Category Archives: James M. Cain

Filling Out Forms, Standing in Line*

Just try getting a passport, a bank account, a lease, or a marriage license, and you’ll find out just how much paperwork there is in modern life. Admittedly, a lot of it’s online in modern times, but it’s still official ‘hoops.’ As ‘regular’ citizens, we may find that sort of ‘red tape’ annoying, but it can be very useful for police investigators who want to get background information on a person. Telephone records, for instance, can give the police valuable information on a victim (or suspect)’s communications network. Auto loan and registration information can tell police about someone’s financial situation, as well as link up an owner with, say, a car involved in a crime.

There are plenty of other examples, too. So, it’s no surprise at all that we see a lot of this sort of paperwork in crime fiction. And it’s been going on for quite some time. For instance, in Agatha Christie’s Taken at the Flood, we are introduced to Rowley Cloade. He’s a farmer who’d doing his best to cope with the major changes in farming regulations that came about after the turn of the 20th Century. As the novel begins, he’s not exactly getting wealthy, but he’s always been told that he can count on his wealthy uncle, Gordon Cloade, for financial support. Then, unexpectedly, Gordon Cloade marries; soon afterwards, he dies in a bomb blast before he can change his will to protect his family. Now, the Cloades will have to find a way to manage without that security. Then, a stranger comes to town, who hints that Cloade’s widow was already married at the time of her wedding. If so, the Cloades get the fortune, so it’s of great interest to them. When that stranger is killed, Hercule Poirot gets involved in the investigation. In one scene, Rowley goes to see his uncle Jeremy, ostensibly for help with some of the mountain of official forms he has to cope with as a farmer. That’s not really his purpose, but it’s the reason Jeremy isn’t in a very big hurry to finish his dinner and meet with his nephew. To Jeremy’s surprise, Rowley abruptly leaves. And, as it turns out, Rowley has found out something that plays an important role in the story.

Official paperwork is an important part of James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity. Insurance agent Walter Huff happens to be in the Hollywood Hills, when he decides to pay a visit to one of his clients, H.S. Nirdlinger. He’s hoping to get an agreement for a policy renewal. Nirdlinger isn’t home, but his wife, Phyllis, is. She and Huff start talking, and find themselves attracted to each other. Before long, they are involved in a relationship. Phyllis soon tells Huff that she wants to kill her husband. In fact, she wants a policy double-indemnity set up so that she’ll inherit twice the value of her husband’s life insurance in case of an accident. That involves paperwork that she can’t do, but by this time, Huff is so besotted with her that he agrees to go along with her plan. In fact, he’s the one who draws up the new policy, and participates in Nirdlinger’s murder. Huff thinks this’ll be the worst thing he has to deal with, but, as it turns out, that’s only the beginning of his troubles…

Paperwork is also critical in Rebecca Cantrell’s A Trace of Smoke, which takes place in 1931 Berlin, just before the Nazi rise to power. Hannah Vogel is a crime reporter who discovers by accident that her brother Ernst has been found dead. She wants very badly to find out how and why he died. She faces several challenges, though. One is the fact that, at the moment, she has no official identity documents. She and Ernst lent theirs to some Jewish friends so they could leave Germany, and those friends haven’t yet returned the papers (which they promised to do). So, she’ll have to stay out of the way of any official, and ask her questions very quietly and carefully.

In Megan Abbott’s Die a Little, we are introduced to Lora King, a Pasadena schoolteacher. When her brother, Bill, introduces her to his new girlfriend, Alice Steele, Lora’s not at all sure she likes this woman. But, for Bill’s sake, she tries to be friendly with Alice. Despite Lora’s sense of unease, Bill and Alice marry, so now, there’s even more motivation to try to work things out with Alice. But soon, Lora begins to have doubts. For example, at one point, she agrees to help Alice get a teaching job at her school. Alice has said that she has a teaching certificate, but Lora can find no record of it. And, even in the 1950s, when this novel takes place, there was plenty of ‘red tape’ involved in getting a teaching license. This, plus other little hints, make Lora very uneasy. But, at the same time as she’s repelled by Alice’s life, she’s also drawn to it. Then, there’s a murder, and Alice could be mixed up in it. Now, Lora has to decide what she’ll do about her sister-in-law, who might very well be a killer.

Ian Hamilton’s Ava Lee depends quite a lot on official paperwork. She’s a Toronto-based forensic accountant who works for a Hong Kong company run by Chow Tung, a man Lee refers to as ‘Uncle.’ This company’s specialty is recovering money – sometimes a great deal of it – for people who are desperate to get that money back. Lee is in demand, because she is very good at what she does. In the process of looking for missing money, she often uses her knowledge of the sort of paperwork involved for loans, funds transfers, international transactions, and so on. Even the most accomplished thief still usually leaves a ‘paper trail.’

And that’s why that sort of bureaucracy is important, at least in crime fiction. You may grumble about all the ‘hoops’ involved in registering your home for sale, or in making a large purchase such as a car. But it all does matter. And it can all add to a crime novel.

 
 
 

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

23 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Ian Hamilton, James M. Cain, Megan Abbott, Rebecca Cantrell

You Don’t Know How Far I’d Go to Ease This Precious Ache*

infatuationThere’s something about being fully, completely, totally infatuated with someone. That feeling can feed on itself, especially if the other person reciprocates (or at least, seems to). And it’s intoxicating. So, it’s no wonder that there are so many songs about falling in love, about attraction (mutual or otherwise), and so on. It’s an important part of the human experience for a lot of people.

Sometimes, though, infatuation goes over the line, so to speak. I’m not talking here of the serial-killer sort of obsession (too easy!). Rather, I’m talking about the sort of attraction that leads a person to stop thinking rationally. That sort of love can get a person into trouble. And crime fiction is full of such characters. Here are just a few; I know you’ll think of lots more than I could, anyway.

In Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile (did I have any other choice, Christie fans?), we meet Jacqueline ‘Jackie’ de Bellefort. She’s fallen deeply, madly in love with Simon Doyle, and he loves her, too. She wants very badly for them to marry, but they can’t until Simon has a regular, steady job that can support them. So, she asks her good friend Linnet Ridgeway for help. Linnet is one of the wealthiest young women in England; and, as it happens, she’s recently purchased (and is remodeling) Wode Hall. Since she’s in need of a land agent, Jackie hopes Linnet will hire Simon for the job. Linnet’s happy to oblige, and it first, it looks as though all will be well. But Linnet finds herself attracted to Simon. She’s beautiful, intelligent, and very rich, so Simon doesn’t need much encouragement. The two marry, and go on a honeymoon cruise of the Nile. Jackie follows them, much to Linnet’s chagrin, and makes life miserable for the couple. Then, on the second night of the cruise, Linnet is shot. At first, Jackie is the most likely suspect. But it’s soon proven that she could not be the killer. So Hercule Poirot, who’s on the same cruise, has to look elsewhere for the killer.

James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity introduces readers to insurance sales representative Walter Huff. He’s in the Hollywood Hills area of Los Angeles one day when he finds himself close to the home of one of his clients, H.S. Nirdlinger. On the spur of the moment, Huff decides to stop by and try to renew Nirdlinger’s insurance policy. Nirdlinger isn’t home, but his wife, Phyllis is. Huff is attracted to her right away, and Phyllis does nothing to discourage him. Before long, they’re having an affair. Huff is completely infatuated, so when Phyllis suggests a plot to kill her husband for his life insurance money, Huff goes along with it. He even puts together the double indemnity policy she wants, and commits the crime. But that’s just the beginning of his troubles. It turns out that, instead of that murder putting everything right for them, everything starts to go very, very wrong.

The focus of Charlotte Jay’s A Hank of Hair is Gilbert Hand, who works with a publishing agency. After the death of his wife, Rachel, Hand decides to sell the home they had shared, and move to a quiet, respectable London hotel. He’s settling into his room when he discovers an unexpected package in the davenport he’ll be using. He unwraps the package and finds a long coil of dark hair. Hand learns that the room was previously occupied by a man named Freddie Doyle, so he begins to get curious about Doyle. That curiosity leads to a kind of obsession. More, it leads Hand to Doyle’s girlfriend, Gladys Wilson. Hand becomes infatuated with her in his way, and when she disappears, he’s frantic to find her. For Hand, it’s all come down to a contest for Gladys between him and Doyle. And, as you can imagine, it doesn’t end well.

Gail Bowen’s sleuth is university professor and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn Shreve. She is also the mother of four children, and, of course, wants the best for them. That’s why she’s so concerned in The Wandering Soul Murders. In one plot thread of that novel, the family gets a visit from Christy Sinclair, who is Joanne’s son, Peter’s, ex-girlfriend. As far as Joanne is concerned, Peter is well rid of Christy. Peter himself has no desire to get back together with her. But Christy has other ideas. She manages to get herself invited to a family event: the engagement party for Peter’s older sister, Mieka. What’s more, she says that she and Peter are getting back together. The story takes a tragic twist when Christy dies of what seems to be suicide. But is it?

And then there’s Pascal Garnier’s The Front Seat Passenger. When Sylvie Delorme is killed in a car accident, the police inform her husband, Fabien. They also tell him that Sylvie was not alone in the car. She had taken a lover, Martial Arnoult, who was also killed in the crash. The Delorme’s marriage hadn’t been a very happy one, so although Fabien feels Sylvie’s loss, he’s almost more hurt that she had a lover than he is that she is dead. At least his pride is hurt. He finds out that Arnoult left a widow, Martine, and after finding out a bit about her, determines to have her. He learns that Martine and a friend are planning a trip to Majorca, and follows them there. He and Martine begin an affair, and it’s not long before he is infatuated with her. The affair spins out of control for both of them, and, as you would expect if you’re a fan of Garnier’s work, it heads right towards tragedy.

That feeling of infatuation is one of the headiest experiences in life. So, it’s little wonder people fall in love. And many times, it enriches life. But not always…

 
 
 

*NTOE: The title of this post is a line from Melissa Etheridge’s Come to My Window.

22 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Charlotte Jay, Gail Bowen, James M. Cain, Pascal Garnier

I Know the End is Comin’ Soon*

murder-warningsAn important part of the appeal of crime fiction is the suspense. Sometimes that comes from not knowing who the killer is, and the sleuth’s search for the truth. It might also come from a ‘cat and mouse’ sort of plot, where the killer and the sleuth face off against each other. There are other ways, too, in which the author can build suspense. Whichever way the author decides to go about it, building suspense is an important part a crime novel.

That’s why it takes skill to create a plot where we’re told at the beginning that there’s going to be a murder. It takes even more when readers are told who the victim will be. A few stories, such as Ruth Rendell’s A Judgement in Stone let the reader in on that information right away. We know from the first sentence of that novel who the killer is (a professional housekeeper named Eunice Parchman). We know who the victims are, too (members of the Coverdale family, Eunice’s employers). Even with this information having been provided, Rendell builds the tension by showing what the characters are like, how they met, and how the murders happened.

There are other ways in which authors handle that tension, too. For instance, in Georges Simenon’s The Saint-Fiacre Affair, the Paris police receive a note warning them that a crime will be committed,
 

‘…at the church of Saint-Fiacre during First Mass.’
 

For Commissaire Jules Maigret, the place has special meaning. It’s a church near Matignon, where he was born and raised. He takes an interest in the note, although his colleagues think it’s a prank, and travels to Matignon, where he attends the service mentioned in the note. Sure enough, after the Mass ends and everyone else leaves, the Countess of Saint-Fiacre is found dead. Maigret knew the victim, so it’s very difficult for him to be objective in this case. Still, he investigates, and finds out who the killer is, and why the note was sent. In this novel, part of the suspense comes from the search for answers. Part comes as Maigret faces his own past.

Nicholas Blake’s (AKA Cecil Day-Lewis) The Beast Must Die begins with the sentence,
 

‘I am going to kill a man.’
 

This comes from the journal of Frank Cairnes, a crime writer who uses the pen name Felix Lane. Cairnes/Lane plans to murder the man who killed his son Martin ‘Martie’ in a hit-and-run incident. He returns to the town he and Martie lived in at the time of the boy’s death, and starts looking for information. Soon enough, he learns that the driver was probably a man named George Rattery. After getting an ‘in’ to the Rattery household, Cairnes puts in motion his plan for revenge. But on the day’s Cairnes has chosen for the crime, Rattery dies of what turns out to be poison. Cairnes is the natural suspect, but he claims he didn’t actually commit the murder. Then, he contacts poet/PI Nigel Strangeways, and asks for his help. According to Cairnes, he planned to kill Rafferty – even tried. But his method was attempted drowning, and the plan fell through. Why, says Cairnes, would he have planned to poison the man he’d already planned to drown? It’s a complicated case, and the suspense in it comes from Strangeways’ efforts to make sense of it.

In Cornell Woolrich’s Night Has a Thousand Eyes, New York Homicide Bureau Detective Tom Shawn meets a young woman named Jean Reid, who’s about to jump off a bridge. He manages to talk her into getting off the bridge and going with him, and soon hears her story. As it turns out, her distress has come from the fact that her father, Harlan Reid, has been told he is going to die on a certain day at midnight. The predication came from Jeremiah Tompkins, a man who considers himself cursed with being able to see the future. Shawn takes an interest in the Reid case, and joins Jean in the effort to prevent her father’s death, if that’s possible.

There’s also Agatha Christie’s A Murder is Announced (You were waiting for this, right, Christie fans?). The novel begins with a personal advertisement in a local newspaper that states,
 

‘A murder is announced and will take place on Friday, October 29th, at Little Paddocks at 6:30pm. Friends, please accept this, the only invitation.’  
 

The residents of Chipping Cleghorn can’t resist the invitation, and several of them go to Little Paddocks to see what it’s all about. At the appointed time, a man bursts into the house, demanding that everyone ‘stick ‘em up.’ No-one takes it seriously – until shots are fired into the room, and the man is killed. Even though we know there’ll be a murder, Christie doesn’t make it exactly clear who the victim will be, and certainly not who the killer is. That’s part of what adds to the suspense.

The main focus of James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity is a plot to murder H.S. Nirdlinger. It all starts when Nirdlinger’s insurance representative, Walter Huff, stops by the house to see about a policy renewal. Instead of his client, Huff meets Nirdlinger’s wife, Phyllis. He’s immediately smitten, and it’s not long before he and Phyllis are involved. She convinces him that, with his help, her husband can be killed, and she and Huff can be together and enjoy his insurance payout. Huff goes along with the plan and the murder is duly committed. But as fans of this novella know, that’s only the beginning of the complications in Huff’s life…

And then there’s John Grisham’s A Time to Kill. When ten-year-old Tonya Hailey is brutally raped and left to die, her father, Carl Lee, is understandably devastated and angry. There’s a lot of sympathy for him, too. Tonya’s attackers, Billy Ray Cobb and James Louis ‘Pete’ Willard are promptly arrested. The case gets the attention of Jake Brigance, an attorney whose office is just across the street from the courthouse. Out of interest, he attends the preliminary hearing for the two men, where he sees Hailey (whom he knows). Lee makes some cryptic remarks that give Brigance the idea that he intends to exact revenge on Cobb and Willard. Brigance tries to warn him not to do anything drastic, but Hailey says,
 

‘What would you plan, Jake?’
 

Sure enough, Hailey gets some help from his brother Lester, ambushes Cobb and Willard, and murders them. Then he asks Brigance to defend him. Along with several other elements, the legal and ethical issues add to the suspense of this novel. So does the fact that the stakes turn out to be a lot higher than just one man killing his daughter’s rapists.

In deft hands, even a story where we (and the sleuth) are told there’s going to be a murder can still draw us in. When it’s done well, the fact that we know what probably (or definitely) will happen can add to the tension. Which stories like this have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Creedance Clearwater Revival’s Bad Moon Rising.

25 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Cecil Day-Lewis, Cornell Woolrich, Georges Simenon, James M. Cain, John Grisham, Nicholas Blake, Ruth Rendell

Back to the Beginning Again*

Circular NarrativeOne option for telling a story is by means of a circular narrative. That narrative structure begins and ends a story in more or less the same place, often with the tale of how the character ended up in that place being the main plot.

There are a lot of ways to go about using this structure in crime fiction. Sometimes those beginning/ending ‘bookends’ are detailed and obvious. Sometimes they’re less so. Either way, it’s an interesting way to give a crime story a form.

Agatha Christie arguably uses the circular narrative structure in Sad Cypress. That novel begins at the trial of Elinor Carlisle, who’s been arrested and charged in connection with the poisoning murder of Mary Gerrard, daughter of the lodgekeeper at Elinor’s family home, Hunterbury. After the opening scenes, Christie tells us that the story really all began with an anonymous letter to Elinor. The letter claimed that someone had ‘designs’ on her elderly Aunt Laura’s fortune. Then, the story moves on to Elinor’s trip to Hunterbury with her fiancé, Roderick ‘Roddy’ Welman. We learn then of Roddy’s growing infatuation with Mary, of the breakup of his engagement with Elinor, of Aunt Laura’s death (and the fortune at stake), and of Mary’s poisoning. Local GP Dr. Peter Lord has fallen in love with Elinor, and wants her name cleared, so he asks Hercule Poirot to investigate. Poirot agrees, and the story proceeds to the climax, where we return to the trial. There, Poirot’s investigation leads to some startling evidence that changes the course of the trial.

Talmage Powell’s short story To Avoid A Scandal also takes a rather circular path. It begins as Horace Croyden tells a listener that he wants to explain exactly what happened, so the listener won’t get the wrong impression from lurid newspaper stories. Then, Croyden proceeds to tell his story. He’s a staid, old-fashioned banker with quiet good taste, who’s always had a horror of creating a scandal, or even getting public notice. He keeps his home scrupulously neat, and works ciphers as a hobby. Then one day, as he tells the story, he met his boss’ cousin Althea, and the two began what Croyden thought would be a dignified courtship that would end in marriage. At first, that’s exactly what it was. But then, he found Althea was more vivacious than he’d thought (or hoped for). What was worse, she redecorated their home with more modern taste, and in other ways, didn’t behave in ways he thought were ‘ladylike.’ The proverbial straw came when she destroyed the ciphers her husband was working, and he took the only action he felt he could. Now, the story returns to the beginning, so to speak, as Croyden explains why he did what he did.

James M. Cain’s novella Double Indemnity has a touch of the circular narrative, too. In it, insurance salesman Walter Huff tells the story of his meeting with Phyllis Nirdlinger, the wife of one of his clients. He goes on to tell of his attraction to Phyllis, of the affair they start, and of its disastrous consequences. As the story begins, we can see that he’s actually telling it to a reader. And as the story ends, it comes full circle and we learn where Huff is as he writes, and why he’s actually writing the story to begin with.

In Charlotte Jay’s A Hank of Hair, we are introduced to Gilbert Hand, junior partner in a publishing/bookselling firm. The story begins as Hand tells the reader (as if speaking to a listener),
 

‘I’m not going to give explanations and make excuses. I’ll tell you what happened, and you can draw your own conclusions.’
 

Then, Hand explains how, after the death of his wife, Rachel, he moved to a respectable London hotel for a change of scenery, and perhaps, to get ready to start his life again. There, he found a long coil of dark hair hidden in the davenport in his room. That discovery led to the development of an obsession with the person who put it there, and, ultimately, to tragedy. At the end, the narrative returns to the beginning, as Hand addresses his listener again. And here, we learn where Hand has been all along as he’s told his story.

Martin Edwards’ Dancing For the Hangman is the fictional retelling of the story of Dr. Hawley Crippen, and the famous murder of his wife, Cora. Edwards’ account begins and ends with notes from the Chief Government Archivist. In them, it’s clear that a manuscript written by Crippen has been discovered, and that it sheds a completely new light on the murder. The story itself begins as Crippen is in prison, awaiting execution. He tells of his early life, his young adulthood, his meeting with Cora, their marriage, and his later meeting with Ethel Le Neve. As the story goes on, we see the events from his perspective as doubts are raised about exactly what happened to Cora. Then, the story goes round again and ends with Crippen about to be executed. It’s an interesting way to tie the events together.

And then there’s Paddy Richardson’s Traces of Red. That novel begins with an account of the discovery of the murders of Angela Dickson, her husband Rowan, and their son Sam. It’s told in first person, from the point of view of Angela and Rowan’s daughter Katy, who wasn’t home at the time of the murders. Then, the story moves to the perspective of Wellington journalist Rebecca Thorne. She learns that Connor Bligh has been in prison for several years for those murders, but that there is a possibility he is innocent. If he is, this could be the story to establish Thorne’s place at the top of New Zealand journalism. So she begins to ask questions. The more questions she asks, the closer she gets to the story – too close for objectivity.  But eventually, Thorne learns what really happened on the day of the murders. The story comes round again at the end, and there are references to the same story Katy starts to tell at the beginning.

As you can see, there are several ways to tell a story. One option for telling a story is by means of a circular narrative. That narrative structure begins and ends a story in more or less the same place, often with the tale of how the character ended up in that place being the main plot.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Switchfoot.

18 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Charlotte Jay, James M. Cain, Martin Edwards, Paddy Richardson, Talmage Powell

Sends Shivers Down My Spine*

Reactions to Taking a LifeCommitting murder isn’t easy for most people. In fact, in real life, most of us would be horrified, or at least badly affected, by having taken a life. That’s arguably one reason for which returning soldiers have so much difficulty after they’ve fought in a war. And it’s part of why stories about people who kill in a cold-blooded, unfeeling way make the news. That uncaring reaction seems so alien to most people.

There are, of course, all sorts of different types of killers in crime fiction. Some of them (a post in and of itself, actually) are hardened and unfeeling. Or they completely justify the taking of a life in some way, so that it doesn’t really affect them. But many, many killers are devastated when they take a life.

In Agatha Christie’s Murder in Mesopotamia, for instance, we are introduced to Louise Leidner. She’s accompanied her husband, noted archaeologist Eric Leidner, on a dig at a site a few hours from Baghdad. One afternoon, she is bludgeoned in her room at the expedition house. Hercule Poirot is in the area, and is persuaded to take a few days and investigate the murder. It’s very unlikely (‘though not impossible) that an outsider committed the murder, so the pool of suspects is somewhat limited. Still, as Poirot learns more about the victim, he discovers that more than one person might have wanted to kill her. It’s not spoiling the story to say that murderer intended to kill. But that doesn’t mean that person was left unaffected by taking life. Here’s what the murderer says:
 

‘‘I think – really – I am rather glad  [at being found out]…I’m so tired…’’
 

Even the narrator of the story feels a sort of pity for the killer.

In James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity, insurance sales representative Walter Huff meets Phyllis Nirdlinger, the wife of one of his clients. He’s immediately besotted, and she seems to reciprocate. Soon enough, they begin an affair, and she persuades him to help her plot to kill her husband for the life insurance money. He’s so much under her spell that he goes along with her plan. Then, once the deed is done, it starts to sink what he’s really done:
 

‘I knew then what I had done. I had killed a man to get a woman. I had put myself in her power, so there was one person in the world that could point a finger at me, and I would have to die.’ 
 

The problem is, of course, that he can’t confess his guilt without risking everything. There are other reasons, too, for which it won’t be as easy as it may seem to simply go to the police and tell them what he’s done. So Huff decides he’ll have to take other action.

In Ellery Queen’s The Fourth Side of the Triangle, Inspector Richard Queen and his son Ellery investigate the murder of fashion designer Sheila Grey. After a bit of digging, they settle on Ashton McKell as the chief suspect. He was in the victim’s apartment on the night of the murder, and was known to be in a relationship with her. When McKell’s name is cleared, both his wife, Lutetia, and his son, Dane, fall in for their share of suspicion, and there are reasonable cases against them. But the McKells aren’t the only possibilities by any means. In the end, the Queens get to the truth about the matter. And we discover that the murderer has been badly affected by killing Sheila Grey. Here’s what the killer says:
 

“…I’m sorry, I’m sorry, there’s something wrong inside me, there always has been since I was a kid. Everything went wrong.”
 

It’s clear that this person is not left untouched.

Neither is the killer in William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw. In that novel, Glasgow DI Jack Laidlaw investigates the rape and murder of eighteen-year-old Jennifer Lawson. Although there’s a great deal of sympathy for the Lawson family, the case is not an easy one to solve. For one thing, the victim wasn’t mixed up with drugs or prostitution, so there is no ‘criminal involvement’ lead to follow. What’s more, nobody really knows what Jennifer did or where she went at the time of the murder. People really weren’t paying attention. So nobody can say who might have been with her. What’s more, the people who live in the area where the girl was found are not exactly fond of talking to the police. So even if someone saw something or knows something, it’s not likely to be reported. Still, Laidlaw and his team persist, and in the end, they find out the truth. In this case, the killer is consumed by guilt about the crime, and knows full well exactly how horrible a crime it was. That sense of horror and guilt play a major role in what that person does.

Geoffrey McGeachin’s The Diggers Rest Hotel introduces Melbourne copper Charlie Berlin. It’s 1947, and Berlin has recently returned from WWII service in Europe. He’s still dealing with the trauma of that experience, but is also trying to get on with his life. He’s seconded to Wodonga to help investigate a series of robberies in the area, and catch the motorcycle gang that’s responsible. Berlin’s in the middle of that investigation when the body of sixteen-year-old Jenny Lee is found in an alley. At first, there’s a suspicion that the motorcycle gang was involved, but Berlin soon learns that’s not true. So he begins to look elsewhere for the person responsible. In the end, he finds out the truth, part of which is that the killer is devastated by what’s happened. This is no case of a cold-blooded psychopath, and McGeachin makes it clear that taking lives exacts a real toll from the people who take them.

And then there’s Angela Savage’s The Dying Beach. Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney and her partner Rajiv Patel are taking some time off at Krabi. They enjoy their holiday until they find out about the death of Chanida Manakit, who went by the nickname of Pla. Miss Pla was an expert swimmer, who actually guided a tour that Keeney and Patel took, so they feel a personal sense of loss when her body washes up in a cave. It’s very hard to tell exactly how she died, but Keeney doesn’t immediately accept the police theory that this was an accident; Miss Pla was too good a swimmer for that. She and Patel agree to stay in Krabi for a few extra days to look into the matter. And when they find out the truth, we learn that Pla’s death was not a case of falling into the water and drowning. The person responsible for her death is both fearful and horrified by what’s happened, and Savage makes that clear. That horror turns out to have consequences, too.

There are of course killers who aren’t affected by taking a life. But many real-life killers are. So it makes sense that fictional ones would be, too.

 

 
 

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

23 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Ellery Queen, Geoffrey McGeachin, James M. Cain, William McIlvanney