Category Archives: Ian Rankin

The Man Said, Why Do You Think You’re Here?*

counselingPolice work and other criminal investigation can take a real toll on a person. After all, these people see the worst that humans can do to each other, and that can leave scars. Even the most sane, balanced person can get pushed to the breaking point under those circumstances.

That’s why many police departments have psychologists, either on their staff or as professional associates. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the detectives will actually use those services unless required. There’s still, to some extent, a stigma attached to getting mental health care. But more and more, people are seeing the wisdom of getting such support when it’s necessary. And that aspect of police work – the aftermath of a case – can make a fictional character more human and believable.

For example, in Michael Connelly’s The Last Coyote, LAPD detective Harry Bosch is at the end of his proverbial rope. After an incident in which he attacks a superior officer, he’s sent for mandatory psychological counseling, and relieved of his duties until he completes it. Bosch begins his sessions with Dr. Carmen Hinojos, who tries to help him face some of his personal issues. One of them is the fact that his mother was murdered when he was eleven. She was a prostitute, and not a ‘high profile’ one, either. So not much was done to investigate. Feeling at loose ends because of his enforced break from work, Bosch begins to look into his mother’s death again. That case, plus his work with Hinojos, helps Bosch do some of the work he needs to do to start functioning again.

In Ian Rankin’s Resurrection Men, we meet career analyst Andrea Thomson. On the one hand, she’s not a doctor, a psychiatrist, or a psychological therapist. She’s hired by the police (as a freelancer) to work with the detectives on job-related issues. On the other hand, job counseling and mental health counseling aren’t that far apart, so some of the same issues come up. That’s how she meets Inspector John Rebus, who’s just gotten into deep trouble for throwing a mug of cold tea at a supervisor during a meeting. In Rebus’ case, he’s been sent back to Tulliallan Police College for career counseling and a refresher course on working with others. Needless to say, Rebus isn’t happy being pulled from his regular work. Nor is he deeply interested in reflecting on his career. He’s happiest out on the streets, dong his job. He and a group of other detectives who’ve been sent for the same refresher course are given a ‘cold case’ to work, as a way of building their teamwork skills. But that doesn’t stop him working with Sergeant Siobhan Clarke on a case they were already investigating. Throughout the novel, it’s interesting to see how the police view counseling, Thomson, and the process of reflecting on their work.

Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy (AKA The Keeper of Lost Causes) introduces readers to Copenhagen detective Carl Mørck. As the novel opens, he’s just returned to active duty after a line-of-fire incident in which one of his colleagues was killed, and another left with permanent paralysis. Mørck was badly injured, too, and not just physically. He’s never been overly friendly or extroverted, but since his return, he’s been even worse. In fact, no-one wants to work with him. So he’s ‘promoted’ to head a new department called ‘Department Q,’ which will have responsibility for cases of special interest – cold cases. In this way, the Copenhagen police can respond to media and public criticism over unsolved cases, and at the same time get Mørck out of the way. The first case that Mørck and his assistant, Hafez al-Assad re-open is the five-year-old disappearance of promising politician Merete Lynggaard. At the time she went missing, everyone thought she’d had a tragic fall from a ferry. But Mørck and Assad begin to suspect she may still be alive; if so, she may be in grave danger. In the meantime, Mørck’s boss wants him to get some psychological help. The department has recently hired a crisis counselor, Mona Ibsen, and Mørck is strongly encouraged to work with her. He has no desire to face any personal issues, but he is smitten by the new counselor. And it’s both funny and awkward to see how he starts to do the work he needs to do, even if it is for very much the wrong reasons. Fans of this series will know how both his mental health work and his interactions with Mona Ibsen evolve as the series does.

In David Mark’s Sorrow Bound, Hull D.S. Aector McAvoy and his team are up against a dangerous new crime boss. At the same time, they’re dealing with what looks like a series of revenge killings that are related to past police investigations. And all of this takes place during a heat wave that makes everyone miserable. Things aren’t made easier for McAvoy by the fact that he’s been required to attend six sessions of counseling to help him deal with some of the trauma he’s been through recently. Here’s what he says to Sabine Kean, his counselor:
 

‘‘Look, the people at occupational health have insisted I come for six sessions with a police-approved counselor. I’m doing that. I’m here. I’ll answer your questions, and I’m at great pains not to be rude to you, but it’s hot and I’m tired and I have work to do, and yes, there are lots of places I would rather be. I’m sure you would, too.’’
 

As the novel goes on, we see how McAvoy’s sessions progress and where they lead him, mentally speaking.

Of course, it’s not only the police who occasionally need mental health support, whether they admit it, or want it, or not. Fans of Åsa Larsson’s Rebecka Martinsson series will know that Martinsson, who is a lawyer, needs and gets quite a lot of psychological counseling after experiencing severe trauma in The Savage Altar (AKA Sun Storm) and The Blood Spilt.

It makes sense to weave this element in to crime novels, since crime is traumatic. So long as it’s not melodramatic, that sort of plot thread can help make characters seem more believable.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Amy Winehouse’s Rehab. 

35 Comments

Filed under Åsa Larsson, David Mark, Ian Rankin, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Michael Connelly

I’m Spread Way Too Thin*

spread-too-thinIt’s a fact of life that the police have limited resources. They simply don’t have the staff to investigate everything, so they have to do the best they can with what they’ve got. That’s doubly true when they’re short-staffed. Whether it’s because of holidays, illness, or competing demands for resources, the police are extra miserable when they’re stretched thin, as the saying goes.

As difficult as it is in real life, being on a skeleton staff can add an interesting layer of tension to a crime novel. People sleep less, eat less healthfully, and are sometimes cooped up together for long hours during a staff shortage. All of that can add tension and conflict. And of course, there’s more possibility of crime when there are fewer people investigating it. So it’s little wonder we see this plot point come up in the genre.

In Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s The Laughing Policeman, for instance, Stockholm police inspector Martin Beck and his team are stretched thin when a US senator comes for a visit. They’re expected to provide extra security, and make sure the visit goes without a problem. But there are plenty of people who oppose the Vietnam War (the novel was published in 1973), so a huge protest takes place at the American Embassy. Things get dangerous, and the police have their hands full trying to keep order. Then, there’s a terrible attack on a bus. A gunmen boards, and kills eight people, including police officer Åke Stenström. At first, it’s believed that this was a terrorist attack. But as Beck and his team look into the matter, they learn that someone was ‘hiding’ Stenström’s murder among the others; he was the real intended victim. But with a shortage of staff, it’s going to be difficult both to investigate the bus murders and to protect the embassy.

Ian Rankin’s Mortal Causes takes place during the Edinburgh Festival, which is always a difficult time for the police. The city fills with tourists, there are a lot of events, plenty of drinking, and it all makes for real trouble when it comes to keeping the city as safe as possible. As if this all weren’t enough, the body of Billy Cunningham is discovered at Mary King’s Close, one of Edinburgh’s busiest streets. The murder was especially brutal and deliberate. This wasn’t a mugging gone wrong. Matters get worse when it turns out that the victim may have had ties to the IRA and to Scottish ultra-nationalist groups. Then, it turns out that Cunningham was the son of Edinburgh crime boss Morris Gerald ‘Big Ger’ Cafferty. And he’d like nothing better than to get revenge in his own way. Now the police have to contend with the crowds, possible terrorist activity, and a gang leader who isn’t afraid to take all sorts of measures to find and deal with his son’s murder.

Robert Gott’s The Holiday Murders also takes place during a holiday – this time Christmas. It’s 1943, and the Melbourne police are stretched thin enough as it is with the war going on. Add to that that people want time off at Christmas, and Inspector Titus Lambert has a definite shortage of staff. But he and Sergeant Joe Sable are doing the best they can. Then, the bodies of John Quinn and his son Xavier are discovered. It might be a murder-suicide situation, but Lambert isn’t sure. And there are other possibilities. For example, there was evidence found in the home that links the family to a pro-Nazi group. That group could have been involved in the deaths. There are other leads, too. Soon, Constable Helen Lord Joins Lambert and Sable in the investigation. Now, it’s more or less three people against what could be an extremely dangerous group.

The Brighton and Hove area is very popular with tourists, and Peter James’ Superintendent Roy Grace is all too familiar with what it’s like to need more people on staff than are actually available. It becomes quite a challenge in Not Dead Yet. In that novel, a male torso is discovered in a disused chicken coop. So Grace and his team get to work trying to find out who the man was and who killed him. As you can imagine, that’s quite a challenge. But then, Grace’s superiors tell him that international superstar Gaia Lafayette is coming to Brighton, where she grew up. She’s set to star in a film being made there, and the studio has insisted that Brighton and Hove provide plenty of extra security – naturally, at no cost. The argument is that her presence in the area will draw lots of commerce, so the payoff will be worth the investment. But protecting Gaia is going to be especially challenging. Her life has already been threatened more than once, and before long, it’s clear that whoever’s responsible is not going to give up. It all makes for very long hours and little sleep for Grace and his team.

And then there’s Jane Woodham’s Twister. As the novel begins, the city of Dunedin is dealing with a virulent ‘flu epidemic. What with people falling ill, and having to take care of sick family members, the ranks of the police are temporarily thinned. Against that backdrop, the city endures five straight days of rain, followed by a twister that roars through the area. The police are hoping that everything will stay relatively calm until the damage is cleaned up and the epidemic dies down. But that’s not to be. In the wake of the storm, the body of Tracey Wenlock, who’d been missing for two weeks, is discovered in Ross Creek. It’s not the sort of case that Detective Senior Sergeant Leo Judd would normally take, as he is coping with the disappearance of his own daughter nine years earlier. But with the staff stretched thin, there’s no-one else available. So Judd assembles a team from among the few healthy members of the staff, and begins to look into the case. He finds that this case will resonate in ways he hadn’t imagined.

Everything is more difficult when there’s a staff shortage. If you’ve experienced what it’s like to do the work of three people during a shortage, you know what I mean. And that stress can add a solid layer of tension to a story.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line form Dirty Heads’ Spread Too Thin.

33 Comments

Filed under Ian Rankin, Jane Woodham, Maj Sjöwall, Per Wahlöö, Peter James, Robert Gott

And He Recorded It On a Reel Of Tape*

Recording DevicesDo you listen to audio books? Many people do, and there is a long and growing list of publishers that offer audio books to those who want to experience a story that way. And it’s easy to see why. Audio books and podcasts are convenient ways to enjoy a novel, a short story, or even an author interview. You can listen during your commute, as you’re doing the dishes or the laundry, or as you’re being walked by your dog. What’s more, you can hear names and places (and sometimes idioms) pronounced authentically. That can be quite a boon if you’re not familiar with the language of a novel’s setting.

If you enjoy the audio experience, you owe a great deal to Thomas Edison. On this day (as I post this) in 1877, he invented the first sound recording device, which he called the Edisonphone. There you go, nerd fact of the day.  😉

For many years, people thought of sound recording devices as mostly having the purpose of playing back music. But sound recording technology has had a much wider impact. And that includes its impact on crime fiction.

As I mentioned, the most obvious influence is that crime stories are now available in audio form. In fact, you can now download audio versions of books, and listen in digital format. Among other things, the audio option has meant that now, books are available to people with vision loss, without the need for translating into braille.

If you think about it, though, sound recording has also had a powerful impact on what happens in a crime novel. For example, there’s an Agatha Christie novel where a sound recording device has a very important role to play. I won’t mention the title, as I don’t want to give away spoilers. But if you’re familiar with her novels, you’ll know which one I mean.

Gail Bowen’s A Killing Spring makes very interesting use of a recording. In one plot thread of the novel, political scientist and academician Joanne Kilbourn is concerned about one of her students, Kellee Savage. Kellee is emotionally very fragile as it is. And lately, she’s been making accusations against another student. Then, she disappears. Kilbourn learns that she was last seen at a bar where several students had gathered. Without their knowledge, Kellee made a recording of what they said, and what one student says is not exactly flattering to Kilbourn. The recording doesn’t solve the mystery of what happened to Kellee, but it offers a very interesting perspective on the way some students think.

Ian Rankin’s Exit Music introduces readers to Alexander Todorov, a dissident Russian poet now living in Edinburgh. When his body is discovered on King’s Stables Road, the first assumption is that he was the victim of a mugging gone very wrong. But Inspector John Rebus isn’t entirely convinced of that. There were several people, among them some wealthy Russian businessmen, who wanted Todorov dead – one had even made public mention of it. Then there’s another murder. Recording engineer Charles Riordan is killed, and his studio goes up in flames. There could be a connection between the two deaths, too, since Todorov had made a recording there before his own murder. Matters are only made murkier when Rebus learns that his old nemesis, Morris Gerald ‘Big Ger’ Cafferty may be mixed up in the whole business…

In Apostolos Doxiadis’ Three Little Pigs, which begins in 1974, an unnamed art restorer is visiting a Swiss monastery. There, he meets an old man who lives in the care home attached to the monastery. His new acquaintance offers to tell him a story – a good story – in exchange for a recording of it. The art restorer agrees, and gets some audio tapes. He then records the old man’s story, which concerns the family of Benvenuto ‘Ben’ Franco. This family emigrated from Italy to New York at the turn of the 20th Century, so on one level, it’s the tale of an Italian-American family. But on another level, it’s a crime story. Franco got into a bar fight one night, and killed a man named Luigi Lupo. Unbeknownst to Franco, Lupo was the son of a notorious Mafia boss, Tonio Lupo. As revenge for the death of his son, Lupo put a curse on the family, promising that each of Franco’s three sons would die at the age of forty-two. So the old man’s story also includes the murder, the curse, and what happened to the family afterwards. And in the end, the recording that the art restorer makes is a very important part of this novel.

There’s a more sinister use of the recording device, too, in crime fiction. One of the main characters in Paddy Richardson’s Swimming in the Dark is Ilse Klein. As a child, she moved with her parents from Leipzig, in what was then East Germany, to New Zealand’s South Island. They moved to escape the dreaded Stasi – the secret police. As the story goes on, we learn that one strategy the police used to keep people cowed was to encourage listening in on others’ conversations. And that included placing ‘bugs,’ and drilling small holes so that people living in one apartment could make use of a recording device to hear the people next door. Ilse and her mother, Greta, are happy enough in New Zealand, although Ilse feels more strongly attached to Germany than her mother does. Everything changes for them when one of Ilse’s students, fifteen-year-old Serena Freeman, starts skipping class and losing interest in learning. Then, she disappears altogether. The Klein women’s responses to this have real consequences for everyone involved.

If you read police procedurals, or if you’re familiar with the way police work, you’ll know that interviews with suspects are typically recorded. Today, they’re video-recorded, but before that technology was available, they were audio-recorded. And there are many, many examples in crime fiction of the police interview, during which the recorder is switched on and the suspect tells her or his story. It’s a staple of the genre, and it’s another way in which audio recording has changed the crime novel.

Anyone who reads espionage fiction or thrillers can tell you that recording devices – ‘bugs’ – play a really important role in that sub-genre. There are many examples of operatives who ‘take a walk together’ to speak freely. We also see that use of recording devices when police go undercover, or when they use informers.

See what I mean? Mr. Edison’s little invention had much more far-reaching effects than he probably imagined they would. Where would crime fiction be without it?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Kid Creole and the Coconuts’ Stool Pigeon.

20 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Apostolos Doxiadis, Gail Bowen, Ian Rankin, Paddy Richardson

Show Me Don’t Tell Me*

Depicting MurdersOne of the questions I’m facing as I work on my new manuscript is whether or not to depict the murder featured in the story. On the one hand, including the murder, especially at the beginning of a story, can be a powerful way to draw the reader in. It really can be a solid ‘hook.’ Showing the murder can also give a novel a solid core around which a plot can be built, and it doesn’t require a gory description.

On the other hand, depicting the murder can be tricky. It requires thought to do it without identifying the murderer. For the whodunit author, for instance, that requires finesse. And even authors who write different kinds of crime fiction (i.e. not whodunits) need to handle the depiction carefully. Otherwise, the writer runs the risk of being melodramatic.

There are really arguments on both sides of this question. And of course, there are plenty of crime novels that are examples of each approach. And as I think you’ll see, it can work either way.

In Gail Bowen’s Deadly Appearances, political scientist and academician Joanne Kilbourn is attending a community picnic where her friend, Androu ‘Andy’ Boychuk is scheduled to make a speech. He’s an up-and-coming politician who’s just been selected to lead Saskatchewan’s Official Opposition party, so this is an important speech for him. He’s just gotten started when he suddenly collapses on stage and quickly dies of what turns out to be poison. Bowen doesn’t provide all of the details of his death, but the murder is depicted. As a way of coping with her grief at the loss of her friend, Kilbourn decides to write a biography of Boychuk. As she learns more about him, she also learns that his life was more complicated than she’d thought. And the closer she gets to an understanding of that life, the closer she gets to the truth about the murder.

In one of the main plot threads of Ian Rankin’s Black and Blue, Aberdeen-based oil worker Allan Mitchison is having some drinks with some companions. Mitchison’s drinking buddies take him back to their place, where they murder him. This killing is portrayed clearly. At first, there doesn’t seem to be a motive for the murder. Mitchison didn’t have obvious enemies, and he wasn’t important enough, if I can put it that way, to make a difference. As Inspector John Rebus discovers, though, he’d found out some secrets that it wasn’t safe for him to know.

Martin Edward’s The Cipher Garden begins with the murder of landscaper Warren Howe. He’s on the job one afternoon when he is murdered with his own scythe. This murder isn’t depicted in all of its detail. But readers are witnesses to what happens. At the time of the murder, everyone thinks Howe’s wife Tina is guilty, and she has plenty of motive. Howe is an abusive, unfaithful husband, and those are his good qualities. But the police can’t find enough evidence to pursue the case. Ten years later, anonymous tips suggest that Tina really was guilty. So DCI Hannah Scarlett, head of the Cumbria Constabulary’s Cold Case Review Team, decides to re-open the case. When she and her team do so, they find that this case is more complicated, and has deeper roots, than it seems. At the same time, Oxford historian Daniel Kind is working on a mystery of his own. He’s recently taken a cottage with an unusual garden, laid out in a cryptic shape. It turns out that the mystery of the garden is connected to the mystery of who killed Warren Howe, and why.

In all of these novels, the authors show the murders, but they do so in ways that don’t reveal the killers’ identities. What’s more, none of the authors revels in a gore-fest. So the murders aren’t depicted for ‘shock value.’

Still, there are plenty of authors who choose not to depict the murders at the core of their novels. And many readers prefer this style of mystery, as they don’t care much for a lot of violence. For those authors and readers, the ‘hook’ may be the discovery of a body. Or it may be something else.

For instance, in Colin Cotterill’s The Coroner’s Lunch, Dr. Siri Paiboun and his team face a strange case. Comrade Nitnoy, the wife of Senior Comrade Kham, suddenly collapsed and died during an important luncheon. This is 1970s Laos, where the Party is firmly in control, and where everyone knows better than to go against the wishes of a highly-placed Party member. In fact, Party instructions are the reason for which Dr. Siri has become Laos’ medical examiner in the first place. So when he is told that Comrade Nitnoy died of accidental poisoning by parasites in some raw food, he is expected to go along with that explanation, submit a cursory report and be done with the matter. But a few pieces of evidence suggest that something else caused the victim’s death. Now, Dr. Siri has to decide whether and how much to go against his superiors’ wishes to find out what actually happened. In this case, readers don’t see the murder committed. Rather, we learn about the death when Comrade Nitnoy’s body is wheeled into the mortuary. Readers find out more of the details as Dr. Siri talks to people who were at the luncheon, and as he does his own tests to find out how Comrade Nitnoy died.

Jill Edmondson’s Blood and Groom introduces Toronto PI Sasha Jackson. In that novel, she’s recently opened for business, and is eager to build a clientele. So when she gets a visit from Christine Arvisais, she’s hoping she’ll be able to help this new client. As Arvisais tells the story, she had been planning to marry Gordon Hanes. Their engagement ended, though, and Arvisais claimed she’d moved on. Hanes was shot on the day that was supposed to have been their wedding day, and plenty of people blame his ex-fiancée.  Arvisais is spoiled, rude, and malicious. But she claims to be innocent, and a fee is a fee, so Jackson takes the case. As she starts to look into the matter, she finds that more than one person could have had a good motive for murder. The murder of Gordon Hanes isn’t depicted. Rather, Jackson learns what happened as she asks questions and does research.

There are many authors who choose to have a character discover a body, rather than show the murder. That’s what happens in Christine Poulson’s Murder is Academic. Cambridge academic Cassandra James goes to the home of Margaret Joplin, who heads the English Literature Department at James’ college. She’s stopped by the house to collect some exam paper. Instead, she finds her boss’ body in the pool, and the papers scattered everywhere. At first, the death looks like a terrible accident. But soon enough, little clues suggest otherwise. As James looks into the death, she finds that the victim had a more complicated life than it seemed.

What do you think? Do you have a preference when it comes to the way authors present murders in the crime fiction you read? If you’re a writer, do you depict the murder, or allude to it? Why?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Rush’s Show Don’t Tell.

39 Comments

Filed under Christine Poulson, Colin Cotterill, Gail Bowen, Ian Rankin, Jill Edmondson, Martin Edwards

Don’t You Forget About Me*

GoodbyeThere’s a bond that often develops between people when they share an experience, especially an intense experience. That bond can make it difficult to say ‘good bye’ when it’s time. I’m not referring here to romantic breakups; that’s worth a blog post on its own. There are other kinds of partings, though, that can be quite emotionally charged.

Certainly there are such ‘good byes’ in crime fiction. They can run the risk of getting maudlin; but, when they’re done well, partings can add depths to characters. They can also add a point of tension to a story.

For instance, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Scandal in Bohemia, the King of Bohemia hires Sherlock Holmes to take on a difficult case. He is planning to marry, and wants to make sure that the wedding takes place with no problems. The problem is that he was previously involved in a love affair with famous actress Irene Adler, and there’s a compromising photograph of the two of them. The king wants Holmes to get that photograph to ensure that there won’t be a scandal. Holmes agrees and begins to trace Irene Adler. It turns out, though, that she is more than a match for him, and the case doesn’t end the way he planned. She says ‘good bye’ to Holmes in a most unexpected way, and in the end, Holmes knows he’s been bested.

Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds introduces readers to London hairdresser’s assistant Jane Grey. When she wins a sweepstakes, she decides to use her prize money for a trip to Le Pinet. On the way back, she takes a flight from Paris to London. That’s how she gets involved in the murder of a fellow passenger, Marie Morisot, also known as Madame Giselle. Hercule Poirot is on the same flight, and works with Chief Inspector Japp to find out who killed the victim, how, and why. It’s a difficult investigation, and for Jane, it’s an intense experience. She shares part of it with Poirot, so that when the story ends, they’ve developed a sort of bond. Their ‘good bye’ on the final page reflects that, too.

Fans of Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus will know that over the course of the series, Rebus works closely with Sergeant Siobhan Clarke. They become friends as well as colleagues, and they work several extremely difficult cases together. So, in Exit Music, as Rebus’ retirement comes ever closer, both have to prepare for a difficult ‘good bye.’ Neither is given to gushing, but parting will be hard for them. We see both the strength of their bond, and the restraint they both show, at Rebus’ retirement party. Clarke’s gift to him – an iPod loaded with the ‘oldie’ groups he loves – says more than a long speech would. And they have a nearly silent, but none the less affecting for that, ‘good bye’ a bit later. It’s an example of the way in which understatement can make an intense scene all the more powerful.

In Donna Leon’s About Face, Commissario Guido Brunetti and his team investigate the murder of Stefano Ranzano, who owned a trucking company. One of Brunetti’s colleagues suspects that the death may be related to the illegal transportation of toxic materials. So, as well as looking into Ranzano’s personal relationships and connections, the team also investigates those allegations. They find out that more than one person could have wanted the victim dead. As it turns out, the key to this case lies with a woman named Franca Marinello, whom Brunetti met at the home of his parents-in-law. She and Brunetti bond, if you will, over the classics of Greek and Roman writing. It’s not spoiling the story to say that he and Franca do not have an affair; they don’t even ‘officially’ flirt. But he has a soft spot for her, and they interact quite a lot over the course of the investigation. At the end, they have a final conversation in a coffee shop. It turns out to be quite intense, although neither gushes. As they do, we get answers to some of the questions raised in the story.

And then there’s Apostolos Doxiadis’ Three Little Pigs. That novel begins in 1974, when an unnamed art restorer visits a monastery in the Swiss Alps. He’s there to look at some of the monastery’s frescoes, with an eye towards restoring them if he can. There’s also a care home for the aged on the premises; so, in the course of his work, the art restorer meets one of its residents. The old man has a story to tell, and wants his new acquaintance to record it. The art restorer acquiesces, and the anziano begins his tale. It’s the story of Benvenuto ‘Ben’ Franco and his family who immigrated to New York City from Italy at the turn of the 20th Century. The old man details Franco’s life, a tragic bar fight in which he killed a man, and the consequences of that murder. Then, the old man goes on to share the stories of Franco’s three sons, Alessandro ‘Al’, Niccola ‘Nick’, and Leonardo ‘Leo.’ Their lives turn out to be profoundly impacted by what their father did, and the art restorer hears the whole saga. It’s a very intense experience, as the old man is passionate about making sure the story is told. For the art restorer, it’s a very personal window into other people’s lives. At the end, they share what seems to be a straightforward ‘good night.’ But there’s more to come, as the old man has one further long communication with his interviewer. Certainly that experience, and their parting, impacts the art restorer.

When people do share intense experiences, they often feel a connection that’s quite different to acquaintanceship, or even friendship. So when they say, ‘good bye,’ it can be a very meaningful moment. Those moments certainly happen in real life. And when they’re done well, they can add to a crime novel, too.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Simple Minds’ Don’t You (Forget About Me).

13 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Apostolos Doxiadis, Arthur Conan Doyle, Donna Leon, Ian Rankin