Category Archives: Kalpana Swaminathan

I Didn’t Catch Your Name*

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, one of the most basic facts we learn about people, including fictional characters, is their names. Certainly, it’s one of the first things we find out when we meet someone new. A name is an important identifier, and in a novel, it’s an important way in which authors make characters distinctive.

And yet, there plenty of crime-fictional characters, even main characters, who aren’t given names. And it’s interesting to see how authors give those characters roles in a story without naming them. Here are just a few examples; I’m sure you’ll think of others.

Fredric Brown’s short story Don’t Look Behind You is addressed to the reader. The unnamed narrator tells the story of a printer named Justin Dean, and a suave man named Harley.  They meet when Harley goes to the printing shop where Justin works to have some business cards made. Then, they get into a business of their own. Trouble begins when they get involved with some ruthless people, and that leads to real ugliness. The story has a lot of impact because it’s addressed to the reader, and told in the first person, much as someone might tell you about an event. And that adds power to a twist at the end of the story.

Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca isn’t usually thought of as a crime novel, but if you’ve read it, you know that it involves crime. As fans can tell you, the story is told in first person from the point of view of the second wife of Maxim ‘Max’ de Winter. When she and her new husband move in together at his home, Manderley, she tries to settle in and enjoy her new life. But she’s soon made to feel very unwelcome. In particular, the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, resents her presence. It comes out that Mrs. Danvers was especially devoted to Max’s first wife, Rebecca. And she misses no opportunity to make it clear that the second Mrs. de Winter is a poor substitute at best. Rebecca’s presence seems to haunt everyone, and the new Mrs. de Winter isn’t even sure her husband actually loves her. As the story goes on, we learn more about what Rebecca was really like. And the truth changes everything. Interestingly, we never learn the name of the narrator. And, in a way, that fact underscores the powerful role Rebecca’s memory plays at Manderley.

In Apostolos Doxiadis’ Three Little Pigs, we meet an art restorer, who’s visiting a monastery in the Swiss Alps. He’s interested in some frescoes in the monastery’s chapel, and considering restoring them. During his visit, he meets an old man who offers to tell him a story – ‘a good one’ – if that story can be recorded. The art restorer agrees and buys some cassettes (this part of the story takes place in the 1970s). Then, the old man tells his story. It begins with the arrival of Benvenuto ‘Ben’ Franco and his family to New York in the early 20th Century. Immigrants from Italy, they try to make their way in their new home, and they do well. Then, disaster happens. Franco gets into a bar fight, and ends up killing his opponent, a man named Luigi Lupo. The victim happens to be the son of underworld boss Tonio Lupo, who curses the Franco family for the loss of his son. In fact, he promises that all three of Ben Franco’s sons will die at the age of forty-two, the age Luigi was when he was murdered. The old man then goes on to tell what happened to those sons. We never learn the name of the art restorer. And for much of the novel, we don’t know who the old man is, either. This keeps the focus of the story on the Franco family, rather than the narrator or the old man.

Kalpana Swaminathan’s The Page 3 Murders takes place mostly at the posh Mumbai home of Dr. Hilla Driver. She decides to have a special ‘foodie’ weekend at her home, both as a sort of housewarming and as a celebration for her niece’s upcoming eighteenth birthday. Hilla’s chef, Tarok Ghosh, wants to put the house on the culinary map, as the saying goes, so he plans extra-special meals, with the culminating event to be an elaborate seven-course dinner. One of the guests is Hilla’s good friend, a retired police detective named Lalli, who’s accompanied by her niece. Several members of Mumbai’s glitterati are also invited, and the weekend begins. On the night of the dinner, Ghosh makes a custom-made appetizer for each guest. It’s soon clear from those appetizers that each guest is hiding something, and that Ghosh knows their secrets. By the end of the night, he’s been murdered. Later, another murder is discovered. Together, Lalli and her niece discover who the killer is, and what the actual motive was for both murders. This novel is told from the point of view (first person) of Lalli’s niece. Interestingly enough, she is not named, although she plays an important role in the novel. The focus is really on the other guests.

And of course, I couldn’t discuss nameless crime-fictional characters without mentioning Bill Pronzini’s San Francisco PI. In fact, that series is often called the Nameless series, because for much of it, Pronzini doesn’t tell us what his sleuth’s name is. The stories are told in first person, past tense, so it’s not especially awkward.

Still, in most cases, it really can be a challenge to create a main character who doesn’t have a name. Authors can make it work by having that character narrate the story, or by keeping the focus of the story elsewhere. But it’s not easy to accomplish.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Beatles’ I Will.

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Filed under Apostolos Doxiadis, Bill Pronzini, Daphne du Maurier, Frederic Brown, Kalpana Swaminathan

I Love the Old-Fashioned Things*

I spent a couple of days at a conference last week. The conference itself was interesting, with plenty of ‘food for thought.’ Just as interesting (at least to me) was the way people interacted. As you’ll know, one of the customs people have at conferences is to exchange business cards. Business cards and other, related, calling cards have been in use in some form or another for hundreds of years. And even with the less formal nature of today’s business interactions, and with today’s technology, they’re still a popular formality.

The exchange of business cards isn’t the only formal ritual custom people keep. And that’s not surprising. There’s a certain comfort and security that can be associated with them. For example, a funeral ritual can help the bereaved go through the process of letting go of a loved one, no matter how casual those left behind are in the rest of their lives. And certain ritual customs, like formal meals, engraved invitations, and exchanging business cards, add what a lot of people think of as ‘class’ to an event. So, even in today’s more casual world, where people often text or email rather than send letters, there’s something about certain formalities. We certainly see that in crime fiction. And those formalities can be effective tools for character development, cultural background, and even the setting up of context.

In Agatha Christie’s Five Little Pigs, Carla Lemarchant hires Hercule Poirot to find out the truth about the murder of her father, famous painter Amyas Crale. He was poisoned sixteen years earlier; and at the time, his wife Caroline was the only really viable suspect. There was plenty of evidence against her, too. She was arrested, convicted and died a year later in prison. Now, her daughter wants to clear her name if that’s possible. Poirot agrees to look into the case. One of the people who give him information is Caleb Jonathan, the Crale family lawyer. He’s retired now, but he knows the family history very well. Both he and Poirot are accustomed to certain formal traditions, so before they even meet, there’s an exchange of letters. Then Poirot receives an invitation for dinner and to spend the night. Only after dinner and an after-dinner brandy does the attorney really begin to talk to Poirot about the Crale family. And that conversation proves useful.

Fans of Tony Hillerman’s Jim Chee/Joe Leaphorn series, for instance, will know that Chee and Leaphorn are members of the Navajo Nation, as well as members of the Navajo Tribal Police. In his personal life, Chee is more traditional than Leaphorn is, but both respect their people’s customs. For instance, one custom they observe has to do with visiting people’s homes. It’s the Navajo tradition when visiting to sound the horn and/or call out, and then to wait outside the home of someone one’s visiting until one’s host opens the door and invites one in. This is intended to allow the host to clean up, change clothes, or whatever is needed to prepare for a guest. These police officers know that they could knock on a door right away. But the formality of sounding the car horn and waiting to be invited in shows respect to the homeowner, It also puts witnesses at ease, so they’re more likely to be helpful to the police.

We also see formal courtesy, for instance, in Helene Tursten’s Detective Inspector Huss. In that novel, Göteborg DI Irene Huss and her team investigate the death of wealthy financier Richard von Knecht. One day, he falls from the balcony of his exclusive penthouse, and at first, it looks very much like a suicide. But small pieces of forensic evidence begin to suggest otherwise. So, Huss and the members of her team look more deeply into the matter. One of the important witnesses in this case is Fru Eva Karlsson, an elderly lady who happened to be walking her dog at the time of von Knecht’s deah. Huss wants to learn as much as she can from this witness, so she pays Fru Karlsson a visit. From Huss’ perspective, it’s an informal visit, just to get information. But she is a visitor, so Fru Karlsson insists on making a more formal event of it, complete with fresh coffee and homemade pastries. It’s much more than Huss wants to eat or drink, but putting the witness at ease is important, so she goes along with this formality.

Alexander McCall Smith’s Mma Precious Ramotswe understands the value of a certain amount of ease and modern informality. But there are some more formal traditions that she continues, and prefers. She prefers to greet people in the traditional way, although it is a bit more formal. And she respects the custom of showing traditional respect to the elderly. When clients come to see her, she puts them at their ease by offering them traditional hospitality: a cup of bush tea and, perhaps, some cake. She knows that those formalities can help ease the awkwardness that often goes with hiring a private investigator.

In Kalpana Swaminathan’s The Page 3 Murders, Dr. Hilla Driver decides to have a large house party, both as a sort of housewarming, and to celebrate her niece Ramona’s upcoming eighteenth birthday. The guests are among Mumbai’s elite, and include Bollywood people, a famous dancer, a famous author, and a critic, among others. And Hilla wants this to be a very special weekend. So, at the urging of her chef, Tarok Ghosh, she decides to make it a ‘foodie’ weekend that will culminate in a formal, traditional, seven-course gourmet meal. There are to be special hors d’oeuvres, printed menu cards, and other formalities. The weekend arrives, and so do the guests. Right from the beginning, there’s conflict among some of them, but for the most part, things go smoothly enough. Then, on the night of the gourmet meal, Ghosh gives each guest a custom-made hors d’oeuvre, and uses these to show that he knows a secret about each one. That hint strikes too close to home for someone, and by the next morning, he’s dead. One of Hilla’s guests is a retired police detective, Lalli, who’s there with her niece. Together, the two find out who killed Ghosh and why.

Some formalities may seem unnecessary in today’s world. But they have their place, and a lot of people like them. What about you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer’s I’m Old Fashioned.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alexander McCall Smith, Helene Tursten, Kalpana Swaminathan, Tony Hillerman

For Iago*

iago-charactersOne of the best-known fictional villains is Shakespeare’s Iago. As you’ll know, Iago plans his boss and friend Othello’s downfall, even as he seems to be Othello’s ally. Iago secretly works in the background, pulling proverbial strings to manipulate situations and further his own agenda.

Iago may be one of the most famous such villains, but he’s hardly the only one. There are plenty of Iago-like characters in crime fiction. Sometimes, they turn out to be the killer in a whodunit type of crime novel. But even when they don’t, they can be treacherous. That doesn’t mean they’re not interesting characters, though.

Agatha Christie mentions Iago in Murder in Mesopotamia. In that novel, Hercule Poirot investigates the murder of Louise Leidner, who accompanied her husband, noted archaeologist Eric Leidner, to a dig a few hours from Baghdad. As is his custom, Poirot tries to get a sense of the victim’s personality, so that he can learn who might have wanted to kill her. One character describes Louise as ‘a kind of female Iago,’ who enjoyed causing drama and setting people against each other. That’s not really the reason she’s murdered. But it’s an important part of her personality.

In one thread of Philip Margolin’s Executive Privilege, former police detective-turned-PI Dana Cutler is hired to follow nineteen-year-old Charlotte Walsh and find out where she goes, whom she sees, and what she does. Cutler’s not sure why Washington’s top power brokers would be interested in a ‘nobody’ like Walsh, but the fee is generous. At first, not much happens. But then one night, Walsh parks her car at a local mall, is picked up in another car, and travels to a remote house. Cutler follows, and is shocked to find that Walsh’s meeting is with US President Christopher Farrington. With such highly-placed people involved, Cutler decides to quit the job. But it’s not that easy. The next morning, Walsh is found dead in her car. And some very ruthless people discover that Cutler took surveillance ‘photos of Walsh’s meeting with the president. Now, she’s going to have protect herself as best she can. Throughout this novel, there’s a character who maliciously manipulates a number of situations from the background, and it’s interesting to see how that character’s machinations play out.

Peter James’ Dead Simple introduces Brighton and Hove Superintendent Roy Grace. He and DI Glenn Branson are faced with a missing person case when Ashley Harper contacts them. It seems that her fiancé, Michael Harrison, went missing after a ‘stag night’ prank. At first, Branson and Grace wonder whether it’s a case of a groom-to-be getting ‘cold feet’ about the upcoming wedding. But Ashley is beautiful, smart and accomplished. There’s no reason anyone can see that her fiancé wouldn’t want to marry her, and Harrison had seemed very much in love and looking forward to the wedding. The team wants to find out what happened during the ‘stag night,’ but all but one of the people who were with Harrison were killed in a terrible accident. That one, injured in the same accident, is in a coma. There’s a chance that Harrison’s best friend, and best man, Mark Warren, might know something. But he was out of town, and didn’t make it back until after Harrison went missing. The more the team looks into Harrison’s disappearance, the less it looks like a stupid stag prank gone badly wrong. What they don’t know is that there’s a character who’s been behind the scenes, manipulating things and setting people against each other. And that ‘Iago’ is a formidable opponent.

In Kalpana Swaminathan’s The Page 3 Murders, Dr. Hilla Driver decides to host a sumptuous ‘foodie weekend’ party. The invited guests are, for the most part, members of Mumbai’s glitterati. But among them is also a friend and former police detective, Lalli.  In part, the aim of the party is to show Hilla’s guests the beautiful home she’s recently inherited. In part it’s to celebrate the upcoming eighteenth birthday of her niece, Ramona. At the urging of her cook, Tarok Ghosh, Hilla wants to make this weekend absolutely perfect, and
 

‘‘…put this place on the culinary map.’’
 

To that end, Tarok has planned a special, seven-course meal, and everyone’s excited about it. Then, on the night of the big dinner, Tarok prepares special, custom-made appetizers for each guest. It’s soon clear from these dishes that each guest is hiding at least one secret, and that Tarok knows what those secrets are. There was already some friction among the guests, but this makes matters far, far worse. Late that night, Tarok is murdered. Lalli begins to investigate, and she finds that Tarok’s desire to stir up trouble turned out to be his undoing.

And then there’s Peter May’s The Blackhouse. Edinburgh police detective Fionnlagh ‘Fin’ MacLeod is seconded to the Isle of Lewis to help investigate the murder of Angel Macritchie. That murder bears a lot of resemblance to one MacLeod’s already investigating, and it’s hoped that, if it is the same killer, joining forces with the Lewis police will help to catch the murderer. For MacLeod, this is a homecoming, as he was raised on Lewis. But it’s not a happy prospect; he had his reasons for leaving. As MacLeod investigates, he also has to face his own past. And that turns out to have real consequences. He learns that someone has been manipulating events behind the scenes, much as Iago does.

Characters such as Iago may not be overtly malicious. And, in crime fiction, they may not even turn out to be murderers. But they’re almost always dangerous. And they can add suspense to a crime story. Which ones have stayed with you?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by S.J. Tucker.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Kalpana Swaminathan, Peter James, Peter May, Phillip Margolin

It Don’t Take Long*

condensed-storiesIn real life, murder investigations take time. And that makes sense, when you consider all of the factors that go into solving a crime. But that doesn’t always work well in a novel. Many readers prefer a faster pace and more engagement in their stories. And it’s interesting to see how different crime writers have approached that balance between telling a story in a realistic way, and keeping the story’s pace in mind.

Some writers have even managed to tell an absorbing story that takes place over just a few days, or even less. It’s not easy to pull that off, and still make the story credible. But when it works, that approach can add tension and a solid pace to a story.

Margery Allingham’s The Crime at Black Dudley is one of those novels. In it, Dr. George Abbershaw is among several guests invited for a house party at Black Dudley, the family of home of academician Wyatt Petrie. The only permanent residents of Black Dudley are Petrie and his uncle, Colonel Gordon Coombe. This weekend, though, there are several other people there, including Albert Campion, who would become Allingham’s sleuth. On the first night, Petrie tells the guests about an old family legend concerning a large dagger that’s hanging over the fireplace in the drawing room. Everyone decides to go through the ritual associated with that legend. During the night, Colonel Coombs is killed. Abbershaw is asked to sign a death certificate that identifies the cause as heart failure. But he has his doubts, and very quickly deduces that the victim was stabbed with the dagger. What’s more, one of the other guests turns out to be associated with a criminal gang that claims to be missing ‘something important,’ and demands its return. The gang refuses to let anyone leave until that property, which turns out to be a set of papers, is returned. With this pressure, Abbershaw and, to an extent, Campion, have to work quickly to find out the truth about Coomb’s death and the papers.

There’s a similar sort of short time span in Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. A group of people, including Hercule Poirot, board the famous Orient Express for a three-day journey across Europe. On the second night, one of the passengers, Samuel Ratchett, is stabbed in his bunk. Poirot is asked to investigate and, hopefully, find out the who the killer is before the train reaches the next frontier, so that the murderer can be handed over to the police. Poirot agrees, and begins by interviewing each of the passengers. A search is also made of their luggage. That information, plus certain clues and pieces of information, leads Poirot to the truth. The truth about the murder stems from an event several years earlier. But the action in the story takes place mostly over just two days.

The context for Kalpana Swaminatham’s The Page 3 Murders is a weekend ‘foodie party’ hosted by Dr. Hilla Driver. In part, the party is a sort of ‘housewarming,’ as she’s just inherited a beautiful upscale home. It’s also intended as a celebration of her niece Ramona’s upcoming eighteenth birthday. Hilla is very well-connected, so her guests represent Mumbai’s elite, including a food critic, a well-known writer, a dancer, a model, and a socialite and her husband. Also invited is a retired police detective, Lalli, and her niece (who narrates the story). Right away, it’s clear that there are conflicts among some of the guests, and hidden animosity. But everyone settles in and looks forward to what’s supposed to be the culminating event: a seven-course gourmet meal prepared by Hilla’s chef, Tarok Ghosh. The meal begins with custom-designed starters/appetizers, and it’s soon clear that Tarok planned them as his way of hinting at secrets that each guest is keeping. It’s clear now that he knows more than it’s safe to know. When his body is discovered late the next morning, Lalli is not shocked, given what he revealed. But she is dismayed, of course, and wants to find the killer as soon as possible. Then another death is discovered. Now there’s even more time pressure, and Lalli and her niece work quickly to find out who’s responsible. Again, some of the secrets we learn in this story go back some years. But the action in it takes place over only a few days.

There’s also Kazuhiro Kiuchi’s Shield of Straw. Kazuki Mekari, of the Tokyo Municipal Police Department is given a difficult and unusual assignment. He and a specially-chosen group of officers are to travel to Fukuoka and bring back Kunihide Kiyomaru to face justice in Tokyo. Kiyomaru is responsible for the rape and murder of a young girl, and escaped to Fukuoka. This trip isn’t going to be easy, though. The girl’s very wealthy grandfather has publicly offered a one-billion-yen reward to anyone who kills Kiyomaru. So Mekari and his team will have to protect their prisoner from potentially thousands of people. What’s more, they’ll have to keep their own greed in check. The longer the trip takes, the more likely it is that someone will get to Kiyomaru. So, the team has to move as quickly as possible. The distance between Fukuoka and Tokyo is about 1100 km/685 mi, and on a ‘bullet train,’ that would normally take about six hours. But it doesn’t turn out to be nearly that simple. The bulk of the action in this novel takes place as Mekari and his team travel with their prisoner. But a lot can happen even in the space of less than two days…

As the name suggests, Herman Koch’s The Dinner takes place over the course of one upmarket gourmet meal. Paul and Claire Lohman meet Paul’s brother, Serge, and his wife, Babette, for dinner at one of Amsterdam’s most exclusive restaurants. As the dinner progresses, we slowly learn the backstories of these characters, and we learn about a dark secret both families are keeping. Paul and Claire’s son, Michel, and Serge and Babette’s son, Rick, are guilty of a terrible crime. As we find out what happened, we also find out that this dinner had a very specific purpose: trying to decide what to do about that crime. It’s a fascinating story structure: it takes place during one meal, but it has to do with the characters’ entire lives.

There are, of course, plenty of other stories where the action is ‘telescoped’ into a short period of time. It can be tricky to do that effectively but the result can be a solid layer of suspense and an interesting plot structure. Which stories like that have stayed with you?

 
 
 

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

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Herman Koch, Kalpana Swaminathan, Kazuhiro Kiuchi, Margery Allingham

Some Folks are Born, Silver Spoon in Hand*

famous-people-public-and-privateA lot of us get tired of hearing about the doings of famous people. That’s understandable, when you consider the ways the media treats stories about celebrities. The truth is, famous people are, first and foremost, people. And sometimes stories about that side of them can be interesting, especially if they’re done well. Readers can certainly connect to a famous person if they see that person as, well, real.

The thing about famous people is that, like the rest of us, they often have family and friends. They have pasts, too, and often their own secrets. All of that can make for an interesting context for a crime novel, providing that the famous character is depicted as an authentic person.

We see the human side of famous actress Marina Gregg in Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side (AKA The Mirror Crack’d). In that novel, Marina and her husband have just purchased Gossington Hall, in the village of St. Mary Mead. They decide to continue the tradition of an annual charity fête at the hall, and open their new home to the public. One of those most excited about this is Heather Badcock, who is one of Marina Gregg’s biggest fans. She goes to the big event, and actually gets the chance to meet her idol. Shortly afterwards, Heather becomes ill and then dies of what turns out to be poison. At first, it’s believed that the intended victim was Marina, and there are certainly are those who wish her harm in both her professional and personal lives. But Miss Marple deduces that Heather was actually meant to be the victim all along. With some help from her friend, Dolly Bantry, Miss Marple works out who would have wanted to kill Heather and why. As the novel goes on, we learn about the real person behind the famous Marina Gregg, and that side of her plays its role in the story.

In Ellery Queen’s The Four of Hearts, we are introduced to famous actors Blythe Stuart and John Royle. They had a very public, very stormy romance that finally ended. Each married someone else and each now has an adult child. Magna Studios wants to do a biopic on the couple, and Ellery Queen’s working on the screenplay. No-one thinks that the two actors will consent to do the film, but to everyone’s surprise, they agree. What’s more, they re-kindle their romance and even decide to get married. Rather than let this sudden change of plans get in the way of the film, the studio decides to make the most of it and give the couple a Hollywood-style wedding. It’s to take place on an airstrip, and is to be followed by the couple and their children taking off for their honeymoon trip. The wedding comes off as planned, and the plane duly takes off. But when it lands, both newlyweds are dead of what turns out to be poison. Their children are the likely suspects, but each of them claims to be innocent. Queen investigates, and discovers that the truth can be found by seeing the couple as actual people, rather than as celebrities.

Josephine Tey’s The Man in the Queue begins as a group of people are waiting outside the Woofington Theatre to see the final performance of Didn’t You Know?, starring famous actress Ray Marcabel. The doors finally open and the crowd moves in. In the confusion, no-one notices at first that there’s been a stabbing and a man is dead. Inspector Alan Grant investigates; and, of course, one of his first questions is the man’s identity. It turns out that the victim was small-time bookmaker Albert Sorrell. At first, it looks very much as though Sorrell’s roommate is guilty. Even Grant is convinced of this at first. But he soon begins to wonder whether he has the right man. So he goes back to the beginning of the case to find out the truth. And as he does, he learns more about the real person behind the famous Ray Marcabel, and that plays a part (pun intended) in the mystery.

Robert Crais’ Los Angeles-based PI Elvis Cole has had his share of encounters with famous people, and has learned what some of them are like behind their public personas. That’s what happens, for instance, in Lullaby Town. Famous director Peter Alan Nelson hires Cole to track down his ex-wife Karen Shipley, mostly so that Nelson will have a chance at a relationship with his twelve-year-old son, Toby. At first, Cole is reluctant to take the case, since it’s very likely that Karen doesn’t want to be found. But Nelson insists, saying that he really wants to be a father to his son. So Cole finally relents and starts asking questions. It doesn’t take him long to trace Karen and Toby to a small Connecticut town, but that’s only the start of Cole’s problems. It seems that Karen’s gotten mixed up with the Mob. She wants to get free of that connection, but that’s much easier said than done. Cole decides that he’ll have a better chance of getting Karen to talk to her ex-husband if she stays alive; and for that, he’ll need help from his PI partner, Joe Pike. In this novel, we don’t just see Nelson as a famous director; we see the human side of him, too.

Kalpana Swaminatham’s The Page Three Murders features a Mumbai house party being hosted by Dr. Hilla Driver, who’s just inherited a very upmarket home and wants to have a sort of housewarming. She also wants to celebrate the upcoming birthday of her niece, Ramona. So she arranges an elegant, ‘foodie’ weekend, with her chef, Tarok Ghosh, in charge of planning and preparing the menu. Several famous people are invited, including a model, a famous writer, a critic, an activist, and a socialite and her husband. All of them have both public and private personas. And it turns out that Ghosh has found out a lot about these guests’ personal lives. In fact, he drops hints about what he knows, and that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. The next day, he’s found murdered. One of the house guests, Lalli, is a former police detective who immediately starts investigating. When there’s another murder, she knows she doesn’t have much time to catch the killer. Among other things, the novel gives an interesting look at the lives of Mumbai’s famous people when they’re not in front of cameras, as the saying goes.

And then there’s Peter James’ Not Dead Yet. Brighton and Hove Police Superintdent Roy Grace gets a new assignment when superstar Gaia Lafayette plans to come to town. She’s originally from Brighton, and is coming back to do a film. There’s already been an attempt on her life, and Grace and his team are expected to do what they can to provide security for her and her young son. In the meantime, they’re already investigating a murder, and there’s the usual work that police do, the team has quite a lot going on. But ‘no’ isn’t an option, so Grace and his team get to work to protect the star. As they do, we get to know a bit about what Gaia is like as a person – behind the cameras.

And that’s the thing. Major stars are just people, like the rest of us, despite their seemingly gilded lives. Seeing them as real people can be interesting.

 

ps. The ‘photo is of John Fogerty (on the right, holding a guitar) and his son Shane (to the left, also with a guitar). It’s a nice look at a famous person as just a person with a family.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Creedance Clearwater Revival’s Fortunate Son.

 

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Josephine Tey, Kalpana Swaminathan, Peter James, Robert Crais