Ian Rankin, Kerry Greenwood, Peter Lovesey

This Warehouse Frightens Me*

Many companies use warehouses to store things until they are shipped or delivered. And, of course, there’s a big business in residential/individual storage too. That makes sense, as people look for a house, serve in the military, and so on. There’s even a US TV show about goods in storage, where people bid on the contents of different storage sheds.

If you think about it, warehouses and storage places can make for interesting additions to crime novels. They’re convenient for hiding contraband, weapons, bodies, and so on. And they can be awfully creepy, too. So, it makes sense that we’d see them in the genre.

For example, in Freeman Wills Crofts’ The Cask, the Bullfinch pulls in to the London docks from Rouen. When it arrives, the cargo is unloaded into the warehouse. Tom Broughton, who works for the Insular and Continental Steam Navigation Company, is sent to ensure that a valuable consignment of wine has arrived in good order. He checks the casks, and finds that one weighs more than the others, and that gets his attention right away. Soon enough, when he gets a foreman to open the questionable cask, he finds the body of a woman in it. Inspector Burnley of Scotland Yard investigates, and he works with his French friend and counterpart, M. Lefarge of the Sûreté, to find out who the woman was and who killed her.

Deborah Crombie’s In a Dark House begins with a fire in a warehouse in London’s Southwark area. Firefighters are called in and manage to control the blaze. In the ruins of the warehouse, they find the body of an unknown woman. The police, in the form of Superintendent Duncan Kincaid, are called in and begin to investigate. With help from his partner, Sergeant Gemma James, Kindcaid and his team discover that there are four missing persons reported whose descriptions match that of the woman in the warehouse. So, Kincaid, James, and the team work to find out if the dead woman is one of those people and, if so, which one. In the meantime, there’s the question of who set the warehouse fire – especially after it’s followed by other fires…

There’s a very eerie scene in a storage bunker in Tony Hillerman’s The Wailing Wind. In that novel, Navajo Tribal Police Officer Bernadette ‘Bernie’ Manuelito finds the body of a man slumped over in his car. At first it looks a case of a drunk curled up asleep, but soon enough, it’s clear that this man was murdered. Once it’s clear that this is a crime scene, Sergeant Jim Chee takes over the case, and he works with (now retired) Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn to find the truth. It turns out that this is linked to a five-year-old case that Leaphorn wasn’t able to solve – the first time…

Don Winslow’s The Dawn Patrol features San Diego PI Boone Daniels. He’s approached by Petra Hall, from the law firm Burke, Spitz, and Culliver, to take on a new case. The firm represents Coastal Insurance Company, which is currently facing a lawsuit. Daniel ‘Dan Silver’ Silvieri is suing Coastal for bad faith and damages in the matter of a warehouse he owns. The warehouse burned, and Silvieri applied to the insurance company to cover his losses. But the company suspects this is a case of arson, and won’t pay; hence, the lawsuit. Hall wants Daniels to find a stripper named Tamera Roddick, who was a witness to the fire. Her testimony will be important in this case, and she has gone missing. Daniels doesn’t want to take the case at first, but he is finally persuaded. Not long afterwards, a young woman dies from a fall (or a push) off the balcony of a cheap motel room. She’s got Tamera Roddick’s identification, so at first, Daniels and the police draw the obvious conclusion. But they are soon proved wrong. The dead woman is Tamera’s best friend, another stripper who calls herself Angela Hart. Now, Daniels is drawn into a case of murder, arson, and some very ugly things going on. And the warehouse plays a role in the story.

And then there’s Peter Temple’s Truth. That novel takes place as Melbourne faces a serious threat from bush fires, so everyone’s nerves are stretched. Against this backdrop, Inspector Stephen Villani has some very difficult cases to solve. One of them is the murder of three drug dealers whose mutilated bodies are discovered in an abandoned warehouse. Another is the case of an unidentified woman whose body is found in a posh apartment. As the novel goes on, Villani finds that there are several people, including some in his own department, who do not want the truth about these cases to come out.

There are plenty of other examples, too, of crime stories where storage places and warehouses play roles (right, fans of Ian Rankin’s Doors Open?). And it’s not hard to see why. They’re very seldom carefully watched, they offer space for…whatever, and they can be positively creepy. These are just a few examples, to show you what I mean. Your turn.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Dave Matthews’ Warehouse.

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Filed under Deborah Crombie, Don Winslow, Freeman Wills Crofts, Ian Rankin, Peter Temple, Tony Hillerman

This is a Forgery*

Forgery in its many forms is a big business. And it’s easy to see why. A forged signature can give one access to all sorts of things, including a lot of money. We’ve all read of stories where a supposed masterwork of art sold for a lot of money, only to be identified as a forgery later. And forged documents, such as passports and driving licenses, can, of course, be very valuable. It can be hard to prove a forgery, too. Even handwriting experts don’t always agree on whether a particular sample is really a given person’s writing. And art experts don’t always agree on whether a given piece of art is or is not genuine.

All of this is, as you know, illegal. So, it’s also fairly risky. It’s also no surprise at all that we see forgery in crime fiction as much as we do. There’s often a lot at stake, and the fact of forgery can add a plot twist, some tension, or even character development to a crime novel.

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Stockbroker’s Clerk, we are introduced to Hall Pycroft. He’s recently been made redundant and was in search of a new position. He was offered a good position with another stockbroking firm; in fact, he was at the point of starting. But then, he was approached by a man named Arthur Pinner, who offered him a very well-paid job with a new company he was starting. Pycroft is concerned with some of the aspects of the job interview, and with the fact the he’s been asked not to let the other stockbroking firm know he won’t be starting there. So, he visits Sherlock Holmes to ask for his help. Holmes takes the case, and he and Watson travel with Pycroft to visit Pinner. It’s not long before Holmes discovers that Pycroft was very nearly taken advantage of, and that forgery is involved.

In Eric Ambler’s The Mask of Dimitrios/A Coffin For Dimitrios, mystery novelist Charles Latimer learns of a legendary criminal named Dimitrious Makropoulos. He’s apparently been involved in several crimes, including murder and attempted murder. As Latimer learns, Makropoulos’ body has recently been pulled from the Bosporus and is now in the local mortuary. Latimer gets the chance to view the body, and as he does so, he decides to learn more about this man. His plan is to trace Makrapoulos’ life and find out how and why he did what he did. So, Latimer sets out on what proves to be a very dangerous journey. In the process, he meets several ruthless people who don’t want him to find the answers he seeks. He also runs into a problem as he searches for Makropoulos’ ‘footsteps.’ It seems that Makrapoulos was an expert at getting and using forged passports and other identity documents. So, it’s not always easy to follow his trail. Still, Latimer persists, and we eventually learn the truth about Makrapoulos’ life. Among other things, this novel offers a look at how forged paperwork can get a person from one place to another. It’s not as easy to do now as it was in 1939, when this novel was published, but it does happen.

Several of Agatha Christie’s novels and stories include forged passports, wills, or other important documents. In the interest of not giving away spoilers, I’ll just mention one: Hallowe’en Party. In that novel, Joyce Reynolds is murdered at a Hallowe’en party. Just hours earlier, she bragged about having seen a murder, so it doesn’t take much detection to guess that Joyce was killed to prevent her saying anything more about that murder. Detective novelist Ariadne Oliver is in the area, staying with a friend. She’s terribly upset about Joyce’s murder, and asks Hercule Poirot to find out who is responsible. He starts by accepting the fact that Joyce might have seen a murder and tries to find out which murder she would have seen. It turns out the history of the town plays a major role in this case. So does a case of forgery.

Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley Under Ground sees her anti-hero, Tom Ripley, settled in a country home in France, with his wife, Heloise. He and his friends, Jeff Constant, Ed Banbury and Bernard Tufts, manage a very successful ‘enterprise.’ They’ve convinced a Bond Street gallery, the Buckmaster Gallery, to handle the work of Philip Derwatt. The painter himself was relatively unknown during his life and died a few years ago. But his work lives on through forgery. Tufts does the actual painting, and the others create flyers and other material to keep the work in the public eye. All goes very well until an American art enthusiast named Thomas Murchison visits the Buckmaster, wanting to see Derwatt’s work. He notices a few subtle but real differences between genuine Derwatt’s he’s seen, and the work the Buckmaster carries. The forgery team finds this out, and they decide that Ripley will go to London, pretend to be Derwatt, and convince Murchison that all of the work is genuine. The ruse doesn’t end up being successful, and now, Ripley has a major problem on his hand. He solves the ‘Murchison problem’ in his own way, only to find he has even bigger problems…

And then there’s Ian Rankin’s Doors Open. In it, wealthy Mike Mackenzie devises a scheme with his friend, Allan Cruikshank, a local gangster called Chib Calloway, and art professor Robert Gissing. The plan is to rob the Scottish National Gallery of some of its masterpieces and replace them with forgeries created by one of Gissing’s students. The group chooses the gallery’s Doors Open day, since the warehouse and other private areas will be open to the public. The theft is carefully planned, and actually goes off on schedule. But the group soon finds out that just stealing valuable artwork is only the beginning of actually benefitting from it…

There are many other books and stories that focus on forgery. It makes sense, too, considering how lucrative it can be, and how much at stake there sometimes is. Forgeries can add tension and suspense to a plot, and sometimes a layer of character development. Which examples have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Dashboard Confessional.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Eric Ambler, Ian Rankin, Patricia Highsmith

Gotta Get Down To It*

One of the more challenging jobs that police do is manage crowds of people. On the one hand, safety is the most important consideration. So, the police have to ensure that people aren’t looting, hurting each other, or worse. On the other hand, most of us agree that people have the right to go about their business, even in large crowds, without being stopped by the police. In many countries, too, it’s been determined that people have the right to protest peacefully, and protests and marches can draw large crowds.

The balance between protecting people’s rights, and ensuring public order and safety isn’t an easy one. And the vast majority of police strike that balance. If you think about it, a large number of crowd events, whether for fun, for protest, or something else, go off quite smoothly. But even so, they can be tense, and some spill over into conflict, or worse.

That’s certainly true in real life, and it’s true in crime fiction, too. For instance, in Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders, Hercule Poirot, Chief Inspector Japp, and several local police officers, are looking for an elusive killer. Their target has already killed three people, and has warned that there’ll be more deaths. Before each murder, the killer sends a cryptic warning to Poirot, so he’s told in advance that this next murder will take place at Doncaster. At first, preventing that murder seems straightforward. But, the police haven’t considered the fact that the St. Leger is to be run in Doncaster on the day the killer has specified. Now, the police have to manage the crowds, look for a killer, and try to keep potential victims safe. In the end, we learn who the murderer is, and what the motive is. But the large crowds on St. Leger day don’t make things any easier.

There’s a very tense set of scenes featuring large crowds and police in Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s The Laughing Policeman. In one plot thread of that novel, the Swedish government is preparing for a visit from a US senator. Many, many people are upset at the US’ involvement in Vietnam, and a large protest is staged outside the US Embassy in Stockholm. The police are already stretched rather thin, as the saying goes, and the demonstrators are determined. With the police force pushed to its limit, a gunman boards a bus, killing eight passengers, including Åke Stenström, a police officer. And it turns out that this murderer ‘hid’ that death among the others on the bus.

In Peter Robinson’s A Necessary End, the town of Eastvale gears up for an anti-nuclear demonstration. Several groups have come into town for the occasion, and DCI Alan Banks and his team know that things could turn ugly. So, they prepare as best they can for the crowds. The day of the demonstration arrives, and the police do their best to manage everything. Then, tragedy strikes. Someone takes advantage of the large crowd to murder P.C. Edwin Gill. Banks’ superior officer, Superintendent Richard ‘Dirty Dick’ Burgess, is convinced that one of the demonstrators is responsible for Gill’s murder, and wants Banks to make a quick arrest. But Banks isn’t so sure that the demonstrators had anything to do with the killing. And, as he digs more deeply into the case, he finds that Gill had a reputation as a thug, who abused his authority more than once. So, there are plenty of people in town who could have a very good motive for murder.

Ian Rankin’s Mortal Causes takes place during the Edinburgh Festival, which is always a very difficult time for police. It’s a major tourist draw, there are parties, plenty of drinking, and big events. So, it’s very hard to keep the peace and ensure that everyone is safe. That background is tense enough. Matters get worse when the body of Billy Cunningham is discovered at Mary King’s Close, one of Edinburgh’s busiest streets. It turns out that Cunningham may have had ties to the IRA and to some Scottish ultra-nationalist groups. What’s worse, it turns out that he was the son of Morris Gerald ‘Big Ger’ Cafferty, a local crime boss, and Inspector John Rebus’ nemesis. Cafferty, as you can imagine, is all for dealing with his son’s killers in his own way. But Rebus knows that this could lead to a bloodbath. So, he’ll have to find Cunningham’s killer, find a way to manage Cafferty, and deal with the festival crowds.

And then there’s Felicity Young’s The Anatomy of Death (AKA A Dissection of Murder).  In that novel, which takes place in 1910, Dr. Dorothy ‘Dody’ McCleland returns to London from Edinburgh. She’s just finished qualifying in forensic pathology, and is hoping to work with the noted Dr. Bernard Spilsbury in the Home Office. As she’s waiting for that opportunity, she takes a job at a women’s hospital. She’s no sooner arrived and gotten settled when she learns that a women’s suffrage march in Whitechapel turned very ugly. Several of the protesters were beaten, and many were arrested. There were three deaths, too, and McCleland performs the autopsies. It turns out that one of the deaths, that of Lady Catherine Cartwright, might not have been accidental. And it turns out that this killer used the large crowd as a ‘cover’ for a very deliberate murder.

That happens, too, in Brian Stoddart’s A Madras Miasma, which takes place in 1920 Madras (today’s Chennai). This story takes place during the last years of the British Raj, and there’s a lot of talk of social and political reform. In fact, in one plot thread of the novel, there’s a demonstration against the entrenched British establishment. Stoddart’s protagonist, Superintendent Christian ‘Chris’ Le Fanu, understands both the need to keep order and the benefits of some sort of power-sharing. He’d like the ‘powers that be’ to at least hear out the other side’s arguments. There are plenty of people in the upper levels who don’t want to give up power, though, so the protest takes place.  Le Fanu is sympathetic to the protesters’ cause, but, he is a police officer, and is sworn to uphold the law. The demonstration turns ugly, and Madras Commissioner of Police Arthur Jepson insists that his men use their weapons. At the end of it all, there are twenty-three deaths, and eighty-five people with injuries. One of the dead is a key source of information for another case that Le Fanu is investigating, and he learns that that person was killed by someone who used the large crowd and the unrest to ‘cover up’ the murder.

It’s not easy to be a police officer under the best of circumstances. Add in a large crowd, no matter how peaceful, and things can get very dangerous, very quickly. That’s part of what makes such scenes so suspenseful, and potentially so effective in a crime novel.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Neil Young’s Ohio.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Brian Stoddart, Felicity Young, Ian Rankin, Maj Sjöwall, Per Wahlöö, Peter Robinson