Category Archives: Karin Fossum

Getting to Know You Well*

Learning From BookshelvesLet’s say you’re invited to someone’s home for the first time. What’s the first thing that’s likely to pique your curiosity? If you’re a book lover, chances are that one of the first things you’ll want to look at is your host’s book collection. Part of that is, of course, that book lovers are drawn to books. But there’s also the fact that books tell a lot about their owners.

You can often tell people’s taste, education level, hobbies or special interests, and much more just from looking at their bookshelves. So it’s not surprising that we get curious about what’s on others’ shelves.

There are plenty of examples in crime fiction of what we learn from people’s bookshelves. That makes sense, too. For one thing, it’s realistic. For another, those details can add a lot to character development without having to go into a lot of narrative explanation.

In Agatha Christie’s Murder in Mesopotamia, for instance, Hercule Poirot is on his way back to London from a trip through the Middle East. He’s persuaded to interrupt his travels to help investigate the murder of Louise Leidner. She and her husband, noted archaeologist Eric Leidner, have been staying at the expedition house of an important dig a few hours from Baghdad. One afternoon, Louise is murdered in her room. Poirot is of the belief that the more one learns about a victim, the closer one gets to the truth about that victim’s death. So he takes a close look at, among other things, Louise’s collection of books. Interestingly enough, they tell him quite a lot about her personality, and that proves to be key to solving the mystery of her death. I know, I know, fans of Evil Under the Sun.

Ellery Queen is able to draw some conclusions from a book collection in The Origin of Evil. In that novel, he’s taken a house in the Hollywood Hills, hoping for some quiet time to write. That’s not what happens, though. One day, he’s visited by nineteen-year-old Laurel Hill, who tells him she believes her father Leander was murdered. According to Laurel, he’d been receiving a series of eerie and unpleasant ‘gifts.’ Those parcels caused the heart attack that actually killed him. In fact, Laurel says that her father’s business partner, Roger Priam, has been getting similar deliveries. At first, Queen is unwilling to do any investigation. But Laurel is nothing if not persistent. So he finally agrees. Naturally, he wants to speak to Priam, but Priam refuses to discuss the matter. That is, until an attempt is made on his life. He reluctantly allows Queen to investigate; as you might expect, Queen is drawn to his book collection. Priam has an impressive and expensive library. But oddly enough (‘though not surprising), it’s clear that Priam hasn’t read any of the books he owns. He simply amassed the collection because that’s what wealthy men are ‘supposed to’ do: have extensive libraries. It’s a very interesting case of using a character’s book collection to show what that character is like.

The main plot in Karin Fossum’s Don’t Look Back concerns the murder of fifteen-year-old Annie Holland. When her body is discovered near a tarn not far from her village, Oslo Inspector Konrad Sejer and his assistant Jacob Skarre investigate. At first, they don’t get very far. Annie was well-liked and had a good relationship with her mother and stepfather. She had an on-again/off-again relationship with her boyfriend, Halvor Muntz, but it was never violent. Halvor claims that he’s innocent, and there really is no reason to believe otherwise. Still, he wants to be sure his name is cleared. He also wants to find a way to cope with the grief he’s feeling over Annie’s loss. So he starts to go through her computer files to find anything that might shed light on the case. The problem is that her computer is password-protected. In trying to narrow down the password, Halvor immediately thinks of books and characters that Annie’s talked about before. He knows what any reader knows: those who love books take them to heart. It’s an example of using people’s taste in books to find out more about them.

Sometimes, a look at someone’s books can reveal a commonality. It might be a shared interest, a shared ‘go to’ author, or something else. And those commonalities can help to build relationships. For instance, in Gail Bowen’s A Killing Spring, academician and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn gets involved in the investigation of the murder of a colleague, Reed Gallagher. As if that’s not enough, there’s vandalism at the university where Joanne works. It’s meant that several colleagues are temporarily out of their offices as repairs are made, so Joanne gets a temporary office-mate, Ed Mariani. One night, he invites her and her daughter Taylor to dinner at the home he shares with his partner, Barry Levitt. Taylor is a gifted artist, and, as it turns out, Barry is quite knowledgeable about art. And in one scene, she ends up with a supply of art books he’s loaned her. It goes to show how people’s books can let us know what their interests are.

And then there’s Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza’s Inspector Espinosa, who lives and works in Rio de Janeiro. Espinosa certainly puts a lot of time into his work. But he also loves books and reading. He has a large collection, and in fact, dreams of someday owning a bookshop. Espinosa doesn’t have lots of bookshelves to show his collection. They’re stacked on top of one another in various parts of his home. And that in itself shows something about Espinosa as a reader. He’s not a bibliophile in the sense of wanting particular editions of particular classic novels, and so on. Rather, he loves the stories that books tell. And you can see that just from looking at the way he stores his books.

You may not think about it until, well, you actually think about it. But the books we have really do say a lot about us. In my case, I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not…

 
 
 

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

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Gail Bowen, Karin Fossum, Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza

I’ve Been to Bombay*

mumbai_banner-3Mumbai is one of the largest cities in the world (population: approximately 12 million people). It’s a city of great wealth and beauty, millennia of history, and one of the world’s largest film-making and commercial hubs. It’s also a city of appalling poverty, crowds, and, sometimes, conflict. For many people, it’s an exotic place, too. And of course there are gorgeous beaches, fine restaurants, and more.

With all of these contrasts, and with its long and rich history, it’s little wonder that Mumbai has also been the setting for plenty of crime fiction. There’s not space enough in this one post for me to mention all of the novels and series set in Mumbai; here are just a few.

For the crime fiction fan, one of the classic series set in Mumbai is H.R.F. Keating’s Inspector Ganesh Ghote series. Inspector Ghote is a thoughtful, almost philosophical sort of detective who carefully thinks out the implications of what he does. He sees both sides (and in some cases, more than two sides) of situations, and tries to do the best he can in sometimes morally ambiguous situations. For instance, in The Iciest Sin, Ghote is assigned to find out if Dolly Daruwala is an extortionist. To that end, he hides in her apartment to see what he can learn. That’s how he happens to be on the scene when she is murdered. As though that fact weren’t enough, Ghote knows who the murderer is. He’s reluctant to turn the killer in; at the same time, he knows that this person is a murderer. As it happens, Ghote is seen leaving the victim’s apartment. So he’s drawn further into this case when he is targeted by a blackmailer. It turns out that solving this one murder draws Ghote into a web of extortion, fraud, and plenty of moral and philosophical dilemmas.

In Kalpana Swaminathan’s The Page 3 Murders, readers get a look at Mumbai’s upper class. Dr. Hilla Driver has recently inherited a large villa (and a considerable fortune) from an uncle. So she decides to host a house party. In part, of course, it’s to show her guests the home. It’s also to celebrate her niece Ramona’s upcoming eighteenth birthday. Hilla wants the party to be extra-special and unforgettable. So with input from her cook, Tarok Ghosh, Hilla decides to make the event a ‘foodie weekend,’ with special meals from all over India, and a capstone event: a seven-course gourmet meal. Hilla is well connected, so the guest list includes several celebrities, as well as some of her well-off friends. It also includes retired police detective Lalli and her niece. Everyone arrives, and at first, things go smoothly enough. Then, on the night of the special seven-course meal, Ghosh makes it clear that he knows at least one secret about each of the guests. Later that night, he is killed. Then, another body is discovered. Now, Lalli and her niece work together to find out who wanted to commit the murders.

Ask a group of people what they think of when they think of Mumbai, and at least a few will mention Bollywood. That’s not surprising, considering that Mumbai is home to India’s highly successful and prolific film industry. So it’s not surprising that Bollywood features in murder mysteries, too. For example, in Shadaab Amjad Khan’s Murder in Bollywood, we are introduced to famous director Nikhil Kapoor. One night, he’s at a party where he announces that he knows someone in the group has committed murder, and will do so again. Two nights later, he dies of electric shock. His wife, famous actress Mallika Kapoor, dies of a drug overdose. At first, both deaths are put down to tragic accident. But it’s soon shown that they were murders. Now, Senior Inspector Senior Inspector Hossein Sheriyar Khan investigates, and finds that this case is much more complex than he had imagined at first.

In K.D. Calamur’s Murder in Mumbai, Inspector Vijay Gaikwad takes on a very difficult case when American-born Liz Barton is killed, and her body left in a dump. The victim was the CEO of Mohini Resources, a well-known mining company, so the case is made much of in the media. And for disgraced journalist Jay Ganesh, it could be the story to salvage his career. So, each in a different way, and for different reasons, he and Gaikwad work to find out the truth. As it turns out, there are several possibilities in this case. For one thing, there’s the victim’s cheating husband, who could have found out that she might not have been exactly faithful, herself. She’d made several business enemies, too. And there’s the fact that Mohini’s been the target of activists who’ve been protesting its methods. It’s not going to be an easy case to solve, and it’s not made better by the fact that Gaikwad will need to wade through bureaucracy and corruption to get answers.

There are plenty of novels, too, that feature travel to Mumbai. For example, in Karin Fossum’s Calling Out For You (AKA The Indian Bride), we meet Gunder Jormann, who lives a quiet life in the Norwegian town of Elvestad. Jormann is no longer young. But he’s in good health, he’s a steady worker, and he’s presentable. He believes he’d make a good husband, and decides to find himself a wife. What’s more, he decides to go to Mumbai to do it. His sister Marie and the other people in Elvestad are all surprised at this sudden decision, but Jormann doesn’t let their opinions stop him. Once he arrives in Mumbai, Jormann settles into his hotel. At a café where he eats, he meets Poona Bai, a waitress who works there. They strike up a friendship that leads to more, and within a couple of weeks, Jormann asks her to marry him. She agrees, and the arrangement is that he’ll return to Norway, and she’ll follow as soon as she finishes up the details of her life in India. Jormann goes back to Elvestad to wait. Soon enough, the day comes when his bride is to travel to Norway. But she never makes it to his home; the day after her scheduled arrival, her body is found in a field near Elevestad. Now, Oslo Inspector Konrad Sejer and his assistant, Jacob Skarre, investigate to find out who would have wanted to kill the victim.

And then there’s Shamini Flint’s A Curious Indian Cadaver. In that novel, Inspector Singh, who lives and works in Singapore, has been on sick leave, but he’s getting ‘cabin fever.’ So at his wife’s request (and anyone who’s read this series will know what I mean by that), he agrees to join her on a trip to Mumbai to attend the wedding of her niece, Ashu Kaur. Things start to go very wrong when the bride disappears on the day before the wedding. Then, there’s a murder. Now, Mrs. Singh’s family falls under suspicion. She wants very much both to help her family get answers, and to clear everyone’s name if possible. So she makes it clear that her husband will have to get involved and find out who the killer is.

Mumbai is a lovely city, full of history, natural beauty, and plenty of find food and cinema. But peaceful? Not so much. Which Mumbai-based mysteries have you enjoyed?

Thanks, Maharashtra Tourism, for the lovely ‘photo!

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bel Canto’s Bombay.

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Filed under H.R.F. Keating, K.D. Calamur, Kalpana Swaminathan, Karin Fossum, Shadaab Amjad Khan, Shamini Flint

Hoping For the Best But Expecting the Worse*

Early AdulthoodAn interesting post from Marina Sofia at Finding Time to Write has got me thinking about those early years of adulthood. It can be a stressful time as you’re trying to figure out the adult world. You’re on your own, but at the same time, not necessarily settled. You may be trying out different jobs, dating different people, and in other ways experimenting. It’s an interesting, if sometimes awfully anxious, time of life.

It certainly figures into crime fiction, and that makes quite a lot of sense. For one thing, the background atmosphere of the stress of those years can add tension to a story. For another, it’s often easy for readers to identify with those early-adulthood years. And beginning adults are often not yet settled into their lives, which allows them all sorts of encounters that are made-to-order for a crime novel.
One post is not nearly enough space to mention all of the examples of this sort of character. But here are just a few to show you what I mean.

In Agatha Christie’s Third Girl, Hercule Poirot gets a visit from a young woman who tells him she may have committed a murder. But she abruptly changes her mind about engaging his services, and even admits that part of the reason is that he’s too old. Then she leaves without giving her name. Through his friend, detective novelist Ariadne Oliver, Poirot learns that the young woman’s name is Norma Restarick. She’s the daughter of a successful business magnate, but she’s grown now, and living in London with two roommates, Claudia Reece-Holland and Frances Cary. Poirot and Mrs. Oliver want to follow up on what Norma said to them, but by the time they start asking after her, she’s disappeared. Her roommates say they don’t know where she is, and her family says she’s returned to London. Now Poirot and Mrs. Oliver have two mysteries to solve. One is, of course, Norma’s whereabouts. The other is the story behind the murder (if there was one). Among other things, the novel gives readers a look at the lives of young adults in London during the mid-1960s. I know, I know, fans of Hickory Dickory Dock.

Sarah Caudwell’s Hilary Tamar series features an interesting group of young people on their own. Tamar is a law professor who acts as a sort of mentor/role model to former student Timothy Shepherd, as well as to his friends, Michael Cantrip, Desmond Ragwort, Selena Jardine, and Julia Larwood. These young people do have steady jobs and promising careers. But in some ways, they’re still very young and sometimes quite vulnerable in their ways. So they turn to each other for friendship and support. And it’s interesting to see how they look to Tamar for guidance at times. The series has a light touch, but Caudwell also shows some of the anxiety that young people often feel at this time of life.

Gail Bowen’s sleuth, Joanne Kilbourn Shreve, is not only an academician and political scientist, she’s a mother (and now, a grandmother). As the series moves on, Bowen follows the lives of Joanne’s children as they finish school and start their own lives. For instance, at the beginning of the series (Deadly Appearances), Joanne’s daughter Mieka has just begun her university studies. It’s a time of real transition for her, and she decides that what she really wants to do is open her own catering company. It’s not what Joanne would have wanted her to do, but Mieka is determined. And she seems to have a sense of what she may be in for, as the saying goes. As the series goes on, Mieka starts to grow into her adult roles, and it’s interesting to see how she slowly develops adult confidence and competence. It’s also interesting to see how her relationship with her mother evolves as she moves from university student to professional.

In Karin Fossum’s Bad Intentions, we are introduced to three young men, Axel Frimann, Philip Reilly and Jon Moreno. All three are more or less on their own, and just getting started with life. Jon has recently been released from a mental hospital, where he’s been dealing with severe anxiety problems. His friends think it might be a good idea if he gets the chance for some ‘down time.’ So the three decide to spend a weekend at a cabin by Dead Water Lake. Late one night, they take a moonlight boating trip on the lake, but a terrible tragedy happens, and only two young men come back. Oslo police detective Konrad Sejer, and his assistant Jacob Skarre, investigate. They know that the two young men who were there that night could probably tell them everything, but they’ll have to get them to open up. In the meantime, another body is discovered. This time, it’s the body of a teenaged boy who’s found in Glitter Lake. As Sejer and Skarre look into the cases, they discover that the two tragedies are connected. Fossum explores this time of life in some of her other novels, too.

Fans of Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman series can tell you that those novels feature a cast of ‘regulars’ who share the building in which Chapman lives and has her bakery. In fact, two of them, Kylie Manners and Gossamer Judge, are employees at the bakery. These two young women are in those early years of adulthood. They live on their own, sharing an apartment, but they’re not what you’d call really settled. They’re trying to forge acting careers for themselves, so they go to plenty of auditions, and take whatever acting jobs they can get. On the one hand, they do have a certain amount of confidence. But on the other, they’re sometimes quite vulnerable. And the way they live certainly reflects both their youth and their lifestyles (this is taken from Devil’s Food):
 
‘Those girls had more makeup than a theatre company. It was everywhere, stuffed into every corner of the bathroom. I did find some soluble aspirin, some contraceptives, something called bikini line wax, that made me shudder, and a lot of miscellaneous instruments that I did not recognise.’
 

And this is a description of their kitchen:
 

‘They had a lot of dried soups and so on, all guaranteed 150% fat free (and how much sugar?). They did have real coffee and tea, and a lot of herbal teas in pretty packets featuring dragons and unicorns. And a whole box of hangover remedies…There were plenty of cups, but the dishes had not been done recently.’
 

It’s a very interesting example of the way people in those early-twenties years live their lives.

Sulari Gentill’s Rowland ‘Rowly’ Sinclair series also shows what those early years of adulthood can be like – at least what they were like in Australia in the early 1930s. Sinclair is the third son of the wealthy Sinclair family, with his older brother Wilfrid much the more settled. Rowly is an artist, and although he doesn’t completely live the bohemian life, he has collected a motley crew of friends and acquaintances. His close friends are Elias (who’s usually called Milton, because he wants to be a poet), Edna Higgins (sculptor and sometimes-model), and Clyde Watson-Jones (also an artist). While they’re not in the very earliest stages of adulthood, these four are still not really settled. And while Rowly, at least, has money, none of the group has really created an established life. They’re an interesting mix of optimism and anxiety, and we see both their confidence and their vulnerability.

And then there’s Chad Hobbes, whom we meet in Seán Haldane’s Victorian-Era historical novel The Devil’s Making. Hobbes has just finished his degree in Jurisprudence at Oxford, and has arrived in Victoria, BC. With some help from a letter of introduction, he gets a job as a police constable, under the command of Augustus Permberton. When the body of Richard McCrory is discovered, Hobbes gets a real awakening, and not just about murder. He learns some of life’s lessons about prejudice, religion, politics and philosophy. As the novel goes on, we see how Hobbes shows that youthful blend of energy and optimism with vulnerability.

And that’s the thing about those early adult years. They can be a time of great self-involvement. They’re also a time of idealism, sometimes heartbreak, often vulnerability, and always change.

Thanks, Marina Sofia, for the inspiration. And now, folks, please give yourselves a treat and visit Marina Sofia’s excellent blog. Fine book reviews, powerful poetry, and great photography await you.
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Alphaville’s Forever Young.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Gail Bowen, Karin Fossum, Kerry Greenwood, Sarah Caudwell, Seán Haldane, Sulari Gentill

I Am He as You Are He and You Are Me*

Point of ViewOne of the important choices writers have to make is which way they’ll tell a story. Most authors choose first or third person (more about second person in a bit). There are good reasons to choose each one, and a lot depends on what the author wants to accomplish.

Many of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories are written in the first person, from the point of view of Dr. Watson. One of the big advantages of first person here is that it allows for a really interesting perspective on another character, Sherlock Holmes. As fans will know, Holmes is unusual, even unique. And his skill at deduction is legendary. To see all of that from someone else’s point of view allows for the same kind of wonder (‘How’d he do that?’) that we might feel when watching a magician. And then, of course, Watson’s perspective allows Holmes to explain himself. There are examples of that moment woven through the Holmes stories and novels. One that I like very much comes in The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle. In that story, Commissionaire Peterson brings an unusual case to Holmes. He broke up a fight in which some thugs were attacking a man. Everyone ran off, and in his haste, the man dropped his hat and a goose he was carrying. Peterson brought the goose home to his wife, and when she started to prepare it for cooking, she found a valuable gem in its craw. Peterson wants to know the story behind the gem, and for that, he’ll need the man’s identity. Holmes takes one good look at the hat and is able to be so precise about its owner that they soon find out who that person is.

Of course, sleuths are not perfect. Just ask Rex Stout’s Archie Goodwin. He’ll be very quick to lay out the limitations of his boss, Nero Wolfe. And that’s one of the real advantages of telling most of the Wolfe stories in first person, from Archie’s point of view. We get to see all of Wolfe’s faults (which he himself would hardly be willing to discuss). What’s more, we learn parts of the story that Wolfe wouldn’t necessarily know, since Archie usually serves as Wolfe’s ‘legs, eyes and ears.’

Agatha Christie used first person in several of her stories, too. One purpose that served (similar to what we see in the Stout stories) was to give some insight into another character. I’m thinking particularly of the Hercule Poirot stories in which Arthur Hastings serves as narrator. He certainly admires Poirot’s detection ability, but he is not oblivious to Poirot’s faults and eccentricities. And that gives us insight into Poirot’s character.

Hastings’ perspective also serves another purpose: misdirection. In Lord Edgware Dies, Poirot and Hastings investigate the stabbing death of Lord Edgware. The victim’s wife, Jane Wilkinson, is the most likely suspect, but according to the testimony of twelve other people, she was at a dinner party in a different part of London at the time of the murder. It’s a difficult case, and at one point, Poirot explains why he values Hastings’ perspective on it so much:
 

‘‘In you, Hastings, I find the normal mind almost perfectly illustrated.’’
 

What he means is that he learns from Hastings what the murder wants him to think. Hastings is not stupid, but he doesn’t put pieces of a case together the way Poirot does. He sees and hears things, but isn’t always aware of their significance.

Christie also created several first-person stories where the narrator is unreliable – another form of misdirection. I won’t list titles or characters, as that would give spoilers. But fans will know which ones I mean. And she’s not the only one who uses first person for the purpose of creating an unreliable narrator. A few authors and titles that come to my mind are James W. Fuerst’s Huge, Virginia Duigan’s The Precipice, Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and Alice LaPlante’s Turn of Mind.

There are other reasons, too, for which authors choose the first person. For example, it allows for readers to really get to understand the protagonist. But it’s got its limits. It’s harder for an author to share information that a given character couldn’t know unless that author uses third person. That reader omniscience allows for a great deal of suspense as readers can anticipate what’s going to happen next once they get some information. Karin Fossum does this quite a lot with her Konrad Sejer stories, for instance. As one example, in When the Devil Holds the Candle, we know something terrible is going to happen when best friends Andreas Winther and Sivert ‘Zipp” Skorpe spend a fateful day together. But Sejer doesn’t know. And that tension as the events unfold, and as Sejer later investigates them adds to the suspense.

There’s also the fact that third person allows for multiple points of view. Many, many writers (including yours truly) share stories through different points of view. Doing that gives the reader a broader perspective on the events. It also allows for the evolution of a group of characters (since the reader can get to know more than one of them). Kate Atkinson does this in One Good Turn, for instance. In that novel, we follow the lives of several disparate characters, including her protagonist Jackson Brodie, who all end up in the same place one afternoon when a blue Honda crashes into the back of a silver Peugeot being driven by Paul Bradley. The lead-up to the crash, and the consequences of it, are fateful for several of the characters, and Atkinson shows us that through more than one pair of eyes.

There are some authors who’ve actually chosen to use the second person, too. Charles Stross’ Rule 34 comes to my mind as an example of this. That novel takes place in the near future, in a sort of alternative reality. In it, Edinburgh police detective Liz Kavanaugh and her team investigate several murders that are connected with online spamming, a shadowy criminal group called The Organization, and a former identity thief named Anwar. The points of view shift throughout the novel, but the story is all told in the second person.

There are good reasons to choose one or another way to tell a story. Neither first person nor third person is always ideal, and a lot of people are not comfortable with second person. At the same time, each of these offers some important advantages, too. Do you have a preference? Let me know in the poll below, and we’ll talk about it again when everyone’s had a week to vote. I’ll be interested in what you have to say. If you’re a writer, what drew you to the first/second/third person choices you’ve made?

 

 

 

 

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

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Alice LaPlante, Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles Stross, James W. Fuerst, Karin Fossum, Kate Atkinson, Mark Haddon, Rex Stout, Virginia Duigan

But it Worked*

Unconventional SolutionsThere are some situations where conventional solutions won’t solve problems. In fact, they may do more harm than good. So, sometimes, the best solution is something that seems counterintuitive. It’s certainly true in real life, and we see those sorts of solutions in crime fiction, too.

In Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, for example, Hercule Poirot is on the world-famous Orient Express train, en route to London. On the second night of the journey, fellow passenger Samuel Ratchett is murdered. At the request of one of the train company’s directors, M. Bouc, Poirot investigates the murder. He finds out who killed Ratchett and why; but as fans of this novel will know, he doesn’t take a conventional approach to the case or its solution.

That’s also true of Dr. Duca Lamberti, whom we meet in Giorgio Scerbanenco’s A Private Venus. As the story begins, Lamberti has recently been released from prison after serving time for participating in euthanasia. He is hired by wealthy Milanese engineer Pietro Auseri for an unusual task. Auseri is very concerned about his son, Davide, who’s been drinking excessively, despite having gone for treatment. The young man is extremely depressed, too, and has been for quite some time. Auseri wants Lamberti to take over Davide’s care, and help him get past his drinking and depression. Lamberti isn’t quite sure how he’ll be able to help; but, not having any other prospects at the moment, he agrees. One of the first very unconventional things he does is that he doesn’t bar Davide from drinking. Instead, he insists that the young man drink only wine. It’s an odd decision, but it works. Little by little, Davide starts to trust Lamberti, and he does cut down on his drinking. Then, the reason for his depression comes out. He believes he’s responsible for the death of Alberta Radelli, who was believed to have committed suicide a year earlier. Lamberti believes that the only way to free Davide from his personal ghosts is to look into the case himself. So, he does. And in the end, he finds quite a different explanation for Alberta’s death.

In Karin Fossum’s He Who Fears the Wolf, Oslo police detective Konrad Sejer and his assistant Jacob Skaar investigate the murder of Holldis Horn. She lived alone in a remote area, so it’s not easy to get witnesses. But the evidence suggests that a troubled and mentally ill young man named Erkki Johrma (who, by the way, has gone missing) is responsible. The case isn’t as simple as that, though, and Sejer and Skaar have to penetrate several tissues of lies and misunderstandings to get to the truth. What’s very interesting is the approach Sejer takes when they find out who really killed the victim and why. It’s not a conventional choice; but, as Sejer sees it, to do things in the usual way would cause more harm than good.

In one plot thread of Adrian Hyland’s Gunshot Road, Aboriginal Community Police Officer (ACPO) Emily Tempest is faced with a difficult situation. She happens to be in the small town of Bluebush when Merv Todd, who owns the local electronics store, rushes out of his shop, complaining that someone’s stolen a valuable iPod. It doesn’t take long for Emily to discover that the thief is fifteen-year-old Danny Brambles. She’s known him and his family for a long time, and she knows that he’s not a violent or malicious person. If she takes him into custody, he faces prosecution; and a jail term will do him much more harm than good. On the other hand, she can’t simply ignore the theft. So she arranges to return the stolen iPod to the store in exchange for Danny doing some extra work for him. That solves the immediate problem, but she’s still worried about Danny, fearing that he may start to get into real trouble. She’s proven right when Danny gets arrested for murder – a murder he says he didn’t commit. Emily knows he’s right. She also has come to believe that he’s in danger. So she solves both problems in an unconventional way: she has Danny join his grandparents’ people on a trip out into the bush. It isn’t a perfect solution by any means, but Emily believes it might keep Danny safe.

There’s an interesting debate about solutions to problems in Angela Savage’s Behind the Night Bazaar. In that novel, Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney is looking into the murder of her good friend Didier ‘Didi’ de Montpasse, who was killed in a police raid. The police explanation is that he was the prime suspect in the murder of his partner Nou, and posed an imminent threat to the officers who’d come to arrest him. But Keeney suspects that’s not true, and is determined to clear Didi’s name. In the process, she meets Australian Federal Police (AFP) officer Mark D’Angelo. He’s there as part of a special task force that’s investigating the child trafficking and sex trades. He and his team have tracked down some of those involved in the trade, and are preparing to make an arrest. But Keeney knows that simply arresting those particular people won’t stop the trade. In fact, in ways, it may make matters worse. So she finds her own, unconventional, way to do something about the situation. As she does so, she also clears her friend’s name.

And then there’s Kishwar Desai’s Witness the Night, which introduces Delhi-based social worker Simran Singh. In this novel, she travels to her home town of Jullundar, in the state of Punjab, to help with an unusual case. Thirteen members of the wealthy and well-connected Atwal family have been poisoned, and some of them stabbed. What is more, the family home has been burned. The only person who knows what happened that night is fourteen-year-old Durga Atwal. The evidence isn’t clear whether she was victim or perpetrator that night; and since that time, she’s barely spoken. The idea is that if Simran can get the girl to talk about what happened, the police will know the facts of the case. Simran agrees and tries to work with Durga, but at first it’s not very successful. Little by little, though, Simran learns more about Durga and her family. It turns out there is much more here than a young girl who ‘snapped.’ The obvious solution – lock the young criminal up – isn’t going to solve anything here, and in fact, will probably make everything worse. So Simran comes up with another solution. It may not be conventional, but it works.

And that’s the thing about unconventional solutions to problems. They may seem unproductive, even wrong, on the surface. But sometimes, the conventional approach causes more harm than good. So, another way of solving things turns out to be more successful.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone’s Making Things Up Again. You’ll want to note carefully, if you don’t know this song, that it’s not in the least bit ‘family listening.’ Neither is the show from whence it comes. But if you listen (or perhaps, know it already), it fits.

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Filed under Adrian Hyland, Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Giorgio Scerbanenco, Karin Fossum