Category Archives: Isaac Asimov

Very Strange*

Odd ThingsPeople tend to like things to make sense. When something is in a very odd place or doesn’t look as it normally does, we want to know why. And sometimes that feeling of ‘That’s funny, what’s that doing there?’ can get our curiosity roused. In fact, here’s what Isaac Asimov had to say on the subject:
 
‘The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not “Eureka!” (I found it!) but “That’s funny…”
 

It’s just as true in criminal investigation as it is in science, really. When something just doesn’t make sense or fit in, that’s often an important clue that something is going on. And in crime fiction, that often means a murder. Those odd things that just don’t make sense can also be important leads, too, so sleuths learn to pay attention to them.

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle, for instance, Commissioner Peterson breaks up a scuffle between a couple of local thugs and their would-be victim. The man they were targeting runs off, dropping a hat and a goose as he goes. Peterson picks up the goose and hat and goes on his way. He gives the goose to his wife, but when she starts to prepare it for cooking, she sees that there’s a jewel stuck in its craw. That’s, of course, a very odd place for a jewel to end up, and Peterson can’t make sense of it. So he takes it and the hat to Sherlock Holmes. Holmes makes quite a few deductions from the hat, and eventually, traces the gem back to its original source. The case isn’t quite as complicated as it sounds, but it all starts with one of those ‘That’s funny!’ moments.

Agatha Christie made use of those moments in several of her stories. In fact, Hercule Poirot often mentions how important it is that any theory of a crime account for every piece of the puzzle, however small. In Evil Under the Sun, for instance, notorious actress Arlena Stuart Marshall is strangled during a holiday she and her husband Kenneth are having at the Jolly Roger Hotel. For several reasons, Kenneth Marshall is an obvious suspect at first. But it’s proven that he couldn’t have committed the crime. So Poirot and the police have to look elsewhere. One of the important clues to the murder comes from something simple, but odd: a mid-morning bath. Anyone might take a bath, but oddly enough, no-one admits to it this time. It’s one of those funny things that don’t make sense. But it does once the puzzle is solved.

In Catherine Aird’s The Religious Body, we are introduced to the residents of the Convent of St. Anselm. One morning, Sister Mary Saint Anne seems to be missing from her bed at wake-up call. A search is made, and her body is soon discovered on the floor of the basement. At first it looks as though she had a tragic fall down the stairs. Soon enough, though, it becomes clear that she was murdered. Berebury Inspector C.D. Sloan and his assistant, Constable William Crosby, begin the investigation. One of the funny things they discover is that the victim’s spectacles are missing. She wouldn’t likely have left her room, let alone go around the convent, without them. They aren’t anywhere near the body, and they aren’t among her possessions. Nor does anyone else at the convent have them. The question of where they are points the detectives into a very interesting direction…

Fans of Fred Vargas’ Commissaire Adamsberg series will know that all sorts of funny things happen in those novels. Just to give one example, in The Chalk Circle Man, Adamsberg and his team have a very odd case on their hands. Someone has been using blue chalk to draw circles on the pavement in different parts of Paris. What are those circles doing there? And why are such odd things found in some of them? It seems like the work of some mentally ill person. But then one day, a new circle is found – with a body in it. Now what seems like something just a little weird is a case of murder. As Adamsberg and his team work to find out who the killer is, there are two more murders. And it all starts with a funny circle of blue chalk.

Sometimes it’s just a very small thing that rouses curiosity. That’s what happens in Robert Rotenberg’s Old City Hall.  Early one morning, Gurdial Singh is making his morning rounds, delivering copies of the Globe and Mail to his customers in Market Place Tower, one of Toronto’s exclusive addresses. One of his ‘regulars’ is popular radio host Kevin Brace. When Singh gets to Brace’s condominium, he notices something odd right away: the door is partway open. Curious, he knocks on the door. When Brace comes to the door, he says,
 
‘I killed her, Mr. Singh…I killed her.’
 

And he says nothing else. Singh goes in and, as he later tells police, he discovers the body of Brace’s common-law wife Katherine Torn in one of the bathtubs. The ensuing investigation turns out to be complicated and difficult, but Detective Ari Greene and his team eventually get to the truth. And it all really starts because of Singh’s sense of ‘That’s funny’ when he sees the door partly open.

Those moments really do get people curious, and sometimes it’s impossible to resist trying to find out why something is in an odd place, or something that ought to be there isn’t. It’s in our nature to want those odd things to make sense. And those little oddities can add much to a crime novel.

ps. The ‘photo is of a scarf I saw on a walk the other day. What was it doing there? How did it get there? There are, of course, a number of different possible explanations. But still…that’s funny.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Beatles’ Penny Lane.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Catherine Aird, Fred Vargas, Isaac Asimov, Robert Rotenberg

Science Fiction Double Feature*

Science Fiction and Crime FIctionSome of the most interesting novels and stories are those with cross-genre appeal. It takes skill to blend the elements of more than one genre and come up with a result that’s a cohesive, strong story with a solid plot and characters. But it can happen. For instance, you might not think of science fiction and crime fiction as having much in common. But if you consider it, crime can happen at any time, anywhere, including the science-fictional world. And the best characters in science fiction stories tell us something about ourselves. And whether we like it or not, crime is a part of the human condition.

It’s not easy to weave a story together that integrates elements of science fiction with elements of crime fiction. But there are plenty of examples of authors who’ve done just that. Here are just a few.

Most people think of Isaac Asimov as a scientist (he wrote several textbooks, actually) or as an author of science fiction. But he also had an interest in crime fiction. His Elijah ‘Lije’ Baley series, for instance, is a science fiction series. It takes place in a futuristic New York, and includes many scientific and technological developments that, at least at the time the novels were written, didn’t exist. Perhaps the most important of these developments was the positronic robot. And in the best tradition of science fiction, Asimov used this futuristic setting and high technology to explore very human questions. But this is a crime fiction series. Baley and his partner R. Daneel Olivaw are homicide detectives. They investigate murders and find killers. And people kill in this context just as they do in the ones that we know. Asimov also wrote several short stories that I would argue ‘count’ as crime fiction. One is The Dying Night, in which a scientist is murdered the night before he’s supposed to deliver a presentation at an important astronomy conference. It’s up to another scientist, Dr. Wendell Urth, to use his expertise to work out who the murderer is.

Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is another example of the blend of science fiction and crime fiction (and wit, too, actually). Adams’ PI sleuth Gently gets involved in a case of multiple murder when a friend of his breaks into his girlfriend’s apartment. It turns out that the time, he was under the influence of the ghost of an engineer who belonged to a people called the Salaxalans  The engineer’s slipshod ways caused the destruction of a large spaceship and the deaths of all aboard. Now the engineer is forced to remain a ghost until he can correct his mistake. The novel involves a time-travel machine, a spaceship, and other technology. It’s science fiction. But at the same time, it’s crime fiction. Gently investigates two murders caused by the malevolent ghost’s influence; other crimes take place, too. You could also argue that this has elements of the fantasy novel about it, too. It’s another clear example of the way a crime novel can also ‘count’ as science fiction.

In Altered Carbon, Richard K. Morgan explores the nature of what really counts as human consciousness. This novel takes place in the 25th Century, by which time a method has been discovered to store a person’s consciousness. That way, when the body is killed, that consciousness can be placed in a new body – a new ‘sleeve’ – and life can go on again. Takeshi Kovacs, who used to work for the U.N., has been killed before. His most recent death experience was especially painful, and now he’s been sent to Bay City (San Francisco many hundreds of years in the future) to be placed in a new ‘sleeve.’ The person responsible for ‘re-sleeving’ him, Laurens Bancroft, has Kovacs placed in a cop’s body, so that he can investigate Bancroft’s first death. Like other science fiction novels, this one explores the human condition through technology, as you might say. Morgan opens up questions about what ‘counts’ as being human, what the value is of one or another person, and what the impact is of wealth and power on the whole equation. But it’s also very much a crime novel, in which a sleuth goes after a very dangerous killer.

And then there’s Charles Stross’ Rule 34, which features Edinburgh Inspector Liz Kavanaugh, who heads the Innovative Crime Investigation Unit. She and her team are responsible for patrolling the Internet and separating out harmless fantasy from dangerous crime. That’s how they learn of the murder of former prisoner and spammer Michael Blair. They’re working on that case when Kavanaugh learns of other former prisoners who are killed in similarly brutal ways. Her story intersects with the story of former identity thief Anwar, who’s become a sort of consul for a Central Asian state, and of The Toymaker, an enforcer for a criminal group called the Organization. This novel is a crime novel, and features the murders and their investigation. But it’s also science fiction. It takes place in the near future, and in an alternate sort of reality that includes different technology. It’s speculative, too, as a lot of science fiction is.

There are also authors such as Michael Crichton, whose novels are often called thrillers, but arguably count as science fiction too. In Prey, for instance, we meet Jack Forman and his wife Julia. Both are successful technology experts, until Jack loses his job. Then, Julia, who’s been working overtime at Xymos Technology, begins behaving oddly. She and Jack begin to clash over matters that had never been a big problem before, and at one point, Jack even wonders whether she’s having an affair. The reality turns out to be quite different. Xymos has been working on developing nanoparticles that are self-sustaining and self-reproducing. This experiment has gone horribly wrong, and if Jack doesn’t find out what’s been going on and how to stop it, a lot of lives will be lost.

Cat Connor’s novels feature Gabrielle ‘Ellie’ Conway, an ex-pat New Zealander who now works as an FBI Supervisory Special Agent (SSA). This series takes place in the present day. But it frequently makes use of the kind of technological wizardry and speculation that are often present in science fiction novels. And it is definitely a crime series.

And that’s the thing about this blend between crime fiction and science fiction. The best examples feature elements of both genres. They also feature solid characters and plots, of course, as well as speculation. As my husband, who loves science fiction a highly-regarded science fiction expert whom I consulted has told me, science fiction gives the context. Crime fiction gives the plot. I think that makes sense.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Richard O’Brien.

 

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Filed under Cat Connor, Charles Stross, Douglas Adams, Isaac Asimov, Michael Crichton, Richard K. Morgan

You’ll Learn Things You Never Knew You Never Knew*

Questioning AssumptionsOne of the real benefits (at least to me) of reading is that sometimes, what we read challenges our beliefs and invites us to re-think them. Books like that can be a little uncomfortable; it’s not always easy to question our own assumptions about life. But those books are valuable for just that reason. They challenge us to grow and to re-shape the way we think.

Everyone has a different list of authors, series and books that have had that effect – that have helped us to question what we ‘always knew.’ So your mileage, as the saying goes, will vary. But here are a few books and authors whose work has invited me to question what I always thought. And that’s a good thing.

Before I started reading the work of Deon Meyer, I always thought I knew what a thriller was (And I’m not talking here of espionage stories; that’s a different category): an action-packed, adrenaline-loaded book. The characters wouldn’t have a lot of depth and the plot might require some suspension of disbelief, but it could be a fun and exciting literary ride. Meyer’s work has taught me that really fine thrillers have well-drawn characters who act in credible ways. Well-written thrillers also have more depth to the plot than I’d thought before. I’m very glad to have learned that there’s a lot more to this sub-genre than I’d imagined.

I’d never thought of myself as a person who liked science fiction. I could appreciate some science fiction authors’ skilled writing, and there were some novels I liked. But as a genre? Not for me. Well… until a number of years ago when I read Isaac Asimov’s Elijah ‘Lije’ Baley series. Those novels are unquestionably science fiction. Yet they cross the line into crime fiction as well (for those unfamiliar with these novels, Baley is a New York police officer). And that fact tempted me to try the series. I’m very glad I did. I discovered that science fiction has a lot to offer. It invites us to speculate; it encourages us to think of solutions to real problems, and; it can be very well-written. Science fiction characters can be deep, human, and quite memorable, and the plots can be terrific. Just goes to show you how much I ‘knew’ before I read Asimov.

A similar thing happened with my assumptions about post-apocalyptic fiction. I never thought I’d enjoy it. I’m generally not one for that sort of bleak, sometimes despairing, story. So I’ve typically avoided it. Imagine my surprise when I read and enjoyed Alex Scarrow’s Last Light and Afterlight. Those novels take place in a world where the supply of oil has been cut off; so needless to say, it’s a very different world to the one we live in now. The story of how one family tries to make a life after this catastrophe was – surprise! – interesting and engaging, at least to me. There’s also Ben Winters’ trilogy featuring police detective Hank Palace. Imagine me, who ‘always knew’ exactly what post-apocalyptic fiction was about, drawn into a very real, human set of stories.

Does this all mean I’ll ‘click here to purchase’ every new adrenaline-loaded thriller, sci-fi or post-apocalypse novel? No. I’m still cautious about them and in general wouldn’t choose them first. But I am a lot more open to excellent stories told in those ways. Perhaps I can learn…

I’ve also learned about about different people and things that I always ‘knew’ about before. For example, my assumptions about the sex trade have been challenged in the last few years. I thought I knew ‘all about’ why people become commercial sex workers, and why other people hire them. I didn’t. It’s a complex business, and people get into it for a lot of different reasons. The people who engage in the trade are not all cut from the same proverbial cloth, and they don’t all have the same experiences. Work by Angela Savage (Behind the Night Bazaar), John Burdette (e.g. Bangkok 8), Timothy Hallinan (e.g. A Nail Through the Heart) and Jill Edmondson (Dead Light District and Frisky Business) have all invited me to question what ‘I always knew’ about that business.

There’s also the matter of what I always ‘knew’ about Native Americans and First Nations people. I had no idea how much I didn’t know and how much I wrongly assumed until I began to read the work of Tony Hillerman some years ago. I was invited to develop a whole new perspective on a group of people I only thought I understood. I felt the same way after reading Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series and Margaret Coel’s Vicky Holden/Fr. John O’Malley series. Oh, and there’s Scott Young’s novels and Stan Jones’, too. All of them have challenged my assumptions in a good way.

I could go on and on about things I’ve learned about history, other countries and so on that I always ‘knew’ before. I think you get the idea without that though. To me anyway, learning to question what I’ve always believed is one of the very good reasons for reading. What about you? Which novels and series have invited you to learn what you always ‘knew?’
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Stephen Schwartz and Alan Menken’s Colors of the Wind.

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Filed under Alex Scarrow, Angela Savage, Ben Winters, Craig Johnson, Deon Meyer, Isaac Asimov, Jill Edmondson, John Burdett, Margaret Coel, Scott Young, Stan Jones, Timothy Hallinan, Tony Hillerman

I’m Old-Fashioned*

Old FashionedIn many ways it’s good – very good – to live in modern times. There’s better technology, better medical care and lots of other societal improvements. And while there is still bigotry and that may always be, there are fewer ‘-isms’ that limit people now than there were. But some of those things we may think of as ‘old-fashioned’ can actually be pleasant. Here are just a few examples from crime fiction to show you some things that may be old-fashioned but that perhaps people actually miss…

In Agatha Christie’s The Murder on the Links, Captain Hastings is on his way back to London by train. Sitting in the same coach is a young woman who is in many ways very modern in her outlook. They strike up a conversation, and she pokes a little fun at him for his old-fashioned ways. But on a more serious note, she says,

 

‘You’ve been dug out of the backwoods, you have. Not that I mind that. We could do with a few more of your sort.

 

Hastings and the young woman, who calls herself ‘Cinderella,’ part company and at first it looks as though they won’t meet again. But when Hastings and Hercule Poirot travel to France to investigate the murder of Paul Renauld, Hastings and Cinderella have what you might call a reunion. Although she is a modern young woman, she appreciates Hastings’ somewhat traditional outlook on life.

Isaac Asimov is perhaps best known as an author of science fiction, but he also wrote detective stories, including a trilogy featuring New York City police officer Elijah ‘Lije’ Baley. In The Caves of Steel, Baley and his new partner R. Daneel Olivaw are assigned to investigate the murder of noted scientist Dr. Roj Nemennuh Sarton. This isn’t going to be an easy case though. For one thing, life is difficult in the futuristic New York that Asimov depicts. Earth has become overcrowded and most humans have little better than a subsistence lifestyle. For another, there is an ongoing feud, which sometimes flares, between Earthmen (descendants of those who never left the planet) and Spacers (descendants of those who have explored outside the planet). Baley is an Earthman and the victim was a Spacer. What’s worse, R. Daneel Olivaw is a positronic robot. If there’s anything that Earthman dislike more than Spacers, it’s robots. That’s because they are perceived as a threat to humans. Despite these challenges though, Baley and Olivaw work together to solve the murder. In one plot thread in this story, there is a real mistrust among humans of old-fashioned, traditional things such as spectacles (instead of contact lenses). In fact, the interest in such things is known as Medievalism and is regarded as holding people back. And yet, there is a secret group of people who think fondly of what even Baley admits were simpler times. The question of preserving these things forms an interesting layer in the story.

In some ways, Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse is old-fashioned. There are several examples of this in the series featuring him; we see one in The Daughters of Cain. In that novel, Morse and Sergeant Lewis are on the trail of the person who killed a former don Felix McClure. At first it seems that the murderer was McClure’s former scout Ted Brooks. But when he disappears and is later found dead, things aren’t quite that simple. In the course of the investigation, Morse meets Eleanor ‘Ellie’ Smith, a prostitute who may be connected with the case. The two develop an interest in each other despite the fact that she’s a suspect in a murder investigation. Smith is a very modern young woman. She wears nose rings, uses language that Morse would prefer a woman not use and so on. But at one point, he gets the chance to see her dressed more traditionally and without her nose rings and he admits he likes her better that way. For her part, Smith is attracted to Morse’s view of the world, even though she doesn’t really envision herself settling down, marrying and so on in the traditional way. Even Morse’s insistence on standard English doesn’t bother her…

Catherine O’Flynn’s What Was Lost is in part the story of what happens to a traditional English town when a new mall comes in. The story begins in 1984, when the Green Oaks Shopping Center opens. Ten-year-old Kate Meaney is a fledgling detective, and she’s sure that there’s lots of crime to investigate at the mall, so she spends a lot of time there. One day she goes missing and despite a thorough search, is never found. Her friend Adrian Palmer is blamed for her disappearance, although he claims innocence. He’s treated so badly though that he leaves town, vowing not to return. Twenty years later, his sister Lisa is working at a dead-end job at Green Oaks when she meets Kurt, a security guard who’s employed there. The two strike up an unlikely friendship and each in a different way, look back into the past to find out what really happened to Kate. One of the themes in this novel is what happened to traditional English ‘High Street’ shopping with the coming of the mall culture. And the mall that replaces those shops turns out to be somewhat ‘plastic’ as opposed to the more genuine shops. As we learn in the novel, the mall culture hasn’t really made life in the area better.

In one of Anthony Bidulka’s series, we get to know Russell Quant, a Saskatoon PI. One of Quant’s haunts is Colourful Mary’s, a local restaurant that serves ‘down home’ cooking. In fact, Quant describes it this way:

 

‘Marushka cooks like everyone’s mother, most notably her own. In addition to some rather standard fare for the less adventurous, Marushka always adds one or two Ukrainian delicacies to the daily menu…I like Colourful Mary’s…You feel cared for but not smothered. I’m also addicted to Marushka’s cooking.’

 

It’s not a formal restaurant, but it serves traditional, old-fashioned (i.e. not pre-packaged) food. Little wonder it’s so popular with customers.

Most people don’t think of millinery shops as exactly modern and up-to-date. But there’s nothing quite like the feeling of having a hat custom-designed for you. And that’s exactly the business that D.S. Nelson’s Blake Heatherington has been in for years. He’s very skilled at knowing exactly what kind of hat would best suit each client, and delights in making them. In Hats Off to Murder, One For the Rook, and soon Model For Murder, Heatherington puts those old-fashioned skills to use to when murder strikes first his shop and then his allotment. In some ways Heatherington is old-fashioned, but that’s precisely what makes his character appealing.

The ‘good old days’ certainly had many serious problems. I doubt most of us would want to go back. But if you’ve stayed at an old-fashioned hotel with old-fashioned customer service, you know how pleasant it can be. If you’ve been to a restaurant or shop with old-fashioned service, you know how pleasant that can be too. And old-fashioned courtesy on anyone’s part is a refreshing thing. Perhaps not all modern changes have been for the better…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Bidulka, Catherine O'Flynn, Colin Dexter, D.S. Nelson, Isaac Asimov

Exercise Your Freedom*

Stretch YourselfHave you ever ‘stretched yourself’ to read something that you don’t usually read? Even something that you thought you might not like? Sometimes ‘stretching’ like that can end up being disappointing if the book you choose to read isn’t well-written. I know that’s happened to me. But it’s surprising how often opening one’s mind a little and trying something new can be a really valuable experience. And one of the things about crime fiction is that it often addresses important issues that need to be addressed. ‘Stretching’ can encourage readers to think about things they hadn’t thought about before, in new ways. And for me anyway, that’s as good a reason as any for taking a chance on a book. Granted, there are some books we choose not to read, and that’s fine too. A reader has the right not to read something. Every once in a while, though, it’s helpful to dip a metaphorical toe in some new water. Let me just give a few examples of what I mean.

Readers who aren’t science fiction fans might be very reluctant to try Isaac Asimav’s Elijah ‘Lije’ Baley novels. After all, they do take place in a futuristic world, they involve positronic robots, and there’s a lot of gadgetry and science discussed in them. And yet, these are very much crime fiction novels. The series (The Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun and The Robots of Dawn) features New York detective Lije Baley, whose police partner is R. Daneel Olivaw, a positronic robot. In The Caves of Steel, they investigate the murder of a famous scientist. It’s actually an interesting ‘impossible-but-not-impossible’ sort of mystery. In The Naked Sun, they investigate the murder of Rikaine Delmarre, who operated the planetary birthing center of Solaria. As much as a discussion of what the future might hold (which it is), this novel is also a whodunit. So is The Robots of Dawn, in which Baley and Olivaw work to find out who destroyed the mind of Jander Panell, one of Olivaw’s colleagues. Rejecting these novels out of hand because they are science fiction might mean readers would miss out on a solid set of crime stories.

Ernesto Mallo’s  Needle in a Haystack is the story of Buenos Aires cop Venancio ‘Perro’ Lescano. The story takes place in 1979, a very dangerous time to live and work in Argentina. The military junta is in power and determined to stay there, and anyone suspected of not going along enthusiastically is in mortal danger. Against that backdrop, Lescano investigates the murder of Elías Biterman, a successful pawn shop owner. The authorities want very much for this to be put down as an Army hit, in which case no more will be said about it. But Lescano is sure that’s not true, and continues investigating. This novel is written in a very literary style, with innovative use of dialogue, tense and so on. In some places it’s almost poetic. Readers who usually wouldn’t be interested in a novel like that might put this one aside at first. But the story paints a compelling portrait of 1979 Buenos Aires and introduces us to (in my opinion anyway) a likeable protagonist. The novel also raises important and thought-provoking questions about class, government, repression and anti-Semitism among other things.

Sometimes trying something one hasn’t tried before lets one think about things in a new way. For instance, in Angela Savage’s Behind the Night Bazaar, Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney is visiting her friend Didier ‘Didi’ de Montpasse when his partner Nou is murdered. Then Didi himself is killed in what the police call an unfortunate incident of resisting arrest. They claim Didi was guilty of Nou’s murder and got violent when the police came to question him. But Keeney doesn’t believe any of that. Mostly in order to clear her friend’s name, she investigates the murders. She finds a connection between those killings and the Thai human trafficking and sex trades. This novel presents a complex and thought-provoking portrait of that trade, and doesn’t offer any easy answers. And that’s realistic because there aren’t any. It encourages the reader to really think through assumptions about how that trade starts, who keeps it going and what might be needed to stop it.

There’s also Y.A. Erskine’s The Brotherhood, in which Tasmania police sergeant John White is stabbed one morning as he and probationer Lucy Howard are investigating a break-in. The most likely suspect is seventeen-year-old Darren Rowley, who’s been in trouble with the law before. As the crime and its aftermath are depicted from different points of view, we get a very complex and provocative picture of life as a cop. How should juveniles be treated? What if they’re repeat offenders? How far should the police go in solving a crime? What about government policies? What if they don’t work, practically speaking? There are a lot of other issues discussed in this novel too.

That’s also the case in Kishwar Desai’s Witness the Night. That’s the story of the murder of thirteen members of the Atwal family in Jullundur, Punjab. The most likely suspect is fourteen-year-old Durga Atwal, who was there on the night of the murders. She hasn’t said anything about that night since she was arrested, so no-one knows for sure what happened. There’s enough confusion about the evidence that social worker Simran Singh is asked to return from her home in Delhi to Jullundar, where she grew up. It’s hoped that if she gets Durga to talk about that night, the police will get the answers they need. This novel isn’t a comfortable, easy read. It discusses issues such as class, sex roles, and corruption among other things. In fact, it may make readers uncomfortable. But those issues are important, and the novel addresses them clearly while still placing the main emphasis on what happened in the Atwal family.

It’s helpful for readers and (I think anyway) helpful for society when we try different kinds of books and topics. When we ‘stretch,’ we think about things in a new way, we grow, and sometimes, important things get discussed and addressed.

The only way we can continue to do this is to keep having access to a lot of books.  Even books we don’t like. Even books we would never read. When certain books are impossible to get, that weakens all of us. During this Banned Books Week, let me invite you to try a book you might not otherwise try. Let me also invite you to support access to books you never intend to read. Let’s keep the diversity in reading alive and support everyone’s right to read (or not read) any book.

 

 

 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Divine Comedy’s Love What You Do.

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Filed under Angela Savage, Ernesto Mallo, Isaac Asimov, Kishwar Desai, Y.A. Erskine