Category Archives: Ian Rankin

Another Scandal Every Day*

corruptionTransparency International has released its 2015 Global Corruption Perception rankings. That’s an annual ranking of nations based on transparency of government activity, press access, independence of judiciary, and other factors. On the one hand, it’s sad, but not surprising, that no country is corruption-free. On the other, there are countries that, based on these factors, have much lower levels of corruption than others. Want to see where your country ranks? You can check it out right here.

Government corruption is a very, very common topic in crime fiction, and that’s not surprising. There’s a lot of money involved, and very important people whose careers and reputations are at stake. All of that makes for suspense and for an effective context for a crime novel. In fact, there are so many such novels that I only have space to mention a very few. I know you’ll be able to think of lots more.

Many of the novels in Maj Sjöwall and Per Whalöö’s Martin Beck series address the topic of corruption in the Swedish government and members of the Swedish business community. And that series isn’t, of course, the only one that does so. Those who’ve read Liza Marklund’s Annika Bengtzon novels know that they also feature plot threads where Bengtzon, who’s a journalist, investigates government corruption.

Ernesto Mallo’s Venancio ‘Perro’ Lescano novels also address high-level corruption, this time in 1970s Argentina. At that time, and in that place, the military is very much in power. Anyone perceived as a threat to that power faces imprisonment or worse. The government is not answerable to the press or to the people, so all sorts of crimes go uninvestigated and unpunished. In Needle in a Haystack, the crime is the murder of a pawnbroker named Elías Biterman. His death is made to look like an Army ‘hit,’ the same as many others at that time. And Lescano knows better than to question what the Army does. But there are some things that are different about this killing, and that piques Lescano’s interest. He begins asking questions that several powerful people, including government officials, do not want asked. Throughout the novel, we see how extensive the corruption is.

There’s a look at high-level corruption in Australia in Peter Temple’s Black Tide. Sometime-lawyer Jack Irish gets a visit from Des Connors, one of his father’s friends. Connors wants Irish to help him make out a will. In the course of that conversation, Irish learns that Connors’ son Gary has ‘gone to ground’ after borrowing (and not paying back) sixty thousand dollars. Now Connors is in real danger of losing his home, so Irish decides to help try to find Gary and get the money back. The search for Gary leads to some very high places, and a record of vicious ways of dealing with journalists or anyone else who might want to expose the wrongdoing. Irish is mostly concerned about making sure his client gets his money back and doesn’t lose his home; but in the end, he finds that that’s just the proverbial tip of a very dangerous iceberg.

Qiu Xialong’s series featuring Chief Inspector Chen Cao includes several plot lines involving corruption at high levels of government. For example, in Enigma of China, Chen is asked to ‘rubber stamp’ an official theory of suicide when Zhou Keng, head of Shanghai’s Housing Development Committee, is found dead. And there is reason to support that theory. For one thing, the victim was found hung in a hotel room, with no-one seen going in or out. For another, he was in that hotel room because he was under police guard after having been arrested for corruption. It’s believed that he took his own life rather than face the charges. But Chen isn’t completely convinced that this was suicide. So, very delicately, he and his assistant, Detective Yu Guangming, begin to look into the matter. They soon find that there is definitely more to this death then the suicide of someone who was about to be publicly humiliated for corruption. This isn’t the only novel, either, in which Qiu addresses the way corruption can work, at least in late-1990s Shanghai.

One of the plot points in Kishwar Desai’s Witness the Night is the way in which corruption can link the very wealthy and powerful to police and government officials who will co-operate for a price. Social worker Simran Singh travels from Delhi, where she lives, to her home town of Jullundur, in the state of Punjab. She’s there to help the police unravel the truth behind a terrible crime. Thirteen members of the wealthy and powerful Atwal family have been poisoned, and some of them stabbed. The only family member left alive is fourteen-year-old Durga Atwal. She hasn’t said anything, really, since the crime, so police don’t know whether she is guilty, or whether she is also a victim, but just happened to survive. It’s hoped that Singh will be able to get the girl to talk about what happened that night, so that police can complete their investigation. Singh begins to ask some questions, and in the end, uncovers much more than just a young girl who ‘snapped.’

Ian Rankin also explores the way corruption links up wealthy and powerful people with the government leaders who can get them what they want. In several of his John Rebus novels, Rankin looks at the impact that that corruption has on everyone. Here’s what he says about it in Black and Blue:

‘Corruption was everywhere, the players spoke millions of dollars, and the locals resented the invasion at the same time as they took the cash and available work.’

Rebus himself sometimes feels corrupt as he finds himself having to make deals and work with all kinds of people in order to get the job done.

There are plenty of novels that explore government corruption in the US, too. Margaret Truman’s series featuring Georgetown University law professor Mackensie ‘Mac’ Smith deals with this topic quite frequently. Murder at the Kennedy Center, for instance, is the story of the killing of Andrea Feldman, a campaign worker for Senator Ken Ewald’s bid for the US presidency. Smith knows Ewald, and in fact, supports his candidacy. So he’s willing to help when Ewald’s son Paul is suspected of the murder. Paul was having an affair with the victim, so he’s the most likely suspect, too. But it turns out that he’s by no means the only one. Smith discovers that there are several powerful people who want nothing more than for Ewald’s campaign to be de-railed, and are willing to go to great lengths to do just that.

And no post on government and high-level corruption would be complete without a mention of Donna Leon’s series featuring Venice Commissario Guido Brunetti. Many of the cases he and his team investigate involve corruption in very high places, and people who may or may not ever ‘face the music’ for what they do.

Government corruption is a continuing global problem. It’s not going to go away quickly. So it’s no surprise that so much crime fiction deals with it. Hopefully if people keep talking and reading about it, this will keep our attention on the problem…


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Third World’s Corruption.


Filed under Donna Leon, Ernesto Mallo, Ian Rankin, Kishwar Desai, Liza Marklund, Maj Sjöwall, Margaret Truman, Per Wahlöö, Peter Temple, Qiu Xiaolong

I Don’t Drink It No More*

TeetotalingWith all of the crime-fictional characters who drink (and sometimes, who drink quite a lot), you might think that drinking is almost a prerequisite for being a sleuth or other major character in a crime novel. But that’s really not so at all.

In real life and in crime fiction, there are plenty of people who don’t drink alcohol. Some people abstain for religious or spiritual/moral reasons; others abstain for health or medical reasons. Still others don’t drink because they know first-hand the damage that alcohol can do. And then there are those (I have a few friends like this) who simply don’t care for the taste of alcohol, at least not very much. For them, not drinking is simply a matter of taste preference, and nothing else.

As I’m sure you know, there’ve been temperance movements in many countries. The idea behind these movements has been that alcohol consumption leads to terrible consequences, and that the best course of action is simply not to drink at all. The goal of these movements has been for as many people as possible to ‘take the pledge;’ some movements have even worked to outlaw alcohol entirely.

In the US at least, the temperance movement gained strong support in the mid-to-late 19th Century from the growing movement for women’s suffrage. While there wasn’t a complete overlap, plenty of suffrage activists also supported temperance efforts. We see the interaction of those movements in Miriam Grace Monfredo’s Blackwater Spirits, the third in her Glynis Tryon series. Tryon is the librarian for Seneca Falls, New York in the mid-1800’s, at a time when suffrage activism is taking root in the US. In this novel, the main plot concerns the arrest of Seneca Falls’ deputy Jacques Sundown for murder – a murder he says he didn’t commit. So there’s a great deal about the relations (or lack thereof) between the white citizens of the town, and the local Iroquois people. But also woven into the story is new temperance legislation, and the efforts to outlaw alcohol. Monfredo presents both sides of the case, and shows how the temperance movement fit in with other issues of that time.

As you’ll know, the temperance movement succeeded in the US, at least for about 14 years. During the Prohibition years (1919-1933), it was illegal in the US to manufacture, transport, export, sell or possess alcohol. That didn’t, of course, stop people who wanted to drink from doing so. But it does show that the teetotalers had their share of political power. Prohibition’s mentioned in several crime novels, including Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. In that novel, wealthy American businessman Samuel Rachett is murdered on the second night of a three-day trip across Europe on the Orient Express train. The only possible suspects in his murder are the other passengers on the same coach. Hercule Poirot, who’s on the train, is persuaded to find out which of them is the killer. One of those suspects is an American named Cyrus Hardman. At one point in the novel, a decision is made to search the passengers’ luggage. When Hardman’s is opened, Poirot and his friend M. Bouc notice that he’s got several bottles of liquor in his suitcases.

‘‘You are not a believer in Prohibition. Monsieur Hardman,’ said M. Bouc with a smile.
‘Well,’ said Hardman. ‘I can’t say Prohibition has ever worried me any.’
‘Ah!’ said M. Bouc. ‘The speakeasy.’’

It’s an interesting glimpse of the extent of the temperance movement. Oh, and it is said that Christie herself was a lifelong teetotaler.

Stan Jones’ White Sky, Black Ice highlights another perspective on the question of alcohol use. In that novel, we are introduced to Alaska State Trooper Nathan Active. He is a member of the Inupiaq people, and serves in the small town of Chukchi.  One of the plot threads of this novel concerns a debate over whether or not Chukchi should ‘go dry.’ Most of the people there are Inupiaq, and there is a great deal of sad experience with the impact of alcohol on their families. Many believe it would be better if Chukchi had no alcohol, so that people would be less likely to fall prey to it. At the same time, there are plenty who believe that it is the individual’s decision to drink or not. Many hold, therefore, that people, not the government, should decide whether alcohol should be allowed in the town. It’s not an easy question, and Jones discusses both sides of the debate.

In Camilla Läckberg’s The Stranger, Fjällbacka police detective Patrik Hedström and his team investigate the death of Marit Kaspersen. On the surface of it, she seems to have died in an alcohol-related single-car crash. Certainly her blood alcohol level is very high. What’s strange, though, is that she didn’t drink. So why would a teetotaler be involved in a drink driving incident? Then, Hedström hears of another death a few years earlier. Rasmus Olsson apparently jumped off a bridge after drinking a bottle of vodka. Again it’s a case of a teetotaler dying with a large quantity of alcohol in the blood. As Hedström puts it,

‘‘…they don’t seem to have the slightest thing in common except that they both were teetotalers.’’

It turns out that these deaths are connected, and both are related to a past tragedy.

Fans of Ian Rankin’s John Rebus series will know that one of Rankin’s other main characters, Malcolm Fox, is a teetotaler. Fox, whom we first meet in The Complaints, has his own personal monsters to grapple with, so he doesn’t drink. We also see that in some other crime-fictional sleuths, too, such as Lilian Jackson Braun’s James ‘Qwill’ Qwilleran and Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder.

There are certainly enough characters in crime fiction who do drink that it’s sometimes nice to remember that not all of them do. Which ones have stayed with you?


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Ringo Starr’s The No No Song.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Camilla Läckberg, Ian Rankin, Lawrence Block, Lilian Jackson Braun, Miriam Grace Monfredo, Stan Jones

Struggling to Do Everything Right*

Police RelationshipsYou’d think that no-one would understand what a police officer’s life is like quite like another officer. And police teams spend a lot of time together, especially when they’re working a case. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that coppers have their share of relationships with other officers.

There are a lot of challenges to that kind of relationship. For one thing, there are often strict rules (and for very good reasons) about romantic relationships in the precinct. And, even when the two people involved are of the same rank, so that neither supervises the other, there’s always plenty of gossip. That can become at the very least annoying, and at worst, intolerable. So it’s usually easier on police officers to keep their love lives separate from work.

Still, every once in a while, police detectives do have relationships – sometimes even enduring marriages – with other police officers. It happens in real life, and it happens in crime fiction, too, with varying degrees of success. When it’s handled well, so that the relationship doesn’t overtake a story’s plot, a relationship between police officers can add to a series. Even if it ends, it can add a story arc and character depth.

Tony Hillerman’s Jim Chee ultimately finds happiness with a fellow police officer. He is a member of the Navajo Nation and a member of the Navajo Tribal Police. Fans of this series will know that he a few relationships as the series goes on. But they aren’t successful. Then, in The Fallen Man, he meets Officer Bernadette ‘Bernie’ Manuelito. In that novel, she’s a rookie trainee, and he’s her supervisor. So they keep their relationship professional. Over time, though, and after he’s no longer in a position of authority over her, Chee becomes interested in Manuelito, and the feeling is mutual. Hillerman handles this relationship as a story arc rather than placing a major focus on it, and in the end (after the end of Skeleton Man) they marry. I don’t know how the stories would have progressed if Hillerman had lived, but I’d like to think these two have a stable marriage.

Deborah Crombie’s Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James are also police detectives who are married to each other. When they first start working together in A Share in Death, Kincaid has just been promoted to the rank of Detective Superintendent at the Met. James is his sergeant. Over time, they begin a relationship that finally ends in their getting married. As the series goes on, James gets promoted and professionally, moves out on her own as the saying goes. So she and Kincaid don’t always work on the same cases together. But they do help one another. Fans of this series will know that this relationship has its up and down times. But it’s one of the more enduring crime-fictional romantic partnerships.

Jane Casey’s sleuth is Met DC Maeve Kerrigan. Her partner, also a police officer, is DC Rob Langton. When they first begin their relationship, they’re in the same unit. But as time goes on and they see that this is going to be a long-term relationship, it’s clear they can’t both stay in the same unit. So Langton transfers to a crack robbery team called The Flying Squad. This doesn’t mean that their relationship is all smooth sailing after that, though. They have to get used to living together as a couple, and to managing to stay together despite the long and strange hours. They have personal issues, too, as we all do. But they do care about each other very much.

All this isn’t to say, though, that a police/police romance always works out. Just ask Ian Rankin’s John Rebus. For a short time (in Knots and Crosses), Rebus has a relationship with a colleague, Gill Templer. But…Rebus being who he is, and Templer being who she is, it’s not, in the end, successful. As Rebus puts it in Hide and Seek,

‘Another notch in his bow of failed relationships.’

It’s awkward, too, since they see each other from time and time, and Templer ends up getting promoted more than once. Still, even after they’re finished as a couple, they can work together if they have to do that.

In Martin Walker’s Bruno, Chief of Police, we are introduced to Benoît ‘Bruno’ Courrèges, chief of police in the small French town of St. Denis. The usually quiet town is shocked when Hamid Mustafa al-Bakr is found brutally murdered. He was a transplanted North African who had supported the French during the Algerian War, and in fact, got a medal for that effort. There is evidence that the far-right Front National (FN) is responsible for the killing. If so, this may be a very complicated crime with national implications. So the Police Nationale (PN) are called in, in the form of Isabelle Perrault. At first, her relationship with Bruno is completely professional. But they’re both soon aware that there’s a mutual attraction, and they begin a romance. It’s difficult, though, because they want different things professionally. Their parting is really more sad than acrimonious, and much more based on logistics and goals than it is on any lack of caring.

Not so with Peter May’s Sergeant Enquêteur Sime Mackenzie of the Sûreté du Québec and his ex-wife Marie-Ange, who feature in Entry Island. Mackenzie is called in to assist when James Cowell is murdered on Entry Island, one of the Îles-de-la-Madeleine/Magdalen Islands. Ordinarily, he wouldn’t have been seconded away from Montréal. But Entry Island is one of the few places in the province where most of the residents are native speakers of English, and it’s thought Mackenzie will be helpful in working with the locals to find out what happened. To his chagrin, Marie-Ange (who works with forensics) is also sent on the case, and the two have more than one unpleasant moment. We learn that their marriage suffered from a lot of strain for more than one reason. Neither is perfect, and it’s interesting to see how they interact.

A relationship between two police detectives faces its share of challenges. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t. When it’s handled deftly, though, that sort of relationship can add a level of interest to a story or series.



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bruce Springsteen’s Brilliant Disguise.


Filed under Deborah Crombie, Ian Rankin, Jane Casey, Martin Walker, Peter May, Tony Hillerman

Got the Loan Shark Blues*

MoneylendersMoneylending in its different forms has been woven into many cultures for a very long time. Even with the evolution of modern banking systems, there’s a good market for the services of people who will lend money to those who, for whatever reason, can’t or won’t use regular banks. Sometimes it works out well enough; a person gets a loan that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. The interest rate may be much higher, but the money goal is accomplished. Other times, it’s disastrous. After all, people who are desperate for money often don’t ask too many questions, and they’re not in a position to negotiate. So they can be easy prey for very unscrupulous lenders.

Plenty of governments make rules and policies about lending, but that doesn’t prevent predatory loans. Certainly that’s true in real life, and we see it in crime fiction, too. There’s nothing like financial desperation to make fictional characters behave in all sorts of ways.

For example, in Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone, Rachel Verinder is given a very valuable diamond, known as the Moonstone, for her eighteenth birthday. The gift comes from her uncle, and many say it’s more of a curse than a gift, since misfortune seems to befall anyone who has the stone. And there’s no doubt that trouble soon comes to the Verinder family. On the night Rachel receives the stone, it is stolen. A thorough search for the stone turns up nothing. Then, the family’s second housemaid, who has her own personal issues, dies, apparently a successful suicide. The stone itself is eventually traced to London, where it seems to have been pledged to a London moneylender. Sergeant Richard Cuff is put in charge of the investigation, and slowly, over the course of two years, he finds out the truth about who stole the diamond and where it is now.

In Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Dr. James Sheppard of the small village of King’s Abbot gets involved in a murder mystery when his friend, Roger Ackroyd, is stabbed. The most likely suspect is Ackroyd’s stepson Captain Ralph Paton. But Paton’s fiancée Flora Ackroyd doesn’t think he is guilty. So she asks Hercule Poirot, who has taken the house next door to Sheppard’s, to investigate. As it turns out, several people in Ackroyd’s household have motives for murder, many of them financial. For instance, Ackroyd’s sister-in-law (and Flora’s mother), has been desperate for money. Here is how she explains it to Sheppard:

‘‘Those dreadful bills…And of course they mounted up, you know, and they kept coming in…And the tone altered – became quite abusive. I assure you, doctor, I was becoming a nervous wreck.’’

That worry has led Mrs. Ackroyd to do business with some ‘unconventional’ kinds of lenders, and she very much needs a share of Ackroyd’s fortune to make things right. You’re absolutely right, fans of Death in the Clouds.

One of the plot threads in Ian Rankin’s The Black Book concerns ‘Operation Moneybags.’ It’s to be a joint operation between the police and the Trading Standards people, designed to bring down an unscrupulous moneylender associated with crime boss Morris Gerald ‘Big Ger’ Cafferty. John Rebus is assigned to work on this case, and he’s none too happy about the way it’s shaping up. On the one hand, he’s only too happy to bring down this sort of predator:

‘People who wouldn’t stand a chance in any bank, and with nothing worth pawning, could still borrow money, no matter how bad a risk. The problem was, of course, that the interest ran into the hundreds percent and arrears could soon mount, bringing more prohibitive interest. It was the most vicious circle of all, vicious because at the end of it all lay intimidation, beatings and worse.’ 

On the other hand, Rebus knows that the operation won’t really get Cafferty, who is his nemesis and main target. It’ll be a matter of small-time arrests, political do-gooding and photo ops. But he gets involved, and soon finds that this operation leads to important information about another crime, a five-year-old fire that ended in murder.

Elmore Leonard’s Get Shorty features Miami loan shark Chili Palmer. He’s the no-nonsense type who, at the beginning of the novel, goes to Ray Bones’ house and breaks his nose because Bones accidentally took Palmer’s jacket from a restaurant where they were both eating. Some years later, in a fluke, Palmer’s working for Bones. His newest assignment is to collect on a debt owed by Leo Devoe, who supposedly died in an airline crash. But it turns out that he’s not dead. Instead, he’s living in Las Vegas on the money his ‘widow’ collected from the airline. So Bones sends Palmer to force Devoe to pay up. Everything changes when Devoe goes to Hollywood. Palmer follows him there, and the original mission gets complicated by a movie pitch, agents, directors, and other Hollywood ‘types.’

In Sue Grafton’s V is For Vengeance, PI Kinsey Millhone is hired to do a background investigation on Audrey Vance, who has suddenly died after a shoplifting spree. The official report is that she committed suicide, but Marvin Striker, who was her fiancé, doesn’t think it’s all that simple. He believes in her innocence, and wants to know the truth about her death. Millhone doesn’t agree with her client; she thinks the victim was a professional thief who’d conned Striker. But she gets to work on the investigation. In one of the sub-plots of this novel, we meet Lorenzo Dante, a Las Vegas ‘private banker’ who’s been involved in various dubious lending arrangements most of his life, as that’s his family’s business. When he meets Nora, who’s unhappily married to a successful, ‘attorney to the stars,’ the two take to each other, which has all sorts of unforeseen consequences, and eventually ties Dante’s story to the story of Audrey Vance.

And then there’s Annie Hauxwell’s In Her Blood, in which we meet London investigator Catherine Berlin. She’s been building up a case against a loan shark, Archie Doyle, and needs some extra ‘ammunition.’ For that, she relies on an informant who goes by the name of Juliet Bravo. When her informant is found dead in Limehouse Basin, Berlin feels a sense of responsibility for what happened. So she decides to ask some questions. But then, she’s suspended for not following protocol in that matter, and no longer has access to any official information. It seems there’s a deliberate attempt to keep the death quiet. To complicate matters, Berlin is a registered heroin addict whose official supplier, Dr. George Lazenby, has been murdered, and she finds herself a suspect. With only seven days’ supply of heroin left, Berlin knows she has very little time before withdrawal makes pursuing these cases impossible. As the story goes on, we get to know Archie Doyle, and we learn that he’s a complex character – much more than a cartoonish thug. He adds an interesting layer to the novel.

Moneylending is at times a very dangerous and illegal business. Some of the people in the business are predatory. And even an ethical moneylending business can be very expensive for those who use it. But it doesn’t stop people who are desperate for money.



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Rory Gallagher’s Loan Shark Blues.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Annie Hauxwell, Elmore Leonard, Ian Rankin, Sue Grafton, Wilkie Collins

A Lack of Originality*

CopycatsWhen there’s a case of multiple murders, there’s often a question of whether they were committed by the same person, or by more than one person. If the murders seem to have been committed in exactly the same way, it could be the same murderer. Or it could be a ‘copycat murderer.’

Killers may copy another murderer’s style for a number of reasons. One is that, in their way, they are paying homage to the first killer. Another is that they want to hide their own identities. So they choose the style of a well-known killer, and hope the police assume that it was the same person. There are other reasons, too.

Whatever the reason, the ‘copycat’ phenomenon can complicate a police investigation. Are they looking for one person? Two people? More than two? That suspense can add to a crime novel, so it’s little wonder we see ‘copycats’ in crime fiction. It’s got to be done carefully; otherwise ‘body count’ and brutality can render a story either not credible or too gory. Still, it can be a clever way to manipulate a plot.

For example, in Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders, Hercule Poirot works with Chief Inspector Japp and local groups of police to catch a multiple murderer. The killer leaves a copy of an ABC railway guide near each body, and sends a cryptic note of warning to Poirot before each murder. So it seems to be a case of one person committing all of the crimes. But there are some little pieces of evidence that suggest that more than one person may be at work. Is it a ‘copycat?’ The question of how many killers are involved certainly adds to the complexity of the case for the sleuths.

In Michael Connelly’s The Black Echo, we learn that L.A.P.D. police detective Harry Bosch was demoted for shooting a man he suspected of being a serial killer known as ‘The Dollmaker.’ In The Concrete Blonde, the family of the suspect, whose name was Norman Church, launches a civil suit against Bosch for wrongful death. So Bosch has to prepare to defend himself and his conduct. As if that’s not enough, another body is discovered, with the murder bearing all the hallmarks of the The Dollmaker’s style. Now Bosch is faced with two terrible possibilities. One is that he killed the wrong man, and Church was not The Dollmaker. The other is that Church was the Dollmaker, and the new murder is the work of a ‘copycat.’ In either case, Bosch has to catch a killer and defend his actions in the civil suit.

Jane Casey’s first Maeve Kerrigan novel, The Burning, also addresses the question of a ‘copycat’ murderer. In that novel, Kerrigan and her Met colleagues have a disturbing case on their hands: a killer who tries to disguise his work by incinerating his victims. He’s been dubbed ‘The Burning Man’ by the press, and the Met is getting a lot of media and political pressure to solve these crimes. Then another body is discovered. This time, the victim is PR professional Rebecca Haworth. It’s very likely another Burning Man killing, but there are enough little differences that it could also be a ‘copycat’ murder. Kerrigan wants to stay on the team that’s investigating the Burning Man case, but her boss asks her to dig a little deeper into the Haworth case. His reasoning makes sense, too. If it is a Burning Man murder, it’s important for the Met to investigate it thoroughly. If not, the Met will take a lot of criticism for letting cases go unless someone takes this one on. So a reluctant Kerrigan looks into it more deeply.

One of the plot threads of Ian Rankin’s Black and Blue concerns a killer the police have nicknamed ‘Johnny Bible.’ He seems to be emulating a notorious killer of the late 1960s who was dubbed ‘Bible John.’  It seems that ‘Bible John’ committed three rapes and murders of women he met at the Barrowland Ballroom. Then he disappeared, so that even with a description given by the sister of his last victim, the police were never able to catch him. Now there’ve been three more rapes and murders, in the same style. So the police have dubbed this new killer ‘Johnny Bible.’ Is it a twisted case of ‘hero worship?’ Is there a deeper connection between the two killers? It’s a difficult case, made even more so by the fact that in the meantime, Rebus is the subject of an Internal Affairs investigation. So his every movement is under very close scrutiny.

In Paul Cleave’s debut, The Cleaner, we get a very interesting perspective on the ‘copycat’ sort of killer. In that novel, we meet Joe Middleton, who works as a janitor at a police station in Christchurch. What his employer doesn’t know about him is that he is also a serial killer nicknamed ‘The Carver.’ According to what the police think, The Carver has claimed seven victims. But Joe knows that’s not true, since he’s only killed six people. So he decides to find out who the ‘copycat’ is, and frame that person for his other murders. He’s also of a mind to punish the other killer for pretending to be The Carver. That’s going to be more difficult than it seems, though…

Kate Rhodes’ first Alice Quentin novel, Crossbones Yard, also takes up the topic of the ‘copycat’ sort of murder. Quentin is a London psychologist who sometimes works with the police. In this instance, DCI Don Burns asks her to interview a convict, Morris Cley, who’s about to be paroled. Burns wants to know whether Cley is likely to present a danger to society if he’s released, and Quentin agrees to the interview. Her opinion is that Cley is not a threat, so he is duly placed on parole. The next night, Quentin is on her usual evening run when she discovers a body at Crossbones Yard, a former burial ground for prostitutes. This body was dumped at the burial site, though, so it’s not a case of an old corpse being re-discovered. The body bears the hallmarks of a set of killings committed some years earlier. Cley was associated with the couple who were convicted of the killings, so Burns thinks he may be the key to this new murder. The only problem is, Cley has disappeared. So Burns asks Quentin to develop a profile of the killer and hopefully discover the truth about this killing. It may be a ‘copycat’ murder. Or it may be that Cley is guilty, and was influenced by his former associates. Or there may be another explanation. Quentin will have to return to the older killings to find out how this one is connected.

‘Copycat’ sorts of killings do happen in real life. But writing about them credibly isn’t always easy. Still, when they are handled well, they can be compelling. I’ve only mentioned a few (I’ve not mentioned some I’m thinking of, to avoid spoilers). Which ones have stayed with you?

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Cranberries’ Copycat.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Ian Rankin, Jane Casey, Kate Rhodes, Michael Connelly, Paul Cleave