Category Archives: Jill Edmondson

I’ll Arrange For Making All Arrangements*

caterersMany years ago, families who hosted formal parties would depend on their own kitchen staff (and, sometimes, ‘borrowed’ staff) to prepare the food, clean up, and so on. Families without the means for that would do their own cooking. That’s not so much the case in today’s world. Many people have full-time jobs, and don’t have a lot of spare time for event planning and elegant food preparation. Others simply don’t have the interest.

That’s where professional event planners and caterers come in. It’s a huge business, too. Many restaurants have a catering option; other caterers are independent businesses. And event planners have quickly become a very attractive option for people who are getting ready for a wedding, a corporate dinner, or other major event.

It’s not surprise, then, that caterers and event planners have begun to make appearances in crime fiction, too. These professionals see a lot, hear a lot, and are usually highly skilled at noting and managing even the smallest detail. So, they’re in a very good position to be sleuths, witnesses, or victims.

One of the more famous sleuths in the catering business is Diane Mott Davidson’s Gertrude ‘Goldy’ Schulz. Beginning with 1990’s Catering to Nobody, this series follows Schulz, who lives and works in the small town of Aspen Meadow, Colorado. As a caterer, she gets involved in all sorts of events, from after-funeral gatherings to graduations to weddings. So, she’s often not far from the scene when there’s a murder, and in more than one case, she finds the body. Another fictional catering company is Isis Crawford’s A Little Taste of Heaven, based in Longely, New York. It’s owned and run by sisters Bernie and Libby Simmons, who are the daughters of a retired police officer. Like Goldy Schulz, the Simmons sisters are often on the scene when there’s a murder. And once or twice, they fall under suspicion themselves. There are other examples, too, of mystery series that feature sleuths who are caterers.

There are also several crime novels and series that include wedding and other event planners. For instance, in Jill Edmondson’s Blood and Groom, Toronto PI Sasha Jackson gets a new client, Christine Arvisais. It seems that Arvisais’ former fiancé, Gordon Hanes, was shot on what was supposed to be their wedding day. Since the couple’s engagement had been broken off, many people think Arvisais is the murderer, although she’s never been formally accused. Still, she wants her name cleared. She’s rude, highhanded, and selfish, but a fee is a fee, so Jackson takes the case. One lead takes her to the office of wedding planner Valerie O’Connor, who was to put together the Arvisais/Hanes wedding. Jackson decides that it’s best to visit in the guise of a bride-to-be, so she persuades a friend to pose as her fiancé. It’s a funny scene, and the visit gives Jackson some valuable information.

Marla Cooper has recently launched a series featuring San Francisco-based wedding planner Kelsey McKenna. In the first novel, Terror in Taffeta, McKenna is hired to plan a destination wedding that’s to take place in the small Mexican town of San Miguel de Allende. Her clients, Nicole Abernethy and Vince Moreno, are happy with the arrangements, and everything seems to be going smoothly enough. Then, just at the end of the ceremony, one of the bridesmaids, Dana Poole, collapses and dies of what turns out to be poison. The local police begin to investigate, and soon settle on the bride’s sister, Zoe, as the killer. Zoe is arrested and jailed, but she claims she’s innocent. McKenna wants to get Zoe out of jail if she can. What’s more, the bride’s mother insists that she ‘fix the problem,’ even saying that that’s part of her job. So, McKenna begins to ask questions. She soon finds that there are things about the victim that a lot of people didn’t know, and that more than one person could have had a motive for murder.

Gail Bowen’s sleuth, Joanne Kilbourn Shreve, is a political scientist and retired academic. She is also the mother of four children. In The Wandering Soul Murders, the oldest, Mieka, has made the difficult decision to leave university and open her own catering business. Although her mother isn’t very happy about it, Mieka has a solid business plan and purchases a catering company called Judgements. It’s so successful that she’s actually planning to open a second location. Then one morning, she discovers the body of one of her employees, seventeen-year-old Bernice Morin, in a trash bin. Needless to say, Mieka is badly shaken. Still, the police are called in, and begin to investigate. Then, there’s another death which might be linked. It’s not long before Mieka and her mother are involved in a case with deep roots and a dark background.

And then there’s Mari Jungstedt’s Dark Angel. Successful Gotland event planner Vicktor Algård has fallen deeply in love with Veronika Hammer. In fact, he’s left his wife and their children for her sake. One night, he is hosting a glittering opening event for a new conference center, when Veronika hands him a cyanide-laced drink, then goes to use the restroom. He drinks it, collapses and dies, and the next morning, police detective Anders Knutas and his team begin the investigation. On the surface, it seems that the case is very clear. But it’s not long before other possibilities come up. Was the drink originally intended for Veronika? If so, that opens up an entirely new line of questioning. Was it intended for Algård, and Veronika used as a pawn? That’s a possibility too. It turns out to be a much more complicated case than it seems on the surface.

Caterers and event planners have certainly carved out a place for themselves in today’s professions. And they’ve made an impression in crime fiction, too. Which ones have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jerry Herman’s Just Leave Everything to Me.

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Filed under Diane Mott Davidson, Gail Bowen, Isis Crawford, Jill Edmondson, Mari Jungstedt, Marla Cooper

Good Times Are Coming Now*

optimistic-endingsThe thing about a crime fiction novel is that usually, it includes at least one murder. And in real life, a murder wreaks havoc on the lives of those involved. Loved ones grieve, and nothing’s ever really the same afterwards. So, if a crime novel is to be realistic, there can’t be a perfectly happy ending. And crime fiction fans like their novels to have some realism, for the most part.

Is it possible, then, for a crime novel to have a happy ending? Can things work out well for the characters, without the novel calling for too much disbelief? It isn’t easy to do, and not all crime fiction fans want things to end well. But there are authors who manage to make things all right again, so to speak, without too much that’s not credible.

Agatha Christie used an interesting strategy to accomplish this (and she’s not the only one). If the victim is unpleasant or dangerous enough, readers aren’t too distressed at that person’s death. There are plenty of examples of this; here’s just one. In Appointment With Death, the Boynton family travels to the Middle East for a sightseeing trip. As we soon learn, family matriarch Mrs. Boynton is tyrannical and malicious. She has her family members so cowed that none of them dares go against her wishes. During the family’s travels, they visit the famous ancient city of Petra. On the second afternoon of their stay, Mrs. Boynton is killed by what turns out to be poison. Hercule Poirot is also in the Middle East, and he is persuaded to look into the death. Readers find out who the killer was, which has its own satisfaction. And I can say without spoiling the story that things do work out well for the rest of the characters. In that sense, the story really does have a happy ending.

Some authors make the criminal nasty enough that readers are pleased when she or he is caught, and there’s a real satisfaction that comes from that. It doesn’t take away the sadness from the fact that at least one person has been killed. But there’s a sense that things will be all right again. That’s what happens in Andrea Camilleri’s Dance of the Seagull. In that novel, Vigàta Inspector Salvo Montalbano and his team face a desperate situation when one of their colleagues, Giuseppe Fazio, goes missing during his investigation of smuggling activity. Montalbano believes that the best chance for finding Fazio will come from following the same leads Fazio followed, so the team picks up the threads of that investigation. It’s not spoiling the story to say that Fazio is found, wounded, but alive, and is spirited away to recuperate under an assumed name. During Fazio’s hospital stay, Montalbano and his team continue following leads. Then, their principal witness is murdered. And the people behind the killing are highly-placed and ruthless. In the end, though, Montalbano tracks down the killer. And there’s a real satisfaction as that person is brought to justice.

Giorgio Scerbanenco’s A Private Venus might, on the surface, seem as though it ought to have a very sad ending. A disgraced doctor, Duca Lamberti, has recently been released from prison, where he served time for euthanasia. He’s hired by a wealthy engineer, Pietro Auseri, who wants Lamberti’s help with a family problem. Auseri’s son, Davide, has been drinking heavily, despite treatment. He’s also been depressed and withdrawn. He won’t say why, either. Auseri wants Lamberti to work as a sort of private rehabilitation expert. Lamberti isn’t sure exactly how he’ll help, but he agrees. As he gets to know Davide, he learns the young man’s story. Davide blames himself for the death a year earlier of Alberta Radelli, whose body was found in a field outside Milan. Apparently, they’d met by accident, enjoyed each other’s company, and spent the day in Florence. When she begged him to take her with him, and not to Milan (where they met) he refused. On the surface, it seems as though Alberta committed suicide, as she threatened. But Lamberti doesn’t think that’s so. He believes that the only way to free Davide from his demons is to find out what really happened to Alberta, so he begins to ask questions, and insists that Davide take part, too. And in the end, they find out the truth. This is, in many ways, a noir novel. There’s some real ugliness behind this death and another that’s connected. But things do turn out. And, without spoiling the story, I can say that Davide is freed of his guilt.

As Honey Brown’s Through the Cracks begins, fourteen-year-old Adam Vander has finally summoned up the courage to flee his abusive father, Joe. The problem for Adam is that he has been kept locked away, more or less, for most of his life, and doesn’t have much in the way of real-world coping skills. Fortunately, for Adam, he meets Billy Benson, a young man who visits the house just as he, Adam, is leaving. The two leave the house and spend the next week together. Billy provides much in the way of ‘street sense,’ which means that Adam gets enough food, shelter, and safety. But that doesn’t mean all is safe. In fact, Billy and Adam get into some real danger. As the week goes on, we learn more about these two characters, and they learn about each other. It turns out that they are connected in ways that neither one is entirely comfortable with, but that are lasting. And both are connected with the disappearance ten years earlier of Nathan Fisher, who went missing during a trip to Market Day with his parents. This story includes some truly unhappy events. But the threads of the story come together in ways that make for a happy ending. It’s realistic, but we can see that things will be all right.

And then there’s Jill Edmondson’s Blood and Groom. In that novel, Christine Arvisais hires Toronto PI Sasha Jackson to find out who killed her ex-fiancé, Gordon Hanes. The two had broken off their engagement; then, Hanes was shot on what was to have been their wedding day. Now, she wants to clear her own name, because many people insist that she is guilty. Arvisais is, to say the least, not a pleasant person. But she is a client, and a fee is a fee. So, Jackson takes the case. She slowly discovers that this murder is quite likely related to other, similar murders. And, in the end, she finds out who’s behind the killings. In some ways, this isn’t a happy story. And at one point, Jackson gets into real danger. But in the end, she catches the person responsible, and some other plot threads in the story are ‘straightened out,’ too.

You’ll notice here that I haven’t mentioned what most people think of as ‘cosy mysteries.’ Lots of readers expect that things will work out in that sort of book. But it’s possible to have an optimistic ending, even in a book that’s not a cosy. What do you think? Do you like positive, or at least optimistic, endings?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Charles Strouse and Martin Charmin’s I Don’t Need Anything But You.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Giorgio Scerbanenco, Honey Brown, Jill Edmondson

Show Me Don’t Tell Me*

Depicting MurdersOne of the questions I’m facing as I work on my new manuscript is whether or not to depict the murder featured in the story. On the one hand, including the murder, especially at the beginning of a story, can be a powerful way to draw the reader in. It really can be a solid ‘hook.’ Showing the murder can also give a novel a solid core around which a plot can be built, and it doesn’t require a gory description.

On the other hand, depicting the murder can be tricky. It requires thought to do it without identifying the murderer. For the whodunit author, for instance, that requires finesse. And even authors who write different kinds of crime fiction (i.e. not whodunits) need to handle the depiction carefully. Otherwise, the writer runs the risk of being melodramatic.

There are really arguments on both sides of this question. And of course, there are plenty of crime novels that are examples of each approach. And as I think you’ll see, it can work either way.

In Gail Bowen’s Deadly Appearances, political scientist and academician Joanne Kilbourn is attending a community picnic where her friend, Androu ‘Andy’ Boychuk is scheduled to make a speech. He’s an up-and-coming politician who’s just been selected to lead Saskatchewan’s Official Opposition party, so this is an important speech for him. He’s just gotten started when he suddenly collapses on stage and quickly dies of what turns out to be poison. Bowen doesn’t provide all of the details of his death, but the murder is depicted. As a way of coping with her grief at the loss of her friend, Kilbourn decides to write a biography of Boychuk. As she learns more about him, she also learns that his life was more complicated than she’d thought. And the closer she gets to an understanding of that life, the closer she gets to the truth about the murder.

In one of the main plot threads of Ian Rankin’s Black and Blue, Aberdeen-based oil worker Allan Mitchison is having some drinks with some companions. Mitchison’s drinking buddies take him back to their place, where they murder him. This killing is portrayed clearly. At first, there doesn’t seem to be a motive for the murder. Mitchison didn’t have obvious enemies, and he wasn’t important enough, if I can put it that way, to make a difference. As Inspector John Rebus discovers, though, he’d found out some secrets that it wasn’t safe for him to know.

Martin Edward’s The Cipher Garden begins with the murder of landscaper Warren Howe. He’s on the job one afternoon when he is murdered with his own scythe. This murder isn’t depicted in all of its detail. But readers are witnesses to what happens. At the time of the murder, everyone thinks Howe’s wife Tina is guilty, and she has plenty of motive. Howe is an abusive, unfaithful husband, and those are his good qualities. But the police can’t find enough evidence to pursue the case. Ten years later, anonymous tips suggest that Tina really was guilty. So DCI Hannah Scarlett, head of the Cumbria Constabulary’s Cold Case Review Team, decides to re-open the case. When she and her team do so, they find that this case is more complicated, and has deeper roots, than it seems. At the same time, Oxford historian Daniel Kind is working on a mystery of his own. He’s recently taken a cottage with an unusual garden, laid out in a cryptic shape. It turns out that the mystery of the garden is connected to the mystery of who killed Warren Howe, and why.

In all of these novels, the authors show the murders, but they do so in ways that don’t reveal the killers’ identities. What’s more, none of the authors revels in a gore-fest. So the murders aren’t depicted for ‘shock value.’

Still, there are plenty of authors who choose not to depict the murders at the core of their novels. And many readers prefer this style of mystery, as they don’t care much for a lot of violence. For those authors and readers, the ‘hook’ may be the discovery of a body. Or it may be something else.

For instance, in Colin Cotterill’s The Coroner’s Lunch, Dr. Siri Paiboun and his team face a strange case. Comrade Nitnoy, the wife of Senior Comrade Kham, suddenly collapsed and died during an important luncheon. This is 1970s Laos, where the Party is firmly in control, and where everyone knows better than to go against the wishes of a highly-placed Party member. In fact, Party instructions are the reason for which Dr. Siri has become Laos’ medical examiner in the first place. So when he is told that Comrade Nitnoy died of accidental poisoning by parasites in some raw food, he is expected to go along with that explanation, submit a cursory report and be done with the matter. But a few pieces of evidence suggest that something else caused the victim’s death. Now, Dr. Siri has to decide whether and how much to go against his superiors’ wishes to find out what actually happened. In this case, readers don’t see the murder committed. Rather, we learn about the death when Comrade Nitnoy’s body is wheeled into the mortuary. Readers find out more of the details as Dr. Siri talks to people who were at the luncheon, and as he does his own tests to find out how Comrade Nitnoy died.

Jill Edmondson’s Blood and Groom introduces Toronto PI Sasha Jackson. In that novel, she’s recently opened for business, and is eager to build a clientele. So when she gets a visit from Christine Arvisais, she’s hoping she’ll be able to help this new client. As Arvisais tells the story, she had been planning to marry Gordon Hanes. Their engagement ended, though, and Arvisais claimed she’d moved on. Hanes was shot on the day that was supposed to have been their wedding day, and plenty of people blame his ex-fiancée.  Arvisais is spoiled, rude, and malicious. But she claims to be innocent, and a fee is a fee, so Jackson takes the case. As she starts to look into the matter, she finds that more than one person could have had a good motive for murder. The murder of Gordon Hanes isn’t depicted. Rather, Jackson learns what happened as she asks questions and does research.

There are many authors who choose to have a character discover a body, rather than show the murder. That’s what happens in Christine Poulson’s Murder is Academic. Cambridge academic Cassandra James goes to the home of Margaret Joplin, who heads the English Literature Department at James’ college. She’s stopped by the house to collect some exam paper. Instead, she finds her boss’ body in the pool, and the papers scattered everywhere. At first, the death looks like a terrible accident. But soon enough, little clues suggest otherwise. As James looks into the death, she finds that the victim had a more complicated life than it seemed.

What do you think? Do you have a preference when it comes to the way authors present murders in the crime fiction you read? If you’re a writer, do you depict the murder, or allude to it? Why?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Rush’s Show Don’t Tell.

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Filed under Christine Poulson, Colin Cotterill, Gail Bowen, Ian Rankin, Jill Edmondson, Martin Edwards

Everything She Wants is Everything She Sees*

High MaintenanceYou know the type, I’ll bet. The sort of person who has no problem sending a dish back to the kitchen three times. Or who insists on getting instant service, answers to questions, and so on. Or who absolutely must have the best in clothes, food, or wine (or all of the above). Yes, I’m talking about high-maintenance people. I’m sure we’ve all met folks like that.

High-maintenance people can be the bane of existence for anyone in any sort of service industry. And they don’t tend to endear themselves to others in personal life, either. But they can make for interesting fictional characters. And they can be a ‘gold mine’ of conflict and tension in a crime novel.

Agatha Christie included high maintenance characters in several of her novels. One of them is Timothy Abernethie, whom we meet in After the Funeral (AKA Funerals Are Fatal). He’s the younger brother of patriarch Richard Abernethie, who, at the beginning of the novel, has just died. Timothy is a hypochondriac who really does seem to relish the attention he gets due to his ‘ill health.’ He’s demanding, querulous and petulant, too. When his brother’s will is read, Timothy naturally assumes that he should inherit everything (and it’s quite a fortune), and be trusted to look after the other members of the family. That’s not what happens, though. Instead, the money is divided more or less evenly amongst Richard Abernethie’s relatives, and this infuriates Timothy. But that turns out to be the least of his problems when a suspicion is raised that this death might have been a murder. And when the youngest Abernethie sister, Cora Lansquenet, is murdered, it looks as though someone is determined to get that fortune. The family lawyer, Mr. Entwhistle, asks Hercule Poirot to look into the matter, and he agrees. It turns out to be a very interesting psychological case.

Barbara Neely’s Blanche White has to deal with high maintenance people in more than one of her investigations. She’s a professional housekeeper whose clients often make assumptions about themselves and about her because of their different social classes. They also often make such assumptions because many of them are white, and Blanche is black. On the one hand, she’s learned to manoeuver in that environment. She’s also learned that in subtle but real ways, she’s the one in control. On the other hand, that doesn’t mean she’s immune to the very natural irritation that comes from being treated in a demanding, high-handed way. In Blanche on the Lam, for instance, she ends up taking a temporary housekeeping job with wealthy Grace and Everett. From the moment Blanche begins her new job, Grace treats her with at best, condescension and at worst, complete disrespect. Both Grace and Everett are demanding, high-handed and very particular. The fact that they’re high maintenance isn’t the reason for the two murders that occur in the novel. But it makes for an interesting layer of tension.

In Geraldine Evans’ Dead Before Morning, DI Joe Rafferty and DS Dafyd Llewellyn investigate the murder of a young woman whose body is found on the grounds of the exclusive Elmhurst Sanatorium. Its owner, Dr. Anthony Melville-Briggs, is extremely concerned lest anything happen to the facility’s reputation, and he wants the case solved as quickly as possible. Soon enough, the body is identified as that of a sex worker named Linda Wilks. Once she is identified, the two sleuths trace leads that may link her to her killer. One very good possibility is that Melville-Briggs himself may be responsible, and Rafferty would like nothing better. Melville-Briggs is high-handed, demanding, and rude. He’s also quite high maintenance in that he expects instant results, instant call returns, and so on. It’s actually Llewellyn who has to remind Rafferty that there are other possibilities.

Toronto PI Sasha Jackson doesn’t have it much easier in Jill Edmondson’s Blood and Groom. One day, she gets a visit from Christine Arvisais, who wants to hire Jackson to solve a murder case. It seems that Arvisais’ former fiancé, Gordon Hanes, was shot on the day that would have been their wedding day had the engagement not been broken off. Everyone thinks Arvisais is responsible, but she claims to be innocent. From the beginning, Jackson doesn’t care much at all for this client. She’s rude, overly pampered, snooty, and very high maintenance. In fact, she doesn’t want the case solved because she cares who shot Hanes. She only wants to prove she didn’t. Still, a fee is a fee, and Jackson is just getting started as a PI. So she takes the case and gets started looking for answers. She finds that Hanes’ murder is linked to another murder, and in the process, digs up some shady secrets.

Sometimes, high maintenance goes beyond just spoiled and petulant. For example, in Patricia Abbott’s Concrete Angel, we meet the very high maintenance Eve Moran. From the time she was a small child, Eve has always wanted to acquire. And she’s never let anything, not even murder, get between her and what she wants, whether it’s money, jewels, men, or something else. Her daughter Christine has been raised in this toxic environment, so she and her mother have a very dysfunctional relationship. The more time goes on, the more trapped Christine is in her mother’s web. Then, she sees that her little brother Ryan is at risk of being caught in the same trap. She decides that she’s going to have to free both herself and Ryan if she’s going to save them.

And I don’t think I’d be forgiven if I discussed high maintenance people in crime fiction without mentioning Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe. Fans will tell you that he’s demanding, extremely particular, high-handed and sometimes very condescending. He definitely insists that the world run by his rules. And his partner, Archie Goodwin, is not afraid to tell him so. Wolfe gets away with what he does because he happens to be a brilliant detective. But that doesn’t make him a delight to be around at times…

And that’s the thing about high maintenance people. They are sometimes most unpleasant, and they’re not popular as bosses, potential partners or customers/clients. But they’re also a part of life. And they can add some interesting tension to a crime novel.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Wham! ‘s Everything She Wants.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Barbara Neely, Geraldine Evans, Jill Edmondson, Patricia Abbott, Rex Stout

I Can Stand on My Own Without You*

SelfPerceptionSelf-perception plays a critical role in the way we live our lives. It impacts the way we dress, behave, speak, and interact. Often (not always) our view of ourselves is also affected by the way others treat us. And it’s fascinating to think about how much can change when our self-perception does.

In crime fiction, of course, that evolution of self-perception can have positive or negative (sometimes even tragic) consequences. And it’s interesting to see how it all plays out in terms of character development. Changes in self-perception can even form part of a plot line.

In Agatha Christie’s The Moving Finger, we meet Jerry and Joanna Burton, siblings who move to the village of Lymstock so that Jerry can recover from injuries he sustained in a plane crash. Soon after their arrival, they receive an ugly anonymous letter that suggests that they’re not brother and sister, but lovers. They quickly learn that they’re not the only targets, either. Someone’s sending vicious letters to several of the village’s residents. Then, there’s a suicide. And another death. The police look into the matter, but the local vicar’s wife thinks that Miss Marple will find out the truth more quickly. She knows the area and the people, and as she herself puts it, she knows human nature. In the end, Miss Marple discovers who’s behind what happens in Lymstock. One of Lymstock’s residents is the local solicitor’s stepdaughter, twenty-year-old Megan Hunter. She’s intelligent and interesting, but she is also awkward and unsophisticated. Certainly her self-perception isn’t very positive. Jerry, though, finds himself falling in love with her. In one scene of the novel, he goes to London and decides to take Megan along. While they’re in London, he arranges for her to have a makeover. Just those steps encourage Megan to begin to re-think the way she sees herself, and that ends up making a major difference in her. I know, I know, fans of The ABC Murders.

Stan Jones’ Nathan Active is an Alaska State Trooper. He is also Inupiaq. When we first meet him in White Sky, Black Ice, he has recently been assigned to the small town of Chukchi. Although Active knows that he is Inupiaq, he was raised in Anchorage by white adoptive parents. So he has little connection to his people, and no real self-perception as one of them. One of the story arcs in this series concerns the evolution of his view of himself as an Inupiaq, and his learning of what that means in terms of language and culture.

Many of Louise Penny’s novels take place in Three Pines, a small town in rural Québec. Several of the regular characters in this series are residents of that town. Two of those residents are artist Clara Morrow and her husband, Peter. As the series begins, Peter is acknowledged as the one with the real talent. Clara sees herself as being less talented and certainly less accomplished than her husband. But as the series moves on, Clara finds her artistic voice. She begins to get some notice, and her art begins to evolve. Now, she has to re-think her self-perception and see herself as the truly talented artist that she is. In some ways, it’s really empowering for Clara to see herself in that new way. But it also has serious unintended consequences.

Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman is a Melbourne baker who lives and works in a large, Roman-style building called Insula. When the series begins, she does the baking by herself, and has the assistance of Kylie Manners and Gossamer ‘Goss’ Judge in the shop itself. But then she meets Jason Wallace, a fifteen-year-old who’s just recently stopped using heroin. One day, he shows up at her bakery door asking for any work she might have. At first, he mops floors and does other cleaning tasks. He’s a tough street kid who doesn’t really see himself as having a place anywhere else. But before long, both he and Corinna notice something: he’s a natural baker. He’s got an innate sense of what goes into a good loaf of bread, a cake, and, especially, a muffin. In fact, he’s so good that before long, he’s put in charge of creating new varieties of muffins for the bakery. One of Corinna’s nicknames for him is the Muffin Man. As he begins to perceive himself in a new way, Jason starts to change. He becomes reliable, often getting to work in the bakery before his boss does. He takes pride in his work, and begins to see a future for himself.

Of course, the way we see ourselves can sometimes get us into trouble. Just ask Lewis Winter, whom we meet in Malcom Mackay’s The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter. He’s a small-time Glasgow drug dealer who’s never really ‘played with the big boys,’ as the saying goes. But he’s ambitious in his way, and sees himself as a soon-to-be major player in the underworld. On the one hand, that self-perception is empowering, and he begins have some influence. On the other, he also attracts the notice of Peter Jamieson and John Young, who are getting annoyed by Winters’ attempts to rival them. So they hire professional killer Callum MacLean to take care of the problem. MacLean is very good at what he does; and in the end, Winter’s self-perception as a dominant underworld figure turns out to have disastrous consequences.

Sometimes, even a title can make a difference in one’s self-perception. In Jill Edmondson’s Dead Light District, for instance, brothel owner Candace Curtis hires Toronto PI Sasha Jackson. One of Curtis’ employees, Mary Carmen Santamaria, has gone missing, and Curtis is worried about. One of the things Jackson needs to do, of course, is get a sense of the business. Here’s a short bit of a conversation she has with her new client about it:
 

‘‘You have a database of hookers?’… [Jackson]
‘Please, don’t call them hookers. Most of the girls use the term intimacy consultant, though some call themselves relaxation therapists. I know they’re euphemisms, but they’re important to the girls’ self esteem.’
‘Consultants. Right. Got it.’’

 

Curtis knows that self-perception is an important aspect of success, and she wants her employees to have a sense of empowerment.

And that’s the thing about the way we see ourselves. It really does impact a lot about what we do. Everything from dress, to language, to interaction style is affected by the way we view ourselves. And when that view changes, so does everything else.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Alan Jay Lerner and Fredrick Loewe’s Without You.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Jill Edmondson, Kerry Greenwood, Louise Penny, Malcom Mackay, Stan Jones