Category Archives: Jane Woodham

I Keep Hoping You’ll Come Back to Me*

For families and other loved ones, one of the major differences between a missing person case and a murdercase is the possibility that the missing person will return. Sometimes, people nurse that hope for years. That’s part of the reason, for instance, that many families won’t move from their homes if a loved one goes missing, so that that person will be able to find them. And there are stories of people who’ve been missing for years, who do return.

It doesn’t happen often, but the fact that it happens at all gives people hope. And sometimes, people sustain that hope, even when it’s clear to just about everyone else that the missing person isn’t coming back. We see that happen in crime fiction, and it can add a solid layer of both character development and suspense. After all, the person who’s disappeared could come back…

In Pascal Garnier’s Boxes, for instance, we meet book illustrator Brice Casadamant. In the main plot thread, he and his wife, Emma, have bought a house in the countryside, and are ready to make the move. Emma’s gone on a trip, though, so Brice has deal with the frustrations and aggravations of the move by himself. He gets to the new house and waits for Emmy to return. In fact, he’s so confident she’ll be back soon that he doesn’t even unpack the moving boxes, as he might not put things where Emmy wants them. But, as time goes by, it becomes more and more clear that Emmy is not coming back. And we slowly learn why. Brice won’t accept that, though, and lives among his unpacked boxes, rummaging through them when he needs something. Gradually, Brice sinks deeper and deeper into depression, and comes close to a complete mental break with reality. He can’t bring himself to work on his latest illustration commission, he won’t unpack, and he doesn’t have many social contacts. Among other things, this story shows how strong the need can be to believe that a loved one will return.

In Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy (AKA The Keeper of Lost Causes), Copenhagen police detective Carl Mørck is assigned to head a new department – Department Q – dedicated to looking into cases ‘of special interest.’ These are ‘cold’ cases that the police department has been under pressure to solve. Mørck and his assistant, Hafez al-Assad, begin with the five-year-old disappearance of up-and-coming politician Merete Lynggaard. According to reports, she was on a ferry ride with her younger brother, Uffe, when she went missing. The explanation at the time was that she went overboard in a terrible accident. But there are pieces of evidence that suggest that she may still be alive. If she is, then Mørck and Assad might not have very much time to find her. As you might imagine, Mørck pays a visit to Uffe to get his perspective on what happened. But Uffe has communication problems and some mental health problems. So, he isn’t able to be of much help. Still, we learn that, in his way, Uffe thinks his sister may be alive, too. And, in the end, we find out the truth about what happened to her.

Paddy Richardson’s Hunting Blind is the story of Stephanie Anderson. When she is fourteen, her younger sister, Gemma, goes missing during a community picnic at Lake Wanaka. Despite a thorough search and police investigation, Gemma is never found. For a long time, though, the family hopes that she will return. Seventeen years later, Stephanie is beginning her career as a psychiatrist in Dunedin. She gets a new patient who tells her a story that’s eerily similar to her own. This patient’s younger sister also went missing and was also never found. After so much time, Stephanie is sure that Gemma isn’t going to return, but she does want to lay her ghosts to rest. And she wants to find out who is responsible for the devastation wrought on her family, and that of her patient. So, she returns to her home town of Wanaka, and starts to look for answers. And, in the end, she gets them. Among other things, this story shows the terrible toll that waiting and hoping takes on families.

In one plot thread of Honey Brown’s Through the Cracks, Mitch and Pauline Fisher go to Market Day with their young son, Nathan, when he goes missing. There’s no trace of him, not even after a thorough search. And it’s not spoiling the story to say that the Fishers never give up hope that Nathan will return. Their story is connected to another story, this one of fourteen-year-old Adam Vander. One day, he finally gets up the courage he needs to run away from his abusive father, Joe. Adam’s been kept under lock and key, so he knows almost nothing of the world. This makes him, of course, very vulnerable. But he finds an ally in a young man named Billy Benson, who visits the house just as Adam is leaving. In the week that follows, Billy uses his streetwise knowledge to take care of both of them, and as the week goes by, they get mixed up in real danger.

And then there’s Jane Woodham’s Twister. Dunedin’s had to deal with five straight days of hard rain. Then, a twister comes through, and the police have to deal with a series of problems. Against this backdrop, the body of Tracey Wenlock, who went missing two weeks earlier, is discovered in Ross Creek. Detective Senior Sergeant Leo Judd is given the case, and it won’t be easy for him. Nine years earlier, his own daughter, Beth, went missing and never returned. Judd and his wife, Kate, are still coping with that awful loss. Ordinarily, he wouldn’t have been asked to do this sort of case, but a ‘flu epidemic has left the police department with a serious shortage of people. So, there is no choice but Judd. As Judd and his team work to find out the truth about Tracey’s death, we also see how he and his wife have gotten through the last years, and how a part of both of them still hopes that Beth will come home.

And that’s what can be so hard about a missing person case. There isn’t the closure that comes from knowing a person has died. So, it’s not surprising that some people whose loved ones go missing still have hope – even after a long time – that their loved ones will return.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Felice and Boudleaux Bryant’s Sleepless Nights.


Filed under Honey Brown, Jane Woodham, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Paddy Richardson, Pascal Garnier

Here Comes the Rain Again*

The umbrella you see in the ‘photo is one of those that shade the chairs at the pool in my residential community.  A windstorm blew it over, and that got me to thinking about what happens when wind and rainstorms come along. Of course, there’s often damage, but there’s more, too.

In crime fiction, storms and other weather extremes can uncover bodies that have been hidden – sometimes for a while. And that can offer all sorts of possibilities for crime writers. Here are just a few examples; I know you’ll think of others.

In Peter Robinson’s In a Dry Season, a drought has uncovered the long-buried Yorkshire village of Hobbs End. And Adam Kelly is determined to explore the village, which he believes is a magic place. He’s looking for something he calls the Talisman. Instead, he finds the skeleton of a human hand. Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Alan Banks and his team investigate. The body turns out to belong to Gloria Stringer, who seems to have been killed at the end of World War II. Now, Banks and his team have to trace her history and find out who would have wanted to kill her. And it turns out that this murder still has ramifications, decades later.

That’s the case in Elly Griffiths’ The House at Sea’s End, too. In that novel, coastal erosion has led to the discovery of six unidentified bodies. The University of North Norfolk’s Head of Forensic Archaeology, Ruth Galloway, is called in to see what she can find out about the remains. She finds that the bodies belong to a group of Germans who died during World War II. But it’s soon clear that someone doesn’t want the truth about their deaths to come to light. First, a Home Guard veteran named Archie Whitcliffe is murdered after he reveals the existence of a secret about a group of soldiers from that eras. Then, a German journalist, Dieter Eckhart, who’s doing a story about a wartime operation in the area, is also killed. Now, Inspector Harry Nelson has to find out who the killer is before there are any more deaths.

Priscilla Masters’ River Deep begins as the River Severn overflows its banks, flooding the local Shrewsbury area. When the river pours into one particular basement, the body of a man floats out of it. James Humphreys, who owns the house, claims not to know who the dead man is nor what he’s doing in the basement. What’s more, he has a credible alibi for the time of the murder. DI Alex Randall and his team begin the process of trying to find out who the dead man was. At first, they think it may be Clarke Haddonfield, who’s in the same age group and was reported missing by his family. But the body isn’t Haddonfield. It turns out to be Gerald Bosworth. Now, Martha Gunn, who is Coroner for Shrewsbury, has several questions. Who killed Gerald Bosworth? Where is Clarke Haddonfield? And are those two events related? Gunn’s role as Coroner precludes her from conducting an investigation or getting too close to what the police are doing. But in her own way, she looks into the matter; and, in the end, she finds out how the lives of all three men intersect.

Sister Carol Anne O’Marie introduces her sleuth, Sister Mary Helen, in A Novena For Murder. In that novel, Sister Mary Helen has retired from her Order. But she’s not yet ready to be put out to pasture, as the saying goes. So, she trades in her habit for modern clothes, and takes a teaching position at San Francisco’s Mount Saint Francis College for Women. She’s just started her new job when an earthquake hits the area. The college remains intact, but one of the faculty members, Professor Villanueva, is killed. At first, it looks as though it was a terrible accident caused by the quake. But it’s not long before it’s established that the professor was murdered. The assistant cook, a young man named Leonel, is suspected and is soon arrested. But Sister Mary Helen doesn’t think he’s guilty. And she’s determined to find out the truth.

And then there’s Jane Woodham’s Twister. Five days of drenching rain have soaked Dunedin. Then, a twister comes through the area, making matters that much worse. As if that’s not enough, there’s been an epidemic of ‘flu in the area, so, many businesses, including the police, have skeleton staffs. The storm and twister uncover the body of Tracey Wenlock, who’s been missing for two weeks. Now, the police have the thankless task of informing the girl’s family of her death, and of hunting for her killer. Because of the ‘flu epidemic, the only one available to head an investigation team is Detective Senior Sergeant (DSS) Leo Judd, who’s still coping with the loss of his own daughter, Beth, nine years earlier. She was never found, and Leo and Kate Judd have never recovered. Still, Judd does the best he can with this new investigation. In the end, the two plot strands intersect, and we learn what happened to both girls.

And that’s the thing about weather events like windstorms, rain and so on. Sometimes they uncover a lot more than we think they will. These are just a few examples. Your turn.


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


Filed under Elly Griffiths, Jane Woodham, Peter Robinson, Priscilla Masters, Sister Carol Anne O'Marie

This Isn’t Where We Intended to Be*

Almost all relationships are founded on certain assumptions. When those assumptions change, or when something else fundamental changes, the relationship changes, too. Sometimes those changes are what a lot of people think of as positive (a new baby, a major promotion, for instance). Other changes are traumatic (a major injury, say, or the death of a loved one). When those things happen, the old rules don’t apply any more, and a new understanding has to develop. Sometimes it works well; sometimes it doesn’t. Either way, that re-writing of the rules can make for a lot of awkwardness and strain.

And that’s part of what makes it a solid and useful plot thread for a crime novel. Major changes in relationships can add character development, too. And they’re realistic, so they can add authenticity to a book.

For example, one of the major characters in Agatha Christie’s Taken at the Flood (AKA There is a Tide…) is Lynn Marchmont. She’s recently returned from service in WWII to her home village of Warmsley Vale, and for the moment, is living with her mother, Adela. Lynn’s been away for a few years, and experienced a number of things. While she’s still her mother’s daughter, she’s a full-fledged adult with a very different perspective to the one she had. And that makes for some awkwardness between them. It’s clear that they love each other, but their relationship has gotten somewhat strained. That’s especially true with regard to their financial situation. In one major plot thread, we learn that Adela’s brother, Gordon Cloade, was a very wealthy man who’d always promised that his siblings and their families wouldn’t have to worry about money. But he married without changing his will to protect the rest of his family. Shortly after his marriage, Cloade was killed in a bomb blast. Now, his widow, Rosaleen, is set to inherit his considerable fortune, leaving the rest of the Cloades in need of money. Lynn and her mother don’t agree on how to cope with this, and it makes for some friction between them. And that adds to the tension in the story.

Wartime experience also changes the relationship between former Glasgow copper Douglas Brodie and his good friend, Hugh ‘Shug’ Donovan, whom we meet in Gordon Ferris’ The Hanging Shed. As the novel begins, WWII has just ended. Brodie has returned to the UK after his service, and is trying to make a life for himself in London. Then, he gets a call from Donovan. It seems that Donovan’s been arrested and imprisoned for the abduction and murder of a boy named Rory Hutchinson, and he’s soon to be executed. Brodie isn’t sure what, if anything, he can do to help. And in any case, he’s not even sure that his friend is innocent, as there’s solid evidence against him. The relationship was a bit strained anyway, since Donovan had been involved with Brodie’s one-time love interest. Still, Brodie agrees to at least ask a few questions. So, he travels to Glasgow and begins to look into the matter. And soon, he and Donovan’s lawyer, Samantha ‘Sam’ Campbell, find that this case is much more complicated than they thought. As it turns out, there are several people who might have wanted to frame Donovan for this murder. Both Brodie and Donovan have had terrible wartime experiences, and deal with what we now would call PTSD. This doesn’t incapacitate Brodie, but it does impact the friendship between the two men.

Fans of Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series will know Clara and Peter Morrow. They are both artists who live in the small Québec town of Three Pines. The main sleuth in this series is Gamache, but as the series goes on, we get to know the Morrows, along with several other Three Pines residents. At the beginning of the series, Peter Morrow is acknowledged as the Morrow with the real talent. Clara accepts this, and those are the rules by which they live. Gradually, Clara finds her own self as an artist, and over time, her skill begins to eclipse that of her husband. That change causes real upheaval in their marriage. The rules the Morrows have always accepted have to be re-written, and this leads to an important story arc.

There are several important changes in the relationship between Håkan Östlundh’s Gotland police detective Fredrik Broman and his wife, Ninni. For one thing, the rules they’ve always lived by change as a result of an affair that Borman has. In fact, Ninni asks him to leave. Now, the couple have to re-write their ‘rules of engagement,’ since they have two children. They’re working that out when he is seriously injured in the line of duty. Now, the couple re-writes their relationship again, since Borman is in real need of regular care as he recuperates. In that sense, as devastating as his injuries are, it enables the couple to work together, so that they can, well, be a couple again.

That story arc is a just a little reminiscent of what happens to DI Hazel Micallef, whom we first meet in Inger Ash Wolfe/Michael Redhill’s The Calling. She’s been divorced from her ex-husband, Andrew, for some time, and he is now remarried. She’s not overly vengeful about it, but at the same time, she has no great desire to patch things up, or even to be friends with Andrew. They’re civil enough when they need to communicate, and that’s as far as Hazel is interested in going. Then, in one story arc in this series, Hazel finds herself in need of emergency back surgery. This surgery entails a long recuperation, during which Hazel won’t be able to care for herself. And her mother, Emily, is too old and frail to take over. So, for practical purposes, the only choice she has is to move in with Andrew and his second wife. That change causes a real re-writing of the rules they’ve lived by, and makes for an interesting plot thread.

And then there’s Dunedin Detective Senior Sergeant Leo Judd and his wife, Kate, whom we meet in Jane Woodham’s Twister. Nine years before the events in the novel, their daughter, Beth, went missing, and was never found. This in itself changed their relationship dramatically, and they’re still dealing with that. Then, the body of Tracey Wenlock is discovered after a twister and a lot of rain pass through Dunedin. She was reported missing two weeks earlier, and now that her body has been find, the missing person case becomes a murder case. The police department has been hit by a ‘flu epidemic, and Judd’s the only one available to lead the investigation, so he starts the process. The case forces both Judds to look again at their marriage and Beth’s disappearance, and the process is painful for them. And it leads to another re-working of their personal rules.

And that’s what often happens when a major event happens within a relationship. The people involved change, so the relationship changes. Even when that change is for the better, it’s still stressful.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s You Must Love Me.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Gordon Ferris, Håkan Östlundh, Inger Ash Wolfe, Jane Woodham, Louise Penny, Michael Redhill

To the Land of the Long White Cloud*

waitangi-day-2017As this is posted, it’s 177 years since the Treaty of Waitangi, which officially made New Zealand part of the British Empire. What’s interesting about this treaty, among other things, is that it protected Māori forests and lands, and made them full British subjects. Although the treaty hasn’t always been fully respected, it was the basis for what’s been a more amicable than contentious relationship. And in today’s New Zealand (which is, by the way, officially bilingual in English and Māori), the indigenous people have a say in their political, educational and social lives. That’s not by any means to say that things are perfect and there are never problems or disputes. But it’s interesting to contrast the relatively respectful relations among ethnic groups in New Zealand with the indigenous history of other countries, including the US.

It’s interesting, too, to look at the Māori presence in contemporary New Zealand crime fiction. Paul Thomas’ series, for instance, features Tito Ihaka, a Māori Auckland police officer. He has his own way of doing things. In Guerilla Season, when he first makes an appearance, Ihaka investigates a series of murders that’s said to have been committed by an extremist group called Aotearoa People’s Army. Ihaka isn’t sure the group’s responsible, though, and wants to pursue other angles. His superiors, though, don’t see it that way. So, Ihaka is removed from that case, and put onto another case involving suspected blackmail. That doesn’t stop Ihaka, though. In this and the earlier novels, there isn’t a great deal of discussion of Ihaka’s ethnic identity. But in more recent novels, there is more discussion of race, and of the challenge of race relations, no matter the society.

Ray Berard’s Inside the Black Horse features Toni Bourke, a recently-widowed Māori who’s doing the best she can to support her children and take care of them. She is the owner of The Black Horse Bar and Casino, a pub that also offers off-course betting services. Toni isn’t wealthy, but the pub provides her and her family a living. Everything changes one night when a series of events and people come together at the Black Horse. Pio Morgan lies in wait outside, desperate to rob the place so he can pay a debt to a ruthless local gangster. He picks a bad time, though. For one thing, drugs dealer Rangi Wells is in the pub at the time of the robbery; in fact, it interrupts a drug deal. For another, there’s quite a lot of money in the pub – money from people who placed bets. So, Toni will now be out a great deal of money that she’ll have to account for to the authorities. Her insurance company is set to lose quite a lot, so they send PI Brian Duncan to investigate. They want him to find evidence that Toni is behind the robbery. He can’t, though, and she insists she had nothing to do with it. And, as time proves, she is right. Together, Brian and Toni work to find out who’s really behind the robbery and where the money is. But that’s going to pit them against some dangerous forces. This novel offers some interesting insights into modern Māori life. Toni is, in many ways, a traditional Māori. She sees the world from the perspective of that culture, and she observes those ways. But she functions well among non-Māori people as well. Among other things, the novel offers a look at the way Māori people preserve their identity, while at the same time being active parts of 21st Century New Zealand life.

Some authors don’t make a special point of calling a lot of attention to their Māori characters. Instead, they are people who figure into the novel, and who are distinctly Māori, but who simply interact with other characters. In other words, they’re characters who happen to be Māori. Both Jane Woodham and Geoffrey Robert take this approach.

One focus of Woodham’s Twister is the death of Tracey Wenlock, whose body is discovered after a five-day rain, followed by a twister. Dunedin Detective Senior Sergeant Leo Judd heads up the investigation. It’s difficult for him, because his own daughter, Beth, disappeared nine years earlier, and has never been found. Still, he does his best to conduct a solid investigation. Then, word comes that another young woman, Larayne Smaill, has gone missing. The cases Judd’s investigating might or might not be related, so he has to keep both possibilities in mind. One source he taps for information is Larayne’s boyfriend, Tamati, who is Māori. He’s cleared of suspicion because he was away at a tangi, a Māori funeral. When Judd interviews Tamati, there isn’t any discussion of his culture or background. He’s simply a bereaved person trying to help the police.

In Robert’s The Alo Release, we are introduced to environmentalist Jay Duggan, who’s been working with the Los Angeles-based Millbrook Foundation. That group has been trying to stop a company called Vestco from releasing a genetically modified seed coating that it claims will do much to end world hunger. Millbrook has good reason to doubt both the company’s claims and its motives. But, with nine days to go until the release, there’s not much Millbrook can do. Duggan decides to retire and return to his native New Zealand. He’s invited Science Director Dr. Catherine ‘Cat’ Taylor, and IT director Matthew Liddell to join him for a short visit to New Zealand before they go back to work. During their flight, word comes out that one of Vestco’s employees, Henry Beck, has been murdered. Unbeknownst to Duggan, Taylor and Liddell, they’re being framed for the killing. So, when they arrive in New Zealand, they become fugitives. Now, they have to go up against some well-heeled enemies, and the New Zealand police, if they’re to get to the truth about the murder, and stop the release of the seed coating. Both DI Hansen, who’s assigned to catch the three fugitives, and Whatu, an elder who helps them, are Māori. And readers do learn about the Māori culture. But Robert doesn’t spend an inordinate amount of time on that aspect of these characters. They’re simply two New Zealanders who get involved in the story.

There are other crime stories that feature Māori characters. One for instance, is Caryl Férey’s Haka (sorry, as far as I can see, that one’s only available in French). I’ll admit I’ve not yet read that one, but it takes up, among other things, different aspects of the white/ Māori dynamic. And it’s an interesting one. It’s distinctive, and so is the way it’s depicted in crime fiction.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Eddie Low’s Songs of Home.


Filed under Caryl Férey, Geoffrey Robert, Jane Woodham, Paul Thomas, Ray Berard

Unexpected Things Happen*

unexpectedthingsI’m sure you’ve had this happen to you. You make plans to do something or go somewhere, and then something happens that you couldn’t have anticipated. A sudden rainstorm soaks the plans you made for an outdoor lunch. Or, you wake up with a fever and upset stomach on the day you’d planned to leave home to take a trip. Those sorts of things happen to us all, and they act as reminders that we can never completely control things.

That’s just as true in crime fiction as it is in real life. And, when they’re done well (i.e. not contrived), those unexpected things can add a great deal to a story. Certainly, they can add suspense and plot layers.

Agatha Christie wove unexpected happenings into her stories and novels more than once. In Murder on the Orient Express, for instance, Hercule Poirot is en route from the Middle East back to London. He gets a berth on the famous Orient Express train, and prepares for the three-day trip across Europe. On the second night of the journey, wealthy American businessman Samuel Ratchett is stabbed in his bunk. Poirot is asked to find out who the killer is, so that that person can be handed over to the police at the next border crossing. He agrees, and takes part in interviewing the suspects (all of whom are berthed in the same train car as the victim). In this case, a snowstorm that stopped the train disrupted the killer’s plans. And it’s interesting to see how other plans have had to be hastily put together. The fact of the snowstorm doesn’t immediately tell Poirot who the murderer is. But it’s the one thing the murderer couldn’t control.

Unexpected weather also plays a role in Robert Pollock’s Loophole. In that novel, professional thief Mike Daniels and his team have targeted London’s City Savings Deposit Bank for a heist. To do the job well, though, they’ll need the services of an architect. So, Daniels enlists out-of-work architect Stephen Booker to join the team. Booker is desperate for money, so he goes along with the plan, albeit reluctantly at first. Everything is carefully put together, and all starts well enough. The team members think that every detail is in order. But they haven’t counted on a sudden rainstorm that comes up during the heist. And that storm changes everything. Speaking of heist stories, fans of Donald Westlake’s John Dortmunder novels know that Dortmunder and his team often run up against unexpected problems when they’re trying to pull off a job.

It’s not always storms that unexpectedly alter plans. For instance, much of the action in Dorothy Sayers’ The Nine Tailors takes place in the East Anglia village of Fenchurch St. Paul. One of the customs of the local church is a New Year’s Eve change-ringing, and one of the ringers is Will Thoday. As luck would have it, Thoday falls ill with influenza just before New Year’s Eve, so he can’t do his share of the ringing. As it so happens, Lord Peter Wimsey and his valet/assistant, Mervyn Bunter, have had a car accident in the area. They are rescued by the local vicar, Theodore Venables, and invited to stay at the rectory until their car is fixed. When Wimsey discovers that Thoday is ill, he offers to take the man’s place at the change-ringing. Venables gratefully accepts the offer, and the change-ringing goes off as planned. Both of these incidents (Thoday’s illness and Wimsey’s car trouble) are things that that couldn’t have been controlled. And they play their role in what happens when, a few months later, an extra body is discovered in a gravesite intended for the local squire.

Michael Collins’ short story Who? features his PI sleuth Dan Fortune. One day, a seventeen-year-old boy named Boyd Conners collapses suddenly and dies of what seems to be a heart attack. Boyd was young, and in quite good health, with no congenital medical problems. So, his mother has begun to question the official theory. She visits Fortune, asking him to look into the matter, and Fortune agrees. He traces the boy’s last days and weeks, and finds out that there are a few people who might be considered enemies. Still, there doesn’t seem to be a really clear suspect. But then, Fortune makes a small discovery that changes the course of the investigation. It turns out that Boyd was what you might call an accidental victim. The murderer had planned to kill someone else, but due to something that person couldn’t control, and couldn’t have foreseen, Boyd died instead.

Christopher Brookmyre’s Quite Ugly One Morning begins with one of those unexpected happenings that alter the course of a story. Journalist Jack Parlabane has recently returned to Edinburgh from Los Angeles, and is settling in. He wakes up one morning to a great deal of commotion, and decides to see what’s going on. He leaves his flat, only to learn the hard way that he’s forgotten his key. The door locks automatically, so now, Parlabane can’t get back inside. He knows that the downstairs flat has a window that corresponds to one of his own. So, he decides to go through that flat, if he can, climb out that window, and up into his own place. When he enters that downstairs flat, Parlabane finds out the source of the commotion that woke him up: there’s a dead body there. DC Jenny Dalziel, who’s on the scene, catches Parlabane trying to sneak through the window, and draws the obvious conclusion. When Parlabane convinces her that he is innocent, they begin to co-operate, and in the end, they find out who the dead man was, who the killer is, and what the motive is. And it all happens because neither Parlabane nor the killer could have anticipated forgetting the key.

And then there’s Jane Woodham’s Twister. As the story begins, five days of rain have soaked the city of Dunedin. Then, an unexpected twister roars through. The police are already stretched thin, as the saying goes, because of a ‘flu epidemic that’s making the rounds of the city, and the weather is making a bad situation completely miserable. Then, the body of Tracey Wenlock, who went missing a few weeks ago, is discovered. Her body was in some underbrush, and it might never have been found – or not for a very long time. But the twister knocked down trees and spurred a general cleanup that the killer couldn’t have anticipated. DSS Leo Judd is assigned to find out what happened to Tracey. Ordinarily, the job would have been given to someone else, since Judd lost his own beloved daughter, Beth, nine years earlier, and is still coping with that. But there is no-one else, because of the ‘flu epidemic. Now, Judd has to put his own grief aside and try to find some closure for Tracey’s family.

There are many other examples of those unexpected things that change plans. The trick is to weave them into a plot as naturally and authentically as possible. Otherwise, they can seem too contrived. When they’re done well, though, they can add a layer of suspense, to say nothing of plot twists, to a story.


ps. The ‘photo is of the aftermath of an unexpected pinhole leak in our plumbing. That certainly changed my plans when it happened…

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


Filed under Agatha Christie, Christopher Brookmyre, Donald Westlake, Dorothy Sayers, Jane Woodham, Michael Collins, Robert Pollock