Category Archives: John Hart

Gone to Carolina in My Mind*

Have you ever been to North Carolina? Perhaps you live (or have lived) there? It’s a beautiful place, with an interesting mix of cosmopolitan, (sub)urban areas, beaches, and small towns. There are plenty of very rural places, too. And North Carolina is rich with history, beginning before the state was a colony.

On the surface, it’s a lovely, peaceful state. But just look at crime fiction, and you’ll see that a lot can happen, even in a friendly, small town or lovely city. As this is posted, it’s the birthday of North Carolina’s own James Taylor. So, what better time to share some fine North Carolina-based crime fiction?

For those who enjoy cosy mysteries, there are two series by North Carolina author Elizabeth Spann Craig. One features retired teacher Myrtle Clover. She lives in the small town of Bradley, where her son, Red, is chief of police. Myrtle may be retired, but that doesn’t mean she wants to be put out to pasture, as the saying goes. Much to her son’s chagrin, Myrtle gets very interested when there’s a murder, and likes to do her own sleuthing. She’s fairly good at it, too. She knows almost everyone in town, and, since she’s a ‘harmless old lady,’ she can go places and hear things that the police might not. Spann Craig’s other series features Beatrice Coleman, a retired art expert who moves to the small town of Dappled Hills for some peace and quiet after a busy career. That’s not what she gets, though. Through her association with the Village Quilters, Beatrice gets to know a lot of people in town – and gets involved in more than one murder investigation.

North Carolina has some prestigious universities and colleges, too. And Sarah R. Shaber gives us a look at higher education in that state with her Simon Shaw series. Shaw is a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, who could have had his pick of any of the US’s top institutions. But he’s chosen to work at Kenan College, a small but selective and well-regarded school in a typical ‘college town.’ Shaw couldn’t imagine living and working anywhere but the South, and there’s plenty for him to do. As I say, there’s rich history in the state, and Shaw’s interested in a lot of it. For instance, in the first of this series, Simon Said, he’s works with an archaeologist friend to find out the truth about a long-buried set of remains that’s found on the old Bloodworth property. Part of it’s been deeded to the college, but that gift won’t go through without an investigation. So, Shaw looks into the family history to discover who the victim might have been, and who would have wanted to commit that murder.

Another look at North Carolina’s history comes from Donald Smith’s The Constable’s Tale, which takes place in 1758.  Plantation owner James Henry ‘Harry’ Woodyard is serving his term as a Royal Constable for Craven County. Usually, that’s mostly a matter of breaking up drunken quarrels, catching petty thieves, and other small crimes. Everything changes when the bodies of Edward and Anne Campbell and their son are discovered. It looks like a sort of ritual killing, and that it might have been the work of local Indians. And that’s not impossible, considering this story takes place during the Seven Years (French and Indian) War. Soon enough, an Indian named Comet Elijah is arrested for the crime. Woodyard’s known the man for a long time, and cannot imagine him committing these murders. And there are other possibilities, too. For instance, why was a brooch engraved with Masonic symbols found at the scene? Campbell wasn’t a Mason, so there has to be another explanation. Woodyard takes an interest in the case, and, despite pressure from the Craven County authorities to accept the obvious solution, he finds out the real truth. Besides the mystery at the core of the novel, readers also get an interesting look at life in North Carolina during its colonial history.

Barbara Neely offers readers another perspective on modern North Carolina. In Blanche on the Lam, we meet professional housekeeper Blanche White. Originally from New York, White moved to North Carolina, and, as the series begins, works for a housekeeping agency. Her job means that she gets a very intimate look at her clients’ lives. That’s especially true because she is black, while most of her clients are white. They tend to see her as ‘the help,’ rather than as an individual. That attitude makes her almost invisible, which is very helpful as she investigates. Two of the novels (Blanche on the Lam, and Blanche Passes Go) take place in North Carolina, so readers get a sense of the setting. Along with that and the mystery plots, this series offers a close (and not always comfortable) look at race relations and social structure.

And then there’s John Hart’s The Last Child, which is set in contemporary small-town/rural North Carolina. Thirteen-year-old Johnny Merrimon has been devastated since his twin sister, Alyssa, went missing a year ago. He hasn’t stopped looking for her, although his mother has all but given up hope. He has a map, a bicycle, and a plan, and is determined to find Alyssa, or at least, her body. One day, Johnny’s skipping school, spending time at a local river, when he witnesses a car accident on the bridge over the river. A man’s body hurtles towards him, landing nearby. The man dies but not before telling Johnny,
 

‘‘I found her…the girl that was taken.’’
 

This gives Johnny hope that Alyssa may still be alive, and he renews his search. Detective Clyde Hunt has also been looking for the girl, and is afraid of the trouble Johnny may find if he keeps looking on his own. Still, he respects the boy’s motives and effort, and he tries, in his own way, to help. Each in a different way, he and Johnny pick up the search for Alyssa, and relate it to the unknown dead man, and to another disappearance.

See what I mean? North Carolina is physically beautiful, with lots of rich history and interesting places. But safe? Well….

ps. The ‘photos were taken on Emerald Isle, in North Carolina’s Outer Banks. See? Lovely!

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from James Taylor’s Carolina in My Mind.

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Filed under Barbara Neely, Donald Smith, Elizabeth Spann Craig, John Hart, Sarah R. Shaber

To Make Two Things One, You’ve Got to Mix Them*

genre-mixingAn interesting comment exchange with Cleo at Cleopatra Loves Books has got me thinking about books that cross genre lines. Cleo suggested that there may be more of those sorts of books and series than there were, and that’s certainly a good possibility.

Of course, there’s an argument that there’s always been literature in several genres that could ‘count’ as crime fiction. Shakespeare’s plays, for instance, contain many of the elements of a crime story. There’s murder, greed, theft, betrayal, and a lot more. The same goes for lots of other classic reading, too.

But Cleo’s right that there are plenty of examples of contemporary novels and series that cross genre lines. For instance, Jane Casey is perhaps best known for her Maeve Kerrigan crime series. But she is also the author of a YA series featuring Jess Tennant. The series begins with How to Fall, in which Jess and her mother move from London to her mother’s home town of Port Sentinel after a difficult divorce from Jess’ father. On the one hand, this is a YA series, and it’s marketed towards that audience. On the other hand, it’s also a crime series. In How to Fall, Jess uncovers the truth about her cousin’s death a year earlier. At the time, it was put down to suicide, but Jess soon learns that there’s another explanation. There are plenty of other YA series, too, that are also crime fiction. I know that you could name more than I could.

Ben Winters’ The Last Policeman is the first in a trilogy that follows police officer Hank Palace. In the story, he investigates a murder that looks like a suicide (but isn’t). So, in that sense, it’s very much a crime novel. There’s a murder, there’s an investigation, and so on. But as fans of these books know, this is also considered science fiction. The context for the novel is that an asteroid will strike the earth in the next few months. As scientists study the event to try to determine its severity, the world’s social and economic structures start to fall apart. This plays a role, too, in the plot. For that reason, plenty of people consider this dystopia fiction. It’s an interesting blend of the traditions of different genres.

So is Charles Stross’ Rule 34. On one level, it’s a crime novel. Edinburgh DI Liz Kavanaugh and her team investigate when the body of ex-convict and Internet spammer Michael Blair is discovered. Eventually, this murder is linked to other murders of Internet spammers in different locations in the world. But this is also a speculative/science fiction novel. It takes place in the relatively near future, but in a sort of alternate future, where there’s some technologies that we don’t currently have. There are other differences, too, between Kavanaugh’s world and the one we know. And the solution to the mystery is more characteristic of a speculative novel than it is of a traditional detective novel. Does that make it less of a crime novel? Speaking strictly for me, I don’t think so. It’s more of a blend of those genres.

There are also plenty of historical novels that cross the line between history and crime fiction. For instance, Kate Grenville’s The Secret River tells the story of the Thornhill family, who move from London to Sydney in the early 1800s, after William Thornhill is sentenced to transportation. The novel follows the Thornhills as they arrive in the new land, find ways to make a living, and get accustomed to the many differences between London and New South Wales. In that sense, it’s very much historical fiction. So are The Lieutenant and Sarah Thornhill, the other novels in Grenville’s trilogy about life in colonial Australia. But these novels also have elements of crime fiction in them. There are violent deaths, dark secrets from the past, and intrigue, among other things. The same sort of thing might be said for Hilary Mantel’s novels Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies and the forthcoming The Mirror and the Light. They are historical novels, but they also arguably cross genre lines, so that they can also be considered crime fiction.

As I mentioned earlier, there’s a long tradition of literary work that also has elements of crime fiction. There’s plenty of contemporary literary fiction like that, too. For instance, John Hart’s The Last Child concerns the disappearance of Alyssa Merrimon, who was twelve years old when she went missing. No trace of her was ever found, and it’s devastated the family. Detective Clyde Hunt was assigned to the case, and is haunted by the fact that he hasn’t been able to get the answers that the Merrimon family needs in order to move on. Alyssa’s twin, Johnny, hasn’t given up on finding out the truth. And he’s got a map and a plan. As you can see, the novel has the elements of crime fiction. But it’s also a literary novel. There’s deep character exploration, a focus on the relationships involved, and a strong sense of the small-town North Caroline setting. Certainly, many people consider this a literary novel as well as a crime novel. The same might be said for books such as William Kent Krueger’s Ordinary Grace. That’s literary coming-of-age novel that also has a crime story woven through it.

It’s not easy to blend genres. The author has to manipulate the traditions of more than one genre, as well as keep the focus on the plot and characters. It can be tricky to do that and create a cohesive story. But genre-blended stories can also be innovative, and can enhance more than one genre.  Which have you enjoyed?

Thanks, Cleo, for the inspiration! Now, folks, treat yourselves to a visit to Cleo’s excellent blog. You’ll find fine reviews and interesting crime-fictional discussion there.
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Cornelius Grant and Smokey Robinson’s You’ve Got to Earn It 

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Filed under Ben Winters, Charles Stross, Hilary Mantel, Jane Casey, John Hart, Kate Grenville, William Kent Krueger

You’re My Best Friend*

best-friendsWhen a person goes missing or is murdered, the police often talk to that person’s best friend(s) to get information. After all, we often tell things to our best friends that we don’t tell anyone else, even our families. So, it’s almost always worth the time it takes to find out who that best friend is and talk to him or her.

In crime fiction, a victim’s best friend can provide plenty of important clues, if that’s what the author wishes to do. And, since friendships – even best friendships – can be very complicated, there are all sorts of possibilities for plot twists. So, it’s little wonder we see fictional sleuths paying all sorts of attention to best friends. There are far too many examples for me to mention here. I hope you’ll add your own, to complete this post.

Agatha Christie introduced one of her most famous sleuths, Hercule Poirot, in The Mysterious Affair at Styles. In that novel, Poirot has recently emigrated to England, and is now living in the village of Styles St. Mary, not far from his benefactor, Emily Inglethorp, who lives at Styles Court. As it happens, Captain Arthur Hastings is a friend of her stepson, John Cavendish. He’s visiting Cavendish when Emily Inglethorp is poisoned. By chance, he meets up with Poirot, whom he also knows, and persuades the detective to investigate. One of the people Poirot talks to is the victim’s best friend and companion, Evelyn ‘Evie’ Howard. And Miss Howard certainly has plenty to say against her friend’s husband, Alfred Inglethorp. It’s an interesting perspective on the victim, and it turns out to be useful in solving the case. I know, fans of Death on the Nile.

In Karin Fossum’s When the Devil Holds the Candle, Oslo police detective Konrad Sejer and his assistant, Jacob Skarre, investigate the disappearance of Andreas Winthur. It seems that he spent the day with his best friend, Sivert ‘Zipp’ Skorpe, and never came home. When his mother, Runi, gets worried about him, she goes to the police. At first, Sejer doesn’t worry too much, since Andreas is not a little child. But after some time goes by, he, too, gets concerned. That’s when he and Skarre start to look into the matter. They soon find out about Zipp, and Sejer has more than one interview with him. It’s not spoiling the story to say that Zipp didn’t kill his friend. But he knows more than he is saying, and it takes Sejer quite a while to get that information. Among other things, this novel offers an interesting perspective on young adult friendships. Fossum also explores this in other novels, such as Black Seconds and Bad Intentions.

Peter James’ Dead Simple introduces readers to Superintendent Roy Grace of the Brighton and Hove police. In the novel, groom-to-be Michael Harrison disappears a few days before his wedding. It all started innocently enough with a ‘stag night’ prank. But a terrible car accident left Harrison stranded and in real danger. His fiancée, Ashley Harper, goes to the police for help, and DI Glenn Branson agrees to investigate. He brings Grace along, and soon enough, there’s an all-out search. As a part of the investigation, the police talk to Harrison’s best friend and best-man-to-be, Mark Warren. Warren wasn’t in town at the time of Harrison’s disappearance, so he doesn’t know exactly what happened. But he does have background and other useful information, which turns out to be important to the case.

Constable Paul ‘Hirsch’ Hirschhausen is faced with a tragic case in Garry Disher’s Bitter Wash Road. He’s recently been stationed at Tiverton, in rural South Australia, and is adjusting to life there. One day, the body of fifteen-year-old Melia Donovan is discovered by the side of Bitter Wash Road. There are definite signs that the victim wasn’t killed there, so there are plenty of possibilities. This won’t be an easy case. It’s made even harder by the fact that Hirsch is a pariah among his fellow coppers, because he’s seen as a ‘whistleblower.’ So, he’s going to get no help with the Melia Donovan case. As you’d guess, Hirsch starts with the victim’s family and friends. That includes her best friend, Gemma Pitcher, who works at a local convenience shop. At first, she does her best to avoid talking to him. But eventually he catches up with her, and the information she finally provides turns out to be helpful.

The focus of Ivy Pochoda’s Visitation Street is the disappearance of June Giatto. One summer night, she and her best friend, Valerie ‘Val’ Marino decide to take a raft ride on the bay near their Brooklyn area of Red Hook. The next morning, Val is found, injured but alive. June, though, has disappeared. Despite a major search, there’s no sign of her – not even a body. The police, of course, have plenty of questions for Val, but she claims not to know what happened to her friend. In fact, she’s devastated by June’s loss, and upset by the insinuations that she might know more about it than she’s saying. As time goes by, we slowly learn what happened to June, and we get an ‘inside look’ at the friendship between the two girls.

And then there’s John Hart’s The Last Child. Thirteen-year-old Johnny Merrimon has been devastated ever since the disappearance of his twin, Alyssa, a year earlier. He’s determined to find her, or at least, find out what happened to her. And he’s got a map and a plan. One day, he’s skipping school, spending time by the local river, when he witnesses another death. The victim this time is David Wilson, a local college professor. And he just might have had some information about Alyssa. Local police detective Clyde Hunt knows the Merrimon case well; he investigated it. And it’s haunted him ever since that he wasn’t able to get answers. So, he stays in contact with the family, and tries to help Johnny in his own way. One of the people Hunt talks to is Johnny’s best friend, Jack Cross. As the story evolves, we learn more about their friendship, the role it plays in Johnny’s life, and Jack’s perspective on Johnny. And that information turns out to be important.

Best friends can be the most loyal and helpful people in one’s life. Or the most dangerous. And that’s part of what makes those characters so interesting in crime fiction. Right, fans of Megan Abbott’s The End of Everything?

 
 
 

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

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Garry Disher, Ivy Pochoda, John Hart, Karin Fossum, Megan Abbott, Peter James

We Suspend Our Disbelief*

Suspension of DisbeliefA recent interesting comment exchange with Melanie, who blogs at Grab the Lapels, and an interesting post from FictionFan, who blogs at FictionFan’s Book Reviews, have gotten me thinking about the difference between books and their film adaptations. More to the point, they’ve gotten me thinking about whether we’re more willing to suspend disbelief for film than for a book.

Most readers will tell you that, for the most part, they want their books to be credible. Books are, of course, fiction, so there’s likely to be at least a bit of suspension of disbelief. But at the same time, most readers do want a sense of authenticity about what they read.

Is it the same for films? Do we want more credibility in books or films, or does it not matter? For instance, John Hart’s The Last Child features thirteen-year-old Johnny Merrimon, whose twin sister Alyssa went missing a year before the events in the novel. He’s determined to find her, or at least find out the truth about her, and one important plot thread is his search for answers. At one point, he’s skipping school for the day, spending time at a local lake. That’s when he sees a car accident on a nearby bridge, and a man’s body hurtle over the bridge and land near him. The man turns out to be very important to the mystery, and it’s a legitimate question to ask whether that’s too much of a coincidence. That’s the question Melanie raised, and I’m glad she did. Each person, of course, has a different response, which makes it a bit difficult for authors. But it highlights the issue.

To my knowledge, The Last Child hasn’t been adapted for film as yet (but please, someone, put me right if I’m wrong). But if it were, would that scene be more believable? Would viewers think it required too much suspension of disbelief? It does have quite a strong visual impact, so one could easily see it adding to the film. Perhaps that might encourage viewers to be more accepting of it. But perhaps not.

FictionFan reviewed Michael Apted’s 2001 film adaptation of Robert Harris’ Enigma. This is the WWII-era story of Tom Jericho, a mathematician who’s working with the Bletchley Park team to try to break the Enigma code. There’s also a plot thread involving his relationship with Claire Romilly, a clerk who works on the Bletchley Park property.  In her review, FictionFan mentions several important differences between the film and the novel. The novel makes it clear how difficult life was in England during the war. Food and fuel were strictly rationed, and most people couldn’t afford more than the very basics, if they had those. It was a time, as you’ll no doubt know, of real privation. FictionFan points out that the film isn’t accurate about that point, and it makes a major difference. So does the weather. In the novel, it’s very clear that people suffered quite a lot during the winter, when there was barely enough fuel available to keep a home warm enough to manage. As FictionFan says, the film changes the weather quite a bit, so that it’s not realistic at all. There are other important differences, too, which FictionFan makes clear. You can read the entire review right here. And you should.

If you’ve seen the film and read the book, do those stretches of credibility bother you? If you’ve not seen the film, would you be forgiving of the need to suspend disbelief? Would the format matter?

The real action in Stephen King’s Misery begins when novelist Paul Sheldon decides on impulse to make a car trip from Colorado, where he’s been staying to work on a manuscript, to Los Angeles. He’s driving through the mountains when a snowstorm strikes, causing him to have a car accident and leaving him with severe injuries. He’s rescued by former nurse Annie Wilkes, who happens to be a dedicated fan of his work. If you’ve read the novel, or are at least somewhat familiar with King’s work, you’ll know that this rescue turns nightmarish for Sheldon. Some readers might see Annie’s finding her idol as requiring too much suspension of disbelief. Others don’t mind, seeing it as something that falls out credibly from the plot and from her personality. The film version also includes Annie Wilkes finding a badly wounded Sheldon and taking him back to her home. If you’ve seen the film, do you see that as too much of a coincidence? If you’ve read the novel, do you see a difference between the way you regard the book, and the way you regard the novel?

And then there are Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. Since they’re spy thrillers, most readers expect to suspend disbelief. And some of the novels ask for more of this than do others. If you’ve read any of the novels, does that bother you? Or do you take it as part of the package, so to speak? If you’ve seen any of the James Bond films, you’ll know that they ask for at least as much suspension of disbelief as the novels do. Does that put you off the films?

You’ll notice that I’ve mentioned different sorts of novels here. Part of the reason for that is that I suspect that some of our willingness to give our disbelief a rest has to do with the sort of novel or film we’re reading or seeing. We may allow for more stretches of credibility in some kinds of stories than in others

What do you think of all of this? Do you forgive more lapses in credibility in films than you do in books? Thank you, Melanie and FictionFan, for the ‘food for thought.’ Folks, do please visit their excellent blogs. You won’t regret it.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Rush’s Mystic Rhythms.

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Filed under Ian Fleming, John Hart, Robert Harris, Stephen King

Too Close For Comfort*

Too CLose For ComfortPolice detectives are nothing if not human. And that means they have preferences, biases and so on, just like everyone else. And sometimes, that means they start getting too close to a case. They may develop relationships with the people involved, and that can cloud their judgement.

There are plenty of examples of that risk in crime fiction, but it’s not easy to do well. For one thing, real-life police know that they need to keep their distance from their investigations. Otherwise, they can’t do their jobs well. For another thing, if the ‘too-close-for-comfort’ plot isn’t done carefully, it can come across as clichéd. But there are cases where it’s done very effectively, and it can add an interesting layer of tension and character development.

In Colin Dexter’s The Daughters of Cain, for instance, Inspector Morse and Sergeant Lewis investigate the murder of former Oxford don Felix McClure. The most likely suspect is McClure’s former scout Ted Brooks. But everything changes when he goes missing and is later found dead. As Morse and Lewis look into the case, Morse finds himself attracted to one of the ‘people of interest,’ a prostitute who calls herself Ellie Smith. It seems that McClure was one of her clients, and there are other factors, too, that link her to the crimes. Ellie seems to reciprocate Morse’s feelings, and that makes investigating the murders more of a challenge for Morse. But it also adds a layer of interest to both characters.

Reginald Hill’s Recalled to Life features a slightly different sort of closeness. Cissy Kohler has been released from prison after serving a long sentence for the 1963 murder of Pamela Westrup. There’s a great deal of gossip that she was innocent all along. Worse, the talk is that the investigating officer, Wally Tallentire, knew she was innocent and deliberately squelched that evidence. Tallentire was a mentor to Superintendent Andy Dalziel, so when Dalziel learns of these stories, he is determined to clear his mentor’s name. He feels all the more strongly about it when he learns that the whole case, including Tallentire’s conduct, is being reviewed. Dalziel isn’t one for the niceties of policy, so he re-investigates, even though the case involves an old friend.

Old friends also figure into Jean-Claude Izzo’s Total Chaos, the first of his Marseilles trilogy. Marseilles cop Fabio Montale learns that an old friend named Manu has been murdered. That fact shouldn’t be surprising, since Manu had gotten deeply involved in the criminal underworld. Still, it leaves Montale shaken. Then, another friend, Pierre ‘Ugo’ Ugolini, returns to avenge Manu’s death and is himself killed. Now Montale is determined to stay loyal to those friendships and find out who killed Manu and Ugo. He gets uncomfortably close to that case, and to another case he’s working. But he finds out the truth.

We are introduced to Swati Kaushal’s police detective Niki Marwah in Drop Dead. That novel’s focus is the murder of Rakesh ‘Rak’ Mehta, President and CEO of Indigo Books India, Ltd. He arranged a retreat for his senior staff at the luxurious Lotus Resort in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. But on the second morning of the retreat, his body is discovered in a valley not far from the resort. Marwah and her team are called in, and begin the investigation. One person who may be connected to the case is Ram Mathur, who owns a restaurant not very far from the resort. It turns out that he used to be close friends with the victim; so on the one hand, he is a ‘person of interest.’ On the other, Marwah likes him, and feels a sort of attraction to him. It’s not spoiling the story to say that she maintains her professionalism. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel the conflict.

Seán Haldane’s’ The Devil’s Making begins as Chad Hobbes arrives in 1868 Victoria, BC. He’s just received his degree in Jurisprudence from Oxford, and, armed with a letter of recommendation, is given a job as a constable. The work isn’t that taxing at first. But then, a group of Tsimshian Indians discovers the mutilated body of Richard McCrory. At first, the case looks quite straightforward. McCrory had been involved with Lukswaas, a Tsimshian woman whose partner Wiladzap is one of the group’s leaders. So he’s the natural choice for suspicion. Wiladzap, though, denies being the killer, and Lukswaas supports him. In order to appear to be doing their jobs, the police have to ask some perfunctory questions, and that task falls to Hobbes. But the more questions he asks, the more doubt he has that Wiladzap is guilty. And the more he learns about the Tsimshian people, and about Lukswaas, the closer he gets to the case. It becomes very risky for him, as this is the Victorian Era, a time of very different attitudes towards indigenous people.

There’s a particularly painful instance of getting too close to a case in Wendy James The Lost Girls. In 1978, fourteen-year-old Angela Buchanan disappears during a summer visit to her Aunt Barbara and Uncle Doug Griffin, and their children, Mick and Jane. Not very long after the disappearance, her body is discovered with a scarf wrapped around her head. At first, the police look to the family, but nothing comes of it. They have to be very careful, too, because Doug Griffin is a copper. The theory changes a few months later when another young girl, sixteen-year-old Kelly McIvor, is found dead, with a scarf tied around her neck. Now the police begin to believe that a serial killer, whom the press dub the Sydney Strangler, is at work. The case is never solved, though. Years later, journalist Erin Fury is making a documentary about families that have survived the murder of one of their members. She interviews the Griffin family as a part of that project; and, slowly but surely, we learn what really happened to the two victims. One thread that runs through the story is what it’s like for a cop when a family member is the victim. On the one hand, the case is better solved with objectivity. On the other, who can blame a police officer for going all-out to find the killer of a family member?

And then there’s John Hart’s The Last Child. When twelve-year-old Alyssa Merrimon disappears, Detective Clyde Hunt does everything he possibly can to find her and catch the guilty person. But no real leads come up. Still, he keeps trying. So does Alyssa’s twin brother Johnny. A year later, another young girl goes missing. There’s a possibility that the two cases are linked, and Hunt is hoping that by putting all his resources into finding the other girl, he’ll also find out the truth about Alyssa Merrimon. Meanwhile, Johnny has his own plans for finding out what happened to his sister. Throughout the novel, real questions are raised about Hunt’s ability to be objective, and to tend to his other police duties. Those questions put him very much on the edge, and cause more than one person to doubt his ability to do the job.

And that’s the thing about getting too close to a case when you’re a police detective. Police officers are human beings, so it’s not hard to understand how they could lose their objectivity. But it is very, very risky. The same’s true of members of other professionals, such as attorneys. But that’s the stuff of another post.

 
 
 

*NOTE:  The title of this post is the title of a song by Jerry Bock, Larry Holofcener, and George David Weiss.

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Filed under Colin Dexter, Jean-Claude Izzo, John Hart, Reginald Hill, Seán Haldane, Swati Kaushal, Wendy James