Category Archives: Jussi Adler-Olsen

But I Simply Cannot Do it Alone*

Working With OthersThere are many skills that are important to doing well in any career. It’s important to know how to do the job, of course, but it goes beyond that. People also need a constellation of social and personal skills and dispositions (like truthfulness, consistency and conscientiousness). One of the most important of these is the ability to work with others. In fact, not working well with others is often cited among the top reasons employees are terminated, not promoted, or not hired in the first place.

It’s easy to understand why being able to work with others is so important. Nobody has all of the answers or all of the information needed to solve a problem. We depend on each other. And in real life, when it comes to solving crimes, it’s even more important. Police officers’ lives may quite literally depend on being able to work with their partners and with others on the force.

Not everyone is good at working with others, though. Although it’s certainly a skill that can be learned or improved, it doesn’t come naturally to everyone. And it’s interesting to see what happens in crime fiction when someone isn’t good at working with others.

In Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Hercule Poirot investigates the stabbing death of a retired business magnate. Since Ackroyd was murdered in his home, the various members of the household come under their share of suspicion. One of those members is the parlourmaid, Ursula Bourne. She does her job well, but she’s not friends with others, and doesn’t join in. In fact, one character calls it ‘unnatural’ that she doesn’t seem to have any desire to be a part of the group. And another character considers her ‘odd;’ she’s respectful on the surface, but doesn’t have the same response to authority as the other staff members do. That doesn’t, of course, mean that she’s the killer in this case. But it does show that not working well with others raises proverbial ‘red flags.’

Any fan of Ian Rankin’s John Rebus novels can tell you that Rebus has his challenges when it comes to working with others, especially authority figures. He certainly doesn’t ‘go along to get along,’ particularly if he thinks that what’s being done is wrong. And that gets him in big trouble in Resurrection Men. Rebus and his team are working on the case of Edward Marber, a murdered Edinburgh art dealer. The investigation isn’t going particularly well, and everyone’s nerves are frayed. One morning, DCS Gill Templer holds a meeting about the case, which Rebus attends. He’s fed up with the idea of yet another round of interviews, telephone calls and the like, which he sees as a useless waste of time. He mutters something under his breath, but Templer hears it. Their confrontation escalates until Rebus throws a mug of cold tea. That’s enough to get him assigned to Tulliallan Police College for last-chance training with other police officers who also have trouble working with others. They’re given a cold case to investigate, the idea being that they’ll learn to work as a team. But that doesn’t stop Rebus’ interest in the Marber case.

In Louise Penny’s Still Life, the first of her Armand Gamache novels, the Sûreté du Québec investigates the murder of former schoolteacher Jane Neal. The newest member of the investigation team is Yvette Nichol, and she is determined to prove herself. The problem is, though, that she’s not good at working with others. Right from the start, she is unwilling to listen and learn. She does things her own way, regardless of what others think. On the one hand, she is intelligent, and her ideas are not all wrong. On the other, she is immature as a detective, and has an awful lot to learn. Her ‘rookie mistakes’ cost the team more than once. At one point, Gamache’s second-in-command, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, talks to his boss about how much trouble Nichol is causing. In response, Gamache tries to talk to her, to help her see how important it is to work with the team, to listen and learn from more experienced detectives, and to do as she’s asked without arrogance. It doesn’t work. In fact, Nichol blames Gamache for her failures, and the team for her difficulties working with them. It all ends up with her being removed from the investigation, and that has its own consequences. And in this novel, we also see that not working well with others is sometimes as hard on the person who can’t work as a team member as it is on the rest of the team.

Kate Ellis’ The Merchant’s House introduces DS (later DI) Wesley Peterson. He and his wife Pam have recently moved from London to Tradmouth, so he can take up his duties with the local CID. He and his team, led by DI Gerry Heffernan, are soon faced with the puzzling case of a young woman whose body is discovered at Little Tradmouth Head. Even more disturbing is the disappearance of young Jonathon Berrisford from the yard of the cottage where he and his mother Elaine are staying. As the team begins its work, Peterson learns a bit about why there was an open position in the Tradmouth CID. His predecessor was DS Harry Marchbank, who’d also come from London. It seems Marchbank was difficult to work with, and frankly, a racist. Here’s what one colleague says:
 
‘‘There was always an atmosphere. If Harry hadn’t got out when he did, I reckon Heffernan would’ve got him transferred.’’
 

Peterson is certainly not perfect. But he does work well with the team, and soon learns to fit in.

And then there’s Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Carl Mørck, whom we meet first in Mercy (AKA The Keeper of Lost Causes). Mørck isn’t exactly easy to work with under the best of circumstances, and these are hardly good circumstances. He’s recovering physically and mentally from a line-of-duty shooting situation in which one colleague was murdered and another left with paralysis. When he returns to the job, Mørck is so impossible to work with that complaints are made to his boss, Marcus Jacobsen. At first, Jacobsen wants to give Mørck a little more time. But there’s a lot of pressure on him to do something. Then, he comes up with what he thinks will be the perfect solution. The Danish government and the media have been pressuring the police to solve certain crimes that have ‘gone cold.’ So Jacobsen puts Mørck in charge of a new department – ‘Department Q’ – that will focus solely on such crimes. The new department is only there to serve political purposes, so in actual terms, it doesn’t exist. But Mørck and his assistant Hafez al-Assad (who’s actually been hired as a custodian) get to work. Mørck is inclined not to do much, but Assad notices an interesting case – the five-year-old disappearance of promising politician Merete Lynggaard. Together, Mørck and Assad start to ask questions about the case, and slowly discover that she may not have died as everyone thought. And if she’s still alive, she may be in grave danger.

In that case, not working well with others leads to a whole new opportunity. But that’s not the way it usually happens. In general, working well with others is an essential professional skill. And there are definitely consequences for people who can’t do that.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from John Kander and Fred Ebb’s I Can’t Do it Alone.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Ian Rankin, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Kate Ellis, Louise Penny

No One Messes With My Girls*

Brothel OwnersThe sex trade can be very dangerous, especially for those who work independently. Brothels can be a safer and healthier alternative to going it alone, especially if they’re owned and run by skilled and caring owners. Brothel owners have a vested interested in making sure their employees are healthy and safe. And in places where prostitution is illegal, they’re very helpful in terms of keeping the employees out of trouble with the law. Some of them are very particular about clients, too, so that their employees are at less risk. For the client, brothels can offer a more comfortable atmosphere. And if the brothel owner is doing the job well, there’s less risk of STDs.

Of course, real and fictional brothels run the gamut from elegant, upmarket places to seedy, very dangerous places where the employees are treated horribly. Either way, brothel owners can make very interesting characters in crime novels and series. On the one hand, what they are doing is illegal in a lot of places. On the other, they can be very helpful sources of information, and the police find that it’s often better all round to work with them than to make life too difficult for them.

Ed McBain’s Steve Carella knows that. In Cop Hater, he and his team are looking for a suspect they believe might be responsible for killing two of his colleagues, Mike Reardon and David Foster. They’ve traced this suspect to a local brothel owned by Mama Luz. Carella and Mama Luz have a very amicable relationship. Here’s how she greets him when he and his rookie assistant visit her establishment:
 

“You come on a social call?’ she asked Carella, winking.
‘If I can’t have you, Mama Luz,’ Carella said, ‘I don’t want anybody.’’

 

She’s helpful in directing him to the room where the suspect is, too.

In M.C. Beaton’s Death of a Nag, Hamish Macbeth has been having a difficult time lately. He’s been demoted from the rank of sergeant, and his engagement to Priscilla Haliburton-Smythe is now off. At loose ends and fed up with everything, Macbeth decides to take some time away. He stays at the Friendly House, a beachside inn. It’s not exactly the peaceful respite he’d hoped for, though. Many of the guests are at the very least annoying, and the innkeepers aren’t exactly the stuff of travel fantasy. Then, Bob Harris, who’s one of the residents, is murdered. Macbeth finds himself drawn into the investigation, and begins to trace Harris’ last days and weeks. That includes a follow-up on an incident in which he himself saw Harris leave a brothel. The brothel’s owner, Mrs. Simpson, is both candid and co-operative. It’s clear from their exchange that she’s used to being on what’s technically speaking the wrong side of the law, but at the same time working with the police. It’s also clear from this scene that she cares about the welfare of her employees.

So does Candace Curtis, whom we meet in Jill Edmondson’s Dead Light District. In that novel, she hires Toronto PI Sasha Jackson to find one of her employees, Mary Carmen Santamaria. The young woman’s gone missing, and Curtis is concerned that something might have happened to her. Jackson takes the case, and as she investigates, she learns quite a bit about the Toronto sex trade. She also gets to know her new client, and her client’s way of running her business. Curtis takes the well-being of her employees very seriously, so she’s quite particular about accepting clients. She insists, too, on ensuring her employees’ dignity and self-esteem. She’s also smart when it comes to business, and has done well for herself and the women who work for her.

In David Whish-Wilson’s Line of Sight, which takes place in 1970’s Perth, we meet Superintendent Frank Swann. He’s been away from Perth for a few years, but returns when he learns that a friend has been murdered. The victim is brothel owner Ruby Devine, whose body has been found in her car on a golf course. The official police explanation is that she was probably killed by her partner Jacky White. But the case is flimsy and Swann is sure that more is going on here than a case of domestic violence gone horribly wrong. He’s not going to get much help from his work colleagues, because he’s already a marked man, as the saying goes, for requesting a Royal Commission hearing regarding police corruption. The police he’s accusing are members of what’s known as ‘the purple circle,’ a group known for graft, corruption, and vicious brutality if they are crossed. The word on the street is that they are responsible for Ruby’s murder, so lots of people are afraid to speak up against them for fear of a similar reprisal. Swann perseveres, though, and we learn the truth about Ruby’s death. In the meantime, the Royal Commission hearing goes on, and there’s testimony from several witnesses. One of them, Pat Chesson, is, like the victim, a brothel owner. Here’s what she says about the relationship between the owners and the police before the ‘purple circle’ moved in:
 

‘When I first arrived to set up my business here, there was understandings between myself and the police. We kept our part of the bargain, they kept theirs. We made sure all our girls was clean and well behaved. We kept a quiet profile. You wouldn’t know, walking past one of my businesses, what it was. And anyone who went outside the rules was run out of town.’’
 

Among other things, this shows the role that brothel owners play in making sure their businesses fit into the community without causing the police a lot of trouble.

In Jussi Adler-Olsen’s The Purity of Vengeance, Copenhagen homicide detective Carl Mørck gets a visit from an old nemesis, Børge Bak. Bak is a former colleague who has since transferred, and Mørck is none too pleased to see him. This time, Bak has a request. His sister Esther, who owns a brothel, has been attacked with acid, and Bak thinks he has the right man in custody. He wants Mørck’s help in getting a confession. He’s also brought along another case: the 1987 disappearance of another brothel owner, Rita Nielson. Mørck’s secretary/researcher Rose Knudsen is sure that the Nielsen case was more or less passed over – ‘shelved’ – because of the woman’s profession, and at her insistence, Mørck looks into it. He and his team discover that this disappearance, and that of several others on the same weekend, all have to do with one woman, Nete Hermansen, and her desire for revenge, especially against a doctor who horribly abused his medical privileges.

We also see plenty of brothel owners – mamasans – in work like that of John Burdett and Timothy Hallinan. In Southeast Asia (although not in all of Asia), these are women (there are also papasans – the male equivalent) who manage bars that also provide prostitution services. Their roles aren’t identical to the roles played by Western-style brothel owners, but they bear some similarities.  Mamasans and papasans ensure that customers pay the ‘bar fine’ – the price for leaving with one of the bar’s employees. They also make sure that the bar runs smoothly, and, where necessary, they pay off the police and other authorities.

There are many cases of brothel owners who are vicious and predatory, both in fiction and in real life. But plenty of them are business people who make a living providing a service. And some of them care a lot about their employees, and want to make sure that they’re safe and that their clients have a good experience, too. They can also make very interesting characters in a crime story.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Carol Hall’s A Lil’ Ole Bitty Pissant Country Place.

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Filed under David Whish-Wilson, Ed McBain, Jill Edmondson, John Burdett, Jussi Adler-Olsen, M.C. Beaton, Timothy Hallinan

You Got That Right*

AccuracyIn Agatha Christie’s Dumb Witness (AKA Poirot Loses a Client), Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings investigate the murder of wealthy Emily Arundell. She’s left behind several relatives who are desperate for their share of her money, and who have very good motive for getting her out of their way. It’s a complicated case, and one evening, Hastings suggests that the two of them take their minds off the investigation and go to see a play. Poirot agrees and they duly attend. However, there’s one problem: Hastings  has chosen a crook play.
 

‘There is one piece of advice I offer to all my readers. Never take a soldier to a military play, a sailor to a naval play, a Scotsman to a Scottish play, a detective to a thriller – and an actor to any play whatsoever!’
 

Poirot gets very frustrated with the plot, claiming that the whole case could have been solved before the end of the first act.

This shows, I think, how we all bring our expertise into what we do in the rest of our lives. Certainly research suggests that we tap our knowledge, background and expertise when we read. People in general are not passive when they read. They interact with what they read; and, however unconsciously, compare it to what they know from real life. This doesn’t mean that readers are never willing to set aside disbelief. But a lot of readers do get cranky if the author isn’t more or less accurate.

For example, you may or may not know that my professional background has been mostly in the world of education. So I’m particularly ‘tuned in,’ for lack of a better phrase, when I read crime novels that take place in academia. And, if I’m being honest, I’m probably less patient with such novels when the author doesn’t portray that world accurately. I bring what I know to the reading process, as we all do, so I notice it more when what I know isn’t reflected in what’s in the book. That’s why I have a particular appreciation for work like Christine Poulson’s, Gail Bowen’s and Elly Griffiths’, whose novels have an academic context. In part because of the authors’ experiences in academia, the context is authentic, and that makes those novels more believable.

It’s the same, I would imagine, for just about any profession. For instance, the law profession varies from place to place, and certainly from country to country. But there are certain things about what lawyers do and don’t do that are, I think, a little more universal. And a well-written legal novel reflects that reality. I would suspect that attorneys who read crime fiction are ‘tuned in’ to those aspects of legal novels, and probably not patient when the author isn’t authentic. Not being an attorney myself, I can’t speak from expertise. But the works of authors such as Robert Rotenberg, John Grisham, Scott Turow and (in his Mickey Haller novels) Michael Connelly strike me as being realistic.

One might say the same thing about crime novels that take place in the health care and medical community. Physicians, paramedics, nurses and other health care providers who read crime fiction probably get very impatient with crime novels that don’t depict that world accurately. And they’re probably quite pleased with the authenticity of writers such as Katherine Howell, Michael Crichton and Michael Palmer.

I could go on and on with examples, but I think the point’s made. Whatever your profession or work background is, you’re likely to bring it to your reading, and you may very well find yourself noticing it particularly when someone isn’t accurate.

What about law enforcers who also read crime fiction? Most crime writers aren’t police officers (although some of course are or have been). And yet, if you think about it, just about every crime novel involves police presence, at least just a little. And some focus quite a lot more than others do on police activity. Some of those novels give a more authentic portrait of police life than others do. So my unsophisticated guess would be that there is plenty of frustration among law enforcement people when it comes to the way what they do is portrayed.

You’ll notice that all of the authors mentioned thus far have a professional background in the area that’s the focus of their books. For instance, Howell has been a paramedic, Rotenberg is a criminal lawyer, and Bowen has been a professor. Does this mean that you need to be a member of a given profession to write about it accurately? I don’t think so.

Let’s consider some of the highly regarded crime series out there. Ed McBain is, as you’ll know doubt know, the creator of the 87th Precinct series, which many people regard as a superior series. Its focus is police detectives and their lives, and the crimes they investigate. McBain was never, at least to my knowledge, in law enforcement. And yet this series is often held up as an example of an excellent police procedural series.

Jussi Adler-Olsen has done a number of things with his career, including music, business and publishing. He’s never, to my knowledge, been a police detective. Still, his Carl Mørck novels are very highly regarded police procedurals. Not being in law enforcement myself, I can’t vouch conclusively for their authenticity. But they certainly have the hallmarks of the police procedural, including life at the precinct, policy and so on.

Sara Paretsky isn’t a private investigator. Her background was in political science and history before she turned her focus to writing. But as any fan will tell you, her V.I. Warshawski series is very well-regarded, and gives readers a great deal of information about the ins and outs of private investigation. These are just a few examples; there are dozens of others. But I think just these few serve to show that some authors have written extremely credible work about professions that aren’t in their backgrounds. The key here really seems to be doing effective research (and of course, telling a well-written story!).

What about you? When you read a novel about people who do what you do professionally, do you pay extra attention to the details? Do you get frustrated when the author isn’t accurate?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a Lynyrd Skynyrd song.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Ed McBain, Elly Griffiths, Gail Bowen, John Grisham, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Katherine Howell, Michael Connelly, Michael Crichton, Michael Palmer, Robert Rotenberg, Sara Paretsky, Scott Turow

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