Category Archives: Jussi Adler-Olsen

In The Spotlight: Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy

>In The Spotlight: Agatha Christie's The Mirror Crack'dHello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. There’ve been many different kinds of police procedural series, so it’s not easy to develop an innovative approach to them. But it can be done. Some authors have found ways to adapt the police procedural and make their take on it distinctive. To show you what I mean, let’s turn today’s spotlight on Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy (AKA The Keeper of Lost Causes), the first in his ‘Department Q’ series.

Carl Mørck is a Copenhagen homicide detective who’s just getting back to work after being sidelined by a line-of-fire shooting incident. He’s dealing with more than his physical injuries though. During the shooting, one of his colleagues, Anker Høyer, was killed. Another, Hardy Henningsen, was left with paralysis. Mørck blames himself for what happened, convinced that if he’d drawn his gun at the right time, things would have been different. Still, not one to wallow (no, he is not a stereotypical drunken cop), he starts back to work.

It’s not long though before some real problems arise. Mørck has never been the easiest person to work with, and now that he’s coping with his recovery, matters have gotten even worse. Things get so bad that complaints are made to his boss Marcus Jacobsen. At first, Jacobsen wants to give Mørck a little more time. But he’s pressured into doing something about the matter.

Then a solution suggests itself. The Danish government and the press have been putting a lot of pressure on the police to solve certain crimes that have gone ‘cold.’ So in a political move, Jacobsen creates ‘Department Q,’ designed to investigate ‘cases of special interest.’ He names Mørck to head the department. Department Q is of course just about politics, so it exists as not much more than a name. Mørck is given a desk in the basement of the police department’s building and set of case files. He isn’t even given any staff at first. But then he’s assigned Hafez al-Assad to be a sort of glorified janitor.

At first, the Department Q solution seems to work. Mørck is out of the way, the press and government are placated and the police budget hasn’t been overextended. But then everything changes. Assad takes a bit of an interest in the five-year-old disappearance of Merete Lynggaard, one of the cases that’s ended up on Mørck’s desk. His interest proves to be infectious, and Mørck goes into the case more deeply.

Merete Lynggaard was an up-and-coming politician who’d already begun to make a name for herself when she disappeared during a ferry trip with her brother Uffe. They quarreled, and it was always believed that Uffe pushed her overboard in a tragic accident. But there are pieces of evidence that suggest that she may still be alive. If so, Mørck and Assad may not have much time to solve this case and find her. So they begin to re-investigate. They’d like to start with Uffe, but he is a very troubled young man who simply doesn’t communicate. So they have to look elsewhere to trace Merete’s last days and weeks in order to find out what really happened to her. There are several possibilities, too, since there were people in her personal and professional lives who might easily want to be rid of her. When Mørck and Assad get to the truth, they discover that this case has everything to do with the past.

This is a police procedural, so readers get a look at how Copenhagen cops do their jobs. There’s also quite an element of police politics. For instance, there are internal politics as Mørck is shunted aside and later, finds a way to get what he wants. In fact, there’s an interesting scene in which he uses his own political leverage (which no-one thought he would have) to negotiate with his boss and ensure he and his assistant get what they need to fully investigate the Lynggaard case. You can call it blackmail, or you can call it doing one’s job; either way it’s an interesting example of how police departments work ‘on the inside.’

Another important element in this novel is the relationship between Mørck and Assad. At first, Mørck takes little interest in his assistant. And Assad doesn’t have much respect for his new boss, who doesn’t seem to want to do anything. But gradually they come to respect and even depend on each other. It turns out that they complement one another too. Where Mørck is acerbic, Assad knows how to be diplomatic, and that gets all sorts of little things done that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. For his part, Mørck has the authority and history in the police department to insist on things that Assad wouldn’t be able to get by himself. And they are both good detectives.

In this first novel in the series, we learn more about Mørck than we do about Assad. Mørck is separated from his wife Vigga, but he doesn’t desperately miss her. His stepson Jesper lives with him, so he faces the inter-generational stress that a lot of people do who share their homes with teenagers. He is dealing with the trauma of the shooting, but he doesn’t wallow in it. He has a cynical way of thinking about people and life and a sometimes very sarcastic way of talking. But he is not without compassion, and there are some scenes where he shows a more human side.

For his part, Assad says very little about himself. He is from Syria, but doesn’t really explain why he’s in Denmark, nor much about his family. All he will say is that if he ever returned to Syria, he’d likely be killed. He’s smart and hard-working, and eager to learn policing. In the way he is treated, we also see some different Danish attitudes towards immigrants.

The character of Merete Lynggaard also plays an important role in the novel. This story is told partly from her point of view (in third person), so we learn quite a bit about her. Readers who are tired of the ‘helpless, hapless female victim’ stereotype will be pleased to learn that she is none of those things. She’s not a superhero and that’s made clear too. But I can say without spoiling the story that she refuses to be a victim.

Since the novel is told from two points of view, readers are privy to information that Mørck and Assad don’t have at first. Those who prefer to discover things as the sleuths do will notice this. So will those who prefer just one point of view and just one timeline. That said though, Adler-Olsen is clear about whose viewpoint is being shared, and when a given event is taking place.

The story is not a happy one, and finding out the truth doesn’t make everything all right again. But there is some wry wit woven into it. In this scene, for instance, Mørck is settling into his new office:
 

‘Here he could sit for hours and surf the Net to his heart’s content. No pesky rules about secure surfing and safeguarding the central servers; at least that was something. He looked around for an ashtray and tapped a cigarette out of the pack. ‘Smoking is extremely hazardous to you and those around you,’ it said on the label. He glanced around. The few termites that thrived down here could probably handle it. He lit the cigarette and took a deep drag. There was definitely a certain advantage to being head of his own department.’
 

That wit gives insight into police bureaucracy, hospital/medical bureaucracy, and the political system.

Mercy is the story of an unlikely pair of sleuths who re-open a case most people thought had thankfully gone away. It shows the sometimes permanent effects of trauma, and at the same time, uses wit to call attention to a system that sometimes doesn’t work the way it should. But what’s your view? Have you read Mercy? If you have, what elements do you see in it?
 
 
 

Coming Up On In The Spotlight
 

Monday 5 January/Tuesday 6 January – Confessions – Kanae Minato

Monday 12 January/Tuesday 13 January – Just Another Angel – Mike Ripley

Monday 19 January/Tuesday 20 January – Cradle to Grave – Eleanor Kuhns

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Filed under Jussi Adler-Olsen, Mercy

When the Underdog is Hungry, the Favorite Might Fall*

Avoiding and Setting TrapsSkilled sleuths have all sorts of ways of catching criminals. Sometimes, they even use the criminals’ own weapons against them. I don’t mean something as obvious as grabbing a gun from a murderer. Rather, I mean using the criminal’s own methods, tools, etc. to catch him or her. There are a lot of examples of this in crime fiction; let me share just a few to show you what I mean. 

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Dancing Men, Sherlock Holmes gets a visit from Hilton Cubitt. Cubitt’s concerned about his wife Elsie, who had some very dubious associations in her past. As she tells her husband, she’s done nothing of which she personally need be ashamed. But now it seems that her past has caught up with her. Lately she’s been receiving some cryptic messages that have left her terrified. She won’t explain what they mean to her husband, but it’s obvious something is very, very wrong. Holmes agrees to look into the matter and Cubitt shows him some of the coded messages Elsie’s gotten. From those, Holmes is able to crack the code; that’s how he learns that Elsie may be in real danger. Then one night, Cubitt is murdered and Elsie is badly wounded. Holmes uses the very trap that the culprit set – the code – to lure the killer out of hiding. 

Nevada Barr’s Track of the Cat introduces readers to U.S. National Park Service Ranger Anna Pigeon. She’s in the healing process after the death of her husband Zach and has accepted a posting in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park in West Texas. One day she discovers the body of fellow ranger Sheila Drury. At first, it looks as though Drury might have been killed by a mountain lion, but Pigeon hopes that isn’t’t the case. Mountain lions are endangered as it is. If word gets round that a mountain lion killed a human, there’ll be a backlash of mountain lion killings by locals who would be only too happy to see the population disappear. Then little pieces of evidence begin to suggest that Drury’s killer was human. Now Pigeon starts to ask more questions, and slowly discovers who murdered Drury. At one point, she has a confrontation with the murderer, who has laid a trap for her. But Pigeon finds a way to make that trap work in her favour.

In Michael Dibdin’s Ratking, Aurelio Zen is seconded from the Ministry of the Interior in Rome to the town of Perugia. Wealthy patriarch Ruggiero Miletti has been kidnapped, and no real progress has been made on the case. The Perugia Questura has asked for assistance and Zen is sent to provide it. It’s not long before Zen learns that there are several people who don’t want the case solved. He also learns that someone’s been reporting on his movements, telephone conversations and the like. Zen is up against some powerful opposition too. For one thing, the Miletti family doesn’t want to co-operate with the police, and isn’t happy about Zen’s ‘interference.’ For another, there are the kidnappers, who are not exactly nice people. There are also some highly-placed and influential people who want this case to go away quietly. Then Zen discovers a trap that’s been laid for him. Once he finds it, he’s able to neatly use the same trap against the culprits.

Sometimes sleuths even have to out-manoeuvre people who are on ‘the right side of the law.’ For example, in Alexander McCall Smith’s The Kalahari Typing School For Men, a successful civil engineer Mr. Molofelo hires Mma. Precious Ramotswe to find some people from his past. He’s been re-thinking his life and would like to make amends to the family of his former landlord, and to a former girlfriend. After hearing Mr. Molofelo’s story, Mma. Ramotswe agrees and begins her search. It turns out that the landlord has died, but his widow is still alive and collecting her husband’s pension. So Mma. Ramotswe goes to the government pension office. There she encounters a self-important clerk who refuses to provide her with the widow’s address, since it is against the regulations. Here is how Mma. Ramotswe uses that ‘weapon’ – the regulations – against the clerk:

 

 

‘‘But that is not the rule,’ said Mma. Ramotswe. ‘…The rule says that you must not give the name of a pensioner. It says nothing about the address.’
The clerk shook his head. ‘I do not think you can be right, Mma. I am the one who knows the rules. You are the public.’
‘Yes, Rra. I am sure that you are very good when it comes to rules…But sometimes, when one has to know so many rules, one can get them mixed up. You are thinking of Rule 25. This rule is really Rule 24(b), subsection (i)…The rule that deals with addresses is Rule 18, which has now been cancelled.’’

 

 

The defeated clerk finally provides the information Mma. Ramotswe needs and she is able to help her client. 

Copenhagen detective Carl Mørck uses a bureaucratic ‘trap’ to his own advantage in Mercy (AKA The Keeper of Lost Causes). He’s recovering from a line-of-duty shooting that left one colleague dead and another permanently disabled. The event has left Mørck even more difficult to work with than usual. In fact things get so bad that his colleagues don’t want to work with him any more. So his boss comes up with an idea. There’s been political pressure to follow up on older ‘cases of interest,’ so that the police give the impression of taking every case seriously. In order to respond to the pressure, a new department – Department Q – will be created and Mørck will be ‘promoted’ to lead it. The idea is to shunt him aside and keep him away from actual department work. But Mørck uses that new position to his advantage. In fact, he gets an assistant Hafez al-Assad, and other amenities too. And soon enough he and Assad begin work on their first case, the disappearance of an up-and-coming politician Merete Lynggaard, whom everyone thought had drowned in a ferry accident five years earlier. She may very well be alive though… 

And then there’s Qiu Xiaolong’s Death of a Red Heroine. In that novel, Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Bureau and his assistant Yu Guangming investigate the murder of an unknown woman whose body is discovered in the Baili Canal not far from Shanghai. The case becomes very delicate when the victim is identified as Guan Hongying. She was a national model worker and rather a celebrity in her way. So the Powers That Be want this case handled very, very carefully, especially if the killer turns out to be a Party member, or some other important person. The first official theory – that Guan may have been raped and murdered by a taxi driver – isn’t supported by some of the evidence that turns up so despite the delicacy, Chen and Yu press on with their investigation. At one point the trail begins to lead to a very influential person. And that person uses ‘clout’ to get Chen transferred to a new position as Director of Metropolitan Traffic Control. On one level it’s a promotion with several perquisites. On the other of course, it’s a trap for Chen to keep him away from the Guan case. But Chen knows that, and finds a very neat way to use his new office to solve the murder. 

Being able to use an opponent’s tools against that person takes skill and cleverness. It also makes for some interesting crime-fictional plot twists and character development. These are only a few examples. Your turn.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Was (not Was)’s Anything Can Happen.

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Filed under Alexander McCall Smith, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Michael Dibdin, Nevada Barr, Qiu Xiaolong

Get On Back to School*

Professional DevelopmentNo matter what profession one’s in, it doesn’t usually stay static. Because of that, professionals often have to update their skills and knowledge. Sometimes it’s called ‘training,’ sometimes it’s called, ‘seminar’ and sometimes ‘professional development.’ Whatever it’s called, it’s a fact of life for a lot of people.

Sometimes those sessions are very useful, and they can give one the chance to get together with colleagues and other people in the field. Other times…it’s exactly the opposite. If you’you’ve ever been to a really dreadful one, you know exactly what I mean.

Police (and private detectives too) are no different when it comes to professional development. They’re expected to go to training classes, update their skills and so on. But at least in crime fiction, a lot of them aren’t that happy about it. Sometimes it’s because they think those sessions are a waste of time. Other times it’s because they’d rather do things their way, if I can put it like that. Those sessions may not always be productive, but they’re woven into a lot of crime fiction.

In Michael Connelly’s The Black Echo for instance, Harry Bosch investigates the suspicious death of a former Vietnam War comrade Billy Meadows, whose body is found stuffed into a large municipal drainpipe. At first the death looks like a case of a junkie who overdosed, but Bosch doesn’t believe it. So he investigates more deeply. It turns out that Meadows’ death is connected with plans for a major bank robbery. At one point, he and FBI agent Eleanor Wish are interrogating someone who may know more than he’s saying. Bosch wants to use some police training he got in, of all things, hypnosis. By this time the LAPD isn’t using that tactic any more, and Bosch mentions that he was in the last class of cops who took it. You never know what skills you can learn at a professional development seminar.

Ian Rankin’s John Rebus is not much of a one for departmental-level training sessions or professional development. He’s a rather independent thinker (to say the least) and doesn’t like to conform to what the top brass says. But that doesn’t mean he can escape professional development. In Resurrection Men, for instance, Rebus is required to attend a ‘last chance’ course at Tulliallan Police College along with a group of other cops who have trouble working with others, especially authority figures. The team is assigned to investigate a ‘cold case,’ the murder of gangster Rico Lomax. The idea of this training is that the men will learn to work together and solve the case. Needless to say, Rebus isn’t’t happy about this, especially since he and Sergeant Siobhan Clarke were in the middle of investigating the murder of Edinburgh art dealer Edward Marber. But he goes along with the decision. His time in this special program proves useful once he and Clarke find that the two cases are related.

Forensic anthropologist David Hunter decides to update his skills and see if he still ‘has it in him’ in Simon Beckett’s Whispers of the Dead. Hunter is healing both physically and emotionally from the events in Written in Bone, and wants some time away from London anyway, So he goes to Tennessee’s Anthropological Research Laboratory, otherwise known as ‘The Body Farm,’ to get away for a bit and to hone his skills. He did his training there and is looking forward to re-connecting with his mentor Tom Liebermann. Shortly after Hunter’s arrival in Tennessee, a decomposed body is discovered at a deserted cabin not far from the lab. Then another body is discovered. Hunter is soon drawn into a difficult and dangerous investigation that’s quite different to his plan for skill development.

Not all professional are that eager for professional development. Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy (AKA The Keeper of Lost Causes) introduces Copenhangen homicide detective Carl Mørck. He’s recovering from a traumatic line-of-duty shooting and is just getting back to work. But going back to work doesn’t mean he’s back to his old self. In fact, he’s so hard to work with that he’s ‘promoted’ to Department Q, a newly-formed department devoted to investigating cases ‘of special interest.’ The first case he and his assistant Hafez al-Assad look into is the five-year-old disappearance of promising politician Merete Lynggaard. Everyone thought she’d drowned in a tragic ferry accident, but Mørck and Assad soon suspect she may still be alive. If she is, they may have very little time in which to find her. In the meantime, Mørck’s boss informs him that his promotion will mean he has to take a qualification course. Mørck refuses to do so, and there’s an interesting thread running through this story of their running battle about it.

And then there’s Qiu Xiaolong’s Death of a Red Heroine, in which we are introduced to Shanghai Chief Inspector Chen Cao. Chen and his assistant Yu Guangming investigate the rape and murder of an unknown woman whose body is found in Baili Canal. It turns out that the woman was Guan Hongying, a National Model Worker and a Party member, so the authorities want this case handled very delicately. Chen, on the other hand, wants to find out who killed the victim and why. He and Yu begin work on the investigation but at first no leads turn up. Then there’s an added complication. Chen is invited to attend and present at the Central Party Institute’s annual seminar. It’s an important honour and it indicates that Chen is well regarded. To refuse the invitation is out of the question, but it means that Chen has to prepare his presentation at the same time as he’s working on this difficult case.

And that’s the way it is with most professional development. It’s not that it’s always bad. Some professional development is actually very useful. But it always seems to come when the sleuth least wants to take the time…

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jimmy Buffett’s Domino College.

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Filed under Ian Rankin, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Michael Connelly, Qiu Xiaolong, Simon Beckett

It Still Gives You Pain and It Still Brings Tears*

Later Effects of TraumaThe trauma of a murder investigation, or even an investigation into a death that doesn’t turn out to be murder, is hard on everyone. In fact, it can affect people for a very long time, sometimes permanently. And very often, the most vulnerable people – children – are the most profoundly affected, even much later in life. Just a quick look at crime fiction and you’ll get a sense of what I mean. Oh, and before I go any further, I promise – no mentions of serial-killer novels where the murderer was traumatised as a child. It’s been done. ;-)

In Agatha Christie’s Five Little Pigs, Hercule Poirot gets a visit from Carla Lemarchant, who wants him to investigate a sixteen-year-old murder. Her father, famous painter Amyas Crale, was poisoned one afternoon by what turns out to have been spotted hemlock/coniine. At the time, his wife Caroline was arrested, tried and convicted, and died a year later in prison. There was plenty of evidence against her, and no-one has really doubted her guilt except for her daughter. Now Carla is preparing to marry, and she wants her mother’s name cleared. Poirot agrees and interviews the five people who were present when Crale died. He also gets written accounts from all of them, and from that information, finds out who really killed the victim and why. Even though Carla was only a little girl at the time, and was quickly taken away from the scene of chaos, she has still been affected by the crime and years later, it plays a part in her life.

That’s also true of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch. He was eleven when his mother was murdered. Since she was a prostitute, not much was done about the murder. Although Bosch isn’t the stereotypical ‘cop with demons,’ he has been profoundly affected by that tragedy. Even he isn’t really aware of quite how much until The Last Coyote, in which he is forced to face the trauma. In that novel, he is sent for mandatory psychiatric counseling after an incident in which he attacks a superior officer. As a part of that process he explores what happened to his mother and even re-opens the case. When he does, he finds that there are several people who are not exactly pleased at having it all brought up again.

Lawrence Block’s The Sins of the Fathers is the story of the murder of Wendy Hanniford. Her roommate Richard Vanderpoel is assumed to be guilty. He was seen covered in her blood, and even had the murder weapon. So it’s not difficult to trace the crime to him. But Wendy’s father Cale Hanniford wants to know what really led up to the murder. He’s become estranged from his daughter and would like to know the sort of person she became. So he asks Matthew Scudder to investigate. Scudder isn’t (at this point in the series) a licensed PI, but he is a former cop, and he sometimes does ‘favours for friends.’ So he agrees to ask a few questions. He tries to interview Vanderpoel in prison, but the young man is either quite ill or under the influence of powerful drugs, and he isn’t really coherent. Shortly after that interview, Vanderpoel commits suicide. Now Scudder is left with more questions than ever and he continues to dig into the case. He finds that Vanderpoel’s mother was murdered when he was a boy and that fact played an important role in his life. I don’t think it’s giving away spoilers to say that Vanderpoel isn’t the stereotypical ‘traumatised kid who grows up to be a killer.’ But that trauma does figure into the case.

Elizabeth George’s Missing Joseph introduces us to the residents of the town of Winslough. Deborah and Simon St. James take a trip there after Deborah meets local vicar Robin Sage. He impressed Deborah and she feels drawn to him, so she persuades her husband to take a holiday at Winslough. By the time they get there though, Robin Sage is dead. He’s been poisoned by water hemlock, which local herbalist Juliet Spence claimed that she mistook for wild parsnip. Since she was the last one who gave him anything to eat or drink, the talk is that she’s guilty of murder.  Simon asks his friend Inspector Lynley to look into the matter and see whether this was accidental or someone deliberately poisoned the vicar. Juliet’s thirteen-year-old daughter Maggie has to deal with the trauma of having her mother suspected of murder and it’s not easy. And I think I can say without spoiling the story that there is more that Maggie will have to deal with, and anyone who’s read the novel would probably agree that what’s happened will affect her for the rest of her life.

In Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy (AKA The Keeper of Lost Causes), Copenhagen homicide detective Carl Mørck and his new assistant Hafez al-Assad re-open the five-year-old case of the disappearance of promising politician Merete Lynggaard. She disappeared one day during a ferry trip, and it was always thought that she tragically fell overboard during a quarrel with her brother Uffe. But little pieces of evidence suggest that Merete may still be alive. If she is, there may not be much time left to find her, so Mørck and Assad begin an urgent search for any information they can find. One of the people they want to talk to is Uffe, but he is uncommunicative. He hasn’t spoken since an awful car crash claimed his parents’ lives when he was thirteen. That trauma plays a powerful role in the novel and in Uffe’s personality and way of thinking. As Mørck  interacts with Uffee, we see clearly how it still affects him. Once Mørck is able to find a way to get through to Uffe, he gets a key piece of information to help him find out the truth about Merete.

In Martin Edwards’ The Cipher Garden, DCI Hannah Scarlett and her team re-open the ten-year-old murder case of landscaper Warren Howe. At the time, everyone thought his wife Tina was responsible, and she had good reason. But the police could never really make a case so no arrest was made. Now, anonymous tips suggest that Tina really was guilty, so the police take another look at the murder. In the process, they get to know Howe’s two children Kirsty and Sam. They were young at the time of the murder, but even so, and even though it’s been ten years, they’ve been deeply affected by it. The family was very dysfunctional to begin with, so Sam and Kirsty have had their share of troubles. And having the case re-opened just makes things more difficult for them.

And then there’s Taylor, the adopted daughter of Gail Bowen’s sleuth Joanne Kilbourn. When we first meet Taylor in Murder at the Mendel, she is tragically involved in a murder case. Since then, Kilbourn has adopted her and now she and her husband Zack Shreve make it a priority to give Taylor as normal a life (whatever that means) as possible. And Kilbourn ought to know if anyone how to do that. Her other three children Mieka, Peter and Angus had to deal with the murder of their father Ian Kilbourn when they were children. In this series, we see how children can grow up, can have decent lives and find happiness, but how they can also be burdened when they are a part of a murder case.

Those are only just a few examples. Your turn.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Code of Silence.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Elizabeth George, Gail Bowen, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Lawrence Block, Martin Edwards, Michael Connelly

‘Cause He Was in the Mood For a Little Confrontation*

ConfrontationOne of the strategies authors use to build suspense is confrontation between people. In crime fiction that confrontation is often between the sleuth and the suspect/culprit, but it doesn’t have to be. Whenever there are two people who are opposed or perhaps are rivals, there is the possibility of a confrontation. It certainly happens in real life, so it makes sense that it would also happen in crime fiction too. It’s not always easy to write about a confrontation because unlike film-makers, authors don’t have the advantage of the visual. But when it’s done well, a confrontation adds to the suspense and builds tension. It’s realistic too. As you’ll imagine, there are far, far too many well-written confrontations in crime fiction for me to mention them all. So I’ll rely on you to help fill in the gaps.

There’s a very effective confrontation between Hercule Poirot and M. Giraud of the Sûreté in Agatha Christie’s The Murder on the Links. In that novel, Poirot and Captain Hastings travel to Merlinville-sur-Mer to the home of Paul Renauld. They’ve come because Poirot received a letter from Renauld claiming that his life was in danger and begging for Poirot’s assistance. But by the time Poirot and Hastings get to France, it’s too late: Renauld has been stabbed. M. Giraud is placed in charge of the case and it’s clear from the outset that he and Poirot will not get on. Matters between them steadily worsen until they have a confrontation:

 

‘Poirot drew himself up. A dangerous light showed in his eyes.
‘Monsieur Giraud, throughout the case your manner to me has been deliberately insulting. You need teaching a lesson. I am prepared to wager you five hundred francs that I find the murderer of Monsieur Renauld before you do. Is it agreed?’
Giraud stared helplessly at him and murmured again: ‘Toqué!’
‘Come now,’ urged Poirot, ‘is it agreed?’
‘I have no wish to take your money from you.’
‘Make your mind easy – you will not!’
‘Oh, well then I agree! You speak of my manner to you being insulting. Well, once or twice, your manner has annoyed me.’
‘I am enchanted to hear it’ said Poirot. ‘Good morning, Monsieur Giraud. Come, Hastings.’’

 

Fans of Poirot will not be surprised that he wins that bet. And this confrontation shows part of the human side of Poirot.

In Ian Rankin’s Resurrection Men, the team at St. Leonard’s Police Station is investigating the case of Edward Marber, a murdered Edinburgh art dealer. There haven’t been many productive leads in the case and everyone’s nerves are getting frayed. Then one morning, DCS Gill Templar is holding a meeting for her staff to discuss the case. DI John Rebus is fed up with what he sees as another useless round of time-consuming ‘phone calls, interviews and so on. He makes a remark under his breath and Templar calls him on it:

 

‘‘Well I’m sure we all can learn something from you, DI Rebus.’ Not ‘John’ anymore. Her voice rising to match his…
‘Maybe you’d like to come up,’ she was saying, ‘and give us the benefit of your thoughts on the subject of just exactly how we should be proceeding with this inquiry.’ She stretched an arm out, as if to introduce him to an audience.
‘Ladies and gentlemen…’

Which was the moment he chose to throw the mug. It traveled in a lazy arc, spinning as it went, dispensing cold tea.’

 

That choice gets Rebus remanded to Tulliallan Police College for a ‘last chance’ opportunity to learn to work better with a group of other people. In this case, it’s a group of police officers who have difficulty working with others. That assignment isn’t going to stop Rebus looking into the Marber case though…

Nevada Barr’s Track of the Cat introduces readers to National Park Service Ranger Anna Pigeon. In this novel, she’s been assigned to the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. One day, she finds the body of fellow ranger Sheila Drury. All of the signs point to the likely possibility that Drury was killed by a mountain lion. Pigeon is truly hoping that’s not so, as she fears for what will happen to the park’s population of mountain lions of people hear that one of them killed a human. What’s more, some of the evidence just doesn’t seem to add up to a lion kill. So Pigeon starts asking questions. Almost immediately she meets a ‘wall of resistance’ from locals who are only too happy to shoot the animals, and from the authorities, who don’t want any unfavourable attention. In the end though, Pigeon finds out how and by whom Sheila Drury was killed. When she does, there’s a strong final confrontation scene between her and the killer, who thinks Pigeon will be easy prey. It turns out though that she is not…

In Gail Bowen’s A Killing Spring, political scientist and academician Joanne Kilbourn is drawn into the investigation of the murder of Reed Gallagher, a university colleague. As it happens, Kilbourn knows the victim’s wife Julie, so she comes along to help break the news of Gallagher’s death. Julie’s history with Kilbourn has not always been pleasant, and of course, the news of her husband’s death is a shock, so when Kilbourn and Regina Police Force Inspector Alex Kequahtooway go to the Gallagher home, they aren’t exactly received warmly. Julie is silent at first, and then lashes out, insulting both of her visitors. They do their best to keep their tempers in check, but it’s a real scene of conflict. In fact, here’s what Kilbourn and Kequahtooway say about it afterwards:

 

‘‘My grandmother used to say that every time we turn the other cheek we get a new star in our crown in heaven.’
Alex raised an eyebrow. ‘Let’s hope she’s right. I have a feeling that before Reed Gallagher is finally laid to rest, his widow is going to give us a chance to build up quite a collection.’’

 

Neither sleuth lets this conflict get in the way of finding out what happened to Gallagher.

Peter Temple’s Jack Irish gets into more than one confrontation in his line of work. He’s a sometime lawyer who also has a side business of finding people who don’t want to be found. When a former client Danny McKillop is murdered in Bad Debts, Irish decides to find out why and by whom. At one point, he’s following up a lead at the Safe Hands Foundation, a charitable organisation. He wants to speak Father Gorman, who’s head of the group. Here’s what happens when Irish gets to the door and confronts the security man:

 

‘Then he wanted my driver’s license.
‘I’m not trying to cash a cheque here, sonny,’ I said. ‘Just phone the man.’
Tight little smile. ‘The body corporate lays down the security proceedings.’ Flat Queensland voice. Pause. ‘Sir.’
‘This isn’t Pentridge,’ I said. ‘Didn’t they retrain you for this job? Just phone.’
He held my  gaze briefly but I’d got him in one. ‘I’ll check,’ he said.’

 

As it turns out, Irish gets an interesting lead on a man he’s trying to find once he gets past security. 

Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Carl Mørck is not the most cheerful of people under the best of circumstances. And in Mercy (AKA The Keeper of Lost Causes), he is especially testy as he copes with the aftermath of a line-of-fire shooting incident. He was gravely wounded and one of his colleagues was killed in the tragedy. Another has been left with paralysis. Mørck becomes so difficult to work with that he is ‘promoted’ to head a new department, ‘Department Q,’ that’s charged with investigating cases of ‘special interest.’ The first such case is that of Merete Lynggaard, an up-and-coming politician who disappeared five years ago. Evidence soon suggests that she may still be alive, so Mørck and his assistant Hafez al-Assad re-open the case. Along the way, Mørck finds more than one instance where the original investigator Børge Bak missed important evidence. At one point, the two have a meeting in the office of their boss Marcus Jacobsen. Here’s what Mørck says:

 

‘So,Bak! That was a hell of a job you lot did on the Lynggaard case. You were up to your necks in signs that everything wasn’t as it should be. Had the whole team caught sleeping sickness or what?…So now I want to know if there’s anything else in the case that you’re keeping to yourself…Was there someone or something that put the brakes on your excellent investigation, Børge?’

 

Of course, that’s exactly the wrong approach to take to enlist Bak’s help in providing any information he has. Eventually, though, Jacobsen gets Bak to add to the reports he’d submitted, and that information helps greatly in the investigation.

Confrontations are difficult to write, as they have to be authentic. But when they’re well done, they can add a solid thread of tension to a story. I’ve only had space here for a few examples. Your turn.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Carole King’s Smackwater Jack.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Gail Bowen, Ian Rankin, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Nevada Barr, Peter Temple