Category Archives: Karin Fossum

She Knows Just What to Say*

CrimeFictionalEuphemismsNot very long ago, I got an email from a publishing company I’d previously contacted. One of the things I wanted was my contact’s confirmation that any contract I signed with this publisher would not involve any cost to me. Writers, I’m sure you know what it’s like to ‘feel out’ a publisher. The response I got was that the contract would likely involve at least some ‘cost sharing.’

Another term I’ve heard is ‘author subsidy.’ I’m sure there are plenty of others. What it all really means is that authors who sign with such publishers end up paying at least some of the cost of publication. Opinions about such contracts aside, what interested me was my contact’s choice of words. And it all got me to thinking about word choice and euphemisms.

I can’t, of course, say for sure, but my guess would be that phrases such as ‘cost sharing’ are designed to make the prospect of paying a publisher more palatable for an author. There are lots of other examples of words and phrases like that (e.g. ‘purchase,’ or ‘invest,’ rather than ‘pay’). And there are some good reasons to use them.

In crime fiction, euphemisms are sometimes much more effective, both for authors and for characters, than too much bluntness. For example, one of the most common sets of euphemisms in crime fiction are related to death. Many people, especially the bereaved, are uncomfortable with the words ‘dead,’ or ‘died.’ So the police, funeral arrangers, mourners and so on often avoid the word. In Karin Fossum’s Don’t Look Back, for instance, Inspector Konrad Sejer and his assistant, Jacob Skarre, investigate the murder of fifteen-year-old Annie Holland. One of the sad tasks Annie’s stepfather has to do is arrange for her funeral. So he has a conversation with a funeral director. It’s a very powerful scene, during which the director uses the term, ‘the deceased.’ Many such professionals also use the term, ‘loved one.’

Don’t Look Back also has an example of another sort of euphemism. As it turns out, the victim in this novel was raped before she died. Understandably, her stepfather can’t bring himself to use that word, so he chooses, ‘assaulted.’ And for his character, given the circumstances, that makes sense.

Lots of crime fiction novels, especially police procedurals, also include phrases such as ‘helping the police with their enquiries,’ or its parallel. For example, in one plot thread of Stuart MacBride’s Dying Light, DS Logan MacRae and the rest of DI Roberta Steel’s squad are investigating a series of murders of prostitutes. In one scene, MacRae’s listening to the radio in his car:
 

‘…someone was ‘assisting the police with their enquiries’ into the murder of a number of prostitutes.’
 

Most people know that means a person is likely a suspect. But there’s a good reason for that particular way of putting it. The police have to follow specific procedures to arrest someone. And the police may have good reasons not to be public about their suspicions. What’s more, journalists have to be careful to avoid libel or misrepresentation. ‘Assisting the police,’ sends the message that the police are working on a case without giving away false or premature information. It also sends the message they’re following procedure. So does the term ‘person of interest.’

Sometimes the police use euphemisms to put witnesses and suspects at their ease. In Sinéad Crowley’s Can Anybody Help Me?, for example, Dublin DS Claire Boyle is investigating the murder of a victim whose body was found in an empty apartment. So, naturally, she wants to find out as much as she can about the person who owns it. For that, she interviews Cormac Berry, who works with the firm that originally sold the apartment. Berry is, not surprisingly, concerned about being implicated. So during their talk, he eventually asks to speak to his lawyer. Here’s what happens when the lawyer arrives:
 

‘‘Ella O’Mahoney. I’m a legal representative for O’Mahoney Thorpe. I believe you are holding one of our employees here?’
‘Well, I wouldn’t say holding…’’
 

In that case, O’Mahoney strategically avoids a euphemism, so as to put herself and her client in a better position. But Boyle picks that up, and tries to make it clear where Berry stands:
 

‘‘I’ll just leave you two alone then. I’ll just come back for a chat in a few minutes, yeah?’’
 

As it turns out, what Boyle learns from Berry is useful in solving the murder.

There are lots of other examples of this sort of language use. When it comes to the way people actually use words, there are times when euphemisms work better than would unvarnished words. And authentic crime fiction reflects that.

On the other hand, euphemisms can sometimes be seen as condescending, or even deceptive. Some people would prefer plain language, which they see as straightforward and honest. And sometimes, that direct approach can add to a crime novel, too. In Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders, for instance, Hercule Poirot works with Chief Inspector Japp and the local police to investigate a series of murders. The only thing they seem to have in common is that Poirot receives a cryptic warning note before each one, and an ABC railway guide is discovered near each body. At one point, Poirot visits the family of the second victim, twenty-three-year-old Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Barnard. In order to find out who might have wanted her dead, he needs to know more about the victim. But, as is the custom, people are reticent to be blunt. In one scene, Poirot mentions this to Betty’s sister, Megan:
 

‘‘I should like to find someone who knew Elizabeth Barnard and who does not know she is dead. Then, perhaps, I should hear what is useful to me – the truth.’
Megan Barnard looked at him for a few minutes in silence whilst she smoked. Then, at last, she spoke…
‘Betty,’ she said, ‘was an unmitigated little ass!’’
 

And that’s exactly the sort of direct language that Poirot wants to get a sense of what this victim was like.

What’s your feeling about euphemisms? When you read crime fiction, do you prefer them? Or do you prefer really direct, blunt language? If you’re a writer, how do you choose how direct your characters will be?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bob Seger’s Good For Me.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Karin Fossum, Sinéad Crowley, Stuart MacBride

I’m Kinda Awkward and Afraid*

Reactions to Mental IllnessIn Agatha Christie’s Sad Cypress, Elinor Carlisle is arrested for the murder of Mary Gerrard. She’s got motives both personal and financial, and there’s enough circumstantial evidence against her that she is a very likely suspect. Local GP Peter Lord has fallen in love with Mary, and wants her name cleared. So he asks Hercule Poirot to do just that. Poirot agrees to look into the case (‘though not to fabricate evidence), and begins investigating. In the meantime, Elinor remains in prison, and has to endure a trial. Needless to say, by the end of the book, she’s mentally and emotionally devastated. So Lord arranges for her to go for a rest cure. Christie doesn’t outright say it, but you can certainly imagine Lord’s referring her to some sort of mental institution. Christie doesn’t tell us, but one could wonder what happens to Elinor when she leaves that place? How will she be received? The hint is that Lord intends to be there for her. But it does raise the question of how others will receive her.

We continue to learn more and more about the human mind and how it works. But there’s still a great deal of misunderstanding and, sometimes, downright fear about those who’ve been in mental health care. Certainly it makes for a lot of awkwardness, especially when one’s going back to work after a time way, or otherwise trying to reconnect with people. It’s true in real life, and we often see it reflected in crime fiction, too.

In Karin Fossum’s Bad Intentions, we are introduced to Jon Moreno. He’s recently been released from a mental institution where he was dealing with severe anxiety issues. He’s still fragile, and not everyone’s comfortable interacting with him. Thinking that he could use a little cheering up, Jon’s friends Axel Frimann and Philip Reilly take him to spend the weekend at a cabin by Dead Water Lake. Late one night, the three young men decide to go out on the lake. While they’re there, a tragedy occurs, and only two come back. Oslo Inspector Konrad Sejer and his assistant Jacob Skarre investigate what happened. They try to get the two survivors to tell what they know, but that proves to be much more difficult than they thought it would be. Then, another body is discovered, this time in Glitter Lake. Now, the police have to cases on their hands, which may or may not be related. Among other things, this novel touches on what it’s like when someone returns to a group of old friends after having been in a mental health facility.

At the beginning of Åsa Larsson’s The Black Path, Stockholm attorney Rebecka Martinsson is under psychiatric care, mostly due to events detailed in Sun Storm and The Blood Spilt. She’s released from the hospital and returns to her home town of Kiruna, where she’s decided to stay for a while and start to rebuild her life. The main plot of The Black Path concerns the murder of Inna Watrang, Director of Communications for Kellis Mining. The key to the murder may be some of the legalities behind the company’s activities, so Martinsson gets involved in the case. As she does, we see at some points that it’s very awkward for her and for others to talk about her experiences in the hospital and accept her as ‘ready to re-join the world.’ There’s some of that awkwardness in The Blood Spilt, too, actually.

Certainly New South Wales DS Kate Farrer feels it in Kathryn Fox’s Skin and Bones. She’s just returning to work after three months’ medical leave of absence that became necessary after she went through a traumatic experience (you can read about it in Malicious Intent). During her leave, Farrer got psychological treatment, and was on the way to healing. She would have liked to take more time away, but staffing shortages have made it necessary for her to return, so she’s still a bit fragile. She’s dropped right back in it, so to speak, when the charred body of a woman is discovered in the remains of a house fire that seems to have been caused by arson. Also discovered is a bag full of baby clothes. What’s more, it’s soon revealed that the victim had recently given birth. But no child’s body is discovered, and no-one reports having found an abandoned infant. It’s a difficult and painful case, and there was awkwardness already as Farrer returned to work. But she does her best to focus and work with her new partner, Oliver Parke, to find the truth behind the fire, the death, and the baby.

And then there’s Matthew Wyman, whom we meet in Michael Hogan’s Burial of the Dead. A highly intelligent and talented artist, he’s always been somewhat mentally fragile. But matters come to a head when he gets mixed up in the death of seventy-year-old Emma Kost O’Neal. It comes out that he discovered the body. Moreover, he was involved with the victim’s great-niece, Emmanuelle ‘Manny’ Whitman, who stands to inherit a good deal of money. So there are pieces of evidence to link him with the case. And it’s not long before the police fix on him as a suspect. But it’s equally possible that he’s being framed. He’s a good target because of his mental health history. In fact, in the course of the novel, he has complete breakdown and ends up in a mental institution. As the police try to get to the truth about the case, it’s interesting to see how different people react to Wyman’s situation. His family doesn’t want to discuss it, or accept the fact that he needs mental health care. Other characters in the novels react in other ways, some awkward, and some less so. That plot thread adds a layer of complexity to the novel.

Mental health care still remains one of the more complex issues we face. And, for a lot of people, it’s too awkward to discuss. It makes some people downright uncomfortable. But it’s a fact of life, and it’s interesting to see how it’s woven into crime fiction.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Alice Cooper’s How You Gonna See Me Now?

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Åsa Larsson, Karin Fossum, Kathryn Fox, Michael Hogan

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