Category Archives: Josephine Tey

It’s a Dirty Story of a Dirty Man*

Stories within StoriesOne interesting plot strategy that authors sometimes use is to fold one story within another. The ‘story within a story’ plot thread needs to be handled very carefully; otherwise the result can be confusing, plodding or meandering. But when it’s handled well, a story within a story can richness to a novel. It can also add suspense and tension.

The main plot of Agatha Christie’s Dead Man’s Folly, for instance, concerns detective novelist Ariadne Oliver’s trip to Nasse House in Nassecomb. She’s there on commission to create a Murder Hunt as an attraction for an upcoming fête. She soon suspects, though, that more is going on than preparations for the event. So she asks Hercule Poirot to join her and investigate; this he agrees to do. On the day of the fête, fourteen-year-old Marlene Tucker, who’s been playing the part of the victim in the Murder Hunt, is actually killed. Poirot works with Mrs. Oliver and Inspector Bland to find out who would have wanted to kill her. Wrapped within this story is the plot of Mrs. Oliver’s Murder Hunt. We learn the plot through the synopsis and character profiles she provides, and that folded-in story plays its role in the larger plot.

In Colin Dexter’s The Wench is Dead, Inspector Morse has developed a bleeding ulcer (not particularly surprising given his lifestyle and – er – diet). During his hospital recovery, he is given a copy of Murder on the Oxford Canal, which tells the story of the 1859 murder of Joanna Franks on a canal boat. At the time, two men were arrested and convicted of the crime, and duly executed. But as he reads the book, Morse becomes convinced that they were innocent. As soon as possible, he sets out to discover who the real killer was. So at the same time as we follow the main plot of Morse’s recovery and search for the truth in this case, we also follow Joanna Franks’ story. Fans of Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time will know that that novels is structured in a similar way. Inspector Alan Grant is recovering from a broken leg when he becomes interested in the history of Richard III and the story of the Princes in the Tower.

James Yaffe’s Mom Doth Murder Sleep is the story of what happens when the Mesa Grande, Colorado amateur theatrical troupe puts on a production of The Scottish Play. The cast includes Roger Meyers, who also works for the local Public Defender’s office. On opening night, Martin Osborn, who has the lead role, is murdered. His leading lady Sally Michaels is arrested for the crime; she had motive, too, as he’d recently ended a relationship with her. But there are other suspects, too, and Meyer’s boss Dave works with him to find out who was really guilty. Simon Brett’s What Bloody Man is This? also folds in the plot of the The Scottish Play with the main plot of the murder of the lead actor.

Sometimes, a ‘story within a story’ plot line can be very effective at building tension. Fans of Stephen King’s Misery, for instance, will know that this story’s main plot concerns novelist Paul Sheldon, and what happens to him when he is rescued after a car accident that happens during a bad snowstorm. His savior, Annie Wilkes, is a fanatic devotee of his work. And that’s the problem. She gets deeply involved with the plot of his latest novel, which is still in manuscript form. And when certain plot events don’t go the way she wants them to, she takes her own kind of action about it. In this novel, the story told in the manuscript plays a role in the larger plot. Admittedly, this isn’t, strictly speaking, a crime fiction novel; it’s more psychological horror. But it really was too good an example not to include…

P.D. Martin’s Fan Mail also shows what can happen when the plot of a novel is folded into a larger plot. FBI profiler Sophie Anderson meets best-selling crime novelist Loretta Black when Black pays a visit to Anderson’s department as a part of researching a new novel. Not very long afterwards, Anderson transfers to the FBI’s Los Angeles field office. She’s settling in there when she learns that Black has been murdered in an eerie re-enactment of the murder in her latest novel. That case is under investigation when there’s another murder, again of a novelist who is killed in the same way as the fictional character is killed. Then another novelist disappears. Now Anderson works with the local FBI team and the LAPD to find out who has targeted crime writers.

More recently, Renée Knight’s Disclaimer tells the story of what happens when documentary filmmaker Catherine Ravenscroft decides to read a new book called The Perfect Stranger. She soon discovers that the book is about her, and tells a terrifying secret that she’s kept for twenty years. But how did anyone know that secret? And why would anyone want to ruin her life? Now she’ll have to go back to the past to find out who is threatening her now.

I’ve only mentioned a few examples here; I know you can think of a lot more. Folding one story into another is an interesting way to add depth and keep readers engaged. When it works well it can also add a great deal of suspense. Which stories like this have you enjoyed? If you’re a writer, have you used this plot point?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Beatles’ Paperback Writer. Happy Birthday, Sir Paul!

Paperback Writer_6126

26 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Colin Dexter, James Yaffe, Josephine Tey, P.D. Martin, Renée Knight, Simon Brett, Stephen King

It Seems That Ancient Adage Still Applies*

SayingsI’ll bet you’ve heard them all your life. You may even use them and live by them yourself. I’m talking about sayings and proverbs that are passed along in a culture. Whether they directly reflect a culture’s values and viewpoint or are more universal in nature, sayings, adages and proverbs are woven into the way we think and sometimes act. So it shouldn’t be surprising that there are a lot of sayings and proverbs written into crime fiction in one way or another.

Several of Agatha Christie’s stories include sayings. For example, in Murder in Mesopotamia, Hercule Poirot interrupts his travel in the Middle East to investigate the murder of Louise Leidner. She was the wife of noted archaeologist Eric Leidner, who’s been working with his dig team at a site a few hours from Baghdad. This story is told from the point of view of Amy Leatheran, a nurse who was hired as a sort of watchdog/companion for Mrs. Leidner. When she first meets Poirot, Nurse Leatheran is not exactly impressed, and her lack of faith in him is soon evident. Here’s what Poirot says about it:
 

‘‘You disapprove of me, ma soeur? Remember, the pudding proves itself only when you eat it.’
The proof of the pudding’s in the eating, I suppose he meant.
Well, that’s a true enough saying, but I couldn’t say I felt much confidence myself!’
 

By the end of the novel, as you can imagine, Nurse Leatheran’s opinion of Poirot’s abilities has improved…

The title of one of Josephine Tey’s Inspector Grant novels, The Daughter of Time, comes from a saying attributed to Sir Francis Bacon: ‘Truth is the daughter of time, not of authority.’ And it’s a fitting title for a novel in which Inspector Grant looks into a very old case. He’s been laid up with a broken leg, and as he’s recuperating, he gets interested in a portrait of King Richard III.  As he reflects on the portrait, it occurs to him that the king may not have been the evil murderer that history made him out to be. If that’s true, then the famous case of the Princes in the Tower could have an entirely different explanation. With that possibility in mind, Grant sets out to learn the truth about the tower case.

A Basque proverb, ‘A life without friends means death without company,’ is woven into Craig Johnson’s Death Without Company. In that novel, Sheriff Walt Longmire investigates the poisoning murder of Mari Baroja, an elderly member of Wyoming’s Basque community. At first there doesn’t seem much motive for the murder, but soon enough, the trail leads to the network of relationships among some of the people in the area. Those relationships go a long way back, and it’s in an event fifty years old that Longmire finds the root of this modern-day murder. Without spoiling the story, I can say that the saying is a very appropriate choice of title for the novel.

Michael Robotham’s Lost begins with a German proverb: ‘Wealth lost, something lost; honor lost, much lost; courage lost, all lost.’ In this novel, DI Vincent Ruiz wakes up in a hospital with bullet wound in his leg. He has no memory of how he got there, nor how he came to be hurt. All he remembers is being pulled out of the Thames. He works with his friend, psychiatrist Joe O’Loughlin, to get answers. It turns out that Ruiz was working on the disappearance of seven-year-old Mickey Carlyle, who went missing three years earlier. It was always assumed that the child had been killed by Harold Wavell, who’s actually in prison for that crime. But Ruiz came to believe that Wavell might be innocent, and that Mickey may still be alive. He was following up on leads in this case when he was shot. With O’Loughlin’s help, Ruiz pieces together what he had already learned, and discovers the truth about the disappearance.

Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s My Soul to Take begins, in prologue form, with a four-year-old child and the old prayer, ‘Now I lay me down to sleep…’ (I can’t say more about the prologue for fear of spoilers). This may not be, strictly speaking, an adage, but it’s been a part of, especially, Christian culture for a very long time. Sixty years after the events in the prologue, Reykjavík attorney Thóra Gudmundsdóttir takes on a new client Jónas Júlíusson, who owns an upmarket spa and resort. He wants to sue the former owners of the land where his spa is located, because, so he claims, the place is haunted and the former owners never informed him of that. Thóra doesn’t believe in ghosts, but she is interested in the fee. And the chance for a stay at a spa is just as welcome. So she travels to the spa to start working the case. She’s not been there long when there’s a murder, with her client as the most likely suspect. He asks Thóra to continue acting for him, and she agrees. It turns out that this recent murder has everything to do with the sixty-year-old events.

Sayings, proverbs and the like also come from other religious traditions. For instance, John Burdett’s Sonchai Jitpleecheep is a member of the Royal Thai Police. He is also an observant Buddhist. More than once in this series, Burdett weaves in a saying or adage from the Buddha. And of course, Buddhist teachings are at the core of the way Sonchai thinks and tries to act.

There’s another interesting use of sayings in Qiu Xiaolong’s Chief Inspector Chen series. These novels take place for the most part in post-Mao Shanghai, where Mao’s writings and sayings are still very much etched into the national consciousness. Interestingly enough, this society is also strongly impacted by much older proverbs and sayings. Since Chen is, among other things, a poet (as is his creator), he’s particularly observant of words and sayings. Their use in this series reflects much about the world views of the people Chen encounters.

And that’s the thing about adages, proverbs and sayings. We may not think about them very much, but they can reveal a great deal about a people’s way of looking at the world. Which sayings and proverbs have stayed the most with you?

 

A Programming Note…

I have a bit of a background in writing and words and language, so of course sayings in crime fiction interest me. But I’m by no means an expert in everything about the genre. So I’m going to call in a real expert to talk about Golden Age writers. As you know, I don’t do book reviews, and almost never do I do author promo. But Martin Edwards knows more about the Golden Age of crime fiction than I ever could, and I think you’ll find what he has to say very interesting. So I’m very pleased to announce that he’ll be right here on Tuesday. Do tune in!

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Johnny Burke and Arthur Johnston’s The Moon Got in My Eyes.

34 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Craig Johnson, John Burdett, Josephine Tey, Martin Edwards, Michael Robotham, Qiu Xiaolong, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

The Crowd Went Crazy*

Crowd EnergyThere’s something about excitement that seems to be infectious. Think for instance about the difference between the way you feel when you get online tickets to see a favourite musician in concert, and the way you feel when you’re in line to get in, sharing that excitement with a lot of other people who are also fans. The energy level, if you want to put it that way, is fed by everyone’s enthusiasm, so that the excitement can reach almost a fever pitch. That much energy can be a real jolt of adrenaline. It can also lead to conflict and worse, as all high-energy moments can. You see that in real-life situations (e.g. fights at sporting events or concerts), and it’s definitely there in crime fiction. That kind of mass excitement can make for a real layer of tension in a story.

For instance, Paddy Richardson’s Cross Fingers explores the way group energy works. Wellington journalist Rebecca Thorne is working on an exposé of dubious developer Denny Graham. She’s gathering her interviews and background material, and is getting ready to put her piece together. Then her boss asks her to turn her focus on the 30th anniversary of the 1981 Sprinboks tour of New Zealand – ‘The Tour,’ as it’s often called. At that time, apartheid was very much in place in South Africa, so a lot of people deeply opposed the Sprinboks’ visit. On the other hand, dedicated rugby fans (of which there were many) wanted to watch the tour matches. They were excited about the upcoming competitions and didn’t really care as much about the politics involved. The Springboks duly toured, but their visit led to a lot of ugly protests and the police reaction was sometimes violent. Thorne knows the story was important, but she believes it’s already been done enough. Still, at her boss’ request, she looks for a fresh angle on what happened and she soon finds it. In the midst of the fever-pitch excitement about the actual rugby and the equally strong passion rising from the protests, there was a murder. It was never solved, and Thorne thinks that looking into it will be the new angle she needs.

That’s not by any means the only novel in which we see that level of fever-pitch energy about a sporting event. Peter Temple’s Melbourne PI Jack Irish is a Fitzroy supporter, and whenever he stops in to his father’s old haunt The Prince of Prussia, he shares his love of the team with others. Some of his father’s old friends still go there, and football is everyone’s favourite topic of discussion. Here’s a scene for instance from Bad Debts. Irish has just returned from a trip out of town:
 

‘‘I had to go to Sydney,’ I said. ‘Work.’…
‘What kind of work does a man have in Sydney on Satdee arvo?’ said Norm O’Neill in a tone of amazement. These men would no more consider being away from Melbourne on a Saturday in the football season than they would consider enrolling in personal development courses.’

 

For most of these men, a good part of the excitement they get from football is the shared energy that comes from spending time with other Fitzroy fans.

It’s not just sport either of course that generates that kind of crowd-fed-frenzy. Film and theatre stars and events do too. In Josephine Tey’s The Man in the Queue, for example, a large crowd is waiting outside the door of the Woofington Theatre. They’re all eager fans of acting sensation Ray Macable, and they’re anxious for the start of the evening’s performance. Everyone’s excitement and shared energy builds until the doors are finally opened. Then people begin to push forward in the way that crowds do. That shared excitement is part of the reason for which no-one notices that a man waiting in the group has been stabbed. When he falls forward, dead, the police are summoned and Inspector Alan Grant takes over the investigation. One of the challenges he faces is that everyone was so excited about the play that they paid little attention to anything else going on.

Sometimes, religious or spiritual gatherings can generate that kind of shared excitement too. There are a lot of examples of this in crime fiction; I’ll just mention one. In Tarquin Hall’s The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing, we meet Dr. Suresh Jha. He is the founder and leader of the Delhi Institute for Rationalism and Education (D.I.R.E.). His mission is to expose people – he calls them the godmen – who prey on others’ need for spiritualism in order to cheat them. To do that, he and his group try to debunk every spiritual myth they can. One morning, he attends a meeting of the Rajpath Laughing Club. The group is going through their laughing exercises when according to witnesses the goddess Kali suddenly appears and stabs Jha. Certainly there’s evidence that he was stabbed to death. Many people say that the goddess actually did appear and killed Jha in retribution for his lack of faith. But PI Vishwas ‘Vish’ Puri doesn’t think so. So he and his team look into the matter. They find that more than one person might have wanted the victim dead, and could have had the necessary knowledge to create the illusion that Kali was responsible. One of those suspects is Maharaj Swami, a spiritual leader who has his own ashram. Puri and his team decide to do a little undercover work to find out more about this man. One of Puri’s associates is a young woman who goes by many names, but is usually nicknamed ‘Facecream’ because she blends in anywhere. She pretends to be drawn to Swami’s spiritual message and joins the ashram as a new recruit. At the various group meetings and spiritual events, it’s easy to see how religious and spiritual fervor can spread. That excitement causes a lot of behaviour that you wouldn’t likely see if the group weren’t gathered together, all sharing the event.

Political rallies and other gatherings can also bring out this group energy that leads almost to frenzy. We see that in several crime novels. For instance, in Sulari Gentill’s A Few Right Thinking Men, which takes place in 1932, Rowland Sinclair and his family are some of the few wealthy and powerful people who’ve escaped the worst of the Great Depression. Their lives are drastically changed though when Sinclair’s uncle, also named Rowland, is found bludgeoned to death. At first, the police wonder if the victim’s housekeeper Mrs. Donelly might know more than she’s saying about the murder. But Rowland is sure she’s completely innocent. He decides to ask some questions and find out the truth for himself. The trail soon leads to a far-Right group called The New Guard, and their leader Colonel Eric Campbell. So Rowland goes undercover as a new recruit to this faction, hoping he can get close to Campbell and get the answers he wants. In the end, we do learn the truth about Sinclair’s death. We also see the fervor engendered by some of the New Guard’s rallies. There’s at least as much frenzy there as there is at any rock concert.

That sort of shared excitement can make people who ordinarily behave sensibly do all sorts of things, like yelling, hugging complete strangers and more. It can even make you ‘camp out’ most of the night during a near-blizzard to get tickets to an event. Wait, what? There’s something wrong with that? Hey, I got third-row centre seats to that concert! ;-)
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Who’s Sally Simpson.

28 Comments

Filed under Josephine Tey, Paddy Richardson, Peter Temple, Sulari Gentill, Tarquin Hall

Watcha Gonna Do When They Come For You*

PoliceProceduralsFor many people, there’s something fascinating about what police do, and how they go about their jobs. Perhaps it’s the huge number of cop shows on TV, or perhaps it’s the image of the cop making things safe and putting the ‘bad guys’ away, so to speak. Or it could be the chance to get a look ‘behind the scenes’ of a unique setting. Perhaps it’s something else. Whatever it is, police procedurals have become a popular staple in crime fiction.

Interestingly enough, the police procedural as we think about it now is newer than some of the other sub-genres in crime fiction. For example, the private detective novel has been around since the days of Edgar Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin and Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. But that makes sense. Modern police forces weren’t really put together until the 19th Century and it took even longer for them to become the kinds of police forces we think of today. If you want to know more about 19th Century police forces, check out K.B. Owen’s terrific blog/website. She’s an expert on the era.

Certainly there’ve been police officers mentioned in many classic/Golden Age novels. There Agatha Christie’s Chief Inspector Japp, there’s Stuart Palmer’s Oscar Piper and there’s Josephine Tey’s Alan Grant, to name just three. There’s also of course Ellery Queen’s Inspector Richard Queen, and Rex Stout’s Inspector Cramer. But the police procedural novel as we think of it now really started a bit later.

There isn’t universal agreement about which book counts as the first police procedural, but Lawrence Treat’s 1945 novel V as in Victim is often brought up. This is just my opinion, so feel free to differ if you do, but for my money, the series that that really established the police procedural as a sub-genre was Evan Hunter/Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels. Beginning with 1956’s Cop Hater, the series went on for decades, almost until Hunter’s death. In that series, we see quite a lot more of life at a police station/precinct than we’d seen in previous kinds of crime novels. What’s more, this series doesn’t just follow one cop going after one criminal or criminal gang. There’s an ensemble cast in this series, and we follow not just the individual cases they investigate, but also their personal lives. The 87th Precinct series has had a profound influence on the genre in general and of course on the police procedural.

Another set of groundbreaking police procedurals is Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s ten-book Martin Beck series. Those novels follow Stockholm-based Martin Beck and his police colleagues as they investigate murders, robberies, and more. They also highlight a variety of social issues such as unequal distribution of wealth, corruption and other issues. Like the 87th Precinct series, this one also addresses the personal lives of the characters. For many people, the Martin Beck series is the quintessential police procedural series.

In the last few decades, the police procedural as a sub-genre has gotten very diverse as it’s been taken in new directions. For instance, some police procedurals still feature an ensemble cast of characters. Fans of Fred Vargas’ Inspector Adamsberg series and Arnaldur Indriðason’s Inspector Erlendur series, for instance, will know that those novels follow the lives of several of the characters, both in and outside working hours. So does Frédérique Molay’s Nico Sirksy series (I hope more of them will be translated into English soon).

Other series focus more on one or a few cops. For instance, in Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series, the spotlight is mostly on Bosch. We certainly learn about other characters, and there are several story arcs involving them. But the primary emphasis is on Bosch. You could say the same thing about Karin Fossum’s Konrad Sejer series. We do learn about other characters, but the focus in that series is on Sejer’s professional and personal life. Another example of this is Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus series. While there are story arcs and scenes involving other characters, it’s Rebus who’s the ‘star of the show.’

One major development in the police procedural series is that it’s gone worldwide. And that means that the different series have taken on the distinctive atmosphere of their settings. I’m thinking for instance of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip’s David ‘Kubu’ Bengu series, which takes place in Botswana and which they write as Michael Stanley. There’s also Qiu Xiaolong’s Inspector Chen Cao series, and Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series. And that’s just to name three of the many police procedural series that are seasoned by their cultures.

Another development is the diversity in the kinds of people who feature in police procedural series. Women, for instance, are quite frequently police protagonists now. That’s what we see in Katherine Howell’s Ella Marconi series, Martin Edwards’ Lake District series and Anya Lipska’s Natalie Kershaw/Janusz Kiszka series. Jane Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan series is another example. That increasing diversity shows up in other ways too. There are gay cops, disabled cops and cops with all sorts of eccentricities.

Despite all of this variety, though, you could argue that there are still some basic things that define a police procedural series. One is that it focuses on police stations, bases or precincts and the people who work there. There are often sub-plots and story arcs that show us the cop’s off-duty life, but there is an emphasis on the investigation and on life as a police officer. Another, at least to me, is that the police procedural features a certain kind of investigation style that involves interpreting evidence, interviewing witnesses and suspects and so on. In that sense it’s quite different to the amateur sleuth, who doesn’t have the power of the law, or the PI sleuth, who goes about investigations in yet another way. Police culture, policies and the like have a strong impact on the way cops go about their jobs, and that makes their investigations distinctive.

What do you think? If you read police procedurals, what is their appeal to you? Which ones do you like the best (I know I’ve only mentioned a few of them) What, to you, makes a police procedural series a good one? If they put you off, why? If you write police procedurals, what made you choose that sub-genre?

 

 

 

*NOTE: The title of this post is line from Inner Circle’s Bad Boys.

36 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Anya Lipska, Arnaldur Indriðason, Arthur Conan Doyle, Ed McBain, Edgar Allan Poe, Ellery Queen, Evan Hunter, Frédérique Molay, Fred Vargas, Ian Rankin, Jane Casey, Josephine Tey, K.B. Owen, Karin Fossum, Katherine Howell, Lawrence Treat, Louise Penny, Maj Sjöwall, Martin Edwards, Michael Connelly, Michael Sears, Michael Stanley, Per Wahlöö, Qiu Xiaolong, Stanley Trollip, Stuart Palmer

You Were Just a Face in the Crowd*

CrowdsThe conventional wisdom is that most murders take place in deserted areas, where’s there’s not much of a crowd around. And that makes sense: the fewer witnesses to a murder, the easier it is on the killer. And there are many, many crime novels where a killer takes advantage of the fact that someone’s alone. But a crowd can actually provide a good ‘cover’ for a murderer too. That’s especially true if it’s an anonymous sort of a crowd, where it’s hard to tell exactly who’s in the group. Of course, for that kind of murder, the killer needs a weapon that’s not obvious. But if you have that, and you don’t have a distinctive appearance, a crowd can give quite a good alibi if I can put it that way. Let me show you just a few examples from crime fiction and you’ll see what I mean (well, you probably do already).

In Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders, Hercule Poirot works with Scotland Yard and local police to find out who’s committed a series of killings. The only apparent things that link the deaths is that Poirot gets a cryptic warning note before each murder, and that an ABC railway guide is found near each body. One of the things that make this case difficult is that the murderer takes advantage of crowds. One of the murders, for example, takes place at a cinema. A lot of people come and go, and don’t give their names to the ticket seller. It’s a perfect setting if you think about it for a murder. Another victim, a young woman, is killed on the beach. In that instance, the killer takes advantage of the fact that a lot of young women are out that evening walking with their dates. No-one pays much attention to the individual people, so the killer finds it easy to hide.

There’s a very clever use of a crowd in Josephine Tey’s The Man in the Queue. One evening, a large group of people is waiting at the Woofington Theatre to see a performance of Didn’t You Know?, starring the sensation of the moment Ray Marcable. The doors open and the crowd surges forward, and that’s when someone stabs small-time bookmaker Albert Sorrell, who was waiting with the others. Inspector Alan Grant takes charge of the investigation, and starts by trying to find out who was near the victim at the time of the murder. As you can imagine, that’s not easy. And matters are made even more difficult since the people near Sorrell claim that they’d never seen him before – he was just another person waiting for the show. In the end, Grant finds out who killed Sorrell and why, but his job is not made any easier by the fact that the murder happened in a large crowd of people.

Dona Laura Sales Ribeiro finds that being in a crowd doesn’t help her very much in Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza’s Alone in the Crowd. One day she goes to Rio de Janeiro’s Twelfth Precinct police station and asks to speak to Inspector Espinosa. When told that he’s busy, she says that she’ll come back later and leaves. A short time afterwards she’s waiting with a group of people at a bus stop. Many other people are walking by on the street. Then a bus arrives and Dona Laura falls, or is pushed, under it. There were a lot of people nearby, and no reason for anyone to provide identification or a reason for being at that place at that time. So it’s very difficult at first to figure out who would have had the opportunity to commit this murder. Too many anonymous people did. In the end, Espinosa finds out who killed Dona Laura, and how it connects with another death that occurs in the novel. But it’s not an easy task.

A similar thing happens in Katherine Howell’s Web of Deceit. New South Wales Police Detectives Ella Marconi and Murray Shakespeare are called to the scene of a tragic death at a train station. A man has been pushed into the path of an oncoming train. Also arriving at the scene are paramedics Jane Koutofides and Alex Churchill. To their shock, they discover that they’ve already met the victim. He is Marko Meixner, a man they took to a nearby hospital earlier that day after a car accident. At the time he said that he was in danger, and they would be too if they spent any time with him. They didn’t pay a lot of attention to Meixner’s words, since he seemed to have mental problems. But now it’s clear that he really was in danger. One major problem that Marconi and Shakespeare face is that it’s very difficult to tell who could have killed the victim. There was a large crowd near the platform, and even with CCTV footage, there’s no clear picture of the person who committed the crime. And the presence of the crowd meant that the killer was able to fade away without calling attention to him or herself.

And then there’s Michael Connelly’s The Black Box. The verdict in the 1992 Rodney King case has ignited Los Angeles, and there are crowds and riots everywhere. The police do their best to keep order but it’s impossible to track down every criminal and solve every case. This means there are several cases left unsolved. Twenty years later, the chief of police orders the LAPD’s Open-Unsolved Unit to go back over the unsolved murders from the 1992 riots. Harry Bosch, who’s now in that unit, takes the case of Anneke Jesperson, a Danish freelance journalist/war correspondent who was covering the riots. Bosch was one of the two cops who discovered her body in the first place, and now he wants to find out who killed her and why. At first the case seems hopeless. There were so many crowds surging through the city and so much looting and killing that tracing one death to one murderer seems impossible. But bit by bit, Bosch finds out about the weapon that was used. That puts him on the trail of the person who used it. And that pits him against some people who used the riots to cover up something much bigger than just a journalist who was killed because of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In Anthony Bidulka’s Date With a Sheesha, Pranav Gupta hires Saskatoon PI Russell Quant to find out who killed his son Nayan ‘Neil.’ Gupta tells Quant that his son was in Dubai as a part of a larger trip to the Middle East, where he was giving guest lectures. He was also researching antique carpets and making some selections of carpet to be placed on display at the University of Saskatchewan. Shortly before his return to Saskatchewan, Neil Gupta was in an open-air market at an impromptu party when he was attacked and killed. The official police report is that he was killed by thugs – a tragic but not targeted murder. But Neil’s father doesn’t believe that’s the case. He thinks his son was murdered because he was gay. So he wants Quant to travel to Dubai and find out the truth. It’s not an easy task. Not only is Quant unfamiliar with Dubai, but also, there’s not at first a lot of helpful evidence bearing on the case. Open-air markets are crowded, with many entrances and exits. And they have lots of little narrow passages where it’s easy to waylay someone and then disappear without being noticed. So it’s no wonder that this murderer wasn’t caught at first.

And that’s the thing about crowded places. You might think that with all those people around, there’d be less chance of a murder. But that’s not always how it happens. Which ‘murder in a crowd’ novels have you enjoyed?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Tom Petty’s A Face in the Crowd.

37 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Anthony Bidulka, Josephine Tey, Katherine Howell, Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza, Michael Connelly