Category Archives: James Lee Burke

I’m Just Beginning to Live*

When something tragic or traumatic happens, it can be hard to start over again. There are, of course, people who react to life’s blows by looking for comfort at the bottom of a bottle. But a lot of people find other ways to come back to life, so to speak, when something terrible happens. People’s ways of starting to feel alive again can vary quite a lot, depending on the person.

Those different ways of starting to heal can add an interesting layer of character development in a story. They’re realistic, too. People do try to start over again – and not always in self-destructive ways – when terrible things happen. And they’re a natural fit for a crime novel, since there’s often tragedy in those stories.

In Agatha Christie’s Sad Cypress, for instance, Elinor Carlisle is arrested and tried for the poisoning murder of Mary Gerrard. And there’s plenty of evidence against her, too. For one thing, Elinor’s former fiancé, Roderick ‘Roddy’ Welman, had fallen in love with the victim (hence, the end of the engagement). For another, Elinor’s wealthy Aunt Laura had become very fond of Mary, and there was a real possibility that Mary might inherit the old woman’s fortune instead of Elinor. But local GP Dr. Peter Lord has fallen in love with Elinor and wants her acquitted. He asks Hercule Poirot to investigate, and Poirot agrees. As you can imagine, it’s a horrible and traumatic experience to be tried for murder, and it’s not spoiling the story to say that at the end of it, Elinor needs desperately to start over. So, she decides to spend some time in a sanatorium, where she can have peace and quiet. The implication is, too, that she and Peter Lord will stay connected.

James Lee Burke’s police detective Dave Robicheaux sometimes wants peace and quiet, too, when he needs to heal – which is often. In A Morning For Flamingos, for instance, he and his police partner, Lester Benoit, are transferring two prisoners to Louisiana’s state prison at Angola, where they are slated to be executed. During the trip, the prisoners escape, and one of them kills Benoit and leaves Robicheaux for dead. Not only is Robicheaux badly injured, but he’s grieving the loss of his partner. He needs to heal, so he decides to take some time to go fishing, spend extra time with his daughter, Alafair, and do routine tasks at the police department when he’s physically ready for that.

‘My life became as bland and unremarkable as the season was soft and warm and transitory.’

Connecting with the outdoors, with his daughter, and with an almost humdrum routine helps Robicheaux start to put some pieces together. His healing time doesn’t last, though, as he’s recruited to help bring down a New Orleans crime boss named Tony Cardo.

Tony Hillerman’s Jim Chee is a member of the Navajo Nation, and of the Navajo Tribal Police (now the Navajo Nation Police). Although he negotiates the dominant-culture world when he has to, Chee is, in many ways, traditional. In fact, at the beginning of the series, he is studying to be a yata’ali – a singer/healer. Even later in the series, when that study is less of priority, Chee follows many of the traditional Navajo ways, and that helps him heal when life hurts him. More than once, readers follow as he uses Navajo rituals to regain focus, heal, and reconnect with nature. They help him to feel the peace and harmony with the world’s rhythms that he needs to come back to life.

In a similar way, Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon feels the need to reconnect with nature. In Track of the Cat, the first in the Anna Pigeon series, we learn some of her backstory. She and her beloved husband lived in New York City, where she lived a socialite’s sort of life. Then, her husband was tragically killed. Devastated by her loss, she needed to find something to help her put herself back together. So, she connected with animals and the rest of nature, and became a US Park Ranger. As the series goes on, she starts to come back to life, and develops a real feel for nature’s rhythms. That focus helps her to feel alive again.

And then there’s Finn Bell’s Dead Lemons. In it, we are introduced to thirty-seven-year-old Finn Bell, who has come to a crossroads in his life. His marriage has ended, and he admits that a lot of the reason for that is his own fault. He’s also lost the use of his legs as the result of a car crash. He needs to start over, so he buys a cottage in the small town of Riverton, on New Zealand’s South Island. He soon gets drawn into a murder mystery when he learns about the history of his cottage, and how it’s related to a missing child and her father. One of the ways in which he starts to put the pieces together again is through a game called Murderball (wheelchair rugby). Through it, he meets others, gets some exercise, enjoys the competition, and finds a healthy outlet for his bitterness and anger. Playing Murderball doesn’t solve all of his problems. And it doesn’t solve the murder mystery. But it does help him start to heal.

And that’s the thing about gardening, or a sport, or nature, or….  When tragedy strikes, we all need to start over and find something to connect us again. And it’s interesting to see how that process happens in crime fiction.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Until the Night.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Finn Bell, James Lee Burke, Nevada Barr, Tony Hillerman

Gonna Make a (Jailbreak)*

Prison isn’t exactly a nice place to be. So, most people don’t want to go there. And, if they’re there, they don’t want to stay there. That’s one reason there are prison guards, security procedures, and so on. Despite those measures, though, people do escape from custody. With today’s technology, it’s not easy to do. But it does happen.

And it certainly happens in crime fiction. A prison escape can add some real tension to a story. And it can add a solid plot point, too. It’s a scenario that’s got to be done well if it’s going to be credible. But when it is, prison escape can work quite effectively in a crime story.

For instance, In Agatha Christie’s Sanctuary, vicar’s wife Diana ‘Bunch’ Howard goes to the local church to see to the flowers. When she gets there, she discovers to her shock that there’s a badly wounded man huddled on the floor. She’s too late to save his life, but, before he dies, the man says, ‘Sancturay.’ At first, it looks as though the man committed suicide. But if so, why choose an out-of-the-way country church? The dead man is identified as William Sandbourne when his sister and her husband contact the police station. But something about this couple doesn’t seem quite right to Bunch, and she asks her godmother, Miss Marple, for help. It turns out that things are not at all what they seem. This death was definitely a murder, and it’s related to a jewel theft and a prison escapee named Walter St. John.

C.B. Gilford’s short story Swamp Rat begins just after nineteen-year-old Claude Wetzel escapes from prison. He knows that if he can just get through the swamp that surrounds the prison, he has a chance to make it to a road and then to freedom. It’s not going to be easy, though. The prison guards are out in full, with trained dogs. And Wetzel has no money, no extra clothes, and no form of transportation other than his own legs. He’s discovered by an old man who lives in the swamp – a man who calls himself Dad. And it looks as though Wetzel might actually make it to the road. But things quickly get more complicated, and Wetzel will have to think fast if he’s going to survive.

Jeffery Deaver’s The Sleeping Doll features interrogator Kathryn Dance of the California Bureau of Investigation. She’s assigned to interview Daniel Pell, the leader of a Manson-like cult. He’s in prison for the murders of several members of the Croyton family eight years earlier. It’s believed that Pell and his ‘family’ are also responsible for a recently-discovered murder, and Dance’s job is to try to determine whether that’s true. But Pell escapes from prison. Now, more murders begin to occur, and it looks as though Pell is carrying out a vendetta against anyone who’s ever gotten in his way – including Dance and her family.

As James Lee Burke’s A Morning For Flamingos begins, New Iberia, Louisiana police detective Dave Robicheaux and his partner, Lester Benoit, are preparing to transport two convicts to Louisiana’s Angola State Penitentiary. One is Tee Beau Latiolais; the other is Jimmie Lee Boggs. Both of these men have been convicted of murder and are being sent to Death Row to await execution. While Robicheaux and Benoit are en route to Angola with their charges, Boggs manages to escape, which also frees Latiolais. Boggs kills Benoit, and badly wounds Robicheaux, leaving him for dead. But Robicheaux survives. And, when he gets the chance to catch Jimmie Lee Boggs, he can’t resist. It will mean, though, that he has to get close to, and then bring down, New Orleans crime boss Tony Cardo. And in the end, that proves to be a very complicated task.

Barbara Neely’s Blanche on the Lam introduces us to professional housekeeper Blanche White. As the story begins, she’s been arrested for writing bad checks, and the judge has just sentenced her to jail time. As Blanche sees it, she cannot go to jail because that will leave her unable to care for her sister’s two children, who see her as more a mother than an aunt. Desperate to do something – anything – to get out of her predicament, Blanche tricks the guard who’s supposed to be watching her and makes her escape. Then, she takes a temporary housekeeping job that she believes will allow her to hide out for a bit until she can work out what to do about her money problems. Her new employers have secrets of their own, and it’s not long before Blanche is caught up in a case of murder.

And then there’s Roger Smith’s Dust Devils. Journalist Robert Dell is taking a drive one day outside of Cape Town. With him are his wife, Rosie, and their two children. Suddenly, the family is ambushed and the car plunges over an embankment. Only Dell survives, and he is injured. Soon, the police go after Dell, insisting that he killed his family members. He knows he is innocent, but that doesn’t stop him being found guilty in a frame-up. What Dell doesn’t know at first is that his estranged father, Bobby Goodbread, has found out what happened. Goodbread engineers his son’s escape, and the two leave Cape Town. The two men have very different attitudes about many things, most especially apartheid (Goodbread mourns its passing; Dell has the opposite point of view). Despite their differences, though, they start to work together. For different reasons, they’re both looking for the man who killed Dell’s family, so they towards Zululand, where their quarry lives. Along the way, they find much more danger than they’d imagined.

Escaping from custody isn’t easy. Neither is writing about it in a credible way. But, when it’s done well, a prison escape really can add to a story. These are just a few examples. Over to you.


*NOTE: The title of this song is a line from AC/DC’s Jailbreak.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Barbara Neely, C.B. Gilford, James Lee Burke, Jeffery Deaver, Roger Smith

They Fight Over Turf, They Fight Over Land*

Land is a very valuable commodity in a lot of places. That’s especially true if the land has special significance, or if there is a valuable resource on it (e.g. oil or minerals). So, it’s little wonder that there are sometimes disputes over who actually owns a piece of land, or has the right to use it.

Some of those land disputes are relatively minor (e.g. is that tree on my property, or does it belong to the people next door?). In those cases, the dispute can often be settled peacefully, if not amicably. But other land disputes are more far-reaching, and have more consequences. They can cause serious conflict in real life, and they can add tension and plot lines to a novel. For a whodunit crime novel, a land dispute can even add a motive for murder.

There’s an interesting take on land use in Hake Talbot’s Rim of the Pit. In that novel, a group of people gather at a New England property called Cabrioun, the home of Frank and Irene Ogden. The Ogdens own a specialty wood production business with a family friend, Luke Latham. The business depends on a certain sort of wood that’s now no longer available on the Ogden land. The only solution is a piece of land called Onawa, which does have the proper wood. Irene Ogden says that she inherited Onawa from her first husband, Grimaud Désanat, with the proviso that it not be logged for twenty years. With the business in danger, Latham and the Ogdens have decided to hold a séance to contact Désanat and get his consent to log on Onawa. It’s not as far-fetched as it may seem, as far as these people are concerned. Irene is a self-styled medium, and both her husband and Latham believe in the power of the séance. So, all is arranged, and the séance begins. It’s an eerie experience, and frightens several of the people there. Then, later that night, Irene is killed. Now everyone is thoroughly afraid, and the group works to find out who the killer is.

Kate Grenville’s The Secret River tells the story of the Thornhill family. In 1806, London bargeman William Thornhill is sentenced to transportation to Australia for stealing a load of wood. He, his wife, Sal, and their children make the long journey, and end up in Sydney. William finds work making deliveries along the nearby waterways; Sal opens a makeshift pub. There’s tension between the new arrivals and the Aborigines, who’ve always been there. But things are more or less calm. Then, Thornhill begins to work for a man named Thomas Blackwell, delivering goods up and down the Hawkesbury River. That’s when he discovers what he sees as the perfect piece of land for him and his family. He’s determined to have that land, and of course, that leads to direct conflict with the Aborigines, who have a completely different view of land use. And Thornhill’s not the only one. As settlement in the Sydney area continues, there’s more and more such conflict, and some ugly things are done. Thornhill wants no part of the real ugliness, but he learns that, if he’s to hold on to the land he loves, he’ll have to get his hands bloody, too.

Nicole Watson’s The Boundary takes place mostly in Brisbane. The novel begins with a court case that the Corrowa people have brought. They claim that Merston Park belongs to the Corrowa; local developers and city officials dispute this. Justice Bruce Brosnan rules against the Corrowa, saying that they cannot prove their uninterrupted occupation of Merston Park. Soon after the ruling, the judge is murdered. Then, others involved in the case against the claim are also killed, and a red feather placed near each body. Police officers Jason Matthews and Andrew Higgins investigate the deaths. For Matthews, this is especially difficult, since he is Aboriginal, and has been trying to succeed in a very white world. Still, he is a police officer, and determined to find out who’s responsible. Along the way, he meets Miranda Eversley, the attorney who argued the Corrowa’s case. She has her own issues to deal with, not least of which is that she’s now questioning her competence as a lawyer. Each in a different way, the two get to the truth about the killings.

In Patricia Stoltey’s The Prairie Grass Murders, Willie Grisseljon visits his family’s old home in Illinois. While he’s there, he discovers the half-buried body of a man on the property. As if that’s not enough, he’s soon locked up himself on charges of vagrancy. He contacts his sister, Florida judge Sylvia Thorn, and she immediately travels to Illinois to see what she can do to help. With her intercession, Willie is freed, and the two prepare to leave. But Willie insists on returning to the place where he found the body. When they get there, though, there is no sign of a body, and the land has been plowed over. It’s soon clear that there’s a cover-up, and Sylvia and Willie get involved in a case of corruption, greed, and land dispute.

In James Lee Burke’s Black Cherry Blues, we meet former blues artist Dixie Lee Pugh. Drugs, alcohol, and a prison sentence ended his music career, and now he works as a leaseman. In that capacity, he travels to Montana’s Blackfoot Reservation, where a lease is being prepared that will allow oil drilling on some of the land. One night, Pugh happens to overhear two men discussing two murders they’ve committed. He doesn’t want to get involved, because of his history, so he asks his old friend, New Iberia, Louisiana police detective Dave Robicheaux, for help. At first, Robicheaux’s reluctant to look into the matter, but he finally starts asking questions. When he does, he discovers that the murders really did happen. This turns out to be a case of greed and corruption that are tainting the drilling and land dispute.

And then there’s R.J. Harlick’s Death’s Golden Whisper. Meg Harris has recently moved to Outaouai, in Western Québec, where she’s living in a house she inherited from her Great Aunt Agatha. Like her great-aunt, Meg wants to develop a good rapport with the local Migiskan people, and so far, has succeeded. So, Migiskan Band Chief Eric Odjik feels comfortable asking for her help in a difficult land matter. There’s a good chance that there may be gold on Whisper Island, which is very near Meg’s new home. A company called CanacGold wants to mine the island, but many Migiskan people object. The only way to resolve the dispute is to determine who, if anyone, actually owns the island. It’s quite possible that Meg herself is the owner, since the island may be part of her great-aunt’s property. But she’ll have to find the paperwork to prove it. As she’s working to do that, the conflict between CanacGold and some of the Migiskin gets more and more heated. And here’s conflict among the Migiskin, too, as some believe that mining will be good for the local economy, and will mean more jobs. Then, there is a disappearance. And then a murder. They may or may not be related to the land dispute, but they certainly impact the area. Meg gets involved in the search for the truth, since the land may be hers, and the woman who’s gone missing is a friend and employee.

Land disputes almost always lead to tension and conflict, sometimes end up in court, and can even end in violence. It’s little wonder, since land and what’s on it can be so valuable. So, it makes sense that we see this plot thread in crime fiction.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The King Blues’ The Future’s Not What it Used to Be.


Filed under Hake Talbot, James Lee Burke, Kate Grenville, Nicole Watson, Patricia Stoltey, R.J. Harlick

‘Cause I’m Unpredictable*

Some of the more interesting characters in crime fiction are appealing because one can never be sure exactly what they’re going to do. In order to make such a character credible, the author has to make sure there’s some stability (i.e. ‘Yes, that’s the sort of thing X might do’). But at the same time, these characters are just unpredictable enough that anything might happen. It’s a delicate balance, but when an author achieves it, that sort of character can be memorable.

For instance, James Lee Burke’s sleuth is New Iberia, Louisiana, police detective Dave Robicheaux. His best friend, and former police partner, is Cletus ‘Clete’ Purcell, who’s an interesting character in his own right. He drinks more than he should, and doesn’t always steer clear of trouble. In that way, he’s a little unpredictable. But he is loyal to Robicheaux, and he’s not afraid to get into a fight and knock heads together if needs be. And Robicheaux knows that Purcell won’t desert him when things get dangerous. Purcell’s character adds a dimension to Robicheaux’s personality, and has allowed Burke flexibility about plot lines, suspenseful scenes, and tension building.

We could say similar things about Walter Mosley’s Raymond ‘Mouse’ Alexander. He’s an old friend of Mosley’s protagonist, Ezekiel ‘Easy’ Rawlins. The two grew up together in Louisiana, and have remained friends ever since. On the one hand, Mouse can be what’s sometimes called a ‘loose cannon.’ He has a hair-trigger temper and very few boundaries. He’s not the sort of person you want to upset. And he’s caused more than his share of trouble, in his way, for Rawlins. But he is loyal to his friend. And he’s completely unafraid. He’s saved Rawlins’ life, and survived an awful lot, including being shot in the back. Mouse isn’t what you’d call a nice person. But Rawlins knows that when it comes down to it, Mouse will be there, if I can put it that way.

Robert Crais’ Los Angeles PI Elvis Cole isn’t the biggest, or strongest, of people. He’s smart and quick-thinking, but that’s not always enough to keep him out of trouble. Fortunately, his PI partner is Joe Pike. A former member of the military, Pike is quick and skilled with weapons, of which he has plenty. He’s not a man of many words, but he can be very intimidating. And he’s not afraid to ‘mix it up’ if that’s necessary. You couldn’t really call him uncontrollable, but he’s certainly not one to stand by, if I can put it that way. And yet, Pike is highly disciplined in his way. And he’s loyal to Cole. When situations get dangerous, as they sometimes do, Cole knows that he can depend on Pike, and the two have a successful partnership. Even Cole’s feral cat approves of Pike; in fact, he’s the only human that the cat trusts.

Leigh Redhead’s Simone Kirsch is a Melbourne-based former stripper (she does an occasional gig) who’s trying to make a success of her PI business. Because of her background, she knows several people in the adult entertainment business. One of them is her best friend, Chloe Wozniak. When we first meet Chloe, in Peepshow, she’s a stripper at a peepshow place called Shaft Cinema. As the series goes on, Chloe opens her own business, Chloe’s Elite Strippers. Although Simone is the main character in this series (it’s told from her point of view, too), Chloe is hardly a ‘shrinking violet.’ She’s not intimidated by clients, strip club owners and managers, or, really, anyone else. In fact, in Peepshow, she’s taken hostage by an underworld ‘tough guy,’ and isn’t intimidated by him either. I don’t think it’s not spoiling the story to say that she doesn’t sit quivering in a corner. Chloe may not be utterly reckless, but she’s not always predictable, either.

And then there’s John Clarkson’s Among Thieves, in which we are introduced to James Beck. He and some of his friends own a bar in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Very few people know that he bought the bar with money he won in a wrongful conviction lawsuit after he spent eight years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. His co-owners are all people he met in prison, and who are now ‘going straight.’ One of those people is Emmanuel ‘Manny’ Guzman, who used to be a gang leader. He’s not in that life any more, but he hasn’t lost his toughness. He can be unstable, too, although he’s not mindlessly rash. Beck knows that Guzman is perfectly capable of following through on any threat he might make, and he’s not afraid to do so. That’s why he’s so concerned when he learns that Guzman has said he’s going to kill someone. Then, he finds out the reason. Guzman’s cousin, Olivia Sanchez, has asked for his help. She says that she was fired from her job at an upmarket investment firm, and ‘blacklisted’ so that she won’t be able to find a job elsewhere. All of this has happened because she was going to ‘blow the whistle’ on some very questionable transactions. She’s filed a lawsuit against one of her colleagues, Alan Crane, who she says threatened her, breaking two of her fingers. Crane says that she attacked him, and that he was defending himself. When Guzman hears what his cousin has to say, he’s ready to take care of Crane in his own way. But Beck convinces him to wait, and at least talk to both parties first. Guzman reluctantly agrees. This case turns out to be much more complicated than a dispute between two ex-colleagues. And before they know it, Beck and his friends (including Guzman) are mixed up in a case involving Russian gangsters, US arms dealers, and more than one dangerous thug. Through it all, Guzman remains on ‘hair trigger’ alert, and that adds to the tension in the story. At the same time, he is loyal to Beck, and he understands the consequences if he lets rash decisions get in the way of helping his cousin.

And that’s the thing about such characters. They may be unpredictable, and sometimes even a little reckless. But they’re smart, and they’re loyal. And they can add much to a crime novel. Which have stayed with you?


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from James Robertson and Skye Sweetnam’s Unpredictable.


Filed under James Lee Burke, John Clarkson, Leigh Redhead, Robert Crais, Walter Mosley

Hey, Better Send Some People Down*

Even the best-equipped police forces don’t always have the staff or the resources they need, especially when there’s a particularly difficult investigation going on. And many police forces serve areas where there’s little major crime. So, they don’t invest a great deal in special equipment, extra people, and so on. That’s not usually considered a wise use of taxpayer money.

What this means is that sometimes, police departments have to ‘borrow’ people from other police departments. Being seconded can give a detective solid experience, and it’s a way to get the job done with limited resources. Sometimes it goes smoothly; sometimes it doesn’t. Either way, a secondment can add an interesting layer to a crime novel, and an equally-interesting look at the way police departments work.

For example, in Louise Penny’s A Fatal Grace (AKA Dead Cold), lifestyle guru Cecilia ‘CC’ de Poitiers decides to move to the small Québec town of Three Pines. She settles in with her husband and fifteen-year-old daughter, and it’s not long before she succeeds in alienating just about everyone. She’s mentally sadistic, malicious, and thoroughly self-involved, so it’s not surprising that she isn’t exactly the most popular person in town. Then, during a Boxing Day curling match, CC is murdered. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec and his team investigate the murder. For duty officer Robert Lemieux, this case gives him the opportunity to work with the legendary Gamache, as he’s the one who reported the crime. Gamache welcomes Lemieux to the team, and does his best to take the fledgling detective under his proverbial wing. It turns out to be a very sad case, but it gives Lemieux valuable experience. And fans of this series will know that he plays an important role in The Cruelest Month, too.

James Lee Burke’s The Tin Roof Blowdown takes place mostly in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The city’s been devastated by the disaster, and the police force is stretched to its limits. So, many of Louisiana’s other police forces are tapped for extra support, including the New Iberia Police. And that means that police detective Dave Robicheaux is sent to New Orleans to help. He discovers that an old friend, Father Jude LeBlanc, has gone missing. LeBlanc had set off in a boat to try to save some of his parishioners, but hasn’t been seen. What’s worse, the boat he used has turned up in the possession of some looters. Robicheaux is sure that there’s a connection between LeBlanc’s disappearance and the looters; to him, this isn’t a case of people happening on an empty boat. But, with much of the city reeling from the hurricane, and with few resources, it’s not going to be an easy connection to make.

Inger Ash Wolfe’s (AKA Michael Redhill) DI Hazel Micallef lives and works in Port Dundas, Ontario. It’s not a very big place, and there’s generally not a lot of crime there. So, she doesn’t have a very big police department. That proves to be a major problem in The Calling, when a series of murders takes place in the area. A small team like Micallef’s isn’t enough to handle the multiple investigations, so she requests extra staff. At first, her boss, Commander Ian Mason, doesn’t see the need for any secondments; he’s not even sure there’s a serial killer involved. But Micallef knows that she and her small team aren’t going to be able to solve these crimes without help. She finally convinces Mason to approve some staff, and that’s at least a start. One of the interesting sub-plots in this novel is the politics behind secondments, and the way that ‘borrowed’ officers and the ‘regular’ team have to work together.

Kwei Quartey’s Wife of the Gods sees Accra DI Darko Dawson seconded to the small town of Ketanu when the body of Gladys Menah is discovered in a nearby wood. The victim was a volunteer with the Ministry of Health, so the Minister of Health takes a special interest in this case; hence the secondment. Dawson’s the logical choice, because he speaks Ewe, the local language, and because he’s a skilled detective. That doesn’t cut much ice with Inspector Fiti of the local police, though. He resents what he sees as Accra’s meddling, and he doesn’t care much for the insinuation that he and his men can’t handle the case. Dawson does his best, at least at first, to reassure Fiti that he has no desire to meddle or take the investigation out of their hands. It doesn’t work, though, and there’s a great deal of conflict and friction between the two. This leads to its own sub-plot, which adds a layer of interest to this novel.

And then there’s Peter May’s The Blackhouse, the first of his Lewis trilogy. Fionnlagh ‘Fin’ Macleod is an Edinburgh police inspector who’s working on a murder case when another, very similar, murder takes place on the Isle of Lewis. It’s very possible that the same person committed both crimes, so Macleod is seconded to help with the Isle of Lewis investigation. It’s hoped that if it’s the same murderer, he and the Isle of Lewis police will be able to help each other. For Macleod, this is a homecoming, since he was brought up there, but it’s not a happy one. He had very good reasons for leaving, and hasn’t had any desire to return. Still, he does his job and goes. This investigation will force him to confront his own past, and deal with several unresolved issues.

Jill Paterson’s Once Upon a Lie introduces readers to DCI Alistair Fitzjohn, of Sydney’s Day Street Station. He’s been in the UK taking some leave time, but returns to Sydney when the body of businessman Michael Rossi is found at a marina on Rushcutter’s Bay. Normally, the Kings Cross Police Station would handle this case, but they’re short-staffed at the moment. So, Fitzjohn is seconded to Kings Cross to help out. Fitzjohn insists that his second-in-command, Martin Betts, go with him. Betts isn’t overly eager, but he agrees, and the two take up their temporary assignment. It turns out that there are several possibilities, both personal and professional, when it comes to motive and suspect, so this case isn’t going to be easy. It doesn’t help matters, either, that Fitzjohn learns that a ‘mole’ may have been placed at Kings Cross to report back to his superior. In the end, though, Fitzjohn, Betts, and the Kings Cross team find out who killed Rossi and why.

Secondments can be awkward for everyone. Sometimes they even end up in friction or outright conflict. But they can also add to a crime novel. These are only a few of many examples. Your turn.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s Everybody’s Out of Town.


Filed under Inger Ash Wolfe, James Lee Burke, Jill Paterson, Kwei Quartey, Louise Penny, Michael Redhill, Peter May