Category Archives: Karin Fossum

Next Phase, New Wave*

CrimeFIction TrendsYou don’t need me to tell you that there are certain trends in crime fiction that become popular, especially if a particular book does very well. Other publishers and authors see that, and it doesn’t take much intuition to understand the appeal of doing what sells very well. It’s also easy to see how authors might be inspired to explore a topic if they see that it’s been ‘safe’ for another author to do so.

Those trends have been a part of the genre since its beginnings, and my guess is, they’ll keep happening. It’s interesting to see what’s been popular just lately, and perhaps speculate on what might be coming next. Here are just a few examples of what I mean. I know you’ll think of more than I could.

There’s been excellent Scandinavian crime fiction out there for quite a while. Many argue that it’s been a tradition since the work of Steen Steensen Blicher in the 19th Century. But many English-speaking readers didn’t experience it until the mid-to-late 1960’s, when Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s Martin Beck series was translated. And it was even later, at the end of the 1990’s and beginning of the most recent decades, that a lot of English-speaking readers got to experience more of the richness of Scandinavian crime fiction.

Publishers saw the market, translations were commissioned, and the work of writers such as Peter Høeg, Åke Edwardson, Henning Mankell, and later, Liza Marklund and Karin Fossum (among many, many others) became better known in English-speaking markets (I can’t speak as well for other markets). This success could very well be part of what encouraged other authors and publishers to make other Scandinavian crime fiction available in English.

Scandinavian crime novels have been around for more than 150 years, but there’s been a particular interest in it in English-speaking markets in the last twenty years or so. Today it’s possible to read the translated work of many, many Scandinavian writers. Will this trend continue? Will interest fade in that particular kind of crime fiction? I don’t have the data to support myself here, but I don’t think it will fade out. Translated Scandinavian crime fiction is too well established, as I see it, and has been for some time. It’s also too broad a category. But it will be very interesting to see what form it takes as new generations of Scandinavian crime writers have their work translated.

Another trend we’ve seen, especially in the last seven or eight years, has been a large number of novels that are often called ‘domestic noir.’ In those novels, the focus is on families, intimate relationships, and the things that can go on underneath a seemingly peaceful surface.

Of course, that sort of story is not new. Work such as Margaret Yorke’s (and even work before hers) has featured this kind of plot line for some time. But since the popularity of work such as Gillian Flynn’s, publishers are seeing that domestic noir can be lucrative. That’s arguably part of why we’ve seen several such novels published in the last five years. I’m thinking, for instance, of Helen Fitzgerald’s The Cry, A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife, and Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train, among many others. Publishers are seeing that there’s a market for such work, and they’re happy to meet that demand.

Will the trend continue? Will interest in it fade? I’m less certain here. In one sense, it’s a well-established sub-genre if you include books such as Yorke’s and some of Margaret Millar’s. On the other hand, it’s not as broad a sub-genre, and doesn’t have a very long history if you put it in context. I’m not sure if the current intense interest in domestic noir will continue.

Another interesting development I’ve seen (have you noticed this?) is an interest in children involved in crime and how that affects them. Some of these novels (such as Ruth Dugdall’s Humber Boy B, Simon Lelic’s The Child Who, Kanae Minato’s Confessions, and William Landay’s Defending Jacob) focus on young offenders. Others, such as Honey Brown’s Through the Cracks, feature young people who are impacted by crime among the adults in their lives. There are many other examples, too, of that sort of novel.

Of course, novels about children who are mixed up in, or the perpetrators of, crime are not new. There’s even an Agatha Christie novel that features a young person as the killer (No, I’m not saying which one. No spoilers here.).  And that’s not the only Christie in which a young person is one of the suspects. But there is a lot of interest in the last few years in how we treat young offenders, how responsible they are for what they do, and whether they can be reintegrated into society.

These aren’t easy questions, of course, and perhaps that’s part of why this sort of novel has gotten a lot of attention recently. Perhaps authors and publishers are seeing that readers are open to exploring some of these difficult issues. Or it could be that as we learn more about young people’s development, we’re learning more ways in which to work with them (and ways that don’t work!).

What do you think about all this? What trends have you been noticing in the crime fiction you read? Do you think they’ll continue? If you’re a writer, do you pay attention to those trends when you choose your themes, characters and plots? And just as importantly, what do you think may be coming next?


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.


Filed under A.S.A. Harrison, Agatha Christie, Gillian Flynn, Helen Fitzgerald, Honey Brown, Kanae Minato, Karin Fossum, Liza Marklund, Maj Sjöwall, Margaret Millar, Margaret Yorke, Paula Hawkins, Per Wahlöö, Peter Høeg, Ruth Dugdall, Simon Lelic, Steen Seensen Blicher, William Landay

This is My Quest*

QuestsOne of the timeless of plot contexts in literature is the quest – the purposeful journey. That journey may be literal or figurative; the purpose of it may also be literal or figurative. Either way, quests promise rewards that, at least for the protagonist, make the journey worth the effort. And they pose great risks. That combination can make for suspense, conflict and character development, all of which are elements of a high-quality crime novel. So it really shouldn’t be surprising that there are quests all through the genre. You could even argue that investigating a crime is a quest, and you’d have a solid basis for that argument. But even leaving that aside, many crime novels involve quests.

For example, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson investigate the murders of Enoch Drebber, a recent arrival to London from the US. At one point, his secretary Joseph Stangerson is suspected. But when he, too, is killed, it’s clear that someone was actually targeting both victims. And so it proves to be. As Holmes and Watson learn, this case has its roots in the past. Both Drebber and Stangerson had something to hide – something for which the killer wanted revenge. And it all has its start in a quest for a place of safety.

Agatha Christie’s short story Manx Gold also involves a quest, this time for a treasure. Engaged couple Fenella Mylecharane and Juan Faraker learn that Fenella’s eccentric Uncle Myles has died. They travel to the Isle of Man to hear the reading of his will, only to learn that he’s arranged a competition. According to the will, there is buried treasure on the island. Each of the possible heirs to the fortune will receive the same clues to the treasure’s location. The one who finds the treasure first gets to claim it. Very soon several potential heirs are off on the quest for the treasure. Then there’s a murder. Now Fenella and Juan begin to wonder whether someone might be targeting the heirs in order to be assured of a win. Interestingly, Christie wrote this story on commission to increase tourism to the island. Visitors were given copies of the story, which was printed in instalments. Their quest was to find four identical snuffboxes, each of which contained a Manx penny. The prize for the person who could succeed on this quest was to be £100, but no-one was ever able to claim it.

Jonathan Gash’s The Judas Pair introduces readers to antiques dealer and expert Lovejoy. The last thing on his mind is to become a detective (other than hunting down antiques), but everything changes when he meets George Field. Field is looking for a particular pair of antique dueling pistols called the Judas Pair. They’re the stuff of legend among antiques dealers and collectors, and most don’t even think the pistols exist. Certainly Lovejoy doesn’t. But Fields says they do; in fact, one of them was used to shoot his brother Eric. Fields believes that if he can find the Judas Pair, he’ll find his brother’s killer. So he asks Lovejoy to track down the pistols. Lovejoy isn’t overly drawn to the case by the thought of catching a killer, but the pistols themselves are another matter altogether. So he agrees to start looking. The quest for the pistols takes Lovejoy through the antiques and collecting communities, and puts him in very grave danger.

Arnaldur Indriðason’s series features Reykjavík Inspector Erlendur and his team. Fans of this series will know that Erlendur is haunted by a tragedy that occurred when he was a boy. He and his brother Bergur were caught in a blizzard one day. Erlendur survived, but Bergur was never found. No-one has even discovered his body. On one level, Erlendur feels a powerful sense of guilt over not protecting his brother, and over surviving when his brother did not. On another level, he wants to know what happened to his brother. So, in one story arc in this series, Erlendur goes on a quest to find out anything he can about that day and about what might have happened to Bergur

There’s a different sort of quest in Karin Fossum’s Calling Out For You (AKA The Indian Bride). Gundar Jormann has lived all his life in the Norwegian village of Elvestad. He is no longer a young man, but he’s still presentable. He’s also hardworking and reliable – the steady kind. So he sees no reason why he shouldn’t be able to find a wife. His sister Marie is shocked when Gundar tells her that he is going to travel to India to find a bride. He goes to Mumbai, where he meets Poona Bai, who works in a café there. The two are soon taken with each other, and it’s not long before Poona agrees to marry him. The plan is for Gundar to return to Norway, where Poona will join him soon, after she finishes up her life in India. On the day of Poona’s arrival, Marie is involved in a terrible car crash, and Gundar cannot leave her. So he asks a friend to meet Poona at the airport. The two miss each other, though, and Poona never makes it to Gundar’s house. When her body is found in a field not far from the house, Inspector Konrad Sejer and his assistant Jacob Skarre investigate. They find that they have to penetrate a proverbial ‘wall of silence’ in order to find out the truth about that day.

And then there’s Andrew Grant’s Death in the Kingdom. British agent Daniel ‘Danny’ Swann is given a very difficult assignment. He’s told to go to Thailand and recover a lead-covered black box from the Andaman Sea. Apparently the box was on board a ship that was sunk, and is still under the water. This is going to be an especially challenging quest for Swann. The last time he was in Thailand, he was involved in another operation where he had a dangerous encounter with powerful crime boss ‘Tuk-Tuk’ Song. Although he saved Tuk-Tuk’s life that day, he ended up killing Tuk-Tuk’s son Arune, and wounding his ‘right hand man’ Choy Lee. So he will not be welcomed warmly in Thailand. He can’t avoid Tuk-Tuk, either because the man is too powerful. If Swann is going to launch the kind of operation he’ll need to recover the box, he’ll need people, material and support that only Tuk-Tuk can guarantee. So he’s going to have to make his peace with the crime boss. This quest takes on a whole new dimension when there two attempts on Swann’s life. Then two of his friends are brutally murdered. Now he’s up against an enemy he didn’t really know he had, and whom he can’t even identify.

And that’s the thing about quests. They can get very dangerous at times. But they do add suspense to stories, and they are an important part of the human experience. They’re a part of our literary heritage too.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion’s The Impossible Dream.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrew Grant, Arnaldur Indriðason, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jonathan Gash, Karin Fossum

She Seems to Have an Invisible Touch*

ManipulatingHave you ever asked yourself, ‘How did I get talked into doing this?’ If you have, then you know what it’s like to be under the spell of someone who’s a good manipulator. By that I don’t mean someone who deliberately and maliciously exploits others. Rather, I mean someone who has a way of getting people to do things without threatening, blackmailing, using social status (i.e. ‘Do you know who I am?’) or ‘pulling rank.’

Such people can sometimes be so subtle about it that you’re not even aware you’ve been persuaded…until you’re actually doing something. And they don’t always need to coax or obviously persuade; they just have a way of organizing things the way they want.

There are definitely such people in real life. There are in crime fiction, too, and they can be interesting characters. For instance, in Agatha Christie’s The Hollow, we are introduced to Lady Lucy Ankgatell. She and her husband, Sir Henry, invite a group of people to spend a weekend at their country home. Two of the guests are Harley Street specialist Dr. John Christow and his wife Gerda. On the Sunday afternoon, Christow is shot. Hercule Poirot has been invited to lunch, so he arrives just after the murder. At first, he’s not even sure it is a real murder, because the scene looks deliberately set up for his ‘amusement.’ But soon enough he sees that it is all too real. Poirot works with Inspector Grange to find out who the killer is. Throughout the novel, we see Lady Lucy’s way of getting people to do things. For instance, there’s a dinner-table scene in which she persuades one of the guests to engage another in conversation without saying a word. As Sir Henry says to one of the guests,

‘‘She gets away with things. She always has…She’s flouted the traditions at Government House – she played merry hell with precedence at dinner parties…She’s put deadly enemies next to each other at the dinner table… I’m damned if she hasn’t got away with it.’’

Lady Lucy arranges everything exactly the way she wants without ever being overbearing. I know, I know, fans of The Mystery of the Blue Train.

In Karin Fossum’s When the Devil Holds the Candle, Oslo Inspector Konrad Sejer and his assistant Jacob Skarre investigate the disappearance of Andreas Winther. When Andreas’ mother Runi first goes to the police about her son, Sejer doesn’t take the matter overly seriously, since the young man has only been gone for a couple of days. But as time goes on, Sejer begins to believe that something bad might have happened. So he starts to look into the matter. His first stop is Sivert ‘Zipp’ Skorpe, Andreas’ best friend. At first, Zipp says as little as possible to Sejer, for several reasons (and no, lest you make the obvious inference, he didn’t kill Andreas). But slowly, Sejer finds out what has happened to Andreas and why. And as he does, we see how Andreas has been able to manipulate people around him, including Zipp, without bullying, threatening, and so on. He’s been able to get people to do what he wants through his own charisma.

Cathy Ace’s The Corpse With the Silver Tongue begins when academician and criminologist Cait Morgan takes an injured colleague’s place at a conference in Nice. One afternoon, she’s relaxing at a café when an old acquaintance (and former supervisor) Alistair Townsend, happens to pass by. He sees her and, much to her chagrin, invites her to a birthday party he’s having for his wife, Tamsin. She dislikes Townsend, and certainly doesn’t want to go to the party. But she finds herself going all the same. And that’s how she ends up getting involved when he’s poisoned during the event. He doesn’t bully or blackmail her into going; it just never seems to occur to him that she won’t. It’s a sort of power of persuasion, if you think about it.

One of the ‘regulars’ in Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series is Mma. Silvia Potokwane, who runs a local orphanage. She is deeply devoted to the children in her charge, and goes to great effort to make sure they are well. Part of doing that involves getting other people in the area to help, and she is a master at that. In several story arcs and sub-plots, she arranges for orphanage events, gets people to donate time and money, and more. In fact, in Tears of the Giraffe, she even gets Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni to take in two of the orphans living there. Here is his thinking about it:

‘How Mma. Silvia Potokowane…had managed to persuade him to take the children was beyond him…Mma. Potokwane was like a clever lawyer engaged in the examination of a witness. Agreement would be obtained to some innocuous statement and then, before the witness knew it, he would have agreed to a quite different proposal.’

That’s also how she gets Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni to agree to a parachute jump as a part of a fundraising event in The Full Cupboard of Life.

Several fictional sleuths have partners who have that power of persuasion. For example, Shamini Flint’s Inspector Singh is married to such a person. She’s not at all what you’d call shrewish. But she has a way of making him do what she wants. Donna Leon’s Paola Falier has the same gift, although she is a different sort of character. She is often able to persuade her husband, Commissario Guido Brunetti, to go places and do things that he might not otherwise want to do. And she serves, in part, as his conscience, so that she also gets him to do the ethical thing (not that he’s unethical by nature). What’s interesting is that she’s not a nag, and he’s not a weak-willed person. She manages to get what she wants without resorting to yelling or browbeating.

And that’s the thing about some people. They have a way of getting others to do things without really seeming to be manipulative about it. And they can certainly add ‘spice’ to a novel.



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Genesis’ Invisible Touch.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Alexander McCall Smith, Cathy Ace, Donna Leon, Karin Fossum, Shamini Flint

I Share Your Name*

Books With the Same TitleOne of the most challenging decisions authors and publishers make is what to title a book. Titles need to be short enough so that readers can easily remember them. The best titles also have something to do with the story. Titles really are tricky, especially when you add in the need to make a title unique – something readers will remember.

It doesn’t help matters that there are already thousands of crime novels out there, any of which could already have the same title the author may be considering. It’s true. There really are a lot of books out there with the same title. That makes it hard for the author/publisher, and certainly difficult for the book buyer. There are a lot of examples of ‘matching titles’ out there. Here are just a few.

Both L.R. Wright and Michael Robotham wrote books they called The Suspect. Wright’s novel is the story the murder of eighty-five-year-old Carlyle Burke. From the beginning of the story, we know that eighty-year-old George Wilcox is the killer; what we don’t know is the ‘why.’ As RCMP Staff Sergeant Karl Alberg learns, it’s one thing to be fairly certain that someone murdered someone else. It’s quite another to find the motive. Robotham’s novel is different. In that story, London psychologist Loe O’Loughlin gets involved in a murder investigation when the body of a nurse and former patient Catherine McBride is retrieved from Grand Union Canal. Detective Vincent Ruiz takes an interest in O’Loughlin as a suspect, since he knew the victim, was near the scene when the body was discovered, and has other connections to the case that come out as the story unfolds. O’Loughlin is going to have to find out the truth, if he’s going to clear his name. He’s also going to have to find a way to work with Ruiz.

Both Lisa Unger and Steve Robinson have written novels called In The Blood. Unger’s features college student Lana Granger, who rather reluctantly takes a job as a sort of after-school nanny for Rachel Kahn’s eleven-year-old son Luke. It seems like an easy enough job. And it’s in Lana’s chosen field of psychology, since Luke has severe social and emotional problems. Lana is uneasy from the start, but she’s soon distracted when her friend and roommate Rebecca ‘Beck’ Miller disappears. Matters get even worse when it looks as though Lana may know more than she’s saying about what happened. Robinson’s novel, on the other hand, is a genealogical mystery. Jefferson Tayte is hired to trace the lineage of Walter Sloan’s wife as a gift. The trail leads to Cornwall, so Tayte travels there. When he arrives, he locates some modern-day members of the family. He also finds that the closer he gets to the truth about that family, the more danger there is for him. Someone is willing to kill to keep certain facts hidden…

Deadly Tide is the title of a Sandy Curtis novel featuring Samantha ‘Sam’ Bretton and Brisbane copper Chayse Jarett. When Sam’s father is implicated in a murder case, she decides that she’ll have to skipper the family fishing boat Sea Mistress herself. Besides keeping the family business going, she wants to find out the truth about the murder. Jarrett’s been assigned to look into the same case, and goes along undercover as a new deck hand. Together they discover that the murder is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg, and is connected with some very dangerous international smugglers. One of George East’s novels is also called Deadly Tide. This one, the second in his Inspector Jack Mowgley series, begins with a gruesome discovery. An exclusive designer bag filled with heroin, a cache of money, and two arms have washed up on a beach. Mowgley and his assistant, Sergeant Catherine McCarthy, are just working on that case when they learn that a cleaner on a cross-Channel ferry has found a torso in one of the ferry’s luxury cabins. To get to the truth, Mowgley and McCarthy will go up against some very nasty drugs dealers, and the Russian Mafia.

Karin Fossum and Erica Spindler have each written a book called Don’t Look Back. Fossum’s features Oslo Inspector Konrad Sejer and his assistant Jacob Skarre. In this novel, they investigate the death of fifteen-year-old Annie Holland, whose body is found by a tarn near her village. It seems odd that someone like Annie should be killed. She was well-liked, and not the target of bullies. What’s more, there are no signs of rape, so that wasn’t the motive either. Sejer and Skaare will have to uncover quite a few local secrets to find out the truth. Spindler’s novel, on the other hand, is the story of Kat McCall’s return to her home town of Liberty, Louisiana, after a ten-year absence. She left after the murder of her sister Sara – a murder that was never solved. Everyone in town believes that Kat is responsible, and they haven’t forgotten. She is determined to find out what really happened, and works with Sergeant Luke Tanner to discover the truth.

There’s also P.J. Parrish and Sam Brandon. Both the Parrish writing duo and Brandon have written books called Dead of Winter. Parrish’s novel is the story of police officer Louis Kincaid, who takes a job with the Loon Lake, Michigan police. He soon learns that the job opened up because his predecessor was murdered. When he gets permission to re-open that case, he learns that the victim was killed during an investigation, and that there are plenty of people who do not want anyone else looking into that case. As Kincaid keeps digging, he finds that several people he’s met are not what they seem. The real action in Brandon’s novel begins when successful New York lawyer Roger Cornwell hires Tom Cavalier to find out whether his daughter Katherine died in the September 11, 2001 attacks, or whether she simply went missing. Cavalier is reluctant to take the case, but he’s a good choice. He’s an ex-military and psychologist, whose specialty was finding soldiers who’d gone AWOL.  Now he’s hung out his shingle in his home town of Rockland, Maine. Cavalier isn’t eager to return to finding missing persons, but Cornwell convinces him that this case is worth investigating.

As you can see, these books do have certain similarities, and one could trace common themes. But they really are quite different stories, written in different styles, and featuring very different characters. And of course, they’re written by different authors. And yet, they have the same title. I don’t really know what the solution to the title challenge is. I face it myself. I do wonder at times how many people accidentally borrow or buy one book when they mean to get another that happens to have the same title.



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Go-Betweens’ Dusty in Here.


Filed under Erica Spindler, George East, Karin Fossum, L.R. Wright, Lisa Unger, Michael Robotham, P.J. Parrish, Sam Brandon, Sandy Curtis, Steve Robinson

But Me, I’m the Catalyst*

MacGuffinsLegendary filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock is said to have coined the term ‘MacGuffin.’ That particular story may be called into question, but there’s no question that Hitchcock made the term, and the concept, popular. So what’s a MacGuffin? It is, as Hitchcock says, nothing. Really, it’s a possibly inconsequential thing that serves as a catalyst for a story’s plot. And it drives the plot because for whatever reason, the plot revolves around it (think, for instance of the One Ring in Lord of the Rings).

Most people think of MacGuffins as film devices, and they certainly are. But we also arguably see them in crime fiction. There are lots of examples in the genre, and space only allows me a few. I’m sure you’ll fill in the gaps though; at least, I hope you will.

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Scandal in Bohemia, the MacGuffin is a photograph. The King of Bohemia is about to marry, and there’s only one potential impediment to that wedding. He was once involved with actress Irene Adler, and there is still a compromising photograph of them. It wouldn’t necessarily be a problem in and of itself, but the king knows that his wealthy and powerful fiancée will not go through with the wedding if she finds out about his relationship with Adler. The king hires Sherlock Holmes to get the photograph in order to prevent his fiancée from learning of the affair. Holmes agrees, and he and Dr. Watson begin their search. As fans will know, it turns out that Irene Adler is more than a match for Holmes.

Agatha Christie used MacGuffins, too. In The Mystery of the Blue Train, for instance, wealthy American business tycoon Rufus Van Aldin decides to cheer up his daughter Ruth by purchasing a ruby necklace. One of the stones on the necklace is the famous ‘Heart of Fire.’ Ruth is, as you can imagine, delighted by the gift. Shortly thereafter, she takes a trip to on the famous Blue Train. She tells her father she’s going to Nice, but in reality, she’s planning to meet up with an old lover Armand de la Roche. Van Aldin cautions his daughter not to take the rubies with her, but as it turns out, she doesn’t listen to him. When she is murdered during the train journey, it’s assumed right away that the killer’s motive was robbery, since the necklace is missing. Hercule Poirot is also on the train, and he works with the police to find out who murdered the victim. In this case, quite a lot of people want that necklace, and it’s interesting how Christie uses it to drive this plot.

Jonathan Gash’s The Judas Pair introduces the reader to Lovejoy, an antiques dealer and collector who is passionate about the business. One day he gets a visit from George Field, who presents him with an irresistible puzzle. According to Field, his brother Eric had recently acquired a set of legendary dueling pistols – the Judas Pair. Stories of this priceless pair of pistols have circulated for years, and few antiques people really believe they exist. But Field insists that they do. Further, he says that his brother was shot with one of them. His idea is that if the pistols can be tracked down, the killer will be, too. Lovejoy is no police detective, but the thought of getting his hands on those pistols proves too tempting to resist. So agrees to look into the matter. In this novel, the Judas Pair serves as the MacGuffin. It’s just a couple of pistols, and in that sense inconsequential. But that pair of pistols drives the action.

In Aaron Elkins’ Loot, the MacGuffin is a painting. Boston art expert Benjamin ‘Ben’ Revere gets a call one day from Simeon Pawlovsky, a local pawn shop owner. He and Pawlovsky are by way of being friends, and now Pawlovsky needs Revere’s professional expertise. He’s acquired a painting that he thinks may be valuable, and he wants Revere’s opinion. Revere agrees and makes the trip to the pawn shop. When he arrives, he’s shocked to find that the painting is very likely a priceless Velázquez, one of several taken by the Nazis ‘for safekeeping’ during World War II. He wants to do some more research on the painting, but he’s concerned about such a valuable item remaining in the shop. Pawlovsky insists that there won’t be a problem, though, and Revere reluctantly goes to do his background research. By the time he returns two hours later, Pawlovsky has been murdered. Revere feels a strong sense of guilt at leaving his friend in such a vulnerable situation, so he wants to do what he can to help catch the killer. He believes that if he can trace the painting from the time it was taken during the war to the time it ended up in the shop, he’ll be able to find out who the murderer is. The novel is really about the murder and its investigation more than it is about the painting. But the painting drives the plot and motivates quite a lot of people.

A MacGuffin is often an object, but it doesn’t have to be. Some MacGuffins are people. For instance, in Karin Fossum’s Calling Out For You (AKA The Indian Bride), Gunder Jorman takes the unexpected decision to find a wife. He may not be the most physically attractive or youngest or wealthiest ‘catch’ in the world, but he’s a steady worker and responsible man. He thinks he’ll make a good husband, and he decides to go to India to find a bride. Shortly after he arrives, he meets Poona Bai. The two find that they are well matched, and soon enough, she agrees to marry him. Poona has some things to do to finish up her life in India, so the arrangement is that her fiancé will return to Norway. She will follow shortly thereafter. On the day of Poona’s arrival, Gundar’s sister Maria is involved in a terrible car crash, and he needs to remain at the hospital with her. So he asks a friend to meet Poona at the airport and bring her to town. The two miss each other though, and Poona never makes it. When her body is found in a field near town, Inspector Konrad Sejer and his assistant Jacob Skarre investigate to find out what happened to the victim. To do that, they’ll have to trace her movements from the time she left India. So the plot really revolves around and is driven by her presence.

A crime novel doesn’t, of course, have to have a MacGuffin. Many don’t. But a MacGuffin can be an interesting way of pulling the plot together. Which MacGuffins have you liked best?



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Anna Nalick’s Catalyst.


Filed under Aaron Elkins, Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jonathan Gash, Karin Fossum