Category Archives: Ian Rankin

You and Me Got Staying Power*

Staying PowerThere are some crime fiction series that really have what you might call ‘staying power.’ They last through fifteen, twenty, or sometimes many more entries. How does that happen? What is it about those really enduring series that keeps them appealing to readers even after the 20th, 30th, etc. novel?

Of course there’s the obvious answer: some authors just have a lot of writing talent. And that’s true. But beyond that (perhaps in part because of it), I think there are some things that keep a series going well beyond just five or ten novels. Here are just a few of my ideas. I’d love to hear yours, too.
 

Flexibility

The more restrictive a series is, the less durable it arguably is. A series that is less ‘rigid’ is likely to stay around longer. And there are many ways in which a series can show that flexibility.

For example, Ian Rankin’s John Rebus series has remained flexible in a few ways. As the series has continued, Rankin has addressed the changing landscape of Scottish politics and economic issues. He’s even addressed changes in the way crimes are committed, and the people who are responsible. And as the nature of Scottish life has evolved, so has the series.

Of course, this is a proverbial double-edged sword. Too much focus on one or another issue can date a book or series. But when the focus stays on the crime(s) and investigation, moving along with the political and economic times can help keep a series relevant.

There are other ways, of course, to keep a series flexible. Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series, for instance, takes place in a thinly-disguised New York City. It’s a large metropolis that attracts many, many different kinds of people. So there are all sorts of possibilities for plot lines. Peter Corris’ Cliff Hardy novels are set mostly in Sydney, one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. In both of those cases, there’s a lot of opportunity for flexibility just based on the setting.

The 87th Precinct series is also made more flexible by its ensemble cast. Although Steve Carella is one of the main protagonists in the series, he’s by no means the only major character. Sometimes he’s not even a ‘major player’ at all. That ensemble approach allows for a wide variety of plot threads and conflicts.

 

Evolution

Closely related to flexibility is, I think, evolution. That, too, takes lots of forms, not the least of which is character evolution. People change over time, even if their basic characteristics are stable. A well-written series that lasts 20 books or more will reflect that fact.

For example, Someone Always Knows, the 35th of Marcia Muller’s Sharon McCone novels, is due to be released this summer. Fans of that series can tell you that over time, she and the series have evolved. She started as a fairly ‘hardboiled’ private investigator, both pragmatic and hard-edged. But she’s gotten more psychological depth and, some would say, maturity over time. Interestingly enough, not everyone has celebrated the changes to her character or to the series. Some say she’s ‘lost her edge,’ and that the series now has too much focus on the domestic. Whether that’s objectively true or not, there’s no denying that today’s Sharon McCone is not the same Sharon McCone we met in 1977, when Edwin of the Iron Shoes was released.

Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn series has evolved over time, too. When the series begins, Kilbourn is a university professor and political scientist who’s still dealing with the murder of her husband, Ian, and the realities of raising three teenagers. Over time, her character and life circumstances have changed, as they do for most of us. I won’t spoil story arcs by giving specific examples, but we can see how she has evolved over time. It’s important to note, though, that her basic character has remained stable. She’s grown and changed, but the things that make up her personality in the first novel, Deadly Appearances, are also there in What’s Left Behind, which has recently been released. That stability makes a series more credible.

 

Variety

You could argue that variety is also closely related to flexibility. It goes without saying that readers don’t want series that make use of the same sorts of plots over and over. And the best and most enduring series don’t fall into that trap.

For example, Agatha Christie wrote 33 novels, a play, and over 50 short stories that feature Hercule Poirot. Strictly speaking, they aren’t a series, although they are loosely connected to one another. But they do follow Poirot through his career. Even though they feature the same protagonist, there is a great deal of variety among them. Christie experimented with different points of view, different settings, and different sorts of puzzles. There are stories with prologues, and stories without them. There are stories with a large group of characters, and some with only a few. There are ‘country house murders,’ and there are murders that take place in London. There are…well, you get the idea. Even Christie’s most ardent fans will admit that not all of her work is anywhere near her best. But its variety is part of what made her so popular, and what has kept readers following her work nearly 100 years after she started writing.

One might say a similar thing about Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch novels The 23rd in that series, The Wrong Side of Goodbye, is due to be released in November. As the series has gone on, Connelly has integrated quite a lot of variety in it. Bosch has worked in different departments, left the force, returned to the force, gone to some different places, and so on. And there’s been quite a variety in the sorts of plots Connelly has created, too. There are ‘personal’ kinds of murders, and more ‘public’ murders. There are cases that have national and international implications, and some that are quite local. I could go on, but I don’t think that’s necessary. The variety in this series is part of what’s made it so enduring.

What do you think about all of this? Obviously if a series is to be that lasting, it’s got to be based on solid plots, strong characters and skilled writing. But I think there’s more to it than that (or perhaps there are things that fall out from that). What are your thoughts?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Queen’s Staying Power.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Ed McBain, Gail Bowen, Ian Rankin, Marcia Muller, Michael Connelly, Peter Corris

But I Simply Cannot Do it Alone*

Working With OthersThere are many skills that are important to doing well in any career. It’s important to know how to do the job, of course, but it goes beyond that. People also need a constellation of social and personal skills and dispositions (like truthfulness, consistency and conscientiousness). One of the most important of these is the ability to work with others. In fact, not working well with others is often cited among the top reasons employees are terminated, not promoted, or not hired in the first place.

It’s easy to understand why being able to work with others is so important. Nobody has all of the answers or all of the information needed to solve a problem. We depend on each other. And in real life, when it comes to solving crimes, it’s even more important. Police officers’ lives may quite literally depend on being able to work with their partners and with others on the force.

Not everyone is good at working with others, though. Although it’s certainly a skill that can be learned or improved, it doesn’t come naturally to everyone. And it’s interesting to see what happens in crime fiction when someone isn’t good at working with others.

In Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Hercule Poirot investigates the stabbing death of a retired business magnate. Since Ackroyd was murdered in his home, the various members of the household come under their share of suspicion. One of those members is the parlourmaid, Ursula Bourne. She does her job well, but she’s not friends with others, and doesn’t join in. In fact, one character calls it ‘unnatural’ that she doesn’t seem to have any desire to be a part of the group. And another character considers her ‘odd;’ she’s respectful on the surface, but doesn’t have the same response to authority as the other staff members do. That doesn’t, of course, mean that she’s the killer in this case. But it does show that not working well with others raises proverbial ‘red flags.’

Any fan of Ian Rankin’s John Rebus novels can tell you that Rebus has his challenges when it comes to working with others, especially authority figures. He certainly doesn’t ‘go along to get along,’ particularly if he thinks that what’s being done is wrong. And that gets him in big trouble in Resurrection Men. Rebus and his team are working on the case of Edward Marber, a murdered Edinburgh art dealer. The investigation isn’t going particularly well, and everyone’s nerves are frayed. One morning, DCS Gill Templer holds a meeting about the case, which Rebus attends. He’s fed up with the idea of yet another round of interviews, telephone calls and the like, which he sees as a useless waste of time. He mutters something under his breath, but Templer hears it. Their confrontation escalates until Rebus throws a mug of cold tea. That’s enough to get him assigned to Tulliallan Police College for last-chance training with other police officers who also have trouble working with others. They’re given a cold case to investigate, the idea being that they’ll learn to work as a team. But that doesn’t stop Rebus’ interest in the Marber case.

In Louise Penny’s Still Life, the first of her Armand Gamache novels, the Sûreté du Québec investigates the murder of former schoolteacher Jane Neal. The newest member of the investigation team is Yvette Nichol, and she is determined to prove herself. The problem is, though, that she’s not good at working with others. Right from the start, she is unwilling to listen and learn. She does things her own way, regardless of what others think. On the one hand, she is intelligent, and her ideas are not all wrong. On the other, she is immature as a detective, and has an awful lot to learn. Her ‘rookie mistakes’ cost the team more than once. At one point, Gamache’s second-in-command, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, talks to his boss about how much trouble Nichol is causing. In response, Gamache tries to talk to her, to help her see how important it is to work with the team, to listen and learn from more experienced detectives, and to do as she’s asked without arrogance. It doesn’t work. In fact, Nichol blames Gamache for her failures, and the team for her difficulties working with them. It all ends up with her being removed from the investigation, and that has its own consequences. And in this novel, we also see that not working well with others is sometimes as hard on the person who can’t work as a team member as it is on the rest of the team.

Kate Ellis’ The Merchant’s House introduces DS (later DI) Wesley Peterson. He and his wife Pam have recently moved from London to Tradmouth, so he can take up his duties with the local CID. He and his team, led by DI Gerry Heffernan, are soon faced with the puzzling case of a young woman whose body is discovered at Little Tradmouth Head. Even more disturbing is the disappearance of young Jonathon Berrisford from the yard of the cottage where he and his mother Elaine are staying. As the team begins its work, Peterson learns a bit about why there was an open position in the Tradmouth CID. His predecessor was DS Harry Marchbank, who’d also come from London. It seems Marchbank was difficult to work with, and frankly, a racist. Here’s what one colleague says:
 
‘‘There was always an atmosphere. If Harry hadn’t got out when he did, I reckon Heffernan would’ve got him transferred.’’
 

Peterson is certainly not perfect. But he does work well with the team, and soon learns to fit in.

And then there’s Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Carl Mørck, whom we meet first in Mercy (AKA The Keeper of Lost Causes). Mørck isn’t exactly easy to work with under the best of circumstances, and these are hardly good circumstances. He’s recovering physically and mentally from a line-of-duty shooting situation in which one colleague was murdered and another left with paralysis. When he returns to the job, Mørck is so impossible to work with that complaints are made to his boss, Marcus Jacobsen. At first, Jacobsen wants to give Mørck a little more time. But there’s a lot of pressure on him to do something. Then, he comes up with what he thinks will be the perfect solution. The Danish government and the media have been pressuring the police to solve certain crimes that have ‘gone cold.’ So Jacobsen puts Mørck in charge of a new department – ‘Department Q’ – that will focus solely on such crimes. The new department is only there to serve political purposes, so in actual terms, it doesn’t exist. But Mørck and his assistant Hafez al-Assad (who’s actually been hired as a custodian) get to work. Mørck is inclined not to do much, but Assad notices an interesting case – the five-year-old disappearance of promising politician Merete Lynggaard. Together, Mørck and Assad start to ask questions about the case, and slowly discover that she may not have died as everyone thought. And if she’s still alive, she may be in grave danger.

In that case, not working well with others leads to a whole new opportunity. But that’s not the way it usually happens. In general, working well with others is an essential professional skill. And there are definitely consequences for people who can’t do that.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from John Kander and Fred Ebb’s I Can’t Do it Alone.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Ian Rankin, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Kate Ellis, Louise Penny

Going to the Candidates’ Debate*

CampaignsYou may not be aware of this😉 but there’s a major election coming up in the US later this year. And right now, the candidates are, not surprisingly, doing everything they can to garner support.

No matter where you stand on politics, or what you think of one or another party or candidate. It’s not easy to try for public office. For one thing, everything you say and do is put under the proverbial microscope. So there’s no such thing as privacy. For another, seeking public office can be extremely expensive. And there’s the wear and tear that comes from a lot of travel, many speeches and events, and the endless hand-shaking.

And then there’s the matter of what a candidate is supposed to promise to do. On the one hand, saying what people want to hear may get you support. But will it really win elections? And if it does, what happens if those promises are meaningless? On the other hand, being truly candid about what you can and cannot do, and what you support and don’t support, will mean that you could very well lose fans.

Still, getting elected to public office, especially powerful public office, is alluring to a lot of people. So it’s little wonder that so many people go through the challenges of trying to win elections. It can be a dangerous undertaking, though. Don’t believe me? Here are just a few examples from crime fiction to show you what I mean.

In Margaret Truman’s Murder at the Kennedy Center, we are introduced to US Senator Ken Ewald. He’s got his eye on the presidency, and he’s gathered a staff of people who are trying to help him win that office. One night, they arrange a glittering fundraiser at the Kennedy Center. It’s well-attended and on the surface, successful. But after the event is over, Andrea Feldman, an Ewald staffer, is shot. Georgetown School of Law professor Mackensie ‘Mac’ Smith happens discovers the body late that night when he’s walking his dog. Smith knows the victim, since he is a friend of Ewald’s, and has supported his candidacy. So he’s quickly drawn into the murder case. He’s even more drawn in when Ewald’s son, Paul, is arrested for the crime. Paul claims to be innocent, and there are plenty of other people who could have had a motive. Several of them would be only too happy to see the end of Ewald’s presidential bid.

The backdrop for Ian Rankin’s Set in Darkness is the convening of the first Scottish Parliament in three hundred years at Queensberry House. Roddy Grieve is the leading candidate for the new governing body, with a very promising career ahead of him. So when his body is discovered on the property of Queensberry House, there’s a great deal of pressure on the police to solve the murder. Inspector John Rebus is already involved in another murder case – a much older one – in which a body was discovered behind a fireplace in the same building. Rebus becomes convinced that the two cases are connected, and so they turn out to be.

One plot thread of Michael Connelly’s Echo Park concerns the murder of Marie Gesto, who walked out of a Hollywood supermarket one night, but never made it home. The case has never been solved, and it’s haunted L.A.P.D. detective Harry Bosch, because it was his case. Now, Raynard Waits has been arrested in connection with two other murders. He has hinted that he might trade information on other murders, including the Gesto case, in exchange for avoiding the death penalty. Bosch isn’t too happy about this deal, but Rick O’Shea, head of the District Attorney’s Office Special Prosecutions team, wants to arrange it. His view is that if those other cases are solved, the families will have some peace. So he wants this deal made as soon as possible. O’Shea is running for the office of District Attorney, so Bosch is quite cynical about the motivations involved:
 

‘‘Gotta get it in before election, right?’ Bosch asked’ 
 

Needless to say, O’Shea isn’t happy about Bosch’s interpretation, but it reflects the pressure that’s often put on candidates.

Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn Shreve is a political scientist as well as an academic, so political campaigns are woven into several of novels in this series. The very first one, for instance (Deadly Appearances) begins with a speech that Androu ‘Andy’ Boychuk is making at a community picnic. He’s just been selected to lead Saskatchewan’s provincial Official Opposition party, but not everyone is enthusiastic about his campaign. Still, he has a very bright future ahead of him. During the speech, he suddenly dies of what turns out to be poison. He was both a political ally and a personal friend to Joanne, so she is grief-stricken at his death. As a way of dealing with that, she decides to write a biography of him. As she does so, she gets closer and closer to the truth about who poisoned Andy and why.

Fans of these novels will know that later in the series (12 Rose Street), Joanne’s husband, attorney Zach Shreve, runs for mayor of Regina, and she serves as his campaign manager. The race is a close one, and since Zach is running against an incumbent, it won’t be an easy campaign. Then, a series of disturbing and frightening events start to occur, beginning with a disruption of the opening of the Racette-Hunter Centrre. That’s a project that Zach has championed to improve the quality of life in North Central Regina. It’s not long before it’s clear that someone will do anything, including murder, to impact the election.

And then there’s Alan Orloff’s Deadly Campaign. Edward Wong has just won the Democratic primary election to represent his district in the US Congress. Soon, he’ll face his Republican opponent in the general election. One night, Wong’s uncle, Thomas Lee, hosts a celebration for his nephew at the Northern Virginia restaurant he owns. During the party, a group of thugs bursts in. They’re armed with baseball bats, and bent on doing damage. Wong’s family doesn’t want to involve the police, but Lee has other ideas. He asks Channing Hayes, co-owner of a nearby comedy club, to ask around and see if he can find out who’s responsible. Hayes reluctantly agrees, and soon finds himself drawn into the greed and money involved in campaigns. And there’s the matter of the murders that occur along the way, too…

Campaigning for office can be difficult, expensive, and exhausting. As you can see, it can also get you involved in murder. But that doesn’t stop people doing it. And now I’ll close with perhaps my top choice in fictional commentary about political campaigns. This comes from Craig Johnson’s The Cold Dish, which features Sheriff Walt Longmire. He’s trying to solve some baffling murders at the same time as he’s up for re-election. One of the crime scene investigators comments on the murders:
 

‘‘You blow one homicide, it looks like a mistake. You blow two, it starts looking like negligence. Or worse yet, stupidity.’’
 

Here’s Longmire’s priceless response:
 

‘‘I thought I’d use that on the bumper stickers in the next election, VOTE LONGMIRE, HE’S STUPID.’’
 
 

 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Simon and Garfunkel’s Mrs. Robinson.

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Filed under Alan Orloff, Craig Johnson, Gail Bowen, Ian Rankin, Margaret Truman, Michael Connelly

And With This Cat, it’s Curiosity*

CuriosityI’ll bet you know the feeling. You’re walking by someone’s door and see a notice on it. What does the notice say? Or you see a piece of paper someone’s dropped. Only take a second to read it. Perhaps you’re visiting someone’s house and see a drawer half-opened. No harm in peeking in for just a second, right?

Of course, most of us wouldn’t dream of, say, opening someone’s handbag and going through it, or looking through someone’s computer files. But humans are curious by nature as a rule. So it’s perfectly understandable that we sometimes have the urge to just have a peek, even we don’t follow through on it.

That curiosity is a very common plot point in crime fiction for a number of reasons. One is that it’s realistic. People do get curious. Another is that it can be a very effective premise for a story. Whether it’s looking through a drawer, overhearing a conversation, or something else, curiosity is a very useful to set up a motive for murder.

Agatha Christie used that plot point in several of her stories. For example, in Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, Hercule Poirot travels to the village of Broadhinny to investigate the murder of a seemingly inoffensive charwoman. Everyone thinks that her lodger, James Bentley, is responsible, but Superintendent Spence has begun to think otherwise; hence Poirot’s presence. It’s not long before Poirot discovers that,
 

‘‘Of course she snooped a bit. Had a look at one’s letters and all that.’’
 

That curiosity turned out to be fatal for Mrs. McGinty, when she found out something it wasn’t safe for her to know. I see you, fans of Hickory, Dickory Dock.

Ruth Rendell’s A Judgement in Stone is the story of the well-off and well-educated Coverdale family. George and Jacqueline Coverdale are in need of a housekeeper, and they quickly settle on Eunice Parchman. Unfortunately, Jacqueline hasn’t done the research she should, because Eunice is hiding a secret. Still, all goes well enough at first, and Eunice settles into her job. Then, George’s daughter Melinda happens to be home from university when she accidentally discovers Eunice’s secret. It’s not that she goes through handbags or drawers, but her curiosity helps her to put two and two together as the saying goes. And that spells disaster for the family.

In one plot thread of Ian Rankin’s Black and Blue, Inspector John Rebus and his team investigate the death of Allan ‘Mitch’ Mitchison, an Aberdeen-based oil worker. At first, there doesn’t seem to be much reason for him to have been murdered. But as Rebus traces the victim’s last days and weeks, he learns that Mitch had found out some secrets it wasn’t safe for him to know. And when powerful, wealthy people don’t want others to know things, they have ways of making their wishes known…

Chris Grabenstein’s Hell Hole is the story of the murder of Corporal Shareef Smith, who’s recently returned from service in Iraq. His body is discovered in the men’s room of a highway rest stop, apparently a successful suicide. But Sea Haven, New Jersey police officer Danny Boyle isn’t so sure, and he convinces his boss John Ceepak to ask some questions. Smith’s commanding officer wants the case solved quickly; in fact, he’d rather mete out ‘vigilante’ justice. But Ceepak convinces him to wait for 24 hours before taking matters into his own hands. Ceepak and Boyle’s search for the truth pit them against some very influential people who are determined to keep some secrets that Smith had found out.

In Martin EdwardsThe Serpent Pool, Cumbria Constabulary DCI Hannah Scarlett and her team re-open the case of the six-year-old drowning death of Bethany Friend. That death turns out to be connected to two more recent deaths. And all three turn out to be related to some work that Oxford historian Daniel Kind is doing on Thomas De Quincey. In one sub-plot of this novel, Scarlett is going through a rough patch with her partner, rare book dealer Marc Amos. Matters aren’t helped when she accidentally leaves her telephone at home one day. Amos can’t resist the opportunity to just have a peek at her texts, and sees one from Kind. That discovery doesn’t solve the murders, but it plays its role in what happens in the story.

And then there’s Hannah Dennison’s Murder at Honeychurch Hall. Television star Katherine ‘Kat’ Stanford has been planning to leave TV behind and open an antiques business with her mother, Iris. Everything changes, though, when she gets a call from Iris. It seems that Iris has changed her mind about the business, and has abruptly moved to the village of Little Dipperton, Devon. She’s purchased the carriage house on the estate of Honeychurch Hall, and plans to stay. Shocked at this news, Stanford goes to Little Dipperton right away. There, she finds that her mother’s broken one of her hands in a car accident. So Stanford decides to stay and help out, at least until her mother can manage on her own again. In one plot thread of this novel, Stanford discovers a locked door in the cottage. Then, she finds the key to it:
 

‘I knew it was wrong, but I just had to find out what was behind that locked door.’
 

When she opens the door, Sanford discovers some things about her mother than she never knew. And what she learns gives her a whole new perspective on the mother she thought she knew.

And that’s the thing about just opening that door a crack, or having a quick look at that letter. You never know what you’ll find…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Little River Band’s Curiosity (Killed the Cat).

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Chris Grabenstein, Hannah Dennison, Ian Rankin, Martin Edwards, Ruth Rendell

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.

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