Category Archives: John Dickson Carr

So Welcome to Our Family Tree*

Most of us have what you might call ordinary families. No particularly long history, great wealth, or titles. But some families have pedigrees. On the surface, it may seem as though a pedigree is a good thing to have, especially if it comes with money. But that’s not always the case. Just a quick look at crime fiction and you’ll see what I mean.

There are several examples of such pedigrees in Agatha Christie’s work (right, fans of The Hollow?). One family like that is the Chevenix-Gore family, whom we meet in Dead Man’s Mirror. Sir Gervase Chevenix-Gore is inordinately proud of his family lineage. In fact, he’s working on a book about the Chevenix-Gore history. That pride is what makes it so difficult for him when he comes to believe that one of his own family members may be cheating him. He writes to Hercule Poirot asking him to look into the matter, and Poirot decides to accede. By the time Poirot arrives at the family home, though, Sir Gervase is dead. On the surface, it looks as though he’s shot himself. But small pieces of evidence suggest that he might have been murdered. And it turns out that there are several suspects, too.

Several of Raymond Chandler’s stories feature pedigreed, or at least very wealthy, families. One of them is the Sternwood family of The Big Sleep. General Guy Sternwood hires PI Philip Marlowe to help solve an embarrassing problem. It seems that a book dealer named Arthur Geiger has sent Sternwood an extortion letter that makes reference to Sternwood’s daughter, Carmen. Marlowe’s task will be to find Geiger and get him to leave the family alone. When Marlowe tracks down Geiger, he discovers that the man’s been murdered – and Carmen is in the room. She’s either too drugged or too dazed to say what’s happened, though, and Marlowe’s instinct is to get her out of the way and keep suspicion from her. He does just that, thinking that he’s now done with the family. That doesn’t prove to be the case, though. When the Sternwoods’ chauffer is found dead of an apparent suicide (that’s later identified as a murder), Marlowe ends up being drawn into the investigation, and right back into the Sternwoods’ drama.

John Dickson Carr’s Hag’s Nook features the Starberth family. The Starbeths have lived in the area for many generations. And, for two of them, the Starberth men served as governors of nearby Chatterham Prison. The prison’s been abandoned, but the Starberths are still associated with it. On his twenty-fifth birthday, each male Starberth spends the night in the old Governor’s Room at the prison. During his stay, he has to open the safe in the room, and follow the directions written on a piece of paper that’s stored there. Now it’s the turn of Martin Starberth; and, although he’s reluctant to follow the ritual, he sees no good way out. On the night of his stay at the prison, Starberth dies of what looks like a tragic accident. But there are clues that this was murder. Dr. Gideon Fell (for whom this is a first appearance) makes sense of the clues, and discovers who’s responsible for Martin Starberth’s death.

In Ellery Queen’s Calamity Town, Queen travels to the small New England town of Wrightsville, where he’s hoping to get some peace and quiet, so he can write. He settles into a guest house owned by the town’s undisputed social leaders, John F. Wright, and his wife, Hermione ‘Hermy.’ The family’s been integrally woven into the town’s life for generations, and that becomes part of the problem in this story. It was embarrassing enough for them when their youngest daughter, Nora, was jilted by her fiancé, Jim Haight, three years earlier. But now Haight has returned. What’s worse, he and Nora resume their relationship. In fact, they marry. Then, suspicions arise that Jim may be planning to kill his bride for her money. Matters come to a head on New Year’s Eve, when Jim’s sister, Rosemary, is poisoned by a cocktail that was meant for Nora. Now, Jim’s arrested for murder, and the whole town assumes he’s guilty. Queen isn’t so sure, though, and he works with Nora’s sister, Pat, to find out who really killed Rosemary Haight.

In Rita Mae Brown’s Wish You Were Here, we are introduced to Mary Minor ‘Harry’ Haristeen. In this novel, she’s the postmistress of the small town of Crozet, Virginia. Her job puts her in contact with all of the local residents, since just about everyone comes to the post office on a regular basis. That’s part of how she comes to know so much about what’s going on in town. But there’s another factor, too. Harry is, on her mother’s side, a Minor, which makes her a member of one of the oldest families around. She’s one of the First Families of Virginia (FFV), and that gives her status, even though she’s neither wealthy nor politically powerful. In that culture, being from such a family gives one cachet. In Harry’s case, it gives her an ‘in’ that plenty of other people don’t have. So, she’s able to find out a lot of things as she solves mysteries.

Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey has a similar ‘in.’ He’s a member of a very old, titled family; in fact, his brother is the Duke of Denver, and his mother the Dowager Duchess of Denver. Wimsey’s pedigree is sterling enough that he can move in the highest social circles, and sometimes does. He doesn’t judge people by their wealth or family names, but he certainly has both.

And then there’s Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti. He himself isn’t from a ‘pedigreed’ background. But his wife, Paola Falier is. Her parents are Conte Orazio Falier and his wife, Donatella. They have impeccable social credentials, and are quite well-connected. This gives Brunetti a very valuable resource in his investigations, as his trails often lead to high places.

As you can see rich family histories, and pedigrees, can give a person status in some places. For some sleuths, it’s quite helpful. But that doesn’t necessarily make life any easier for them. That sort of background can come with a price…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s (Our) Family Tree.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Donna Leon, Dorothy Sayers, Ellery Queen, John Dickson Carr, Raymond Chandler, Rita Mae Brown

In Restless Dreams I Walked Alone*

benjamin-braddocksOne of the more famous film characters is Benjamin Braddock, from Mike Nichols’ 1967 film, The Graduate. He’s bright, and has a university degree, but is still, in his way, naïve. He has his own way of thinking, so in some ways he’s a non-conformist. He’s also at that young-adult stage of sexual experimentation and trying to work out what path he wants to take.

There are plenty of characters like that in crime fiction. Not all of them, of course, meet up with a ‘Mrs. Robinson,’ but they’re all finding their way, and experimenting with the larger world. Here are just a few examples to show you what I mean.

In Agatha Christie’s Appointment With Death, we meet Raymond Boynton. He, his sister Carol, and their brother Lennox, are all the stepchildren of the family matriarch Mrs. Boynton, She’s tyrannical, malicious, and manipulative. Raymond and Carol, in particular, are desperate to free themselves of her, but they’re far too afraid to try life on their own. Then, Mrs. Boynton takes her family on a trip through the Middle East, including a few days at Petra. During this trip, Raymond meets newly-fledged doctor Sarah King. He’s smitten with her, and the feeling is mutual. But of course, Raymond doesn’t want to risk upsetting his mother. Still, he wants to break free from his very sheltered existence and from his stepmother’s negative influence. Then one afternoon, Mrs. Boynton dies of what looks at first like heart failure. Colonel Carbury, who’s in charge of investigations in the area, isn’t satisfied, though. He asks Hercule Poirot to look into the matter, and Poirot agrees. As it turns out, this death was not from natural causes, and Raymond becomes a suspect.

John Dickson Carr’s Hag’s Nook introduces readers to Tad Rampole. He’s American, and a recent university graduate. He’s planned a trip abroad, and his mentor has strongly suggested that he take the opportunity to meet Dr. Gideon Fell during his travels in England. Rampole is on his way to do just that when he meets Dorothy Starberth. He’s immediately taken with her, and she seems to like him, too. When he does meet Fell, Rampole learns more about the Starberth family history. As it turns out, for several generations, the Starberths were Governors at the now-abandoned Chatterham Prison. Tthat position seems to have come with a curse, as many of the male Starberths have met with untimely ends. Still, each male Starberth has followed a particular ritual on the night of his twenty-fifth birthday. The ritual includes spending the night in the old governor’s room at the prison, unlocking the safe that’s in the room, and following the instructions written on a sheet of paper that’s kept in that safe. It’s now the turn of Dorothy Starberth’s brother, Martin, and despite the curse, he’s going to go through with the ritual. On the night of his twenty-fifth birthday, Martin is in the governor’s room at the prison when he dies of what looks like a tragic fall from the balcony. But was it an accident? Fell and Rampole work to find out the truth. Rampole is bright, educated and so on. He’s also a little naïve, and this is his first experience with murder. He offers an interesting perspective on the case, as he looks at it with young eyes, if I can put it that way.

Angela Savage’s Rajiv Patel is originally from India. But he wanted to get a chance to see the world. So, he went to Bangkok, in part to help out in his uncle’s bookshop. That’s where, in The Half Child, he meets Savage’s other protagonist, PI Jayne Keeney. Patel is fascinated, and Keeney likes him, too. Before long, they begin dating, but more than that, Patel wants to be a part of her PI business. So, when Keeney goes to Pattaya to investigate the death of Maryanne Delbeck, Patel goes, too. As the case goes on, he and Keeney do have their ups and downs, and things don’t always go smoothly. But they do care deeply for each other, and it turns out that their skills are complementary.

At the beginning of Seán Haldane’s The Devil’s Making, it’s 1868, and Chad Hobbes has just completed his degree in Jurisprudence at Oxford. Now he’s on his way to Vancouver, where he’s given a job as a constable. His duties are, for the most part, quite light: breaking up the occasional drunken quarrel, serving guard duty, and occasionally removing the local prostitutes. Everything changes one day when a group of Tsimshian Indians reports finding the body of Richard McCrory. The victim was an ex-pat American, in Canada to advance his business as an ‘alienist’ – a psychiatrist in the time before modern psychological and psychiatric work. At the time of his death, McCrory was involved with one of the Tsimshian women, Lukswaas. So, her partner, Wiladzap, is the primary suspect. He claims to be innocent, and the police need to make at least a show of investigating. So, Hobbes is tasked with asking a few perfunctory questions and ‘rubber stamping’ the theory that Wiladzap is guilty. But the more questions he asks, the less sure Hobbes is that Wiladzap is really the killer. And, as we learn, there are plenty of other possibilities. Hobbes is a bright young man. He is also sexually inexperienced, and not accustomed to interacting with people from different ethnic groups. So, this experience in Vancouver is very new to him. So are his feelings for Lukswaas. He’s attracted to her, being heterosexual. But he’s gotten conflicting messages about women, and certainly about non-whites. It’s an interesting look at a formative time in Hobbes’ life.

And then there’s Laura Joh Rowland’s Shinjū, the first of her historical novels to feature Sano Ichirō. It’s 1687 in Edo (now Tokyo), and Sano is a yoriki, a senior investigator and police officer. One day, he is asked to handle what he is told is ‘a small matter.’ The bodies of well-born Niu Yukiko, and an artist named Noriyoshi are pulled from the river. The presumption is that this is a case of two lovers whose social class separates them. Since they can’t be together, they’ve chosen to commit suicide. This isn’t uncommon in this place at this time, so Sano is expected to write and file a report very quickly and get the matter handled quietly. But soon, questions arise about that explanation. And Sano begins to believe that murder is involved. His choice to investigate gets him into enough trouble as it is. But he adds to that when the trail leads to some very high places. As he searches for the truth, Sano isn’t completely naïve. But this is his first major, important case, and he learns some (sometimes very unpleasant) lessons about what the life of the powerful is like.

And that’s the thing about characters such as Benjamin Braddock. They may be bright, educated, and interesting people. But they certainly have a lot to learn about the world…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, John Dickson Carr, Laura Joh Rowland, Seán Haldane

Wouldn’t You Rather Have Your Precious Little Ingénue*

ingénuesOne of the character types we often associate with classic and Golden Age crime fiction (although this character shows up elsewhere, too) is the ingénue – the somewhat unsophisticated, inexperienced young woman. Ingénues aren’t necessarily unintelligent. In fact, many are quite bright. But they tend to be less worldly and more innocent than more experienced female characters.

There are a lot of them in crime fiction, too. Sometimes they’re unjustly accused of murder. Sometimes they’re guilty, and hide behind the ingénue façade. They can also make for effective love interests, among other things. Whatever role the ingénue plays, she’s an integral part of, especially, classic and Golden Age crime fiction.

Fans of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes will know that, in more than one of his adventures, he helps an ingénue. For example, in The Boscombe Valley Mystery, James McCarthy is arrested for the murder of his father, Charles. There’s evidence against him, too, as he was seen quarrelling with his father just before the murder. He claims he’s innocent, though, and his fiancée, Alice Turner, believes him. She’s convinced enough to go to Inspector Lestrade and ask him to look into the case again. Lestrade thinks he has his man, but he agrees to consider the matter more closely. He contacts Sherlock Holmes, asking him to examine the evidence and see if there are any other possibilities. Holmes acquiesces and he and Dr. Watson travel to Boscombe Valley, where the murder occurred. They find that the victim gave an important clue to his killer, but no-one understood it at the time of his death.

In Agatha Christie’s Three Act Tragedy, we are introduced to Hermione ‘Egg’ Lytton Gore. Although she’s ‘well born,’ she’s been rather sheltered, and hasn’t had a chance to travel or spend a lot of time in exotic circles. She and her mother, Lady Mary Lytton Gore, are invited to a cocktail party hosted by famous actor Sir Charles Cartwright. During the party, another guest, Reverend Stephen Babbington, suddenly dies of what turns out to be poison. Also present at the party is Hercule Poirot (and Mr. Satterthwaite, by the way). Poirot takes an interest in the case, and Egg persuades him to pursue it when there’s another, similar death. Egg is a smart young woman, and by no means a ‘helpless female.’ But there are ways in which she’s an ingénue, and it’s interesting to see how that impacts her character.

In John Dickson Carr’s Hag’s Nook, recent university graduate Tad Rampole takes the advice of his mentor and travel from his native US to England. While he’s there, he’s going to meet lexicographer and academician Dr. Gideon Fell. Rampole is on his way to Fell’s home when he meets Dorothy Starberth, whose family lives not far away. He’s immediately smitten with her, so he’s happy to listen when Fell tells him the story of the Starberth family. Several generations of Starberths were Governors at a nearby prison that’s fallen into disuse. And even today, there’s a Starberth tradition connected with the prison. Every male Starberth spends the night of his twenty-fifth birthday in the old Governor’s Room at the now-ruined prison. As proof of presence, he opens the safe in the room and follows the instructions inside it. Now it’s the turn of Dorothy’s brother Martin, and she’s concerned about it. For many years, there’s been talk of a curse on the family; several of its male members have met with untimely deaths. Martin’s not overly eager to go to the prison, either, but he goes ahead with the plan. On the night of his birthday, Martin Starberth dies of what looks like a fall from a balcony. Gideon Fell isn’t so sure, though, and works to find out the truth. In this novel, Dorothy Starberth is smart and aware, but still has an air of innocence that one could definitely call ingénue.

So does nineteen-year-old Laurel Hill, whom we meet in Ellery Queen’s The Origin of Evil. In that story, Queen has taken a place in the Hollywood Hills to do some writing. He’s hoping for some peace and quiet, but that’s not what happens. Laurel visits him one day, asking him to investigate the death of her father, Leander, who died recently of a heart attack. Laurel is convinced that someone deliberately brought that attack on by sending him a series of macabre ‘gifts.’ At first, Queen has no interest in the case. But he gradually gets interested in the puzzle of what the packages may mean, and how they’re related. That’s especially true when he learns that Hill’s business partner, Roger Priam, has also been getting similar deliveries. For her part, Laurel is smart and capable. But there’s something a little innocent and young about her, and it adds to her interest as a character.

And then there’s Steph Avery’s Our Trespasses. One day, the police at one of the South London stations get an anonymous letter. In it, the author confesses to the murder of a vagrant whose body was found at an underground station. There’s very little in the letter that could identify the writer, so the police can’t really do much about it, even if it is genuine. And we soon learn that it is. The story behind the letter begins in 1966 South East London, where teenaged ingénues Bridget ‘Bridie’ and Madeline ‘Midge’ Dolan live with their parents. They’re as well-sheltered and protected as their parents can manage, but they still have an interest in the clothes, lifestyle and experimentation of the times. One Friday night, they wangle permission to go dancing at the Palais Royale, so long as their cousin Jimmy takes them and brings them back. Bridie and Midge are happy enough with this arrangement, and eagerly get ready for their big night. What happens that night is life-changing for several characters in the story, and it’s connected with the letter the police get decades later.

There are a lot of other examples of ingénues in classic and Golden Age crime fiction, and in some historical crime fiction. Do you think there are still crime-fictional ingénues today? Which ones have stayed with you?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Andrew Lloyd Weber, Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe’s Prima Donna.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Ellery Queen, John Dickson Carr, Steph Avery

It’s a Bedside Mystery*

Crime Fictional Crime Fiction FansYou probably already know this, but there are a lot of crime fiction fans out there. What’s interesting, too, is that there are plenty of fictional crime fiction fans, too. That makes sense if you think about it, because the most talented crime writers are also avid readers. And many of them read crime fiction. So it’s only logical that their interest in the genre would find its way into their writing.

In Edumnd Crispin’s The Case of the Golden Fly, for instance, we are introduced to Oxford academic Dr. Gervase Fen. In that novel, journalist Nigel Blake returns to Oxford to do a story on Robert Warner’s new play Metromaina. He’s also there because, quite frankly, he’s an admirer of Helen Haskell, who has a part in the play. While he’s at Oxford, Blake visits his former mentor Fen. So he’s on hand when Yseut Haskell (Helen’s half-sister and a star in her own right) is shot. The case is a difficult one, since she was alone at the time, and no-one was seen leaving or entering her room. But Fen works out how the murder was done. Here’s what he says as he works out the answer:
 

‘Lord, Lord what a fool I’ve been! ‘And yes – it fits – absolutely characteristic. Heaven grant Gideon Fell never becomes privy to my lunacy; I should never hear the end of it.’’
 

That’s, of course, a reference to John Dickson Carr’s sleuth, Dr. Gideon Fell. It’s an interesting example of how crime-fictional detectives work their way into other crime fiction.

In Agatha Christie’s Murder in Mesopotamia, noted American archaeologist Eric Leidner hires a nurse, Amy Leatheran, to help look after his wife, Louise. Louise has been having difficulty with anxiety, and Nurse Leatheran is hoping to help ease her nerves. She soon discovers that her patient has been seeing faces at windows, and hearing hands tapping. It may be just a symptom, so to speak, but Louise is convinced that someone is trying to kill her. What’s more, she knows who: her first husband, Frederick Bosner, who was thought to be dead for many years. Nurse Leatheran isn’t convinced that’s the case, until one afternoon when Louise is murdered in her room. Hercule Poirot is in the area, and is persuaded to investigate the murder. On the afternoon of the killing, Nurse Leatheran is in her own room, resting:
 

‘I was reading Death in a Nursing Home – really a most exciting story… When I put the book down at last (it was the red-headed parlourmaid, and I’d never suspected her once!) and looked at my watch I was quite surprised to find it was twenty minutes to three!’
 

Fans of both Christie and Ngaio Marsh will know that this snippet is a veiled reference to Marsh’s The Nursing Home Murder. And no, Christie doesn’t give away the real killer in that novel.

Patricia Stoltey’s Sylvia Thorn is a retired Florida judge. She’s also a crime fiction reader. In The Prairie Grass Murders, her brother, Willie Grisseljon, is visiting their home town in Illinois. While he’s there, he discovers the body of an unknown man on the property the Grisslejon family used to own. When Willie reports the murder, he’s locked up as a vagrant and ordered to have a psychiatric evaluation. He calls his sister, and Sylvia travels to Illinois to arrange for his release. But when they go to the site where he found the body, there’s no sign that the body was ever there. Now, Willie is determined to prove he’s not crazy, that there was a murder. He and Sylvia get to the truth about the case, and Sylvia returns to Florida. But her troubles aren’t over…  At one point, she’s looking forward to taking a break from the events of this mystery:
 
‘…I could spend a few more hours on the balcony with my book and a glass of wine. If I finished the [Sue] Grafton paperback, I’d start right in on the latest Park Ranger adventures of [Nevada Barr’s] Anna Pigeon. Escapist reading at its best.’
 

Even a fictional sleuth enjoys spending time with…a fictional sleuth.

Angela Savage’s Jayne Keeney also enjoys crime fiction. In Behind the Night Bazaar, she travels from Bangkok, where she’s based, to Chiang Mai, to visit her friend Didier ‘Didi’ de Montpasse. Both are bibliophiles, but they have different tastes. So some of their time is spent trying to ‘convert’ each other with different sorts of crime fiction. Everything changes, though, when Didi’s partner Nou is killed. When Didi himself is killed (allegedly while he was resisting arrest for Nou’s murder), Keeney decides to clear his name. And in The Half Child, we learn that Keeney’s love of crime fiction leads her to a particular bookshop – and to Rajiv Patel, who is helping his uncle run the shop. Patel becomes her partner in business and in life. See where a love of crime fiction can take you?

And then there’s Rodeo Grace Garnet, whom we meet in C.B. McKenzie’s Bad Country. He’s a former rodeo star who now does occasional PI work. That’s how he meets Katherine Rocha, who wants him to find out the truth about the death of her teenage grandson, Samuel. According to the police reports, he was possibly shot, and knocked off a bridge; and his grandmother wants to know who’s responsible. So Garnet starts asking questions. At one point, he’s planning a bit of a ‘road trip.’ Here’s part of what he packs:
 
‘…his camera, eavesdropping and recording gear, binoculars, pepper spray, a sap, a Tony Hillerman…’
 

That choice seems particularly appropriate, since this novel takes place in the same Southwest region of the US that features in many of Hillerman’s novels.

There are plenty of other examples of fictional sleuths who read about fictional sleuths (am I right, fans of James W. Fuerst’s Huge?). It’s not surprising, considering the popularity of the genre, and considering that crime writers often read the work of other crime writers. Which fictional crime fiction fans have stayed with you?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Tavares’ Whodunit.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, C.B. McKenzie, Edmund Crispin, James W. Fuerst, John Dickson Carr, Ngaio Marsh, Patricia Stoltey

Poetry, You’re Hiding Behind the Words You Speak*

Clues in PoetryThere are all kinds ways in which crime writers can leave clues, whether it’s clues about character or clues to a mystery. Interestingly enough, one of those ways is through poems. Poetry can be a cryptic way to leave a message, a warning, or a clue. So it gives the reader the chance to ‘match wits’ with the author.

Poetry gives characters the chance to ‘match wits,’ too. For example, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Musgrave Ritual, Sherlock Holmes tells Watson about one of his early cases. In that adventure, Holmes gets an invitation from an old university friend, Sir Reginald Musgrave. It seems that Musgrave’s butler, Richard Brunton, and a maid, Rachel Howell, have disappeared. The only clue to what’s happened is that, shortly before the two went missing, Musgrave caught Brunton going through some of the family papers. The paper that seemed to be of most interest to Brunton was an old poem, used in a Musgrave family ritual. Once Holmes works out what the poem means, he sees that it’s an important clue. And that leads him to the truth about Brunton and Howell.

John Dickson Carr’s first Gideon Fell novel, Hag’s Nook, also includes a cryptic poem. In that novel, Tad Rampole has taken the advice of his mentor, and come from America to pay a visit to Fell. Along the way, he meets Dorothy Starberth, who lives not far from Fell. He’s smitten with her right away, and the feeling seems mutual. Later, Fell tells Rampole the interesting history of the Starberth family. At one time, the Starberth men were Governors of nearby Chatterham Prison. Even though it’s been allowed to fall into ruins, the family still has a connection. Each Starberth male spends the night of his twenty-fifth birthday in the old Governor’s Room at the prison. While there, he opens the safe, reads the paper that’s there, and follows the instructions on it. Now it’s the turn of Dorothy’s brother, Martin. But there are good reasons for him to worry. Some strange and tragic accidents have befallen the Starberths, and some say there’s a curse on the family. Still, Martin goes ahead with the ritual. Sure enough, on the night of his birthday, he dies from what looks like an accidental fall from the balcony of the Governor’s Room. But it’s soon clear that he was murdered. The only problem is, no-one was seen entering or leaving the property. And there’s no evidence that anyone but Martin was in the room. Rampole is, quite naturally, interested in finding out the truth, and he works with Fell to get to the truth. As it turns out, a cryptic poem gives Fell the clue he needs to get to the truth about who killed Martin Starberth and why..

Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None has a poem at its core. Ten people get invitations to spend time on Indian Island. Each gets a different sort of invitation, and each has different reasons, but they all accept. When the group arrives, they settle in and wait for their host, who, strangely enough, never appears. Still, dinner is served, and everyone makes the best of the situation. After dinner, each person is accused of having caused the death of at least one other person. Then, one of the guests suddenly dies of what turns out to be poison. Late that night, there’s another death. It’s soon clear that someone is trying to kill all of the guests, one by one. The other guests now have to find out who the killer is, and survive if they can. As it turns out, the killer uses an old nursery poem to link the deaths and warn about the ones to come.

Camilla Grebe and Åsa Träff’s Some Kind of Peace introduces Stockholm psychologist Siri Bergman. She’s a skilled professional, but she deeply grieves the loss of her beloved husband, Stefan, and she’s had a hard time coping. One day, she gets a letter that makes it clear that someone is watching her. It’s not long, too, before she learns that that person has access to her client records. As if that’s not enough, whoever is stalking Bergman seems bent on sabotaging both her professional life and her personal life. Matters come to a head when the body of a client, Sara Matteus, is found in the water on Bergman’s property. There’s a suicide note that blames the suicide on Bergman. When it becomes clear that this wasn’t a suicide, Bergman even becomes a suspect for a time. So she has to clear her name, and find out who really killed Sara Matteus. All along, Bergman’s struggling to understand and accept Stefan’s death. An important clue to it comes from Erik Blomberg’s Var inte rädd för mörkret (Do Not Fear the Darkness), a poem that Stefan left for her. When Bergman comes to understand that message, she also gets a better understanding of her husband’s death.

There’s also Andrea Camilleri’s Treasure Hunt. Vigàta Inspector Salvo Montalbano makes the news when he gets involved in a bizarre case that involves him climbing up a building. Shortly after that, he gets a cryptic note and a very bad poem. The note and poem are an invitation to play a game of Treasure Hunt. This isn’t a case of some odd, but harmless, fan, though. Instead, Montalbano is drawn into a strange killer’s dangerous game.

There are plenty of other novels, too, where the clues come in the form of a cryptic poem. Even for people who aren’t much for poetry, those sorts of clues can invite the reader to engage in the story. They can also add an interesting layer of character depth. Which crime-fictional poems have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Danity Kane’s Poetry.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Arthur Conan Doyle, Åsa Träff, Camilla Grebe, John Dickson Carr