Category Archives: James Lee Burke

We Can Discover the Wonders of Nature*

natural-restorativeIf you’ve read novels featuring Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, you’ll know that she’s very fond of her garden. Admittedly, she likes the opportunity that gardening gives her to – erm – observe others. But she also likes being outdoors when the weather allows it.

She’s not alone. There’s actually credible research that suggests that we all benefit in many ways (cognitive, emotional, and more) from being in nature. In fact, research that a colleague and friend has done suggests that children learn better, have fewer mental and other health problems, and are more creative if they are out in nature. And that’s only a few of the benefits. That may be one reason so many of us were told to ‘run outdoors and play’ when we were young.

Certainly being outdoors, without electronics, can be a real restorative. So it’s not surprising that we see plenty of cases of sleuths who like their time in nature. For instance, in Dorothy Sayers’ Have His Carcase, mystery novelist Harriet Vane is recovering from the traumatic experience of being charged with murder (read Strong Poison for the details of that). She decides to take a break from the world by going on a hiking holiday near Wilvercombe. And at first, she does find it both relaxing and restorative. It helps her get some perspective, as nature tends to do. One afternoon, she stops to take a rest near a beach. When she wakes up, the tide is out, and she sees the body of a dead man. She alerts the authorities, who begin the investigation. The man is soon identified as Paul Alexis, a Russian-born professional dancer who works at a nearby hotel. Before long, Lord Peter Wimsey joins Vane, and together, they work to find out who would have wanted to kill the victim. It turns out that there are several possibilities.

The central focus of Ruth Rendell’s Road Rage has to do with Framhurst Great Wood, which lies near the town of Kingsmarkham. There’s a plan to run a road through the wood, and plenty of people are upset about it. And that includes Inspector Reg Wexford. He’s resigned to the development, but he’s not happy about it:

‘When I retire, he had told his wife, I want to live in London so that I can’t see the countryside destroyed.’

He’s not alone. Many people love the forest, and don’t want to see it ruined. Several activist groups arrive in the area to protest the new road, and Wexford knows there’s going to be trouble. Matters get far worse when the situation disintegrates to a hostage-taking incident. What’s more, one of the hostages is Wexford’s own wife, Dora. Then there’s a murder. Now Wexford and his team have to solve the murder as well as try to find a way to free the hostages.

Louise Penny’s Armand Gamache enjoys spending time in nature, too. In fact, in A Rule Against Murder, he and his wife, Reine-Marie, travel to the Manoir Bellechasse for an annual getaway to celebrate their anniversary. It’s a time for them to get away from it all, and at first, it’s a wonderful trip:

‘One day rolled gently into the next as the Gamaches swam in Lac Massawippi and went for leisurely walks through the fragrant woods.’

They enjoy themselves thoroughly until they begin to get to know the dysfunctional Finney family, who are also staying at the lodge. Then, there’s a murder. Now Gamache finds that his peaceful, natural retreat is anything but.

Fans of James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux can tell you that, in the first novels in the series, he lives in a small, rural home on a bayou where he operates a fish dock. Later, he lives in a house that’s a little less rural, but not far away from the bayou. Robicheaux often finds peace when he simply spends time out on a lake, away from ‘it all.’ Although he’s not an eco-warrior, he understands the value of nature’s rhythms, and some of nature’s healing power. And Burke’s descriptions share that natural beauty with the reader.

Many indigenous cultures are infused with the understanding of how important a connection with nature really is. Fans of Tony Hillerman’s Jim Chee, or of Arthur Upfield’s Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte can tell you that those sleuths pay very close attention to nature, and are attuned to its rhythms. They connect on a regular basis with the natural world.

So does Adrian Hyland’s Emily Tempest. In Diamond Dove (AKA Moonlight Downs), we learn that she spent her childhood among her mother’s Aborigine people:

‘…my little mob and I would hunt in the hills, fish in the creeks, climb the skeletal trees, scour the countryside on horses borrowed from the stock camps.’

Emily ended up being sent away to boarding school in Adelaide, but she returns to the Moonlight Downs encampment and finds a place to belong. And she reconnects in this novel and in Gunshot Road with the natural world.

Even dedicated city dwellers know how restorative it can be to take a walk in a park, listen to birds, grow plants, or sit watching the sea. For instance, there isn’t a much more determined ‘city person’ than Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe. But fans know that he gets his ‘nature fix,’ too. He spends a few hours each day with his orchids. If you find that being in nature calms you and helps you focus, well, the research supports you. Little wonder we see so many fictional sleuths who know that.

Speaking of nature…just for fun, can you spot the baby lizard in the ‘photo (You can click on the ‘photo to enlarge it if you like)?


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Grateful Dead’s Sugar Magnolia.


Filed under Adrian Hyland, Agatha Christie, Arthur Upfield, Dorothy Sayers, James Lee Burke, Louise Penny, Rex Stout, Ruth Rendell, Tony Hillerman

Still the Rain Kept Pourin’ *

hurricanesHave you ever experienced a hurricane (they’re also called typhoons and cyclones, depending on where you live)? I have, and trust me, they can be frightening. On the one hand, people do now get advance warning about hurricanes, so that there’s a little time to evacuate if that’s necessary, or to lay in supplies, fasten the hurricane shutters and wait the storm out.

But the fact is, no matter how prepared one is, a hurricane is a furious storm. That’s even more the case if people don’t have the means or the infrastructure to withstand that kind of weather. As dangerous as hurricanes can be, they can make for a very effective context for a crime novel. There’s the element of danger, and there’s the suspense. All sorts of things can happen in a hurricane, too. So it’s no wonder that we see them in the genre.

Before he began his Travis McGee series, John D. MacDonald wrote several standalone novels that most people consider hardboiled. One of them was Murder in the Wind. In that novel, Hurricane Hilda forms, and slowly moves from the Caribbean towards Florida. As it does, many people try to leave the area and outrun the storm. The plot of this novel features six carloads of people who are driving north of Tampa when the bridge over the Waccasassa River goes out. Unable to turn back, they take shelter in an abandoned house to wait out the storm. As you can imagine, when a group of different sorts of characters is thrown together, anything can happen. And as MacDonald shows us, the storm itself adds to the conflict. I know, I know, fans of Condominium.

James Lee Burke’s The Tin Roof Blowdown takes place in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Many people have been left stranded by the high water, and Father Jude Le Blanc sets off in a boat to try to save some of his parishioners. He goes missing (and has presumably been shot), and the boat he was using ends up in the hands of looters, police detective Dave Robicheaux makes a connection between them and Le Blanc’s disappearance. Since they two were old friends, Robicheaux feels an especially strong need to find out what happened to the priest. Among other things, this novel shows the devastation that was left behind after Katrina, especially in poor and remote areas.

In Fly on the Wall, Mike Hirsh introduces volunteer Sheriff’s Deputy Paul ‘Fly’ Moscone. He’s retired from his job selling mainframe computers, and moved to Punta Gorda, Florida. Now, he works a few days a week as ‘an extra body on the streets.’  When Hurricane Charley slams through the area, there’s a lot of damage and chaos. And in its aftermath, there’s a dead body: wealthy John Catlett. His body is found in his upmarket apartment, and at first, it’s not clear that it’s a murder. But Moscone isn’t completely convinced, and he and his buddy Jinx, a recovering reporter, look into the matter. One of the other plot points in the novel is that someone has apparently been targeting the insurance claim adjusters who always move in on a hurricane-hit area. It’s an interesting look at that aspect of making it through this sort of weather.

Chris Grabenstein’s Free Fall doesn’t, admittedly, take place during a hurricane. But the fictional town of Sea Haven, New Jersey is one of many, many towns that were severely impacted by Superstorm Sandy. So, at the beginning of the novel, police detective Danny Boyle and John Ceepak, his former boss, now Chief of Detectives, are faced with budget cuts and a limited police force. All of this has come from trying to repair the damage and open the town for the all-important summer tourist season. One day, Boyle and his new partner are on patrol when they get a call about an alleged assault. The supposed assailant is Christine Lemonopolous, a friend of Boyle’s. She claims to be innocent, and Ceepak and Boyle believe her. Then, one of Christine’s home health care patients dies. Now the two detectives have to face the possibility that they’ve let a killer loose. This novel mentions, among other things, what it takes to get a place working again after a major storm.

There’s also David Holmberg’s The Hurricane Murders, which takes place in 1998. In that novel, Hurricane Angela strikes the West Palm Beach/Palm Beach, Florida area. Journalist Jake Arnett has been ‘sentenced to paradise,’ and now lives in West Palm Beach. In the aftermath of the hurricane, Arnett is assigned to the story when the bodies of Diane and Carolyn Madigan are found in their apartment. Both have been shot, and there are no signs of forced entry. So the police and Arnett start by looking among the people the victims knew. Arnett slowly builds a portrait of the women, the people they’d met, and the places they’d been. And in the end, he finds out who the killer is.

Jane Harrod’s Deadly Deceit finds British Diplomat Jess Turner on temporary assignment at the Governor’s Office of the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) in the Caribbean. She arrives to the terrible news that the Governor’s been in an awful hit-and-run accident, and been rushed away for emergency surgery. It’s not long, though, before Jess finds that this was no accident. In the meantime, Australian DI Tom Sangster is in Miami for talks on global solutions to criminal gangs who engage in smuggling migrants. Jess is a friend of his, so when he learns she’s in the Caribbean, he visits her to find out how the British government manages the problem in the islands, especially immigration from nearby Haiti. While he’s visiting her, there’s a brutal murder.  And an approaching hurricane means he and Jess are not going to have much time to look into the secrets the island is hiding. The storm certainly adds a layer of urgency to the story.

Real-life hurricanes can do an immense amount of damage. And as you know, Hurricane Matthew has shown us all very recently just how awful a hurricane can be. It’s not just a matter of providing physical shelter for people. It’s water, tents, medicine, food that’s not contaminated, functioning hospitals and more.

You can do something to help those who’ve been so badly affected by the hurricane. This is important in all the areas impacted, but perhaps especially in Haiti, where there’s little infrastructure and less money. How can you help? Check out the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund. G’wan, click it. I have it on trustworthy authority that this is a reliable way to do your part for those in so much need.

You can also donate to the Red Cross, which is helping those who’ve lost so much in Haiti, and in the US. Don’t live in the US? No problem. There’s a Red Cross in your country. Perhaps you can’t hop on a plane and go rebuild. But you can help.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Creedance Clearwater Revival’s Who’ll Stop the Rain?


Filed under Chris Grabenstein, David Holmberg, James Lee Burke, Jane Harrod, John D. MacDonald, Mike Hirsh

Sister Mary Used To Be a Nun*

Former NunsAn interesting post from Moira at Clothes in Books has got me thinking about women who join a convent, but then later, decide to leave it. Nuns who choose to leave the convent have to re-accustom themselves to the outside world, and that’s not always easy. But they have an interesting perspective on both the religious life and the secular life. There are several such characters in crime fiction. Here are few; I know you’ll think of others.

In Catherine Aird’s The Religious Body, Inspector D.C. Sloan and his assistant, Constable William Crosby, investigate a mysterious death at the Convent of St. Anselm. Sister Mary St. Anne (Sister Anne)’s body has been found at the bottom of the basement staircase, and it’s soon clear that this was no accident. One of the lines of investigation that Sloan has to follow is the network of relationships among the nuns. To get a perspective on that, and on the victim’s interactions with the others, he turns to the former Sister Bertha, now once again using her birth name of Eileen Lome. She’s been out of the convent less than a month, and still finds everything very, very different. What she tells the Sloan doesn’t solve the murder. But it does give an important perspective on Sister Anne’s personality and background. And it provides readers with an interesting look at what it’s like to leave the convent.

Marian Babson’s Untimely Guest is the story of a staunchly Catholic Irish family, headed by a strong-willed matriarch known only as Mam. Mam’s adult sons Kevin and Patrick are married and have their own families. Her daughter Dee Dee has committed what, for Mam, is the terrible sin of getting divorced. Her daughter Veronica lives at home and cares for her. The whole family is rocked when Mam’s daughter Bridget ‘Bridie’ returns to the family after ten years in a convent. Financial problems have meant the closure of the convent, and Bridie really has nowhere else to go. Besides having to adjust to the outside world again, Bridie’s going to find it extremely difficult to tell the truth to Mam, since it was Mam who was determined she’d enter the convent in the first place. As it happens, Dee Dee also returns to the family, hoping to introduce them to her new fiancé. All the ingredients are there for a family feud, and that’s exactly what happens. Then one day, Dee Dee takes a tragic fall down a staircase and dies. But was it an accident? And if it wasn’t, which family member is responsible?

Fans of James Lee Burke’s Louisiana police detective Dave Robicheaux will know that, in Crusader’s Cross, he investigates the 50-year-old murder of a prostitute. In the course of that, he goes up against the powerful and wealthy Chalon family. And it turns out, they’ve had some run-ins before with one Sister Molly Boyle, who runs a group that builds houses for the poor and homeless. So he follows up that lead by meeting Sister Molly and talking to her. That interview is the beginning of what turns into a romance between them. Fans will know, too, that she later leaves the convent and becomes Robicheaux’s wife.

In Gene Kerrigan’s Rage, Dublin DS Bob Tidey and Garda Rose Cheney investigate the murder Emmet Sweetman, a banker who was murdered, execution-style, in his own home. In the meantime, Vincent Naylor has recently been released from prison. Now he re-connects with his girlfriend, Michelle Flood, his brother Noel, and some of his friends. Together, they plan a heist that will set them all up financially. The target is to be a van belonging to Protectica, a security company that transports money among banks. The Naylor brothers and their friends duly pull off the heist. But then there’s a tragedy that changes everything. In the midst of it all, and a link between these cases, is a former nun named Maura Cody. She has her own secrets, and her own private reasons for leaving the convent. Something she sees draws her into Tidey’s investigations, and makes her vulnerable. So Tidey and Cheney determine to do everything possible to keep her safe.

There are also some series with former nuns as protagonist. For example, there’s Alice Loweecey’s series featuring Giulia Falcone, whom we meet in Force of Habit. In that novel, we learn that she’s recently left the convent and gone to work for Driscoll Investigations, which is run by former cop Frank Driscoll. The main plot in this novel features wealthy Blake Parker and his fiancée, who’ve been getting some disturbing ‘gifts.’ But woven throughout the novel is also Falcone’s process of getting used to the outside world again. As the series goes on, she gets more accustomed to it, and more streetwise, and that evolution of her character adds a layer to the novels. Oh, and it’s also worth noting that Loweecey herself is a former nun.

There’s also Lee Harris’ (AKA Syrell Leahy) Christine Bennett series. Bennett is a former nun who lived at St. Stephen’s Convent, and taught English. Now she’s moved to Oakwood, in upstate New York, and lives in her now-deceased Aunt Margaret’s house. In The Good Friday Murder, where we first meet her, Bennet attends a town meeting where one point of contention is the planned relocation of Greenwillow Institution to the town. For Bennett, this has personal implications, since her cousin, Gene, is a resident in the institution, and she is his legal guardian. Through Gene, Bennett has gotten to know a pair of savant twins with mental retardation who were convicted many years earlier of murdering their mother. Now senior citizens, they’ve become friends to Bennett, and she doesn’t think they’re guilty of murder. The institution needs support for its plan to move to Oakwood, and Bennett is a connection between the two. So she agrees to look into that old murder case to try to exonerate the twins. Along with the murder investigation, readers also get a look at what it’s like to readjust to the outside world after a long time ‘away.’

There are plenty of other crime novels and series that include this sort of character. Which ones have stayed with you?

Thanks, Moira, for the inspiration. Now, may I suggest your next blog visit be Clothes in Books? A treasure trove of posts about clothes and popular culture in fiction, and what it all means about us, awaits you.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jewel Kilcher’s Everybody Needs Someone Sometime.



Filed under Alice Loweecey, Catherine Aird, Gene Kerrigan, James Lee Burke, Lee Harris, Marian Babson, Syrell Leahy

It Was the Third of June, Another Sleepy, Dusty Delta Day*

Some Sothern Crime FictionAs you’ll no doubt know, there are a lot of important regional differences in the US. You can hear it in the way people speak, and you can see it clearly in the way people live their lives. One of the very distinctive regions in the US is the American South. Of course, there are differences even among various parts of the South. That said, though, there are certain things that the different areas of the South seem to have in common. There’s plenty of crime fiction set in different places in the American South, and those novels reflect the various aspects of Southern culture.

One important element that we see in crime novels that take place in the South is a focus on the local (rather than, say, on the regional or national). For instance, in novels such as John Grisham’s A Time to Kill and Elmore Leonard’s Maximum Bob, there’s a real emphasis on local judges, local authorities and so on. In A Time to Kill (which takes place in Mississippi), local attorney Jake Brigance takes the case of Carl Lee Hailey, who’s been arrested for murdering the two men responsible for beating and raping his ten-year-old daughter. The case gets a lot of state and even national media attention. There’s talk, too, about ‘importing’ attorneys on both sides of the case. What’s interesting is that almost no-one in town wants outsiders involved. There’s plenty of feeling on both sides of the case, but one thing everyone seems to have in common is that it’s a local matter that should be handled that way. It’s a clearly-articulated bias.

That focus on the local is also clear in Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman. In one plot thread of that novel (which takes place twenty years after the events of Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird), there’s a discussion of the NAACP. Even those characters who aren’t fanatically racist are concerned about national-level groups and authorities getting involved in local affairs. There’s a sense that people who don’t know anything about life in that area are trying to dictate what will happen there.

Lee’s novels also reflect a very clear social structure. Blacks and whites live in completely different worlds, and their experiences are quite distinct. So do wealthy whites and those whites who live in poverty. We see that also in Attica Locke’s novels Black Water Rising and Pleasantville. Both of these novels feature Houston-area attorney Jay Porter, who is black. In one plot thread of Black Water Rising, for instance, Porter works with his father-in-law on a case involving local longshoremen. One union, the Brotherhood of Longshoremen (BoL) represents black longshoreman. The other, the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) is white. The BoL wants pay and other parity with its counterparts in the ILA, and the matter has escalated into violence. If this issue isn’t resolved soon, then both groups will be at a serious disadvantage in an upcoming strike that’s being planned. Somehow, Porter has to find a way to get the groups to cooperate.

In this novel (which takes place in 1981), and in Lee’s work, we see how the South is trying to face its history of racism. It’s a slow, painful, sometimes ugly process. We see that legacy and that difficult process in Deborah Johnson’s The Secret of Magic. In that novel, which takes place just after World War II, Regina Robichard travels from New York, where she works for the Legal Defense Fund, to Revere, Mississippi. She’s drawn there by a letter from a reclusive author who’s asked for someone to investigate the murder of a black veteran, Joe Howard Wilson. As she looks for the truth, Robichard learns that racism is complex, and that it’s not just a ‘Southern problem.’ She also learns that people are multidimensional, too, and not ‘all good’ or ‘all bad.’

Barbara Neely’s Blanche White novels also reflect a clear social structure. Blanche is a black professional housekeeper; most of her employers are white. As she works in different households, we can see that she and her employers move in different worlds. Blanche has social connections among other blacks in the area, and has created her own supportive network, independent of her white employers. What’s important to note here, too, is that it’s not just race that divides people; it’s also socioeconomic status. Wealthy whites move in very different circles to those who are not.

In several of the novels I’ve mentioned, churches are shown as critical parts of social life in the South. And they’re not just places of worship (although they are that, of course). In both A Time to Kill and Black Water Rising, they are also sources of support, places of political and social activism, and more. In fact, when a family is in need, it’s often members of the local church who help out, whether it’s bringing food, helping to rebuild a burned-out home, or consoling people after a bereavement.

Along with the focus on the local, and the social connections, many crime novels set in the American South reflect the smaller-town tradition of everyone knowing everyone. Of course, that doesn’t apply in large cities such as Atlanta. In many novels, though, it’s very clear that there’s a focus on people’s relationships with each other. Julia Keller’s Bell Elkins series, for instance, takes place in the small West Virginia town of Acker’s Gap. People shop at stores owned by acquaintances, friends and relatives. The person who sells you your car might be your best friend’s brother-in-law, and so on. Those connections are an important part of life, and nearly everyone is woven into the social fabric. You see that, also, in Elizabeth Spann Craig’s series featuring retired English teacher Myrtle Clover, and in her series featuring art expert Beatrice Coleman.

Sometimes those connections go back a very long way, too, so it’s not surprising that many crime novels set in the South focus on past/present links. That’s certainly true of Sarah R. Shaber’s Simon Shaw novels. Shaw is a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, who’s chosen to teach at Kenan College, a small school in North Carolina. The mysteries he investigates link past events and relationships to the present. And we see how, in some places, the past, even from over a century ago, is never very far away.

We also see that mix of past/present connections and local social networks in Tom Franklin’s Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. In that novel, an event from twenty-five years ago still impacts local opinion in the small town of Chabot, Mississippi. Silas Jones grew up there, but left years ago. Now he’s back as the town’s constable, and is drawn into the case of a young woman who’s disappeared. The most likely suspect is Larry Ott, whom many people blame for another disappearance that took place twenty-five years ago. The past plays a key role in the way people feel about Ott, and in the way they feel about Jones, too.

There are many other crime novels set in the South (I know, fans of James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux series – sorry!). I’ll bet you could list more of them than I ever could. It’s a unique place, with a lot of history, and it’s been the setting for a lot of fine crime fiction.



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bobbie Gentry’s Ode to Billie Joe.


Filed under Attica Locke, Barbara Neely, Deborah Johnson, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Elmore Leonard, Harper Lee, James Lee Burke, John Grisham, Julia Keller, Sarah R. Shaber, Tom Franklin

We Can Learn From Each Other*

Cultural NexusOne of the plot threads in Ausma Zehanat Khan’s The Unquiet Dead concerns the Andalusia Museum, a Toronto facility which is designed to celebrate the nexus of cultures in the Spanish region of Andalusia, especially during the Islamic Empire. Inspector Esa Khattak and Sergeant Rachel Getty take an interest in the place when they investigate the murder of a major donor. It’s run by Mink Norman, who is passionate about that nexus. Here’s what she says about it:

‘‘Moorish architects designing a Jewish place of worship on Christian soil. Can you imagine such a sharing of religious space today?’’

That’s a very clear example of the way a variety of different cultures co-existed in that place at that time. And what’s interesting is, they didn’t just co-exist. They shared ideas and learned from each other. It wasn’t a question of members of different cultures who lived in the same city; you can see that in a lot of large, modern cities. Instead, it was a place where the cultures really blended.

Andalusia is a powerful example of a nexus of cultures, but it’s not the only one. And it’s very interesting to see how that sort of blending of cultures is portrayed in crime fiction. It can make for a compelling and interesting setting.

The region where I live, in Southern California, is arguably such a place. There’s a really interesting interconnection here of the traditional Spanish ‘mission’ culture, the more modern Mexican culture, and the dominant US culture. There are other influences,too. If you’ve been in this area, you’ve probably noticed it yourself. And there are several crime fiction authors who capture that blend in their work. For example, Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch goes to several different places in Southern California as a part of the cases he works. In The Black Ice, he goes to the border towns of Calexico (California) and Mexicali (Mexico) in search of answers about the death of a fellow police officer, Calexico ‘Cal’ Moore. In fact, as we learn in the novel, Moore himself is a product of that nexus. You can also see this cultural blend in the work of Ross Macdonald, whose Lew Archer lives and works in the same area.

Another place where one can see that sort of infusion of many cultures is in the US state of Louisiana. As you’ll no doubt know, one group of people who’ve had a profound influence there is the Acadians, French speakers who were exiled from the eastern provinces of Canada. Today they’re known as Cajuns, and their language, music, food and culture are an important part of, especially, the southern parts of Louisiana. Just ask James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux. He’s a Cajun who works for the New Iberia Police, and in the novels that feature him, we see a great deal of that culture. But we also see the other cultures that have blended into that part of Louisiana. For instance, there’s the influence of voodoo and other spiritual influence from Africa and the Caribbean (I invite you to check A Morning For Flamingos for interesting mentions of that). There are also many, many characters in the novels who are members of the black culture that has also profoundly influenced the region. There are other influences, too, and they’ve all contributed to the unique way of life there.

Shamini Flint’s series features Singapore-based Inspector Singh. He is a Sikh, although he doesn’t exactly observe the religion to the letter. Malaysia, where Singh lives, is another fascinating example of a nexus of cultures. There is influence from India (Singh even travels to India in A Curious Indian Cadaver). There is also Dutch influence, dating from the time of European exploration. There’s also a lot of influence from China (that link is clear in A Calamitous Chinese Killing). These and other cultures have all played important roles in life in Malaysia, and that’s evident in this series.

Another place where we see that sharing of cultures is Cape Town. There is Dutch influence (it was a Dutch colony), and English influence, too. There’s also indigenous influence from the people who were always there, and from indigenous groups who came later. There’ve also been many contributions from French Huguenots who made their way there as a result of religious wars in France. Despite apartheid, those different cultures influenced each other, learned from each other, and so on. We see that particular nexus in Deon Meyer’s work. In Meyer’s Benny Griessel novels and his standalones, we see that blending. Fans of Roger Smith’s work will know that we can also see what a cultural crucible Cape Town is in those stories.

There are other places, too, where different cultures have co-existed, have learned from one another and have benefited from the interactions. In those cases, the whole of a place is much more than the sum of its parts, as you might say. That certainly isn’t to say that it happens without tension, and even conflict – quite the contrary at times. But over time, and in the larger sense, that sort of co-existence can lead to a unique sort of setting. And it can serve as a fascinating context for a crime novel. Which ones have stayed with you?



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Hooters’ All Around the Place.


Filed under Ausma Zehanat Khan, Deon Meyer, James Lee Burke, Michael Connelly, Roger Smith, Ross Macdonald, Shamini Flint