Category Archives: John Grisham

I Grieve For You*

Everyone has a different way of coping with grief and loss. And there are dozens of things that affect the way we cope. Culture is one factor. So is the sort of loss it is. So is our individual nature. There are other factors, too.

Realistic crime fiction acknowledges that a murder has devastating effects on the people left behind and shows that. So, there are many, many examples of the different ways people cope with their grief. Here are just a few. I know you’ll think of many other powerful examples – more than I could.

In Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders, Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings work with Chief Inspector Japp to find a multiple murderer. The victims don’t seem to have much in common, but there are a few similarities. Before each murder, Poirot gets a cryptic warning letter. And an ABC rail guide is found near each body. One of the victims is twenty-three-year-old Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Barnard, whose body is found one morning on the beach at Bexhill. Poirot pays a visit to her family to find out about her, and meets her parents and her older sister, Megan. Here’s Megan’s reaction when she first sees Hastings.
 

‘‘I don’t think I’ve got anything to say to you. My sister was a nice, bright girl with no men friends. Good morning.’’
 

She thinks Hastings is a reporter, and she has no desire to air her private grief in the newspapers, or to ‘speak ill of the dead,’ as the saying goes. And her initial response is an interesting example of people’s tendency to deal with loss in that way. It’s not long before Poirot convinces Megan that she’s better off being honest about her sister. And the information Megan provides helps Poirot get a sense of this victim – and in the end, fit her in with the others. You’re absolutely right, fans of The Hollow.

Some people react to grief and loss with anger, even with a need for vengeance. And it’s understandable, regardless of how we may feel about vigilantism. For example, in William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw, eighteen-year-old Jennifer Lawson goes missing after a night at a disco. Her father reports the matter to the Glasgow police, in the form of Detective Inspector (DI) Jack Laidlaw. At first, Laidlaw doesn’t share Lawson’s concern; after all, it’s only a few hours since the girl was supposed to be home, and there are plenty of places she could safely be. Then, news comes that the body of a young woman who was raped and then killed has been found in Kelsingrove Park. When the body is identified as Jennifer’s, her father is not just devastated, he’s enraged. And he wants vengeance. In one plot thread of the novel, he goes to John Rhodes, who is unofficially in charge of the part of Glasgow where the body was found. Lawton wants Rhodes’ help in tracking down the killer. Rhodes knows very well what Lawton intends to do if he finds the killer, but he has sympathy for the man. And his willingness to help Lawton makes it all the more of a challenge for Laidlaw, who’s trying to catch the killer in a more legitimate way.

As John Grisham’s A Time to Kill begins, two men, Billy Ray Cobb and James Louis ‘Pete’ Willard, rape ten-year-old Tonya Hailey and leave her for dead. She survives, and her family, including her father, Carl Lee, finds out what happens. Cobb and Willard are soon caught, and there’s a great deal of local sympathy for Hailey. Still, he’s not sure that the courts will get justice for him. He and his family are black, and the two defendants are white, and this is small-town Mississippi. Besides, he’s enraged at what’s happened to his daughter. So, his grief fuels a plan, and he ambushes Cobb and Willard, killing them and wounding a deputy. Now, he himself is arrested for murder. On the one hand, he did kill two people. On the other, plenty of other folks, including his lawyer, Jake Brigance, admit they might have done the same. This isn’t going to be an easy trial for Brigance, as there are a lot of challenging issues. But he agrees to defend Hailey, and soon finds himself and his client in the middle of a trial in which a lot of powerful, and dangerous, people have a stake.

Gail Bowen’s Deadly Appearances opens as up-and-coming Saskatchewan politician Androu ‘Andy’ Boychuk prepares to give a speech at a community picnic. Soon after he begins, he collapses and dies of what turns out to be poison. Academician and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn is at the speech, and watches in horror as Boychuk dies. He was a personal friend as well as a political ally, so she is in deep grief. As a way of coping with that loss, she decides to write a biography of Boychuk. As she gets started, she soon finds that what she’s learning leads her closer and closer to the truth about Boychuk’s death. She also finds a great deal of danger for herself.

Many of our views about grief and loss are impacted by our culture. We see that in John Burdett’s Bangkok 8. Sonchai Jitpleecheep and his police partner, Pichai Apiradee, of the Royal Thai Police, have been on a surveillance operation, tailing a Mercedes. The car eludes them briefly, and by the time they find it again, the driver, William Bradley, is dead. A first look shows that the victim was trapped in the car with poisonous snakes, and likely died of their bites. So it’s fairly clear that this was a murder. Pichai manages to open one of the doors, but when he does, he, too, is bitten and soon dies. On the one hand, Sonchai wants justice for his dead friend. On the other, here is what he says about death:
 

‘We do not look on death the way you do, farang [foreigner]. My closest colleagues grasp my arm and one or two embrace me. No one says sorry. Would you be sorry about a sunset?
 

He’s a devout Buddhist who sees death as just another part of existence.

There are as many different ways to grieve as there are people who grieve. And when those different ways are woven into a story, the characters can seem more authentic, especially if it’s not done in too heavy-handed a way. These are just a few examples. Your turn.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Peter Gabriel’s I Grieve. 

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Gail Bowen, John Burdett, John Grisham, William McIlvanney

And the Newspapers, They All Went Along For the Ride*

As this is posted, it’s 23 years since the beginning of the famous O.J. Simpson trial. As you’ll know, he was arrested and tried for the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown-Simpson, and the murder of Ron Goldman. The trial made world headlines, and every detail that could be shared in the press, was. In part, the trial caught people’s interest because of the lurid details. In part, it was arguably because Simpson was famous. Little wonder that it was called ‘the Trial of the Century,’ whether or not it actually deserves that status.

Certainly, Simpson’s trial wasn’t the first or last sensational murder trial. There’s just something about certain trials that get the press’ and public’s attention. That’s true in real life, and it’s certainly true in fiction.

Martin Edwards’ Dancing For the Hangman bridges the gap between fiction and real life. It’s a fiction re-telling of the story of Harvey Hawley Crippen, who was arrested, tried, and executed in 1910 for the murder of his wife, Cora. The arrest and trial were a media sensation, and papers all over the world carried regular news about the Crippen case. It’s not surprising that the trial caught the public’s interest as it did, even though Crippen wasn’t famous. There was a love triangle involved, which always adds to the ‘spiciness’ of a case. What’s more, the murder itself was considered sensational. There was also doubt (still is, if the truth be told) as to whether Crippen was actually guilty. All of this added to the media frenzy. And it helped make the career of pathologist Bernard Spilsbury.  Edwards tells the story from Crippen’s point of view, and suggests a possibility for what might have really happened.

In Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds (AKA Death in the Air), Marie Morisot, a French moneylender who goes by the name of Madame Giselle, is poisoned during a flight from Paris to London. The only possible suspects are other people in the cabin, one of whom is Hercule Poirot. A few of the passengers are ‘society’ people, which in itself garners a lot of public interest. What’s more, the murder itself is considered sensational. It turns out that the victim was poisoned by what seems to be a dart from a blowgun – an exotic sort of crime. The coroner’s inquest is well attended, and all of the papers cover the story.
 

‘The reporters wrote: “Peer’s wife gives evidence in air-death mystery.” Some of them put: “in snake-poison mystery.”
Those who wrote for women’s papers put: “Lady Horbury wore one of the new collegian hats and fox furs” or “Lady Horbury, who before her marriage was Miss Cicely Bland, was smartly dressed in black, with one of the new hats.”
 

It’s not spoiling the story to say that at first, the coroner’s jury accuses Poirot of the crime, since the blowpipe was found by his seat. Needless to say, Poirot isn’t happy about that finding, and neither is the coroner. Poirot works with Chief Inspector Japp to find out who the guilty person is.

Ellery Queen’s Calamity Town takes place mostly in the small New England town of Wrightsville. Queen’s gone there for some peace and quiet, so he can write, and he’s staying in a guest house owned by social leaders John and Hermione ‘Hermy’ Wright. That’s how he gets involved in family drama when the youngest Wright daughter, Nora, rekindles an old relationship. She’d been engaged to Jim Haight, but he jilted her and then disappeared for three years. Now he’s back, and Nora shocks everyone by agreeing to marry him. The wedding goes off as planned, but shortly afterwards, suspicion arises that Haight may be planning to kill his bride for her money. Then, on New Year’s Eve, Haight’s sister, Rosemary, who’s been staying with the family, is poisoned by a drink that was intended for Nora. Now, Haight finds himself arrested and on trial for murder. The trial is a major media event, and all of the papers cover it. After all, the Wrights are social elites. And there’s the whole ‘romance-gone-wrong’ angle. In the end, only Queen and Nora’s older sister, Pat, actually believe that Haight may be innocent. And they are determined to clear his name.

John Grisham’s A Time to Kill also tells the story of a sensational murder trial in Clanton, Mississippi. Carl Lee Hailey has been arrested for the murders of two men, and the wounding of another. There’s a lot to this case that generates interest. The two men that Hailey shot were responsible for raping his ten-year-old daughter, so there’s a lot of sympathy for him. At the same time, though, he killed two people. The man he wounded is a sheriff’s deputy, and that complicates matters. There’s also the fact that Hailey is black and his victims white. This adds fuel to the media-frenzy fire, and news outlets from all over the country cover the trial. And some powerful forces have an interest in the outcome of the case, and aren’t afraid to use that power to do so.

And then there’s William Deverell’s Trial of Passion, the first of his novels to feature Vancouver attorney Arthur Beauchamp. He’s decided to retire and move to Garibaldi Island, and he’s looking forward to stepping back from the stress of big-firm work, and the failure of his marriage. Then, his former colleagues ask for his help. Professor Jonathan O’Donnell, acting dean of law at the University of British Columbia, has been arrested and charged with raping a law student, Kimberly Martin. O’Donnell claims to be innocent, and wants Beauchamp to defend him. Beauchamp refuses at first, but is finally persuaded. The trial gets a great deal of media attention. There’s the ‘he said/she said’ angle, and there’s the fact that O’Donnell is well known in the academic community. And there are the lurid details that come out during the trial. Through it all, Beauchamp works to find out what really happened on the night in question, and try to do his best for his client.

There are lots of other trials, too, both real and fictional, that get a great deal of media attention, even hype. Testimony from both sides gets splashed in the headlines, and daily updates of these cases are passed along. Some cases just seem tailor-made to become sensations.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bob Dylan’s Hurricane.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, John Grisham, Martin Edwards, William Deverell

You’re Just Another Face That I Know From the TV Show*

With the obvious exception of journalists, most fictional sleuths don’t spend a lot of time in front of television cameras. So, many of them aren’t particularly comfortable ‘going live.’ Yet, in real life and in fiction, television can be a useful ally in solving crime. That’s why, for instance, police give interviews to the press. Real and fictional lawyers know this, too, and may (or may not) give interviews, depending on whether they see an interview as helpful or hurtful to their clients’ chances.

It’s realistic, especially in today’s world of 24-hour news, to include a TV interview with a sleuth. What’s more, such a plot point can add tension to a story, especially as the media impacts public opinion. So, it’s little wonder that we see that influence of television in crime fiction.

A great deal of Agatha Christie’s writing was done before television dominated the news landscape. But at the time, newspaper interviews often played similar roles. For instance, in The ABC Murders, Hercule Poirot works with Captain Hastings, Chief Inspector Japp and local police to solve a baffling set of murders.  The case has captured the public’s attention, in large part because this isn’t a matter of one murder, or of one murder with a second murder committed to keep someone quiet. Hastings, in particular, isn’t used to being in the media spotlight, and it leads to consternation for him, especially when he learns the way some newspapers operate:
 

‘‘Poirot,’ I would cry. ‘Pray believe me. I never said anything of the kind.’…
‘But do not worry yourself. All of this is of no importance. These imbecilities, even, may help.’
‘How?’
‘Eh, bien,’ said Poirot grimly. ‘If our madman reads what I am supposed to have said to the Daily Flicker today, he will lose all respect for me as an opponent!’’
 

In the end, Poirot gets to the truth about these murders. And it’s interesting to see the way that those public interviews play a role in the story.

Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn is an academician and political scientist. She understands how important television interviews can be, especially for politicians. But she herself isn’t in front of the cameras very often, at least not at first. But then, in The Wandering Soul Murders, she gets a new opportunity. Nationtv is making some changes to the panel for its politics-themed show, Canada Tonight, and Joanne’s name is put forward as a good choice for a new panelist. At first, she’s reluctant, but she agrees to be a part of the show, and it turns out to be the right choice for her. Still, it requires adjustment for someone who’s usually worked behind the political scenes, rather than in front of the cameras:
 

‘I had bought a new dress for the show, flowered silk, as pretty as a summer garden.
‘Next time,’ she said kindly, ‘try to find a solid colour. That’s going to make you look like you’re wearing your bedroom curtains.’’
 

Joanne learns quickly, and in A Killing Spring, makes really effective use of being on camera.

In high-profile trials, attorneys know that giving interviews can be a useful legal strategy. And, for those lawyers who are ambitious, television interviews can be an effective way to get their names ‘out there,’ especially if they win an important case. So, even those who aren’t particularly comfortable in front of television cameras often learn how to do successful interviews. That part of what a lawyer does comes out in several novels, including John Grisham’s A Time to Kill. In the novel, the small town of Clanton, Mississippi becomes the scene of a very public set of crimes. First, ten-year-old Tonya Hailey is brutally raped and left for dead. Her attackers are soon caught and arrested. Tonya’s father, Carl Lee, is, of course, enraged and heartbroken. And, since the two men responsible are white, while he and is family are black, Hailey doesn’t think justice will be done. So, he ambushes the two men, killing them both, and wounding a sheriff’s deputy. Hailey asks Jake Brigance to defend him, and Brigance agrees. Because of the sort of case this is, it gets a lot of media scrutiny, and television cameras are everywhere. And it’s interesting to see how both Brigance and his opponent, Rufus Buckley, make use of interviews.

In Helen Fitzgerald’s The Cry, we are introduced to Joanna Lindsay and Alistair Robertson. As the novel begins, they’re en route from Scotland to Alistair’s home town in Victoria with their nine-week-old son, Noah. It’s a long, nightmarish flight, and both parents are only too happy when it ends. Then, tragedy happens. During the drive from the airport to their destination, they face every parent’s worst nightmare: the loss of baby Noah. A massive search begins, and the media soon pick up on the story. There’s no sign of the baby, though. At one point, it’s proposed that a television interview with the parents might produce results. Joanna is very reluctant to do this, but Alistair insists, so the cameras are set up and the interview takes place. It’s an awful experience for Joanna, who’s not used to being on television, and who is devastated by the ordeal she’s suffering. What’s worse, when the public sees that interview, plenty of people take her discomfort as one of several signs that she may have had something to do with Noah’s disappearance. It’s not long before the media and the public begin to turn against Joanna and Alistair, and it’s very interesting to see how that tense interview plays a role in what happens.

And then there’s Peter James’ Not Dead Yet. In one plot thread of this novel, Brighton and Hove Superintendent Roy Grace and his team take on a new investigation. The body – well, really, the torso – of an unknown man has been found in a disused chicken coop. There is no identification, and no immediate clues as to who the victim is. This means it’s going to be very hard to identify him, let alone track down the killer. So, it’s decided that a television interview might be a good way to make the public aware of the case.  To that end, the police send Grace’s second-in-command, Glenn Branson, and another colleague, Bella Moy, to appear on a true-crime show called Crimewatch. This show presents re-enactments of real crimes, interviews with people involved, and invitations for call-ins from people who may know something about the cases. It’s not a typical way for police officers to spend their days, but Branson and Moy go on the air.

Not everyone is comfortable in a television interview. But they can be very useful for getting information. And in a crime novel, they can add interesting layers to a story.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Genesis’ Turn It On Again.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Gail Bowen, Helen Fitzgerald, John Grisham, Peter James

Few of the Sins of the Father are Visited Upon the Son*

When a crime is committed, especially something like murder, it’s not just the victim and the perpetrator who are affected. The public’s memory can be long; so, even a generation or two (or more) later, a family can be associated with a crime. And that can impact family members, and even be very difficult for them (e.g. ‘Are you any relation to that man/woman who…?’).

Having an infamous crime or ancestor in one’s past can make for an interesting layer of character development. How, for instance, do you deal with the fact that your parent, or grandparent, or great-grandparent, etc., killed someone? Or stole a lot of money? This sort of plot point can add tension to a story, too. So, it’s little wonder we see it in crime fiction.

For example, Ruth Rendell’s first novel as Barbara Vine was A Dark-Adapted Eye. In it, Faith Longley Severn has to come to terms with a terrible crime in her family’s past. Many years earlier, Vera Longley Hilliard was arrested, convicted, and executed for murder. The Longley family had always prided itself on its respectability, so this was an especially hard blow. No-one’s spoken of it since. But now, a journalist, Daniel Stewart, finds out about the story, and decides to write a book on the family and the hanging. He approaches Faith to see if she’ll cooperate, and provide him with whatever family history she may have. It’s a wrenching topic, but Faith agrees. And, as she and Daniel look into the past, we learn what happened in the Longley family, and how and why the death happened.

John Grisham’s The Chamber features the Cayhall family. Former Ku Klux Klansman Sam Cayhall is in prison in Mississippi, on death row for a bombing murder. He says he’s not guilty of the bombing. In fact, he’s had several stays of execution, but has run out of options, and is scheduled to be executed. His case is taken pro bono by a Chicago law firm. They send one of their attorneys, Adam Hall, to their Memphis office to defend Cayhall. As we soon learn, Hall was born Alan Cayhall, and is actually Sam Cayhall’s grandson. It turns out that Adam/Alan’s father, Eddie, was disgusted with his father’s Klan activities and bigotry, and left for California, never to return. He didn’t want to be associated with the Cayhall name. As the novel goes on, and Adam/Alan works on behalf of his grandfather, we learn the family’s history, and we learn the truth about the bombing.

Apostolos Doxiadis’ Three Little Pigs is the story of the Franco family. At the turn of the 20th Century, Benvenuto ‘Ben’ Franco and his family leave their native Italy to settle in New York. He gets a job at a shoe repair shop, and starts to do well. In fact, he ends up opening his own shoe repair and sales company, and the family prospers. Unfortunately, he starts drinking, and ends up killing a man in a bar fight one night. He’s arrested and taken into custody. Then he discovers that the victim was Luigi Lupo, son of notorious crime boss Tonio Lupo. When Lupo finds out who killed his son, he visits Franco in jail, and curses his three sons, saying that they’ll die at the same age as his son was when he died. As the story goes on, we learn what happens to those three sons, and how they deal with being the sons of a man who committed murder.

Steve Robinson’s In The Blood introduces his sleuth, genealogist Jefferson Tayte. In this novel, business executive Walter Sloane hires Tayte to trace his wife’s ancestry. Her family, the Fairbornes, split into two branches, one of which returned to their native England during the American Revolution. So, Tayte travels to England to contact the modern-day Fairbornes and see what he can learn. He discovers that some of the family members when missing, so he decides to find out what happened to them. Soon enough, he’s warned off, and it’s clear that someone does not want the truth about the family to come out. It turns out that even things that happened as long ago as the late 1700s still impact the family today.

We see a bit of similarity in Hannah Dennison’s Murderous Mayhem at Honeychurch Hall. In one plot thread of this novel, the small Devon town of Little Dipperton is preparing for a Skirmish – a re-enactment of a battle between the Cavaliers, who supported King Charles I, and the Roundheads, who supported Oliver Cromwell. As it happens, the Honeychurch family were Cavaliers; so Rupert Honeychurch is taking on that role. His wife, Lavinia, was a Carew before she married; and the Carews were Roundheads. As the story goes on, it’s interesting to see how crimes that were committed (or alleged to have been committed) by one side or other still play roles today.

There’s also Sue Younger’s Days Are Like Grass. Pediatric surgeon Claire Bowerman returns from London to her native Auckland with her partner, Yossi Shalev, and her fifteen-year-old daughter, Roimata ‘Roi.’ She had her reasons for leaving Auckland in the first place, so she’s reluctant to go back. But it’s very important to Yossi, so she agrees. At first, all goes well enough. But then, one of her patients, two-year-old Rory Peteru, is diagnosed with a tumour on his kidney. From Claire’s perspective, it’s best to remove the growth as soon as possible. But the child’s parents, Isa’ako and Kate, refuse the procedure on the grounds of their religious beliefs. The media take an interest, and before Claire knows it, she’s the focus of publicity – some thing she didn’t want. Years earlier, her father, Patrick, was arrested and convicted for the 1970 murder of Kathryn Philips. Although he was jailed, there was never enough evidence to truly determine whether he was guilty, so he was released. Still, plenty of people think he was guilty, and they associate Claire’s name with that case. For Claire, it’s as though she can’t shake the stigma associated with her father.

And that does happen when a family member commits a crime. Sometimes it even happens when there’s just suspicion. Either way, it can cast a very long shadow.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Midnight Oil’s Forgotten Years

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Filed under Apostolos Doxiadis, Barbara Vine, Hannah Dennison, John Grisham, Ruth Rendell, Steve Robinson, Sue Younger

I’m Shackled and Sentenced to the Ball and Chain*

There’s a good reason most people don’t want to go to prison. A prison record damages one’s job prospects (as well as other life prospects). And prison is not a pleasant place, even if it’s got decent living conditions, food, and so on. In fact, some prisons can be downright eerie.

Whatever you think of prisons and prison systems in real life, fictional prisons can be effective settings for novels, or for scenes in novels. For one thing, it’s realistic that a crime novel would have prison scenes. After all, crime and prison go together, if I may put it that way. For another, prison scenes allow for tension and suspense, as well as interesting interactions among characters.

Prison scenes play a major role in John Grisham’s The Chamber. The State of Mississippi is about to execute Sam Cayhall for the 1968 murder of Marvin Kramer. His case is taken pro bono by a Chicago law firm that sends one of their attorneys, Adam Hall, to handle the matter. Hall is actually Cayhall’s grandson, and he works as hard as he can to get a stay of execution. For him, Cayhall is a living link to the family history that Hall doesn’t know. As Hall visits his grandfather in prison, we get a look at what life on death row is like. And we also learn, bit by bit, the Cayhall family history.

There are some very eerie prison scenes in Thomas Harris’ The Silence of the Lambs. Dr. Hannibal Lecter is a noted, gifted psychiatrist who is also a dangerous serial killer. He’s imprisoned in Baltimore’s State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, which is a prison in its own way. When another killer, whom the FBI has dubbed ‘Buffalo Bill,’ starts claiming victims, trainee agent Clarice Starling is sent to the hospital to interview Lecter. It turns out that ‘Buffalo Bill’ was once a patient of Lecter’s so it’s believed that he might be able to shed some light on this killer. There are some very eerie scenes as Starling goes into the prison and starts to talk to Lecter. He agrees to help in the search for this murderer, but he imposes a condition. For everything he tells Starling, she will have to share a personal secret. It becomes a dangerous psychological game, and adds to the stress of hunting for ‘Buffalo Bill.’

In Angela Makholwa’s Red Ink, we are introduced to Lucy Khambule, a Johannesburg publicist. She’s at a sort of crossroads in her job, and is trying to decide what her next steps will be when she gets a call from Napoleon Dingiswayo. He’s in a maximum-security prison after being convicted of a series of horrific murders. At first, Lucy is surprised to get this call. But then, she is reminded that she had written to Napoleon when he was first imprisoned (at the time, she was in journalism and wanted a story). Now, Napoleon wants to meet her, and asks her to consider writing a book about him. The opportunity to do a book proves irresistible, and Lucy agrees to the meeting. Things don’t go as planned, though, First, it’s soon clear that Napoleon is falling for her, which makes Lucy extremely uncomfortable, although she can see how he would be attractive to women. Then, soon after they start working together, some horrible, violent things start to happen. Napoleon is behind bars in a maximum-security facility, so there’s no way he could be responsible for what’s happening. But if he’s not, then who is? And what might he know that he’s not telling? There are several prison scenes as Lucy slowly starts to get to the truth. And some of them are eerie.

In Alison Joseph’s Line of Sight, Sister Agnes Bourdillon has been seconded to Silworth, a London women’s prison, where she’ll work in its Roman Catholic chaplaincy. She’s gotten settled in, and is getting to know several of the inmates and work with them. Then, one of her charges, Cally Fisher, gets the news that her father, Cliff, has been shot. The most likely suspect is her boyfriend, Mel, and there’s evidence against him. But Cally believes that he’s innocent, and asks Sister Agnes to help her clear his name. Sister Agnes agrees, and starts to ask some questions. She soon learns that there are several people who might have had a good reason to want to kill the victim. Throughout the novel, readers get a look at what a modern UK women’s prison is like. There’s the inevitable paperwork and bureaucracy, including the process for gaining access to the prison as a visitor. There are alliances and conflicts (some of them serious) among the women, and so on. It’s not a nice place to be, and Joseph makes that clear.

There’s also John Burdett’s Bangkok 8, the first of his Sonchai Jitpleecheep novels. Sonchai is a member of the Royal Thai Police, and a devout Buddhist. In the main plot thread of the novel, he and FBI agent Kimberly Jones search for the killer of a former US Marine named William Bradley. It all starts when Sonchai and his police partner, Pichai Apiradee, tail a Mercedes. When they catch up to it, Bradley is already dead, most likely from the bite of poisonous snakes locked in the car with him. When one of the snakes also kills Pinchai, Sonchai is determined to find Bradley’s (and his friend’s) killer. At one point, Sonchai goes to visit the man who comes closest to a father figure to him. This man, Fritz von Staffen, is in Bang Kwan prison, which is,
 

‘A fortress with a watchtower and guards armed with machine guns, surrounded by double perimeter walls, the stench of rotten sewage as we passed through the first gate, and the spiritual stench of violence, sadism, and rotten souls as we passed into the inhabited part of the prison.’
 

And the prisoners, including Fritz, are deeply impacted by the environment.

David Whish-Wilson has experience teaching in prisons, and that comes through in Line of Sight. In that novel, Perth Superintendent Frank Swann searches for the murderer of an old friend, Ruby Devine. He finds the job difficult, though, because he’s called a Royal Commission hearing into corruption on the police force. So, he’s a ‘dead man walking’ as far as the police are concerned. And plenty of civilians don’t want to help, either. Still, bit by bit, Swann gets answers. At one point, he pays a visit to a prisoner named Ray Hergenhan, who he hopes will give him some ‘inside information. The prison Ray’s in is a very grim, hopeless sort of place. But Ray’s survived so far. He provides some useful information to Swann, too.

Prisons can be eerie and grim, but they are a part of the justice system. So, it makes sense that they would be a part of crime fiction, too. These are only a few examples. Over to you.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Dropkick Murphys’ Prisoner’s Song.

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Filed under Alison Joseph, Angela Makholwa, David Whish-Wilson, John Burdett, John Grisham, Thomas Harris